Composing a white paper takes a whole lot of time and effort. You’re probably talking about a week’s worth of solid work if you want to create something that is both worthwhile and digestible. You might think those two qualities are somewhat interchangeable, but a useful document doesn’t guarantee readers.
Where am I going with this? What I’m saying is that, given the amount of resources that go into producing a white paper, it’s crazy to not try and get as much bang for your buck as you possibly can.
However, time and time again we see businesses pour hours into the construction of a wonderful 30-page document, only to fail to make it palatable for their audience. Often, it’s not so much a problem with the style in which it is written, or the visuals on show, but the manner in which it is promoted, or distributed.
If you’re only managing to convince a handful of people to download your white paper, you can consider it time poorly spent – no matter how insightful it may be.
In this post we will show you how you can maximise the potential of your white paper, i.e. get it the likes and shares it deserves, as well as highlight why it is that white papers still hold value in today’s world of declining attention spans.
What is a white paper?
First things first, let’s look at what a white paper actually is in the context of content marketing. Investopedia would have you believe that a white paper is “an informational document issued by a company to promote or highlight the features of a solution, product, or service.”
If you take that definition as read, however, you could find yourself in trouble. That’s because a white paper should be anything but a product pitch. If you use the document only to sell your own products, how can you expect readers to take your ‘facts’ seriously?
We prefer HubSpot’s definition of a white paper: A persuasive, authoritative, in-depth report on a specific topic that presents a problem and provides a solution.
A document written with this in mind will make for something that your customers can read without thinking there’s an ulterior motive in mind (even if there is). As such, it will position you as a credible expert in your field who is ‘giving away’ knowledge for free – something that’s sure to boost your brand image.
Why white papers still matter
You’d be forgiven for thinking that white papers are now a bit of a waste of time, what with the recurring headlines of “The white paper is dead”, or words to that effect. When you also factor in that the human attention span is now “shorter than a goldfish” – according to a Microsoft study – due to our obsession with portable devices, it can be hard to muster the enthusiasm to get to work on long-form content.
Note, however, that Microsoft’s report on brain activity is 52 pages long – that suggests there’s some value in labouring over long-form content, as long as the results prove worthwhile.
If you’re still not convinced that white papers are worth all the effort, let me point out exactly why they’re still an essential part of any content marketing strategy in 2015:
1. They generate leads
As long as your white papers sit soundly on the educating-promoting spectrum, you should see a high conversion rate. Why? Because they are a marketing tool of genuine use to your readers. As such, prospects might feel the need to consult your white paper multiple times for their own benefit – that’s a sure-fire way of keeping your brand name in the back of people’s minds.
2. They offer an opportunity to display your expertise
White papers are an excellent way to spread expertise and build a brand image. However, only by offering your unique point of view on the subject at hand will you prove that you actually know your stuff – otherwise readers might assume you’ve just accrued the knowledge elsewhere. Find your own angle; just be careful not to be too self-promotional.
3. They help you build a mailing list
Prospects often need a great deal of convincing to sign up to your newsletter or mailing list – unless there is something in it for them, of course.
Let your white paper act as the ‘free gift’, making it available to people after they have signed up to your newsletter. However, be wary of asking for too many details up front, or taking up too much of their time filling out forms, as this will be counterproductive.
4. They generate likes and shares
In order to gain access to their white paper, brands often ask visitors to “like” their Facebook page. If personal behaviour is anything to go by, likelihood is they won’t go and “unlike” your page after downloading the thing they wanted. That means you can continue to try and engage these new prospects long after they are done with your white paper.
Shares are also pretty easily achieved with a white paper too, as long as you make it social media friendly. That means adding social sharing buttons at the top of your landing pages.
How to write a better white paper
Most businesses worth their salt are capable of writing a good white paper. There really isn’t much to it; you just have to know your topic, source the relevant stats to back up your points and add a bit of stylistic flourish.
OK, ensuring your white paper attracts as many pairs of eyes as you’d envisaged might not be as simple as that, but if you play to your strengths and get a good writer on-board, you won’t be going far wrong.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind once you’ve committed to writing a white paper (or a series of):
Identify a hot topic
So much hinges on the topic you opt for. Cover well-trodden ground and your readers’ eyes will start to roll; go too niche and you’re in danger of limiting the appeal of your white paper. One solution is to probe your audience on what is interesting them at that moment. Just be sure to check out your competitors’ offerings before getting down to writing.
