This piece originally appeared on All Things D.
This past spring, at the 2013 YouTube Upfronts in New York City, Google vice president Robert Kyncl stood in front of a packed audience of brand marketers and made a seemingly simple, but revelatory, declaration: “TV is one-way. YouTube talks back.”
What is happening on YouTube and on places like Vine (which is doubling monthly average users month over month) and Instagram, is something that many of us who study the social Web have known for some time: Video is the future of social.
Why video? Why not text or photos — permanent or ephemeral? Is it simply the combination of sight, sound and motion?
The clues to the answer are all around us. This past week, news of the tragic death of actor Paul Walker sparked tens of thousands of people to reach out on social media to express pain and sadness, and send prayers to his family and friends. For a 48-hour period, Twitter was trending with the news, and Facebook feeds were crowded with thoughts and condolences. As activity on Facebook and Twitter waned, the heartfelt vigils have continued to grow on YouTube, where more than 6,000 tribute videos had been uploaded within 100 hours of the tragedy. These beautiful videos, along with news videos of the tragedy found on YouTube, have touched more than 170 million people. Ultimately, the tribute videos will live forever, and will be added to the vast collection of images from the star’s “Fast & Furious” movie franchise, which an audience of more than six million fans enjoy monthly on the platform.
This social media outpouring on YouTube highlights the fact that the shelf life of a Tweet or a Facebook post is now vanishingly small, evidenced by the fact that a Facebook post gets half its reach within 30 minutes of being published. By comparison, more than half of YouTube videos’ lifetime views come after three weeks of uploading. Take a look at any popular video from any year, and you’ll find recent comments that continue the conversation well into the future.
Yes, Facebook and Twitter are driving some of the extended activity on YouTube videos. As of last year, Facebook is driving more than 500 years of YouTube viewing every day, and on Twitter, more than 700 YouTube videos are shared every minute.
But the fact is that one minute of watching, creating, sharing or commenting on a video is one minute less to engage in other social mediums. Alistair Croll and Benjamin Yoskovitz, of “Lean Analytics” fame, appropriately deem this concept of the digital world the “attention economy.” The power of video lies in the fact that it captures more of our “attention” because of three inherent truths — video is more revealing, more engaging and ultimately more entertaining than any other medium.
Video can be both physically and emotionally revealing. On Nov. 16, this video was uploaded to YouTube to exhibit the power of transformation with Jim Wolf, a homeless veteran. The video showcases a very physical event, but without giving away too much, the payoff at the end of the video reveals a very emotional truth that is difficult to describe with words:
Also, consider the videos of Jason Carpenter, who documented his cancer diagnosis, treatment and recovery. Not only were his doctors able to track his progress physically, but his family was able to stay in touch with Jason’s emotional state via his video posts. Again, would any other form of social connectivity be able to reveal as much as this video?
More Engaging and Emotional
A recent Kissmetrics study found that, with an average time of four minutes and 49 seconds spent on YouTube, and 5.13 pages viewed per visit, YouTube outperforms Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for user attention and retention — all due to the power of video. Along those lines, Instagram videos are creating two times more engagement than Instagram photos. Perhaps a new saying should be coined: “If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a moving picture is worth much, much more.” For instance, what images and feelings come to mind with statements like the Apollo moon landing, Tiananmen Square or the Felix Baumgartner space jump? Video has the unique ability to depict emotion, elicit emotion and allow viewers to act — resulting in social stickiness.
The power of video engagement and sharing can be found in the genesis of the Khan Academy. Saul Khan began with a humble proposition to assist his cousin with her homework. Although his videos had a utilitarian use, they were highly engaging and shareable, which propelled his simple idea into a social and educational powerhouse.
On the other end of the spectrum, the emotional wallop of video is unparalleled, and crosses borders easily. Consider this Thai mobile company’s advertisement as an example of such impact:
I defy anyone to watch this video and not feel some type of emotion that will end up lingering well after viewing.
Much has been written and discussed about the entertainment value of videos on the Internet. It is clearly a subjective issue, but over the last few years, it can’t be denied that video has birthed the largest viral entertainment events. Global pop culture moments like “Gangnam Style,” “Harlem Shake,” “Call Me Maybe,” and “What Does the Fox Say?” have all spawned popular parodies, which have all but eclipsed other media and social experiences.
The rise in popularity of video stars and “vloggers” is further proof that a very large audience finds video truly entertaining. Many find this new generation of personalities — think PewDiePie, Jenna Marbles and Ray William Johnson — sophomoric or just plain moronic, but one must consider that the Top 10 YouTube personalities have a combined subscriber base of 103.9 million — more than Netflix and HBO combined. Now that’s entertainment.
Ultimately, video is reshaping the social Web, where higher personal investment leads to greater longevity, where authentic content wins and where moving content builds thriving communities.
Now consider yourself, and if you had only one social outlet for your voice. Which would you choose to make your words and emotion count? Would you opt for 140 characters? Maybe a frozen image? Then ask yourself: Do I want to be revealing? Do I want to be engaging? Do I want to be entertaining? Do I want my words to last? If so, if you want to be true and meaningful, there’s one option. Only video can lead us into a social Web that’s truly social, more human and, yes, that will talk back.
If Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest are a part of Social 2.0, then video networks like YouTube aptly will be coined Social 3.0 — in other words, the future.
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