Video views are almost meaningless. Let's stop talking about them.

alistair.moore
02/06/20

Written by Alistair Moore

Our perception of good content, especially with videos, is so fixated on the number of views we often miss the bigger picture.

What counts as a successful video? One with tons of views, right? Maybe a couple of likes and some puppies in it too? Maybe it makes us laugh, cry or smile.

The number of people I see drawing conclusions from the number of views has always surprised me.

Views on YouTube

And that’s not because my own content hasn’t got many views  

Our perception of good content, especially with videos, is so fixated of the number of views we often miss the bigger picture.

Let's explore why I believe video views are a bit naff and how we can fix that.

 

Firstly, what actually counts as a “view” on our videos?

Bluntly, it depends.

Each social media and video platform measures a "view" differently.

On the bigger platforms, a view is counted when:

  • Twitter, InstagramLinkedIn: at least half the video appears on the user's screen for three seconds
  • Facebook: someone watches for three seconds with at least half the video visible on screen. (The content creator can see further view numbers for ten seconds and one minute in their analytics)
  • YouTube: is vague about what counts as a view, but it’s generally accepted that a view is roughly 30 seconds of the video playing, if the video is at least three minutes long. This scales down with shorter videos.

All of the above, except LinkedIn, have been using video for over a decade.

Newer platforms:

  • Snapchat launched in 2011 with video as a core part of the app.
  • LinkedIn introduced videos in 2017.
  • Reddit started video hosting in 2018, before that it relied on Imgur and Youtube to host content.
  • TikTok rose out of the ashes of Musically and launched in the west in 2018.

None of these platforms show the number of views a video has to the audience.

We’ve got comments, likes, shares and even the amount of people who found my video “insightful” - but not a view counter in sight.

A coincidence? Possibly. (Twitch.tv is also a newer platform which displays view numbers on both its saved videos and live streams, so please don't take this as an exact science)

But can we still shoehorn an article that extracts "deep business learnings" from this? Absolutely.

 

The problem with views is simple.

Views are currently the only performance metric publicly available on YouTube, right next to the channel’s subscribers.

They form a major part of Facebook and Twitter’s presentation of video content and Instagram use it as the initial public metric on all in-feed video posts.

Video Views on platforms

Just in case you needed reminding where we currently look for success

 

But views don’t tell us anything more than people reached and briefly watching. Refer back to how social media platforms define views. Try going to your boss and telling them how all 5,673 viewers of your video,  were all in your target audience and they digested your campaign message after watching your Twitter video for 3 seconds.

 

Not all views are created equal. In defence of the video views before we look at the alternative.

A YouTube view is normally seen as more valuable than a view in newsfeed-based video (Twitter or Facebook for example)Newsfeed example

 On Youtube, someone clicked. They chose to watch that video, long enough for YouTube’s algorithm to count it. The alternative is someone scrolled past a video in a newsfeed.

It is also worth mentioning the simplicity of a view. Most social media analytics aren’t simple. “10,000 people watched the video” is easier to understand than “We’re 16% up for video retention".

But in my experience, when we report the views we’ve received, the number of people who follow us or the likes we’ve had, we're hiding something.

The impression some social media managers have relied on for over a decade, is the idea people are attentively watching our content. The follower number represents hundreds of thousands of avid audience members just waiting for the next post. Every like on our content is someone who has fully digested our comms message. The reach on our posts is the exact amount of people our social media profile is talking to.

The reality never looks like that.

And by using views as a metric, we mask what’s really going on with our video performance. People briefly glancing at a video and then moving on.

For example, we’ve just launched a new YouTube channel. We’re happy with the number of views we’ve been getting, and the content is great (you should go watch it, here's another link). But it would be very easy to point to a view number and say ‘job done’.

A far bigger success story is the completion rate. That Sudan Civil War video is fully completed by 15% of the audience. Someone watching for over 15 minutes, on a complicated political subject, placed a brand-new channel? That’s a result we’ll happily take.

 

Ok views are terrible - what can we use instead?

There are a ton of tools we can use to analyse video performance. I’d encourage you to start asking these questions or even better, using them.

I've already mentioned it, Video retention. It measures when people stop watching your videos. The number of videos: internal, client made and my own personal channels where the average audience member has left in the first 5% is depressing, but an important fact we must face up to if we want to create better content. 

It’s important to take a step back and acknowledge our audiences’ newsfeed comprises of trailers for Hollywood blockbusters, content from their friends and families, and the cutest puppy pictures. Once we acknowledge we have to keep a user engaged. despite all that content a mere click or swipe away, we can better understand how to keep that attention.

There are other ways of measuring success. Measure comments or the user generated content a video inspired. Count the number of sales, track people who clicked the link, all of these are simple to set up and can (and should) be aligned to specific campaign goals.

Maybe your objective is “Gets tons of views, sell the product and become Insta' famous”. But success is more likely to come when you can quantify that into an objective.

Please do reach out if you’ve got any questions!