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YouTube Provides New Overview of How its Video Recommendation Systems Work



YouTube has published a handy new overview of how its recommendation system works, in order to help creators build an audience on the platform, and reach more viewers with their clips.

The overview is presented by Rachel Alves, a product manager for discovery at YouTube. Alves has shared various insights into how the platform’s recommendation systems work, and she notes that this presentation, in particular, is usually used at conferences and the like to help people understand the systems that influence how videos are distributed.

As noted by Alves

“You don’t need to be an expert in algorithms of analytics to be successful on YouTube.”

Alves begins with an overview of the core aims of YouTube’s recommendation systems.

YouTube video recommendations guide

The key aim, as noted here, is to keep users coming back, by ensuring that they have a good experience on the platform.

“So we really maximize long-term satisfaction, so viewers keep coming back to YouTube.”

That, of course, is what you would expect, by Alves does note that YouTube has changed what it optimizes for over time.

“If we go back to 2011, what we optimized for was clicks and views […] but that’s not that great of a metric, because it may indirectly incentivize clickbait-y or sensational titles or thumbnails that get people in to watch a video, but doesn’t make them very satisfied or happy.”

YouTube video recommendations guide

Alves says that a lot of the feedback that YouTube got in the early days of its algorithmically-defined feed was that people’s home feeds were being filled with “sensational or off-putting videos”, so it switched focus to watch time as a key metric instead in 2012.

“How much time somebody spends watching a video or channel is much more indicative of the quality of the content, because if you spend more time watching something, it’s more likely that you’re going to be interested in it.”

However, Alves says that watch time isn’t a perfect metric either, because while you may spend more time watching something, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll end up feeling good about that time spent afterwards.

Because of this, YouTube has since been seeking to better define “quality or value” watch time, optimizing more towards user satisfaction.

YouTube does this through:

  • User surveys, helping to optimize for what people like and enjoy (Alves says they send out millions of user surveys every month)
  • Prioritizing authoritative content from recognized, established outlets, especially for news content
  • Reducing the spread of ‘borderline violative content’

So the focus is both on user satisfaction, and ensuring that people feel good about their experience on the platform, while also maintaining responsibility over what gets amplified through its recommendations.

YouTube has, of course, faced various challenges on this front, with the platform regularly coming under scrutiny for amplifying controversial content, including misinformation, conspiracy theories and politically divisive material. There’s no perfect solution for such, but YouTube’s seeking to keep these considerations in mind as it goes about refining its approach to what videos it recommends to users.

In terms of surveys, as noted, YouTube sends out millions of surveys to viewers every month, gathering feedback on a wide range of video uploads.

YouTube video recommendations guide

Alves says that they don’t share this information with creators at the moment, because they often don’t have enough feedback on each individual clip to provide useful feedback, but they can use the info to better inform their algorithms and systems. 

“We are looking at adding more satisfaction data, and externalizing it to creators, so it is something we’re working on.”

And yes – as you may probably expect, in addition to direct feedback via survey prompts, YouTube also uses signals like:

  • When people tap/click on the ‘Not interested’ option in the individual video menu  
  • Likes and dislikes on clips
  • Shares of clips
YouTube video recommendations guide

Like other social platforms, these actions are important in defining video reach through YouTube’s recommendation surfaces (i.e. the Home page and ‘Suggested’ listings). As much as YouTube does want to lean on more in-depth user feedback to determine whether a video provides viewers with a good experience, these lesser, more immediate response metrics do also play a part in determining your performance.

Alves also notes that the Home page and ‘Suggested’ listings actually use different algorithms – so the idea that there’s one central YouTube algorithm is not correct.

“The Home page offers up a broad array of videos when you visit, and it uses similar signals as ‘Suggested’, but they are designed to do slightly different things.”

Given this, Alves notes that creators often want to know how they can optimize for each element – to which Alves says ‘you can’t’.

“You can’t optimize for a traffic source, you can only optimize for people or viewers.”

With this in mind, Alves says that creators looking to maximize views from the home page should try to consider their content from the perspective of somebody who’s been recommended their content, due to their interest in similar clips, but may not yet be familiar with their specific channel.

A reference to an in-joke with your audience may work in ‘Suggested’, as these are more aligned to each specific video clip, but in the home feed, you want to consider more general appeal, and what will make newer viewers, with a related interest, click.

