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Navigating the Content Landscape on TikTok: An Interview with Matt Benfield & Omar Ahmed

Sari Klaczkowski
Written By
Sari Klaczkowski
Published On
Jan 10, 2024
Matt Benfield and Omar Ahmed posing for a photo

When it comes to creating online content, audience preferences are always evolving, dictating the type of content creators make.

TikTok creators, Matt Benfield and Omar Ahmed (@matt_and_omar), sat down with us in this exclusive interview to discuss the evolving preferences of their audience, including a shift to long-form content over short videos. They delve into the art of storytelling in long-form videos, the engagement benefits of this style of content, as well as strategies to seamlessly integrate brand promotions while maintaining authenticity. 

Here are some highlights of the interview:

  • More and more TikTok users are seeking deeper connections with their favourite creators through longer content.
  • The narrative structure of long-form videos allows for more elaborate storytelling and maintains viewer interest.
  • Tips for creating influencer marketing briefs that align with the creator’s usual style while still communicating key brand messages.
  • Advice for creators to focus on creating meaningful content representative of their style and values, rather than chasing trends.

Let’s dive right in.

Can you describe the evolution you’ve observed in the preferences of your audience regarding video content, particularly the shift from short-form to long-form videos? 

Matt Benfield: 

On TikTok, I think it has shifted. Our audience does seem to appreciate longer content than short now. And I’ve seen this across other creators and throughout the discourse on the platform. People want to see more. I think our attention spans have grown a little bit more from where they were in the pandemic.

Omar Ahmed:

People are less inclined now to just scroll mindlessly. I love to have something to listen to or something to distract me while I’m doing my skincare, for example. I set my phone up and I’m like, “Okay, great. This is a long video. I’m just going to leave my phone out and do my skincare or brush my teeth.”

Matt:

We’re looking at our phones and we don’t want to be scrolling and see educational content, sad content, happy content, funny content—our brains are overloaded right now. Long-form content is just a way for us to turn our brains off a little bit and focus on one thing, which is why YouTube has exploded more than it already had. A lot of creators go from TikTok to YouTube because people just want to sit down and see you do something for a long, long time. It’s a little bit less draining on the brain. 

Omar: 

We value authentic storytelling from people who have a personality and have something really interesting to share, rather than just the one-and-done kind of quick content. Which has its place too, but I’m finding there is a really big shift and I think the people who are leaning into that are becoming really successful.

Matt:

I think it also changes based on the platform. We don’t post the same things on TikTok that we post on our individual Instagrams because, on Instagram, it’s still very much short-form content. I rarely have something on the one-minute to one-minute-thirty scale that goes viral or gets the same amount of views as it would on TikTok. But short-form videos, like seven seconds long, get millions.

Omar:

Yeah, Instagram’s algorithm favours short-form videos because they’re quick and shareable. That’s the biggest driver for content on Instagram. Whereas with TikTok, it’s so much more community-based. People want the storytelling, they want to invest three or five minutes into this random video on their feed. I enjoy that so much more.

Stylized quote from Omar Ahmed, Content Creator

In your opinion, what advantages do long-form videos offer over short-form videos when it comes to engaging and retaining viewers’ attention? 

Matt:

We notice that our longer videos on TikTok get a lot more engagement from comments rather than just likes and shares. But if we do a shorter one—like a cutesy one with text on the screen and audio—we don’t get nearly as many comments on that as our series where we take [Omar] to different fast food restaurants in the US, for example. It’s the series that has performed the best for a while. Every single video we post of it has at least over 500,000 views on it and really high engagement. 

I think with long-form content, you can include a hook in it that gets people’s attention. Like with this series, we start a video off by saying “I take my British husband to Olive Garden for the first time,” and then show a little snippet of something funny that happened or [Omar] hating the food or liking it. I’ll bring people in through the storyline. With a longer video, you can have a hook in the beginning where you bring people in and keep them for a longer time. But with a short-form video, you don’t have the space to have a hook, an introduction, a middle, a climax, a conclusion—a story. With long-form, you can actually share something more meaningful.

Omar:

I think that’s what it is. For example, you’re scrolling through TikTok and you see this person trying American food for the first time. Well, you’re an American and you’ve grown up with this food, so how funny is it to see someone who’s not from here trying food you’ve been eating your whole life? You get to say, “Oh wait, I feel the same way about that thing, and that thing, and that thing.” You can almost build a little bit of a relationship with the person who’s watching your video or watching your series. 

We get to take you through our lives, which I feel has always been our major goal. Creating content on the internet is to build community. And so finding these people who feel the same way, who we can relate to, or they can relate to us—or even just seeing a queer couple represented positively in a form of media—I think it’s just quite empowering. For example, the other day we went for drinks with a friend and a person came up to me and he was like, “I went to Chili’s the other day because of you.” And that is so funny; I’m a Chili’s influencer (laughs).

