What if you turned all your texts into TikTok, Instagram videos?
With the growing popularity of short content-based formats it is becoming essential for all newsrooms, especially those gunning for younger audiences, to get better at summarising.
I understand all the objections that arise after reading that first sentence. Of course, I’m talking about TikTok; but also about the wider trend that seems to be catching on not only across social media (Reels on Instagram, Shorts on YouTube) but also across newsletters and podcasts.
Let’s look at some recent headlines and news.
TikTok and Instagram instead of Google Search and Maps
Senior Vice President Prabhakar Raghavan, who runs Google’s Knowledge & Information organisation, caused waves by citing data at a Fortune conference from the company’s internal research that involved a survey of U.S. users, aged 18 to 24.
Raghavan said that in their studies, almost 40% of young people said that when they’re looking for a place for lunch, they don’t go to Google Maps or Search – they go to TikTok or Instagram.
Now, first let’s acknowledge that a high ranking Google executive is sharing publicly this information as the company is in the middle of an antitrust investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. And the research or its data is not publicly available.
Aside from the circumstances, however, the data is revealing of the current way many from the younger generation discover information. I bet many of you reading this piece are more like me, using Google Search (or similar) for searching and Google Maps (or an alternative) for looking up a place to go to eat, for example.
As TechCrunch pointed out, while younger users may eventually launch some sort of maps app for navigation purposes, this data indicates they don’t necessarily start their journey on Google anymore.
Raghavan also added that younger audiences were generally interested in more “visually rich forms” of search and discovery.
I have read several interpretations of this story. One explained it’s a trend that was caused by how bloated Google’s both Search and Maps experiences has become, especially if you are using the mobile app. There’s just too many things to choose from. TikTok and Instagram are simple – you go in search and choose what looks most appealing to you.
Another take was that younger generations are increasingly more in favour of the idea of super apps, a few mobile applications that can do more things – like Spotify, which combines listening to music, podcasts and audiobooks (basically, all things audio in the same place). That’s why they start the discovery journey in the apps they use the most.
Someone else pointed to the superior algorithm or visual experience that’s not overwhelming and is familiar.
As a newsroom leader or media manager, all of this is valuable information and signals a trend. If taken literally, one takeaway would be to also create a TikTok or Reels video for a product review or service article.
The idea makes sense, but the implementation has to be a native take on the topic. Not saying you necessarily have to dance and sing, there are popular explainer videos on TikTok. The #TikTokTaughtMe hashtag has over 8 billion views.
I guess the main idea is to have the information in a familiar format.
It’s true that TikTok wants the videos on the platform to be longer so that users stay longer. The recommended length by the organisation’s playbook is getting longer. In November 2021, according to leaked data, the optimal recommended length was 21 to 34 seconds; double what it was in June 2020.
That’s still under one minute. Nearly 50 percent of users surveyed by TikTok said videos longer than a minute long were stressful, Wired wrote in its piece describing the leaked slide deck for advertisers.
Already in 2021, TikTok overtook YouTube in spent time. Its users watched over 24 hours of content per month, compared with 22 hours and 40 minutes on Google’s video platform.
Short form and summaries are popular not just for video, but also for newsletters and podcasts
In a recent blog, the Reuters Institute profiled the popular Stories podcast created and hosted by Cecilia Sala, the 26-year-old Italian journalist. Produced by Chora Media, the daily news podcast covers a news story from the world.
Episodes are usually around 7 minutes long, which is considered short when the average length is around 38 minutes.
Speaking of Chora Media, it has recently acquired Will Media, another Italian news startup, to become the country’s largest digital-audio media group. Will’s flagship podcast is daily news digest The Essential, which is one of the most popular titles on Spotify in Italy with an average of over 1 million monthly listeners. Its average length is 6 minutes.
Providing essential information in a short format is an approach Axios has taken with its newsletters, news articles and even podcasts, in what they call “smart brevity”: help their readers get smarter faster.
Or take The Morning Brew, the business newsletter aimed at younger audiences which recently surpassed 4 million subscribers and generated $50 million in revenue in 2021. It also breaks down daily news into small digestible chunks.
Besides, it’s not just the new news entrants that have built up their audiences by providing quick information with as little words as possible.
In 2021, The Washington Post launched “The 7”, a short daily news briefing, guiding readers through the most important and interesting news as they start their mornings. The newsletter is basically 7 headlines and one or two sentences explaining the story. It also comes with an audio version.
All that said, short content and summaries wouldn’t be possible without previous in-depth reporting. The point of this piece isn’t persuading anyone to pivot to short form.
What I’m trying to say here is that short form might be an easier gateway for younger audiences to enter and build a habit.
What’s worth remembering is that doing a good summary or a digest, whether text-based or in a video or a podcast, is a lot harder than it looks. It’s a skill that needs to be developed – the sooner, the better.
This piece was originally published in The Fix and is re-published with permission.