There is no doubt that 2011 has been a record-breaking year for social video. 

It was the year Volkswagen’s ‘The Force’ ad stormed the SuperBowl to become the most shared ad of all time in just six days, jumping from 100,000 to 1m views in just a few hours. 

It was the year that Charlie Sheen, thanks to some hilarious interviews, gained 1m followers in 25 hours and 17 minutes on Twitter, earning himself a Guinness World Record for the fastest person to a million followers. 

It was also the year that saw online beat TV to the number one ad spend spot for the first time.

With social video being included as an ad format in its own right, ad spend continued to follow the 100% growth year on year trend that started in 2008. 

So what does 2012 hold for online video?  

Here are some predictions from Unruly Media’s ‘What’s next for social video?’ insight report…

1. Video culture: what will people be watching?

Memes will spring from unexpected places throughout 2012 as they have for years but, as always, momentous events will provide a springboard for meme culture. 

The US Election and the Olympics will be meme playgrounds, and memes are also likely to spring from End of the World predictions as December 21 approaches: it’s the end of a 5,125-year-long cycle in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar which has been the centre of speculation in certain circles. 

Brands will be anticipating the memes, themes and Olympian dreams of 2012, creating video content around key events, and epic ads that use storytelling to engage and build long-term connections with audiences, as with the Heineken content of 2011. 

People will be creating and watching more user/community-funded films in 2012, with companies like Kickstarter providing independent film makers with access to funding, and video tools from YouTube and others boosting the quality of user generated content.

Brands will do more to encourage audience participation and interaction both by using their audiences to create content via competitions, and by introducing interactive functionality alongside their video content.

Alongside epic, high quality content, fast/sticky/funny content will persist in video, and extend via GIFs.

Video and images are the key components of meme propagation online and simple GIFs are likely to become fancier and spread more readily as a midpoint between video and images.

GIFs behave as video shorthand and will become a more common form of expression in 2012 thanks to free downloadable and web-based programmes for GIF creation and opportunities to post GIFs on Tumblr, Google+ and new GIF sites.

2. Device proliferation: where will people be watching?

While people will continue to consume social video on PC & desktop computers, and while Connected TVs will gain traction, significant and increasing numbers of people will be watching social video on phone and tablet mobile devices.

Mobile is the fastest growing information & communications technology ever seen (Figure 1) and mobile penetration will continue to grow in 2012.

Figure 1

Source: ITU World Telecommunication / ICT Indicators database. *2011 data is estimated.

Developed economies

Cross-platform consumption of video content will become the norm, and since sharing is intuitive on mobile devices, cross platform social video will reach the mainstream. 

A ‘best available device’ culture will emerge, which sees users demanding the content they want, when they want it, on the best screen they happen to have to hand at that moment.  

This is already happening, and providers of content by subscription, from the Financial Times to AppleTV are selling cross-platform subscriptions to allow content to be pulled from the cloud onto multiple devices. 

This culture is likely to lead to the introduction of a ‘Continuous Client’, a term coined by Joshua Topolsky of Engadget in 2010, which describes full synchronicity between multiple devices so that the work done on a phone, tablet or PC follows a user around as they switch to other devices.

As Topolsky says: “your devices (and their clients) should talk to each other so that you can placeshift your session from screen to screen”.

Figure 2 shows that ad campaigns that have been run across two platforms perform better than those that have been run across a single platform: with data like this and users consuming media across multiple devices, brands will increase their cross platform ad spends significantly in 2012.

As brand budgets follow the audiences to mobile, blending of brand video delivery across online, mobile and TV platforms will become commonplace.

Figure 2

Nielsen Cross Platform Behaviour, September 2011

Brands will also start embracing multi-screen consumption, engaging with the companion screen to create content which is designed to complement a TV-type viewing experience.

Users are already using the companion screen while watching TV, and in 2012 more brands, particularly broadcasters, will come out with companion content designed for smartphones and tablets.

Now that smartphones increasingly have 3D and Augmented Reality (AR) delivery capabilities built in, there will be a jump in the amount of commercially produced 3D and AR content in 2012, especially as 3DTV proliferation increases.

Entertainment and top FMCG brands are likely to lead this charge. Juniper Research predicts that AR mobile revenues will jump from $2m in 2010 to $1.5bn in 2015. 

As new smartphones and tablets hit the market with increasingly diverse features, from advanced camera technologies to temperature sensors and barometers, new features are likely to become a springboard for innovations from native application developers.  

Developing and supporting native applications for multiple devices and operating systems is time consuming and expensive. Brands have a need for quality HTML5 functionality which allows them to support features cross platform.

Emerging economies

Figure 3

Source: ITU World Telecommunication / ICT indicators database. Developed / developing country classifications are based on the UN M49. *2011 data is estimated.

Figure 3 shows that emerging markets are seeing a much faster and wider adoption of mobile devices than of internet connected desktop and laptop devices, and that increasing mobile subscriptions are impacting the growth of web use(slightly but significantly) in those markets.

These trends result from the ability to access connectivity at a much lower cost via mobile devices. For example, Aakash, a tablet device launched in India, is being sold to students at the subsidised price of $35, and are likely to continue in emerging economies over the coming years.

Affordable mobile technology is becoming a work platform and a revenue generator for people in emerging economies. 

For global advertisers, this means new markets are opening up: direct-to-consumer channels are becoming available in territories previously difficult to reach, such as India and Africa. 

