There’s always a current best way to get views and followers on social media.
Right now, it’s short format video.
Just look at this recent email from YouTube to creators:
It’s not just YouTube. Every platform is pushing short-format video right now.
Instagram Reels have had a 57.4% YoY growth in usage. Reels have a 2x higher average impression rate compared to the other Instagram content types.socialinsider.io
As someone who has lived digital media for the past decade (e.g., built multiple 5-figure-per-month blogs; has 400k+ subscribers on YouTube), I have to admit:
I don’t like this trend toward short-form, autoplay videos.
Why I Don’t Like Shortform Videos
YouTube Shorts, Instagram Reels, TikTok…
I don’t like watching them, and don’t like making them.
Why? Here are a few reasons:
- They increase screen time (for creators and viewers)
- They encourage a quantity-over-quality mindset
- They barely earn any ad revenue
- They’re fleeting (not evergreen)
- They attract the worst kind of trolls
- Performance is unpredictable, like playing a slot machine
Plus, short-form videos encourage passive consumption (i.e., wasting time on your phone). It represents our collective resignation to algorithmic lethargy.
(Okay, maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but you get my point.)
Don’t get me wrong…
Many talented, creative, hilarious, hard-working and successful creators focus solely on short format. It’s just a medium, after all, and like any other medium, it can be used for good or bad.
But…personally, I don’t consume shortform content. I spend almost no time on TikTok or Instagram as a user.
So, publishing to these platforms kind of feels like participating in an activity I don’t agree with, like a drug dealer who never gets high off his own supply.
For all of those reasons, I’ve always avoided focusing on short-format videos, instead spending my time on longer videos and articles (which, to be fair, has worked out well).
The Writing Is On the Wall
Honestly, I kind of hoped TikTok would be some sort of fad, like Periscope or Clubhouse or…Twitter. And I hoped that short videos would go with it.
But alas, the algorithms are favoring short videos more than ever!
And I freakin’ watched her do this, never moving off the sidelines and onto the field.
Given that I’m a full-time content creator, it would be borderline irresponsible not to explore this new format.
So, about six months ago, I decided to give it a shot…
Testing the Waters, Begrudgingly
I figured I’d throw a little money and the smallest possible amount of effort at short videos and just see what happens.
But I wanted to do it my way:
- No original scripting or recording
- No video editing
- No formatting captions or researching hashtags
- Spend as little time in these apps as possible
Since I’d been getting cold emails every week from “agencies” (freelancers) pitching their short-form editing services, I chose one and told him to repurpose my long videos into short clips.
To be honest, this freelancer’s work wasn’t great, especially for the price. I’ve worked with plenty of editors, and his work was good enough to post but nothing special.
But whatever…this was just an experiment. I could always improve the quality later on if the juice was worth the squeeze.
Here’s What Happened (6 months, 100 videos)
I more-or-less posted the same videos to all three platforms, roughly 4-5 times per week, for six months.
Here’s what happened:
- Gained 65k new followers
- 1 “viral” Reel with 2.6m views
- Hundreds of troll comments
- $0 earned
- Gained 34k new followers
- 2 “viral” posts with ~1 million views each
- Bullied relentlessly by Gen Z
- $0 earned
- 1.4m views
- 13,526 hours watched
- 54k likes
- Gained 2k new subscribers
- $132 ad revenue 🤦🏻♂️
In that same timeframe (July-Dec 2023), I posted just six regular/long YT videos. Here’s how they did compared to the Shorts:
- 2.2m views
- 122,375 hours watched
- $9,286.02 ad revenue
- Thoughtful, encouraging discourse in the comments section
One way to judge the value of short vs. long videos from the creator’s perspective is by calculating ad revenue per hour watched:
Short = $0.01 (1 cent per hour)
Long = $0.08 (8 cents per hour)
So for my channel, a long video is 8x more valuable than a short one.
Hypothetically, I could publish one long video per month or eight short ones and make the same amount of money from YouTube ads.
The question is, what would you rather spend time working on? Many short videos or one long one?
Originals vs. Clips
I produced a few original shorts (videos written, shot and edited as shorts) to see how they performed compared to “clips” (edited down from long-form videos).
The originals did not outperform the clips. In fact, none of the top performers were original, and no originals went viral.
Of course, this isn’t the case with other profiles/accounts, but this was my experience.
Totally Subjective Takeaways
I’m sure other creators have different experiences with short videos, but here’s what I learned:
- Shorts are great for subscriber growth
- They don’t work as well on YouTube vs. Instagram/TikTok
- Shorts generate virtually 0 ad revenue
- Most people who see your shorts aren’t your target audience
- So you’re going to get some trolls
- Performance is unpredictable and random
- Original shorts don’t perform better than “clips”
So, if your goal is subscriber growth, which is the right goal for anyone who wants to monetize with paid brand deals, focusing on shorts might make sense.
In other words, shorts are better for new channels/profiles/accounts.
If you have a seasoned channel with a decent amount of subscribers (like I do), I don’t see the point in posting a bunch of shorts.
My Plan Moving Forward
I mentioned at the beginning of this article that I don’t like short-form videos.
This experiment didn’t change that.
I still don’t want to spend much of my time making or watching them, so here’s my plan going forward:
- Continue repurposing long YouTube videos into shorts for use as Instagram Reels and TikToks
- Outsource editing and posting
- Delete TikTok from my phone; do not feed the trolls
- Do not post these clips to YouTube, since they don’t generate new subscribers or ad revenue
- Create high-quality original shorts only if the format makes sense for the topic (like a quick product review)
- Continue focusing on high-quality long-form YouTube videos
Realistically, this plan should continue to grow my Instagram following. That doesn’t lead to any passive income, but it does create a highly leveraged “time for money” situation via brand deals.
Maybe it’ll grow TikTok too, but I’m not putting any effort or thought into it.
And it’ll let me focus on serving my YouTube audience with high-quality, original, in-depth content – the type of stuff I like making, regardless of performance or revenue.