Matt:

That’s a good video.

Omar:

Oh, it’s the best one.

@matt_and_omar i think he wants to go back alteady 👀 @Chili’s Grill & Bar #chilis #vlog #britsinamerica #chilisreview ♬ original sound – Matt & Omar

Long-form videos often involve more elaborate storytelling. How do you see storytelling playing a role in maintaining viewer engagement in these longer formats?

Matt:

It’s similar to what I said before, but there is a method to storytelling and it’s the same across media. Whether you’re making a video or you’re writing a story on paper, you start with an introduction, then you work your way to the climax, then a conclusion. Those are just the elements of a story, no matter how you create it. We have to think about that whenever we make long-form content; how do we bring people into the video, keep them there, and then give them something worth watching?

Omar:

Yeah, someone starts off with a hook that’s a bit outrageous or something to get people’s attention.

Matt:

I saw a girl doing this skincare video and the first thing she said was, “Get ready with me while I get deported from the U.S.”

Omar:

And then we want to stay and watch the whole story.

Matt:

The hook at the beginning—that’s the most important thing. That’s a lot of the viral content that I see on TikTok right now that has a hook at the beginning that brings you in, and then, all of a sudden, it’s been four minutes and you’re like, “Wow, I spent four minutes watching this video.”

Omar:

With short-form video, it’s so easy to scroll, scroll, scroll. But when you invest time in the video—two to three minutes—you’re more likely to like it, share it, or save it for later. Because how often are you just scrolling, and you’re kind of just like a blind viewer? You’re viewing the content, but you’re not really engaging with it. When you give someone value in a video—and I feel like it’s easier done in a longer format—then people are more likely to be engaged and want to have conversations about it with their friends.

Matt:

I think we see more likes and shares on shorter videos that have a cutesy sound or something.

Omar:

I don’t know, though, because for my birthday we did that Napa wine train experience and I got kind of sh*t-faced, so it was kinda fun viewing. (Looking at phone) So, it got 2.2 million views, 22.2 thousand saves, 40 thousand shares, and over two thousand individual comments. It’s hard to compare…

Matt:

I actually haven’t looked at the metrics recently. But that’s how my thinking has been; that you might get more shares on, for example, this video (points at Omar’s phone).

Omar:

See, this did well as a short-form video, but share-wise it’s only a thousand. 

Matt:

Okay, here’s an example (holds up phone). So this video that we did got a thousand shares and it was maybe 10 seconds long. A longer video that we just posted got 700 thousand views and the same amount of shares as the first video, which got 200 thousand views.

@matt_and_omar fun fact: we had fried chicken on our first date, so now every anniversary we go get fried chicken 🥹 (this was our anniversary hehe 🥹🥹) #daveshotchicken #husbands #foodvlog @Dave’s Hot Chicken ♬ original sound – Matt & Omar

So the first video might be more relatable to people and people want to send it to someone it reminds them of, whereas the second video might just be something I’m enjoying in the present. Maybe I like it, maybe I comment, but maybe I don’t share it because I don’t have anyone who I want to share it with.

The longer videos are what we’ve focused way more time on because of the engagement and we see the views. If you go on the playlist of Omar trying things, all the videos have, like, half a million views and up. That shows that’s the content people want to see. That’s why we’ve focused on putting our energy towards longer-form content instead of these trends. I think TikTok is transitioning away from just trendy content and more towards longer, educational or value-based content rather than a silly sound.

Stylized quote from Matt Benfield, Content Creator

How do you balance the promotion of a brand’s product or message within a long-form video while ensuring the narrative remains engaging and authentic to your audience?

Omar:

So this is very specific to one brand that we worked with, but we went to Panera Bread for the first time—just because I wanted to go and try a new thing. That resulted in a paid partnership down the line. They wanted us to come in and try some new menu items, so we called back to the original video so people would remember when we went there. So we immediately created this storyline of Panera Bread inviting us back.

We get a lot of views on our paid partnerships. I know it’s really hard for creators to do a paid ad because when people see the paid partnership logo they tend to swipe away. But this video has almost 2 thousand saves and almost 400 thousand views, and it’s just a paid partnership of us going to Panera Bread to try some new salads. But it’s because we created this longer narrative around this restaurant, that when we went back there and called back to the old video—including some of the clips from that video—people remembered it immediately. And we did it in the same format as the first video.

Matt:

We said to Panera that the video was going to do the best if we did it exactly the same as we did our original video, which was just going to get food, trying it in the car, and then saying if we liked it or not. They said, “Yeah, let’s do it,” and it actually performed the same. 

I think that’s important. Generally, when we bring a sponsor into it, we want to keep it along the same lines as the content that we already do—not really change anything. But if we do a similar concept to the original video, like if we did an organic mention or did something similar, then it will perform.

