Five months ago I planted marigolds in order to ward off the mosquitoes. I live in Florida and in my neighborhood these blood-sucking pests can grow as big as pterodactyls. I don’t particularly like marigolds but they’re better than mosquitoes.
Do me a favor.
If you have a financial consultant of some sort, visit their website. If they have a blog, search for “funding retirement by playing the lottery.”
Find anything? Did they pen an e-book, create an infographic, record a podcast or video on the subject? No? Why not?
Because it’s not a valid investment strategy.
The same is true of viral content. Having a post go viral is not a sound content marketing strategy.
Don’t believe me? let’s look at some of the things that have gone viral in the last few years:
- A dress of indeterminable color
- A woman wearing a Chewbacca mask laughing
- A site where you could create an avatar of yourself Mad Men style, oh and (bonus!) you could pick where your avatar was hanging out
- A guy who answered questions dressed in his underwear
If you’re still with me and haven’t already handed in your human card, opting to go live with the apes because they have a finer appreciation for “good” content, then you should begin to see why I don’t believe you should shoot for viral.
Viral Content Bends to the Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Fortune
While we all claim to be deliriously busy, we spend hours in front of television each night or lose entire weekends to binge-watching shows about fictional presidents and then don’t bother to vote. We wouldn’t dream of missing an episode from our favorite zombie show but then turn ourselves into zombies by chasing after fake creatures on our phones.
We’re not rational.
We don’t make rational decisions. Not when we’re buying. Not when we’re deciding how to spend our day. Not when choosing what content to share.
As a marketer, or someone who’s trying their hand at marketing, you can’t create a strategy around something as unpredictable as a lightning strike, winning the lottery, or the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
What Can You Do to Get More Views and Shares on Your Content?
Give them what they want, whatever your ideal customer needs, longs for, desires. Create content around that. It may not catch on with the same fire-starter speed of whatever caught Drew Barrymore’s eye in that movie from the ’80s (what was it called?) but it will get shared, and your site will likely get marked as a resource if you continually provide great content. But….
Build an audience. Creating amazing content your audience loves only works if they know it’s out there. You need to use social media to build an audience so that you have a great number of people sharing your content. This may involve paying for views. Facebook has created an advertising tool that lets you get very granular in audience selection so as to place your content in front of the right eyes, not just any views.
Give your audience something to do. You built an audience, you’ve created awesome content but if you don’t ask, you wont receive. You must give them something to do. You see these types of requests a lot because they work:
“If you like what you’re seeing, join our email list.”
Allowing someone to come to your site, digest your content, and letting them leave without asking anything of them, is like smiling at someone at a drive-thru window and then getting upset they didn’t ask you out. You need to ask them to do something or give them something to do, otherwise they’re just passing through.
So give up the dreams of viral content by trying to understand the whims of the masses (after all, that’s the very design behind the “protection” of the electoral college, right?). Instead, concentrate on finding and building your audience, creating content that interests them, making sure they see it, and asking them to be a part of something bigger. That’s the way you win them over and keep them coming back.
Or ignore me and spend your afternoon taking pictures of articles of clothing in different lighting.
As a writer I often lament that all the good stories have been written. Every book is just a rendition of something that’s already been done.
As a traveler it often feels like all the frontiers (at least in this country) have been settled. Every place, mapped.
There’s a status quo to our thinking that lulls us all to sleep or drives us to seek something more interesting in our electronic pacifiers. But if you want someone to sit and take notice of you, you must have a story to tell.
The good news is we all have one. We have many. The hard part is deciding which one to tell. But that’s only really hard when you don’t know your audience. Knowing your audience should help you select the appropriate story that will resonate with them in much the same way you might select an outfit based on where you’re going and what you’ll be doing.
How to Tell Your Business Story in 5 Easy Steps
I’m not suggesting you make up stories to appeal to your audience. They must be true and that’s where you should begin with the one true thing you know (and the one true thing that will touch them).
Once you have your one true thing — your guiding theme for your story — consider your life experience. What situation exemplifies your theme?
Set the Stage
What condition surrounded your one true thing? Who was involved? How did you lead up to it? Set the stage for what you learned by backing up a few scenes. Draw people in by painting a vivid picture of how things were before you learned what you did.
You Wanted Something
Often our greatest learning comes when we are pursuing something else. You’ve successfully set the stage, now talk about your motives. What did you want at that time more than anything? Hopefully it’s something others can identify with. Even if they can’t identify with your actual desire to achieve the particular item or standing, they can probably associate the desire to accomplish something or receive something, and you can frame your desire in those ways.
Very few of us got what we wanted on our first try. If we did we wouldn’t remember it very well. It’s the friction and failure that makes a good story and spurs us on to achievement. In your story you have to meet a struggle. It can be outward with another human being or inward, like struggling with extreme self-doubt. This is where your story is.
This is the fork in the road, people will stay with you to find out what happened. Without the challenge people are back to their cellphones and kitten videos.
You Received Inspiration
Even self-made successful people will tell you someone was there during the struggle who had an effect on them. I still remember a crush I had in second grade. He never talked to me but he had the most beautiful eyes. I adored him from a far, the way you should when you’re 7. One day I was involved in an altercation on the playground. I allowed my best friend, Joe, who was a towering head taller than everyone else to handle it for me. My crush overheard the scuttle. He walked over and his first words to me were, “What’s the matter, Christina? Can’t fight your own battles?”
