No one reads your articles. Or at least, it feels that way. The hours you spent on researching relevant and timeous topics, the amount of editing and image sourcing you did and the feedback you received from your editor just doesn’t seem to cut it for low engagement on your published piece. But it can change.
The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and BuzzFeed each published over 200 stories per day in 2016 – a statistic released by The Atlantic. Not to mention other online sources that compete with big conglomerates to get seen, and if lucky, “go viral” – think Candice Payne’s popular Facebook Live Video. We all know how difficult it is to compete online, but no matter how much money you put into advertising to get your content seen, if you don’t have a story that’s engaging, you’re already one down on your competitors. So, how do you create an engaging story? It’s all in the storytelling. Here are 7 things we believe are needed to create a killer story, and to remain competitive in a digital space.
1. Have something solid to tell
Any good journalist or author knows that in order to be a good writer, you need to be a good listener. Keep your ears to the ground for interesting topics – those that are relevant to your target audience. And when you tell the story, don’t just repeat what you heard, but give it clarity and context. Ask yourself, “Why would my readers care?” If you have an answer to that, go ahead and develop your story. If not, rethink what you want to say, and how you want to say it. Imagine a headline to one of Christiane Amanpour’s articles reading “Iran's Rouhani: US will pay” versus “Iran's Rouhani: US will pay a high cost if Trump scraps nuclear deal.” Makes a difference doesn't it?
2. Hang a dangling carrot
If you’ve ever watched a TED talk, you’ll know that every opening act starts the same. There’s a dangling carrot, a problem or relatable issue, and then only the actual topic of discussion. In her talk about The new age of corporate monopolies, Margrethe Vestager starts her TED talk by painting the picture of how the European Union was created in 1957 (a dangling carrot). She then interrupts her own train of thought by informing listeners about problems experienced before a more peaceful, democratic Europe was shaped. And only after that does she start talking about the actual topic: The new age of corporate monopolies. In journalism it’s usually the who, what, when, where and how that forms your dangling carrot in the first paragraph. But if you’re thinking digital, you might want to leave some of the good content for later, and keep readers on your page for longer. Which also brings us to engagement strategies like moving content.
3. Draw their attention
There are several ways in which good storytellers keep readers engaged, and glued their content. Depending on the type of content you create and what your readers might be interested in, you might want to think about including facts, current topics and questions. Then there are other things like embedded videos, images and gifs (moving content) that will also help to keep the reader’s attention. According to HubSpot author, Jesse Mawhinney, if a relevant image is paired with that same information, people will still retain 65% of the information three days later. And not just any image – but the right one. Think about a financial article simply listing figures, versus figures represented in a graph (that’s well designed too).
4. Keep your finger on the pulse
Keep your finger on the pulse with all things trending in digital. This doesn’t only mean your content needs to be timeous, but you also need to explore new and a variety of content formats and technologies used. According to the Social Media Marketing Industry Report, 14% of marketers used live video in 2016, and 16% plan on increasing their Snapchat activities. And with GoPro’s Fusion 360-degree video, who knows what the new trend in video content might be. Are any of these included in your content marketing plan for 2018?
5. Operational excellence
With over 3.5 million blog posts being published every day, according to a statistic published by Technorati, quick turn around times (on relevant topics) are crucial to stay competitive. Luckily there are software solutions that can help with the speed of execution, like a Digital Asset Management system that can get your “digital house” in order. With things like Automation, Integration and Repurposing content (or ‘AIR’ when it comes to managing your digital assets), keeping up with a fast-paced digital world might not seem so overwhelming.
6. The element of satisfaction
Everything leads up to the ending. Colm Toibin said “Ending a novel is almost like putting a child to sleep – it can’t be done abruptly.” End your story in a way that seems natural, but will also leave your audience with a sense of satisfaction. Think about your favourite novel or movie and how it ended. The one’s that left their mark probably had a good ending, and the one’s that made you say “was this it?” you probably can’t even remember the names of. Always leave your audience with an element of satisfaction. It helps in being memorable.
7. Give it legs
Now that you have your engaging story, you can focus on getting your content seen. Share your content piece to relevant digital channels, and where possible add a strong call to action (CTA). An element sometimes overlooked by marketing departments is the tracking of engagement and traffic your articles contribute to your overall website traffic. Always measure your efforts, and optimize where needed to make your content go even further.
Next time you plan your content piece, keep these 7 things in mind to create a killer story. If you get the formula right you’ll have a story that people will remember, talk about online and keep coming them back for more.