Just Keep it Brief

Just how short are we talking?

In late June, the formal announcement of Instagram’s new 15-second video feature immediately met with speculation about whether 15 seconds was too long or too short. Would people fail to engage with a whole 15-second video? Or is six seconds, the established limit for Twitter’s Vine app, too short now by comparison? Which will users prefer? Which will marketers prefer? 

The reaction perfectly illustrates the short-form content trend highlighted in Mary Meeker and Liang Wu’s recent Internet Trends Report for Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. According to the report, “short-term sharing” and “short-term video” are exploding among online users, with products like Dropcam seeing more videos uploaded per minute than YouTube. Snapchat – the disappearing photo app – and Vine both saw their growth double in two months. 

The popularity of Twitter, Vine and Snapchat among teenagers, in particular, has shed a light on short-form content in a way that has app developers scrambling to supply the demand. Video-sharing mobile apps were numerous even before Instagram stepped into the fray in late June, with Viddy, Cinegram and Socialcam vying for the attention of this young, socially savvy audience. 

Its Appeal

What is it about short-form content that draws teens like a magnet?

Ease of use could certainly be considered an attraction for teens – micro-blogging tools like Twitter and Tumblr are intentionally stripped down for effortless sharing. Vine allows users to create stop-motion animations with just the touch of a finger. 

The disposability of content could also be part of the appeal – on Twitter, tweets are numerous and easily buried by more tweets in seconds. Vine videos can be consumed in six seconds. Snapchat’s photos are literally disposed of after a set time frame and disappear from users’ lives. Gaffes are forgotten. In a study of Darwinism at its best, popular content is shared and re-shared and lives on, to the delight of its creator, while the rest is easily ignored without risk of reproach or shame.

On the opposite end of the disposability/visibility spectrum is Face-book, where users are asked to create a nebulous web of content and comment on the content housed permanently by others. Teens have responded by avoiding or abandoning the platform in droves. According to a recent study by PEW and reported by The Verge, teens increasingly find Facebook to be “stressful, an extension of their daily lives at school and home rather than a place where they can relax and be themselves.” 

 Even Pinterest, designed to contain and categorize content, is seeing the allure of short-form content and weaving the appeal into its monetization efforts. Its latest efforts to make pins “more useful” and appeal to advertising partners include partnerships with brands such as Netflix and Real Simple  magazine. The idea is that Pinterest, already a powerhouse website referral source, can be even more effective if users have just a little more detail on the products they’re seeing, right there in the context of the original pin. 

What This Means

This impacts content in several ways:

  1. Creativity – There’s no two ways around it: Stricter time and character limits leave a big demand for creativity. When it comes to brands, this means getting to the point about the product’s appeal or virtues and sometimes using unique features to power your message. For marketers, this narrow window of opportunity requires messaging that’s been honed with pinpoint precision. Vine’s automatic looping feature, for example, could see your brand message extend beyond six seconds if your message requires multiple, looped viewings for impact. 
  2. More personal interactions – Snapchat in particular seems like a peculiar choice for a brand, but when Taco Bell reached out to the app over Twitter to give it a test run, followers of the brand weren’t surprised. Taco Bell’s audience on Twitter is young and Taco Bell, like its users, was quick to embrace Vine, even using the app to announce a new product when the app was new and largely untested by marketers. Still, Snapchat is less about group messages and more about personal interactions. But maybe that’s where brands need to go. In the past, direct customer service was relegated to issues and complaints, but there’s power in a brand reaching out with targeted messages, as long as it’s not watered down enough to be considered spam by the user. 
  3. More user-generated content – The ease of use of short-form content platforms and the potential for creativity could be a boon for user-generated content initiatives. If a brand can provide a solid incentive and the right tools, it could harness its target base’s creative energy in new and exciting ways.
  4. Evolving content – Brands spend a lot of time and energy developing their content. Just because short-form platforms are changing the rules of the game doesn’t mean that old content is now irrelevant; it just may need to evolve into something else. Recipes don’t work as a Vine video, but a six-step recipe tutorial will showcase your product and its ease of use in a real-world context. An Instagram filter might just enhance, rather than downplay, a product’s unique package design.

Whether or not short-form content platforms are here to stay for the long run, they’re top-of-mind now. If a target demographic is young, it’s a solid bet social media is where they can be reached. If a brand is willing to keep its content clever and – most importantly – short, the kids will listen. 

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