Raise your hand if you or your team has ever brainstormed, pitched, written, copyedited, fact checked, and SEO headline-optimized a piece of digital content that you didn’t want to win the praises of your CEO, competitors, and potential clients and brand partners?

Nobody? Thought so.

We live in a digital age buoyed by the belief that every story, video snippet, and missive has #meme potential. We turn to publications like this one because we know that simply wanting a piece of content to go viral isn’t enough in a world of piano-playing cats, butterball Frenchie pups, and double rainbow occurrences. For more on this, see the CSR content omniverse fact sheet.

So the question is: What makes a story worth publishing in the first place? My years of experience as a writer and editor lead me to share what to keep in mind when looking to create memorable content.

Context Is King 

Unless a story is executed well enough (and packaged well enough) to catch readers’ eyes in the first place, nobody’s going to click it.

So solve a problem. Anticipate a need. But most importantly? Do it in a compelling way. Use human nature to illustrate something industry-specific or technical, or use technology to break down the “why” behind an emerging or seemingly inexplicable “human nature” trend.

Podcasts – of which viral streaming topics include re-examining true crime stories that have already been investigated (see/hear: WNYC’s “Serial”) and pondering questions like, “Is technology changing the way we fall in love?” (see/hear: Popular Science’s “Futuropolis”) are exploding in popularity for a few reasons, but the “humanizing and engaging” factor is a top one.

content creation

Infographics – of which there is one above and hundreds on this website and publications from Inc. to New York Magazine – are another way to lend context by literally overlaying relevant, conversation-elevating facts and happenings with real-live, nitty-gritty (almost certainly entertaining) perspectives.

Have fun with that one. Let’s move on.

Content Is Only As Good As It Is Relevant

The best indicator that something is worth writing about is that people are already talking about it – or at least, talking around it.

From a to-do list for tackling your to-do list, to why women need each other to thrive at work and at home, the most-shared stories that I’ve ever written can be traced back to inane conversations I had with social or professional peers that had a common “Wait, you too?!” thread: An industry-specific hiccup, annoyance, or pattern; the “weird thing” or coincidence that didn’t feel so weird or coincidental once I’d said it out loud at a networking event and half the people in the group confirmed that they’d, “totally wondered about that, too.”

Back to the podcast example for a second. When you’re giving them a listen, notice how confidently curious hosts are when interviewing experts in the field, whether they’re talking neuroscience or sex tips.

As a digital content creator, asking the question “what if” in a headline or deck does wonders because it allows us to: a) take readers off the hook for their own (no so) weird curiosity or lack of knowledge: b) bring them up to speed on facts and figures that we’ve taken the time to gather on their behalf; and, c) follow the trail into real life terms, with a little room for storytelling, picture-painting, and making suggestions about the best ways that we’ve found to solve whatever issue we put out there in the first place.

And speaking of things in the first place…

What’s Your Headline? 

A bad one can kill a story. SEO wizardry will not save you from this fact. Cool pull quotes will not save you from this fact. Don’t settle for a headline that doesn’t at least entice your partner, parent, child, or best friend’s cousin to say, “Tell me more.”

If you can’t explain a headline to someone that doesn’t report to you or manage you, it’s not fully vetted.

(Just because this section is short doesn’t mean it’s less important than the others. The Internet is a crowded place. Vetting your headlines – and updating bad ones – is an essential practice.)

Set Your Engagement Ground Rules

It’s counterintuitive, but – just for a second – assume your story won’t go viral. Just for a second.

Now.

Just decide to make it really, really good. What does that story look like? Write that story – the one that’s useful to your best clients, informative enough for quick and long-view takeaways, and relatable to as many readers as possible without being cheesy or cliché.

Once you’ve done all that, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is the value of what you’re saying and how would it delight you to know it was being shared and consumed? (Printed out and tacked on an office bulletin board? Saved as a desktop screensaver? Tweeted? Pinned?)
  • Have you checked to make sure that the formatted images and text that will go out if someone wanted to do all of these things would make you proud?
  • Once it goes live, can readers embed it somewhere to live in multiple other places and link back to you? (Set that up.)
  • Can you tweet key quotes from it over the course of the week on your site’s homepage? (Do or delegate that.)
  • Can you promote it via a syndicated partnership? Should you investigate a syndicated partnership for more stories like these? (Yes. Yes you should.)

Keep in mind that digital readers aren’t just clicking to other competitors’ sites: they’re streaming, slide-showing, GIF-ing, and live-polling as they actively digest content from the Web, their blog feeds, and social media channels.

Invest the time and team resources to optimize your content to be shared easily, readily, and attractively wherever readers are the most likely to find it.

A Few More Key Questions

Just as important as controlling how people outside of your network will receive your content is considering how people inside of your network should interact with it.

  • How does your new piece highlight or contextualize content that’s already been published on your site? (Hyperlink to it and/or create a “More Links” module that highlights related reads on your site.)
  • Is there a list or series hiding within your content archives that just needs reframing and resurfacing? Now’s the time. Do it.
  • How can your content “work smarter” by being repackaged later? Could you combine it with other free materials on a microsite or host an e-course with it? Is there an upcoming holiday, industry conference, or event that this pertains to that might promote your site’s content via their own? (Shout it from the digital rooftops!)

After all, creating and vetting good content is a never-ending process. But on a good day, it’s a thoroughly rewarding one.

The Author

Tiffany Davis is a lifestyle editor, writer, and “professional brainstomer” living and working in Brooklyn, NY. She’s edited and written for outlets including DailyCandy.com, Details, Thompson Hotels, and Garden & Gun, and appeared as a trends expert on ABC, NBC, CBS, and CNN.

When she’s not scouting the streets and the web for design, style, and food trends, she’s throwing Sriracha-laced dinner parties and “catching up” on Pinterest and Instagram. Follow her there @prettyshindig, on Twitter @prettyshindig, and online at tiffanyjdavis.com.

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