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Content Creation

November 3, 2022

The Dark Side of Short-form Content

Kevon Cheung

Founder & Head Teacher

I closed my laptop. Went for a shower. By the time I got to my bed, it was already 2 am.

In the last couple of weeks, I was running my live course at night, so that was my routine.

But when I got to my bed, instead of getting ready to sleep, I held up my phone and scrolled Instagram Reels to see what my friends were up to.

I also saw some tennis play clips, some people dancing, and some funny videos.

Then after 15 minutes, I started hating myself.

Honestly, this short-form content teaches me nothing, but I find myself being sucked into them unconsciously.

“What is going on in our world?”

Why is short-form content popular?

First, let me quickly explain what short-form content is. They usually mean TikTok videos, Instagram Reels, YouTube Shorts. They’re videos. They’re obviously short and also fast-paced. They keep your adrenaline high so you keep watching more and more. These platforms have figured out how to get you addicted.

This is my friend, Michelle Marcelline, who is an advocate of Build in Public (she was on the Public Show!):

Because of that, they are so popular these days because you, the creator, can easily get tens of thousands of views.

It all becomes an impression game. An attention game.

The more people watch it, the more the algorithm likes it. The creators absolutely love it. They don’t just get validations for their work through impressions, they now get these big numbers as social proof to sell their work.

No wonder so many is chasing after big numbers on social media these days.

It is a cash cow.

Why I’m not a big fan of short-form

I know. The world is moving fast, so we all have to adapt to changes.

Actually, I made 2 TikTok-style videos (this and that) in May 2022 and put them on Twitter & YouTube.

Then I stopped.

It is just not who I want to be. I don’t want to become a creator-entertainer who says something smart or funny in 30 seconds. I don’t want to just inspire you.

I much prefer to stay as a creator-educator. I want to help you make progress. I want to give you guidance and work with you.

And it is easy for creators to get mixed feelings with these 2 directions. You think you need to do both to win the game. You don’t want to miss out on the big trend of short-form content that seems to give out big rewards.

But more and more, I see that long-form and short-form are significantly different strategies mainly because my worldview has changed in the last 3 years.

I got married, 1st child was born, and now 2nd child is on the way. I now have a long-term view of everything. And I see how my long-form content can play well in that strategy, but short-form?

During COVID days, they feel like a mask. It is used only once before they become useless.

I know I can’t afford to play that game now. I want the compound effect.

You can’t compare long with short

I believe there are many ways to succeed. This is why I keep telling people Building in Public is not the only way to grow online. It only fits the people who love to share and work with the community.

Short-form content works very well for people who want to grow an audience fast and then monetize their ability to capture interests. It is a valid strategy!

E.g. someone can grow to a 6-figure audience in months and start getting big sponsorship deals.

The big question is:

How do you want to make your money?

But if you want a direct impact on people, sustainability in business, and a network of strong relationships, then creating things to serve people in exchange for money is the way to go. Sponsorship deals can’t help you achieve this.

So it comes down to what you want and the path you want to take.

P.S. Remember Michelle from above? Her main business is software so short-form videos work very well to bring in eyeballs to her products. She is not in the education business.

Your schedule and energy level

I’m very active on Twitter.

Often times I see people growing super fast and I question if I’m doing the right things. But then I remind myself - everyone is in different stages of life.

For a guy like me with a young family, I prefer to invest first and reap the benefits steadily. I like to have my off time when I don’t have to worry about putting out another piece of content to please my audience.

Many people (mostly younger) have the time and energy to produce 5x my outputs. That’s great. Then they can play into the game and maximize their returns. They can also tackle multiple platforms at the same time.

But not for me. As of now, I can only manage Twitter, YouTube, and my blog at max.

Your preference in customer and audience

I don’t have data to back me up here, so this is just my gut feeling.

I believe short-form content attracts people who want quick success and are less patient. Long-form content attracts people who plan ahead and take their time to move forward.

So if your main revenue stream is sponsorship deals or low-ticket digital products, short-form can work well. If you’re selling premium courses or 1:1 coaching programs, long-form content can draw in the right customers for you.

With long-form, you might have a smaller audience, but you have more direct touch points with each of them.

When I reflected back to my early days, I was having amazing conversations when I had 3,000 Twitter followers. It was fun! I had a lot of cozy relationships that helped my business grow.

When I celebrated my 2-year anniversary of building Public Lab, a lot of my community came to celebrate with me. That’s when I knew my approach ensures the right people come through the door.

I still do this one type of short-form though

I don’t enjoy making short inspirational or entertaining videos, but are there other types of short-form content?

Yes, if we are not talking about videos, tweets are a type of short-form content!

I always have more than 50% of my tweets as Build in Public tweets. It means I’m sharing what I’m working on.

Usually, it is my latest product or project. Instead of trying to be funny or smart, I publish these snippets and invite people to share their feedback with me.

I love to build in public because they’re easier to create than smart content like “Here are the 10 proven ways to grow your business to 6-fig”

Meh! Lots of effort for boring content.

A lot of people have trouble knowing what to share at first, but once you build up that muscle, you’ll find that “Everything is Build in Public materials!” Most of the time, you are restricting yourself to share thoughts or work-in-progress because of fear of judgment.

It certainly takes practice to get over the hurdle. If you’re interested, I created the Easy Content Magic short course to give you 4 frameworks to make sharing your own work easy. You can check it out.

What it means to you

You don’t want to hop on the bandwagon because you see other people enjoying success. These successes are usually very superficial. If you take on an approach you’re not fit for, you’ll end up giving up or pivoting away, destroying all the effort you’ve put in.

My recommendation is not to contribute to the noise of the Internet, but to make a contribution that really makes the people near you go “WOW! This is different!”

If you want, you can turn your long-form content into short-form to reap the benefits of the algorithm this way. That’s a valid choice.

If you’re like me and prefer to be a creator-educator, remember these:

You want to be that person people would sit patiently to read or watch for 5 minutes. You don’t want to be that random person who people love scrolling past.
You want to be that person people refer to their friends excitedly. You don’t want to be that random person people have a quick laugh with.

This is how you compound your impact and influence every single day.

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Table of Contents

My 5-Part System

Creating content can be a heavy lift but if you can break down the process into smaller steps, it is a lot more enjoyable. In 5 mins, I’ll show you what the 5 steps are.

Download for Free

My 5-Part System

Creating content can be a heavy lift but if you can break down the process into smaller steps, it is a lot more enjoyable. In 5 mins, I’ll show you what the 5 steps are.

Download for Free