We Need a Different Conversation About Social Video

Here are some of the headlines that I’ve seen recently:

- Is Facebook The New YouTube For Brands?

- Marissa Meyer’s Secret Plan for Tumblr Revealed: Make it YouTube

- Is Twitter Looking to Take on YouTube?

- Has Vine Killed the YouTube Star?

With Tumblr’s recent video launch, multichannel networks jockeying for YouTube "stars," Facebook, Twitter and others’ advanced video products, and the ascension of digital video consumption, it appears difficult for analysts to find meaning outside of the implications for YouTube -- currently the dominant, indisputable leader in this space by virtually any measure.



The myopic focus on YouTube results in sentences like these:

“…content creators…prefer people to watch the videos on YouTube…”

“…Yahoo has been running hot and cold on its big YouTube plan.”

“…Could all this lead to Twitter becoming another outlet for brands like Red Bull, that have built huge followings on YouTube…”

Where is the consumer in this conversation?  Everything is from the perspective of technology, brands, and revenue.  But the problem with framing everything against a revenue model is that it completely misses the question of solving a consumer problem.

The truth is that having video capability does not make one a YouTube competitor.  Providing a platform with a competitive consumer solution does.  While attention may be a zero-sum game, video is not.  When movie theaters sell snacks, they are not taking down the restaurant industry; they are providing added value to a certain experience.

So, instead of equating social video development to YouTube, let’s look at it as a way of providing different solutions for different consumers with different mindsets.  As far as the consumer is concerned, that is a noncompetitive equation, because each platform has a different value.  The real competition is for brand revenue.  When we ask who will bring down

YouTube, we’re referencing ad dollars, not consumers.

In my view, here is where these platforms currently stand:


Facebook’s embedded video player is aiding consumer experience in-stream. It may currently lack some analytics, but that’s a brand problem, not a consumer problem.  From the user POV, it’s a place to watch videos posted by friends.  It’s not a place people go to search for random videos, find an organized story, or seek a how-to video. That’s not to say that it can’t be, but Facebook would have to change consumer behaviors and expectations.

Instead it’s got a surprise and delight component, curated by our friends, that’s more current than archival, while YouTube specializes in archival.  Facebook’s social system is also used far more frequently than YouTube’s, perhaps because YouTube is not always an authenticated viewing experience. 


In terms of search and discovery, Tumblr is most like YouTube and Vimeo. It’s a natural discovery platform, but with a streamlined feed that’s different from YouTube’s mosaic offering.  Subscribing is equally important here as at YouTube, but Tumblr is less about directed search and more about surprise and delight -- hence the name.  Search may not even yield a video because the form factor is highly varied. So if you’re looking for a how-to video on fixing your screen door, you’re unlikely to use this platform.  

That said, this search issue is exactly what makes Tumblr’s linear experience a more interesting discovery solution.  Brands can’t truly target yet, although that’s something you’d think Yahoo could solve.  And from an event time perspective, Tumblr has an evergreen and current component similar to YouTube.


Twitter is all about real-time. It’s not archival, though it’s highly searchable.  Recent content shoves older content out of the way -- which really means that deeper research is happening elsewhere.  This linear timeline in the feed is similar to Tumblr’s, but there is an expectation that older Tumblr posts will have a longer shelf life.  Twitter’s immediacy makes it uniquely able to deliver the latest news, but that uniqueness is unlikely to translate to consumer value as a long-form content presentation and discovery channel.


In addition to those three, there’s other interesting moves happening on Wattpad, Instagram, Vine, and more -- but each one has a reason that it isn’t a YouTube killer or even competitor as far as ad revenue goes.  For instance, Wattpad is long-form storytelling, and both Instagram and Vine have established unique, niche purposes.

Ultimately, the real story here isn’t about which platform will “win” video. It’s about the growth of video writ large, how consumers will use video capability differently on different social platforms, and how they will derive value from that.  And the conversation that every brand should have about this is whether or not they can leverage any of these platforms to best add value to a consumer experience -- using behavioral data, interests, and more.

Next story loading loading..