More than a year into Facebook’s “video first” push, digital marketers are facing a dilemma.
Facebook is continuing to prioritize video in newsfeeds and is courting content creators for its Watch tab. It’s a long-term strategy that fits with CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s prediction that video will be the dominate content consumed online within five years.
But when it comes to engagement now, many digital consultants say photo memes remain the better bet.
They’re easier for supporters to share, in part, because they’re less of a time commitment than a video. That ease of distribution is an attractive quality for campaigns on a tight budget.
“Video is the direction that Facebook is heading in, and even regular memes, people are turning into video,” said Rebecca McLaughlin, a consultant with the GOP firm Strategic Digital Services. “We’ve been experimenting with the best way to use video — you’ll get views, but in terms of engagement, it’s not as good as still photos. That’s what we’re seeing,”
Photo memes have the added appeal of being easy to create so that a campaign can push them out in a fast-moving news cycle. “It’s easier to ride a wave than it is to create one,” said McLaughlin.
During the recent hurricane in Florida, McLaughlin worked on a photo meme for a client that featured a picture of a worker repairing a downed power line. The caption on the meme stated: “Like and share to thank a lineman.”
“It was our highest performing post and it reached over three and half million, and we put $50 behind [it],” she said.
Another successful meme featured a disabled vet in a wheelchair. The caption read: “This guy wishes he could stand for the national anthem,” which tied into the ongoing anthem protests by NFL players.
“Shareable creative has to be emotional or really relevant to a topic people care about,” McLaughlin said.
Increasingly for Democratic campaigns, those topics work better if they’re hyper local, according to Emily Gittleman, digital director at San Francisco-based 50+1 Strategies.
She noted that engagement with national news content produced by her clients is plateauing. After President Trump’s inauguration, tying things back to the national news cycle was really successful, she said.
“But the last couple months that started to plateau across everything — social, ads, email. Now it’s tying it back to hyper local,” Gittleman said. “If we are mentioning the national news cycle, we’d say, ‘here are the hyper-local impacts from the thing that Trump has done.”
Moreover, Gittleman said she’s seeing video perform better than photo memes.
“We’re trying to do as much video as possible and to post that organically,” she said. “If I’m paying to post a video, people are more likely to take the action in the video post itself, than if I sent that [message] in a photo or graphic meme.”
Gittleman said her firm will create share graphics for a campaign launch or another major event, but video remains the priority. “There are some people who engage more readily with videos.”
Beth Becker, a Democratic digital consultant, said that campaigns need to be cautious with the length of the videos they produce. “If the video isn't 30 seconds or less, for sure images” work better as shareable content, she said.
Michael Brodsky, head of campaigns for Countable, agreed with Becker’s assessment on length.
“Thirty seconds tends to make it concise but users can convey something uniquely personal,” he said. “We have had organizations successfully put together 60-90 second video montages, but they don’t tend to perform as well.”
Brodsky, whose site allows users to create shareable video content for a cause or candidate they support, said that video can create a stronger call to action than a photo meme.
“It’s actually donation campaigns that tend to work the most successfully” with video, Brodsky said. “You can also do it pretty effectively with GOTV. One thing that we’ve learned is that people tend to be more receptive with learning things from neighbors.”