My Blog: Celebrating One Year

shutterstock_85653580With this post, my 65th, I’m celebrating the one-year anniversary of my blog.

In my first post a year ago, I said this blog would be about business communications. But my goal then—as now—was to take more of a sidelong glance at this topic than a direct, in-your-face, view of it.

Many people focus narrowly on one aspect of today’s business communications, covering everything there is to know about, say, social media or blogging. Some do a really good job. But most just seem to copy what they’ve seen in someone else’s post. And quite frankly, I often feel I’m reading the same article over and over again, as the third person this week provides a list of the six things you must do to succeed online or the ten things you can do wrong when tweeting.

I chose, instead, to write about what I see as the whole communications process: “word usage, grammar, sentence construction, the structure of documents, communications tools, the strategies and tactics for communicating with specific key stakeholder groups, the execution of these strategies and tactics, and the evaluation of the success or failure of these efforts,” as I said in my first post.

So each week over the past year, I’ve written about whatever communications subject felt important or intriguing at the time, even if this approach produced what might seem—at first glance—to be an array of subjects unrelated to business communications.

Some posts make the connection more directly than others. For instance, my fourth post, from April, ties together a philosopher’s view of shaker furniture and Steve Jobs; a piece from November stresses the need for a company to really understand what its product is; and a post from earlier this month presents a Q&A on digital long-form content.

The subjects of other posts tie less overtly to business communications, but the link can easily be made: tattoos (two Olympians’ and my father’s) with business branding; Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon with the need to write clear business communications; and the different ways “Brussels sprouts” was spelled at the Farmers Market in Madison.

A few posts may require even more thought to find the link. Among these are the September post about my dog, Henry, and the joy he gave me; an October piece about the subconsciousness of writing; and this month’s post on U.S. schools deciding not to teach cursive handwriting.

I believe this circling of my blog’s key topic helps me—and I hope my readers—to think more broadly, and yet at the same time more closely, about the business of communicating about companies, their products and services, and their actions.

Photo: Shutterstock/Vesna Cvorovic

Q&A on Long-Form Content with Jennifer Kane

Recently Jennifer Kane, a marketing/communications strategist and principal at Kane Consulting, wrote an important blog post about long-form content on the Web.

Jennifer Kane

Jennifer Kane

She starts Five Secrets Behind Effective Long-Form Content by stating a fact that is often overlooked: Long-form content is not dead or dying, although it may seem that way because so much of it is “weak and boring” and, therefore, not read. She adds, “in-depth content must adhere to a different set of rules to be seen and consumed.”

Then she provides some of these rules, which make a good starting point for anyone wanting to develop long-form content for the Web. These tips do not focus on how to write a better document but rather on how to make the content more presentable on the screen and, therefore, more easily and enjoyably read.

Since her “secrets” in this post are so accurate and helpful, I decided to ask her what other advice she might have for someone interested in writing and presenting better digital long-form content.

Below are her answers to my questions:

David: How narrowly or broadly do you define “long-form content?”

Jennifer: I define it pretty broadly because it really seems to be up to the reader what they consider to be “too long.” On a really basic level, if it’s a video over 5 minutes or written content that the person cannot see the end of even after scrolling down from the first view of the page to a second view of the next segment, I think most people consider that to be “long.”

Even if it’s easy to read or simple to view, if there is no easy end in immediate sight, people can be quick to make a judgment that this is going to take too much time to consume.

I wrote this post because I got trapped inside a number of long pieces I enjoyed, but wasn’t sure how long I was going to have to enjoy them.

If I left to tweet about the piece, I’d have to scroll down and find my place. If I scrolled to the end to see its full length, I’d lose my place. I basically felt stuck within the content’s awesomeness—which is lovely because it was well written, but also annoying because I, like all audience members, wanted to manage my time.

David: Does long-form content have a minimum number of words?

Jennifer: From the guest posts I do on multi-author blogs, it seems like a post that is “long” by their definition is one that is over 900 words. That’s kind of an arbitrary number, but one I keep running into.

David: Do you think that for something to be “long-form content” it must fall into a specific category of documents?

I know you consider narrative journalism as long-form content because you mention The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek as a good example. But do you consider a white paper, a bylined article, a speech, or an annual report as long-form content?

