Should all of your videos really be shorter than two minutes? That’s long been the rule of thumb I’ve come across again and again over the years.
More recently, the rapid rise of TikTok and the arrival of Instagram Reels has led to plenty of articles arguing that even shorter videos are the future. Why? Because completion rates are much higher on shorter videos.
Well, of course they are. If every book I read was only ten pages long, I’d easily smash my ambitious Goodreads target each year. But I’d also never read beyond the picture book section of the local bookstore, which does seem rather limiting.
Yes, completion rate is an important metric, but improving the completion rate of your videos by making them as short as possible risks missing the point.
If shorter really is always better, then surely this would be reflected in how each of the various social media platforms handles video.
Video length by platform
Is shorter always sweeter?
Some platforms are designed specifically to cater for “snackable” short-form video in a similar way to how Twitter championed microblogging by forcing users to cram as much as possible into 140 characters. Like Twitter, these short-form video apps have since increased the maximum runtime to give users more options and more room to create.
And with the news that TikTok is apparently testing three-minute videos, the no-longer-than-two-minutes argument is looking a tad shaky.
Meanwhile, plenty of other platforms continue to support longer viewing sessions – in some cases, much longer. Peter Jackson could post the entire extended edition of The Fellowship of the Ring to his Facebook page and still have 12 minutes to spare.
Yes, the short-form video platforms are getting a lot of traction (and press) right now. But that doesn’t mean long-form video is dead.
According to research by Social Insider, the optimal length of a video on Facebook is between two and five minutes. Interestingly, the same research discovered that, on pages with fewer than 10,000 fans, longer videos of up to 20 minutes are just as engaging, if not more so, than those running only 2-5 minutes.
Facebook’s video best practices checklist argues against the idea that shorter is always better: “It’s a myth that only short videos work well on Facebook. In fact, both short and longer videos can resonate, as long as the length makes sense for your content and keeps fans coming back for more.” Facebook advises that videos longer than three minutes are best, with the Facebook algorithm favouring videos that hold viewer attention for at least one minute.
Meanwhile, an internal LinkedIn study found that videos under 30 seconds received a 200% lift in view completion rates, which LinkedIn suggests is a good length if your goal is brand awareness or consideration.
However, the same study also found longer videos were capable of driving the same number of views and clicks. With room to tell a more complex product or brand story, longer videos may be more effective at demand generation.
In short, do you just want to be seen or do you want to drive measurable action with an impact on the bottom line?
What really matters is how long the viewer sticks with a video. And they’ll only stick with you for as long as you’re providing value.
As author and marketer Drew Davis wrote, “When someone says, ‘Your content is too long,’ what they’re really saying is, ‘I ran out of questions before you ran out of content.’ Keep your audience curious and you’ll keep it engaged – no matter the length.”
Runtime isn’t the factor that determines a video’s effectiveness – it’s attention.
A common argument for why videos need to be shorter is that attention spans are shrinking. Rubbish. In an era where people will binge-watch entire docuseries on Netflix in an afternoon, it isn’t attention spans that are shrinking. What has shrunk is our tolerance for content that doesn’t keep us hooked when there’s so much other content competing for our attention at any one time.
So instead of focusing on runtime as some sort of immutable law for effective video, consider how your videos can do a better job of holding attention.