Engagement with video and social content soars during pandemic
Among the many strange things that have happened during the pandemic lies one more mystery—people are engaging with publisher videos and influencer content like never before. The clicks, comments and shares are rising much faster than the views.
While no one knows for sure why, the best speculation from people tracking the trends are that people working or schooling from home feel much freer to turn up the sound, make videos full screen, comment or otherwise engage. Of course, the other theory is that fraud is on the rise, precisely because fake clicks are now more plausible.
Whatever the reason, the numbers are mysteriously large. Primis, a video discovery platform owned by Interpublic’s Universal McCann that optimizes traffic and revenue for 1,400 publishers mainly in the U.S., has found video views running around 20 percent higher since pandemic lockdowns began in mid-March. But engagement—including people clicking to turn on the sound, go to full screen, share or comment—is growing three times faster, up about 67 percent in the latest July data from the firm.
Similar trends can be found in social media content tracked by Shareablee. For example, branded or sponsored content from influencers rose by 21 percent from March to July, but engagement with that content more than doubled (up 101 percent). And even though brands were posting less on their own accounts during that period—down 58 percent year over year—engagement with brand posts actually rose 11 percent.
Facebook video posts by brands, media and influencers show a similar trend through August. Views during the January to August period rose at twice the rate of posts, while engagement rose five times faster. Shareablee finds overall video post volume on Facebook is up 3.5 percent year to date, while views are up 8 percent and engagement is up 18 percent.
While Primis and Shareablee are measuring different digital realms—Primis covers publisher-site video and Shareablee looks at content on social platforms—they’re essentially seeing the same trends and have similar theories about the causes.
“Our assumption is that all of these users seeing videos outside of the major video platforms, YouTube and Facebook, are doing it from home,” either as they work or attend virtual school, says Primis co-CEO Eyal Betzalel. “Not only are they watching more videos, but they’re liberated to go full screen and unmute the sound and dictate their own viewing experience. It’s like they’re more committed to the content. “
But it looks like people, having gotten used to turning on the sound and going full screen, are sticking with the habit as stay-at-home orders relax, Betzalel says. “That means their attitude toward engaging with video on publisher pages may be here to stay.”
Likewise, Shareablee CEO Tania Yuki believes stay-at-home culture has been a boon for content engagement.
“In other time periods you’ll see posting outpacing engagement. It’s the opposite right now,” Yuki says. “It stands to reason that people have more time to stop and listen to stuff. There is a freedom of time and body that we’ve never had. We don’t feel as if you have that same oversight. You have the freedom to stop and write an 800-word comment if you want.”
DIY, cooking and other how-to videos have done particularly well, Yuki says. Comments are more frequent and detailed, she says, with cooking demos having moved from a kind of “food porn” of casual viewing to “people watching very closely and asking about details.”
But to some extent, Yuki also believes people are engaging more with digital content as a substitute for face-to-face engagement. “We’re lonelier and more isolated than we’ve ever been, particularly if we’re not in a situation at home where we have all our loved ones,” she says. “Commenting on social media does become a way to connect and share a similar experience, even if there’s someone not in your immediate network. You do see these threads among strangers.”
Independent ad fraud researcher Augustine Fou has another theory about what’s driving engagement—fraud.
“Fraud ramped up precisely because it is plausible that humans who are cooped up are also consuming more content and engaging more,” he says. “But humans don't engage with ads more now vs. before the pandemic because humans hate ads all the same.”
Likewise, he believes fraudsters who “love a good cover story” are ramping up connected TV fraudulent impressions on the theory that more people are at home with nothing to do but watch more CTV.
But Primis and Shareablee doubt the fraud impact.
Betzalel says clicks on videos it works with don’t create more revenue, so the fraud source isn’t getting any money for it. Primis guards against fraud in part because, for the mobile web, the first click just displays the layout of the player and only the second click counts as an engagement. And since engagement metrics have increased similarly on on desktop and mobile, “it is highly unlikely that fraudulent clicks would impact it,” he says.
Yuki believes the fraud theory “seems unlikely” because the engagement increase started at a time when brands were spending less anyway, so “there doesn’t seem to be much upside in that activity.” She adds that Shareablee monitors activity levels by account and flags occurrences where volume of posts or engagements seem unlikely or comments are “spammy in nature.”