Jennifer: I think this applies to all online content—fiction or non-fiction, educational or entertaining. I do consider white papers, most bylined articles, and speeches to be long-form content.

I don’t know that I’ve ever read an annual report on line. Due to the fact that they’re graphic heavy, they seem to always be downloadable PDFs—which I think people have an easier time processing because they can view, assess and navigate the total breadth of it pretty easily.

I guess I would always define this based on how people are currently defining “average” length. If the average video is 2-5 minutes, and the average blog post 500-750 words, then “long” would be anything longer than that.

I also think this average is becoming shorter consistently over time. People have shorter attention spans, so what constitutes “too long” is always changing.

David: Finally, besides “Tunnel Creek,” would you recommend other examples of long-form content that are easy to read and follow because they are well written and well designed?

Jennifer: Here are some very good ones:

1) Most recently, the Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Usfeature in TIME. (24,105 words—amazing info).

2) I think some of the most consistently amazing long-form stuff I’ve read lately is in WIRED. Every month, they’ve usually got a whopper of an article (often not the feature) that’s a jaw dropper. For example, the recent article Kill the Password: Why a String of Characters Can’t Protect Us.

3) This LEGO video is well done (a little long for me, but I’m not the target audience) and is a great example of company storytelling to boot.

4) And, then in my industry if I mention a tool/technique in a post I’m often hyperlinking to articles from CopyBlogger, ProBlogger, and Social Media Examiner because they post a lot of “definitive guide” kind of posts as well as exhaustive lists of ideas. For example:

My thanks to Jennifer for taking the time to answer these questions and providing her expert advice.

03/02/13: Communications Stories from Here & There

Below are five notable communications stories from the week ending March 2, 2013.

My Secrets: How I Became a Prolific Writer and Learned to Get Beyond School Essays by Vivek Wadhwa, on the LinkedIn blog, February 25.

Wadhwa, a book author and writer for The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications, shows that you don’t have to be a journalist or love English grammar to be a successful writer. He taught himself to write, taking 40 hours to complete his first BusinessWeek article. He now turns out a piece in two to four hours.

He considers these to be keys to writing: “to speak fearlessly from the heart, get to the point immediately, keep the message simple and focused, and use the fewest words you can.”

19 Things Successful People Do on Social Mediaby TJ McCue, on Forbes website, February 26.

McCue offers some helpful tips here. Among them: “They publish more quality, not just quantity” and “They are genuine.”

A Revolutionary Marketing Strategy: Answer Customers’ Questions by Mark Cohen, in The New York Times, February 27.

Cohen writes about the new, highly successful marketing campaign undertaken by River Pools and Spas, a firm that installs fiberglass pools. The campaign, now at about one-tenth the cost of the company’s previous advertising budget of $250,000, consists mostly of blog posts that answer customer questions. One post has led directly to sales of at least $1.7 million.

This article provides lessons that other small companies might want to consider.

The Anti-Blog Post to Writing Better Blog Posts, a post by Mars Dorian on the {Grow} blog, February 27.

Dorian’s post takes a contrarian look at blog posts and questions the value of just echoing what others write. He suggests that before you start writing, you ask yourself these questions: “Are you creating an original piece of work, or are you merely soaking up the sound waves from the echo chamber?”

Too many bloggers, he suggests, are reading each other’s posts, mashing the information together, and slamming “out another samey samey blog post.” To avoid this routine, he offers five “anti-guidelines” for crafting original, compelling content. One guideline: “Allow your personal truth to shine through.”

Five Secrets Behind Effective Long-Form Content by Jennifer Kane, on the SteamFeed website, March 2.

In this post, Kane, a marketing/communications strategist, points to a fact often overlooked: Long-form content on the Web is not dead or dying, although it may seem that way because so much of it is “ weak and boring” and, therefore, not read. She adds that “in-depth content must adhere to a different set of rules to be seen and consumed.”

Kane’s “secrets” make up some of these rules and provide a good starting point for anyone wanting to develop better long-form content for the Web. These tips do not focus on how to write a better document or its component parts (headlines, sentences, paragraphs, etc.) but rather on how to make the content more presentable on the screen and, therefore, more easily and enjoyably read.

If you are interested in writing long-form content, you will want to read this post. I found her “secrets”—including the unannounced sixth one that you can find in the last paragraph—to be accurate and helpful.