Why White Papers Have New Relevance in the Social Media Age

There’s never enough content out there. Feeds are packed, streams are swollen, and inboxes overflow, and yet somehow people are always looking for more informational inputs. Perhaps spurred by FOMO (fear of missing out), everyone is suddenly a part time investigative journalist, tracking down leads, following up on stories, and sharing insider tips with friends and colleagues.

Which is why the humble white paper, a style of authoritative, long-form content, is suddenly back in fashion. Audiences are hungry for content and information and white papers are chock full of them.

Making the Complex Understandable

The very first white paper was written at the request of Winston Churchill in 1922 while investigating unrest in British controlled Palestine. Like businesses, white papers help governments understand difficult problems and discuss solutions to them. They are guides that break down complex issues and present a point of view or opinion about the matter.

Brevity and scope don’t usually go hand in hand, but that’s exactly what a great white paper has to do: describe a detailed issue and its implications in just a few short pages. Too short, and you won’t be able to cover everything. Too long, and people’s eyes will glass over.

Even business documents need to be engaging, with good pacing and structure, as well as bullets, graphics, and charts to break things up, which is why 70 percent of marketers say five pages is the ideal length for a white paper. Another important tip: keep the jargon to a minimum. No one wants to sift through the raw data and abstruse details. The job of a white paper is to take that information and reformulate it into something more easily digestible.

Speaking the Customer’s Language

The goals of business white papers vary. They can typically perform one or more of the following functions:

  • Establish Thought Leadership
  • Make a Persuasive Business Case
  • Produce Sales Leads
  • Inform Prospective Customers and/or Partners
  • Attract Attention from Journalists, Analysts, and Influencers

The most common type of business white paper is referred to as a “Backgrounder.” It is a description for the functional, technical, economic, or other benefits of a vendor’s offering or plan. Backgrounder white papers are useful at the bottom of a sales funnel, helping decision makers understand why a particular choice should be made or avenue pursued.

Another common style of white paper is the “Problem/Solution” format, which succinctly states a nagging problem inherent to a particular industry and offers a workable fix. This type is more appropriate at the top of a conversion funnel for garnering attention and starting the sales process.

In either case, a simple numbered list with a set of points or questions or helpful advice about the vendor’s offering can be effective at making an argument clear.

White Papers Go Digital

White papers are particularly useful for B2B marketing because those types of operations rarely have broad target markets, so going after big reach and wide audiences can be wasteful. Instead, niche, hyper targeted, and highly relevant content is called for.

But, just like the rest of us, even the people making buying decisions at major corporations are still using the internet to do their due diligence. According to technology services company GlobalSpec:

“84 percent of industrial professionals use the Internet to find components, equipment and services.”

They need valuable, accurate, and authoritative information to base their decisions on, and a white paper is an excellent opportunity to speak to them in their language. Which is why it’s not surprising that the Content Marketing Institute found that:

“95 percent of B2B companies use content marketing and out of those, 78 percent use white papers.”

They are undoubtedly a powerful tool, and thanks to websites, social media networks, and other digital platforms, there are countless ways to disseminate and promote them. Have you examined how white papers can help your brand?