Why I Will Never Write a Post on How to Create Viral Content

Don't think of viral content as a goal

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.

 

The mob is fickle, brother. He'll be forgotten in a month.

 

What Can You Do to Get More Views and Shares on Your Content?

Quite simply:

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.

The Problem with Writers: What You Can Expect

working with writers

working with writersWe’re a weird sort. Writers. (Humans, in general, but that’s a different blog post altogether.) Writers are wildly neurotic and obsessed with crazy things like word choice.

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?

Why Your Homepage Content Stinks

Elephant in the room alert.

My home page design stinks.

It stinks because I’m not a graphic designer.

Thankfully my first year plus in business has kept me so busy the project I had worked on to redo my website with a designer fell by the wayside. But a lot of my business comes through word-of-mouth referrals and repeat business so my website stinking is not my main concern.

But if you’re a small business who wants more customers, or an association or chamber looking for new members, your homepage can’t stink.

Does My Homepage Content Stink?

I’m going to stick to what I know best: content. So here’s how you know your homepage stinks from a content perspective. Ask yourself:

Does my copy read like a college entrance essay?

Clear writing makes good website copy.

Don’t use highfalutin’ words, even if you know what they mean. Keep it simple. Tell your potential customers’, or prospective members’, how you can solve their problems in the simplest of terms.

Otherwise, you’ll only confuse them and let’s face it, no one wants to feel confused.

Does my copy read like my 5 year-old nephew wrote it?

Casual is good. A distinct tone is wonderful.

Adherence to basic grammar rules, if you want people to give you money, is still absolutely necessary.

Is it obvious I am a disenchanted English major who always wanted to write the great American novel?

Wordiness is just as bad as words that are unintelligible or words that can only be decoded by NASA engineers.

Do I mention clearly what I do and where I am?

Contant: you get what you pay for.You’d be surprised how many people use pat (aka meaningless) industry words to describe what they do.

Also, while many of us do business on the Interwebs, letting people know where you are means you’re less likely to get a call in the middle of the night wondering if you’re open.

And please…don’t advertise events without telling us where you are. You may assume your audience knows “Columbus” but there are something like 22 “Columbusses”, “Columbi,” “Columbus” (whatever) in the nation and who knows how many others in the world.

If my lack of fact checking is bothering you, Google it and leave the number in the comments.

Does my tone fit my brand?

This post is lip-smacking sarcastic for me, but it’s not a complete departure from my blog’s tone. I’m casual in my own business writing. That’s how I prefer it but I was an Econ/Poli Sci major so if you want dry and erudite drivel, I can do that too, but it’s not me. So I don’t.

If someone hires me, I write in their tone, not mine.

You have to think the same way on your website. Don’t choose a tone for your site that’s different from who your business is. It will only confuse people when they go from reading your social media and content marketing posts to doing business with you.

If your homepage design stinks get a graphic designer (and then get me one too) but if your content’s not up to snuff – if it’s not attracting your ideal audience, or getting them interested in what you have to offer, if it doesn’t convey why they need you and convince them they should’ve called yesterday, your content isn’t working hard enough. 

Think of me as a personal trainer for your words.

 

That’s where I come in.<Queue my dramatic theme song. Something akin to Wonder Woman but without the 70’s disco beat.>

I’ll whip them into shape and make sure they’re doing their jobs. No cutting corners, just getting you more business and more interest.

 

 

To Tell a Good Story You Have to Listen

If you pick up a book on how to write or tell a story, somewhere in it will be the following advice:

Listen.

From a fiction standpoint, listening is a great way to capture and understand dialogue. You can also steal find some interesting stories when you listen to others.

But in today’s social media rich world, if you’re telling your business story, listening becomes much more than that. 

Listening becomes a way to connect with people, build relationships and scout new prospects.

Like most writers, I have a dual professional persona. I write for clients helping to tell their stories and I write for myself, telling mine.

Recently I came across a writing conference I was considering. Truth be told, I’m always coming across writing conferences I’m thinking about attending but this one was economical, well-known and located in the heart of the publishing world. I did what any normal writer in today’s world would do – I tweeted my possible interest, including the @name for the organization hosting the conference.

 

That was three weeks ago and crickets.

 

This organization is much larger than I am and I have no doubt they will sell out on this conference but compare that to a conversation I had with another writer’s conference organizer.

I phoned her to find out if my favorite living author still had room in his session. Not only did I get an answer to my question but we talked about him and his latest book. We laughed about how writers always think every story they write will turn into a major motion picture. We wonder if we’ll have any say into the casting.

Writers are dreamers. If I had more of an entrepreneurial spirit, I would host a joint conference for writers and people who play the lottery all the time. I digress. She gave me…

 

Personalized attention.

 

So which one am I attending?

Is that even a question?

 

You cannot form a relationship or “kinship,” as Gini Dietrich refers to it in her book Spin Sucks, without listening. Listening in person, listening online, being present in conversations. We’ve received a gift in that it’s easy to hear when someone is talking about us on social media. If you get labeled as someone who doesn’t listen you’ll find fewer people are interested in being a part of your story.

 

If you want to tell a good story, you have to listen.