In these times of having so much information at our fingertips (too much in many people’s opinions), it’s easy to create content. It’s more challenging, however, to develop content that people want to read, and which helps you achieve increases in traffic to your website, including clicks, opt-ins, conversions, sales, likes and mentions. It also helps prospects and customers alike get to know you better as an individual and become more likely to become a customer or client.
Element 1: Be Original
With so much content available these days, the way to stand above the crowd is to express your own thoughts in your own way. That means letting your knowledge, opinions and personality shine throughout the piece, referring to other sources sparingly to avoid the “boring research paper effect” of providing excessive facts and figures.
Although citing some statistics can give your message credibility, including too many numbers can put readers to sleep.
That’s why your content should be written in a conversational mode rather than a formal one. Pretend you’re having a conversation with someone at a party or networking event, and let the words flow from your head, through your fingers and onto the screen.
While being casual in style, you should make sure that text makes logical and grammatical sense, and that there are no typos, as nothing reflects worse on an individual or an organization than content that doesn’t make sense for one reason or another. What’s more, it stops the reader, who likely will quit reading your piece while partially through with it.
As author C.S. Lewis, who wrote The Chronicles of Narnia and other works of fiction put it, “Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original, whereas if you simply try to tell the truth, without caring twopence how often it has been told before, you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”
Element 2: Be Engaging
Draw the reader into your world by illustrating your point with a personal anecdote, reference from pop culture or history, or some other “grabber” that creates a bond between you and the reader.
Although it’s easier to deliver facts in a straightforward manner, much like a news story, it’s worth the extra effort be creative or unconventional because it will help your content gain wider exposure than it would otherwise.
Earlier in my career, I worked for the late John McLaughlin, creator and moderator of The McLaughlin Group public affairs television program. Whether I was helping him write introductions and exit questions for the show, or drafting a radio commentary or magazine column, he told me multiple times that “the greatest sin of a writer or speaker is to be boring. You may be wrong, but you can never be boring, because if you’re boring, people tune you out.”
In the same vein, if a point was too obscure or required too much explanation in the limited time or space available, depending upon the medium, he would yell at the top of his lungs, “Green eyeshade! Green eyeshade!” in reference to visors worn by accountants, newspaper copy editors and others involved in detail-oriented occupations in the pre-computer days, and who needed to block out harsh incandescent light while manually performing tasks that we now complete digitally in a fraction of the time.
After a few such incidents, I got the message.
Element 3: Be Actionable
Ask or encourage readers to take specific actions related to your topic. Whether it’s re-assessing their tooling needs, trying a new restaurant or type of cuisine, or organizing a group of community residents to remove litter from vacant lots, suggesting or requesting that readers take a specific action will leave them with an impression that they wouldn’t have if you were just providing information without a call to action.
People like to be asked to participate in activities because they enjoy being part of something larger than themselves. How else to explain our collective obsession with rooting for sports teams, attending concerts given by famous performers and getting involved in political or social causes in which we believe deeply?
When I read articles, blog posts and other content that doesn’t ask me to take a specific action or ask a question to engage me in an exchange with the writer, I tend to forget about those pieces of content.
In contrast, I remember content that concludes with a call to action, even if the subject isn’t one of my top concerns or interests
Element 4: Be Accurate
It’s essential to be truthful with everything you write because being otherwise damages your credibility and makes it difficult or impossible for people to believe you. Despite the prevailing attitude in some quarters these days, there’s value in being on-the-level with people from the beginning. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Reputation is like fine china. Once broke, it’s very hard to repair.”
Most people appreciate being leveled with, even if it makes them a bit uncomfortable in the short term, because eventually they will have to come to grips with reality, and sooner is better than later when it comes to telling it like it is.
What’s more, with everyone having immediate access to information, it’s easier than ever to disprove an inaccuracy whether intentional or unintended. If an inaccuracy occurs once, I cut the writer some slack, but if future posts or related content are factually inaccurate, I disregard content produced by that organization or individual.
