This past weekend I was part of casual (but lengthy) discussion on short-form versus long-form content, and it got me thinking more about the nature of and uses for both.

I think it’s probably safe to say that the rise of Twitter has had a direct relationship to the rise of short- (even micro-)form content. There was even a fantastic spoof video a while back about “Flutter: The New Twitter”. But the existence of Twitter didn’t create the long vs. short discussion, it merely altered our definitions of long and short. There is certainly a part of me that agrees with Tris Hussey that it is “kinda ironic that blog posts are now considered ‘long form’ content.”

But the fact of the matter is this: people should spend less time discussing which is better, and more time figuring out how to use them together to create the best possible messaging results.

The Library

When considering the use of long- and short-form content for a client, I like to think about everything in the context of the libraries of my youth (pre-internet). A library was full of books (long-form content), but there was no way to find what you were looking for without the card catalog (short-form content). Sure, you can argue that the books are more important than the card catalog because the books contain the information, but if I imagine the library at Emory University without a computerized index, then the books really aren’t very valuable because I would have no effective way to navigate the 3.4 million volumes.

To talk about whether long-form or short-form content is better is like considering the merits of a library with millions of books and no card catalog, or one with a card catalog and no books. Neither library in that case would provide value to a seeker of specific information.

The Match Made in Heaven

To create truly valuable content and messaging for your customers/consumers, you must have both forms of content. This allows discovery to take place in easily digestible ways, and true research and connection to take place in more robust environments. The nature of your company, your product/service, and your customers will inform the ratio of long- to short-form content that is most effective for you. There is no magical equation that will tell you how much to tweet, blog, make videos, etc. Regardless of your industry, though, it is important to realize that your consumers will naturally want to consume different messages in different ways and that this does not make one more or less important than the others. It all works together.

Personal Example #1:

Last week I was looking for a netbook. I wanted a quick way to narrow down my search. I needed the equivalent of a card catalog. So I went to Newegg.com (which is an amazing company, btw), pulled up the netbooks and sorted by highest rating. My experience has taught me that the Newegg community’s judgments on products can most often be taken as the word of God.

But I’ve never owned a netbook, so I wanted to dig deeper. In 15 seconds I had the #1 & #2 highest-rated netbooks on Newegg…I’d instantly narrowed my search. I then went to CNET to read in-depth reviews of each of the two netbooks and made my final decision. I used short-form content to point me to the right long-form content in order to make a decision.

Personal Example #2:

I “Like” Sony on Facebook. They are pretty heavy on the whole “talking about themselves” thing (you need to work on that, Sony), but every so often something of theirs pops up in my news feed and catches my eye.

This happened on January 13th when I saw a post by Sony that said, “Think the PlayStation Move is just for gaming? Check out the video — See what other cool things you could do with this device!” That post is 24 words—pretty damn short-form by any definition. But when I saw it in my feed, I knew I wanted to watch the video. The video itself is just over five minutes long, which I think in today’s faced-paced world counts as somewhat long-form. I could burn through 2-3 blog posts in the time I spent watching that video. So Sony used a 24-word message to get me to consume a five-minute video and together those things have piqued my interest enough that I continued on to read some long-form posts on PlayStation Move. Indeed a great example of using the forms together and not worrying about which one is more important.

In conclusion, think of the library. Look at everything from the point of view of your consumer. Provide them quick ways to focus their attention, then in-depth information and value. Realize that when short- and long-form work together, everyone wins.

Written by Matt Peters
Matt is the Co-Founder and CEO of Pandemic Labs, and enjoys thinking about, writing about, and talking about social media marketing whenever someone will let him.