Long-form content on the rise
The growing need for a counterweight to the short and the snappy.
* Warning this is a long read *
A trend in the making and now accelerated by Covid-19. The need for long-form content is growing by the week.
Maybe it is me, I notice that the majority of the current brand content says about exactly next to nothing. A brand socially tickles me by making a claim or a statement in about 200 to maximum 300 words, or in 2mins video for the lazy readers. Clicking through to the actual content item, an explanation, the rationale, or other information is missing.
This isn’t exclusive to brands, to (news)publishers as well. In the hunt for the readers and to be the first, the news becomes entertainment with the objective to sell advertising pixels or seconds. In addition, the fast-paced superficial social channels used to generate traffic, made the short even shorter.
Outline of this blog
What are the underlying causes and how to get your long-form content production in place?
- Definitions of long and short-form content
- 3 Reasons for the growing popularity of long-form content
- Tips for how to create long-form content
First of all, what is long-form content? In Wikipedia terminology 'journalism’: 'Long-form journalism is a branch of journalism dedicated to longer articles with larger amounts of content. Typically this will be between 1,000 and 20,000 words. Long-form articles often take the form of creative nonfiction or narrative journalism.'
Next to the above, the long-form content explains, clarifies, and gives background information on the topic. It puts things in perspective and in a setting to really understand ‘what’ and ‘why’ is happening.
It is a fairy tale that long-form content is not suitable for online or even social media. You will do fine if your content is written to be read on a (mobile) screen and has a clear structure. Your audience will read or watch it as long as it captures his interest and adds value. It is all about quality first and the easiness to consume the content second. The growing popularity of Medium says it all.
Don’t be fooled, it is an illusion that there is a golden rule for the length of any content to be successful on digital, in writing, or in video.
Short, shorter, shortest was the trend. Catching the attention in 1.5 seconds on the mobile, in 2.5 seconds at the desktop. We are in a rat race to produce the shortest content possible. With YouTube bumper ads as short as 6 seconds.
You will be surprised how much of a story you can tell in those split seconds. No doubt you can broadcast your message and share relevant information. Speedreading, fast-paced cycling images, or animations are the way to shorten the ad.
Yet, as for other topics as well, size does matter. And we don’t always need to be fast and short. Think about the popularity of the 1+hour podcasts. Or some amazing extended YouTube documentaries. Let alone the popularity of IGTV. And don’t forget about the extensive background articles to explain innovation, features or specs. Or the several Golden Lions for up to 90 minutes documentaries (read more below). They all got a long-form content format in common.
As short as possible, as long as needed
As mentioned, your audience is looking for relevance and quality. Just stick to the simple rule ‘As short as possible, as long as needed.’ Two tips:
- Choose: create short or long-form. Don’t get stuck in the middle to try to write a long read with a short read mentality. That for sure results in using fluff to fill the space.
- Be distinctive: do not try to squeeze 'all' in the shortest format. This results in producing ‘more of the same’ and you fail to tell your audience something new and to be distinctive. By being too short, you repeat the open doors and you will not stand out.
How to combine short and long-form content
A simple trick for social content advertising is to produce several length assets and let the algorithm select the best ad for the best audience. All based on your KPI and objectives. Mixing assets is proven more effective than serving one or two lengths. (Source: Facebook Research 2019)
3 Reasons for the rise of long-form content
Roughly the reasons for the increasing popularity can be divided into three elements.
First: SVOD domination
The increase of the Subscription Video On Demand (SVOD) dominated world makes it harder for brands to reach customers and create awareness via ‘traditional’ TVC advertising.
‘Much has been stated about the challenge for brands today that want to reach consumers when more of their audience are spending their time (and attention) within SVOD closed content eco-systems like Disney+, with limited traditional advertising or media placement opportunities.’ ‘This means it is time for brands to understand the need to, and effectiveness of, investing in longer-form storytelling to reach their audiences effectively.’
‘Resulting in Golden Lions Corazon (Give Your Heart) 48-minutes content for registration of organ donors. And for ‘5B' a 90-minute documentary by Johnson & Johnson to uncover the story of nurses on the front lines of the AIDS crisis.’ ‘Gaining consumers’ attention in the future isn’t just about understanding pathways to purchase and how to target audiences efficiently, but developing our ability as advertisers to create branded entertainment with a small b and big E.’
Source and edited quote from a Thinking Long Form – Lessons from The Lions by Cannes Lions.
By the #stayinghome and #WFH (Working From Home), including the closure of the schools, cancelation of events, we are currently more used to educate ourselves and our children via online. Long-form content is indispensable for this. The Covid-19 is an accelerator for online learning and studying.
As I am no fortune teller, I cannot predict the future. Yet, I do expect this ‘new’ long-form educational behavior is here to stay since we are accustomed to it by the last few bizarre months at and in-home. A study by Kantar shows there is an increase in the need for long-form video in China during the lockdown. Source: Born Social webinar.
Third: fake news and proof
Also accelerated by Covid-19, the fake news. This was already a hot topic, now even more important than ever.
If we learned one thing from the last weeks, it is not to believe anything we read on social and to do news and background check if we have any doubts. Meaning, we are more prone to go to Google and search for the source and the credits. This is a big opportunity (for brands) to have your long-form content explaining your ‘why’ and delivering your ‘proof’ in the long-form content.
For example: if you are a jeans manufacturer and you claim to be sustainable, you better have your long reads in place that are the proof of your claim on sustainable fabrics and the ecological footprint for your suppliers. If it isn't for your audience, do it for the press who are digging for dirt in slack and the offseason.
How to create long-form content
To wrap up and give you some tangible advice, a few tips on how to create long-form content.
- Choose. Go short or go long. Don't get stuck in the middle. Become distinctive.
- No fluff. As short as possible as long as needed. Don't abuse words to fill the pages.
- From expensive high-end production to fast produced authentic. There is no need to be overly polished and have professional content. It is about the message and actual content, not the form.
- Stick to one topic, or create a series. Simply said, more difficult to do. Try to stick your content item to one topic. If you have more, create a series and seduce your audience to read more.
- Be social first. Meaning to adapt your content and form to a different drumbeat.
- Add value for your reader, not for you. This is mentioned as last in the list, maybe it should be the first. If there is no value for your audience, they will not consume your content, however long or short it is.
What stories to tell in your long-form content? That's a different topic. Read more on 'How to structure content' with insights, tips, and tricks to create a diagram for an overview, to find the gaps, and to define where to produce long-form content.
In the hunt for the readers and to be the first, the news becomes entertainment with the objective to sell advertising pixels or seconds. In addition, the fast-paced superficial social channels used to generate traffic made the short even shorter. What you will learn: the 3 Reason for the growing popularity long-form content, and how to create long-form content.