Have you been watching the “March Madness,” college basketball tournament these past couple of weeks?
I have. Not every minute, certainly, but plenty.
Apparently, I am not alone. In fact, if this email snippet sent to me by my friend Dave, courtesy of his surgeon son is any indication, it’s quite the distraction to many, many people:
“[Monday was] the biggest day of the year for male elective surgeries amongst married men. Your recovery provides the excuse needed to lay on your ass and watch basketball for four days.”
That certainly got me thinking about next year’s schedule. Although I have to confess, at this point, I’m down to a scant few nonessential body parts.
But wait a second. I thought everyone was “too busy” these days to do anything but go to work, do the work and stay productive, now that we’re all living in a hyper-connected, hyper-competitive, 24/7 world.
At least that’s the argument I hear, every time someone suggests that a busy professional would ever slow down long enough to read a newsletter or blog post that wasn’t super-short and nothing but the facts:
“People don’t have the time or patience for this kind of thing anymore. They need everything in quick, bite-sized chunks.”
Hmmm. I guess that’s why nobody watches movies anymore. Or goes to restaurants. Or surfs YouTube. Or posts on Facebook. Or hikes, runs, bikes, cooks, gardens. Or wastes countless hours worth of precious time watching college basketball.
I don’t buy it. The popular notion that “time scarcity requires hyper-brief content” is missing the point. (tweet this)
After all, I’m no Copernicus, but as far as I can tell, there are as many hours in the day today as there were 50 years ago.
Busy or not, people will always find time to read, watch and do things that they find compelling, interesting, vital or just plain fun.
Your problem isn’t length, it’s quality. Have you noticed that the people and companies that churn out the dullest newsletters are the same ones that churn out the dullest tweets?
If the content you create stinks at 800 words, it will stink at 140 characters (granted, it will stink for a shorter period of time).
So what’s the solution to achieving the holy grail of compelling, interesting, vital and fun? Try these three things:
- Tell stories. Humans are hard-wired to listen to them. A story requires more words, but it also grabs attention.
Sure, I’d save some time if you simply said: “Nerdy kid goes to boarding school, makes new friends, fights evil.” But turn it into Harry Potter and I’m on the edge of my seat for 850 pages.
Your personal stories and observations – not the Nordstrom tire return story that we’ve all heard a million times – are unique to you. Wrap them around the facts and you’ll teach me while holding my interest.
- Narrow your focus. Writing great content for “anyone who may be interested” is hard. Maybe impossible.
A narrow audience on the other hand, while necessarily smaller, is more engaged. They’re willing to read longer content if it applies directly to who they are and what they care about.
My audience, for example, is solo professionals. Are you allowed to read this if you’re not one? Sure, but I’m not talking to those people. As a result, I have the freedom to not compromise my voice, content, suggestions, etc., out of a concern for including everyone.
- Take a position. Do I really believe that content length is completely irrelevant? No. But, if I wander out into the squishy middle of a topic without expressing a clear point of view, it quickly degrades into Parade Magazine-style fluff, and I lose you.
Experts (likeable and otherwise) have clear opinions. That’s why people pay attention. Get out of the middle of the road and say something that someone might disagree with. And don’t worry, when a reader objects to something you’ve said, it means you’ve got her attention (congratulations).
Here’s the bottom line. All things being equal, shorter is better. The problem is, all things rarely are.
Longer format content gives you the running room to share a point a view, demonstrate your expertise and show some personality. (tweet this) If you sacrifice all that in the name of brevity, you have to wonder why you’re publishing content in the first place.
What do you think? Is long(er) form content in business dying? Share your comments – of whatever length – below!