March 14

Why Your Short-Form Videos Flop

Mental Health, Social Media

Short-form videos have taken over social media. From TikTok to Instagram Reels to YouTube Shorts and dozens of platforms in between, social media services are all-in on short, vertical video snippets. 

So why do yours flop all the time?

Alright, that's a bit of a loaded question. But there's a good chance every creator has racked their brain trying to figure out why a video they thought was a surefire hit barely got any views on one of these apps. 

So let's do a bit of a reality check and a mental reset while we look at some of the main reasons short-form videos "flop." 

The Current State Of Short-Form Videos And Social Media

It's important to talk about the nuances of short-form videos because they are absolutely dominating all major social media platforms right now. For the past several years, these short clips have proven to retain user attention and keep eyes glued to apps better than other forms of media. And that's precisely why platform like Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, and Snapchat have all integrated scrollable feeds of endless videos, typically ranging from 5 seconds to 90 seconds long. 

Currently, TikTok — the platform that accelerated the craze — is the only platform that allows videos longer than 90 seconds in its short-form videos categories. In fact, that platform even incentivizes longer videos, both via the Creator Rewards Program (formerly known as the Creativity Program Beta) and via messages to creators. The Creator Rewards Program only pays for videos that are longer than 60 seconds and for views coming from the For You feed, among other things. 

Every platform now incentivizes virality and algorithmic curation over follower building and community. That said, they all certainly have different algorithms for determine what gets pushed to more consumers, when, and for how long. But ultimately, the goal is the same: keep viewers scrolling. 

The longer somebody stays on the app, the more ads the apps can shower viewers. And that "inventory," as it's called, leads to cheaper CPMs for advertisers and a higher overall demand to pay for advertising services. And then, of course, there are additional platforms like TikTok Shop, which aim to directly monetize users by selling the products on the platform itself. 

What Makes A Vertical Video Successful

So now that we understand why these short videos are so critical to apps, it's time to look at what makes them successful. Because if you spend even just 30 minutes scrolling through a new account, you're likely to see a very wide range of content pop up while the app still tries to figure out what you as a user like. 

The truth is, success means different things for different videos. But there is one major component in just about all viral videos. But a video doesn't necessarily have to go majorly viral in order for it to be successful. Consider the context. 

If you're a life coach trying to get new clients by posting helpful, generic tips to your accounts, you're probably wanting to hit big view numbers to cast as wide a net as possible. Because most people are open to some form of life advice. So a successful video in this case may just be one that catches attention and leads to the most views. 

But if you're trying to speak to a really specific group of people, you're probably more interested in generating a great conversation in your comment section. There are plenty of videos that over-index heavily on engagements like comments and shares without getting hundreds of thousands of views.

If you're speaking specifically to new moms struggling to balance their life after giving birth, we'd argue a video with only 30,000 views but 2,000 engaged comments and shares from new moms is a way more successful piece of content than a video with 300,000 views and 200 comments. Heck, even a video that only gains 3,000 views but lands you 30 new followers can be seen as successful in that you know the message resonated with people — when it reached them. 

But therein lies the rub. Content doesn't always get a chance to reach its audience. 

Why Your Short-Form Videos Flop

Let's be clear about one thing: a "flop" doesn't mean "bad content." In fact, it doesn't even me ineffective content. It just means it's a video that didn't get seen by very many people. For a lot of people, a "flop" may be a post that stalls in the dreaded 200-300 view range. For others, it may be be a video that only gets 1,000-2,000 views on Instagram Reels. Whatever the specific numbers are for any one creator, it simply means it vastly underperformed compared to that creator's typical reach. 

So if a video flops and doesn't get pushed out to thousands upon thousands of people by the platforms, it means you never even really got a chance to see if it's a truly effective video or not. And the number one reason a video doesn't get pushed by the algorithm right now? The first five second of the video don't keep people around. 

It's really that simple. 

Sure, there are plenty of caveats and every platform is a little bit different, but as a general rule, if you don't keep a high percentage of eyeballs in those first five seconds, your video isn't going to get pushed out by the algorithm. This is actually more important than just about any other metric when it comes to securing views. 

What's a high percentage? Again, that depends on the platform. Luckily, TikTok shows creators their retention over time, so they can go in and see. In most cases, a video needs at least 50 percent watching the first five seconds to get a shot at the algorithm, though realistically it's 60 percent or higher. YouTube also shows this data, though the number is higher here based on the way the app calculates it with rewatches. (In other words, a viral video may have 150 percent of the audience retention at 5 seconds, which at first blush seems like a mistake). 

So you may have a performance video of a song that could be a GRAMMY-winning hit, but if the first 5 seconds of the video don't intrigue people enough to keep watching, that particular video probably won't get seen by many people. It doesn't mean it's a bad song, obviously. Just not an immediately captivating video for this format. 

It's All About 'The Hook'

You may have heard this term before, but "the hook" is the common parlance for that early part of the video that intrigues people and keeps them watching. Some marketers really confuse the concept of a "hook" with some sort of cliffhanger or "gotcha" phrase. Kind of like clickbait. 

Sure, it can be. But it can also just be a beautifully composed shot. Or an image of somebody with a very passionate look on their face. 

The reality is, every post is a bit of a gamble. What you may think is a great "hook" may just not really work. And some videos stumble into a great hook. Once people start to watch, it compounds, which is ultimately what leads to virality. This is also where different audiences factor in. You may notice when you crosspost a video that it does nothing on four platforms but gets 200,000 views on the fifth. Or that it does really well in four places, but not a fifth. It's all trial and error. 

Don't drive yourself crazy trying to figure out which platform likes what, but do always think about whether or not the first five seconds of your video feel like they truly stand out. And just keep trying. Remember that a video that doesn't get seen by a lot of people doesn't equate to "bad" or "ineffective" content – it just didn't work in that context. Keep tweaking and keep trying. The more you can detach your emotions from the success of your content, the more fun you'll have trying to find the perfect combination that leads to a truly successful video. 


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