Long-Form Social Content: What is it and how should you use it?
It’s a brand new, bite-sized world. Short and snappy is everywhere. We start snacking on content long before we’ve even touched our breakfast. We know to add subtitles on social video edits because we live our lives on mute. Instagram Stories are basically life. So where does long-form social content fit into this?
What even is it?
Long-form content, in the social media sense, is broadly categorised as content that’s longer than the average piece on the platform, be it video content or copy. The exact definition of long-form depends largely on the platform - a 30 second piece of content on Instagram would constitute long-form, whereas it would be below average length for YouTube. For the purpose of this exercise we’ll consider long-form video content to be anything between two and 60 minutes in length, give or take. Think episodic, think TV on social. Long-form copy, on the other hand, is longer than a motivational one-liner spiced up with an appropriate emoji.
And why should I care?
It's typical of content marketers to embrace 2,000+ word articles in the hopes of attracting more eyeballs to their site and appearing as thought leaders within their chosen topic. Interestingly, Pew Research have proven that long-form journalism remains popular in our mobile-obsessed society. But long-form video content on social doesn’t work like long reads on Medium. We don’t necessarily choose to consume it - it’s often slammed onto our screens by more or less intrusive targeting or algorithms. However, different sources have shown the appetite to watch longer content on social does indeed exists, it’s just a matter of getting it out on the right channels.
Social platforms have been quick to adopt new features to support lengthier, TV-like watching, ranging from the aptly named Facebook Watch to Instagram’s very own IGTV. It’s nice to think platforms simply want to cater for our ever-changing tastes in content consumption, but the advertising spend and opportunities that come with it (hello, in-stream ads) have likely paid a much larger role in the product launches.
While the viewing figures for either Watch or IGTV haven’t exactly skyrocketed, we know Facebook will only keep on churning money towards the products on their quest to cement TV-like viewing into our daily behaviour.
Getting the most out of long-form social content
So when should we embrace lengthier content rather than stick to the 10 second social edits? And most importantly, what’s required to keep us immersed for longer than three seconds? I’ve examined some content that’s made waves in the long-form camp in the hopes of getting closer to defining what drives effective long-form social content.
Make me feel
The most common use for embracing longer-than-your-average content is emotive storytelling. There’s a clear reason for this. Taking your customer on an emotional journey to explore a brand narrative is hard enough on its own, let alone trying to cram it into six second edits. Buzzfeed, known for their snackable Facebook videos, have been producing content for the other end of the scale for a while too. One of the most viewed, longer videos from the publisher is one telling the story of a Holocaust survivor, Eva. She tells her harrowing story in a 15 minute clip that takes the viewer on an emotional rollercoaster. The clip has gathered over 1.8m views to date and started a conversation around human rights. So if brevity is the soul of wit, is it the long-form narrative that’s needed to establish a more nuanced, emotional connection?
Make me think
Using emotional cues isn’t the only way to keep us watching. Educational content that poses a question, hears from experts or takes the form of a ‘how-to’ guide account for some of the most viewed content on YouTube. It gives the creator an air of authority and trustworthiness - what brand wouldn’t want that? Unfortunately, people rarely want brands to educate them. Squarespace, a website building and hosting software, hired the help of an expert. Rather than producing a set of branded videos, Squarespace sponsors a YouTuber and Facebook Watch creator, Ted Forbes, a photographer who runs a content channel ‘The Art of Photography’. The sponsored videos appear on Ted’s Watch channel with a paid partnership tag, a mention of Squarespace and a shout-out in the copy. Facebook Watch allows brands of all sizes to find creators they can partner with to create sponsored content. A simple way to get a brand in front of their target audience without spending budget and time on long-form brand content production.
Make me do
The third long-form social content category is one that physically moves you. It’s the empowering content that mobilises, encourages or incentives change. It makes you want to get out and get shit done. Adventure and outdoor brands tend to be the flag bearers for it, Patagonia leading the way. They tell their brand story through jaw-dropping landscapes and inspiring adventurers who have escaped the daily grind to remote locations. Patagonia are also one of the few brands who have somewhat successfully made the jump to IGTV. The below piece about a “wolfpack, a family who live and run together through the mountains of Colorado, has gathered 105k views on YouTube and 75k on IGTV.
So there you have it. Three effective ways to use long-form social content. And if you’re ever in doubt, regardless of the format, length or platform, just make sure you've got a good story to tell.