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Fragmented Consumption in the Age of TikTok

I want to start this text by revisiting a topic I've written about several times before and that always interests me: what makes the most sense when formatting digital consumption content. Fragment, condense, create content that is already shorter from the start?

I've written about this in this article Snack to Satisfy Hunger! almost 7 years ago (2016), which, in terms of technology, feels like an eternity... TikTok didn't even exist back then 😱

In that article, I discussed micro-moments, a concept organized and widely promoted by Google at the time, which stated that we had an average of 150 interactions with our phones per day, lasting between 2 and 3 minutes each... and how we could insert our products, services, and content into these windows of consumer attention. If you want to know more about the topic, it's still very relevant – more than ever, in fact – and Google has a lot of information here and here.

Two years later, in 2018, I wrote another article as part of a series on digital marketing, titled On Content, Micro-Moments, and the Digital Universe. This time, I discussed more about the flow and funnel of inbound marketing and how you can build a relationship with your potential content consumer before offering something for them to buy... show value before showing price 🙂

Well, over 7 years have passed, the internet has taken over our lives, we're in the midst of an even more exponential revolution with AI, and how have we been consuming content? Increasingly in shorter and fragmented ways. I could provide many examples here: from TikTok's short videos and songs being composed to fit into a video, go viral, and catapult the artist; to WhatsApp voice messages that you listen to at 2x speed because you "don't have time." Speaking of not having time, that's a topic we need to address, perhaps it's a matter of focusing on what truly matters... but let's save that for another article 😉

The fact is that the way people consume content has drastically changed. With the popularity of social media and entertainment apps like TikTok, fragmented consumption has become a reality for many people. But what is fragmented consumption, and how does it affect our consumption of stories?

Fragmentation is not new... in Brazil, we were raised on fragmented audiovisual content, our beloved soap operas. They create a bond between the consumer and the story, making them come back day after day to continue discovering the plot – a behavior that is the focus of all apps on the market, translated by the acronym MAU (Monthly Active Users), indicating how many users are actively using your app every month. Streaming platforms over the last decade have also conditioned us for fragmented consumption: series divided into episodes, divided into seasons. Episodes that started with 1 hour and 20 minutes, then became 50 minutes, and today some are just a little over 20 minutes. Is this a formula for fragmenting what's already fragmented? Has our capacity for focused attention decreased? In my opinion, the answer is a resounding yes!

Imagine someone recommended an incredible series that you should watch, and when you ask how long it will take, they reply: 100 hours. What would you say? Probably a big no. But Game of Thrones is that kind of content: 10 episodes averaging (sometimes even more than) 1 hour each, with 10 episodes per season and a total of 10 seasons. In the end, you've watched 100 hours, but fragmented into small 1-hour pieces, which you sometimes didn't even watch all at once.

Podcasts also do this well... of course, there are podcasts that last 3 hours or 5 minutes, but on average we're talking about content lasting 45-50 minutes, and often there are thousands of episodes.

Books, however, haven't found an efficient way to do this. You might say: well, there are chapters! Yes, but we all know that chapters aren't calculated fragments for delivering content in a fragmented way. Often, in the same book, you have chapters of 2 minutes followed by one that's 20 minutes long. This is a narrative technique, but not actual fragmentation, considering the current consumption pattern.

Then you might say: what about summaries? Yes, they exist... but aside from the fact that many apps deliver content without respecting copyrights, summaries haven't proven to be a commercially viable format over the years... consumers may have some interest, but not enough to drive the industry... and my editor friends tend to see a dual loss in the condensation of a book: conceptual and commercial.

So, I'm here to say that at this moment – and it's important to use this suspended time and space because in technology nothing is definitive – I believe more in fragmentation strategies than in condensation. Condensation only makes sense to me if it's a small appetizer of parts of a concept that will be explained later. As an end in itself, it doesn't appeal to me.

Fragmentation, on the other hand, is a different story. It has very positive aspects from the perspective of the current content consumption pattern:

Partitioned delivery: you deliver a part of the whole, but with a narrative arc that already gives the user relevant information and the classic cliffhanger. For those unfamiliar with the term, here's the Wikipedia definition: "A cliffhanger is a narrative device in fiction, characterized by exposing the character to a precarious or difficult situation, such as a dilemma or a shocking revelation. Generally, a cliffhanger is used to capture the audience's attention and, in the case of series, make them return to the story in anticipation of witnessing the resolution of events that the audience expects to be shocking."

Short and random consumption: in the digital world, no one consumes content for hours on end. That doesn't exist. You have fragmented sessions, jumping from one app to another, with an attention span and focus much shorter than before. So, when the consumer comes back to you, you need to deliver something relevant in a short amount of time.

Sense of completion: it's very, very important that when anyone consumes content, they come out better – and this "better" is subjective and personal – than when they went in. If you can deliver something with a beginning, middle, and end in a short time span, you give the consumer a sense of accomplishment, and that's powerful. It increases engagement and returns because they know they're always making progress. Imagine opening the first episode of Game of Thrones and seeing that there are 100 hours left... everyone would give up and never return to the HBO app.

Absolutely, fragmented consumption is a reality of our times, but it doesn't need to be a barrier to creating and formatting stories; on the contrary, it's an opportunity!

Ultimately, it doesn't matter whether you read one book in an afternoon or listened to 10 podcast episodes all at once. It's okay to do that, but it's not the norm for most people. What matters is consistency... if we can create content that encourages our consumers, readers, listeners to come back every day or every week to consume a bit more of that story they enjoy. This can lead to a much higher monthly or annual consumption average.

By doing so, we can make consumers run many 100-meter sprints instead of forcing them to run a full 42-kilometer marathon all at once... and I can guarantee that over time, those accumulated 100 meters will be much more than the 42 kilometers.

And you: do you prefer fragmentation, condensation, or longer consumption formats? Have you been launching your content with this in mind?


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