As social video becomes of more prominence in online video buys and of increasing interest to brands in all verticals, it seems helpful to have a full look at the current landscape of social video, its players, buying tactics, strategies, results from social video campaigns, as well as what’s on the horizon for social video.

What is a Social Video Campaign?
First, let’s define what social video is. A social video campaign is one in which paid media is used to instigate earned media en masse around a video asset. Unlike other video buys that simply distribute videos in traditional ad units, social video campaigns usually leverage native ad formats and social platforms like YouTube to change the user’s immediate perception from “just another ad” to “content I’ve discovered”.

On that note, social video campaigns are usually focused around more content driven than ad driven videos. These usually are in the form of short/long form branded assets, which usually attempt to be humorous, but can also include web series, public service announcements, political ads, how-to’s and other forms of branded content. Occasionally, social video campaigns will be used to try and make a standard repurposed television asset go “viral”, which works to varying degrees. Indeed the most successful social video campaigns use the initial paid media burst (AKA video seeding) to elevate their videos in front of their audiences in the social sphere from which point the quality of that video content carries it to holy land of staggering amounts of earned media and critical acclaim.

Social Video vs. Viral Video
It’s also important to note the difference between “viral videos” and “social videos”.

1. A viral video is an asset that is uploaded to the Internet and, without any paid media distribution of that asset, sees significant viewership.

2. A social video is an asset, usually produced by a brand to promote itself or its products, that is uploaded to the internet and uses paid media distribution to kick start its viewership in hopes to have it rise in the social sphere and amass significant viewership and engagement.

A video of a cat slipping off the kitchen countertop that garners 30,000 views is a viral video. An Old Spice video that garners 15MM views is a social video.

Social Video Campaign Buying Tactics
There are a few main buying tactics that all of these companies use to fuel their campaigns. The foremost is the use of social rewarded platforms (incentivized platforms). This fact was a bit of a dirty little secret about a year ago because the vendors weren’t necessarily forthcoming about the use of this inventory when selling social video campaigns to their clients. As advertisers began to shift from the “give me as many views as humanly possible” mindset and became more concerned with the mechanics of these campaigns and engagement beyond views, social video vendors were forced to begin outlining where they were actually buying their inventory. This is not to say that social rewarded inventory is not valuable, quite the opposite actually, but rather it was perceived as such since the vendors were not forthcoming about their use of it.

Social rewarded inventory has as many pros as it does cons, some of which are that targeting is much more granular than in other types of inventory as well as it being a fantastic inventory source to target moms and, best of all, it’s very cost effective. The hesitancy around social rewarded views from the brand’s perspective is simply that the brand is not infatuated with the idea of incentivizing a user to watch their video. On top of that, if social rewarded campaigns are setup poorly the users can turn on the brand in their comments on the video being promoted.

Beyond social rewarded inventory, most social video companies use display buys to drive viewership. This can either be in the form of placing a buy on a non-owned & operated network or leveraging a display network built out in blogs that the company has partnerships with. As any media buyer can imagine, this is a much less cost effective way to buy than social rewarded views since display is bought on a CPM and social rewarded on a CPV/CV.

The last method which some companies use to drive audiences is by gaining editorial or “native” placements on contextually relevant sites (think a placement on Gizmodo for a new cell phone video) and then placing media buys on social networks and other CPC inventory sources to direct them to that placement to consume that video content.

Paid Media Strategy & Desired Results
So now that we’ve touched on the different buying tactics of social video companies, what’s the point of it all? As mentioned earlier in the article, the point of these paid media buys across different inventory sources is to instigate critical mass around a video asset in such a manner so that video begins to rise in the YouTube charts.

YouTube Charts –

The YouTube charts are comprised of videos that YouTube’s algorithms determine are trending much in the way that websites are ranked in Google’s organic search based on relevance to the search keywords. Once a video rises into the YouTube charts it has the opportunity for users who are browsing those charts to discover that video for themselves, click to watch, and share that video, all organically. If a social video campaign is ran well and the video is engaging, the video will rise to the top ten in its respective YouTube chart, which will then get that video placed organically on the homepage of YouTube.

Homepage placement on YouTube means that your video can potentially see around 5MM+ unique organic impressions per day that it’s on the homepage (YT has about 155MM uniques/mo). Along with the SEO in YouTube, the video asset will also receive SEO within Google search for keywords related to the video content as well as being syndicated out to all mobile devices that have the YouTube app built in (iOS, Android).

All of these organic placements across the YouTube/Google platform are what drives the high amounts of earned media for the video assets and is the seed for users to begin sharing to their other social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, etc.

What’s Next for Social Video?
So there you have it, social video, but what’s next?

Although social video campaigns are much more social than running video campaigns through traditional display and preroll buys, they are still limited in the aspect that they are using paid media to distribute the video assets themselves. Therein lies the problem. It’s the paid distribution tactics used to launch social video campaigns which keep them from being truly social. So how do we, as an industry, tackle this issue and take social video to the next level and deliver truly social video campaigns?

Some leading brands and vendors are recognizing that by leveraging influential users on social platforms to engage with their brand they’re able to spark real discussions and engagement around the brand that paid media simply cannot deliver.

It’s important to note that these types of influencer based campaigns may not garner the millions upon millions of views that brands have been drunk on over the past year or two, but rather the high levels of true engagement with the brand is worth much more than paying for those millions of often empty views. This is not to say that social video does not have its place in the online video ecosystem, but rather that it’s our duty as an industry to incessantly pursue new ways to deliver content to our audiences in increasingly authentic ways so that they are eager to engage and evangelize it.

One thing is for sure, the days of pushing traditional video advertising down consumers’ throats are gone.