The silent, subtitled movie trend which has pervaded Facebook over the last couple of years may be coming to an end as the social network announced today their plans to introduce audio to autoplay video before the end of the year.
Facebook has justified their decision with reported good results and positive feedback from limited user testing of the new feature. The user experience will be that the sound fades in and out as users scroll past the video in the feed, ‘bringing the video to life,’ according to Facebook. Sound will not play if the user’s mobile is set to silent.
As mobile video viewing increases, Facebook asserts that users are becoming more likely to expect audio in their browsing experience – a far remove from the days where unexpected sound from your desktop was considered a major annoyance. These days, if users are listening to their mobiles with sound on they often have earphones in, meaning the likelihood of disrupting others is minimised. The increasing popularity of lightweight, wireless earbuds could also make this trend more widespread, as people start leaving their earbuds in all day, in constant audio connection with their devices. And this is a trend which is backed up by rival social platform Snapchat, which reports that over 60% of their users listen to video with the audio on.
These changes are part of a wider ambition by Facebook to become a video destination – not just a social network featuring video. Facebook has been strengthening its video arsenal with its live products and an upcoming television app. They also announced today that they would be introducing an upgraded vertical video experience (another nod to rival Snapchat’s success) and a feature which borrows from video rival YouTube’s app experience, where a smaller video box which sits at the bottom of your mobile screen will allow you to view and browse the news feed at the same time.
So what do these changes mean for marketers?
The first question is, will people use this feature or just turn it off in their settings? There seems to be a lot of negative feedback on social media today, branding this change as irritating and intrusive, so there is a risk consumers will switch off. However, past behaviour indicates that the majority of users keep the Facebook default settings, so we can probably expect audio autoplay to follow this trend. However, this doesn’t mean that users will like it and there are likely to be teething issues as people get used to sound popping up in their earphones. Marketers should tread carefully and be mindful not to be too brash in their use of audio and keep an ear to the ground for backlash.
This will almost certainly mean a decline in the use of subtitles used in Facebook video, and a reduction in the number of ‘silent movie’ formats which didn’t rely on any sound, music or supers. This could mean a great increase in creativity, as marketers experiment with voiceovers and sound effects. These will probably be most important in the first three seconds of the video, when the viewer is the most emotionally engaged, and could be used as a ‘hook’ to draw people in and encourage them to view through.