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Published May 25th 2017

How To Create Thumb-Stopping Facebook Videos That Engage With Users

Because video drives shares on Facebook, we wanted to find out more about the types of videos that grab viewers’ attention. Facebook describes these compelling videos well.

They are Thumb-Stopping.

To identify common features of highly shared videos, we looked at 3000 videos with a high number of shares, likes, and comments. All of them were posted during the last 12 months.

The average interactions–shares, likes, and comments– for these videos ranged from 228,723 to an astounding 8.4 million, with a median of 752,737.

One thing that surprised me in the data was that average and median shares were higher than average and median comments.

My hypothesis is that videos may be especially viral in nature…not so much something we comment on, but something we pass on to friends. This definitely needs more research. (I’d love to hear about your experiences with shares vs. comments).

To put the magnitude of average interactions into perspective, I compared the 3000 videos in my sample to videos published at pages with the largest Facebook audiences — Cristiano, Shakira, Coca-Cola, and Beyonce, Vin Diesel, Eminem, Leo Messi, and Facebook itself.

At these popular sites, the median number of interactions for video content was substantially lower, ranging from 103 to 1.7 million, with a median of approximately 99,000, despite their much larger fan base.

Initially at least, the data seems to indicate that audience size alone does not drive interactions with Facebook videos. This is encouraging news for non-celebrities who uses Facebook for videos.

So, if audience size isn’t the only thing driving interaction with Facebook videos, what factors do stop the thumbs of Facebook viewers?

Here are our key takeaways about engaging Facebook videos:

  1. Heavy video interaction does not depend solely on audience size.
  2. The most engaging Facebook videos, on average, have more shares than comments.
  3. The most engaging Facebook videos include the same elements as other engaging (non-video) content and headlines.
  4. Blatant calls to action don’t hamper interaction with Facebook videos, and they may encourage it.
  5. Storytelling is an important element of Facebook videos that people share, like and comment on.
  6. B2B Facebook pages can apply insights from brand and consumer-oriented content to create engaging videos.

What drives interactions in Facebook Video?

Earlier research by BuzzSumo into content marketing data has shown that highly engaging content shares five core elements:

  1. Emotional element
  2. Content element
  3. Topical element
  4. Format
  5. Promise

Shock, anger, controversy, inspiration — emotional content –catches people’s attention and drives them to share. People also can’t seem to resist sharing lists, recipes, trendy information or cute pictures of kids or animals. And, promises are powerful share drivers. 

These same elements are seen often in viral headlines.

Like 2 billion other people, I use Facebook at least once a month, and I know from my own feed that the same viral elements seen in popular non-video content show up frequently.

But, I’m also not a connoisseur of video posts; my feed is heavily influenced by my demographic; and more importantly, I wanted to approach my marketing decisions with more than a hypothesis that funny Facebook videos get more shares than other types of videos. 

As a first step, I watched each of the top 100 videos in my study, and classified them as one of 12 things:

  1. Inspiring
  2. Animals
  3. Amusing
  4. DIY 
  5. Recipes
  6. Celebrity
  7. Cute kids
  8. Shocking
  9. Controversy
  10. Beautiful
  11. Warning
  12. Contest

You can see the results here:

Clearly, inspiration and amusement are important!

Next I wanted to see if there were any common phrases or terms in the messages of the most engaging video posts.

To determine this, I took the messages, written posts, from the videos with more than the median number of interactions and plugged them into a free text analyzer.

Here are the results:

  Frequently Occurring Words and Phrases in the Most Engaging Facebook Video Messages 1 like our page for more 2 get the full recipe 3 like share and comment 4 to spin the wheel 5 beauty and the beast 6 step by step instructions 7 how to make 8 by occupy democrats 9 the best 10 recipe 11 trump 12 people 13 know 14 first 15 trailer 16 today 17 donald 18 dog 19 year 20 love 21 world 

One thing that surprised me in this list is that specific or blatant calls to action don’t seem to hamper shares.

