3 Reasons to Love Long-Form Content


Someone asked me recently, “Do people even read white papers anymore?”

The question is understandable, especially if you’re not in B2B technology. The trend in content marketing is towards short, “snackable” content that’s easy to share. And I applaud that trend – to a point.

Longer papers still have a role to play in lead generation, thought leadership and lead nurturing. The traditional white paper has other, long-form cousins that are equally useful, such as:

  • Recorded webinars
  • Ebooks
  • Research reports

Your content marketing strategy should include lengthier content for three key reasons:

1. Improved SEO
Search engines love long-form content – the more words, the better they can analyze.
According to Andy Crestodina at Orbit Media, the ideal length for a blog post from an SEO perspective is 1500 words.

(Thanks to Ann Handley for sharing this fact in her wonderful book Everybody Writes.)

My blog posts aren’t that long, so I don’t practice what I preach in this regard. And I certainly don’t advocate writing massively long web pages. Always consider human readability first.

The content marketing take-away: Put a longer paper up on your website so web crawlers can find it, and see what happens to your organic search results.

2. The psychological pay-off
Here’s a fun bit of research I found in the book Absolute Value: What Really Influences Customers in an Age of (Nearly) Perfect Information by Itamar Simonson and Emanuel Rosen:

“When we deliberately seek information, we are more likely to use it.”

When I read this, I started thinking of the content marketing implications:

  • You create an informative or actionable piece of content and make it easy for your audience to find.
  • Your audience searches it out, downloads it, and invests time to read it (paper, ebook) or watch it (webinar).

The fact that they deliberately sought out the content makes people more likely to use that information. If the content was good, then you’ve already delivered value to the audience.

The content marketing take-away: Figure out what questions your audience has and try to answer them. Do original research or interview experts if necessary.

3. Generating more content 
One long piece can result in many other content assets. Repurpose a white paper or report into multiple blogs or infographics. Use it as the basis for videos, a webinar, or a SlideShare presentation. And by all means create those snackable tweets and quotes.

For inspiration, here’s a post I found today by Justice Mitchell on the Maximize Social Business blog on how to take a five-minute video and turn it into multiple pieces of content.

The content marketing take-away: Find one paper or video on your site that has useful insight for prospects and customers. Now try to generate four or five new content pieces across different channels from that single piece of content.

Content marketing, technology and sustainability

Laptop on stump is charging with help of natureAfter spending many years writing about the role of technology in business, I’m expanding my horizons to explore technology’s role in sustainable development. I’ll keep writing here about content marketing and technology, but I’m also starting a parallel blog on technology and sustainability.

Creating a more sustainable world is the next big challenge of technology, industry, governments and cultures.  I’d love to be part this effort. And as a content marketing professional, I’ve learned a few tricks that can play a role.

Tell stories:  Governments, NGOs, individuals and businesses alike are all taking steps towards a more sustainable future. But their stories are often swamped in today’s news environment. I’d like to amplify some of the positive stories of change – particularly in the area of technology, where I operate every day.

Meet the audience where they are: This is a content marketing premise that can be applied equally well to “marketing”  sustainability. For example, Patagonia dedicated two pages in the middle of its winter catalog to an article by the company’s founder about the “responsible economy.”  The pull-quote for this story was, “I think the simple life really begins with owning less stuff.”  Sure, Patagonia shoppers already love nature, but it was refreshing to see this message happen right at the place where people are looking to buy.

Understand  human psychology: It’s easy to feel a sense of helplessness when confronting the problems of climate and sustainability.  Yikes, the ocean is warming?  What can I do?   Unfortunately, one common response is to turn away and focus on simpler or more pleasant things.

A study by C.J. Hutto and colleagues at the Georgia Institute of Technology found that on Twitter, people who posted positive messages gained the most followers. (Good writing was also a contributing factor, I’m happy to say.)

That’s not to say that we should hold off on the bad news – other studies show that people pay more attention to bad news than good. But if you want to encourage people to take action and to amplify your message, it’s best not to make the case too hopeless. Give people something to move towards, rather than run away from.

If you’re interested in following this journey, visit my new blog, Technology and Sustainability. I welcome comments and suggestions.

Social media in marketing: A work in progress

Are we getting any smarter about using social media in marketing?  Not according to Duke’s most recent CMO survey.

The Duke CMO Survey

Twice a year, Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business conducts a survey of Chief Marketing Officers. What makes the CMO survey so interesting is the fact that you can track how things change over the course of the time between surveys.

According to the most recent survey, both B2B and B2C CMOs plan to increase spending on social media – more than doubling the percentage of the marketing budget spent on social media in the next five years.