My heart went from soaring that he knew my name to sinking as I heard the blame in his voice. Needless to say, I’ve only let someone fight my battles once.
John Michael had a profound effect on me that lives on today. You probably have someone like that too. Whatever your struggle is in the story you’re telling, you need to mention how you didn’t do it all alone. You had a mentor, a parent, a coach, or a book that provided that necessary sage to your story. The hero needs a Gandolf, Obi Wan, Yoda, Alfred, Glenda, Merlin, Nester, Senex…well, you get the idea.
You Got What You Wanted
Unless you’re writing a novel, your business story needs to end with the hero getting something. This is most likely the success that had made you into the expert you are but it could also be something less tangible like a realization. Still, give your story an ending. You need to satiate the audience’s desire for answers and a satisfying wrap-up.
It’s that easy.
You already have that story in you. Now you just need to find some time to understand your audience and how that story will help you connect to them in a way that makes you a valuable resource to them.
After all, your story isn’t very effective if it is only about you.
That’s why it’s hard for business people to hire us. I see their point, particularly those who have been burned by writers who don’t meet deadlines.
Businesses, do not put up with that.
Writing is a business. Someone who doesn’t treat it like that deserves to be begging for work. Don’t make excuses for writers missing deadlines because you think that’s how they all operate. There are writers out there who understand in order to eat, they need to deliver on time.
When I met my first client for the first time (we worked together virtually for 2 years before meeting face-to-face) he remarked on the fact I had never missed a deadline. He said it with a tone of surprise and I laughed. “You mean deadlines are flexible? I never knew.”
If I was winker, I certainly would’ve winked for dramatic effect. Alas, my winks always come out wrong.
Increase Expectations for Working with Writers
Whether you’re employing writers or you’re a business writer reading this, here is what all businesses should be able to expect from their writers and writers should look to deliver for their clients:
- On time delivery. Yes, things come up, but a sunny day isn’t something that comes up (okay, technically the sun comes up but…) it’s not an excuse for not delivering.
- A fair wage. Regardless of how you feel about the minimum wage, what writers do is real work. They should be compensated and that compensation should be somewhere above a pittance and below what people make as a second-string NFL player. If you expect professionalism from a writer, you must compensate them accordingly. If you’re a writer, don’t undercut yourself by doing things for “exposure.”
- A social presence. I know some writers won’t agree, but you can’t just sit around selecting words all day and arranging them on paper. You must create a personal brand, understand WordPress, and be proficient in , at least, the major social networks. Your clients may need this help. You should be able to advise them.
- Content ideas. One of my highest values as a writer is not in my writing. Sure, I hope that’s good because that’s the immediate need of my clients but my real value is in something they probably don’t consider. It’s the vast amount of reading and researching I do. Very few of my clients give me topics. Most of them I glean on my own by getting to know their industry. With each new client I learn their industry as if I was planning a career in it. I do this for my own interest in personal growth. I don’t charge for it. I consider it an investment in making myself a more robust writer. Writers shouldn’t need to be spoon fed with all the information available on the Internet. It doesn’t take long to become an expert in the minimal depth required to write a blog or social media post. If you’re working with a writer who does need content fed to them, you’re going to spend a whole lot of time rewriting their stuff.
- Connections and news. Most of my clients are busy running their businesses, whereas I am either writing or researching all day long (this is the reason my blog looks like a ghost town). It’s common for me to find industry information and breaking news that I pass on to my clients. Often it allows them to be first with information to their community. Writing is producing a product but the type of writers you want to work with again and again are the ones who act as if they are part of your business and not just delivering a product.
The things I mention here are what I see as the basics of what a writer should be doing in this digital marketing age. What do you think? Am I off base or should writers be a valuable extension of the company’s marketing efforts?
This was particularly confusing for me because growing up in a half-Italian family, we often gave what was called a “Money Tree” with money in small bills attached to the branches for good luck.
But apparently, as I learned somewhere around the age of 10, even though the tree is called a “Money Tree” the money has to be placed there and doesn’t actually grown from its branches.
This is not true of content.
Content ideas grow on trees and everywhere else. Content ideas can be found while watching television, while reading your twitter feed, while talking to friends, or having a conversation with your child. You can get ideas for your business when answering a customer service call or perusing your competitor’s website.
All those “National ____ Day” designations, as well as holidays, provide content ideas. You can repurpose your old content by refreshing data or stats contained in it or creating a new version in a different form of media.
Since it’s that time of year, I’m going to leave you with
12 Days of Content Ideas:
On the twelfth day of working, my content creator give to me:
12 posts addressing customer questions,
11 customer stories,
10 inspirational image quotes,
9 quick tip videos,
8 favorite things questions,
7 tweetable quotes from blog posts,
6 compliments to others on social media,
5 staff introduction videos,
4 favorite book reviews,
3 best industry practice podcast tips,
2 rebuttals to other industry posts,
a behind the scenes video look at our company.
When creating content use multiple forms from whitepapers to blog posts, tweetable quotes to images, video to podcasts. When you create the content in one form, look for ways to use pieces of it in other forms of media. It is much easier to carve up pieces of things you’ve already created and repurpose them than it is to create something from scratch each time. Plus it is rare that your audience will see everything you create. If someone sees the same content in a different form it will only reinforce the message.
Look around you. Content is everywhere. It’s easy to feed your content need.
You just have to be open to discovery and be creative about how you can use it.