Video length on Facebook is one of the mysteries of content production in the digital age. We looked at the data to see what works.
Trends in video content have shifted wildly since the advent of YouTube in the early 2000s. No one was prepared for how rapidly video sharing would change in the last 10 years. Apps like Vine were created, loved, and perished in that time. Instagram and Snap have cornered the Stories market, while TikTok is just beginning to find their niche. Facebook, though, is still the place to share social videos longer than the 15 seconds these platforms allow.
Publishers and brands alike have attempted to figure out the perfect video length for social sharing: How long is too long? When do your viewers stop watching? Will anyone ever sit through a three minute video again?
The short answer is, yeah. Not only will they watch it, they’ll engage with it. After diving into data around videos shared natively on Facebook, we found that although video is only around 12 percent of the content posted on the platform, it’s responsible for approximately 25 percent of the engagements driven.
With a large percentage of engagement coming from a small percentage of content, we wanted to know if the actual length of videos has changed much over the last few years?
Video length on Facebook hasn’t changed that drastically over the past three years.
We examined data for the first two months of 2017, 2018 and 2019 to see how video length has changed over the past years. First, length of videos posted to Facebook rose slightly from 2017 to 2018. The average of the top 10 most engaged (combination of FB likes, shares, comments) videos was 128 seconds long in 2017 and 147 seconds in 2018. In the first two months of 2019, the average of the top 10 most engaged videos fell to just over a minute, at 71 seconds.
While an interesting data point, short videos don’t necessarily equate to high engagement. When looking at 2017’s top 10 longest videos (out of the top 1000 most engaged), three of them actually broke 1 million engagements. The second longest video was posted by the NFL, a broadcast of Lady Gaga’s halftime show that nearly got 2 million engagements and was just shy of 15 minutes.
While none of 2019’s top 10 longest videos hit the million mark, the longest was an 18 minute video that drummed up 300k engagements in two months. When we know what resonates with our audiences, we can begin to develop intentional content that can drive reactions, no matter the length.
Understanding your audience means looking at more than likes alone
Speaking of reactions, we can’t just consider how well “liked” something is, as a metric for positive engagement these days. Back in February of 2016, Facebook officially rolled out “reactions” to users worldwide. People’s ability to express a deeper range of emotions gives a clearer idea of how your audience is engaging with content and how they feel about certain topics. A deeper dive into NewsWhip Analytics helped us break down the length of videos and the type of reaction viewers had during the first two months of the past three years.
In 2017, we saw the average of the top 10 highest engaged videos was 90 seconds, while the top video, which garnered over 4 million engagements, was 10 seconds longer than average, at a minute 40 seconds.
We can also see that the longest video in 2017’s top 10 was 230 seconds or almost 4 minutes — surprising for something shared to social media. That was the second highest top performing video for two months. Turns out people will absolutely watch a dad and a baby dancing for 4 minutes and as the cherry on top, it prompted 2,316,324 shares.
In the first two months of 2018 we see longer videos shape the top 10 most engaged list. With almost 4.5 million engagements, the top video was just over three minutes long and featured, you guessed it, adorable animals.
Most Pages that post videos to Facebook that do especially well are sites like Tasty or UNILAD, but in 2018, ABC News broke the top 10 with a video featuring Andrew Pollack, the father of a student killed in the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in February of that year. This video in particular had over 1 million shares, arguably one of the best metrics for success as most people don’t share every video they come in contact with to their personal timelines.
And finally, the first two months of 2019 found us celebrating a principal’s dance moves, drooling over cookies and of course, building hype for Game of Thrones. It’s worth noting that the third highest engaged video was a laundry folding robot debuting at CES 2019 and even though it wasn’t shared by CES 2019, it flew around the internet after being shared over a million times on Facebook.
With three years of data to compare, we took a look at how each reaction compared to video length, and as it turns out, there isn’t much of a formula to emulate. People tend to care more about the content and it’s proven through our analysis that if people deem it worth watching, they don’t care how long they have to watch it.
One interesting point is that with the exception of 2019, the top 10 most “loved” Facebook videos were much longer videos than reactions with “likes” or “comments,” on average. The only exception was 2018’s “shares” average which came in at just under three minutes, but overall people were willing to share with their friends videos that were meaningful or resonated with them, even though they were longer that the videos they “liked,” “commented” or even “laughed” at.
There are many ways you can engage with your audience, but just because entire platforms were born out of the desire to watch a video for 6 seconds, that doesn’t mean that your audience can’t handle an engaging idea for much longer than that.
If you’re interested in building your own video length search, take a tour of NewsWhip Analytics.
Katherine is a Content Strategist working at the confluence of journalism + marketing. She's most interested in bridging the gap between business and editorial and exploring ways publishers can use data to inform their storytelling.
Email Katherine via firstname.lastname@example.org.