January 09, 2019

Thanks to social media, hundreds of millions of individuals are liking, commenting on, and sharing content throughout the course their day. However, as last year's Fullscreen report "Understanding Multigenerational Youth Audiences" revealed, gen Zers admit to spending "way too much time" with social media or that "it was a problem." Even a recent survey by Pew Research found that more than half of young people say they would "have a hard time" giving up social media.

Consumers' mobile dependence is now synonymous with their social media dependence, and it shows no signs of stopping. Consumers can participate in an array of activities in the social space, ranging from simple tasks like status updates and check-ins to more advanced functions like broadcasting live videos and safely messaging with their kids. That means time once spent elsewhere is now being snatched up by Google, Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter, among other platforms.

Six ways brands can better engage consumers on social media.

Even brands have become part of the conversation. In fact, brand posts are nearly as commonplace and native today as any other posts.

However, brands continue to painstakingly grapple with the challenge of effectively reaching consumers through their social feeds. Which platforms and ad formats work best? Should there be more posts or fewer? Is video worthwhile? What benefits do influencers offer? How is success measured? It can be a dizzying and complicated proposition.

As a result, brands are having varying degrees of success with their social marketing efforts. According to Q2 2018 data from Shareablee, brands have far fewer fans or followers across social platforms than media and entertainment properties and today's top influencers. Additionally, the engagement rate for posts from brands is roughly half that of comparative groups. This may explain why brands post less than other groups, as well.

The good news is that there's room for brands to improve. This past summer, Fullscreen conducted an audit of consumer behavior on social platforms using a variety of tools and techniques. This included survey research from Fullscreen's proprietary youth panel, TBH or To Be Honest. The goal was to educate the company and its marketing partners on how to navigate this challenging ecosystem.

Here are six key recommendations from the work:

1. Ride the Video Wave

Video is video no matter where it lives. Young multiscreeners' appetite for video is truly remarkable — it's a preferred mode for digesting information, and its emergence across social media platforms has been welcome.

According to Shareablee, the overall volume of social posts across platforms grew 4 percent from 2016 to 2017, while social video posts increased 39 percent. Additionally, total engagements (likes, comments, shares) on all social posts rose 20 percent, while engagement with social video posts increased 77 percent. This illustrates consumers' increasing hunger for social videos and an opportunity for brands to drive higher levels of engagement.

In fact, the social space is becoming the go-to destination for video in general, regardless of screen or platform.

According to an August 2018 survey by YPulse, YouTube is the top destination for video content consumption among gen Zers, followed by Netflix, and more than one-third report accessing video through Instagram and Snapchat. (See figure 2, above.) Perhaps most surprising, cable and satellite TV are ranked behind the social platforms included in the study.

 2. Master the Feed

Social feeds can be intimidating places for brands looking to engage with consumers on their turf, so it's important that brands understand how consumers scroll. Today's youth consumer is increasingly reliant on social platforms to surface recommendations for them. In its recent entertainment-focused "Genre Bending Insights" report, Fullscreen asked a sample of 18- to 24-year-olds, "If you run out of TV shows, how would you would go about discovering new ones?" Forty-two percent of 18- and 19-year-olds said they would "browse titles suggested for me based on my viewing history," and 38 percent said they would "check to see what friends/family are watching." This group was also over 183 percent more likely than 20- to 24-year-olds to "let the auto-play serve up whatever."

Furthermore, when analyzing 2018 YouTube Analytics data, Fullscreen found that 41 percent of video views from brand channels were coming from suggested content, compared to 53 percent from influencer channels. This finding suggests that brands should indeed continue surfacing their content within consumers' feeds if it yields positive results. However, while branded content is just as welcome in a feed as any other content, consumers are quick to distinguish a sponsored post as opposed to one surfacing organically. Brands would be wise to deliver posts that feel more like non-branded content to counterbalance the stigma of sponsored posts.

While consumers are happy to rely on social feeds and algorithms to surface posts and videos on their behalf, there's still high recognition of the various types of advertising that flow through the feeds. As figure 3 above shows, adults between the ages of 18 and 34 report seeing a variety of organic and paid advertising on a weekly basis, according to research by Fullscreen's TBH panel. "Posts from a brand I follow" ranked as the most recognized, and 72 percent of respondents said they normally recognize a sponsored post.

 3. Don't Be Creepy

While brands have permission to play in consumers' feeds, especially when working hard to surface content, it's important not to spoil the conversation by being too creepy. Delivering highly relevant advertising in a targeted way can reap enormous benefits. Like any good conversation, relevant ads make people feel like brands know and care about them, according to a personalization survey of Fullscreen's TBH panel. Consider the following from that panel:

  •     62 percent of respondents agreed: "I like it when brands serve me relevant content as long as they don't use my name/other personal info."
  •     54 percent agreed: "I am more likely to purchase from a brand that makes personalized recommendations."
  •     45 percent agreed: "Personalized ads make me feel like brands understand me."

