Don’t Let the View Count Fool You: When Online Video Success Is Not What It Seems


Written by on Monday, January 7, 2013
motorola video

Image credit: Motorola

Fake YouTube views are nothing new but a recent music industry crackdown shed some light on just how common the practice is. Ten days ago, Google eliminated 2 billion fake views from record label run YouTube channels. Artists as big as Beyoncé, Rihanna and Justin Bieber were hit with reality.

It has been said fake views were bought to build credibility, prestige and ad revenue. After all, videos are evaluated based on view count and there is natural rivalry between channels. Other may do it simply because they can. Like the guy who recently acquired 60,000 views for 50 dollars as a Christmas gift to himself.

But there is also another likely reason: personal targets. If you work with videos, it’s likely your success is evaluated based on views because it seems like a solid, simple measure. A manager might be tempted to say: ”If you want your bonus, show me a video with 2 million views.” When the system is flawed, people are tempted to game it.

What would make better targets then? Engagement is definitely one. Whenever I see a video with 3 million views but it only has two dozen comments and a total of 90 likes or dislikes, I get suspicious. I’m looking at you Motorola Mobility and Droid Razr.

As a Google subsidiary, Motorola is probably buying views legitimately through YouTube advertising and even reaching its target audience. But what is it all worth if the content is not interesting to anyone? No one comments. No one likes. No one shares. The viewers might even drop off after the first 10 seconds. No problem.

At the end of December, the Droid Razr video was number six on YouTube’s Science & Technology chart for the month. For competitors, it might have seemed like a legitimate win. But it wasn’t. It was a mediocre piece of work with a big ad budget or a sponsored video not correctly labeled as one.

Yes, you should use advertising to seed and promote, but if the paid push isn’t generating any additional buzz or interaction, there’s something wrong with the content. It’s time to go back to the drawing board. Treating online video like it’s TV advertising you can force people to watch regardless of whether they like it or not – that’s a crime even more terrible than buying fake views.

About the author

Vilja Sormunen looks after publishing and distribution at online video agency KLOK. She has previously worked in social marketing at Nokia as the global YouTube channel lead, online marketing at e-commerce company Spreadshirt and public relations at TBWA/Helsinki. Vilja studied international business at the Helsinki School of Economics and wrote her Master's thesis on viral marketing.