The Psychology Behind Auto-Play vs Visitor-Initiated Video

Videos have become one of the biggest players in social media marketing strategies today. In fact, shoppers who view video are 1.81X more likely to purchase than non-viewers (Source).

The way we integrate videos into our websites and social media platforms, though, can drastically alter the way users interact with those videos and whether or not they choose to continue down the sales funnel. The psychology behind videos in advertising is what can drive the success of your video marketing campaigns.

Even the best videos out there today can trigger unintentional, adverse reactions from users if the psychology behind user interactions isn’t taken into account.

Video display comes in two primary forms:

  • Auto-Play
  • Visitor-Initiated

The differences between the two can determine whether or not your video gets viewed, whether or not it initiates an interaction, or whether or not your customer buys your product. Yes, actual sales are on the line here!

So is one better than the other? And if so, why isn’t everyone using it? Let’s take a closer look at each type of video display, how you can integrate these displays into your videos, and how to find the right balance between the two.

The Psychology Behind Auto-Play

So we’ve probably all been a ‘victim’ of auto-play. It’s that annoying video that just starts to play on its own when you open a site, but you never really intended to watch that video anyway. Or, even worse, you were thinking about watching the video but are suddenly bombarded with the video right off the bat due to auto-play, making you never want to watch the video from that point onwards.

Facebook serves more than 3 billion video views per day (meaning at least three seconds of viewership), according to the company.

There’s a lot going on behind the mind of a user who is subjected to the auto-play video, and a lot of that is likely negative. So why hasn’t auto-play gone the way of the dinosaurs?

The fact of the matter is that there are a ton of benefits to auto-play videos like:

  • Reach Advantage
  • Grabs User Attention
  • Can Initiate Further Engagement

Think about it — the auto-play videos we see so often on Facebook can sometimes grab our attention where it otherwise wouldn’t have. Companies we’ve never even heard of are popping up on our screens with interesting videos that just just start playing on their own without the sound, and sometimes — just sometimes — we’re inclined to push the ‘play’ button to hear what’s going on.

Facebook for Business says, “We’ve seen a more than 10% increase in people watching, liking, sharing and commenting on videos. It’s a better experience for people and it’s leading to increased engagement.”

That’s the beauty of auto-play. We run the risk of annoyance with the hopes that we capture new leads and can extend our reach. Sure, we may just be a blip on the radar for many, but that blip could be less of an attention-grabber if it weren’t in an auto-play video.

All of your videos posted to Facebook are on an auto-play feature, meaning that as soon as it pops up on a user’s screen (unless they’ve changed their default settings), it begins playing. For your webpage, you can also set your YouTube videos that you’ve embedded in the site to auto-play. Follow these steps:

  1. On YouTube, click ‘share’ and ‘embed’ for the video you want to use.
  2. Choose your settings and copy the HTML code.
  3. In your website control panel, open the page, product, or category you’d like to add the video to.
  4. In the Page Content or Product Description editor, click the HTML icon in the toolbar.
  5. Paste the code, then add ?rel=0&autoplay=1 to the code. See image below from BigCommerce.beforeafter
  6. Save your changes.

Your video will now auto-play when a user opens your page.

The Psychology Behind Visitor-Initiated

The name implies control. Your visitor has full control over what videos they view and when those videos begin to play. The psychology here lies in the fact that there is a primal need for humans to have control, and visitor-initiated videos relinquish the business’ control over whether or not a video is every played.

When a user visits a website where a video automatically begins to play, the sound can be jarring. The result: Users push the ‘pause’ button almost immediately to regain control. Whether or not they go back to push ‘play’ again is also influenced here, as many will have found the initial encounter so abrasive that they refuse to watch the video at all. Instead, users start choosing to read the text below instead.

Cue: Visitor Initiation

Here, users have full control over when the video plays, if ever. This means you may be sacrificing some users who will never push ‘play’ in the hopes that giving users more control may yield to more video engagements.

The expectation factor, or the psychological idea that users are more satisfied when they’re receiving what they expected to get from a website (and not a pop-up auto-play video), increases overall satisfaction with the experience. They’re happier with the results, and your actual video engagements may increase.

All videos are automatically set to visitor-initiation except for ones that are pushed to third-party intermediary sites like Facebook or other social platforms which have integrated auto-play features. Here, users must change their own settings so they may regain control, but you are in control of your website features and, thus, the play features of your videos.

Finding a Balance

So you’re probably leaning more towards one or the other when it comes to video displays. Maybe you’re willing to sacrifice user experience for higher reach, or maybe you’re more interested in genuine engagement and user satisfaction. Either way, let’s muddle the solution a bit further.

The key is finding a balance between auto-play and visitor-initiation.

Facebook attempted to find the balance here by setting all videos to auto-play when they pop up on a user’s screen, but as soon as the user scrolls past the video, it pauses. Additionally, the videos auto-play without sound, so further engagement is still in the hands of the user. Should they wish to hear the video, they simply need to click ‘play’, and the sound will begin.

For marketers, finding a similar balance for videos on professional websites is essential. There are a few ways to do this:

  • Show video controls after ‘X’ visits to your website
  • Have a small version of the video on the right or left toolbar, which can be paused at any moment (but will still stay on the screen no matter where the user scrolls)
  • Integrate tactics like ‘press for sound’ or pause when scrolled off the screen

PressPlay is one of those apps that we highly recommend marketers try when searching for the right balance. This integrates many of the positive psychological aspects of both auto-play and visitor-initiated videos into one system like:

  • Resume Playback: Have your video start playing exactly where the visitor left off. Talk about a great user-experience!
  • Show/Hide Controls: Not only can you have full control over if the video player controls are showing to the visitor, but allow the controls to show after a certain number of visits from the same person.
  • Auto Pause: Ensure that your visitor watches your video, by auto-pausing the video as soon as is not visible in their browser.  Have it start back up when they can see the video and are able to watch it.


It’s all about striking the right balance with user control and user satisfaction when it comes to video marketing. PressPlay is the real answer here, as it presents a solution to many of the drawbacks of each type of video display while enhancing the benefits of each as well.

You tell us: What type of video display does your company use? What have you done to increase user views and engagements?