Making the Case for Long-Form Content
By Kat French
Much of the advice aimed at content marketers boils down to “keep it quick.” Audiences don’t have the attention span for anything more than 140 characters. In fact, if you can make it fit neatly on an image, that’s even better.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big believer in being concise. Some of the most successful content I’ve created features short, punchy copy. Short content paired with striking visuals should be the foundation of your content strategy. But might I suggest it not be the sum total of it?
At its heart, social media marketing is about communicating to humans in a human way. People crave variety, in almost everything. Take, for example, this excellent illustration from Gary Provost:
“This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.”
The same principle goes for content.
- Everyone loves animated gifs and YouTube videos – BUT, they still binge-watch hours of a series like The Walking Dead or Jessica Jones on Netflix.
- Everyone loves quippy, inspiring Instagram posts – BUT, platforms like Medium, which are built around long-form articles, are also growing in popularity.
As marketers, we’re familiar with the visual metaphor of a funnel. What if you flipped that visual? What if you thought about your content strategy as a Storytelling Pyramid?
Imagine the USDA’s Food Pyramid. The wide base – the “foundation” of your Storytelling Pyramid – would be many pieces of short form content and visuals. These are the “starches” of your content strategy. Not terrifically filling, but they provide a quick boost of energy to your audience. They’re light, addictive snacks.
Above that, you’ve got the “meat-and-potatoes” middle of your Storytelling Pyramid. This would include things like infographics, how-to blog posts, YouTube videos and email marketing. They require a little more time to create and consume than the content in the base. But they’re also more satisfying. They give your audience something to consider, share and possibly re-use (with proper attribution, naturally).
At the very top of your Storytelling Pyramid you’ll find a very few pieces of rich, decadent long-form content. These are lengthy, well-researched and cited articles. It could be a series of half-hour or hour long podcasts, a webinar or even a feature-length documentary. It could be a full-length nonfiction book. The time required to consume this content represents an investment on the part of your audience. So you must ensure they don’t feel cheated. The quality of your long form content needs to be outstanding. But if it is, you’ve built tremendous trust with your audience.
A healthy diet requires variety, and so does an effective content strategy. By varying the length (and depth) of your content, you can build a healthy, long-term relationship with your audience.
And that could keep your business bottom line healthy for a long, loooooong time.