When it comes to marketing, it’s proven that video works. No wonder why at least 86% of businesses use it. Even though we can agree that it delivers on marketing goals, there are still many questions about best practices for a lot of us. In particular, one question remains: what is the ideal running time for video content on social media?
By understanding the impact and dynamics of short, medium, and long-form videos and the part each plays in today’s marketing world, we can better understand the advantages and weaknesses of each and how to best use them in our efforts to obtain the best marketing return on investment (ROI) and customer acquisition cost (CAC).
Although what is regarded as a short, mid or long-form video differs depending on the platform, videos under 10-minutes are generally considered short-form. In most cases, a short-form video’s primary goal is to achieve high shareability and awareness. The increasing viral popularity of ultra-short form videos (under 5 secs) has generated much interest.
Long-form video commonly has a running time of over 10-minutes. But more importantly, it normally contains a story arc that follows the Aristotelian Plot Structure with a beginning, middle, and ending or it’s predominantly in-depth views on specific topics (e.g. podcasts, online events, webinars, etc).
Mid-form video straddles the borders between long and short-form with a running time of between 10 and 20 minutes and similar content genres to long-form content. With short- and long-form characteristics, mid-form video is also brief enough to take advantage of short-form video’s shareability while still maintaining the narrative arcs and depth typical of long-form videos.
Short-form video is the first choice for brands looking to reach the broadest possible audience with the least effort. The form is most suitable when brand exposure or generating top-of-the-funnel leads is a strategic priority.
Shorter content is also quicker to produce and likely to reach more people and gather more engagement because it is highly shareable, especially images and videos. This is important because, as research by Microsoft shows, the abundance of distractions has led to the average human attention span falling under 8 seconds. Each second of additional running time could lead to a lack of engagement.
Unfortunately, with short-form, content creators might not be able to fully get their message across under such tight time constraints, which means shorter videos aren’t always suitable for every topic, style, or audience. Also, shorter content requires a much higher volume to be produced and published which is a burden for social media marketers and creatives.
By 2023, the internet will have 5.3 billion users. As connectivity to the internet spreads and live recording and streaming become the norm, long-form video is becoming increasingly easier to produce and access for audiences. The main driver is that it allows the discussion of complex and in-depth matters and complements self-learning. Here time is on our side.
However, if you want to create truly engaging content, a lot of time needs to be spent on planning and execution. Higher costs of production can become a barrier to entry for freelancers and small companies. Understandably, affordability and lack of time can deter smaller businesses that don’t have the resources to allocate toward high-quality video production and scriptwriting. The cost is high, especially when done professionally.
When undecided between short-form and long-form, mid-form is a relatively worthy approach. It optimises for users’ shorter attention spans while carrying long-form narrative arcs and depth. When executed correctly, we can enjoy the best of both worlds. With an emphasis on storytelling and/or factual information, the aim is to pack it with as much value for audiences as possible. A prime example of this is the widely recognised TED Talks.
Being the flexible middle ground is not without its challenges. On the broad scale between ultra-short and long-form videos, a delicate balance is deciding where and how to position a mid-form video production. Too short, and you fail to maintain the arc. Too long, and you miss out on that viral reach and shareability factor, ending up in no man’s land.
Ultimately, selecting a video length and content type must be done considering the buyer’s journey (see below), the allocated budget and the audience we want to reach. We need to pick a video length based on the business value we want to drive and the platform we want to share the video.
Snapchat recommends anything between 3 to 5 seconds for video ads and creators’ videos, as the platform is built for instant sharing, and the audience has become used to content that gets straight to the point without a build-up. For Snapchat’s long-form video, content between 1–1.5 minutes long tend to do well if they have an engaging intro in the first 15 seconds. Snapchatters get to see the first 15 seconds and are asked to continue watching the rest of the video after watching the entire 15 seconds.
According to Meta, short and long videos work well on Facebook, depending on the video’s actual goal. Anything above 3 minutes is considered a “longer video”, and some use cases include episodic shows, developing storylines, and live streaming. Anything under 1 minute is regarded as a shorter video, and some use cases involve sharing fun and exciting moments, teasers, announcements, polls, and ads. Meta suggests keeping video ads under 15 seconds on the platform. For the best chance of viewers watching to completion, placing the most exciting part of the video in the first 3 seconds is essential to capture attention quickly.
Instagram provides a targeted group of video tools for marketers, including reels, videos, and stories. Instagram stories can only run for a maximum of 15 seconds per slide, but it’s still perfectly acceptable to string along with several slides. Hootsuite suggests a drop in an extreme case, but there is usually no need for more than 3.
Although Instagram reels can run for as long as 60 seconds, it’s important to remember that audiences interact with reels to be entertained. So, it’s essential to make them as short as possible and quickly grab the audience’s attention in the first couple of seconds.
The maximum video length for Instagram’s feed is 1 minute, but the audience can click through to watch videos up to 15 minutes long. Users with verified accounts can also upload videos for up to an hour, but there are a few cases where the video might need to run longer than a minute.
Although most Twitter users can upload a video for up to 140 seconds and their Twitter partner manager can grant some permission to upload 10 minute long videos, it’s best not to go over 15 seconds. Like many other platforms, attention spans run low on Twitter, and it’s mainly driven by authoritative content in the form of “threads”.
Although YouTube has shorts, a short-form video tool that allows users to upload videos up to 60 seconds, verified users can upload videos as long as 12 hours. This means that it’s possible to create longer videos and provide more details. However, there is no need to use the full 12 hours, as it’s important to remember that the audience’s attention spans are fast eroding. Unless it can drive value, it’s best to keep the video length below 15 minutes.
Short-form content doesn’t necessarily need to be funny, entertaining, and light but can also be inspirational and educational. An excellent example is extracting quotes from podcasts and online events, ideally by reputable speakers (check Gary Vee YouTube shorts above), and how-to videos on YouTube and TikTok (e.g. cooking videos, Excel skills, etc.).
Thousands of entrepreneurs and coaches are starting to invest in creating evergreen premium content (e.g. online events, webinars, interviews) and then using automation video repurposing tools to convert these into shorter impactful clips to continue prospecting and build awareness. This helps reduce the time and cost it takes to re-watch and re-edit long content.
The main problem with video length is that if we make it too long, we risk losing the audiences’ attention or running into high costs. However, your brand might grow its reputation and authoritative voice while building evergreen content with high SEO value. A great example of this is Hubspot’s marketing blog. Hubspot has also designed posts across topic clusters and pillar content to boost search results (see graph above).
On the other extreme, if we make videos too short, we could fail to deliver our value proposition and be more at the mercy of social media algorithms leading to low conversions and engagement. Even worse, you will compete for attention from user-generated content, brands with a higher following than you and the day of the week and time of the day you post your content.
Selecting a video length ultimately depends on a business’s strategic objectives, the resources available to create great content, and your ad budget. However, remember that, as necessary as video length, is to create content for your audience at each stage of the buyer journey. Also, always give more than you ask from them. eBooks are a great example in the text-based media space: give away an entire book for an email. Why not provide free webinars and then repurpose them into short-form?
Choose your platforms wisely as each has a different audience and expectations on content type and length. Attention is spread thin, and each second of the video must deliver value for the audience.