To some, it might seem slightly crazy – perhaps we could say ‘counterintuitive’ – but a trend that’s been gathering momentum in content marketing is publishing longer stretches of online content on social networks.

This is the kind of extended content you’re most used to seeing in blogs or longer journalistic features, a type of content known to marketers and journalists alike as ‘longform’.

I say counterintuitive because conventional wisdom holds that if your marketing content is over 500 words, our progressively diminishing attention spans will lose interest and stray away. And popular mythology holds that we’re nowhere more deficient in attention when we’re using social networks.

When we’re scanning through our various social channels, whether that’s YouTube, Reddit, Snapchat, Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, we like our content in small, bite-sized pieces.

But is this really true? The picture is more nuanced than you might imagine.

Longform marketing: the positives

Here’s an interesting fact to question your assumptions about longform content. The popular US-based business news website Quartz now refuses to published articles in the 500-800 word range. Why? Because the site’s Editor-in-Chief, Kevin Delaney thinks too many online sites stick to this format too rigidly. He developed a model that became known as “the Quartz curve” that undergirds the publication’s approach to content. It looks like this:

soundest-content-social-media

What you see here, based on Quartz’s own metrics, is that the success of a piece of content falls exponentially as it approaches 500 words and then rises exponentially after 800 words.

There are of course negatives to consider. 1000-words-plus of crushingly boring or mind-bendingly abstruse content is guaranteed to have visitors leaving in droves, pronto. Some of the stuff you’ve heard about long-term content is true. But it’s true for dreary, bad content. Well-composed and beautifully designed content that engages visitors with compelling stories and arguments has the opposite effect.

Here’s another graphic from keyword research and competition analysis company SerpIQ:

soundest-content-social-media1

As you see, the longer the content, the higher the ranking position, with the highest positions being in excess of 2,400 words. Good quality longform seems not only to please search engine crawlers, it pleases readers, too.

Examples of great longform content

IBM and Memphis Police Department

When IBM wanted to promote its impressive new Big Data analytics technology, it told the story of Memphis Police Department’s Director, Larry Godwin. Battling crime with a dwindling budget and rising crime rates, Godwin used IBM’s predictive analysis technology to target areas where criminal activity was more concentrated – to great effect.

IBM knew that a dull corporate splurge wouldn’t attract them any customers, People want to know what the technology does, not how it works. With Godwin’s successful struggle to improve the lives of Memphis citizens, IBM showed what its technology could do via a compelling human story.

Patagonia, Inc. and an Icelandic trek

American clothing company Patagonia, Inc., specialists in sustainable outdoor clothing, scored a big online marketing hit with a piece written by a customer (Kitty Calhoun) who described how she and three other climbers braved the grandeur and mysteries of the Icelandic wilderness. Entitled “Climbing in Iceland with Loki the Deceiver”, Calhoun’s piece is a rattling good read, featuring tales of daring climbs and brutal weather conditions (she’s the proprietor of a women’s ice and rock climbing organisation called “Chick’s Climb”).

This piece worked because Calhoun not only writes superbly, she’s got real credibility too – she’s the kind of contributor known on social networks known as an influencer. On Patagonia’s blog page, she’s described as a “Patagonia ambassador”, emphasising the notion that a bold explorer like her stands foursquare behind the quality of the company’s clothing products.

So what are the pros and cons of getting killer longform content like this out there onto social networks?

The Pros and Cons of Longform Content on Social Media

The positives first. Compelling longform content on social networks will…

Expand exposure

Social media platforms, used well, can extend your reach, at least within the confines of the various networks you select. Millions of people drop by on these sites every day and it wouldn’t be surprising to find the number of page views, comments and likes exceeding by a wide margin in comparison to anything you’d notice on your blog.

Widen brand awareness and establish expertise

Your brand will be placed in front of a much wider audience, amongst whom will be influencers (those whose views have come to matter a good deal to other network users) who can give your products or services invaluable social proof. People tend to emulate the behaviour of others if they’ve come to respect those others as correct. That’s what social proof is and it’s invaluable for your brand

Enhance search engine results

Your website is vital, of course, but it’s unlikely to be the first place people will find you. Social networks have domain authority, which means that content you post on them will appear on SERPs above posts on your blog or website.

Now for the negatives. There’s only one, really, but it’s an important one:

Loss of ownership

It’s often better to own than to rent. Once you’ve created content for, say Facebook, it effectively belongs to Facebook, so that they reap the profit from your hard work in producing the content. That is it really! Not so bad after all.

Conclusion

As you can gather, there is no-guarantee that long-form content is specifically correct for your business, however there is proof within the pudding that it is indeed a good idea. Ideally, it’s success will depend upon your company, audience and industry.

About the Author:

Jacinta Stevenson is an Aussie export who manages growth at We Make Websites. After completing her studies, she focused on fashion full time and it wasn’t long before her bags were packed and she was braving the streets of New York. From model to agent to creative director, she spent the next six years living in all the major US capitals. She is a swimmer by heart, a walker by nature and, most of all, an advocate for vegetables. Follow her on Twitter.

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