Facebook Video vs. YouTube Video: Which is Right for You?

By Evan LePage

Social

Image by Pablo GarciaSaldaña under CC0 1.0

Social media is full of competing forces. It didn’t take long for Instagram to launch a video product after the emergence and quick success of Vine. After Meerkat received such fanfare at SXSW 2015, Twitter very quickly launched competitor Periscope, which soon took over as the leader of live-streaming.

And then there’s YouTube and Facebook video.

The growth of Facebook video over the last two years has been widely documented. Its rapid expansion has placed it squarely in the running for top social video platform. To earn that title though, Facebook has to dethrone YouTube, which has long been synonymous with online video.

If you work in a business with limited time and resources to put towards video, you may be wondering which of these platforms to focus on. This is an important question, as the future of social media, and the internet as a whole, lies squarely in video. In fact, 80 percent of internet traffic will be attributable to video by 2019.

Video is clearly essential to a good social media strategy. To help you decide between Facebook video and YouTube, we’ve compared and contrasted these two options below.

Bonus: Download a free guide that teaches you how to turn Facebook traffic into sales in four simple steps using Hootsuite.

Facebook Video

Quick stats

Video traits and demographics

It isn’t easy to characterize video on Facebook or YouTube, as people can post just about whatever they want to either social network. That being said, we do know a bit about what successful videos look like on both networks, and that’s what this section will focus on.

With over 65 percent of Facebook video views coming from mobile, you should be optimizing your videos for small screens. The prominent mobile viewing may also factor into why Facebook videos are generally characterized by a shorter length. In 2014, the average length of Facebook videos was 44 seconds, and research indicated that 21 second videos were most frequently watched in full. Things may have changed in the last year, newer research still indicates that top videos are usually very short in length. It makes sense: people scrolling through their feeds on the bus aren’t likely to stop and watch a 20 minute clip.

Although Facebook is used by more 18 to 29-year-olds than any other demographic, more than 50 percent of people over 18 use it. This means that you don’t need to necessarily cater your videos to a specific age group, unlike on Snapchat for example. Instead, you should be creating videos that resonate with your particular audience.

Strengths

What are the strengths of Facebook video? Well, above all else, there’s the fact that just about everybody uses Facebook. And if everybody uses Facebook, pretty soon everybody is probably going to be using Facebook video.

When you look at the rise of video on the social network, it’s not like it started off with a big launch or campaign. They just slowly improved their video functionality over time, and the 1.3 billion Facebook users naturally started watching and sharing video. Video has become an inherent part of the Facebook stream experience, and it’s still growing. Facebook might not yet have the same video numbers as YouTube, but it didn’t take them very long to get this close, and most people believe they’re on a course to surpass their main competitor. So mark down adoption as a major strength.

Aside from the widespread usage, one of the strengths of Facebook video is the fact that the social network’s algorithm is often updated to take into account user trends. Earlier this year, for example, they changed the algorithm to take into account different forms of engagement on videos, including turning on the sound or making a video full screen. This reflects a recognition that people were watching and enjoying videos, even if they didn’t comment or like them. In tracking these engagements, Facebook gets a better sense of how people are interacting with videos, which results in more of your videos appearing in the feeds of users that actually want to see them. This is just one example of how the algorithm is being updated to enhance the video experience for users, which should only help its video growth. And it’s not only the algorithm; from auto-play to adding embed codes, Facebook has slowly been working to get its videos shared. This, of course, should also mean more shares for you.

Both of these result in great discoverability of Facebook videos. While on YouTube there’s really no guarantee your video will be seen without promotion, the second you post a video to your Facebook page, you can usually count on getting some viewership. The more views you get, the more you’re rewarded for it.

One final strength of Facebook video is the sheer amount of data the social network is constantly gathering about its users. This data can be used for better targeting, especially when it comes to video ads. Digital icon Gary Vaynerchuk recently explained the real data advantage of Facebook:

“They are sitting on an enormous amount of targetable consumer data. It creates the ultimate marketing machine. For example, let’s say you upload a video natively, like I talked about before, about the best places to eat ice cream outdoors in your town. You could then spend money on a sponsored video to directly market your brand’s video to people who 1) love ice cream and 2) live in your area and 3) have kids. Automatically, you’re reaching the audience who is most interested and profitable to your business — Which is great, because you’re not wasting anyone’s time, and you’re truly reaching the consumers who will be interested in your business’s offering. Get it? Facebook gives you the ability to target consumers like we’ve never seen before in digital.”

Wide usage, an intelligent algorithm, easy discoverability and loads of data make for one powerful video force.

Bonus: Download a free guide that teaches you how to turn Facebook traffic into sales in four simple steps using Hootsuite.

Weaknesses

We’re not going to focus too much on weaknesses of these two video platforms because, to be frank, there aren’t many. Facebook video and YouTube are at the top of the social video game for a reason. Think of this section more as just some things to keep in mind that could hurt your social video performance.

While the Facebook algorithm is a definite positive for video on the platform, it will punish businesses and video creators who produce bad video, lazy video or unoptimized video. The algorithm recognizes when someone’s videos perform well, and it promotes those. But it also does the opposite. If you continue to publish videos that no one engages with and no one watches to completion, Facebook is largely going to stop showing your videos to people. Don’t think of this as a punishment as much as an incentive to only share high quality content—something you should be striving to do anyways.

Another thing to keep in mind is that in-stream video is often a passive experience for Facebook users. People aren’t necessarily on Facebook searching for video, though they enjoy watching videos as they use the social network. Scrolling through your stream, you probably stop on a few videos every day that catch your eye. But you don’t stop on every video. In contrast, if you’re on YouTube watching a video, you made some kind of effort to get there. It’s a more active experience, which generally means more engagement and connection with the video.