Adopt the appropriate tone
With a blog you can get away with a conversational tone of voice (as long as it fits with your industry). With a white paper, however, things are decidedly more formal. You still want the document to be engaging, of course, but you now have licence to be more descriptive – in fact, readers will expect as much.
Write a captivating intro
That’s not to say, though, that the piece should be any less readable. It might sound like a bit of a cliché, but writing a captivating intro is crucial if you want people to read on. After all, it’s the road map for the rest of your paper. Therefore, tell your readers what they can expect from reading the document – what they can expect to learn, i.e. why reading your white paper won’t be a waste of their time.
Impart your insight
A large chunk of your white paper will inevitably be made up of resource from elsewhere. As long as it’s relevant, interesting and attributed, that’s not a problem. However, readers will want something new. This is where your expertise and unique brand view comes in, in the shape of tips and information or, better still, your deductions from a self-conducted study.
Write first, proofread later
A ‘brain dump’ is often used negatively, but there’s some value in just throwing words at the page initially. For most of us, it’s far too easy to lose grip on good ideas, so get them down while they’re still fresh in your mind. Leave editing until a later date, as that’s the easy part – even if it can take up a good deal of time.
Maximising the potential of your white paper
Maybe it’s because it’s a more sacred document – what with all the time that’s been poured into it – but businesses are sometimes guilty of viewing their white papers as outside their content strategy. Sure, it’s a document to be cherished, but don’t sanctify it to the point where it doesn’t see the light of day.
If you’re prepared to try and get the most out of your white paper, you could see a single idea turn into weeks or even months of content. In fact, as long as it’s not completely devoid of interesting facts and figures, piggybacking on your white paper really is pretty straightforward. Here’s how:
1. Break your white paper down into short blog posts
For some readers, the jump from 140 characters on Twitter to a 30-page white paper might be a little too much to bear. This is where 300-word blog posts – extracted from your white paper – come into play.
Now, it won’t suffice to just literally copy and paste a section of your white paper and hit ‘Post’ – more than anything else, it might not even make sense as a stand-alone item.
However, if you give the section in question some context, make it a little more engaging and share-ready, you’re pretty much good to go.
How easy is that? Not only will it make for an interesting blog post, it will promote the original white paper – a little call-to-action at the bottom of the post should do the trick. There’s also the potential to turn a single blog post into a series, if you’re clever enough with your white paper. We weren’t lying when we said you can turn a single document into months of content.
2. You’ve got to tweet a fact or two
Assuming your white paper is chock-full of enlightening facts and stats, consider drawing a few of these out for the purpose of a social media post. Ideally, they will be stats from a self-conducted study. If not, it’s not the end of the world, but make sure you present it in a way that makes it appear unique – this is where your graphic designer comes in.
3. Convert written content into infographics
Talking of graphic designers, have your visuals expert arrange the best facts, quotes and figures from your white paper into a carefully designed infographic.
After all, some readers will be put off by the sheer size of your white paper – especially if they are viewing it on their mobile, which could see it turn into a 100+ page document.
If you’re lucky enough, your infographic might be banded about on third-party sites, as everybody loves a striking visual these days.
4. Answer readers’ questions
As you go about sharing your white paper, ask readers to fire back with any questions they have once they’ve had time to absorb the document – LinkedIn is a particularly good place for comments.
Once you’ve got a couple of handfuls of questions, compose a blog which seeks to answer those queries. If you have the resources to do so, turn the Q&A session into a video to rev-up the engagement factor.
You’ll be surprised how many viewers will watch the video first, before going back and seeking out the white paper in question. It’s similar to reading movie reviews before you’ve had a chance to see the film in that sense, isn’t it?
Perhaps the single-most important thing to take away is that compiling and promoting a white paper shouldn’t bring about a sense of dread. Nor should you be too disappointed if the white paper fails to turns heads early doors – as we’ve seen, there are ways and means to attract readers later down the line.
After all, white papers are meant to be evergreen, i.e. without a best-before date, so it doesn’t matter too much when they are being read, as long they are, indeed, being read.
If you think about it, it makes sense if a white paper proves to be a bit of a slow-burner, especially if your business produces only one every six months or so. Your audience will be used to reading decidedly shorter social media updates and blog posts, not a short book’s worth of content.
Make that transition easier for them by breaking up your white paper into more digestible chunks that act as a taster to the main course. You’ll be making your life easier too, as your white paper can act as the basis for a whole series of blog content.
If making your life easier sounds like something you’d be interested in, but you’re a little unsure on how to make it happen or you don’t have the resources to do so, please get in touch.Ben Hollom
October 16, 2015