blog, one quick tip

The thinking behind Facebook's video sound default change (and how to turn it off)

By 10th August 2017 No Comments

One quick tip is a regular column for marketers by Sam Turner, our head of digital, in which he shares what we’ve learned about marketing this month and how you can use it. We may be experts, but there’s always something new! ‘Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there’ - Will Rogers

Historically, Facebook’s main audience used to be its users. The 2 billion people who use the platform were at the core of the Facebook experience, and rightly so.

Facebook’s latest change suggests that this is no longer the case.

Facebook recently sent out a push notification to some users, through its mobile app, explaining that videos on the platform would now default to playing with the sound on instead of off.

This was not a change users had asked for. Facebook can be checked in the office and without headphones in because its videos play silently as you scroll through your news feed, unless you choose to click on them.

It was, however, a change advertisers had asked for. Sound and music are obviously core parts of a video advertisement played on a more traditional medium, such as TV or cinema. Why should advertisers pay to place their ads on Facebook when at least a portion of the impact of their advert is lost to at least a portion of the audience?

Someone at the firm has made the calculation around how many users the network will lose because of the change (minimal), how many users will be annoyed at the change (a greater amount) and how many more advertiser dollars Facebook will attract because of the change (a much greater amount). This type of calculation happens all the time in networks and can be summarised like so: ‘how far can we push users, who get the service for free, whilst serving advertisers, who pay for the service’s existence and profitability?’

As a user, I didn’t want this change. As an advertiser, I can see the benefit but in the long run, I don’t want anything that users don’t want. Without users, Facebook isn’t a viable platform to spend advertising money on.

Noticeably, Facebook engaged in a classic bit of ‘soften the blow’ PR, by releasing the largely positive news about Facebook Watch in the same week as the default push notification rolled out. Of course, like many others, I didn’t quit Facebook on Wednesday because of the notification and I likely won’t quit Facebook in a few months time when the next, inevitable, advertiser-led change is rolled out.

But that moment may come. Facebook has already made changes, such as increasing the number of sponsored stories we all see in news feeds. There is a limit to how many changes it can make before it reaches a point where it stops becoming a social network and jumps the shark into being an advertising delivery network.

We want to spend time on a social network. It remains to be seen whether people will choose to spend time on something where the main purpose is to provide a welcoming home for advertisers.

One quick tip: In the Android version of the app, you can turn off the sound playing by default by going into the main menu and scrolling down to ‘app settings’. The setting you’re then looking for is ‘videos in news feed start with sound’. Disable that bad boy.

And another thing: Facebook’s ad revenue for 2016 was recently pegged at $26bn, a 57% increase from the previous year. Before we reach any potential ‘jumping the shark’ moment, Facebook is still a successful advertising platform, used by businesses small and large at, usually, a much lower cost to Google’s AdWords platform. You can find out more about social advertising here.

Author Sam Turner

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