Attention grabbers: Keeping it brief with social video

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Key questions right now in the world of PR content creation include ‘How often should I distribute video online?’ and ‘What length should my online videos be to optimise engagement?’.

Lee Bassin is a senior producer with TVC.

It has almost become a millennial's version of asking how long you should wait before contacting someone after a date. Do you keep 'em keen by not WhatsApping until a couple of days later, do you send a cheeky text the next day or have you got an Instagram photo up before your date has even got off the train home?

On the thorny issue of online video, there is no shortage of self-professed experts lining up to tell us what we should be doing.

"If the first five seconds of your video doesn't grab the viewer you may as well not bother."

"Tell your whole story in 10 seconds or the viewer will be off to check out the latest xylophone playing gerbil video."

"Anything longer than 30 seconds and you may as well be showing them Dances with Wolves."

Not surprisingly, there are loads of statistics about our online viewing habits and, while some are contradictory, the general consensus is that our attention spans are getting shorter when it comes to viewing videos online. And like it or not, as marketers and content-producers, we must cut our cloth accordingly.

At TVC, we have been creating video content for brands since 1998 and have seen a lot of changes in that time. For me, the biggest development has been the advent of High Definition and now we find ourselves filming an increasing number of shoots in 4k. But from a non-technical point of view, the biggest change has been the way we present our video content.

‘Social’ videos of anywhere between 15 and 30 seconds are now essential for all shoots that we do at TVC, in some cases superseding the two minute editorial videos that have always been popular with websites across the board.

And when I looked at the staggering numbers related to social media it became clear why creating content for these channels has become so important. Facebook has over 1.7 billion monthly active users while Instagram has 500 million.

1.7 billion! That is a monumental amount of people to potentially target. And not only that, the cost of creating content yourself is often a fraction of what it would be to undertake above the line activity. So it's no wonder that social media has brand executives drooling into their flat whites and demanding a piece of that very profitable pie. And increasingly, video content is being seen as one of the key ways of reaching present and future clients.

Short stories

But with the proliferation of bite size videos, are we losing the ability to tell a compelling story in such a short space of time?

On the one hand, there's the school of thought that you can't tell a fully-formed story in 30 seconds or less, because it just doesn't leave room for enough interview sound bites to get your points across.

I have always prided myself on creating a compelling interview narrative for every video I have ever created, whether it's about a factory opening or a big launch event. Quite simply, the right interviewees getting the salient points across in a concise and engaging manner is a staple of journalism across the board. So why would you compromise this?

On the other hand, telling your story in 30 seconds gives a unique focus that allows you to cut through everything and really deliver the salient points, using the very best shots. After all, why do you need lots of people talking to get your point across? The old adage is a picture tells a thousand words, so if your story is strong enough you should be able to tell it in 30 seconds or less.

And as someone who has created video content for over 15 years, I actually enjoy the challenge of creating social videos; when you get it right it's making something very difficult look very easy. So I have moved with the times and embraced the new world that we live in, where social media is king.

But I worry that if attention spans continue to shrink then consumers will become less tolerant of longer-form videos. And in turn, brands may lose the will to create this type of content, in favour of a bite-sized broadcast that lingers in the memory for less time than it appears on the screen. And taking it a step further, do we even risk a whole generation growing up who can't even sit in front of the TV news because it takes up more than a minute of their time?

I believe that if you have made the decision to click on a video, you are happy to give that video a generous chance to engage and entertain you.

To go back to my dating analogy, doing any different would be like swiping right but ending the date after a minute because the person sitting opposite hadn't made you laugh enough. And unless I have been out of the dating game for longer than I thought, I am hoping attention spans haven't fallen that far!

Lee Bassin is a senior producer with TVC

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