How long should a video be?

When it comes to creating videos, one of the most important questions is, “How long should a video be?” There are countless articles offering suggestions, but many of these are based on opinion rather than research. This article pulls information from actual research papers and real-life studies to provide evidence-based recommendations. Let’s dive into the research and find out what works best.

Understanding the format

On social media specifically, different platforms have different optimal video lengths because each platform caters to a unique audience with distinct viewing habits and expectations. Here’s a closer look at the ideal lengths for various platforms and why they work (source):

Instagram Stories and Reels: 7-15 seconds

Why: Instagram users scroll quickly through their feeds. Short, snappy videos are more likely to capture attention before the viewer moves on. Reels and Stories are designed for brief, engaging content that can be easily consumed on the go.

TikTok: 7-15 seconds

Why: TikTok’s algorithm favours short, engaging videos that loop seamlessly. This format encourages repeat views and maximises engagement. The platform’s users expect fast-paced, entertaining content that they can consume in quick bursts. There are exceptions to this rule, which we speak about later.

X: 44 seconds

Why: X is primarily a text-based platform, so videos need to be concise and to the point. Short videos can complement posts without overwhelming the viewer’s attention span. The fast-paced nature of the platform means users appreciate quick, impactful messages.

YouTube: 2 minutes

Why: YouTube viewers are more accustomed to longer content compared to other social media platforms. However, keeping videos around 2 minutes helps maintain engagement while delivering substantial information. This length strikes a balance between depth and viewer retention.

LinkedIn: 30 seconds

Why: LinkedIn is a professional network where users typically have limited time for leisure browsing. Short videos that quickly convey valuable insights or professional tips are more effective. This brevity respects the busy schedules of LinkedIn users.

Snapchat: 7 seconds

Why: Snapchat’s format is built around quick, ephemeral content. Users expect rapid, visually engaging snippets that they can view in seconds. The platform’s design encourages users to quickly swipe through content.

Pinterest: 6-15 seconds

Why: Pinterest users often browse for inspiration and ideas. Short videos that quickly showcase a concept, recipe, or DIY project are more likely to capture attention and be saved for later. The focus is on delivering quick bursts of inspiration.

Each platform has its own sweet spot, usually quite short, reflecting the need to capture attention quickly in a fast-scrolling environment.

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The topic matters

The type of content also plays a big role in determining the ideal video length. For instance, educational content often benefits from being concise yet informative. A study of dermatologist-led YouTube videos found that shorter videos with practical information had better audience retention. Specifically, videos that focused on procedural knowledge kept viewers engaged more than longer, conceptual videos (source).

In classrooms, shorter videos seem to enhance focus and retention, especially for students with learning disabilities and males. Although immediate assessments after short videos weren’t significantly better than after longer videos, long-term retention improved (source). This aligns with findings from online learning platforms, where students engaged more with shorter, informal videos rather than long, traditional lectures (source).

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Trends in attention spans

Human attention spans are reportedly shrinking in our digital age. A study found that 49% of people feel their attention span is shorter than it used to be, while only 23% believe they are just as attentive as always (source). This perception impacts how content is consumed, making shorter videos more appealing.

A study of an online learning platform for cardiac patients found that videos under 100 seconds were most effective. Longer videos often saw viewers rewinding or not finishing them at all (source). This reflects a broader trend: people prefer short, easily digestible content.

During the pandemic, students in a flipped college course watched longer videos than typical MOOC participants. However, short videos still positively impacted learning outcomes by reducing cognitive load, making complex information easier to absorb (source).

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The power of a gripping story

Interestingly, there are exceptions to the preference for shorter videos. Hilton Hotels’ 10-minute-long video went viral on TikTok, prompting the industry to reconsider its TikTok marketing strategy to include long-form content. Within 48 hours, Hilton’s video received over 4 million views and thousands of comments. The video featured famous creators like Chris Olsen, GirlBossTown, and KelzWright, as well as iconic hotel chain heiress Paris Hilton. The creators challenged viewers to watch until the end to win Hilton Honours Points. The video appeared as a mix of different videos, with various styles, filters, creators, and effects.

Similarly, a TikTok series called “Who tf did I marry?” had 52 parts and kept viewers hooked on the story. This shows that if there’s a gripping narrative and viewers are genuinely interested, long-form content can work. While this might be more common for organic content, there’s no reason brands and companies couldn’t create similar engaging, story-driven content.

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So, how long should a video be?

For most purposes, especially educational and social media content, shorter is better. Aim for under 2 minutes on YouTube, under a minute on platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn, and just a few seconds for TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat. These lengths align with our changing attention spans and the need for quick, engaging content.

However, if you have a compelling story and can keep your audience engaged, longer videos can also be successful. The key is to know your audience and platform, and tailor your content accordingly.

In a nutshell: Keep it short, make it engaging, and tailor the length to the platform and audience. This strategy will help you capture and retain viewers’ attention in our fast-paced, digital world.

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