By Scott McCullough
A famous J.D. Salinger quote asks, “How long should a man’s legs be? Long enough to touch the ground.” A pretty practical answer. It’s not that much of a stretch to say there’s a lesson here today for communicators responsible for content creation.
The idea of snackable content has been around for a while now, and rules(1) on limiting website and YouTube videos to one or two minutes (or three minutes, or 30 seconds or less) abound. But is this a new concept?
The most ubiquitous form of snackable content remains the television commercial (preceded by the radio commercial, of course). Sixty-, 30- and 15-seconds long or less. We’ve been exposed to them our whole lives. But, now, anyone can create a commercial. Along with the explosion of content producers comes a demand for advice, for statistics and for rules. And there’s been no lack of advice, statistics and rules. The infamous 2015 Microsoft study(2), based on numbers stated on the Statistic Brain website, found the average human attention span had now become less than that of a goldfish. This has been effectively refuted on several bases.
- The BBC’s Simon Maybin weighed in on this, saying, “I have spoken to various people who dedicate their working lives to studying human attention and they have no idea where the numbers come from [either.](3)”
- Andrew Porterfield points out in an excellent article(4) for the Genetic Literacy Project, “the problem with our apparent distraction may not be attention, but multitasking. Our brains focus for a reason.”
Most of the pressure is brought by marketers and those serving them: those who rightly focus on the share of eyeballs and the payoff from proving you’ve reached them. The long-form vs. short-form debate will continue(5, 6), but there is now research pointing to pushback(7). The “shorter is always better” movement is disputed in a March 2016 article from Forbes, 3 Reasons Why Millennials Want Long Form Storytelling Over ‘Snackable’ Content.
A 2015 article from Entrepreneur.com, The Secret to Creating Content for Millennials? Skip the Short Form, and Go Deep, explains the increase in popularity of long-form content like podcasts, TV series binging, and books(8) – particularly among millennials(9).
What’s the bottom line? Professional communicators should trust their training and experience. Go with your gut. How long should this communication be? Long enough to get the message across. Short enough to leave them wanting more. Compelling enough to keep them engaged. And quality matters. Sound a little like Communication 101?
New ways for consumers to read, interact and engage with content will continue to be developed(10): artificial intelligence, virtual reality, mobile-first consumers coming of age, and so forth. But storytelling remains the same. You may not have read this far in this article, but, if you did, was that more up to me than it was you? Was it the right length?
Scott McCullough is a member and volunteer with IABC Minnesota. He also serves as president of McCullough Media.