Screen Shot 2013-03-10 at 2.33.23 PM

[Source: The CMO Survey, cmosurvey.org, February 2013, Highlights and Insights, Figure 5.1]

Social media is still isolated in many marketing strategies

When asked how well social media is integrated with the marketing strategy – on a scale of 1 to 7 – the average response is 3.8.  And that average has stayed the same over the last several surveys, since February 2011.

We’re increasing our social media spending, but not really integrating those efforts with overall marketing strategy.

Note that the respondents self-evaluate their own marketing organizations as being quite strong. In a Lake Woebegon way, everyone is above average.  The lack of integration is not seen as dysfunction so much as just a fact of doing business.

We’re not really measuring our marketing efforts

We’re also not making very good use of marketing analytics. Respondents report that only about 30% of the projects are influenced by marketing analytics.  It’s understandably difficult to get a good handle on what’s happening across all channels in today’s fast-moving marketing world.

Social media and content marketing

Like Mark Twain, I always tread with care around statistical claims. (“Lies, damn lies, and statistics.”)  But in this case, I think the study illustrates how marketing as a discipline has had to adopt to significant changes in recent years. In many ways we’re still catching up.

My personal sense is content marketing is one way that marketing organizations will integrate social media into the broader marketing strategy. Social media is one channel by which companies can engage in content marketing – both listening to what customers are saying and putting relevant information where customers gather.

A Facebook community or Twitter presence, for example, can go from isolated outpost to important listening post if you provide useful content based on requests and solicit feedback, covering the issues and questions that are most pressing to your prospects and customers.

You can peruse the results yourself at http://cmosurvey.org, or read the blog post on Forbes by Christine Moorman, Director of the CMO Survey.

Time-shifting tools

As a self-employed person, I really value having control over my time. That’s why I’m excited by time-shifting tools that let me do things when I want to do them.  I’m not alone in this; time-shifting is the reason we love our Tivos and DVRs.

A few weeks back I shared a blog on Time saving tools for business blogging. Today I want to share a time-shifting tool I’ve recently started using for the real-time social media universe. Using Buffer (bufferapp.com),  you put posts (Tweets) into a buffer and the app figures out the optimal time to post them.

This means that when I am  inspired during the day, evening or weekend, I can read blogs and Tweets, pick those I want to share, and then put together a few Tweets.  I see  that HootSuite has a similar capability for scheduling posts – I haven’t tried it yet. It looks like it’s delivered through a browser extension.

There are two things I particularly like about Buffer:

  • I can use it as a browser extension, mobile app or from the website. This is nice when I’m using devices other than my usual desktop.
  • The analytics let you see what happened to the posts you send through Buffer.

I know that if I studied this data, I would become smarter about what worked effectively.

The usual provisos about avoiding “overly automated” social media posts apply – pay attention to what’s in your buffer and if you need to change it to accommodate the changing world.  (See Social media failure stories revisited for an example of automation gone bad.)

Social media failure stories, revisited

Social media is the new marketing imperative for nearly every type of business.  Those of us in the marketing world read social media ‘success stories’ all the time and learn from them. But I think we learn as much, or more, from failures.  Last year I wrote a blog about the lack of failure stories (Where are the social media failure stories?)

Sure, everyone has heard about the few big flame-out failures — the inappropriate tweet or rigged contest. But the more common failures, useful from a learning perspective, are all around us.  Most are subtle and quiet – particularly in the B2B world.  Here are a few common categories of failures that I run into often:

Mysterious silence

Company ABC has a regular social media presence in Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook – until one day it suddenly stops. Months go by without a post.  Did they shut down? Fire everyone? Are they in trouble?  As a visitor, I go through their news to see what happened – it turns out they were acquired by investors who were continuing to run the company as an independent entity. My guess is that they gutted the marketing budget, which would make me worry, as a customer or prospect. Don’t leave people wondering what happened.  If you’ve decided to stop a significant social media effort, let people know the reason or they will assume the worst.

Obvious automation 

It’s always dangerous to run on cruise control – a story about LiveNation’s automated tweets after a tragic stage collapse in Ontario is a dramatic example. (Read about it in the Unmarketing blog:  The Worst-Scheduled Tweet Timing Ever.)  If you automate or buffer postings, make sure to keep on top of them! And don’t make it obvious that you’re automating things – social media is meant to be an authentic engagement.

Constant self-promotion

You’ve seen the Twitter accounts for which every tweet is the same promotional offer?  Some social media campaigns are still one directional, promotional and repetitive.  That’s a waste of effort and makes you look insensitive and greedy.

It’s hard to do social media right, which is why you should align your strategy with your resources and abilities in the first place.  And it’s easy to do it wrong – in fact, we’ve all made mistakes. Most of these lesser failures can be corrected.

Do you have a failure story you’d like to share?

Update: On the very same day that I posted this, Tracy Sestili posted this wonderful list of 7 Lessons from Bad Social Media Campaigns on the Social Strand Media site. Some of them are pretty funny, some simply appalling.