Remember back in school when your professor assigned an essay to the class and someone always asked the same question – “How long is this essay supposed to be?”
The answer was pretty much always the same – “As long as it takes for you to make your point the best you can.” (The wise teachers, however, had a caveat and provided a page maximum to keep the exceptionally prolific students under control.)
While I’m not a professor, I am a social video producer. Which means I often get the same question from my new clients. Only instead of an essay, they want to know how long their videos should be.
My answer is the same as a teacher’s, but with a few caveats of my own. Specifically, it depends on your intended audience and the goals of your video.
2 Minutes or Less
Most people online will give you about two minutes of their time, as long as you keep things interesting. There seems to be a psychological barrier to entry when they notice a video is much longer than that. And even when they have the time, most people don’t want to acknowledge that they do.
So as a general rule and starting point, I aim for keeping straight promotional videos less than two minutes. Whether your audience finds the video on your website or on a social media news feed, if it piques their interest and they know it's less than two mintues long, they’ll probably take the time to at least start the video.
Sharing is Key
This also serves another purpose. One of the main goals of social video is having your audience share the video with their friends on their own social networks. Most people respect the time constraints of their friends and will not share anything that would take up too much it. This has more to do with them than your video, but it is a factor to consider nonetheless.
So keeping your video less than two minutes not only increases your chances of getting the initial viewer to watch it, you also increase the odds that that person will share it. (Side note: Time is the only factor being discussed here. If your video is not compelling, no one will share no matter how long or short it is. You’ll be lucky if they even finish it.)
Exceptions to the Rule
All of that considered, it’s also important not to get too fixated on the two-minute rule of thumb. If you can make your point in less time, by all means go for it. In fact, when it comes to social video production, the shorter a video can be, the better. As long as you’re making the point you want to make in the best way possible, don’t overstay your welcome. Your audience will thank you for it. As will their attention spans. There’s a reason TV commercials are generally just 30-seconds long.
And if your story takes longer than 2-minutes to tell, that’s alright, too. Provided the content is compelling and your target audience will find value in it, you can definitely go longer on the production. I wouldn’t push much more than 4 minutes, though. If you need to do that, you’re venturing into long-form video territory where the likelihood of a share drops dramatically.
Content of this longer length will play out better deeper within a website where the customer is further along the sales cycle and looking for more information about your service or product. And that becomes a different type of video production with different goals altogether.
Key Takeaway (or Making a Long Story Short)
The goal of social video is to produce a video that will be watched and shared by your audience within their social networks. To increase the likelihood of this happening, aim to keep your videos to less than two minutes long. If they can be shorter, awesome. If they need to be longer, just be aware of the impact that will have on share-ability and then weight the benefits accordingly.
But most importantly, keep your professor’s wisdom in mind and only take as long as you need to tell the best story you can.
Need some help telling that story or producing your next amazing video? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us what you're looking for. Make it as long as you need.
© 2015 by Cory Fossum. All rights reserved. Please feel free to share this across your entire social network.