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The impact of short-form content and algorithms on storytelling

A look at the ongoing transformation of storytelling in Advertising, driven by Social Media algorithms and the prevalence of short-form content.

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Karuna Sharma
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Impact of short form

A transition that was set afoot when Meta followed TikTok to launch Instagram Reels, has now come full circle. The advent of short-form video content has had a major impact on our attention spans, altering how we consume content and how advertisers tell their stories. The once-dominant long-form storytelling has been pushed aside in favour of short-form content, a trend fundamentally altering the Advertising landscape.

The writing on the wall was further underscored at a recent Meta event with creators in New York, where Instagram Chief - Adam Mosseri revealed that Reels longer than 90 seconds could harm their distribution. According to him, videos exceeding this length are no longer eligible for recommendations in the Explore or Reels tab, signalling a clear shift towards brevity in content creation. 

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On top of this, the latest trend dominating Instagram is one-second reels. Now, let’s take a second to mull over its possible implications. The rise of one-seconder could further potentially bring consumers’ attention span down to the level of a gnat by trapping them in a loop of one reel that leaves no actual marks on their memory. You blink, and you miss these posts, which are essentially GIFs with a sound. But that’s the thing about creative GIFs. We play and replay it, increasing its re-watch value because it is easy on your mind.

With the recent virality of one-seconder reels and Instagram limiting the organic reach of long-form content, it is safe to say that the future of social media is short-form content, as it has always been, but even shorter. 

“In the digital industry, the trend is clear: most people are not interested in watching long videos,” says Rikki Agarwal, Co-founder and COO of Blink Digital. 

As per Hubspot, 73% of consumers prefer to watch short-form videos to learn about a product or service, and 56% of marketers reported that short-form video was the top trend they planned to invest in in 2024. 

With this transition and data speaking for itself, the preferred content format is changing too.

“The traditional long story format is no longer effective on social media platforms, rendering it less practical for modern advertising strategies. Data shows that viewers are likely to discontinue watching lengthy content, which makes short-form videos a more effective choice for advertisers,” adds Agarwal. 

Shape-shifting algorithms

This surge in the popularity of short-form is driven by algorithms designed to maximise user engagement and retention. Platforms like TikTok, Instagram Reels, and YouTube Shorts prioritise quick, snackable content that keeps users scrolling and interacting. 

Ramya Ramachandran, Founder & CEO of Whoppl, aptly notes, "The rise of short-form content, driven by social media algorithms, reshapes how brands connect with audiences. While platforms like Meta may limit longer videos, this shift challenges brands to distil their message into impactful, concise formats without abandoning rich storytelling."

Algorithms, the gatekeepers of content on social media, dictate the success of a campaign more profoundly than we realise.

“Social media algorithms have a significant impact on storytelling. On the positive side, they can hyper-personalise ad experiences, allowing brands to tailor narratives that resonate deeply with specific audiences. However, the focus on engagement can also push for content that prioritises virality over genuine storytelling,” says Prashant Puri, Co-Founder & CEO, AdLift, pointing out the different sides of the coin. 

Storytelling is put on the back burner to meet filters that algorithms prioritise. It is long-form content that gives room for building deeper connections with elaborate narratives, evoking emotions. However, in the current digital landscape, where the average attention span is dwindling, such formats are often seen as less effective and more costly in terms of production and viewer engagement.

"Social media algorithms have fundamentally transformed storytelling in advertising," says Agarwal. "These algorithms favour short-form, visually engaging content with an emphasis on real-time interactions. This shift ensures that stories are tailored, data-driven, and resonate quickly with target audiences, enhancing both engagement and brand recall."

With algorithms changing the content length and nature of storytelling, advertisers have been focusing on making memorable snippets. Now, distilling that from 60 seconds and 30 seconds to 1 second is going to be challenging. 

However, 30-second videos are not new. Some of the most impactful work has been under 30 seconds. 

