The Failure Of Facebook Auto-Play Video

OK, I’ll admit it.  After an exhausting year of traveling, I staycationed over the holidays.  As a result, I spent a little more time than usual on Facebook.  And I’m sure I wasn’t the only one with time on his hands between Christmas and New Year’s who was allocating some incremental hours to Facebook. 

Maybe this holiday uptick in traffic explains why, the week before Christmas, Facebook introduced autoplay video content to its mobile and desktop platforms.  Journalists noticed (and posted countless stories on how to stop or block the feature).  My friends noticed — some of them even asking me, knowing that I work in video marketing, just what, exactly, Facebook was trying to prove. 

Back when Facebook first announced that it would be introducing video ads, I posited that they were bound to fail. Force-feeding video consumption does not lead to engagement, but rather consumer backlash.  Facebook, now worth many billions, of course didn’t want to take my word for it. 

Now that the ads are here, though, the criticism has been swift — and harsh.  The ads have been called “intrusive” and “annoying” and were said to be “invading” users’ feeds.  Where the auto-playing Instagram videos introduced a few months earlier at least displayed content from members’ network, the video ads will be sold to the highest bidder and displayed regardless of how relevant they are to the users seeing them.

Facebook is supposed to be about personal relationships and preferences.  But now, with this latest development, little wonder that teens are leaving Facebook in droves.  To say it’s only because their parents are driving them off is an oversimplification of the issue. 

More likely, this generation of native social media users have had it with being force-fed content that isn’t right for them. Sponsored posts were a lot to bear, but easy to scroll past.  Video requires more of the screen, more attention.  It’s easier to quit the platform entirely than to ignore unwanted content.  And so teens and adults alike turn to other sites like Snapchat (which turned down a $3 billion offer from Facebook, perhaps hoping to recapture its younger members), where they can communicate exclusively with their networks, and not have to worry about unwelcome ad content that does not speak to them.

Facebook’s autoplay ads are admittedly not as invasive as other autoplay content — there are no pop-ups, other content is still available while they play, and audio is muted by default — but that they exist at all is the key problem.

With all the data that Facebook has about its users — from location to behavior to political affiliations to census-level demographics — its focus should be in harnessing this data to deliver relevant, even welcome, content to every individual user.  Jumping on the video bandwagon is not only alienating to those of us who use Facebook as a personal platform, but it’s also lazy.

There is a way to target and distribute video content in a user-friendly way..  Facebook is not, at this point, doing that.  And to the company's increasing detriment, people have noticed.

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1 comment about "The Failure Of Facebook Auto-Play Video".
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  1. Erik Sass from mediapostpublications, January 15, 2014 at 1:04 p.m.

    Interesting post, there definitely seems to be some backlash, at least among media pundits and tech journos. I'd be curious to hear what other Facebook users think of the auto play ads?