The Evolution of Video on Social Media

As part of our 30th anniversary, Pierpont is launching its Fast Forward Friday thought leadership series, where subject matter experts explore the historical implications of industry trends—and where we may be headed in the years to come. 

Today, live streaming video is quickly becoming king in the social media world, with innovators like Snapchat paving the way and forcing competitors to quickly innovate and adapt to stay relevant. 

Last week, Facebook unveiled its Stories feature, which is nearly an exact replica of Snapchat’s model. This update came several months after Instagram also launched its Stories. The competition is fierce and options for users are abundant, as live video streaming and vanishing video content continue to sweep across social media platforms. To better predict how social video will grow, we have to first understand how it started, failed and succeeded.

Video Created the Social Media Star

Video began to emerge as a popular content choice with the debut of YouTube in 2005. The video sharing platform allowed users to experiment with self-produced content, which led to a new era of self-appointed influencers. From makeup tutorials to viral "Gangnam style" dance crazes, YouTube proves that just about anyone or anything can “go viral” on the Internet. Now, the channel sees more than 4 billion daily views and has more than 1 billion users worldwide.

Nearly 10 years after YouTube began, Twitter unveiled a video sharing app called Vine, which allowed users to create six-second video loops. Its popularity quickly faded, however, when Instagram added an option to upload videos in addition to photos, a move that many saw as direct competition with Vine. Instagram’s additional options to create longer videos and add filters, gave the app an edge over Vine. Ultimately, Twitter decided to cut its losses with the video sharing app and disabled uploads to Vine in 2016.

The major shift in social video content took place around South by Southwest (SXSW) in 2015, when Meerkat quickly found popularity and experienced widespread use during the SXSW Interactive Festival. However, its limited sphere of influence created a space for competitor Periscope to step in and win over users with the foundation of Twitter’s established presence under it. Meerkat, which had garnered two million users, was unable to compete with Periscope’s more than 10 million users and later shut down.

When Facebook launched its Live feature, the video streaming craze skyrocketed, empowering everyday people to become citizen reporters and spontaneously engage with one another in real time. As Mark Zuckerberg explained, “Live is like having a TV camera in your pocket. Anyone with a phone now has the power to broadcast to anyone in the world.” To stay competitive with Twitter’s Periscope and Facebook Live, YouTube also incorporated a live video streaming feature, called YouTube Connect.

Just like Magic, Content Can Vanish Too

Snapchat was the first to introduce vanishing photo and video content in 2011. Though the app had a scandalous stigma associated with it at first, it soon became the preferred means of communication among Millennials. This addictive content sharing method gained momentum, as businesses noticed the potential to reach their younger target audiences and began advertising on the app. The app experienced so much success in its first few years, that Facebook offered to buy it, but instead the company decided to try its own luck in the publicly traded marketplace and filed an IPO. Meanwhile, Instagram, which was acquired by Facebook in 2012, unveiled its own version of Stories, and now, Facebook is taking a gamble with Stories.

What will distinguish the successful social media players from the crowd of competitors? It all goes back to which ones are able to best capitalize on the trends. Though Snapchat has 158 million daily active users, Facebook still dominates the social media market with 1.23 billion daily active users. Instagram, has 400 million daily active users, 150 million of who use the Stories functionality. While Snapchat had a slow start to integrating ads and paid content into the app, Instagram was quick to monetize the Stories feature, selling ads on a cost per 1,000 impressions basis. Advertisers have also been able to check the analytics of their Stories through the Insights button on their profiles.

Facebook continues to adapt to the changing market and take risks, as Kristen James discussed in Social Media Trends Changing the Game. Considering the social media giant’s ability to adapt the live streaming video features pioneered by Meerkat and Periscope, and grow it into an essential feature for users in such a short period of time, the odds of Facebook succeeding in the vanishing content market are high.

The Bottom Line: Let’s Talk Business

With all these creative content capabilities at our finger tips, the question now is how can businesses use vanishing and live streaming video content? For companies that already have an established presence on Facebook or Instagram, they now have all the benefits of Snapchat’s unique content offering without the hassle of having to build a presence on a new platform. Plus, Facebook and Instagram offer businesses the opportunity to track engagement around its shared content and monitor analytics.

Retail businesses have found success in promoting limited time offers via Snapchat, requiring users to regularly tune in for daily deals and coupon codes. Companies have also used this tool as a recruitment opportunity to showcase their unique cultures and feature employees with “takeovers,” where individuals show what a day in their lives is like at the office. Brands can also share creative tips and tricks to using their products or services through bite-size video content each day.

While live streaming video presents a higher risk for businesses trying to control their message, this spontaneous content tends to have the best ROI and engagement. Companies can most effectively engage with their audiences via live streaming video by offering an exclusive event experience or behind-the-scenes look. When the content is unique, creative and can’t be seen anywhere else, audiences tune in.

Traditional media has also started leveraging social video options to reach audiences beyond the virtual walls of their own web pages and television channels. Reporters host extended interview sessions on Facebook Live to dig deeper and answer questions that can’t be covered during their limited broadcast time on the air. Audiences are able to engage directly with reporters and ask questions that can then be responded to in real-time, creating an unprecedented level of connectivity. Similarly, companies can use live streaming video to break a big announcement or address mass audiences directly, much like a modern day press conference.

Trending Now...Cameras Are the New Keyboard

In order to be successful on social media, you have to take risks. Most importantly, you have to create valuable content for your audiences. As Lara Zuehlke explained in Bigger, Braver, Bolder Content, “Producing content itself isn’t the issue—it’s producing content that truly connects with audiences that matters most in creating engagement.” If you can’t answer why you’re creating a video, whether it’s on Snapchat or Facebook Live, then it likely isn’t something of value to you and your audience. People are no longer just watching videos – they are interacting with them. If the camera is the new keyboard and a picture is worth a thousand words, then video is ultimate storyteller.

Amy Lach is an Account Executive who specializes in social media, digital marketing and media relations, supporting clients across diverse industries.