Although viewability is a relatively new topic in the world of digital marketing (and has historically mainly impacted the digital display and programmatic advertising domains), over the course of past few years, it has climbed up the social media advertising agenda. 

But why has viewability became such a hot topic in the first place? To eliminate the ecosystem of impressions that were never visible on screen, the industry came up with a way to measure impressions that are seen. This measure is called viewability.

When we talk about viewability on Social Media platforms, there are three pertinent questions we need to address:

Question #1: Does Viewability on Social Media matter?

Let’s start with the basics…

What is viewability?

“Viewability,” as defined by the Media Ratings Council, (MRC) means an ad has 50% of its pixels in view for a minimum of one continuous second. Essentially, viewability is the opportunity for a real person to see an ad.

Three factors are defined by the industry to determine viewability:

  • The ad impression must be served to a person. No debates here, we are in alignment.
  • The ad impression must enter the screen of the device and not be served below-the-fold. No one disagrees here either. 
  • The ad impression must meet minimum time and pixel requirements to capture a duration metric. This is where the whole measurement of viewability becomes more complicated and has stirred up some controversy across the media industry, especially in context of a scrollable News Feed environment. 

As viewable duration became a controversial topic within the media industry, standards were created to determine what duration constituted a viewable impression. While MRC standard is widely used, different industry bodies including media agency networks and companies, have their own standards.

But why isn’t there a single, broadly agreed upon viewable duration standard at which an ad is considered to create value? Because people consume content differently on different platforms and devices. 

Before mobile, imagine a small banner ad on a desktop. It sat there for a long period as a person scrolled through a website. This made the duration metric a no brainer in helping prove to advertisers that their content was seen. 

With the shift towards mobile centric digital consumption, people have started to scroll through content on their News Feed on social platforms much quicker, while still getting exposed to ads, essentially meaning that viewable duration now is often shorter than before. 

And that brings us to the next key question…

Question #2: How do we optimise for viewability on social without losing media efficacy?

Before we go into the ‘’how’’ of optimisation for viewability on social media, there are some unintended consequences when optimising for viewability and measuring campaign success based on duration alone. These unintended consequences derive from the following facts:

  1. According to a Facebook IQ survey, people consume content 41% faster on mobile News Feed than on desktop News Feed.  This means when looking at viewability results alone to optimise a Social Media campaign, this might favour ads served on desktop vs mobile feed.
  2. According to Facebook’s Director of Ad Product Marketing, how long people consume ads is largely determined by how quickly they consume their Feeds. It turns out that when looked at in aggregate, under 20s consume content 2.5x faster than people in their 60s. Therefore, focusing on duration alone can cause you to unintentionally optimise for a certain audience, which may not be the audience you’re trying to reach just to maximise the time-in-view on screen.

3. As the technology used to measure viewability is not evolving as fast as the formats and audience behaviour on Social Media, optimising for viewability doesn’t favor new and innovative formats such as AR lenses and stories whether they are on Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat. Although these formats can be immersive and have a higher dwell-time, they are not viewability-compatible as fit-for-purpose viewability measurement is not yet available. Therefore, optimising based on duration alone can lead to optimising for smaller, less engaging ad formats. 

So then, how do we optimise for viewability on Social Media without compromising on efficacy? 

First, it’s worth testing which campaign objective drives higher viewability rates for a brand’s social campaign. For instance, when optimising for reach, the reach of your campaign is higher but the ad view duration is often lower. But when optimising for video views, while the campaign reach is lower, the ad view duration can be higher.

Second, following creative best practices and creating short form, mobile-optimised content that’s platform specific and includes tasteful branding within the first 2 seconds of the video, is essential to improve viewability and video performance. 

Question #3: Is there a correlation between viewability and performance?

As the impact of viewability on performance can vary from one brand to the other, proving correlation between viewability and performance often requires further measurement and testing. 

As a good starting point, there are two types of measurements you would need conduct:

  • For your branding campaigns, measure the impact of viewability on brand metrics that are important for your brand, such as ad recall, brand favourability, purchase intent by conducting Brand Lift Studies.
  • For your performance campaigns, assess the impact of viewability on your brand’s sales with a Conversion Lift study.


In summary

Viewability will continue to remain a critical topic for the digital marketing industry; more so for the social media sphere. For social media, it matters as a ‘health metric’ to ensure the ad impression is served to a person on a device screen for a specified duration based either the MRC industry standard or the bespoke standard that your brand or media agency is using. 

Optimising for viewability needs a carefully considered and tailored approach to avoid any unintended consequences while delivering efficiency and effectiveness across the campaigns.   

Optimising for viewability needs a carefully considered and tailored approach to avoid any unintended consequences while delivering efficiency and effectiveness across the campaigns.