The phrase great content is failing us.
Those inside the circle of social mediadom have a visceral understanding of the phrase. The rest of the world, about 5,999,999,800 people don’t have a gosh darn clue.
Yet, every post tosses out the “Write great content” prescription as if it is obvious.
And substituting “great” with “epic” and “content” with “sh*t” doesn’t help either.
Great content only starts to make sense when you take an example and describe the elements that consistently result in something that makes a difference for your business, nonprofit and/or brand.
It isn’t an elegant plan (yet) but this simple observation plus rhetorical approach helps.
Here are 7 contrasts that clarify the characteristics of great content.
Take a look and tell me what you think about them in the comments.
#1: I vs. You
Blogs were originally online diaries. I fell in love with blogging because it made it easy to be boldly transparent. It was therapeutic and empowering. The content was all about “me”.
However this “I” style will fall flat if you use your blog to establish a profitable connection with your audience. In this case, the only subject that will hold your reader’s attention is “What’s In It For Me”. Your blog post has to quickly convince readers that the subject will be relevant and worth their time investment.
Your reader’s aren’t there for you. They do want to know about you and your background if it is relevant to the subjects they care about. This isn’t selfish. It’s just the reality of writing effective content.
#2: Facts vs. Opinion
Opinions are personal and context-driven. Readers want opinions from people they trust. Pundits have the awesome privilege of being paid for their opinions. It’s important to remember however that these “pundits” have built an audience by proving they are knowledgeable and relevant. No one cared about Oprah’s opinion the first day she spoke into a microphone.
You and I need to gather, curate, interpret facts. We have to buttress our arguments with sound logic. We need to start our blog posts with agreed upon facts then methodically share our perspective. The majority of your posts will be structured this way.
Deft usage of facts signals that you can be trusted and demonstrates respect for your reader’s time and intelligence. Facts build the foundation for opinions not the other way around.
#3: Dialogue vs. Monologue
Before blogs, writers directed their content at the faceless masses. They wrote to audiences and segments and relied on the third-person voice to communicate.
Blogs introduced a conversational writing style that used the second-person You to speak directly to the reader. This conversation style prompted dialogue via comments and sharing with social media.
Review your last few posts.
Are you speaking to a person or a mass audience? Are you asking questions that pull your reader into the content? Are you using colloquialisms (sparingly) and conversational cues that helps the reader imagine you sitting right beside them?
#4: Specific Descriptions vs. Abstract Concepts
I’m a social strategist and I rely on specific phrases that describe abstract concepts. (You can understand my dilemma if you had to read that last sentence a few times.)
Terms like “content”, “engagement”, and “transactional relationships” hold a wealth of meaning for fellow social strategists but leaves the rest of my audience scratching their heads. Many subjects have these “in crowd” phrases that feel great to say but create a barrier to understanding.
Look for ways to unravel abstractions and present them in easy to understand language. I’m not suggesting you “dumb it down”. Your audience isn’t stupid they are just speaking a different language. Your posts will be easy to understand and easier to share if you take the time to use specific descriptions.
#5: Show vs. Tell
Writers love text. Most blogs are packed with creative prose that most people don’t want to read. This breaks my heart but it’s our new reality. Use the text but understand that you can immediately boost the readability of your post by adding illustrations, photos, audio, and video.
Readers are also looking for visual proof of your claims and assumptions. You can’t get away with touting a sales increase without showing the Google Analytics chart. This is a good thing because it forces a higher level of detail. The best posts today are a well packaged combination of insight, proof, and persuasive argument that keeps the reader engaged.
#6: Drill vs. “The Hole”
Marketers commonly refer to the maxim:
“Customers aren’t buying a drill. They are buying the hole the drill makes.”
This insight is as useful as it is profound. We are goal-seeking creatures. We are capable of appreciating the journey but care most about the destination.
Posts that ignore the reader’s goal simply string together a series of irrelevant points that meander and confuse. After wrestling with the first paragraph reader’s ask the fatal question “What’s the point?” or the equally damning “So what?”
Readers enjoy posts that have a clear end point, a goal carefully conceived and communicated by the blogger. Readers want to reach the end of the post something useful. It can be an insight, a skill, a methodology, or a new belief that leaves the reader satisfied. The reader believes that they have received the better part of the transaction, they have given a little time for a lot of value. This is the writer’s gift to the reader.
#7: Expert vs. Peer
I love experts. The only thing I value more is ordinary people realizing that they are an expert and stepping up to play a bigger game.
But, recently, a destructive form of self-deprecation has creeped into the expert conversation. You catch a whiff of it when you hear someone preface their statements with “I’m no expert but…”
When I hear this I automatically think –
“Well shut the heck up and direct me to the real expert.” Life is short and time is too valuable to fool around with people posing as experts.
I’ve observed that the faux experts are discounting their value in a gambit to build rapport with their audience. They believe that discrediting themselves is good strategy for engendering support.
In my experience, I see the opposite happening. Ignoring or belittling your expertise and becoming your reader’s subject-matter peer undermines your credibility and destroys your post’s usefulness. I have self-deprecating peers and I rarely read or share their posts. I have peers that are clear experts and I religiously read and promote their stuff.
Your readers are looking for experts. They need someone to provide a clear, concise, and relevant perspective on a world that grows more complicated every day.
I remember an instance, during my sophomore year in highschool when I moments away from giving a short speech during a local Junior Achievement event. I was nervous and unsure of myself. The event organizers asked me to speak because I had won a competition, demonstrating my expertise, yet I was still scared of being exposed as a fraud.
As my time to take the podium drew near, my Grandma, in her wisdom, saw my nervousness. She leaned close to my ear and whispered – “You are the best. Act like it, even if you don’t believe it.” This was my Grandma’s way of saying – “Fake it until you make it”. I took her advice, squared my shoulders and delivered.
Don’t undermine yourself because you are afraid of what your readers, industry, or peers might think. Doing so robs both you and readers of your experience. I’m whispering into your ear,“You are the best, act like it even if you don’t believe it.
Do you have a clearer understanding of how to construct “great content”?
Let me know in the comments below.