Omar:

What we found is to make sure that our paid partnerships are in line with our organic, regular content. So when someone’s viewing it, they’re not like, “Oh, I’m being sold something” immediately. A couple of years ago when I was getting started with filming myself talking about a product, I found myself kind of putting on a little bit of a voice or trying to hit key messaging. It’s okay to know the key messaging from the brief, but do it in a natural way.

Stylized quote from Omar Ahmed, Content Creator

Matt:

I think this is why sharing this with brands and the people who make these briefs is really important because it has to come from the brand side of not being too sales-y. Like, how in the first five seconds you have to mention the name of the brand, and you have to do this, and do this. That just ruins the creativity. That ruins the money brands are spending on this creator because it’s not going to perform well if you have such rigid guidelines that you’re pushing onto a product.

Omar:

I do understand that brands sometimes want creators to create content so that they can use it for paid boosts. But then, it’s really sh*t for us to have to create a piece of content that we don’t love that much. 

For example, I’ve worked with brands before that you have to do a 15-second video. Within the first three seconds, a product needs to be shown and it needs to be verbally mentioned, and you have to also include these three key messages. It’s a 15-second video! I don’t talk that fast. Then they want to boost it, but then what? Since there’s no narrative, it’s just a random video.

It’s mostly huge brands that own a bunch of smaller brands that have very strict legal guidelines. I understand it. But we’ve been in this game for a really, really long time now and when a certain brand comes through and I know they’re owned by another brand, I understand how it’s gonna go.

Matt:

We just worked with Mini Cooper, the car brand, recently. We did a road trip video with them. They gave us the brief and were like, “Here’s the history of the company and here are ten shots of the car that you have to get.” And that was it. They said you can do whatever you want, go on whatever road trip you want, and create whatever kind of video you want; just include these ten shots of the car. That’s great. Tell us that we need to show the product, give me the basics, and then give me the reins as the creator.

@matt_and_omar as part of our Pride celebrations, we’ve partnered with @MINI USA to bring you along on our perfect gay day in San Francisco 🌈 starting with some good ‘ole fashioned queer history and ending with the bay’s gayest park…what could be better 🏳️‍🌈😌 #AD #MINI #MINIUSA #Pride ♬ original sound – Matt & Omar

Are there any challenges you’ve encountered when transitioning from creating short-form to long-form videos, both in terms of content creation and audience response? 

Matt:

Maybe one of the biggest challenges is the change in our workload and how we work. With short-form videos, we could have a list of 10 ideas and get them done in a day. But with long-form videos, it’s like starting a YouTube channel. You have to spend more time on it and spend more time editing.

Omar:

I would actually say that it’s the opposite. I prefer doing longer content and then doing less of it. Because we used to try and think, “Okay, what can we do?” We need to film 10 videos today—short-form videos that can grab someone’s attention—and maybe we’d post all 10, but maybe one or two will go a little bit viral.

Matt:

Because that was a stage of virality and just doing trending content.

Omar:

And that’s when short-form video was the most valuable piece of content. But now that we’ve moved into this long-form era, I find—well, because I don’t edit (laughs)—this is lovely. Maybe once or twice a week, we go film something. So it is less workload even though the form of content is longer. 

Matt:

I think the challenge is just the mindset of it all; changing our mindset from creating all these short-form videos and trying to get one to go viral.

Omar:

And then there’s less pressure.

Matt:

Yeah, there’s less pressure to post every single day. There used to be a lot of like, “You have to post every day or you’re not gonna grow.”

Omar:

I think we’re seeing this as an account of over a million.

Matt:

Yeah, for sure. I feel like it’s different for a smaller account. For us, it’s different. I think providing quality content is much better than providing quantity. It’s more about producing the content that people want to see rather than producing content for content’s sake. 

Omar:

For smaller creators, here’s a piece of advice: create good content that you want to be a representation of you as a creator, rather than a whole bunch of sh*t and then just finding out what sticks. Do the things that you want to do. Because then if something’s successful that you don’t actually enjoy doing that much, you’re out of luck because that’s what you have to keep doing.

Stylized quote from Omar Ahmed, Content Creator

Final Thoughts 

As audiences’ appetites shift towards more engaging, long-form content, crafting compelling narratives will be more important than ever in holding viewers’ attention. Matt and Omar’s journey highlights the importance of focusing on quality rather than quantity, and how they’ve connected with their community by prioritizing authenticity, engagement, and relatable storytelling. 

We’d like to thank Matt and Omar for taking the time to share their thoughts on Tiktok’s evolving content landscape. 

If you’re interested in working with The Influence Agency on any upcoming TikTok influencer marketing campaigns, reach out to our team today.

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