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.
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.
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.
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…
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.)
It’s counterintuitive, but – just for a second – assume your story won’t go viral. Just for a second.
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:
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.
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.
After all, creating and vetting good content is a never-ending process. But on a good day, it’s a thoroughly rewarding one.
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