How long should my video be?

Duration is a fundamental consideration when planning a video for your organisation or client. But how long is good?

The answer depends partly on what we think our audience wants. Sometimes that’s a vague instinct for ‘short and sweet’, involving a focused punchy set of messages or a crisp story tell. Traditional TV news stories are rarely longer than two to three minutes.

Research can firm up that empirical sense of what length is most effective. Studies by Buzzsumo currently indicate that videos just over three minutes long (3:20 to be precise) capture maximum audience engagement.

Although it’s worth noting that just two years ago the estimate was 90 seconds. Quite how viewing habits can have changed so quickly is not obvious, and Buzzsumo’s only explanation to me was that they have.

Whatever the statistical foundation of Buzzsumo’s analysis, Facebook seems to have come to the same conclusion and announced that in future its algorithms will give preference to videos over three minutes long, especially cuts which captivate audience attention to the end.

Implications

If you’re keen on airing your corporate or charity videos on Facebook, the new guidelines will bite. Why?  Because three minutes plus is more difficult to fill with focused and engaging content than the mere figures might indicate.

Simple messaging videos, whether explainers, trainers or calls to action, work best as short, digestible headliners and lead-ins to other multimedia sources.  Unless the subject is very complex, useful durations for messaging videos are 30 seconds to two minutes.

The downside of having to produce three minutes or more for Facebook is it may encourage producers to extend content unnecessarily, making videos deliberately long-winded in order to slip over the Facebook three-minute bar. But if they’re long-winded they may fall foul of the second part of Facebook’s double whammy: the viewer needs to stay involved and engaged right to the end.

Digital strategy consultant, Corinne Podger, thinks the new focus on longer-form videos has an obvious goal: “A lot less [short messaging videos] will get posted to Facebook, which is probably part of the mission here. People ‘coming to the platform to watch’ aren’t interested in corporate testimonials.”

So, alternatively, video makers will feel the need to engage in complex story telling productions which take up more production time and perhaps ask for more skills than non-specialist video producers have available. And despite all the hype on the subject, story telling isn’t the only key to making video attractive and relevant.

Options

The first thing to say is Facebook is only one outlet for your video. Instagram and Twitter encourage short videos under three minutes long, and what duration you make video for your own website is down to you.

And if you do use Facebook, Nick Wrenn, Facebook’s Head of News Partnerships EMEA, says all is not lost: “[There will still be] a place in the News Feed for shorter, engaging videos. But the weighting will favour longer-form. Note though, many factors go into NF distribution, [duration] is only one. “

My personal suggestion – and what I teach on my mobile video courses – is that you make your videos as long as suits your purpose, and the platform.

Your emphasis should be on simple, punchy and digestible.

That quite often means 30 seconds to two minutes of messaging video. Or if you have a good tale and the time and resources to make it gripping and engaging throughout, then go for longer.

But never let a video become flabby and long winded because you think it doesn’t matter, or because ‘Facebook says it should be longer’.

And if you want an end-stop to this debate, I would suggest it’s the brief given to a recent client of mine, who was tasked with generating a two and a half hour long ‘talking head’.

No.

Photo by Agê Barros on Unsplash

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