In January of 2019, Contently, a content marketing platform that connects enterprise brands with freelance talent, surveyed over 1,000 people in the U.S. about their media and marketing preferences. What they uncovered about people’s preferred content length shattered a seemingly unbreakable convention that longer is always better: 75% of people prefer to read articles under 1,000 words.
With our ever-dwindling ability to concentrate on given tasks, Contently’s discovery makes complete sense. Writing shorter articles is better because people prefer consuming that type of content.
However, longer articles typically rank higher on Google and generate more website visits because these types of resources are more comprehensive and better equipped to solve the searcher's intent.
So how do you reconcile these two ideas, and when is it appropriate to craft concise content? Fortunately, the answer lies in microblogging.
What is microblogging?
Microblogging refers to the act of creating concise posts for short audience interactions, often on common microblogging platforms such as Twitter and Tumblr. In addition to text, a post on a microblog can include links, audio, images, and even video.
This form is best used when:
- The topic or post has low search intent but high potential for virality.
- You want to take advantage of the communities on common microblogging platforms.
- You're covering a live event or providing timely updates.
- You're using your microblog as a vehicle for delivering multimedia content without a lot of accompanying text.
The conundrum then becomes how you can create a microblog without filling your site with thin content, which can actually hurt your site when it comes to search because Google sees these pages as low-value.
While it's not necessary (as evidenced by the FiveThirtyEight example below), most microblogging actually happens on platforms designed specifically for the purpose.
The OG of micro blogging sites, Twitter is not only one of the most popular microblogging sites around, but it’s also one of the most popular social media platforms around.
On Twitter, you can create a profile where all your posts -- or Tweets -- live. In your Tweets, you can include text, links, photos, videos, GIFs, audio, and more. Each of your Tweets also has a 280-character cap. Additionally, you can reply to and share -- or retweet -- other users’ Tweets.
With over 496 million different blogs, Tumblr is bustling hub of short form content. On the microblogging site, you can create a blog and include links, text, photos, GIFs, videos, Spotify tracks, MP3 files, and more in your posts. When you follow other blogs, their posts will show up in your dashboard. You can also comment on and reblog other blogs’ posts on your own blog.
Unlike most microblogs, Pinterest is purely visual. On your profile, you can create Boards, which are collections of pictures curated around a specific topic, post Pins of your favorite pictures, and add Tries, which are notes and photos of ideas you tried, like new recipes you cooked or new places you traveled to. You can also follow other people’s profiles and topics, which are the most popular Boards that cover specific topics.
While Instagram is mostly a visual platform -- like Pinterest -- Instagram also lets you add 2,200 character long captions to each photo or video you post on your profile. Some media outlets are even leveraging Instagram to spark a new phase of journalism that focuses on crafting visually appealing articles.
On Instagram, you can follow other profiles and popular hashtags, discover new content based off your user behavior and popular topics, watch long form videos and Instagram stories, comment on posts, tag your friends in posts, and direct message them.
You might know Facebook as the most popular social media network in the world. But it's also the most robust microblogging platform out there.
On Facebook, you can create a profile where you can share text-based updates, photos, GIFs, videos, an emotion you’re feeling, an activity you’re currently doing, and the location you’re currently in.
You can also ask for recommendations on where to go when you’re about to visit a location, tag friends and events in your updates, poll your friends, support and donate to a nonprofit, answer a question about yourself, create fun lists, post Facebook Stories, record live videos, interact with your friend’s updates, message, call, and video chat with them, start groups with them, create events, watch long form videos, sell and buy products, and play games.
LinkedIn is a social media platform geared towards business professionals, but it nonetheless has a powerful microblogging arm. Not only can you use LinkedIn's publishing functionality to post articles, but you can also use status updates for short-form microblogs. With these status updates, you can share a photo, video, event, or link... or you can choose to publish something longer form. Everything you share or engage with can then be found on your profile under "Activity."
As you probably already noticed, most of the microblogging sites above are also the most popular social media sites -- but this shouldn’t be a surprise. People love scrolling through social media because they can consume tubs of snackable content in a short amount of time. And marketers should take this insight and apply it to their content strategy. Because, just like eating a bag of Doritos, you never stop after the first chip.
So you know when microblogging works and the common platforms where it takes place. But what do you end up posting?
Take inspiration from some of these incredible microblogs:
Liz Ryan is a thought leader in the human resources space, and she's known for her Ask Liz Ryan series where individuals submit their burning career questions. Common topics include job hunting, salary negotiating, and toxic work places.
Her LinkedIn posts feature these stories as well as helpful human resources tips in a concise microblog format. She actively encourages participation from her followers to create a rich community where people share their stories.
The magic realism bot on Twitter automatically generates a premise for a magical story every four hours. Followers can either use these as writing prompts for their own projects or simply bask in the absurdity that it creates.
The Magic Realism Bot completely fulfills its purpose in less than 280 characters, making it a great example for proving that long-form is not always the form for a content project.
Etsy is an ecommerce platform where indie creators and collectors can list their products for sale. Because Etsy provides this service and generates revenue from transactions, it's in their best interest to not only promote themselves as a platform but also the goods that can be found there.
In this type of scenario, casual browsing is a mighty tool, so they use their Pinterest as a microblog that showcases various gems from Etsy sellers. This tactic doesn't work as a long-form blog, and the goal is not organic traffic but instead catching the eye of potential customers on Pinterest.
FiveThirtyEight is a website founded by analyst Nate Silver that covers poll analysis, politics, and economics. On November 3, 2020, their election coverage took the form of a microblog, releasing bite sized updates on the status of vote counts and projections on electoral vote distribution as well as expert commentary.
Unlike the other microblogs on this list, FiveThirtyEight used their own website to host their microblog posts, with all election coverage accessible on a single page. This helped keep users on their site while providing a good user experience when it came to refreshing for more information as information trickled in live.
Will Lucas uses LinkedIn to share insights on entrepreneurship and growth. While many of his posts include links to his initiatives as well as status updates on some of his ventures, he also uses the microblog functionality of LinkedIn to deliver video content that provides value to his audience.
As a study guide website for humanities classes, SparkNotes's goal with their marketing is to reach out to their target audience of high school and college students. Their website content is geared toward students who are searching for something specific. However, they use Twitter as a microblog that takes a different approach: Using a viral approach that relies on humor and relatability to generate awareness, earn engagement, and increase reach.
The Humans of New York project uses Instagram to highlight real stories about real New Yorkers. Each Instagram post functions as a mini-feature piece about someone that photographer Brandon Stanton comes across.
Because these individuals aren't famous, there isn't a lot of search intent, so there's no need for it to take on the form of a typical search engine-indexed blog post. Instead, Humans of New York relies on the visual aspect of the site to humanize its subjects with short articles that range from touching to absurd, heart-wrenching to hilarious.
With the advice regarding blogging vs. microblogging and the above examples serving as inspiration, start crafting a content strategy that uses form to reflect its purpose so that it can be as useful as possible to your audience.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in May 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.