If we could answer the question of Why people choose to consume video (or any media from our site) then we’d be well on our way to success. Let’s explore a model that might provide insight to a potential answer.
The Good Reason and the Real Reason
One of my all-time favourite quotes is by J. P. Morgan:
A man always has two reasons for doing anything: a good reason and the real reason
The beauty of this quote is that it is highly adaptable to the context in which we want to apply it. If we consider the ‘Good’ reason to be relative to social standing – i.e. an externally influenced decision; and the ‘Real’ reason to be relative to maximising personal benefit – i.e. an internally influenced decision then we can form a model as to why people may choose to view or not view content.
Utility vs Social
I’ve written in a previous post about Utility (as defined in the field of Economics) and how it pertains to deploying connected Video into our websites. Indeed it can be deemed as the driver of the Real reason someone chooses to watch a video: the “What will I get out of it?” question.
Social however is a new topic for this blog (albeit not for long I would think) and really is a way of defining our human nature around interacting with our surroundings. Within the context of this article Social can be regarded as the desire to ‘Follow the Crowd’ and can be seen as a key driver for the syndication of a video throughout the network: the “Have you seen it?” question.
Together Utility and Social can be correlated in such as way that you can hypothesise that aiming to maximize both the utility and social aspects of a piece of content is paramount to a viewer ultimately choosing to watch.
At a recent APA Digital Breakfast event Rob Crombie of FMG put it susctintly when he divided the purpose of video into two main buckets:
- Entertainment Based; and
- Task Based
In other words it’s safe to say that the viewer will engage with video content for either entertainment reasons (tune in, tune out….) and / or task based reasons (interact, engage, learn something). If this is true then to create and maximise the utility of the content we should focus on bettering our execution in the production phase to increase capital of it being both entertaining and task based.
There are any number ways of doing this but for me one of the most successful agencies that does this is Adjust Your Set based in the UK. This agency takes the “or” out and focuses on the “and”. Highly entertaining content and high focus on calls to actions are always prominent in their outputs – have a look at DebenhamsTV to see this at work. A key takeaway is that in the connected medium, task based maximisation can be applied further down the supply chain. An example here is an overlay in the viewing experience as indeed the calls to actions to purchase are in the videos seen on DebenhamsTV.
By creating Utility in your videos you will give the viewer a the “Real reason” to watch.
Lesson: Fine tuning both the entertainment and task angles of your content maximises utility of content.
At the end of the day social networks boils down to human interactions in groups. Mob mentality. In his great book, Critical Mass, Philip Ball explores any number of reasons why systems change states, in particular social systems. The book, in fact, is a main motivator for this post and I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys applied physics and social sciences.
Has anyone ever really given a concrete answer to the question: What causes a video to go viral? In online video business where stream counts are paramount surely the answer should be known by now? The fact is it’s not and probably won’t ever be. The social network in which these videos are passed around are non-linear equilibrium states: meaning a video’s switch between non-viral and viral can only be expressed in statistical models, not direct linear relationships. We simply can’t just say if we do x and y then the video will go viral.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. We can look, as is done in Critical Mass, at all sorts of social systems and how they change state with an aim to apply universal laws back to the lowly connected video.
If we consider social networks to be Small World networks, where the nodes are clustered in such as way that most nodes are not connected to each other but can be reached by a small number of short hops (think 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon) then we can have what can be deemed a social influence network. You can see this all over the place, none more telling than your friend network: you have a bunch of direct acquaintances who know people you don’t and so on to a point that via a handful of introductions you’ll be introduced to anyone in the network.
In a social influence network individual nodes (people) are making decisions based on the interactions with their neighbours. This is what J.P. Morgan meant as his ‘Good’ reason. Good and Bad are barometer terms that can be applied to objects and constructs based on a majority vote in the network. For example today we think smoking is a bad thing, 70 years ago we thought it was a good thing. Over time our group consensus can (and does) switch. Just like a video, one day it’s not viral and the next is is. The key driver here is that it is an influenced based model.
And that’s a key to getting video to go viral – you need to maximise it’s ability to influence and be influenced. And in today’s word the key to this is Sharing – for a video, or indeed any content, it must be easily shared through the network. It will then fall into statistical rules as to whether it will indeed go viral – i.e. jump enough small clusters in the network to cover it all – or fizz out entirely.
Lesson: Increase the “Shareability” of your content; leverage the social networks to increase the probability of it going viral
Putting It All Together
Creating a spectrum of why a user decides to watch a video with pure Utility on the left and pure Social on the right : that’s to say it’s 100% self-interest on the left and 100% group-interest on the right we can probably assume a Bell Curve distribution of where viewers fall for any particular video. Again another way of looking at this is that for any given viewer on any given video the reason they choose to watch is a mix of both self and group interest.
The interesting thing is that the curve itself probably shifts for based on a content categorisation bias – Adult, HowTos, Educational are probably more biased to the Self, whereas Entertainment, Sports, Current Affairs are more biased to the Group. This could indication a very simple model if, again, we consider the 80/20 rule of the Bell curve
If your content is more Self driven then aim for a 75/25 split of Utility vs Social;
If your content is more Group driven then aim for a 25/75 split of Utility vs Social;
If your content is evenly balanced then aim for a 50/50 split of Utility vs Social
So a viewer should care less about sharing an Adult film with their friends and family then the overall quality of its Utility, and a viewer of a hit TV show will be less concerned about it’s Utility and more how it will allow them to improve their ‘social’ standing.
In The End It’s All About The Question: Why?
There’s no easy answers to the question Why anyone watches your video and the above is more a mental exercise around experience and complimentary work. But, if in the end all it does is you thinking more about the Why? then mission accomplished.
— Cameron Church