YouTube video recommendations guide

As you can see here, Alves also notes that posting consistently can help to keep your videos coming up in relevant user home feeds, alerting them to your latest if they’ve already watched some of your other clips.

In the ‘Suggested’ feed, Alves says that these highlighted clips are designed to guide viewers on what to watch next after the video they’re currently watching.

YouTube video recommendations guide

That means the suggested feed is more specifically aligned with the current clip.

In some ways, you can consider the two surfaces as ‘top of funnel’, or viewers of a more general, yet related interest, with the Home recommendations, then ‘middle of funnel’ with ‘Suggested’, as these viewers have already shown specific interest in your content, by tapping through, and now the recommendations are more closely aligned to that.

Alves says that the most effective tactic she’s seen creators used to maximize their appearances in people’s ‘Suggested’ listings is to develop a video series, or create topically related videos that lead on from one another.

Alves also recommends using a consistent title and thumbnail style.

“You can imagine when a viewer is looking at everything that they could choose to watch next, there are a lot of options there, and if you have really strong, identifiable branding, that’s consistent, it’s really easy to pick out which videos are from your channel, and it just makes that decision all the quicker for viewers.”

Alves also notes that CTA buttons to ‘Watch more’, as well as playlists and end screens are also effective tools in encouraging viewers to keep watching your content.

Alves’ key lesson through this overview is that YouTube’s algorithm is designed to “find videos for viewers, not viewers for videos”.

“Sometimes creators have a perception that the recommendation system pushes out or promotes videos to viewers, when in reality, the system is designed to work the opposite way, where a viewer visits, and then a recommendation system pulls in and then ranks the best candidate for that viewer, depending on the page that they’re on.”

So if you come to the Home page, YouTube will try to show you the content you’ll stick around to watch, based on personalized recommendations (i.e. past history, location, trending, etc.), while if you click through to a specific video, the ‘Suggested’ content will largely be defined by that specific clip. YouTube’s system is not designed to amplify specific clips or creators, as such, but instead, its entire aim is to align with the interests of the individual.

Which seems like a logical process, but it’s also an important point of clarity in this context. 

In essence, what you want to be doing is creating content that appeals to your target audience, then building consistently around themes and topics to keep your viewers coming back, while also maintaining branding elements to strengthen those connections. Part of that will come through research, and understanding what works in your niche, but mapping out a strategic approach, and sticking to that process, is also key to building a YouTube audience over time.

There are some valuable pointers here, which could help in your platform planning – and given YouTube serves over 2 billion monthly active users, and is seeing significant growth in viewing on TV sets, it should be at least a consideration in every marketing plan.


Google Outlines Ongoing Efforts to Combat China-Based Influence Operations Targeting Social Apps



Google Outlines Ongoing Efforts to Combat China-Based Influence Operations Targeting Social Apps

Over the past year, Google has repeatedly noted that a China-based group has been looking to use YouTube, in particular, to influence western audiences, by building various channels in the app, then seeding them with pro-China content.

There’s limited info available on the full origins or intentions of the group, but today, Google has published a new overview of its ongoing efforts to combat the initiative, called DRAGONBRIDGE.

As explained by Google:

In 2022, Google disrupted over 50,000 instances of DRAGONBRIDGE activity across YouTube, Blogger, and AdSense, reflecting our continued focus on this actor and success in scaling our detection efforts across Google products. We have terminated over 100,000 DRAGONBRIDGE accounts in the IO network’s lifetime.

As you can see in this chart, DRAGONBRIDGE is by far the most prolific source of coordinated information operations that Google has detected over the past year, while Google also notes that it’s been able to disrupt most of the project’s attempted influence, by snuffing out its content before it gets seen.


Worth noting the scale too – as Google notes, DRAGONBRIDGE has created more than 100,000 accounts, which includes tens of thousands of YouTube channels. Not individual videos, entire channels in the app, which is a huge amount of work, and content, that this group is producing.

That can’t be cheap, or easy to keep running. So they must be doing it for a reason.

The broader implication, which has been noted by various other publications and analysts, is that DRAGONBRIDGE is potentially being supported by the Chinese Government, as part of a broader effort to influence foreign policy approaches via social media apps. 

