YouTube and Facebook advocates alike have been up in arms over a recent study declaring that Facebook should now be considered the superior platform for acquiring video views. The problem with the study is that it compares apples to oranges, and that's a problem.

The report analyzed 180,000 videos across 20,000 Facebook pages and asserted that content marketers were uploading videos directly to Facebook at the expense of YouTube. But do we know which marketers, and what videos? Presumably, millions of content creators will pounce on this new 'data' and begin uploading their videos to Facebook without much concern for metrics that matter like ad revenue, sales, comments, and other KPIs. But accepting this study (or any study) at face value without putting it into context is a mistake. In this article, we’ll look at why comparing Facebook to YouTube is unfair when they are very different models.

Facebook vs YouTube: Are Views an Indicator of Success?

Let’s say a user watches a video but takes no action. Is that a success? Similarly, let’s say only four people see your video and one of them spends $5,000. Is that a success? While video views may provide some insight into how many times a video is “seen,” YouTube and Facebook measure views very differently.

YouTube only counts a view if the viewer clicks 'play'. But Facebook will count a video as being 'viewed' if it plays for more than 3 seconds. With Facebook's video auto-play feature, viewers will activate a video play in their news feed just by scrolling. If they take their time scrolling then Facebook will count that video as being viewed, even though the Facebook user didn't engage with it in any way.

ReelSEO has covered the topic of skewed video view data on Facebook before, and it's important to keep the auto-play feature in mind when the subject of Facebook and video comes up. Other experts, like VidPow's Jeremy Vest, have also discussed the misleading metric of view count, noting that video marketers also need to look at subscriber acquisition, social shares, comments, and click-throughs as an indications of a video’s success.

Comparing Facebook to YouTube: Brand Activity

Obviously a brand that is inactive on YouTube but active on Facebook will capture more views. But, since the study in question doesn’t reveal which brands they surveyed, we don’t know if those brands even have YouTube accounts so it makes it even harder to compare success on both sites! To accurately compare like with like, we'd need to know how active brands were on YouTube, and what their level of viewer engagement was. If it was low (for whatever reason) than it makes some sense that they would shy away from uploading a video on YouTube if their YouTube audience is non-responsive or uncommitted to the brand. Here’s why that matters.

If Brand A has a Facebook audience of 50,000 fans and a YouTube audience of 10,000 subscribers - are they even incentivized to use YouTube? It’s like comparing the amount of automobiles in a small California town to the amount of cars in Amsterdam (a town with roads too small for most vehicles). Of course the brand would upload to Facebook because they’ve got a market on Facebook with an active fanbase. The brand can also use Facebook ads and promoted posts to squeeze out more views which might lead to more shares.

Now consider Brand B who is active on YouTube, has an e-commerce blog, and drives 6-figure revenue without an active Facebook page. Brands like these were not considered for the survey despite their active use of video and successful engagement with subscribers and SEO. The survey therefore tells us very little about video marketing and more about who the researchers studied - brands with Facebook audiences. A more valid study would have looked at brands with active YouTube and Facebook accounts demonstrating a clear video marketing strategy and active subscriber/fans.

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Facebook Video vs YouTube: Brand Commercial Intent

The three main principles of video marketing are: Platform, People, and Purpose. The purpose principle is incredibly important to the details of this study because brands operate differently to businesses. If the purpose of your video is to simply “get views” then Facebook provides a decent platform if you have a Facebook audience and you are paying to reach them, and you’re OK with a “view” being a person who auto-plays the video but may never actually watch it.

If your video has commercial intent beyond a “view,” then Facebook’s only value for you is through the paid ads platform. Brands and businesses that want their videos to drive engagement, sales, or web traffic are far better served with YouTube’s features. These include annotations that allow users to click through to buy pages, or opt-in forms, and direct access to data via Google Analytics. YouTube is clearly the better option for brands with subscribers, SEO-ability, and embed or sharing partners.

Facebook vs YouTube: Organic vs Paid Views

YouTube’s algorithm allows for organic growth equally across all properly optimized videos whether they are business channels or vlogging channels. Facebook on the other hand restricts organic News Feed visibility of videos posted by business pages.

Because the study didn't release the data to support the amount of paid views vs. organic views on either Facebook or YouTube, we can only assume that all of the videos analyzed on Facebook had some level of paid promotion behind them. Therefore, videos that may have received marketing dollars to gain exposure were given the same status as videos on YouTube that may have had no marketing dollars behind them at all!

Comparing Facebook to YouTube: Copyright Violation Issues

According to YouTube expert Derral Eves, the Facebook video platform is the “wild west” of video content. Videos can be downloaded illegally from YouTube, re-uploaded to Facebook, promoted with ad spend, and then begin to acquire views, likes, and shares. Those social signals are then owned by the person who copied, and uploaded the video, rather than the genuine video creator.

Eves, who manages the Piano Guys and other 6-figure YouTube campaigns, has seen this happen with his clients. For example, Studio C in Utah produced a very funny sketch video that went super viral on YouTube. Then, someone downloaded the video from the Studio C channel and re-uploaded the video to their Facebook page where the video went viral. At the moment, there isn't a system for identifying copyright ID or intellectual property theft on Facebook, and many are taking advantage.

Of course, it's a different story on YouTube. Videos uploaded by creators are run through a copyright-tracking filter, the ContentID system, before they are allowed to monetized on the site. Each time an ad is viewed, the creator is paid. However, when that same video is viewed on a Facebook page, those views offer no financial benefit to the creators who write, direct, edit, and star in the videos as a profession.

Conclusion

This report concluded that the Facebook video platform is superior to YouTube, but we really don't have enough data to make that comparison. The Facebook auto-play function really skews the view count in the platform's favor, and there are too many variables regarding each brand, their level of engagement, marketing budget and resources, and viewer intent, to truly compare activity on either platform.