TikTok, Instagram Reels, YouTube ‘shorts,’ Facebook video. Short-form video has infiltrated every platform of social media to its core, and ultimately changed the way we browse and consume social content. It’s changed our browsing habits and even formed the basis of in-person conversations and shaping social relationships. Gone are the days of static text which requires concentration to read it. The modern eye is more effectively hooked through moving images. We’ve seen the short-form video boom soar predominantly within the last few years, and it has ultimately become an integral part of today’s youth culture.
It doesn’t seem to be going anywhere soon and has embedded itself into daily life. It’s not uncommon to overhear ‘did you see that TikTok…?’, or to spend hours glued to our phone screens, lost in the abyss of short-form video content.
We explore the psychologies of short-form video, to explain just why it’s so addictive - and why time seems to disappear when one enters the digital world of short-form video. We dissect the marketing elements of this too - to integrate marketing with this digital trend. Any business can jump on the bandwagon of this popular digital trend to further market their company. If you’ve never tried it, it might be the thing that helps your brand awareness soar.
Short-form video is not to be confused with videography or video marketing. When we talk about short-form video, we’re not referring to top-of-the-market, high-scale videography here - but rather, short, choppy videos that could be made on any smartphone, by literally anyone. Short-form videos that probably took about two or three attempts to perfect - equipped with a small toolbelt of basic editing tools which allow the creator to add text, audio, and transition. There’s no comprehensive editing suite, and it’s usable enough for young audiences to easily navigate it.
The word ‘short’ is heavily important here - these videos are usually just about 20-45 seconds long, so they don’t require much time to think. This means the content is kept simple, easy to watch and doesn’t require too much concentration - so the viewer isn’t investing their valuable time watching something that they might not be interested in.
It's addictive: the psychology of short-form video
We all know TikTok is addictive. But why?
There's a reason why TikTok is so popular: because it literally affects the chemicals in your brain. Described by Forbes as ‘digital crack cocaine’, short-form video gives us short hits of dopamine that we keep coming back for with every scroll. Continuous scrolling promises the continuation of these dopamine hits, anchoring the user to their phone screen. TikTok even has a horizontal scroll feature, which allows the user to browse similar enjoyable videos through branched-out tangents of enjoyable content. This is perhaps a catalyst of ‘entering the rabbit hole’ of video content, as the user becomes absorbed in this side content.
Now without sounding too ‘conspiracy theory’, none of this is by accident. The TikTok algorithm is very, very clever. Once the user gives their data permissions, the app is allowed to record how long the user spends watching certain types of content. This screen time is amalgamated, and the app figures out exactly what you spend your time watching, and for how long. It even records your attention span, working out which lengths of video your brain has time for. And if you’ve watched a longer video - why? What patterns can the app figure out to decide exactly what hooks your attention more than another video? It even inserts lower value content into the scrolling pattern, just so that the user can hunt for the dopamine-hitting content again.
All of these behind-the-scenes techniques are very effective for maximising viewership, as technology has perfected the art of identifying what the viewer enjoys, and for how long.
Forbes journalist John Koetsier interviewed USC Professor Dr Julie Albright, a specialist on this very subject. Albright describes how ‘our expectations of how quickly things happen is changing.' She further points out that our attention span is lowering, and that ‘the perception of the pace of life is shortened.’
This is certainly catalysed by short-form video and has even revolutionised the way popular films are produced. Popular cutting-edge movies such as 2001: A Space Odyssey are now considered slow, boring and time-consuming to the modern viewer. Today’s movies and TV shows appear to be more aware of this shortened attention span, integrating quicker cuts and sped-up plot lines.
So how does this all affect marketing?
Well, according to HubSpot, short-form video marketing gains the highest return on investment of all the digital marketing strategies - so if you’re not already using short-form video then it really is worth it.
Creating short-form video doesn’t necessarily have to market your products or service, but rather, your business and your brand. Utilise the trend to allow watchers to gain an insight into your company. Ask yourself how you want to use moving image to market your brand, and secure some content pillars that will act as guidelines for your content calendar.
Tailor your content in line with current events, integrate buyer journeys, influencer content, and ‘behind-the-scenes’ or ‘how it’s made’ styles of content. The spectrum is so broad, and you can be as creative as you like. Audiences will be drawn to content that is likeable and relatable – so shape your content to fit this margin.
Charity event? Team member's birthday? TikTok it!
And if you need some inspiration, check out Method's 'Tips with Tea' on Instagram It's exactly what it says on the tin, with James cramming essential business info within the time period of making a cup of tea. It ticks all the boxes - it's short, relatable, and informal yet informative. Nowadays, we’re moving away from working with businesses that are represented by suits and ties, embodied by a logo on a business card. People want to become invested in the moving parts of the business they’re buying into, so make your business is human, and show your leads that they can relate to you as people, not just as a business.