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The long and short of long-form branded content

Photo courtesy nechbi via Flickr

It’s hard to argue that the social Web hasn’t shortened our collective attention span. We have grown accustomed to the 140-character input box. Conventional wisdom says blog posts should generally be no more than 300 words. Economic realities in traditional media dictate that there’s less space on the printed page. By all accounts, I should probably wrap up this post by the end of this sentence.

Are you still here?

For public relations and marketing professionals, the ever-growing trend toward brevity raises the question of what to do when your story is too complex or multi-faceted to fit the allotted space. Don’t get me wrong, being pithy and concise is the best policy for your day-to-day outreach efforts. But what’s the right venue when you need to go in depth? There’s, well, much to be said for long-form branded content on the Web.

Traditionally, the venue for this is the tried and true white paper, and along with other lengthy content formats, white papers are thriving in the digital realm. Scribd has more than 50 million users, reading and uploading  tens of millions of white papers, research papers and other documents. Even long-form magazine writing has found its digital niche. Using the Cision Social Media Dashboard, I found that the hashtag #longreads is tweeted more than 8,000 times per month, accompanied by links to features in dozens of magazines. And using LongReads.com, a search engine for long-form articles founded by Mark Armstrong, who also started the #longreads hashtag meme, you can find more than 2,000 lengthy pieces, great for killing time on a long commute. Reddit offers a similar Twitter feed, @redditindepth.

How long is long? Only about 10 percent of the articles indexed on LongReads are more than 7,500 words, and nearly half are under 4,000 words. These are intensively researched magazine articles. Anything much longer that serves as branded content should probably be broken into a series.

What do you think? Is there a place for long-form writing for the modern-day digital communicator? Since that last sentence brought this post into violation of my self-imposed 300-word cap, I leave you with this: if your brand’s story is rich and multi-dimensional, and most are, don’t be boxed in by the input box.

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