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Snackable Content: The Key to Engagement

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In this article, you'll learn...

  • How bite-sized content is more digestible and generates engagement
  • Nine types of "snackable content"

The space shuttle Endeavor lifted off a few months ago, and its amazing speed and power has never ceased to amaze me. With a maximum speed of 19,000 miles per hour, it's fast. Awe-inspiring fast. It's a magnificent machine, highly complex. It took thousands of hours to build it, set it up, program it, and make it work. Mind-boggling.

But what do we do? We assemble to watch the final seconds of the countdown, the incredible liftoff, and the ascent through the atmosphere. About two minutes of video is enough to satiate the masses, though a small percentage digs deeper into written and video content.

Less is more

Twitter was born to deliver 140 characters per tweet. Early on, it was fascinating. As a Twitter user, you could follow people and easily catch up on what they were saying. Now, it's incredibly difficult to keep up with the 65 million tweets a day. Each tweet lasts a microsecond now before it is swept aside by the next. How do users keep up? They use filtering tools, lists, hashtag searches, and quick scans to see whether something catches their eye.

We're all walking around with more devices than ever before. At home, 94% of TV viewers are using some kind of "distraction device" while viewing TV, with smartphones accounting for 60% of that effect. More smartphones are now shipped than PCs, and tablets (led by the iPad) have taken off. Content aggregators like Flipboard and Zite have combined a single point of aggregation with beautiful, simple-to-use experiences. Users can easily and quickly navigate across stories until settling on one of interest.

In 2010, Nielsen's analysis of the Project for Excellence in Journalism's The State of the News Media found that users spent only six minutes per month per person on online sites for magazines (the epitome of long-form media). Leave it to the political news aggregation website Drudge Report to have the highest immersion rates, at roughly 60 minutes per user per month.

Quick response (QR) codes are popping up on everything from magazine advertisements to outdoor signage and business collateral. You can use a scanning app (such as RedLaser) on your smartphone, and quickly get immersed in an experience.

You can now stand in a store, scan a UPC code, and compare prices online and in neighboring stores. Location-based services, such as Foursquare, Groupon, and LivingSocial, rapidly facilitate a steady stream of offers and news items. And although more than 500,000 apps are available in the Apple App store, and thousands more with BlackBerry and Android, only 20% of apps are used more than once.

Why? We're now trained to sample: iTunes and the 30-second free sample, the $0.99 song purchase, and simple sign-ons vs. long registrations facilitate sampling. Our filters are strong, and our "easy meter" is on highest alert; if you're going to make me really work for something, it had better be incredibly worth it... because I have no patience.

Offer a marketing snack pack

So, what can marketers do? Take a page from the food industry. The huge Hershey's bar too much? Here are some bite-sized candies. The big bag of chips too big? Have a snack pack. Big bag of cookies too filling? Here are 100-calorie packages.

Why? It drives trial—and, as a parallel, engagement. It's easy to nibble and try without feeling that it's too much effort or the impact will be too negative.

Apply that analogy to content. Gone are the days when consumers wanted to download a PDF of an article, or read that 10-page whitepaper. Of course, the occasional in-depth research study may be useful, but I would suggest that nine times out of 10, executives now prefer a quick summary vs. 35 pages of data to find 3-5 nuggets.

We had clients in the healthcare industry who had surmised that they "didn't have much content ready to be shared." We suspected that they were probably not looking in the right places, or they were putting the wrong filter on their discovery process. And then we discovered a treasure trove: scientific papers that just needed a refocused storyline.

For example, why not take a powerful, 10-page scientific whitepaper on the "cardiological effects of stress on the female executive" and create a 500-word piece focused on the female executive? How many millions of readers would voraciously consume that information? How many of the 4 million Mommy Bloggers would love to discuss a post like that?

Good salespeople are taught to have their "elevator pitch" ready. That pitch is a tight, pithy, snackable piece of content. Guy Kawasaki, an incredibly engaging and inspirational speaker, offers a 10-20-30 mantra: Take a one-hour meeting and create 10 slides for 20 minutes of content at 30-point font. By doing that, Kawasaki stresses, you will spend more time storytelling and engaging your audience members as opposed to forcing them to read 40-50 dense slides crammed into the hour.

In other words, create the consumable story—snackable.