“While concerns about content recall and memorability persist, it's worth noting that some of the most memorable and impactful ads from the pre-digital era were concise 30-second masterpieces. Ultimately, it's the power of creativity that remains the driving force behind connecting with audiences in meaningful ways,” says Dhruv Rajput, Vice President - Brand Solutions, Schbang.

Rajput gave us an example to share how creativity can be delivered within the timeframe of a medium, as it always has. 

“Back in December 2001, Coca-Cola proudly proclaimed their dominance over Pepsi with a sales ratio of 2:1. In response, Pepsi took a refreshingly simple approach by unleashing a 30-second ad devoid of any voice-over or dialogues. It depicted a resourceful young boy cleverly using two Coke cans as a stepping stool to reach and purchase a Pepsi from a higher button on a vending machine. This ingenious move by Pepsi reminds us that creativity transcends platforms and mediums,” shares Rajput.

Real value and recall value

While short-form content is currently reigning supreme, it brings with it both opportunities and challenges that could have lasting implications on the effectiveness of advertising. One of the challenges is the constant bombardment of information that can lead to content fatigue or overload, where users become desensitized to the endless stream of short-form content. 

This desensitisation can diminish the effectiveness of advertising, as users may start to tune out or skip over ads without absorbing their messages.

If your ad isn’t instantly engaging, it gets lost,” says Agarwal.

In the long term, content overload could lead to a significant challenge for advertisers: the plummeting of recall value. Simultaneously, distilling content to one-second leads to a loss of real value in ads. 

The decline in ad recall is a confluence of factors. Content overload bombards consumers, leaving them numb to generic ads. Reduced attention spans make it harder to hold focus. Algorithm-driven feeds prioritize content users already engage with, limiting exposure to new brands,” observes Puri.

How do you grab attention as short-form gets shorter? 

Despite these challenges, short-form is rising and how! However, that doesn’t mean long-form is going to hang its boots anytime soon.

“There's still a place for both! Short-form content is fantastic for top-of-the-funnel brand awareness, while long-form narratives can nurture deeper connections and brand loyalty. The future of advertising lies in using the right format for the right stage of the customer journey,” says Puri. 

He further said that where creativity comes to the rescue while making a long-lasting impression with short-form. “Use micro-stories that spark intrigue and leave viewers wanting more. Emotional appeals, even in short bursts, can be incredibly powerful. Focus on strong visuals, captivating copy, and a clear call to action,” adds Puri. 

Puri also said that a limit on organic reach for long-form content hasn’t impacted the industry’s creative spirits. 

“Platforms like Meta may be limiting organic reach for longer videos, but that doesn't mean the entire digital industry is discouraged. Here at AdLift, we see this as an opportunity for strategic use of paid advertising to ensure long-form content reaches the right audience. Additionally, other platforms like YouTube are still prime real estate for captivating narratives,” says Puri.

Despite the challenges, there is a significant opportunity for impactful storytelling in short-form content. The key lies in leveraging the unique strengths of this format to create memorable, emotionally resonant stories that can cut through the noise.

“To stand out in short-form formats, brands can leverage compelling storytelling, visual creativity, and emotional appeal, ensuring even brief interactions leave a lasting impression," advises Ramachandran.

To assess the effectiveness of short formats, brands measure engagement rates, retention rates and conversion rates. To perform well on these metrics with short form, Agarwal also suggested embracing storytelling. 

Brands should focus on storytelling. Formats can keep changing, but if you can catch their attention with a compelling story, you'll keep creating an impact,” says Agarwal. 

While short-form content does hold sway in the social media landscape, the future is bound to see a mix of brevity and meaningful storytelling. Social media algorithms will continue to evolve, and it will always be important to hold consumers' attention in the first few seconds. However, it will take the power of storytelling to continue holding that attention beyond 30 seconds and more. Brand building calls for a mix of short-form dynamism and long-form substance to bring in engagement and deliver a lasting impression.

Ramya Ramachandran Adam Mosseri Prashant Puri social media algorithm rise of short form video Rikki Agarwal short format videos