Long-form content for the distracted audience

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In the last issue of Social Media Marketer, I shared with you some statistical evidence that people's attention spans are shrinking and their tolerance for long-form content is growing thin. Just consider the most successful new event format of the last several years, the TED conferences, where no presentation is allowed to exceed 18 minutes. Brevity isn't a bad thing. It demands creativity, self-restraint and hard decisions. TED speakers often spend weeks preparing for their 18 minutes on stage. To paraphrase Blaise Pascal, “I'm sorry I wrote you such a long letter. I didn't have time to write you a short one.” Long-form content still has its place, but maximizing audience size and impact is increasingly a matter of summarizing, teasing and packaging in other formats. Consider the classic 5,000-word research report. Not long ago, such documents were unleashed with a “Big Bang” marketing promotion. If your timing was bad or message off-target, you were out of luck. Today, we would go about a release quite differently:
  • During the data collection stage, authors tweet highlights and write blog posts summarizing their findings to build anticipation for the final product.
  • Upon publication, the authors participate in a series of topical interviews about the findings of the report, each of which is published as an 800-word Q&A with accompanying 5-minute video and audio podcast.
  • Highlights of the research are assembled into an infographic that can be easily embedded, pinned or tweeted.
  • Individual statistics are tweeted at times of the day and week when audience attention is highest. Stats may be tweeted multiple times to capture the attention of people in different parts of the world.
  • Factoids are posted on Facebook as discussion-starters or used to anchor audience polls.
  • The study is published in both text and graphical e-book format. It's made available through Amazon, Scribd, SlideShare and any other document repository that makes sense.
  • Different landing pages are created to capture traffic from each of the sources mentioned above, with calls to action based upon the characteristics of the audience.
At each stage of this process, the authors should ask for feedback from the audience. One of the beauties of this approach is that you have the opportunity to fine-tune your content for maximum impact. It takes a lot of guesswork out of the process. Is it a lot of work? You bet. The good news is that there are more potential consumers for your content out there if you know where to find them. Publishing is no longer a single make-or-break event. It's more like the release cycle for a feature film, with opportunities to catch people's attention whenever they're receptive. Paul Gillin ( is an Internet marketing consultant and the author of three books about social media. He also writes the New Channels column in BtoB. He can be reached at [email protected]
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