Here are other types of "snackable content":

  • The 60-90-second video vs. the eight-minute anthem video
  • Infographics that tell several stories using data in an easy-to-use interface
  • Motion infographics that unleash an infographic with sound and motion
  • Two or three paragraphs in a Quora-like environment that are quickly reviewed and discussed
  • The 500-700-word post that's perfect for a personal blog, corporate blog, or guest post
  • Polls and surveys that drive engagement and offer an opportunity to quickly weigh in and leave
  • Short posts in your "owned channels" on Facebook and LinkedIn
  • Quick nuggets and embedded links via Twitter
  • The 10-15-slide standalone POV (some quick factoids wrapped with a key takeaway that stands on its own with enough depth to make people pay attention).

* * *

On April 29, one of the most sought-after events occurred—the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Hours of commentary, countdown, and live footage and analysis occurred leading up to the wedding that apparently more than 2 billion people stopped their lives to watch. And considering that the wedding took place in the early-morning hours in the United States, one of the most popular videos from ABC was "The Royal Wedding in 3 Minutes": snackable content, even for the feel-good story of the year.

Sources: AdAge, Forrester, PEJ, Nielsen, ComScore, Compete, DIG analysis

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Glenn Engler is the CEO of Digital Influence Group, a Boston-based digital agency with social at its core. You can read Glenn's blog and reach him via Twitter @glennengler.

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  • by SpencerBroome Tue Aug 30, 2011 via web

    I like the Royal Wedding example at the end. Really nails the point home.

  • by Eniko Tue Aug 30, 2011 via web

    Great article! How does lenght affect SEO? I've been told I need to write 500 words at a time to max out my search.

  • by Meighan, Cinchcast Tue Aug 30, 2011 via web

    Really enjoyed this article, and totally agree with the "snackable" content approach for driving reach and engagement.

    Another type of snackable content that is very easy to produce at scale is audio. While I am a bit biased because I work at Cinchcast (, we have seen a lot of clients that have had success with creating brief audio bites that they can share widely via their websites and throughout social media (Facebook, Twitter, iTunes, etc.). Audio is also very easy to consume at home, at the office or on the go.

    A few examples of how audio can be leveraged to create compelling content:

    1) A 30 second audio tip of the day
    2) A short customer interview or testimonial (featuring the real voice of the customer can be really powerful)
    3) Q&A Snacks: set up a phone number where your audience can call in with questions, record answers to these questions, and put the questions and answers together for a shareable Q&A segment.

    With existing browser-based technologies, creating audio content is as easy as making a phone call. You can also add rich meta data to your audio content to maximize the SEO benefit.

  • by Peggy Martin Tue Aug 30, 2011 via web

    Lots of insight in this post! Video has been my passion for over 20 years now and a huge part of my life - not separate as in my work - it spills over into every part of every week! I discovered many years ago when I owned and operated a small audio/video services business that to "get it on video" saves time and that if the video is put together well, especially edited well, it has the power to get your message across, no matter if your message is to your family, to work associates, or to prospective clients. Video works! Peggy Martin, PR Online Video

  • by ishKiia Tue Aug 30, 2011 via web

    What a great snackable and valuable article!

  • by EA Tue Aug 30, 2011 via web

    Good stuff. I'm applying that to my business and the results are amazing! Thank you much.

  • by Zak Pines Tue Aug 30, 2011 via web

    I love the phrase "snackable". We have been applying this thinking to create modular video segments -- we call them "vignettes" -- in helping our customers create content like publishers. What's ironic is it takes a lot longer to write good, short content. In general it will as much time to produce a 2-minute video vignette as a 45-minute webinar.

    Zak Pines (Avitage)

  • by Nick Stamoulis Wed Aug 31, 2011 via web

    "Snackable content" is a great way to explain our love for short, quick and informative. I gave up on lengthy progress reports a long time ago because I found my clients never bothered to read the whole thing. They just wanted the bullet points! There is a time and place for long content, but I think you're right that most of the time readers want the condensed version.

  • by Glenn Engler Wed Aug 31, 2011 via web

    Thanks for the comments. Lots of good responses and you have all confirmed how scaleable this concept is. I love the inclusion of audio clips -- good addition. And to Zak's point -- it could, in fact, take longer to create good, short content -- but if it's the difference between a customer reading and engaging, or ignoring, it's clearly worth it. And to your point, a 500-word blog post that's junk is just as useless as a 5-page white paper that's junk!

    To Eniko's specific question around SEO, I do not know that exact answer, as I believe there are many different variables in play. Any readers know simple rules of translating content length to SEO?

  • by Claire Bowen Thu Sep 1, 2011 via web

    Great article. Not exactly a new concept (that individuals these days want it easy and fast and now!) but some useful pointers and reminders - thanks!

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