Callum McCahon: strategy director at Born Social
Callum McCahon: strategy director at Born Social
A view from Callum McCahon

Silent video doesn't tell the whole story

Just because brands can get away with using silent video, it doesn't mean it should be the lead strategy, writes Callum McCahon.

I bet you’re all sick of hearing video is king. We've heard it for the past five years consecutively. I’m one to talk, I predicted it to be the big change in social in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. But here we are in 2017 and it has finally happened.

One thing we all seem to have reached a consensus on is the way people like to watch video content on social – it’s silent, short, and in the feed. Right?

Sort of.

We recently did some research into this as part of The Social Survey, and found that when users directly shared a video on Facebook, they’re 92% more likely to turn on the sound, as opposed to if they saw the video in the news feed. Interesting. But when we think about it, not too surprising. It makes total sense.

Facebook has shifted away from a traditional social network into a fully-fledged media platform. With brands and publishers now dominating the news feed, users are stuck in the middle ground.

They’re expecting (and hoping) to see posts from their friends and family, but they’re almost exclusively now seeing content from brands and publishers. Combine this with the current controversy over fake news and echo chambers, and the implication is clear - people have very low expectations about the content they see in their news feeds.

If you’re creating video with the sole intention of it being watched silently, stop. You’ve already written off your own content.

Let me explain.

We can dissect the way people use social media into two distinct mindsets, with the best social content working effectively across both. 


You’re scrolling through your news feed, not looking for anything in particular. To talk to this mindset, you need to grab attention and get the viewer to stop scrolling. You’ve only got a three-second window to hook people, and to make things more difficult, the sound won’t be turned on. You’re clearly fighting an uphill struggle here.


You’ve received a notification from a friend sharing a video with you, or – more likely – tagging you in a comment. You bypass the news feed algorithm and go straight to the piece of content that’s been recommended to you. As we found, you’re 92% more likely to turn on the sound for this piece of content.

Why are you more willing to immerse yourself in a video when you’re in this receiving mindset? It’s because you’re already primed. You trust this recommendation from a friend a lot more than you trust the Facebook algorithm to serve you content that you’ll enjoy. In 2017, people trust their friends a lot more than they trust algorithms.

So, when you’re creating content, you need to start thinking about social shares as adding value beyond just some extra reach. The receiver doesn’t need convincing to turn on the sound and truly immerse themselves - the sell is already taken care of.

Twitter and Neuro-Insight just published some interesting research on the scrolling mindset, claiming that videos watched in the feed silently are the best performing. I’m dubious. How can a video watched silently and in the context of the feed – with all its distractions – perform better than a video watched full screen with the sound turned on?

Are we really supposed to believe that a brief encounter with a video within the noisy feed is "better performing" than a fullscreen video with sound? I’m struggling to see the logic here.

Your creative needs to appeal to both mindsets – they aren’t mutually exclusive. Tick the boxes for the scrollers with a strong first three seconds that hooks your audience without the need for sound, but at the same time offer a deeper experience for the receivers who do watch the video with sound.

If you’re creating video with the sole intention of it being watched silently, you’re admitting defeat before you’ve even published it. Your ultimate goal with social video should be to get it shared - social video needs to be social.

We’ve gone too far towards the media in social media. It isn’t purely about serving the right people with the right content. We’re forgetting the social element that needs be baked into all of our content. This is why social media is fundamentally different to any other form of advertising, after all. We must not forget that.

And what would we call that phenomenon? Well I guess that would be word-of-mouth marketing, no? We all preach that this is the most effective way to make an impact – so take this and apply it to your social video. The rise of silent video doesn’t tell the whole story.

Callum McCahon is the strategy director at Born Social.