If you’ve been keeping an eye on the news, you’ll probably be aware that no fewer than two major platforms have launched features inspired by the hugely successful app TikTok.
Instagram has pivoted to short, looping videos set to music and original audio with Reels, and YouTube has done the same with its TikTok clone Shorts, which is being tested in India.
Naturally, updates like these point to a future where short-form content is king. But while it may seem this way, long-form content still plays an important role, as I’ll explain below.
The attention debate
Despite what you’ve read, attention spans have largely stayed the same over the last decade. After all, if audiences now have the attention spans of goldfish, how do you explain Netflix’s continuing success over the years?
Really, it’s the volume of content and choice that has gone up. Likewise, we now have the power to skip anything that doesn’t grab our attention or keep us engaged, which has naturally made us more discerning. But that doesn’t mean shorter always beats longer.
A video that’s five minutes long can have just as much engagement as one that lasts five seconds. It’s also a testament to the rise of branded content that audiences often consume long-form branded video more and more frequently, with apps like IGTV and Watch paving the way for longer consumption.
But what is long-form’s true purpose?
Long-form content is quality content
Long-form content is all about brand building.
It’s where engaging stories are told and where influencers, creators and experts are able to communicate your brand in a more meaningful way. The best examples of long-form content feel more organic and less like ads, with subtle calls to action and a purpose beyond selling.
With long-form, you can also go a step further and create high-quality, episodic content that engages and builds affinity over time – think about the success of branded podcasts.
But how popular is long-form content?
A landmark 2018 study, published by Statisa, found that 54% of total video consumption on smartphones in Q1 that year was long-form – described here as being over 20-minutes.
Granted, we have YouTube to thank for this.
But while this study is two years old, it stands to reason that getting your audience to watch five minutes of branded content is well within your reach in 2020, providing what you put out is entertaining, useful or based on storytelling, which is crucial when it comes to long-form.
So where does this leave short-form?
The best content strategies boast a mix of content lengths and styles that play into a few core objectives, which is why you can’t have long-form without short-form.
Think of short-form content as your quick wins. There’s less pressure to tell a story, so long as you’re able to entertain or capture someone’s imagination in that brief period.
Because the upfront investment is also lesser with short-form content, you can afford to make mistakes and experiment, whether that’s putting swipe ups in Stories, working with creators or playing with the structure of videos.
Short-form content alone won’t carry your brand
But it will keep you at the top of your audience’s mind. It will also help you to maintain a continuous presence online, which is key at a time when budgets for major above the line campaigns are being cut.
Another key benefit of short, snackable content is you can make it work harder for you by cross-posting – especially now that there are more places to post.
For instance, a video you create for TikTok can easily be published on Reels with the aim of reaching a completely new audience.
Short-form content is also the best chance you have of tapping into reactive and viral trends, which is why you should never overthink it.
The algorithm’s view
When marketers and strategists discuss social media and video content, they often think about the algorithm’s view and the type of content platforms favour at any given time.
The truth is social media algorithms are always changing, which makes it impossible to be one-step ahead.
When it comes to video length, much of it comes down to common sense. Make your content as long as it needs to be for what you’re asking of your audience and no longer.
As for taking an algorithmic approach, platforms will always throw their support behind long-form content because it means more space to insert pre-roll and mid-roll ads.
Equally, many are currently trying to rival TikTok, which is why you’ll likely be seeing a lot of Reels content crop up on Instagram.
In any case, do both so long as you’re doing what feels right for your audience. But don’t be an insular brand. Study the trends and take inspiration from what you see online, including content from brands outside of your industry.
Kunal Pattany is a public speaker, technology commentator and the founder and CEO of Digital Human. With 15 years’ experience in marketing for leading companies like Kantar, a WPP data and insights company, he has turned his attention to the impact of digital and AI on humans and society’s response to innovation. To find out more about Digital Human, click here. To talk with Kunal about speaking opportunities, email [email protected] 👋