Did you know that the first video published on YouTube was only 18-seconds long?
While short-form content on YouTube isn't new, it does have a new name: Shorts. Launched in 2021, Shorts is YouTube's answer to TikTok, Instagram Reels, and other viral video platforms. But is it worth your time?
Let's talk about what YouTube Shorts is, how it works, and how brands like yours can leverage it.
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What is YouTube Shorts?
YouTube Shorts are vertical, short-form videos that you can create or watch on YouTube. You can enhance Shorts with features such as video segmenting, app-based recording, and musical overlays. Shorts must be 60 seconds or less and do not disappear like Instagram Reels or Snapchats.
The launch of YouTube Shorts comes at a time when many social media platforms are making a drastic pivot towards video content — specifically short-form content.
Even in its most basic beta form, the Shorts feature saw solid performance in India. In March 2021, less than a year later, the Shorts beta was fully released in the U.S., quickly surpassing 6.5 billion daily views. By July 2021, Shorts officially launched globally in over 100 countries.
Today, a few things have changed. Most notably, the time limit on Shorts has expanded to 60 seconds, and many creators take advantage of every second. In fact, more than 70% of Shorts are longer than 15 seconds.
Although Shorts is still in its infancy — and only time will tell how viable it is as a marketing tool – this feature still deserves your attention, especially if you already have a video strategy on YouTube.
Below, I'll walk through the basics of YouTube Shorts and what opportunities it presents for marketers pivoting to short-form content.
How to Make 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, 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
YouTube has a dedicated tab for Shorts which can find to the left of the "+" icon.
Additionally, in an effort to promote YouTube Shorts, you can find a scrolling menu of recommended Shorts on the home page (see below).
When watching a Short, you can tap icons on the right bottom of the screen to "Like," "Dislike," or comment on the video. If you enjoy what you see, you can also tap "SUBSCRIBE" to follow the channel.
Once a viewer finishes a Short, they can swipe up — like on Reels or TikTok – to see a more Shorts from other creators.
What Makes YouTube Shorts Different from Its Competitors
As a marketer, seeing every social media platform pivot to short-form video may feel overwhelming. So much so, you may be asking yourself, "Is YouTube Shorts worth my time?" or, "Will it provide more opportunities than Instagram Reels or TikTok?"
Because YouTube Shorts is still in its infancy, it's too early to measure its impact. That said, there are a few noteworthy factors that differentiate it from the pack:
1. Shorts provide a funnel to your long-form content.
To state the obvious, people like to engage with different videos throughout the day. For instance, someone may scroll through TikTok during their lunch break but then play a 2-hour long podcast on YouTube when they get home.
Unlike TikTok and Snapchat, which are entirely dedicated to short-form content, YouTube is positioning itself as the go-to destination for both short- and long-form content.
In this way, Shorts could be a way for creators to reach a new audience who may become regular viewers of their longer content — giving you the best of both worlds.
2. Shorts do not expire.
For example, 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. YouTube Shorts could be less vulnerable than other viral platforms.
Throughout most of 2020, TikTok was facing threats of a ban and censorship regulations.
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 than viral apps that provide less public data security information – like TikTok.
How 5 Brands Use YouTube Shorts
Looking for bite-sized news about your favorite pro athletes? ESPN has you covered by providing Shorts that showcase trending videos, highlights, and fiery commentary.
ESPN's YouTube channel has a loyal audience with over 8.5 million followers. By utilizing Shorts, the network is leveraging another format to connect with its audience online.
For Youtube megastar Mr. Beasts, Shorts are a great way to repurpose content from longer videos.
If you've been in the YouTube game for a while, consider clipping segments from your existing long-form content to make minute-long Shorts. While it may take some finessing, creating Shorts can breathe new life into your past content.
Plus, YouTube's new "Edit into a Short" feature makes it easier than ever to cut videos into bite-sized snippets.
3. 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.
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.
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.
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.