India’s current internet penetration stands at 6.6% of the population but is predicted to reach 29.5%, with the number of Indian smartphones set to top 450, by 2015 .

3. Social platforms: how will people be sharing?

As well as the ‘Big Four’ social platforms of 2012 (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google+) social gaming environments will play a larger role in video sharing, as will the already powerful presences of region specific social platforms such as RenRen in China and VKontakte in Russia.

The advent of social video viewing platforms like and VHX may begin to change the way people discover, consume and share social video content.

These platforms are designed to turn Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr into TV channels, where you can discover and watch all of the videos your friends are sharing and talking about in real time.

They facilitate a dedicated social video experience, and may be more widely used in 2012.


Facebook is already becoming a gatekeeper, having introduced an Advertiser Whitelist, Facebook Credits, and HTTPS support requirements in 2011, and they will continue to control third party access, introducing more third party requirements in 2012 and beyond. 

On Facebook for the mobile web or iPad, if you tap on a story that a friend has posted in your newsfeed relating to an app, Facebook will fast-app-switch you over to the app if you already have it, or it will deep link you to the app store to download the app if not.

This functionality tries to be device-appropriate: if you’re viewing from an Android device, it will direct you to the Android app if possible.

HTML5 apps are not mainstream, so it’s essential for Facebook to fully support native applications. However, the current solution takes users out of the site and out of Facebook’s control, so it is unlikely to be a long term fix.

The leaked Project Spartan, a Facebook developer platform designed for mobile apps in HTML5, may be released in 2012 as a longer term play from the company as HTML5 becomes more developed and functional. 


Twitter will do more with ‘Big Data’ in 2012. It introduced link shortening in June 2011, meaning that it can now wrap all links shared in Twitter in the ‘’ format to capture data around how popular links are.

Twitter owns a lot of data around the number of clicks in a given time period, and may use this real-time link tracking to introduce real-time targeted ads.


YouTube has introduced video tools to make video editing easier for users, which are likely to increase the quality of the video content on the site.

The trend towards live content and on-demand services on YouTube will continue as Connected TV and TV on Demand blur the lines between TV and online.  

Also, there are likely to be more pay-per-view partnerships between YouTube and broadcasters. For example, the Ultimate Fighting Championship made all of the main card fights from UFC 135 available live for fans in the U.S. on the UFC YouTube channel for $44.99.


Google+ is similar to Twitter and Facebook in many respects, but Hangouts are a differentiator.

Hangouts have the potential to become a hub for real-time socialised co-viewing, perhaps particularly around video classes, and Google+ may increase focus on social viewing via hangouts in 2012.

Social gaming

Social gaming will become even more mainstream in 2012. In the early days of social gaming, the common perception of social gamers was that they were all teens and tweens.  

A little later, with the rise of Facebook games, the average social gamer was a 43-year-old woman, and by 2011, the largest demographic was 25-34 males, with females not far behind (Figure 4).

By 2012, there will be 68.7m social gamers in the US , and already 92% of smartphone owners play mobile games weekly. 

Within social gaming, value exchange advertising will be huge. Value exchange allows brands to reward users for engaging with their content, presenting a positive experience for users at the time that they choose to interact, and freeing them from annoying ‘ads’ during gameplay.

Engaging with users when they are gaming allows advertisers to reach users in their downtime when they have time to engage with content: sharing it, clicking through for more information and commenting on it if they find it interesting.

Figure 4  Figure 5

Popcap Research, September 2011                                                 Mashable, March 2011

Local social platforms

While the Middle East and North Africa will be loyal to Facebook and YouTube, J-BRIC (Japan, Brazil, Russia, India and China) will continue to engage increasingly with local video platforms and social networks, including Mixi in Japan, VKontakte in Russia, and Orkut in Brazil and India.

China’s use of social platforms is increasing and the most popular platforms tend to be homegrown, largely because Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google+ and many other platforms are banned in China.

Youku is the top Chinese video sharing site, Sina runs the biggest blog and microblog community, and China’s various social networks are illustrated in Figure 5.

Global brands will have to start tailoring social plans to make use of these international social platforms, in order to have success around the world.

4. Brands and video in 2012

Social video is emerging as the format of choice for planners and strategists with an eye on the long game.

The honeymoon for the 15-second pre-roll ad is coming to an end as advertisers demand better execution and cut-through and move budgets from push formats towards pull solutions; even pre-roll is starting to morph into an interactive multi-choice medium.

The pioneering brands of 2012 will be looking to brands that have created memes (like Old Spice with “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like”), have ridden memes very successfully (like Volkswagen with “The Force”), or have created Epic Ad content that uses storytelling to engage audiences (like Heineken with “The Entrance”) and strive to create similarly resonant content: online video creatives will see higher production and distribution budgets.

As brands spend more time and money on social video, the analytics and insight they need to see around this content will become more and more important. 

Brands will be looking for insight into exactly who is watching and sharing their videos, including demographics, real time brand uplift metrics; and benchmarking by category.

Understanding the true sentiment behind comments at scale will also become increasingly important for advertisers as more users engage and interact with branded content. 

Social video bridges the gap between content consumption and ad spend.

Social video campaigns generated 820m views in 2009, 2.7bn views in 2010, and over 8bn views in 2011. We are likely to see the number of views delivered from social video campaigns more than double again in 2012.