Did you know that the first video published on YouTube was only 18-seconds long?
Since launching in 2005, the video giant's founders have learned time and time again that content doesn't need to be long to engage audiences.
Now, following a nearly year long beta period – as well as the success of TikTok, Instagram Reels, and other viral video platforms – YouTube Shorts is in full swing and creators can now take advantage of the YouTube Shorts Fund.
Let's talk about what YouTube Shorts is, how it works, and how brands like yours can leverage it.
What is YouTube Shorts?
In September of 2020, YouTube Shorts – a YouTube app feature that rivals TikTok and Instagram Reels – began its first round of testing in India. The beta feature enabled users to see and create 15-second videos with musical overlays.
Even in its most basic beta form, the Shorts feature saw solid performance in India.
The Shorts beta was fully released in the U.S. in March of 2021, surpassing 6.5 billion daily views.
A few months later in July, Shorts launched globally in over 100 countries.
With YouTube Shorts still in beta mode, marketers are wondering how they'll take advantage of this video feature, what the final platform will look like, if it will have similar virality to TikTok, and how it could help brands better engage with YouTube's more than 2 billion active users.
The truth is, as short-form video platforms grow more and more popular, it's hard to know which will rise above the others. And, because the YouTube Shorts is still evolving, we can't fully predict what using it will be like in the near future.
Here's one thing we do know: YouTube houses millions of hours of branded content. As such, YouTube Shorts could be worth your time – especially if you already have a video strategy on the platform.
Below, I'll walk through the basics of YouTube Shorts, and what opportunities it could provide for marketers upon its official launch.
What is YouTube Shorts?
YouTube Shorts enables users to produce vertical short-form videos, with features such as video segmenting, app-based recording, and musical overlays. Videos must be 60 seconds or less and do not disappear like Instagram Reels or Stories content.
When explaining why YouTube decided to launch Shorts, a blog post from the tech giant read, "Every month, 2 billion viewers come to YouTube to laugh, learn and connect. Creators have built entire businesses on YouTube, and we want to enable the next generation of mobile creators to also grow a community on YouTube with Shorts."
"User-generated short videos were born on YouTube starting with our first upload, a short 18-second video called 'Me at the zoo.' As technology advances, creators and artists can now take advantage of the incredible power of smartphones to easily create and publish high-quality content wherever they are in the world," the YouTube post added.
The post continues to say that consumers today enjoy bite-sized content that they can enjoy at any time of the day. A platform like YouTube Shorts allows viewers to step away from long-form video content and alternate as they please.
What YouTube Shorts Looks Like
YouTube Shorts is currently in beta in over 100 countries.
While we don't know what Shorts will look like for certain when it moves out of beta, I took a few screenshots of the beta I recently discovered on my YouTube app to help marketers envision the potential user experience.
Creating YouTube Shorts
When you have the YouTube app, creating a Short is one tap away.
When you land on the home screen, you'll see the "+" icon on the lower center navigation. Once you click it, you'll see "Create a Short" from the menu.
When you tap Create, the Shorts creation interface will be similar to that of Instagram Stories in that it opens to a camera screen that allows you to:
- Record segments of a 60-second clip or a full minute-long video.
- Upload pre-created content from a camera roll.
- Film a "short" with back or front-facing cameras.
- Adjust video speed.
- Set a recording timer.
- Pick sounds for musical overlays.
- Add filters and text.
Here's a quick screenshot of some of the platform's features.
Watching YouTube Shorts
Before the Shorts beta test, YouTube had already been testing a section of its site where shorter videos were placed, shown below.
Today, YouTube added a dedicated shelf for the Shorts feature to its app homepage where you can start to view Shorts created by beta testers as well as short videos YouTube already had on the platform.
When watching a Short, you can tap icons on the right bottom of the screen to "Like," "Dislike," or comment on the video. If they enjoy what they see, they can also tap the "SUBSCRIBE" to follow the video creator.
Once a viewer finishes a Short, they can swipe their finger up – like on Reels or TikTok – to see a vertical feed of more Shorts from other creators.
Users can also access this vertical feed on their home screen, by clicking on the Shorts tab.
What Makes YouTube Shorts Different from Its Competitors
As a marketer, seeing every social media platform launch Stories or short-form video features might be overwhelming.
And, now that so many have come out, you might be asking yourself, "Will YouTube Shorts provide more opportunities than Instagram Reels or TikTok?"
Well, we still don't know yet. However, we think YouTube Shorts will be worth watching. Here are a few reasons why.
1. Short-form creators could see a bigger reach.
While Gen Z users flooded TikTok, causing its astounding early growth, YouTube, the second largest website globally, launched Shorts to more than 2 billion monthly active users.
Rather than wondering, "Will YouTube Shorts get awareness?", ask yourself instead, "How do I tap into YouTube's huge audience with Shorts?"
According to Nelson Chacon, HubSpot's principal YouTube content strategist, you'll want to know which segment of YouTube's huge audience you want to market to before producing Shorts – or any other YouTube video for that matter.
Additionally, if you have a solid subscriber list, continue to create content that's still relevant to them – even if it's shorter-form.
