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Horses for Courses On Social Media: Short-Form vs. Long-Form Content

Posted on January 30th, 2014 by

Horses for Courses On Social MediaMark Cuban had an interesting blog post last week in which he said he hardly uses Google anymore.

If he wants to know something that’s urgent and happening now (like a sports score), he goes to Twitter. If he wants to know about what’s happening at an event, he goes to Instagram. Google is great, but it’s not about real time.

In yesterday’s post, we talked about the declining cost of messaging. (And in a related piece, McKinsey noted today that handling a customer service call on the phone costs $6.00 to $8.00, while handling it over social media costs less than $1.00. Social media really is about economics as much as anything else.) 

That, and the rise of smartphones and simple apps like Twitter, has increased the quantity of messages. And that means there are more messages about everything. So there’s density of messages in places that never were dense before. 

Five years ago, if you wanted to broadcast something, the principal mechanism was a blog, which may have required knowing HTML. Blog posts are longer, more thoughtful, and require more time to create—they have a higher fixed cost to produce. 

Our rule of thumb for producing a blog post is 60 to 90 minutes for an experienced blogger. Now, as Facebook and Twitter have become ubiquitous, the majority of messages are produced quickly, without a lot of research, and in only a few minutes. It’s not that long-form messages (blogging) have disappeared, it’s that short-form messaging has exploded.

Google (and Bing) are optimized around long-form. They want authoritative answers for the question you type in the search box. A single tweet is unlikely to answer your business question, but a blog post can easily do so, so Google and Bing are focused on answering your serious questions. 

In contrast, Twitter and Instagram and Facebook are great at disposable information—a stream of comments while watching television. (Watch Twitter during any television event—award shows, season premieres or finales, or sporting events—and see how responsive it is. Twitter is good enough that all those social TV apps from a few years ago have been put to rest.) 

Google and Bing have had to pick which side of the business to focus on—short-form or long-form. Wisely, Google has focused on long-form, not least because its business model depends on selling ads around purchases. Sales start with search on Google, not search on Twitter. (Bing hedges its bets, and displays Tweets on its results pages. But Bing has to do something different. They’re in second place.)

So where are your customers spending their time? Searching long-form or short-form?

In our experience, most people are not like Mark Cuban—they aren’t looking for real-time information. (Cuban owns an NBA team, appears on a hit TV show, owns TV channels, and owns movie theaters. Your customers don’t.)

Most businesspeople we see use Google to search for information on specific buying questions because they don’t need an instant, short answer; they need a good, reliable answer. But they also use Twitter, as a newsfeed more than a search engine. They use Twitter to keep abreast of the things they care about. So Twitter isn’t where they spec out a new input for their business, but it is where they keep up on industry trends and news. 

You can get someone’s attention on Twitter, and drive them to your website, where they can enter the purchase funnel.

Use long-form (your blog) as a place to answer FAQs and build confidence in your product offering. Use short-form (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram) to show your audience how much you know about their world by creating and curating a useful mix of information. Use both to answer direct questions. Horses for courses.

Cuban makes an interesting point, but his usage habits are different from most businesspeople. Both short-form and long-form have their place in the marketing mix, and overemphasizing either one is a mistake.

Adrian spends a lot of time on short-form and long-form media. He’s CEO of Social Media Contractors—Outsource to Omaha. 

photo credit: Eduardo Amorim via photopin cc

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Adrian Blake

Co-Founder at SMC
Adrian began his career in the television industry, leading the international growth of Saturday Night Live and Comedy Central. Adrian has an M.B.A. from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and an A.B. from Harvard.

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