Or: What do blue whales have to do with long-form content?
Content marketing today continues to shrink in word count and length. Internet readers have a diminishing attention span, and any logical marketer is faced with a tough choice: ignore the numbers or feed the public what they want. While it's true that content marketers need to pay attention to trends and metrics, there are benefits in continuing to craft long-form content on a regular basis. The ROI isn't always clear immediately, but tends to pay off consistently long after the piece is published.
Many long-form content pieces can be referred to as "feeder content." Ecologically speaking, they are much like the blue whale, whose waste actually stimulates the growth of phytoplankton, which is the primary food source for a number of species within their ecosystem. Like the blue whale, long-form content (white papers, reports, essays, long-form journalism, etc.) feeds content channels by offering a starting point, a link-back resource, or a hefty piece of research that results in other small content pieces.
I once worked with a number of large corporations to create a white paper that would later be distributed by The White House, and I recall feeling frustrated by the amount of time spent collecting data and case studies from each stakeholder. This frustration, however, was well worth the long-term results. After the piece was published, I continued to see it popping up in places as a resource or reference. Because this piece is oriented as an objective material, my company is able to link back to this piece in numerous blog posts and thought leadership articles. The white paper itself is large enough to touch on a number of topics, each of which could easily stand alone as their own post. Moreover, because the white paper contained statistics and visuals, it presented the opportunity of releasing each visual or data point on its own to ensure that our findings reached the proper audiences at the right time, pushing certain points out on their own to underscore their individual importance.
Long-form content also offers benefits that can't necessarily be measured in terms of their circulation or engagement. In my experience in the non-profit world, I've found that long-form pieces are especially important as you position your organization as a leader within their industry or broader community. Without research-based content that is clearly developed and reliable, non-profits (or any other organization hoping to lead in their space) over-rely on social media and brief or simplified updates and stories. Establishing a strong, respected presence to a point where others are drawn to your materials as a resource is a worthwhile goal, and reliable long-form content is a an important factor in reaching that goal.