"Your subscribers know your channel for its content and Youtube, as a platform, works best with consistency," Chacon says.
For example, say you regularly create long-form content related to your product or industry and find that it engages your audiences. Chacon notes that you can use Shorts to create quick tutorials or step-by-step videos around those content topics.
2. Brands in most industries could leverage Shorts.
Because TikTok has a somewhat niche user-base filled with younger consumers, some types of brands, such as B2B companies, might have a harder time growing awareness there.
While YouTube shares similar popularity with young adults, the content on its platform is so vast that it brings in people from all sorts of age groups, countries, industries, and niches.
Ultimately, there's a video for everyone on YouTube. With Shorts, more brands will be able to engage with audiences from a much wider range of audience targets.
For example, while a B2B brand might have difficulty connecting with Gen Z consumers on TikTok, they might be able to connect with professionals looking for industry-related content on Shorts.
Similarly, if you target older generations, such as Gen X, your short-form content might get more engagement on YouTube than TikTok.
3. YouTube Shorts could be less vulnerable than other viral platforms.
This summer and throughout the fall of 2020, TikTok was threatened with bans and censorship regulations.
Why is this concerning? If you're a marketer who spends time mastering content strategies on a social media app, a ban or regulation of that app could mean that the content you've worked so hard on might never be seen.
However, because YouTube is one of the oldest and most successful online platforms, and it's owned by the publicly traded Alphabet, it might be seen as more trustworthy to governments than viral apps that provide less public data security information – like TikTok.
4. Shorts could provide long-term benefits.
While Instagram Stories and Reels content expire by default after 24 hours, some YouTube Shorts beta testers say Shorts don't disappear from YouTube – which could help grow long-term YouTube awareness.
For example, if a person who prefers short-form content stumbles upon your YouTube page, they can see all of your short videos, rather than only being able to access your longer content.
Or, if someone's in a rush and searching for a quick how-to video related to something you've filmed, they might find and watch your short videos on that topic – even if you published them months ago.
How 5 Brands Use YouTube Shorts
Have exciting news you want to share with your audience? Take a page out of this brand's playbook.
In this countdown-style video, Danessa Myricks Beauty used a short to promote its launch in Sephora and build some anticipation.
In the first half of the video, multiple people can be heard saying "One more day." Then, we see the CEO sending off a package to be sent to Sephora stores.
Here's why this works: There's no time wasted in this Short. It's engaging from the very start and every frame serves a purpose. Secondly, there's a clear message – the audience leaves knowing the 5Ws (who, what, when, where, why).
Lastly, this Short creates excitement for the brand's growth and invites the audience to join in the countdown.
Who said informative content had to be long? LYFE Marketing shows that you can create fun, engaging, and informative content in under 30 seconds.
In this Short, the brand breaks down color psychology. The talent in front of the camera simply points to the text which appears on different parts of the screen during the video.
If you don't have a big media budget, this is an effective, low-effort method of creating content your audience will be interested in.
Shorts are a great way to repurpose content. You can take content from a blog post, live stream, or downloadable report to create a short-and-sweet video.
Digital marketing agency, WebFX, created a short to explain the costs behind social media marketing.
With the use of graphics, WebFX delivers great information in a succinct way. It's likely the brand has an article or other form of content that dives deeper into this topic.
But for social media, snippets are the way to go. When done right, they pique your audience's interest and lead them to your website.
4. The Voice
To promote its new season, NBC's The Voice created a Short featuring this year's hosts.
What works well here:
- It serves as an ad for the brand.
- It utilizes text to emphasize certain phrases and keep the audience engaged.
- It includes a banner at the end with clear directions for viewers on when and where to watch the show.
Here's another great example of how graphics and illustrations can take your Shorts to another level.
Satori Graphics is a popular YouTube channel to learn graphic design. The channel features hundreds of long-form videos on the topic and this Short serves as an extension of what's already on the channel.
This tactic can work well for attracting new viewers to the channel, as a one-minute video is less intimidating than a 20-minute video. It's similar to how you present a content offer at the end of a blog article.
A reader may be more likely to read a blog post first than read a 20-page report, as it's an easier point of entry. The same concept can apply to Shorts.
How to Prepare for YouTube Shorts
While we aren't sure how Shorts will evolve, it's not too early to consider how you could implement it into your social media or video marketing strategy. Here are a few quick tips to keep in mind.
- Optimize short YouTube videos: Chacon says global creators should begin to add, "#shorts" to descriptions of videos that are 60 seconds or less.
- Identify short-form topics: Are there any topics your team creates content around that could be distilled into a few quick tips, steps, or data points? If so, you might be able to repurpose this information by creating a Short.
- Audit your short-form videos: Have you created Instagram Reels, TikToks, or other social media videos that would only need a few light tweaks to engage your YouTube audience? If so, you could test them on Shorts when the platform launches.
To learn more about YouTube Marketing, check out our Ultimate Guide – or download the free resource below.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published in March of 2021 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Sep 8, 2021 1:00:00 PM, updated September 10 2021