When targeting doesn't deliver on the highly relevant experience that it promises, it can leave consumers with a bad taste for the brand. Targeting should be precise and reflect a person's up-to-date purchase behavior. Forty percent of consumers said they've actually ditched a brand because its implementation of personalization was too creepy, according to Fullscreen's TBH panel. Consider the following from that panel:

  •     54 percent of respondents agreed: "Personalized content is often too late as I have already purchased the product online/in-store and/or purchased another product."
  •     48 percent of respondents agreed: "I feel like brands personalize content based exclusively on past purchases, which is not reflective of my overall interests."
  •     40 percent of respondents agreed: "I've ditched a brand because their idea of personalization was too creepy."

When done right, personalized social ads can deliver highly relevant messages to consumers and drive immediate action. In fact, 40 percent of respondents to a recent TBH survey said they are likely to purchase a product or service advertised in a social post, whereas only 38 percent said they would actually share such a post.

 4. Fuel the Fandom

Brands can benefit by stoking the fire of their fans on social platforms. These consumers have willingly opted in to a brand's content via an ongoing connection within their respective feeds. People who are subscribers, fans, or followers of social accounts typically have high levels of engagement with those accounts.

Better yet, more engagement means more surfacing of branded content, which means more opportunity to connect with the consumer. Fullscreen looked at more than 4,000 channels within its Creator Network in YouTube Analytics and found that people who subscribed to those channels had a much higher average view duration (up 38 percent) than those who weren't subscribers, as well as higher completion rates (up 19 percent), and engagement rates (up 412 percent).

To further substantiate the value of social engagers, Fullscreen found from an analysis of GfK MRI and Cubeyou data that people who engage with a brand's social account are actually better customers of those brands. In fact, across a variety of brands and categories, social engagers were 47 to 110 percent more likely to be customers of those brands. For example, individuals who engaged with American Eagle social accounts were over 110 percent more likely to have shopped at an American Eagle store than the average social user.

 5. Go Long

While the optimal average video length is highly dependent on platform, objectives, and other factors, one surprising general truth is that consumers' tolerance for lengthy videos is high. Fullscreen asked consumers ages 18 to 34 in its TBH panel, "What length of video do you most often watch," regardless of platform? Forty-four percent said they most often watched medium-form content (11 to 30 minutes), with long-form (31-plus minutes) not far behind. Top sources for medium-form content included YouTube, Netflix, and Hulu.

To further substantiate this consumer response from a social perspective, Fullscreen looked at a year's worth of social video data from Tubular Labs and segmented performance by video length and found the following:

  •     Videos greater than two minutes in length had higher view rates within 30 days of posting than videos that were less than two minutes.
  •     While engagement rates for videos less than 30 seconds had a solid engagement rate, videos that were more than 10 minutes long had an even higher rate.
  •     Social videos that were more than 10 minutes in length also were consumed the quickest, with 62 percent of views taking place within three days of the video being posted.

According to Fullscreen's internal video testing module within TBH, the two content attributes of a sponsored video with the highest levels of variance were "informative" and "entertaining." After segmenting these measures by video length, Fullscreen learned the following:

  •     Videos that were longer than two minutes performed far better on being informative and entertaining than those that were less than two minutes.
  •     Videos that were two to four minutes in length were better on being informative, while videos more than four minutes long were better on being entertaining.
  •     Videos may need to be longer than two minutes to help convey proper messaging, and there seems to be a correlation between the length of a video and its entertainment value.

This data suggests that longer social videos can succeed at driving key performance indicators for brands. Additionally, longer formats provide viewers an opportunity to digest pertinent information about the product or service and allow for greater storytelling to keep viewers entertained.

 6. Go Live

While consumers have long congregated in front of TVs for communal live viewing events, that same experience is now taking off on social, where roughly 10 percent of all videos are live, according to Tubular Labs. Advertisers can take advantage of this trend to drive timely messages to consumers with content that creates an emotional connection.

Live videos are considered to be more honest, authentic, and exclusive by consumers than pre-recorded videos. Better yet, Fullscreen analysis of YPulse data reveals that 55 percent of 13- to 34-year-olds say they would be interested in watching live content from brands.

In terms of actual performance and based on Tubular Labs data, live videos are far more engaging than all other social videos, with double the engagement rate on both Facebook and YouTube. Additionally, live video delivers on immediacy, with more than 70 percent of YouTube and 91 percent of Facebook live video views taking place within the first three days of posting.

Live video also gives viewers an element of unpredictability. In an analysis of more than 5,000 Facebook posts and in partnership with CANVS, Fullscreen found that live posts delivered the highest number of emotionally driven comments, with 35 percent of posts being considered "emotional" — higher than non-live video, photo, link, or status posts. Advertisers can capitalize on the live environment within social to help build an emotional connection with consumers and drive sales.

Get Going

Marketers looking to succeed in the social space will need to think differently and take heed of some of these counterintuitive pieces of advice. The stakes are high and the reward is a valuable: willing consumers who connect with a brand for the long term.

Sara Grimaldi (@saraegrimaldi) is senior director of measurement and insights at Fullscreen. You can email her at



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