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[VIDEO] The Anatomy of Short Form Content Marketing and Storytelling

The best way to reach audiences on social media is through short form content marketing and storytelling leveraging setups and payoffs.

By: Michael Brito

Category: Content

The only effective way to reach audiences on social media is through short form content marketing and storytelling. But what do these buzzwords actually mean?

What is short form content marketing and storytelling?

Let’s break it down into a few different pieces.

  • Short form refers to the format. It’s the combination of a few words coupled with a digital asset. That digital asset could be a still image, animated video, gif, or a 15 to 30 second video.
  • Content marketing … well, that’s self-explanatory but in this context, it’s content shared on social media for the sole purpose of driving some type of action. A click, share, like, comment.
  • Storytelling is a narrative of a series of related events, experiences, or message points.

In a nutshell, short form content marketing and storytelling is telling a related story on a social media channel using the combination of a digital asset and post copy. This is extremely important for any B2B content marketing strategy.

What are the challenges of short form versus long form content?

For some, writing long form content comes easy. Most journalists, writers and novelists have gone through years of formal education in order to build up their writing expertise. I would venture to say that most of them were also born with the gift of words. They can articulate a thought or idea using language and stories. Some are better than others, but they are all talented.

The challenge with short form storytelling is having to articulate those same thoughts and ideas using less words and a digital asset. Despite what others may tell you, it’s not easy. Social media content creation is much more than just writing a Tweet or status update.

Breaking down the setups and payoffs of short form digital content

In Hollywood, there is something called a setup and a payoff. In every movie or television show, the larger narrative usually involves a setup and a payoff. The setup is either the challenge or the opportunity. And the payoff is the outcome.

Did the man get the girl? Did the high school football team overcome all of the adversity and win the state championship? Did the cop catch the bad guy?

Even within the larger context of the story, there are usually smaller sub-plots or storylines that also have a setup and payoff.

Think about a series like Criminal Minds or 9-1-1. Each episode has its own confined storyline with a setup and payoff. Even if you just watch one episode, you’d be able to understand it. There are also larger setups and pay offs within the context of these television shows; and to understand the full narrative, you’d have to binge watch the entire season to get it.

It would be difficult to start watching a series like The Handmaids Tail or Son’s of Anarchy because each builds off of the previous one.

A setup is giving hints as to the action or obstacles to come later in the story. It plants information and deepens the viewers sense of anticipation by providing a series of clues of what’s to come. A setup is laying the groundwork by creating user curiosity.

The payoff is the reveal.

Other terms for “payoff” include discoveries, revelations, surprises, epiphanies, twists (in some cases a plot twist) or reversals. It’s anything in the story that has been setup and is now fully realized.

In comedy, this is called a punchline. In social media, this is called a well-written social media content creation.

Let me explain.

With short form digital content, the setup is the creative and the payoff is the post copy.

The creative could be a 15-30 second video clip, an animated video with vector graphics, an animated gif, a photo, a photo with words on it, a PDF document or anything that will grab the attention of the user. This is called visual storytelling, and continues to be a dominant way to influence purchase decisions according to a Gen Z shopping habits report from eMarketer.

It is meant to pique user’s attention, stop them from scrolling and spike curiosity. The natural behavior is for users to then read the post copy. That is the payoff.

The question is: does the combination of the digital asset and post copy tell a story? Will it cause a user to perform an action like a click, a share, a comment? Is there a proper setup and payoff?

Short form content examples that can be improved

Let’s review this through the lens of a setup and payoff. In this case the setup is an image with the person flying on a paper plane. The color stands out with the white background. The challenge is that there is a lot of messages on this image. There are 20 words on the image not to include the company logo. And some of the words would be hard to read on a mobile device.

Cognism Social Creative Content

The bottom ad description has even more words on it with the “request demo” call to action.

This is not a terrible piece of content, but it could be improved. In this case, I don’t know what the setup is or what Cognism wants to reveal to me.

When I look at the post copy there are even more problems. First, I have to click “see more” in order to view the entire post copy. That mere action of clicking will deter users from doing so. They want to be able to read the payoff quickly without having to think so much.

The payoff itself is wordy. There’s too much information. A strong payoff is quick, concise, and drives action. When I read this in context with the setup, it does make sense after 15 or 30 seconds of discernment. Unfortunately, 15 to 30 seconds is way too long.

Here’s another example of social media content that can be improved.

Illusive short form content examples

The setup of this post is actually pretty good. Strong headline on the image, a call to action to watch the webinar, and minimal text.

The issue here is with the payoff.

Not only does it require users to click “see more” but there’s also the issue with hashtags. If the action that Illusive wants me to take is to sign up for the webinar, they’re giving me way too many other options to do something else.

They have added four total hashtags in the post copy, and clicking on a hashtag takes you to the search results page to see other posts with the same hashtag. It’s highly unlikely that someone will click the back button and then the call to action to sign up for the webinar. It’s a social media best practice to have only one call to action in every post. In this case they have four.

Also, the payoff in general has way too much text. It looks like a large blob of words put together with a storyline. In this case, the payoff needs to be concise and complete the story.

As I said, short form content marketing and storytelling is not easy and takes practice.

Good examples of social media content creation

Here are a few examples of brands doing social media content creation the right way. In this first example with StreamSets Inc., the setup is simple and clear. There’s a DataOps report available for download. When I look at the post copy, the payoff tells me why I should download this report–to get value from data projects. They close off the payoff with a simple call to action to read the report.

StreamSets creative social media content

This post from ServiceNow is also a good example of social media content creation. The setup is clear with minimal words. They want me to download a report, white paper or eBook (not sure which one) to learn how to predictive AIOps can help me with automation. The payoff is also clear and concise with a strong CTA.

ServiceNow social media content creation

Short form storytelling is a skill that marketers need to learn to break through the newsfeed algorithm. People relate to stories and a strong setup and payoff is key, especially when marketers are unsure of how to get customer attention. This means that there must be a very creative setup coupled with an equally as strong payoff, whether it’s short from or long from digital content strategy.

Equally as important for marketers is to learn how to measure content marketing performance and then being able to optimize that content in real-time.


I really hope you enjoyed this video. I do my best to create content that’s actionable and provides value to the work you do.

Please consider subscribing to my YouTube channel; and be sure to hit the notification button so you can be notified when new videos are uploaded. You can also connect on Michael Brito’s social channels if you like.

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