Video Essentials

Social Media or Word of Mouth–Which Is More Powerful?

The topic of a conference session I attended two weeks ago got me thinking about social media’s impact, as well as the correlation between social media and premium online video content viewing patterns.

While I don’t have the answers for the questions raised at the conference, I’ve been digging around for additional information to shed light on how social media interaction with online video content impacts offline decisions. Allow me to share just a few thoughts on a topic that may be of interest to our readers.

We all know that Facebook has become the 2010s’ equivalent of the 1990s’ AOL—a closed social system in which users view information filtered through the dual lenses of “friends” and Facebook’s text, image and online video technology—and many of us spend many minutes, and sometimes hours, per day consuming content through this filter.

We even know that ongoing experiments to move beyond personal/user-generated or YouTube-embedded video clips within Facebook are underway, with Facebook and Warner Bros agreeing last week to a per-rental movie delivery on the Facebook platform, starting with Warner Bros’ The Dark Knight at $3 per rental.

The move to rent films on Facebook has been met with kudos from analysts (“This is exactly what Netflix and others haven’t been able to do very well—integrate video with social,” Elizabeth Shaw, an analyst with Forrester Research said to last week) and derision (“Nobody goes to Facebook to watch movies,” retorted Netflix’s chief content officer, Ted Sarandos, in reply to the same newspaper’s request for comment).

Both reactions may be right, but not necessarily for the obvious reasons. Some of the trends I’ve been following indicate that, while social media is providing a beneficial lift to online video, it may not have much impact in the offline world.

At the very least the jury’s still out on the impact of social media on offline behavior for entertainment choice. True, Facebook’s rise in prominence as a potential honey trap is being documented by law enforcement entities across the country, corresponding consistently to the demise of Craigslist’s adult services section, but the overall impact on other forms of entertainment seems to be tenuous.

Take, for example, a recent Super Session at the National Religious Broadcasters’ convention, which I’ve written about in detail at During the Super Session, geared toward the discussion of engaging an audience with premium content, one panelist commented on the fact that a high number of social media “likes” aren’t necessarily correlating to a high theatrical box office.

“We’ve yet to see a direct connection between high social media interest and actual box office results,” the panelist said, adding that one recent film he tracked had hundreds of thousands of likes on its Facebook page, yet the film didn’t bring in business at the box office.

“It’s possible that the sections of the film that were released on Facebook gave the potential audience enough of the film that they didn’t feel a need to attend the actual movie,” he said.

Still, this hasn’t stopped social media from playing a role in driving online video views of movie trailers, which the panel acknowledged and which a study from late 2010 indicates. More on that in a minute.

Let’s first touch on the concept of “giving the potential audience enough of the film” on Facebook. We know that teasers and trailers online rank high in terms of overall online video viewing.

Yet, if the viewing of a trailer online is successful, but doesn’t amount to stellar box office, one of two things is likely occurring: either viewers online like what they see, but judge their choice of clicking the “like” link as sufficient action to get them through to the DVD (or online) release, or there’s a significant shift in the way people want to view entertainment, and those who are hooked into online social media prefer to get their content through the filter of online delivery.

If the former is true, it begs the question of whether we can say social media is a successful medium for driving action.

If the latter is true—those who are hooked into online social media prefer to get their content through the filter of online delivery— then it begs the question of being able to judge a movie trailer as successful, based on the number of online views.

If trailer views don’t impact the box office, it reinforces the concept that television commercials—long a mainstay of the marketing plans for most blockbusters—and the less-expensive, but equally powerful word-of-mouth/grassroots efforts highlighted at the NRB session, are more impactful in driving offline action. The consensus among the panelists was that social media doesn’t yet have enough impact as traditional word-of-mouth or TV commercial campaign. The former is very effective at moving people to action, the latter is as well but is much more expensive. Hence the idea of combining the two online in the form of online video wrapped around social media.

A study in late 2010 seems to indicate there is a correlation between social media “likes” and online trailer views. Visible Measures published a report titled “Five Keys to Understanding Online Film Trailer Performance” that touched directly on this topic. Working with Variety magazine, the Visible Measures team came up with a few key results.

“For the most comprehensive view of a film’s online reception,” the report noted, “you should look at every interaction with every video related to the film, whether the video was created and uploaded by the movie studio or by an enthusiastic member of the viewing audience… An analysis of 25 recent online video film campaigns revealed that the average film experiences a dramatic increase in views during the week prior to launch, generating daily view counts approximately 300 percent higher than those just a month before release.”

Still, the company ultimately concluded there’s not enough data to draw a direct correlation between online trailer views and offline box office results.

“It’s still too early to equate online video views with box office dollars,” the report stated, “but the reception of an online film campaign can serve as a key indicator of the film’s eventual box office performance. For instance, online video content for Summit’s Twilight amassed more than 100 million views by the time the film launched last November. Twilight had 1,800 percent more views than the average film in the week prior to launch, and subsequently delivered a robust $70 million opening weekend.”

The problem with this type of correlation, though, is that Twilight was also heavily marketed via television commercials and benefited from strong word-of-mouth or “buzz” marketing, so it’s impossible to say whether offline interest drove online views, or vice-versa. In other words, it could be fair to still conjecture that offline marketing drives offline action, but online actions such as clicking “like” on Facebook do not necessarily impact offline actions.

If this turns out to be what longer-term studies reveal, do we need to move to an equally long-term view of revenue mapping for premium content that include not only DVD sales/rentals but also online consumption of the same content?

It’s a scary proposition for the movie studios, if online views of a movie trailer only correlate to online viewing of the content months later. Yet it may help move the needle away from the 28-day-lag that Netflix and other non-brick-and-mortar movie rental companies face. Of course that needle may move anyway, thanks in part to the rapid demise of Blockbuster stores in many parts of the United States.

One thing is certain: we can unequivocally conclude that the combination of social media and online video *may* have an impact on movie attendance.

Outside of entertainment, there’s the bigger question of whether the combination of social media and online video have a positive impact on social causes. I’ll explore that in a separate article, but for now, let me pose this question: is it apathy that causes many to choose “like” as their statement of choice—but not pursue additional action beyond sharing or retweeting the “liked” content—when presented with a call for action on a social media site?

That’s possible, but it’s also possible that the Achilles’ Heel in social media platforms is that of correlating “like” as equal to the civic duty of most users.


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