It's time for the YouTube metric madness to end

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Craig Mawdsley
Craig Mawdsley

The industry needs to kick its YouTube habit of referring to views as an effectiveness habit and a measure of popularity, writes Craig Mawdsley, joint chief strategy officer of AMV BBDO

For all of us in marketing and communication, YouTube has now moved from its previous status as "new" media, simply to being media. It’s part of every sensible communications strategy and has ensured that contrary to some predictions, video and film are more central to brand building than ever.

But even though this shift has occurred, some strange myths persist, and it’s time we all grew up and shook them off.

The first myth is that YouTube views are an effectiveness metric. Now, in sensible company, we all say that we know that YouTube views are not sales and that it is irrelevant as a metric (far from irrelevant as a media channel, but irrelevant as a success metric). At best, YouTube views help us to increase reach without spending money on broadcast TV, so it may be an efficiency metric, but no more than that.

But even though we say it doesn’t matter, our actions betray us. Client and agency alike, we trumpet our YouTube views in our case study videos and presentations to management. We’re hooked on watching the little counter tick up, and because meaningful metrics are often difficult to directly link to marketing activity, we would rather use a meaningless metric that is directly linked to a bit of our marketing activity.

It’s wrong, and we should stop doing it

The second myth is that YouTube views are "free" and some kind of measure of popularity. Journalists are particularly guilty of this, quoting YouTube views as though they were sales figures, or votes in an election. This or that ad "wins" because it had more YouTube views.

But come on, guys, we all know that isn’t how it works. It would be like saying that one ad is better than another because the media agency bought a slot in "X Factor" rather than a daytime slot on a channel nobody watches. It doesn’t mean it’s better, it just means you had more budget to reach a bigger audience.

Because that’s how YouTube works, too (for most brands at least). Now, of course if you just post a video of yourself doing a funny dance and get a million views, then maybe you can feel proud (or embarrassed), but that’s not how any serious brand uses it. You put money behind the film to reach an audience. And then popularity leads to more popularity — that’s how the algorithm works.

And this is without even beginning to consider whether those views are real people or not.

So let’s kick the habit. Use YouTube as a media channel by all means. You would be mad not to, nowadays. But make sure you see the views as an input, not an output. And if you’re a tabloid journalist, please stop writing stories about which ad has the most views.

This article first appeared on marketingmagazine.co.uk.

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