Which, at this kind of scale, is a concern, while DRAGONBRIDGE has also targeted Facebook and Twitter as well, at different times, and it could be that their efforts on those platforms are also reaching similar activity levels, and may not have been detected as yet.

Which then also relates to TikTok, a Chinese-owned app that now has massive influence over younger audiences in western nations. If programs like this are already in effect, it stands to reason that TikTok is also likely a key candidate for boosting the same, which remains a key concern among regulators and officials in many nations.

The US Government is reportedly weighing a full TikTok ban, and if that happens, you can bet that many other nations will follow suit. Many government organizations are also banning TikTok on official devices, based on advice from security experts, and with programs like DRAGONBRIDGE also running, it does seem like Chinese-based groups are actively operating influence and manipulation programs in foreign nations.

Which seems like a significant issue, and while Google is seemingly catching most of these channels before they have an impact, it also seems likely that this is only one element of a larger push.

Hopefully, through collective action, the impact of such can be limited – but for TikTok, which still reports to Chinese ownership, it’s another element that could raise further questions and scrutiny.

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The Drum | Trump’s Instagram & Facebook Reinstatement Won’t Cause Marketers To Riot Yet, Experts Say



The Drum | Trump's Instagram & Facebook Reinstatement Won’t Cause Marketers To Riot Yet, Experts Say

While the reinstatement of Donald Trump’s Twitter account in November had some advertisers packing up in protest, many will strike a different tune with Meta-owned Facebook and Instagram, experts predict.

Meta Wednesday announced that it’s lifting the ban on a handful of Facebook and Instagram accounts, including that of former US president Donald Trump – who was suspended nearly two years ago following the January 6, 2021 riots at the Capitol.

In a blog post yesterday, Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs, explained the reasons for the company’s decision, saying that it “evaluated the current environment” as it pertains to the socio-political landscape and security concerns and determined that “risk has sufficiently receded.” As a result, the company will welcome Trump back onto Facebook and Instagram.

The former president will be expected to comply with Meta’s user policies, but, considering his past violations, will face “heightened penalties for repeat offenses,” Clegg explained.

While it’s unclear whether Trump will become an active user on either platform following the decision, media and marketing experts are already sounding alarm bells at his potential return.

In particular, experts are cautious considering recent developments at Twitter. Elon Musk’s turbulent takeover – which has included mass layoffs, dramatic platform changes and the decision to reinstate the accounts of controversial figures like Trump and Kanye West (whose account has since been re-suspended) – has led to an exodus of advertisers. Could Meta’s decision to reintroduce Trump invite a similar fate?

‘Fear, frustration and protest’ could catalyze drawback

Concerns regarding brand safety and suitability on Facebook and Instagram are piquing among marketers. Trump’s presence on social media has long proven to exacerbate the spread of misinformation online. The risks of a potential recession, paired with new political tensions spurred by the 2022 midterms and the anticipation of the 2024 presidential election, may only up the ante.

“Misinformation on Meta’s platforms was an issue prior to Trump’s ban, during the ban and will likely continue to be an issue, even with the new [policies that] Meta has put in place,” says Laura Ries, group director of media and connections at IPG-owned ad agency R/GA. In light of this fact, Ries says, “Advertisers will need to continue to consider the type of content they’ll show up next to when evaluating whether or not to advertise on the platforms, especially as we march toward the 2024 election.”

She predicts that Meta may see some advertisers leave Facebook and Instagram “out of fear, frustration or protest.”

Others agree. “I suspect advertisers will not be pleased with this move and might make reductions in spend as they have done with Twitter,” says Tim Lim, a political strategist, PR consultant and partner at creative agency The Hooligans.

Although some advertisers are sure to pull back or cut their investments, the number will likely be low – largely because the scale and reach promised by both Facebook and Instagram will make it hard for most advertisers to quit. Smaller brands and startups in particular often rely heavily on Meta’s advertising business to spur growth, says Ries.

A ripple, not a wave

Most industry leaders believe Trump’s reinstatement won’t cause anything more than a ripple in the advertising industry. “Marketers who advertise on Facebook and Instagram care about their own problems, which generally [entail] selling more products and services,” says Joe Pulizzi, an entrepreneur, podcaster and author of various marketing books. “If Meta helps them do that, they don’t care one bit about brand safety – unless this blows up into a big political issue again. It might not, so marketers won’t do a thing.”

