If It’s Wednesday, This Must Be #CMWorld: Twelve Ways To Make Content Interesting

If It's Wednesday, This Must Be Columbus: Twelve Ways To Make Content InterestingAnother day, another marketing event!

I’ve been excited about this trip to Content Marketing World 2012 (#CMWorld) for some time. For one, it’s the largest gathering of content marketing professionals in the world. Two, it’s presented by our friends at the Content Marketing Institute. Three, I’m heavily involved in content marketing and am excited to meet so many other people who are versed in the same stuff. Four, we’ll get to swoon over the brilliant speakers as they impart their experience to us.

Five, it’s during the biggest week in my marathon training schedule (50+ miles) and I’m jazzed about running the Scioto Mile, a riverfront park and pavilion and the centerpiece of Columbus’ riverside trail network. Incidentally, I learned about the trails while tweeting with The Columbus Marathon (@CbusMarathon).

So here we are in Columbus. I stepped off the plane into not-so-perfect weather, but the forecast for the rest of the week looks better. After checking out this attractive city and and checking into the hotel, I sat down to think about content.

Let’s Talk Content

Content takes many forms. We can certainly talk about blog posts, e-Books, or infographics, and of course, email. Photos are definitely content, as well as video and slideshows. But all good content must have one thing in common: It must be interesting. We’ve talked a lot about making content accessible, easy to read or follow, useful, or informative. All of those requirements apply for good content, but in the overall hierarchy of attributes for great content, I think the word ‘interesting’ captures pretty much what drives content marketing the most.

Kinetic Energy vs. Potential EnergyYou’re aware of the concepts of Kinetic Energy and Potential Energy, right? Around 6th grade, we learn that a ball sitting at the top of a hill is ready to roll. That is, it has potential energy, and you can stand next to the ball and touch it without being harmed. Once the ball is pushed, the potential is turned into kinetic energy. This is the energy that knocks down anyone standing in the way.

To make a splash long-term, your content, whether in the form of posts, photos, or videos, has to carry a foundational value, such as being consistent, informative, branded, or high-quality. This gives it potential energy. But if your extremely helpful, brand-consistent content is out there sitting on the web, with nothing to make it interesting, it can’t turn that into kinetic energy. It’s the level of interest that drives thousands of web users to find it, read it and share it. That’s the kind of energy I’m talking about.

What Makes Content Interesting?

Think about it: A product email can be highly readable, but if it’s not interesting, it won’t be read. A software manual is very useful, but what do we do with the average manual? A college textbook would be extremely informative, but the uninteresting ones barely get cracked. On the flip side, we’ve all seen totally pointless material that lacked usefulness, information, accessibility, or ease, that had to be shared because it was so…interesting.

Here are ways to make your content more interesting:

  • Build Community – A lot of great content makes people feel like they are part of a larger group, if not a true organization. People will appreciate and share things they enjoy with others who share the same ideas, as well as with people who don’t. Imagine a whitewater kayaking video that is shared by a paddler with his Facebook friends. With fellow paddlers he is sharing an insider’s viewpoint, while with the second group he is showing off.
  • stock-content-memeApply Humor – Obviously, people love to laugh, and they like to make friends laugh. What exactly makes people laugh is different for just about everybody, whether cynical or optimistic, slapstick or cerebral, dry or absurd, and a host of other humor dimensions. For example, memes are extremely popular because they are usually funny, and they also establish community. They align the sender with others who ‘get’ the humor and the backstory, which most memes have.
  • Speak The ‘Truth’ – A lot of people like to share ideas that are widely held, and often mark them as part of a certain group, such as a political ideal system or religious community. The best truths are the ones that a majority of people acknowledge, like uplifting photos about perseverance and protecting children. The worst involve stereotypes and divisive beliefs. Articles that ‘debunk’ these negative, so-called truths can gain a lot of traction.
  • Be Contrarian – Sometimes people like to offer an alternative to a popular viewpoint. A great deal of activism comes from those who notice something they think is wrong and dare to point it out. If your content is contrarian, you can often stir up controversy and ‘make people think’ about a topic. Of course, contrarian can also mean joking about celebrity deaths and disasters as quickly as possible. Unless you’re The Onion, don’t try that sort of thing.
  • Wow People – Ever seen a motorcycle rider do this? If you want to, just click on the link. Stunts and amazing feats are fairly popular ways to spread an idea. I’d put those videos where someone creates a mammoth artwork of falling dominoes, plays piano with his feet, or paints masterpieces at age 3, in this category. The photos of false-perspective sidewalk chalk drawings and Rubik’s Cube art are also examples.
  • Stay Current – What happened in the news today? Was it something you can use to generate interest in your brand or product? David Meerman-Scott’s book ‘Newsjacking’ covers the techniques to this marketing approach, and you see it a lot. Just look at Twitter when a blockbuster movie is coming out, or watch brands hijack the 2012 Olympics, or witness something happening to a celebrity. It is also possible to botch a newsjacking campaign if it’s done in poor taste or piggybacks on strife, misfortune or disaster.
  • Make A List – Yes, lists are all the rage, and they probably always will be. Whether David Letterman started it with his ‘Top Ten Lists’ or the tactic goes back even further, Top Ten, Sensational Seven, Twisted Thirteen, Freakiest Five, and every other permutation of list will be with us for awhile. Numbers attract readers, because people like to break down complex concepts into easy bites, and a finite number is easier to digest than a long-winded treatise.
  • Look Pretty – Pinterest is one social platform that appears to be driven by this tactic: Either everyone on Pinterest is a skilled photographer, or a lot of people are borrowing content from professionals and commercial organizations. Google+ is another platform where my news feed (sorry, I mean ‘stream’) is full of gorgeous pictures of vacation spots, sports cars, space images, or artwork that come from various businesses. Images don’t have to be particularly creative to get a lot of interest, just beautiful.
  • Press Play – Music videos by themselves aren’t interesting, but very often a video of something a little outside the lines gets traffic. It could be a wedding band, a television performance, a young talent, or something that is not a highly-produced studio performance. There is almost no variation on one dimension – the performances are usually high-quality, and people will share great music from regular people very reliably.
  • Bring The Bling – There’s no question that celebrities tend to build the biggest social media followings pretty easily. Sometimes it’s a current music star who is making waves, and sometimes a former child actor, B-list celeb, or one of those people who just happen to be famous. In rare cases, they’re actually doing something related to their craft, but more often piping in about politics or some current event. When they are hawking products, it is almost always part of a much larger sponsorship campaign.
  • Point And Laugh – A disturbingly high number of shared content involves making fun of someone or something. Sometimes the subjects made the video themselves, and sometimes people are unwittingly involved as the topic of someone else’s dark humor. In these cases, the sharing of content relies on the innate meanness of the rest of us, and it works. It’s probably a bad idea to use this approach unless you have one of those edgy, cool consumer brands.
  • Inspire Rage – Like it or not, anger drives a lot of response to content, such as appeals for political donations and other kinds of activism. If you’re trying to stop animal abuse, third-world hunger, voter fraud, or you’re trying to stop the people trying to stop animal abuse, third-world hunger, or voter fraud, make people angry. They’ll read, view, and share your message and help you raise funds. If it didn’t work, we’d never see this tactic.

The thing to remember about making your content more interesting is that the same things that get content noticed are not necessarily what keeps your ideas on everyone’s mind for the long-term. You can get all kinds of attention with a gory video, but if it lacks any other value, such as being cautionary or educational, it’s the kind of trick you can only do once. The tactics above will drive the kinetic energy I was talking about, but it’s potential energy that builds long-term brand messages.

Originally posted on the KnowledgeVision Fresh Ideas Blog.

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