The Role of Long-Form Content in Brand JournalismBy Gini Dietrich

Welcome to the fifth blog post in our series on brand journalism.

If you’ve missed any part of the series, you can find more about the trend, how to breathe new life into old content, how to use user-generated content so it doesn’t all have to be original, and how to monetize your content through sponsorships.

Today we’re going to talk about long-form content.

Garrett Moon had a really good post on the topic a couple of weeks ago.

If you missed it, “It’s Time to Take Long-Form Content Seriously” does a test of Google search results to show you how well organizations are being rewarded for their research and writing efforts.

To boot, our own Clay Morgan has a piece on the topic tomorrow. I won’t steal his thunder, but I will tell you he looks at how to use multimedia as part of your strategy so your readers aren’t scrolling and scrolling and scrolling.

Before we get to how you can use long-form content in your own brand journalism efforts, let’s back up for a second.

Who Does Long-Form Content Well?

The writing program at the University of Pittsburgh has an interesting project called Longform.

On the site, there are hundreds of long-form articles that you can peruse, even clicking some and saving for later.

You will find interviews with famous authors, critically acclaimed directors, and this week you’ll find a series of interviews with and stories about Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

None of the articles are written or created by Longform. Rather, they compile the best of the best into one aggregated site for you.

It’s an interesting way to build a brand, create readers, drive engagement…all without writing a word.

And then there is The Paris Review, which I think is one of the best publications printed today (Vanity Fair and The New Yorker also compete, particularly because of the multimedia they offer digital subscribers).

They publish only once a quarter and the interviews, stories, and articles are highly-researched, well-written, and extremely engaging.

In their Art of Fiction series, you can read multi-page interviews about the practice of writing and they are presented as long-form content.

In 2006, they wrote a nearly 13,000 word piece about Stephen King, which remains one of my favorite interviews ever.

Because it was so well done, you didn’t think about having to scroll and scroll and scroll or not having bullet points or headings or pictures to balance things out.

A Series of Blog Posts

But, let’s be real. We’re not all The Paris Review and we all have full-time jobs that don’t allow us the time to really dig into a piece of content that could take a week or more to write.

So what to do?

Truth be told, I’m testing the idea of taking long-form content and breaking it down into more manageable pieces by doing this very series.

With this blog post included, we have nearly 4,000 words on the topic.

By the time I’m finished, we’ll have close to 7,500 or 8,000 words and it will have taken me eight weeks.

But it’s easier to digest because it’s one blog post per week and I know that I have a great topic every Tuesday that I don’t have to think about. The thinking and research is already done.

Start there…and then build up to the creation of long-form content that may still very well take you eight weeks to write, but has a very specific purpose on your website or blog.

For instance, we have a client that helps organizations put crisis plans in place for life-threatening events.

They have particular experience with the police and military (most of their executives are former secret service agents) and do a lot of consulting (terrible as it is) around active shooters.

Because of the unfortunate series of events last year when so many organizations faced gunmen who killed children, employees, and innocent bystanders, they had a lot of pieces that could be combined into long-form content.

It took a year and it certainly isn’t a pleasant topic, but their expertise is demonstrable and now they have something that will not only develop their expertise, but help Google understand their authority on the topic.

How You Can Implement

Deciding how you want to approach long-form content is entirely up to you and the time you can commit to it.

Here are a few things to consider:

  • Don’t write a lot of words for the sake of doing so. If you only have 300 words to say on a topic, stop there. But if you have a real expertise – like our client does around active shooters – spend the time to get it on paper.
  • Write for readers. Yes, Google is going to reward you if you can demonstrate real authority on the topic, but if you’re writing around keywords and adding copy to get you to thousands of words, it won’t work.
  • Research, research, research. Most of us work in industries where there are experts and influencers who can speak on particular topics. Take a page from The Paris Review and do an in-depth interview. Add in video and images and you’re golden!
  • Demonstrate your own expertise. B2B organizations, in particular, have expertise that truly makes them stand out from their competition. Use that to your advantage. If you don’t know how to take technical speak and develop it in layman’s terms, hire a freelancer who can help you. It’s highly likely you already have content (brochures, sales materials) that can be repurposed.
  • Strike a balance with multimedia. Unless the long-form content is extremely compelling – like some of the examples I’ve used – most of us will need some video, audio, and images to balance out all the text.
  • Plan time to write every day. If you have to sit down and write a 12,000 word piece of content, it’s never going to happen. If you take an hour every day to write, you’ll have that bad boy finished in a month or less.

Because I love to write, this is the piece of brand journalism that excites me the most. And you’ll see us testing it in different areas around these parts this year.

What do you think?

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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