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The Value of Long-Form Content in a Short-Form World

Andrew Grzywacz

Andrew Grzywacz

Does anyone really need long-form content?

Well, yes (this would be a pretty short post otherwise). But, when someone asks why they need long-form content, it’s good to dig into the question behind the question – in other words, why are they asking? Is it because they don’t have a dedicated staff of writers that can produce longer pieces of content? Is it because they’re already devoting their resources to a robust media relations or social media strategy instead?

Whether the question is coming from a client or another PR agency, odds are the reason they’re asking is because one has to wonder, in a digital landscape increasingly dominated by social platforms like Facebook and Twitter – where the norm and even the character limit, calls for rapid-fire, short and sweet posts – who has the time to read, much less write, long-form content?

What’s Under the Long-Form Umbrella

Let’s take a step back and break down just what exactly constitutes long-form content in the first place. Your average 300 to 500-word blog post is out on the edge; longer than a Tweet or Facebook status, sure, but otherwise on the low end of the long-form spectrum.

When we talk about long-form content in the marketing and PR world, we’re really talking 800 to 1000-word byline articles that get run in the media as contributed content; 700 to 900-word LinkedIn Pulse posts; and several-pages-long white papers, case studies or eBooks.

The distinction matters because the type of content each carries their own inherent value. To get more specific:

  • LinkedIn Pulse: This can be used to build up your company or your client’s spokespeople as credible thought leaders in their industry with insight and thorough analyses of a given issue. Pulse posts are also great ways to start a conversation, or contribute to an existing one. Pulse comes with the benefit of having a built-in social media network – and given that your own followers (many of whom are probably your industry peers) are part of your potential audience for any given post, you have a better chance of receiving comments, feedback and engagement.
  • Bylines: Like Pulse, bylined articles placed with the media demonstrate thought leadership. More than that, a placed byline broadcasts that thought leadership on a much larger platform, netting the interest of thousands, if not millions, of readers and all the brand exposure that comes with that territory.
  • White papers/case studies/eBooks: The longest of the long-form, these gated assets dig in depth on a particular subject, dedicating pages of commentary, analysis and research, along with visual components (think infographics or research tables) to both break up the monotony of all that text but also better depict your argument in a clear-cut manner.

But, at the end of the day, each of these pieces feeds into the same basic content strategy goal: a lengthy, well-researched argument that establishes credibility and builds a profile that reaches a wide audience on a visible platform.

Can’t a Tweet Suffice Instead?

So, the other tack would be to ask, what’s wrong with just relying on social or a blog with shorter posts to get my message out there?

There’s nothing wrong with using social or blog posts to try and get more eyeballs onto your message. But, they can’t be the only way to do that, either.

Social posts are short-lived. Whether you’re talking about tweets, Facebook statuses or Instagram photos, the whole idea is to put these messages out quickly and often. That means when you roll out a new tweet, your previous tweet gets buried quickly.

Really quickly.

Like, 18-minutes-kind-of-quickly.

And that retweet-able lifespan is only tenable if you’ve already built a base of thousands of followers. The more followers you have, the more likely you are to be retweeted or liked; the fewer you have, the less likely the chances of getting even one share.

Shares are social media currency – they’re what ensure content lives on past the minute it’s posted and aren’t limited to any one account’s audience. But, if you can only net those shares once you’ve already built up an audience of followers and likers, then that means you need to have something in place beforehand that drives people to follow your tweets, like your Instagram pictures and read your company-hosted blog posts. It’s the chicken and egg: can’t have effective social posts without shares, but you can’t expect shares without an audience there to share your posts.

Similarly, you can’t build an audience and get shares if your social content lacks value, which is harder to achieve in short-form. Often social audiences are looking to be entertained, but sometimes a story or topic does not lend itself to that type of social media strategy. Some ideas are too complex to convey in short-form and bland generalizations will not engage your audience.

Between the short lifespan of posts and overcrowding on social platforms, your content is in serious competition to catch the attention of your audience. Short-form content limits the space you have to get your idea across, while also demanding an amusing twist. So, how can you consistently be clever while still fully communicating your message?

That’s where long-form content comes into the equation.

A Healthy Balance

With an integrated communications strategy, content doesn’t have to be one or the other – all long-form or all short-form. Nor should it be! There’s a time and a place for 1000-word bylines, 300-word blog posts, a pages-long eBook and a handful of 140-character tweets. They each have their own role in shoring up influence, gaining visibility for your message and driving more people to your given brand.

But, short-form content like blog and social media posts can’t and don’t get there alone. And, in a world that seems increasingly marked with short online attention spans and rapid-fire posts flooding every conceivable social platform on a minute-by-minute basis, all vying and cannibalizing each other for the public’s attention, it’s the byline that gets published on TechCrunch – and nets thousands of views – or the whitepaper that racks up downloads from inquisitive readers, that really helps you stand out from the rest.