Of course, in the world of BuzzFeed Tasty, recipes rank highly, as do how to’s and step-by-step instructions.

And, trendy content is represented with the names Donald and Trump, as well as the word trailer and the phrase Beauty and the Beast.

Tell Stories with Facebook Video

One key element in successful Facebook video is storytelling. (You can learn more about storytelling with Facebook Live videos in this presentation with Mari Smith).

At their most basic, stories have four components: Setting, Character, Conflict, Resolution. Those elements can be included in even the shortest videos. 

And, you don’t have to be a playwright or screen writer with a narrative to create videos that tell stories.

I originally saw a clip of the “Nature is Amazing” video on Facebook, posted by the World Surf League. It manages to tell a story in 0:34 seconds. The Facebook clip has 121 million views and 2.8 million total interactions.

The setting is a beautiful lagoon; the characters — a pod of dolphins. They are swimming peacefully, as a wave (the conflict) gathers behind them. Just moments later, the drama is resolved as the dolphins swim, dive and jump through the wave, returning to their former calm.

But storytelling is not just for Facebook pages with access to beautiful natural settings! Brands can apply story-telling logic, too.

The Edinburgh Casting Studio sells DIY body-casting supplies.

Without a story, the product is a bucket of slurry that can be used to create a mold of a hand or other body part.

With a story the bucket becomes the vehicle to create a family heirloom.

“A Recipe Like No Other,” is 1:10 of marketing glory–setting the product within the context of a love story.

It has 139 million views on Facebook, and 3.7 million interactions.

B2C and Entertainment Facebook pages aren’t the only ones to benefit from video posts on Facebook. B2B companies can apply the same principles to their video strategy to test engagement.

To determine the types of videos that succeed for B2B companies, I analyzed 950 of the Facebook videos with highest average engagement from ten leading companies in the B2B space–Intel, Oracle, SAS, IBM, Netapp, Salesforce, Cisco, DellEMC, VMWare and Symantec.

Here’s what I found. The total interactions for video are lower than in my larger sample, but that’s to be expected, because the products belong to a niche.

Still, the average overall engagement for the B2B videos is 1144, and the median is 161. And, just as with the original set of 3000 videos, average shares are higher than average comments. 

I tend to value shares more highly than comments, as they push a brand or page message into the newsfeeds of a broader audience–for free.

Remember that Facebook is not LinkedIn. It’s about everyday life–parenting, kids, jokes, stories, growing up, forgiveness, thankfulness, life issues, celebrities. Keeping this in mind, B2B companies can experiment with a couple of different video ideas:

  1. Employee stories
  2. Customer stories
  3. Office tours–with a twist
  4. Volunteer work

The following examples illustrate the potential for interaction, as well as how to apply emotional elements and storytelling principles within a video context for Facebook.

In addition to 5.8 million views, this post from Oracle has 42.7k interactions.

But, even without semi-professional yoga instructors and video crews, employee stories can get a lot of interactions. This video, also from Oracle, features Bruno Borges, principal product manager, with his nine golden retriever puppies. It also proves that puppies have a place on B2B Facebook pages. The Facebook clip is just 30 seconds long.

It has 34.7k views, and 794 interactions.

VMWare used video to showcase their corporate campus, but they didn’t settle for a vanilla walk through video.

They told the story of rescuing turtles with their on-site pond.

In addition to 7.5k views, it has 229 interactions–much more than median interactions for Facebook B2B video.

The 2017 Social Media Marketing Industry Report, produced by Social Media Examiner, makes it clear that “Facebook is the most important social network for marketers by a long shot.” And, it’s importance has increased for B2B marketers, overtaking and surpassing that of LinkedIn.

The report also notes that live video is an important trend, and visual content is essential for social media engagement.

There is no better time to master the art of video content for Facebook.

It’s time to stop some thumbs.



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