The sentiment is underscored by Dr Karen Freberg, a professor of strategic communications at University of Louisville, who says: “Facebook and Instagram are key fundamental platforms for advertisers. Marketers may … be aware of the news, but I am not sure if it will make a drastic change for the industry.” She points out that Twitter’s decision to lift the ban on Trump’s account in November caused such a big stir among marketers advertisers that Meta’s decision to do the same may come as less of a shock.

Trump’s return may even benefit Meta’s ads business by giving the company new opportunities to serve ads to Trump devotees, says Pulizzi. Ultimately, he says, Meta “needs personalities like Trump,” who, whether through love or hate, inspire higher engagement. “With Facebook plateauing and Instagram now chasing – and copying – TikTok at every turn, Trump’s follower base is important to Meta, which is hard to believe, but I think it’s true.”

But while some users may be energized by the former president’s return to Meta platforms, others may be outraged – even to the point of quitting Facebook and Instagram, points out Ries. In this case, she says, “advertisers will need to follow them to TikTok, Snap or other platforms where they’re spending their newfound time.”

R/GA, for its part, which services major brands including Google, Samsung, Verizon and Slack, will work on “a client by client basis” to address concerns about Facebook, Instagram or any other platform, says Ries. “R/GA recommended pausing activity on Facebook and Instagram after the insurrection and won’t hesitate to do so again if another incident occurs.”

For more, sign up for The Drum’s daily US newsletter here.

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Snap Launches New Ad Campaign to Showcase its AR Offerings



Snap Launches New Ad Campaign to Showcase its AR Offerings

Snapchat has launched a new promotional campaign which leans into the uniqueness of its viral AR trends, with a showcase of bizarre effects, as a means to present people with a different perspective on the real world.

Pretty trippy, huh?

As explained by Snap:

At Snap, we celebrate the joy, irreverence, and spontaneity of communicating with your real friends in fun, unexpected ways. Over the years, we’ve pushed the boundaries of how people see and experience the world through augmented reality. AR makes conversations and experiences better, and unlocks new ways to connect with others, learn about the world, shop, and more. [Our new campaign] shows you what it’s like to see the world the way Snapchatters do.”

It’s pretty weird, but will that get more people using Snap?

Certainly, the campaign will grab attention, and with 72% of active Snapchat users already engaging with AR elements in the app every day, there’s clearly a lot of interest in these types of weirdo activations that provide a new way of seeing the familiar.

Maybe that’ll prove to be a good lure to get people into the app, and broaden its user base. I mean, at the least, it’ll spark intrigue, which will likely get at least a few more people downloading the app to see what they can do.

AR is a key focus for Snap, and despite operating at a much smaller scale than Meta and Apple, which are both also investing big in AR projects, Snap has continued to punch above its wait in this area, by continually coming out with AR content that grabs attention, and engages audiences.

Meta is still struggling to maintain relevance with younger audiences, a key element that could de-rail its metaverse vision, while Apple has actually leaned on Snap to help showcase its advanced AR tools over time.

If nothing else, Snapchat has its finger on the pulse, which is why virtually every AR trend – from anime filters to baby faces, from crying faces to vomiting rainbows – all of these have originated from Snapchat, and that’s remained consistent over time, even with newer platforms like TikTok entering the same realm.

Snap is very in-tune with its user base, which is also why its Snapchat+ subscription offering is already doing better than Twitter Blue, even with the addition of tweet editing verification ticks (Snapchat+ has over 1.5 million paying subscribers, versus an estimated 325k for Twitter Blue).

That community sense has helped Snap maintain growth and relevance. But it also needs to expand – and maybe, through a bizarre showcase like this, that could help to make more people aware of the things that they can do in the app.

And this is how Snapchat Lenses tend to be shared. Somebody uses it, then they just have to show their friends.

In this respect, it seems like a good initiative, which could help Snap spark more interest and engagement.

It also serves as a demo of scanning in the Snap camera – if you want to try out any of the Lenses featured in the ad, you can scan the screen in the Snap camera, which will then open up whichever Lens is featured at that moment.

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