Whether you use TikTok, Instagram, Facebook or YouTube Shorts, quick-form video is everywhere - the question is; is it here to stay?
It's estimated that the general public use these social media heavyweights an average of 2½ hours a day. I, myself, use three daily. Despite my recent TikTok fame (you can thank our Head of Content for that), I don't tend to use this platform as much. But either way, from the mindless scrolling of short-form videos on offer, the content provides instant gratification, at least for this user.
One might question why that is. Short-form video has penetrated even the most corporate setting across a multitude of sectors. But it’s simple, isn’t it? We're moving faster; shorter videos take up less of your time and with all that extra time you have, you can watch more, and more and more and more.
The Rise of Short-form Video
What is short-form content? Any video content that is under 60 seconds is considered “short-form”. This differs from platform to platform; for example, Instagram Reels range from 15-90 seconds; TikTok from 15 seconds to 10 minutes; the list goes on. From a viewer-retention perspective, the optimum length seems to be somewhere between 30 and 60 seconds.
But, this isn’t really a new form of content. Now-defunct platforms such as Vine once reigned supreme; 6-second looping videos that briefly dominated internet culture. But with the arrival of TikTok etc., the user base fled to the newer platforms that offered more creativity. In September 2021, TikTok announced that in the 5 years since its launch, it had achieved 1 billion global monthly active users. A feat accomplished in just over 4 years, what took Facebook and Instagram 10 years.
A huge contributor to the rise of this media is technology. At the time of writing a recorded 6.9 billion people own a smartphone equating to somewhere around 86% of the population of Earth. Naturally, with that many people having access to a smartphone (and most likely social media), the consumption of content on smartphones is going to rise - but why is short-form content so popular?
Short-form content has become a significant part of everyday internet culture and there are many reasons why. The overarching theme is that it is an incredibly powerful communicative tool.
Just as YouTube did in 2005, the short-form medium has provided people with a platform to film and share their thoughts, ideas and funny cat videos - but this time, in a much quicker fashion. Why watch a long video with building suspense or extra information when you can have everything need or want within 60 seconds?
From a business perspective, this cultural shift has made things somewhat easier. Forget building an ad campaign where you have to explain all the details. This form of content is easy to watch and share, accessible and free on any device, cheap and easy to produce and it’s become one of the preferred ways to learn about new things; with 73% of consumers preferring to watch short-form videos when learning about new products or services.
Additionally, just as we get hooked on TV series, we gravitate towards certain social media characters and buy into their unique brand of content. If a company sees an influencer with a large loyal audience and who has the power to affect the purchasing decisions of others, it’s an easy option to collaborate to further a product or service.
Drilling down into it, it’s all about social commentary and trends. Cultural trends online change constantly and I find it very difficult to keep up. I often find myself musing on what was a famous meme from months ago and when I share it, I am met with a forced this-is-totally-old-now laughter.
Trends are not new of course - they’re constant. Content creators have to adapt to trends, memes and culturally important news on the fly. People want to give their interpretation of whatever viral challenges and trends have gained global attention at that moment. People join in because they know people will see their version and can be incredibly rewarding to post your version of a trending dance or performance and the video to amass thousands of views and likes.
Another part is that the companies that run these platforms know what they’re doing. They know to financially reward popular accounts for making content that generates views and “follows” as this can increase downloads of the app. It can be an attractive prospect to be able to make content and be paid for it but with social media, it’s all about finding your niche.
I spoke to a friend who has been streaming gaming content for some time now and amassed a little over 30K followers. Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege being her preferred game; @titaniumrolo has recently delved into TikTok shorts.
Drawn to shorts off the back of her gaming streams, she’d ask her audience “Did you know this” and when the answer was “No”, she decided to make a series of shorts called Seige 101 where she could teach tricks and tips. From her experience, the algorithms on platforms like TikTok and YouTube Shorts heavily push educational content (even if that is education within gaming). Siege 101 accumulated over 10 million views in just 60 days - clearly highlighting the demand for the content.
With the success of that series, she now has two others that are both educational and have amassed millions of views, almost tripling her number of followers. And, thanks to the speed and ease of creating the content, she’s convinced short-form is the way forward.
Mobile consumption and echo chambers
We’ve got to look at the negative side of all this. Often known as “nomophobia”, smartphone addiction is a real thing. It’s uncommon that the device causes the addiction but rather overuse of the internet - the compulsion to talk to people online, gamble or scroll social media. It’s extreme but it is real. And, the short-form video medium doesn’t exactly help.
It’s often muscle memory to simply unlock your phone and just look at it. There’s no real reason for you doing it, no task that needed doing, no texts or calls. Simply open your phone and before you know it, you’re scrolling Instagram or Twitter. And then you put it away. Are you aware of what information you’ve taken in? Was it meaningful?
Speaking on Crowd Network’s podcast The Joe Marler Show, social media manager Adam Biddle questions a negative of constant video scrolling: can you remember the last ten things you watched on social media? I don’t know about you, but I can’t. Although, I know my algorithm generally chucks up videos of cats or golden retrievers…
Short-form videos (and social media as a whole) have the potential to influence public opinion, raise awareness and mobilise communities around social issues. The spreading of social commentary and misinformation is rife on social media. Short-form content heavily contributes to this because videos are shorter and contain less information - only select parts of a wider conversation. But are you at a disadvantage if this is your main source of news or information? I would say yes. It’s common that people end up watching what is essentially propaganda and before you know it, they’re stuck in a toxic echo chamber that’s void of differing opinions and ideas.
Short-form video is everywhere
Short-form video is everywhere and it isn’t going away. It’s one of the most powerful forms of marketing ever. It’s more authentic, relatable and easy to get involved. Brands have done incredible work using silly videos to increase brand awareness and add personality to an otherwise corporate entity.
They’re seen as more genuine, especially when their videos look more or less the same as non-branded accounts e.g. using the same in-app audio, filters, following trends and filmed on the same phones the viewers have. It means people feel like they’re connecting with the brands they love.
Short-form is breaking records and changing the way we interact. It’s easier, it’s quicker and more engaging. The State of Video Marketing 2023 report found that “96% of people have watched an explainer video to learn more about a product or service.” And, “89% of people say watching a video has convinced them to buy a product or service.” It’s clear, this form of marketing is working.
All of this to say, I like engaging, longer-form video and film. Do I want it to go? No. Do I think there are issues with short-form video? Yes - its popularity, among many other things, clearly demonstrates society's reduced attention span.
But, that said, short-form is shorter. And, I’ve got things to do.
About the Author
Leo White has been a member of the Wex Photo Video team since 2018, working in a variety of roles ranging from the contact centre to the product setup team. With both a photography BA and MA, Leo has a wealth of knowledge he's ready to share. See more of his writing on Leo's author page.