Video is an essential part of any marketing or comms toolkit, and an important way for all brands to support digital business. But there’s no one-size-fits-all for video content: you need to match the goal and message with the right length and platform.
In 2020 there’s no such thing as ‘doing a video’. People’s interest, attention span and expectations all vary according to the platform they’re on, and you need to hit them with the most appropriate and effective content you’ve got. Casual Twitter scrollers are going to bail out of a 45-minute epic, while more invested YouTube users might want something more in-depth than your grabby 20-second teaser.
The key is not just understanding the difference between short and long-form video content, but knowing which to use when.
On the surface of it, short-form video is king. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of business videos produced in 2018 were less than two minutes long, so let’s look first at when you might want to keep things short.
Why is short-form video so popular?
It’s a frequent truism that people can’t concentrate for long online. Microsoft research suggested the human attention span might even be shorter than a goldfish’s – although this has been widely debunked.
Whatever the truth, hard figures backup just how quickly people stop watching. Vidyard’s 2019 video benchmark report found that around a third of viewers had lost interest half way through videos of up to 10 minutes. About the same proportion (32%) of people couldn’t make it to the end of films less than 60 seconds long.
Look across channels, however, and a more complex picture emerges. Research by Hubspot suggests that attention spans are shortest on Instagram, where the most commented videos averaged 26 seconds. Twitter users are barely more forgiving, with Twitter’s video of the day averaging 45 seconds long.
On Facebook, Hubspot’s audience engages most with one-minute videos. And the firm sees most engagement on YouTube videos of about two minutes.
Particularly on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, competing content and compulsive scrolling means that attention is a scarce commodity. Messages need to be eye-catching, compelling, and short.
These platforms are a great match for candid reaction or story videos, news or event snippets, and teaser trailers excerpting or re-using chunks of longer content.
When long-form video works
If it sounds like a slam dunk for short-form video, it’s not. If short-form videos are the way to capture attention, long-form video is the way to hold it and create more lasting engagement. Again, the figures back this up. According to research by Adweek, the 80% of videos that are shorter than five minutes drive less than a third of total engagement. By contrast, the tiny proportion (8%) that are a quarter of an hour or longer account for half of all video engagement.
Audiences, too, actually like long-form video content – especially on smartphones. Research in 2018 found that videos of 20 minutes or longer made up 54% of the total video consumed by smartphone users, up from 29% in 2016.
While one analysis from 2016 showed that videos under two minutes held audience attention best, it also found little drop off between six and 12 minutes, suggesting this was a sweet spot for longer content – providing the content was interesting enough to the audience.
If viewers have less time for long videos, yet long-form content is where the engagement is at, how can you make your long-form content succeed? Aim for the following:
- Go live! Live broadcasts are preferred over short content by the algorithms that drive social feeds. You can always record broadcasts and repurpose them later.
- Have a niche. Focus content on your area of expertise. Be authoritative, educational or entertaining – ideally all three.
- Be episodic. Grow interest and boost engagement with regular episodes – for example, a weekly review.
- Consider podcasting. A video podcast can build a following of committed fans. Guest interviews are a great way to keep things fresh and attract a wider audience.
Doing it right
In truth, there’s no need to choose between short and long-form content: the right video strategy combines the strengths of both. Choose the right subject, create interesting videos, and package them for the channels where you want to be seen.
Getting it wrong looks like recording a generic video, uploading it to all your social channels and expecting it to attract attention. Getting it right means re-cutting the original and sharing teasers, bloopers or brief excerpts to Twitter, Instagram or TikTok. It means creating longer excerpts or summaries for YouTube and Facebook. And it may even mean saving the full-length video for your most engaged audiences – possibly even as gated content on your own website.
Example – Formula 1 and the Eiffel Grand Prix
In October 2020, at the Eiffel Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton equalled Michael Schumacher’s all-time record of 91 grands prix wins. Despite the predictability of the winner, an interesting race saw Daniel Riccardio get his first podium for more than two years, and Max Verstappen steal a last-minute fastest lap.
The official Formula One accounts made the most of the content, chopping the race up into long-form highlights for YouTube – including a seven-minute recap and a five-minute interview reel. There were shorter updates too, including two minutes of onboard footage from Verstappen’s fastest lap, and an 80-second celebration of Ricciardo’s third place.
While the Formula One Twitter account linked to some of this content, it also carried bespoke short-form clips between 20-60 seconds long. Many carried abbreviated versions of the same highlights, incidents and interviews.