A question of length…
My secondary school history teacher, Mrs Owen, gave one of the best answers when we asked how long our essays should be.
“An essay should be like a miniskirt” she said, “short enough to be interesting, but long enough to cover necessary”.
Well, as a teenage boy when my mind wandered to miniskirts there was little to no chance of me recalling the finer points of the Dissolution of the Monasteries or the Unification of Germany, but Mrs. O’s witty words on length play in my mind these days as a content creator.
At Adsmith, we produce everything from short social media posts to long and detailed whitepapers for our clients. The key is making sure you’ve got the topic covered properly. A tweet-sized morsel might be great for sharing one fact, but if you want to talk in depth about a complicated topic or service, you’re going to need more space.
And there’s the rub, really. On video or in text, your content has to be short enough to be interesting, and this sometimes means pushing back at clients. Particularly those ones who want to tell the whole history of their company in every piece of content they release. Or the marketing manager who is scared of the chairman and lets him waffle on for 800 words in what is supposed to be a brief introduction.
Always ask: is this relevant?
If what you’re creating isn’t, then it’s a turn off for your content consumer, who’ll soon get bored and start looking at something else. And let’s face it, there’s plenty of choice out there. Gazillions of pieces of content are uploaded onto the web every single day, and it’s not all kittens and fake news.
I’ve seen a lot of content producers put a note on the top of articles saying how long they will take to read, or how many pages a whitepaper is. This is great, it gives the audience time to plan. Can they read it now, or is it perhaps one to save for the commute home the lunch break?
This goes for videos too, especially as people don’t want to eat up their data allowance by watching a 15-minute explainer when they’re not connected to wifi. My clients and my colleagues will tell you, when it comes to video, I don’t like anything over two minutes.
When it comes to determining a suitable length, seek a second opinion. You may know a topic very well and not go into enough detail, or you may try and cram everything you know into the content. Have a colleague digest your content, asking them to pay special attention to length.
Also, consider if you’re using the most suitable medium for your content. Could an overly long blog article be repurposed into an ebook or whitepaper? Would a lengthy and complex technical explanation of something be better suited, and better understood, if you created an infographic instead?
There’s no magic formula, unfortunately. It’s a case of how long is a piece of string…