Want real audience engagement? Move on from snackable content

Richard QuinnListicles, quizzes and cat videos might be the flavour of the moment for content marketing, but it’s only through in-depth long form content brands can really engage customers argues Atomic 212’s Richard Quinn.   

In today’s time-starved world, people just don’t have time to read longer content items. Give them short, quick snippets which can be quickly digested, like snacks on the run.

Or so you think.

In truth there is substantial evidence pointing to the contrary, which could have significant implications for your content marketing strategy.

Image: Conversity.be

Image: Conversity.be

The assumption that snack-able content is king has distorted content objectives leading to a click-happy world where marketers think they simply have to bang out “Top 5” or “Six Reasons” articles, to achieve their content marketing goals.

Sharing without caring

Many marketers assume that content which gets shared is the same as content that engages users. A number of KPIs for measuring successful content have been established around Sharing and Views. A re-tweet, a share or a pin become the end goal.

But is this really the right way to measure the success of content? Should a marketing message that receives a lot of views and shares be measured in the same way as a video of dogs barking along to “Jingle Bells”?

In fact, recent data shows that Viewed and Shared does not always equal Engaged. New research shows people share content they haven’t even read just because they like the title or the accompanying photograph. Research shows that people share content for numerous reasons:

  • chartbeat tweetAttention Minutes Matter: Merely skimming a headline or hitting share does not count as engagement. Data analysts Chartbeat looked at over two billion internet visits in a month and discovered there was “no correlation between social shares and people actually reading”. Most people are spending less than 15 seconds on a page, perfunctorily scanning headlines and photos, but not becoming engaged.
  • Customers Need to Be Engaged: Visitors can be attracted with short form content, but turning them into customers is the key goal, and this takes actual engagement. Something must be said, communicated or imparted which causes them to take a moment to reflect and realise, “I like what this company is doing”. Online publisher Medium focuses on a different type of metric – Total Time Reading (TTR). Their research found that the post length which captures the most attention is seven minutes long. Their recommendation is that it is definitely worth the effort to take the time to write longer articles. This metric is claiming such dominance that a report from Digital Content Next (“How Time-Based Measurement Is Grabbing Digital Publishers’ Attention”) found that “80 per cent of publishers are now trying to find ways to sell ads based on time spent.”
  • Emotional Connections are Good for Business: In “Insights for Business Leaders”, Gallup found that wary consumers will give more money to the businesses to which they feel emotionally connected, while ignoring others. The decision to become a customer is based on a combination of emotional and rational reasons, with a strong percentage falling on the side of the heart instead of the head. Gallup goes so far as to break consumers down into three categories – fully engaged, indifferent, and actively disengaged. This last scenario is the most dangerous, as that is when a consumer is most likely to switch brands or engage in negative word-of-mouth.

Short form content can be considered the “first date” of marketing. It’s a great way to introduce yourself, perhaps make a witty comment or astute observation, or offer a quick insight in the hope of building a relationship. Long form content, on the other hand, helps you develop a real relationship. Be willing to spend time exploring mutually interesting topics, learning more about what the other does, and build trust over time.

Keep Long Form Content in the Marketing Mix

Long form content has many benefits which are difficult to achieve with snackable content:

  • Transmits Useful Information: The art of presenting a well-thought idea and forming a conclusion takes more than 500 words. Educating and motivating an audience to do something differently requires emotional engagement and commitment. Explaining how to get the best out of a product or service should take as many words are necessary to do the job.
  • The Art of Storytelling: Some marketers have lost sight of the fact that getting readers involved in a story is a great way to build a relationship. And long form is the perfect vehicle for conveying a sense of history, usefulness and relationship.
  • Establishes Thought Leadership: One of the most effective ways of standing out from the competition is to demonstrate thought leadership in an industry. This is best accomplished by taking the time to thoughtfully consider new ideas, and producing long form content to share this knowledge. When web and social channels are awash in shallow content and quotes, valuable industry insights can make a real impact.
  • Long Tail Conversions: We already know that the percentage of people using longer search criteria is increasing. While users may have initially started searching with just a word or two, they are now refining their searches by using up to eight words. Longer form content means more opportunity to attract long tail searches.
  • Part of the Marketing Funnel: While short form may be effective at attracting attention in the initial stages, long form is what really draws potential customers in for the long haul. A short form piece may be pointed enough to identify a problem, but the long form is needed to properly explain the solution.

Snackable content has it place. But making the effort to prepare gourmet content – whether through longer articles, videos, white papers or infographics – is the secret to engagement. What’s more, brands should look to include more complex engagement metrics in their content analytics, not just shares or views. Factors like time spent on page, dwell time, and emotional involvement over the long term have more validity in building a brand’s reputation than just clicks or views.

  • Richard Quinn is content strategy director of Atomic 212

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