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Too long? Too short? A guide to crafting the perfect-sized message

Too Long? Too Short? A Guide to Crafting the Perfect-Sized Message

As Thomas Jefferson is supposed to have said, “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” Brevity is a tough skill to master, but with the corporate world facing what The Economist refers to as a “perennial time scarcity problem,” businesses should make the most of the limited time they have to communicate with customers and employees.[1] Otherwise, they may risk missing out on new opportunities and profits.
When creating content shared with customers and employees, the question is: how many words are needed to craft the perfect social media post, blog, presentation, or email? Luckily, in an age rife with data and marketing experts, we finally know how long—or short—your content should be to make the greatest impact. So whether you’re crafting a Facebook post for an upcoming sale or prepping for a TED-style talk, here’s how much you should write for these common business communications.
Note: All character limits include spaces.

Social media

Social media is ideal for engaging customers or users in bite-sized messages. This could mean sharing an article, announcing a product update, or participating in a trending topic. The goal is to stay top of mind with your audience, and ask them to take action when appropriate—such as clicking on a link or checking out a new product.
The rule of thumb with social media posts is to keep the copy as short as possible without losing context. Length itself isn’t the enemy, even on sites like Twitter where there is a 140-character limit; you just want to make sure you’re using that length to the fullest effect. With that in mind, here are the post lengths studies show receive the highest engagement rates—i.e. likes, shares, and comments.[2]
Hashtag: 6 characters [3] Keep it simple. Ideally, just one word or acronym. Otherwise the hashtag can be difficult to read, share, or fit the limits of a post.
Example: #IOT is a good hashtag. #Theinternetofthingsishere is a bad hashtag.
Twitter tweet: 71–100 characters [2] Tweets of this length are easy to consume, but lengthy enough to provide context and spark a reader’s interest. Note that this character limit does not include the link characters.*
Facebook post: 40 characters [2] Despite offering more posting space than Twitter, Facebook posts perform better when they’re shorter. Note that this only applies to the post text, though. When you share a link, the title and short description are exempt from this limit, so remember to edit those sections and use them to your advantage.
LinkedIn post: 16–25 words The best performing posts on LinkedIn vary according to the business focus. B2B-focused posts perform best (i.e. result in the most clickthroughs) at 16-25 words, while B2C-focused posts perform best at 21-25 words.[4]
B2B example
B2C example

Online copy:

We use the internet to do almost everything, including shopping or researching businesses. As a result, every business should have an online presence such as a blog, an e-commerce site, or a menu listing. A Google study shows that 50% of consumers who conduct a local search on their smartphone visit a store within a day, leading to more in-store purchases.[5]
Domain name: Up to 8 characters[2] The best Web domain names are short, easy to remember, easy to spell, and avoid special characters like dashes. Ideally, if you mention a domain to someone, they should be able to type it into their browser without any additional clues. Example:
Blog headline: 6 words[2] The reasoning for this length has roots in basic psychology. Readers tend to pay the most attention to or remember the first and last bits of information they encounter. In the case of blog headlines, the most memorable words are the first three and the last three.
Blog post: 900+ words[14] Long blog posts might take a while to digest, but if written well, they can provide truly valuable information that encourages users to act—and can help your blog rank higher in search engine results. The best performing posts also take about seven minutes to read.[6] Example: Color The Temple: Using Projected Light to Restore Color (The Metropolitan Museum of Art Blog)

Business communications:

Emails and presentations are integral to business communication. They’re also ideal for sharing information quickly and efficiently. The next time you’re crafting a business communication, consider the following guidelines and see how they change the effectiveness of your business communications.
Email subject line: 50 characters or less[7] An email subject line is the first (and sometimes only) part of an email you can be sure people will read. Keep them simple, so recipients can glance at them and immediately understand what the email is about. And try to keep subject lines short. Around 67% of all email opens in the U.S. now take place on mobile devices. Long subject lines get cut off, and your subscribers miss part of your message.[8] Examples: DocuSign: “What are our customers saying?”; Thrillist: “DO NOT Commit These Instagram Atrocities”[15]
Email length: 5 sentences U.S. workers report spending 6.3 hours per day checking email. And almost half believe their use of email will keep increasing.[9] That’s a lot of noise for your business to break through. If you want to respect your readers’ time and increase your chance at a response, keep emails short and clear. Popular marketing executive Guy Kawasaki suggests keeping emails at five sentences and says “[l]ess than five sentences is often abrupt and rude, more than five sentences wastes time.”[10]
Presentation: 20 minutes This suggestion comes from Kawasaki’s popular 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint—10 slides in 20 minutes with no font smaller than 30 point. His reasoning is that 10 slides cover all 10 topics you need to cover (from the problem to the call to action). Since people are busy, 20 minutes is all you can guarantee of their time and attention.[11] Along similar lines, the popular TED and TEDx talks are restricted to 18 minutes or less; forcing speakers to distill complicated topics into concise, digestible chunks.[12] Example: Tips for Start Up Success: The Art of Community Building (via Guy Kawasaki’s SlideShare channel)

And finally, customize your length for your target audience

Your business and needs are unique—as is your audience. What works for one organization might be completely wrong for another. It’s important to experiment with different content lengths to find what appeals most to your target audience.
Writing to a specific length is no guarantee of success. But it is an important guide for keeping your communications concise. Try different types of content, adjust to different lengths, and don’t forget to check your results--that way you can tell when a change does or doesn’t pay off.

Learn about more effective ways to communicate with your customers

[1] The Economist, Why is everyone so busy?, 2014
[11] Guy Kawasaki, The 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint, 2005
*At press time, Twitter is considering expanding the character limit up to 10,000.
PowerPoint is either a registered trademark or trademark of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and/or other countries

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