Social video is generally consumed silently; we've all heard the stats. 85% of Facebook video is consumed with sound off. The internet tells us all that this fact should drive creative. Copywriters are told to keep the scripts short. Multimedia designers are trained to create videos that tell the whole story with images and some animated text. The thing is – that while watching video with the sound off is still a thing, the reality of the way people consume video is far more nuanced than the oft-quoted stats would have you believe. And this more complex reality calls for a diverse approach to the way companies engage audiences in their video content. 

The pandemic changed behavior

Consuming social video silently was, pre-pandemic, a necessity. People, especially in busy cities, were often watching social video in transit, when commuting. Spaces reserved for avoiding eye contact at all costs, not watching Charli D'amelio body pop to Destiny’s Child on TikTok. Then the pandemic happened and hybrid working, for those that can, looks set to become a permanent fixture, meaning sound on has a new place in people’s social media worlds. Inflicting BENEE on a partner working from home is infinitely more acceptable than doing so to a city boy, not least because the former is at liberty to tell you where to go. People now have more time to watch videos with the sound on and this experience, whichever way you want to look at it, is more engaging than watching them with the sound off. This being the case, it makes sense to understand when and where people are listening to certain types of video content and create the experience accordingly. Blanket prioritizing sound off, circa 2016, is no longer the best approach.

Source: Pew Research Centre

The rise of new platforms 

As well as socio-behavioral changes – if we can be so grand as to call them that – precipitated by the pandemic, platforms have been founded and existing ones have evolved. Back in 2016, at the same time as sound off stats were all the rage, TikTok emerged. A social media platform driven by sound. And its popularity has grown steadily making it the seventh most used social media platform in the world. 

TikTok’s sound-on environment flipped the script when it comes to best practices for digital ads with the platform imploring advertisers to ‘make TikToks, not ads’; that is – videos created with voiceovers, music, sound effects and reactions. Its popularity also forced the original platforms to compete – Instagram Reels, anyone? – meaning that pockets of sound-on have long been infiltrating formerly quiet spaces. Of course, there’s IGTV, too, which launched in 2018 to compete with YouTube, and YouTube itself which remains a sound on stalwart, with 96% of its users watching content with audio.

Source: Hootsuite

Audiences are getting used to dubbed video content  

Netflix, HBO Max, Prime, Disney+ are all dubbing content to win audiences in international markets. In fact, some of the most popular shows on these platforms are watched in the dubbed version. Netflix has publicly talked about the huge benefits of dubbing content – namely that engagement is higher; measured in the case of Netflix by viewers’ likelihood to complete a series, which is 70% higher if they watch the dubbed version over the subtitled one. 

The halo effect of streaming sites is not to be underestimated. As an example – dubbed content allows people to engage with a second screen while watching their favourite series. So why not dubbed social media content that allows people to cook a meal or watch a child at the same time. The point is that habits aren’t fixed and wider changes in the way people consume media will not only have an impact on the way people interact with social video, but on their expectations for language options when viewing it too.

Source: GlobalWebIndex

Internationalization calls for more than subtitles and captions 

We’ve touched on the impact of audio on audience engagement. In the past, ensuring that video could be consumed with the sound off was of the utmost importance – especially to advertisers who wanted to ensure that their video ads would cut through even if video was automuted. This, however, is very much a home market approach. 

In order to capture audiences in new markets – especially those like Germany, Spain and Brazil already used to dubbed content or Japan where audiences expect local content – relevance is key. And there’s no better way to be relevant than by speaking people’s language. With 30% of ad revenue coming from outside the US many more media companies are waking up to the need for localization as a tactic for successful internationalization.

There will always be a place for automute and therefore content that makes sense without the sound on. There will also always be a place for frustrating flowery copywriters by asking them to make their scripts ‘more punchy’. But it would be prudent for media owners to get ahead of behavior shifts by offering audiences a full auditory experience, or at least the option of it.