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3 Guidelines for Creating Strong Long-Form Content

February 6, 2013

Over the past year I’ve had an ongoing internal debate around the value of long-form content. Others such as Jon Thomas have framed up the challenges associated with long-form content quite accurately. Simply put, we’re all constrained by time.

Thirty second commercials, 140-character tweets, two line status updates – our society has a penchant for content delivered in short-form. Does it mean that we’re well on our way to the death of long-form content? Far from it. But it does demand that communicators across brands and media outlets alike ensure that when choosing long over short-form content, we must take precaution and plan carefully. Long-form content commands attention from a certain type of audience that is patient and detail-oriented. Likewise, fans of long-form content are big on engagement. They will read, share, comment and serve as critical channels through which your content will travel.

There is no denying that the demands of exceptional long-form content are great. There is often a good deal of editorial guidance and associated production that serves to make a longer content piece shareworthy. Before you race off to plan an epic video that you “know your audience will love” or write a blog post that crests over 1,000 words, consider the following three key requirements for successful long-form content:

1. Make Your Content An Experience.

When the New York Times published “Snow Fall – The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek,” the social world lit up based on the interactive experience put together by the team. This tragic story had already been well documented by Outside Magazine and other outlets. Nonetheless, the NYT took a different angle and created an enriched experience that makes a reader feel as though they are slopeside with the group. My favorite example to date of long-form, interactive content done right.

NYT

2.  Pull the Emotional String from the Beginning.

One of my favorite videos from last year was Caine’s Arcade. From the get go, you’re pulled into the storyline by Caine’s enthusiasm and passion for life. An emotional hook has always been an essential component of good storytelling, but it’s an absolute necessity when trying to hold attention longer than average.

3. Know When to Draw the Line.

The constant threat of long-form content is ensuring that you have a powerful storyline that can carry through the entire way. This is no small feat. The other week, I was directed to check out a new video by Stumptown Coffee Roasters.

At the forefront, the video seemed great. I’m a huge fan of Stumptown and all that they stand for but the effort falls short in my mind. By the two minute mark, the video feels as though it should be wrapping up as an internal perspectives spot that heightens customer trust and brand authenticity. Instead, the video carries on for another 6:41. The production is beautiful and the sheer length naturally parallels the level of patience and detail that exceptional coffee roasting demands, but the storyline never quite evolves. To hold attention over 2, 3, 4….8 minutes…it better be a storyline that keeps a viewer locked.

Conclusion

You know your target audience best but ultimately, taking an agile approach to testing, analyzing and iterating your content approach will be a core driver of setting your brand up for success. If you think you have a great story angle, make sure you’ve fully assessed the competition and are telling your story in a unique way. Starting small to gauge reaction and test short-form content that will later piece together the longer storyline may ultimately help to ensure you’re maximizing invested time and resources.

Image courtesy of Tony Hall.