As one of my uncles used to say, “Give it to me straight, and give it to me straight away!”
Element 5: Be Thought-Provoking
Take a position on a topic or issue and ask people whether they agree with you, and why, or ask them to tell you and their fellow readers about an experience related to the topic of your story, blog post or other type of communication. By posing open-ended questions that ask readers to think about what you’ve written, you’re promoting engagement, which can lead to familiarity and ultimately to the formation of a business relationship.
In being thought-provoking, however, it’s necessary to strike a balance between one extreme and another to activate or animate your target audiences and keep them interested in what you’re saying and doing.
One of the best examples of thought-provoking content I’ve seen is Today’s Machining World
As writer-owner Lloyd Graff puts it, “TMW is a bold, creative, and unorthodox attempt to bring the drama and magic of the machining and manufacturing world to readers who appreciate something informative and fun.
“If you enjoy reading press releases regurgitated blandly to appease advertisers, you will probably hate TMW. But if you want to read provocative, juicy, well-written and tightly edited articles that challenge your intelligence, this is an online offering worth checking out.”
TMW’s blog often gets 20 to 50 comments and usually about 5,000 people open the bi-weekly blog delivered to their email.
Those are good numbers by any standard in the B2B space, and they’re exceptionally good for the world of manufacturing, where people have been slower to integrate social media with their traditional marketing activities.
As Millennials and Gen Zs who grew up with web technology (digital natives) replace Baby Boomers and Gen Xers (digital aliens) in the management ranks of companies, the manufacturing sector is catching up to others in its collective use of online marketing, including engagement through social media.
Element 6: Be Emotional or Humorous
No matter how reserved some of us may be at work or in social settings, we all have feelings and a sense of what’s funny. By connecting with readers’ worlds and attempting to see things as a person rather than as an occupation, profession or job title, you’re more likely to interest them in the subject of your content than if you played it straight and serious.
To add humor to your blog post, think of situations or stories in your own life that could lend themselves to the subject of your blog or social post. Most people find stories funnier than jokes, and stories give you a greater opportunity to connect with your readers than does a joke with a punch line.
What’s more, it’s easier to develop content around stories or incidents than it is to create or borrow jokes that illustrate the point you’re making.
As for the types of humor to use, there’s no formula, but if you know your audience you should have a strong sense of whether they’ll appreciate exaggeration (hyperbole), unexpected twist (irony), poking fun at yourself (self-deprecation) or a good ol’ joke, provided the humor is G-rated and non-offensive in every other way. The one thing that should always be off limits is putting down others.
If you’re uncertain about whether something you’ve written is humorous, test it out on a colleague – or several colleagues ideally -- before posting it online. By doing so, you’ll save yourself and your company a lot of potential embarrassment.
Element 7: Be Photo-Sensitive
The internet is a highly visual medium, so it’s important to use images, and video when available or applicable, to help communicate your key messages. A piece of online content without visuals, be it a social post to LinkedIn, Twitter and other social platforms, as well as a blog post, is like feeding your dinner guests a half-baked loaf of bread.
As the online landscape becomes increasingly cluttered, there is more competition than ever for eyeballs -- people to visit your website and read your blog posts and social posts.
Just as we rise above the competition by going the extra mile for customers in the areas of innovation, quality and service, competition can make us better in our online activities if we commit – or re-commit -- ourselves to becoming even more knowledgeable, insightful and helpful than we already are.
No matter how well you’re doing, there’s always room for improvement.
By being Original, Engaging, Actionable, Accurate, Thought-Provoking, Emotional or Humorous and Photo-Sensitive, you develop content that helps you create and maintain an engaged group of followers who are so appreciative of your expertise and insightfulness that they become customers, clients, referral sources or strategic partners.
Given the fact that online communication has eliminated many traditional barriers to collaboration, you just may end going to some interesting or exotic places that you never thought you’d have a chance to experience.
What type of content that you’ve created has been most effective for engaging readers?