I have a confession to make.
I skim. A lot.
If an article doesn’t grab me, I’ll click away. If I’m mildly interested, I’ll skim. It’s only when I get sucked into the writing or the story that I actually read.
Repeat after me: Life is too short to read boring articles.
With so many people creating content online, yours has to be interesting enough to cut through the noise. Your readers are simultaneously busy, bored, stressed, and overstimulated. With all the distractions, you can’t afford a lackluster topic or lifeless writing.
How to Take a Topic From ‘Blah’ to Buzzworthy
Even if you don’t know how content works, you know how the Internet works: Great stuff gets shared, commented on, and sometimes “goes viral,” while boring stuff (or content that doesn’t provide value) gets lost in space.
At Influence & Co., we know great content starts with a great topic, and that means framing each topic in the way that sells the story best. Tweet this
All of our article topics go through our pitch meeting process, where an account strategist pitches a topic to a publication strategist (who knows what the target publication is looking for) and an editor (who knows readers).
You may not have a content team like ours, which includes all the necessary content roles, but you can still put your topic through the ringer. Here’s how:
1. Read like crazy.
You wouldn’t open a Thai restaurant if you knew nothing about Thai cuisine. Likewise, if you don’t have time to read publications relevant to your field, you have no business creating content.
Knowing what people are writing about — and what they’re not writing about — is the first step toward creating content that stands out.
I recommend using a content aggregator like Feedly to get all your favorite industry publications in one place.
If you’re superbusy and don’t have time to actually sit down and read, download Pocket to save articles for later. That way, you can catch up on reading while you’re waiting at the airport or trying to avoid awkward eye contact at Starbucks.
2. Google your topic.
Want a quick lesson in the vastness of the Internet? Google your article topic to see how many people have already written about it. Read a few of the top results, and take note of how the writers presented the topic, what they covered, and — more importantly — what they didn’t cover.
3. Find your angle.
Generic is the enemy of virality. Most highly shared articles have a distinct point of view, a unique take on a popular topic, or focused insight into that topic.
If your opinion goes against what others in your industry are saying, run with it! Instead of trying to appeal to everyone in your audience (e.g., “5 Funding Strategies for Startups”), try tailoring your topic toward a very specific type of reader (e.g., “5 Funding Strategies for Nonprofit Startups”).
This Is Your Content on Steroids
Once you’ve come up with a killer article topic, you aren’t done. Truly great content is all about the presentation.
- Use industry examples. Have you ever heard the expression “Show, don’t tell”? That’s precisely what’s going to make your content stand out. It’s one thing to say a strategy works, but it’s much more compelling to offer an example of a company that has succeeded using that strategy. Tweet this
- Share personal experience. Sharing your experience gives you instant credibility and helps establish a personal connection with your readers. Buffer does an amazing job of this on its productivity blog. A word of caution, though: Don’t use this as an excuse to brag about all the wonderful things your company has done. If you made a mistake and learned from it, tell your readers. If you found a strategy to solve a persistent problem, share it. But if you just want to talk about how valuable your company’s service is, save it for your website copy. Tweet this
- Form an opinion. Too often, people creating content for the sake of branding shy away from weighing in on industry issues or presenting an opinion. While you may think staying neutral helps you appear “professional,” it actually makes your content seem weak. If you don’t have an opinion, get one. Take a stance and hold your ground, but be respectful of others’ opinions. Tweet this
- Have some fun. Although you’re creating content to fulfill a business goal, it doesn’t have to be the sensible, fuel-efficient sedan of content. Depending on your product or service, you can sometimes get away with what I call “lifestyle” content — content that does a lot of heavy lifting for your brand image but doesn’t directly reference what you’re selling. Warby Parker is the king of lifestyle content. Its blog is full of fun, how-to-be-a-hipster-type articles that perpetuate the artsy, creative ethos of its target audience. Some of its posts are profiles of famous artists or infographic lists, such as “Do You Want to Be a Rebel?” Tweet this
Just because you create content doesn’t mean your audience will read it. And even though the Internet has opened up enormous opportunities for exposure, getting noticed hasn’t gotten any easier. If you want to attract and keep an audience, you can’t write on autopilot and then slap on a sensational headline. You’ve got to know your stuff, find an interesting angle, and tell your story.
Post by Tarah Benner, Editor at Influence & Co.