Two-second storytelling

Social media content has less than two seconds to get its point across. Here, Tom Grocott, Managing Partner, McCann PR & Social explore the ways social content is consumed and the implications for brand storytelling.

Participation in social media is constantly growing and evolving, and never more so than now.

There are nearly 3.5 billion active users of social media in the world and almost all of them access social via mobile. Our daily habits are changing, from where we engage with news to how we connect with our friends online, and the social media environment is a maelstrom of content and information.

Every day the average social media user scrolls through 300 feet of content in their feeds. It’s an enormously noisy and competitive arena.

The first challenge for marketers is to understand how to reach the right audience. The second is to recognise that we have their attention for less than two seconds even if we do make it into their feeds – and to get our story across in that minuscule period of time.

But humans only need to see an image for 13 milliseconds to identify it correctly, and there is academic research that shows that we’ve evolved to concentrate not in continuous bouts of attention, but in 250-second millisecond blocks. In other words we understand and absorb what we see incredibly quickly. It has an impact, too. Facebook tells us that 25% of purchase intent is driven by video views shorter than two seconds, while 38% of brand recall can be attributed to two-second video.

The motivation for using social media has shifted away from social connection and towards access to entertaining content; we have at our disposal a short but extremely powerful moment in which to tell our story.

But what is the story? The components of a great story haven’t changed for millennia. First, it needs tension. It needs a source of friction, the starting point of a compelling tale and a reason for the consumer to stop scrolling. When it comes to social, it’s useful to think about how to present and then solve a problem. Second, it needs human interest. It needs a connection, a source of empathy and shared experience. When our task is to communicate through social media it’s the simple yet tricky matter of making the story truly relevant to the consumer. Third, it needs topicality. This is particularly important in the lightning-fast modern media world. Why is this story important today? That’s a lot to achieve in a couple of seconds but it can be done. The best short-form social media content is simple, fun and effective. It catches the eye and tells its story in an immediately understandable way.

But the real opportunity presented by two-second storytelling in social media is in the number of these micro-moments we can create. A 30-second television commercial is a very effective way to communicate a story but a social media marketer also sees value in ten three-second videos, each delivering a message in its own right while laddering up to a unifying thought. A ‘Reach & Frequency’ advertising strategy allows us to take those moments and place them in consumers’ social feeds, generating brand impact through a series of instantaneous stories. Reaching the audience just once doesn’t have the same effect.

TV might serve as the steepest spikes over the course of a campaign, but if we can tell stories in those two seconds in social, if we can really make those powerful little moments work hard, social media can maintain the upward curve.

If you would like an audit of your social media channels or to chat about your requirements, contact

Tom Grocott is Managing Partner, McCann Social.

Recent News

Ep10 economic downturn large

Podcast: Futureproof your framework - how to market in an economic downturn

The UK has faced its fair share of challenges in recent years, and the uncertainty is set to continue. It may feel all doom and gloom, but there’s more in the marketer’s control than you might think. So, how can you begin to build your futureproof strategy?

Read more
Lucy MD 2024 large

Lucy Hudson steps into role of Managing Director at McCann Birmingham

Lucy Hudson, previously MD at McCann Demand has joined the McCann Birmingham team to lead the agency onto its next phase of success. 

Read more
Turing Trust 2024 large

McCann Central partners with the Turing Trust to help thousands of students learn vital IT skills

McCann Central, which is headquartered in Birmingham, announced today it has partnered with the Turing Trust, a charitable organisation that provides quality IT resources and training to schools in sub-Saharan Africa.

Read more