Social media is longform marketing

by Natalia Forrest

Social media is often held up as one of the central pillars of the supposedly modern malaise of “short attention spans” or “the decline in quality content” or even “the death of real media.” Lumped in with emojis, acronyms as common speech and clickbait (and often containing all three), platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are seen as short, immediate hits of information that consumers barely look at before moving on to the next thing. Many marketers buy in to this perception, developing campaigns based around what can be consumed quickly and in the moment — what is the sound-bite, what is the flashy image, what will have impact NOW.

But the smart user of social media knows that this is a shallow way of using the medium. Fact is, social media can be longform marketing at its best and most effective.

Longform… I’m sure I’ve heard that before

Longform journalism became a buzzword around the early 2010s to describe in-depth articles of a length anywhere from 1,000 to 20,000 words. Seen as an antidote to the click-baity, listicle, read-and-forget journalism that was supposedly devouring media with the death of print, longform became a genre in itself that has continued to grow.

So, after all that… no I am not suggesting you write super-long posts for your social media. I mean longform in another way. I mean it as in how you use social media, rather than the number of words in to your content. To get your head around this, you have to think of the purpose of social media for marketing as having two different levels.

First/immediate level is advertising to people who are interested in what you have to sell right now. So you are targeting people who want to buy your products with pictures of said products. You are telling the people who want bespoke tours of the food markets of Malaysia that you run amazing tours of food markets in Malaysia. People who are looking for a plumber who can fix their dripping drains are seeing your ad for plumbing services. This is traditional advertising, and is obviously not confined to social media. You create posts/ads that are appealing to an immediate want, telling people that you have the service or goods that they desire. This is more of a “short form” marketing approach, and one that is important to many business.

What I am talking about is a second/longer term level of customer. The person who is generally interested in the type of products you sell; or maybe not specifically the products you sell, just interesting design like your products. People who are perhaps not planning a tour now, but but dream about doing something exotic. People who live vicariously through the internet. People who rent and have their landlord fix things but dream of one day buying a fixer-upper and renovating it. You want to build a community with them, so that when they do want to splurge/book that trip/buy that cottage you are the first person they get in touch with. You are in the back of their mind and you are what they look forward to seeing when they log on to social media. They want to live your life or be in a position to afford your services and will spend money to at least have a taste of that.

So how do I make longform marketing work for me?

Longform marketing is not difficult if you have the focus to look beyond the immediate. It is about cultivation — you are drawing your customers in to a community — you are creating a space that they want to be part of. To use some buzzwords, you are creating a sense of belonging; you are building a tribe. This is applicable not just to luxury brands or experiential services — with a good social media campaign something as un-sexy as plumbing or accounting can make customers feel a sense of belonging, a sense that they are part of the story. You just have to remember a few important points:

  • Remember the “long” in longform — you are developing your customer base. You are giving people an experience that they want to be part of for more than just a momentary read. This means a continuous serving of posts that meet their needs — that can be vicariously living through your gorgeous pictures or learning from informative posts. You are giving your customer something that they not only want to check in on every day, but something that keeps you in the back of their mind.
  • Quality over quantity — longform marketing is all about establishing a reputation. You want to create content that is meaningful — something people feel good about sharing, referring back to and look forward to seeing more of. How are you making them feel good about themselves over the long run? How are you affirming what they want?
  • And it’s about quality over quantity again — much of the metrics around social media that people obsess about is the number of likes or followers. But here’s the thing — what are those numbers and likes actually achieving? Are they converting in to more sales? What is better for your business — lots of likes or a few genuine sales? It is really easy to get wrapped up in the easy to measure stuff like followers and likes but keep your eyes on the prize — who is going to pay you in the end?

This article was originally published on The Art of Making a Living.

Image credit: Photo courtesy of Omkar Patyane.

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