Also, Facebook counts a video view as only three seconds or longer. Three seconds isn’t exactly a long time to make an impression on someone, especially if they just pause and watch your video auto play for a bit and move on. For this reason, you may not want to put too much stock into the view count of your Facebook videos, and focus instead on engagement. Or, if you’re willing to pay for video ads, Facebook introduced a 10-second video view count for advertisers.

YouTube

Quick stats

Video traits and demographics

One again, it’s nearly impossible to characterize YouTube videos as a whole, since the network comprises videos of all lengths and types.

What we do know about these videos, at least in comparison to Facebook, is that YouTube users are more open to long videos than Facebook users. While Facebook videos perform best when they’re between 20 and 40 seconds, the average length of top YouTube videos was just under 3 minutes. Also, the above stat, that the average YouTube session on mobile is 40 minutes, is a remarkable testament to people’s willingness to watch long videos through the social network, even from their phones. Use that extra time to get your message across.

While we’re on the topic of mobile, YouTube attracted more viewers aged 18-49 on their mobile app alone than any U.S. cable network. Though the network has a vast audience demographic, similar to Facebook, usage tends to drop off at a slightly younger age on YouTube. In other words, you may not want to promote your retirement community through YouTube videos, but in general the audience is large and varied.

Strengths

I wrote earlier that YouTube was synonymous with social video, and that very fact is one of its strengths. When people all over the world think about video, they immediately think YouTube. This association translates into hundreds of millions of hours of video watched through the social network every single day. YouTube is cemented as a video leader, and even if Facebook continues to make gains, YouTube had a 10-year head start will always have been the forebearer.

Part of the reason YouTube is so powerful is because it isn’t just owned by a search engine, it essentially is one in its own right. In fact, Mushroom Networks named YouTube the second largest search engine in the world. Three hundred hours worth of video content are pushed to YouTube every minute. Want a review of a new product? YouTube. Want to learn how to use software? YouTube. Want to watch a funny cat video? YouTube, of course. People who are actively looking for a video on anything are probably turning to YouTube. If you can make your business’ video the answer to any of their questions, there’s huge potential for you on YouTube. The searchability—and association with Google—also gives YouTube the distinct SEO advantage.

This searchability is likely the reason why YouTube videos get more of their views over an extended period time compared to Facebook. About 50 percent of Facebook views come on the very first day of publishing, which makes sense since the algorithm pushes clips to people’s home feeds. YouTube videos, on the other hand, only get 20 percent of their views on day one. These videos rack up views over time and can benefit your business on the long-term.

YouTube is also a very global video tool. Eighty percent of YouTube views come from outside the US, and YouTube even has a greater number of users across the world, according to a GWI report.

Graphic courtesy of GWI

The gap in visitors, though closing fast, is apparently even more pronounced in regions where Facebook has struggled to gain a foothold, including Japan and Russia. Facebook, as the most used social network in the world, is clearly used worldwide as well, and the visitors numbers are very close. But when it comes to Facebook video, you really need to be directly targeting your following. On YouTube you can target a wider audience of people who, for whatever reason, might land on or seek out your video. A wider audience means more flexibility.

As a social video pioneer, with high searchability, long-term viewing potential and a very global audience, YouTube can’t be ignored.

Weaknesses

One of YouTube’s strengths can also end up being one of its weaknesses. Because the social network has such a wide, global audience, one that isn’t necessarily following you or looking for your content, it may be hard to make that first connection with people. You really need to emphasize promotion when it comes to YouTube videos, because there’s no guarantee that anyone will ever see them. This means cross-promoting videos on other social networks, embedding clips on your blog and website, and investing in paid promotion. You have to work for your YouTube views, but there’s nothing wrong with a little hard work.

Another weakness of YouTube’s is that, to be frank, Facebook is the new cool kid in town. The rapid growth of video on Facebook has called into question the dominance of YouTube, and that in itself is reason for concern. Heck, even Vaynerchuk, who got his big break with a YouTube show, is all about Facebook video these days. YouTube numbers continue to grow, but at a slower rate than on Facebook. It is definitely something that businesses and video marketers should be monitoring over the next months and years, just to make sure that Facebook doesn’t cut too deeply into the YouTube audience.

Which video tool is right for you?

Image by Gadgetmac//Nest Photo via Flickr CC by NC ND 2.0

The above information should provide you with some guidance if you’re trying to decide whether to focus your time on YouTube or Facebook video. Each network has its strengths. If you have a very engaged Facebook following or are interested in using data to really target a specific following with your videos, you might lean towards Facebook. If you’re creating something a little more detailed, but with wide appeal, you might want to turn to YouTube.

Still, this post should open your eyes to one important reality: both of these video networks are valuable in different ways. Though each social network should be treated as a unique entity, ideally your business will be making use of both, as long as you have the resources to do so.

Shorter, snappier videos that you know your audience will enjoy should be placed on Facebook. Longer, more evergreen videos should find a home on YouTube. But that doesn’t mean you can’t create a short teaser for a long video and upload it to Facebook. Or maybe a video performs so well on your Facebook page that you decide to expand on it and upload it to YouTube. With different characteristics appealing to different audiences, having both a YouTube and a Facebook video strategy will allow you to reach the widest possible audience. That’s something worth working for.

In addition to our powerful Facebook integration, Hootsuite has a YouTube app that allows you to upload, schedule and promote your videos. Try it today.