It’s a frenzied environment in social media these days. Publishers, brands (anyone, really, who wants to share info, vent or get attention) spew content and updates. We try our best to filter the mess, and focus on the important stuff.
The sad fact is, we have all gotten used to quickly flitting from one piece of info to another. But sometimes, just sometimes, we get drawn in and latch onto something. We get strangely fascinated – the content gets into our brains, and won’t let go.
I have helped readers of this column understand how to win the attention game. I have offered suggestions for optimizing content, to boost odds that it isn’t ignored. How can you go to the next step and keep users engaged? How can you launch ideas that stick?
Here are three key strategies:
1) Craft Interactive Content
One way to keep users focused on your content is to make it more interactive. What does this mean, specifically?
It can help to take a page from the pros. The smart ones are tapping vehicles that keep users coming to and spending time on their content, apps and websites.
The New York Times covered this trend recently, in an article that described the most popular features on Slate, Time, and its own site. Record traffic resulted not from breaking news stories, or in-depth features and analysis, but from quizzes and games:
“The Facebook quiz [about time wasted on the network] helped lead Time to its highest Internet traffic day ever, 3.8 million unique visitors in January. The dialect quiz, which appeared in December, was the most viewed and most emailed article last year for The New York Times. And the Adele Dazeem name generator, which Slate put up Monday after John Travolta mangled the introduction of the singer Idina Menzel at the Oscars ceremony, calling her Adele Dazeem, was the most viewed article ever in Slate’s 18-year history.”
It’s called “gamification of content,” according to Joshua Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard, and a source quoted in the article.
While quizzes and games are not new (crossword puzzles have been a mainstay at print media for ages) they are becoming more interactive, social and viral. And it is easy to understand why these examples were successful. The Facebook time calculator was a fun exercise; how many of us haven’t buzzed about the Facebook activities of friends, and speculated about time spent or wasted on the network? Now, here was a solution, served up magically. The New York Times regional dialect quiz was all about the user; I took it because I wanted to see how good it was (spot on, actually). And Slate’s name generator? It was brilliant, so of-the-moment, about as real-time as you can get considering that it required thought, planning and technology development.
Mashable predicted that interactive content would be a top trend this year. So how can content marketers get in the game? There are any number of apps that let you design quizzes and surveys. Agencies of all types are willing to help with the custom development that might be needed. TopRank blog recently covered best practices and examples.
And, remember, it is not just about technology but about winning concepts. Of course it needs to work well, but a great app, survey, game or quiz will not achieve your goals unless it is anchored by the right idea.
2) Make Your Ideas Sticky
Interactive content is great, but not enough. For the best results, you need to make your ideas sticky.
It is hard to talk about this without getting into memes (Wikipedia definition), which today sadly seem to be equated with silly, viral fun. But the true meaning of “meme” was defined in Richard Dawkins’ landmark book The Selfish Gene. He coined the term to describe a unit of human culture evolution analogous to the gene, arguing that replication also happens in culture.
It is about the evolution of ideas. The ones that are sticky survive. Your content, too, is built on ideas. In the frenzied, Darwinian mating game we call social media, you want to move beyond quick hookups and get some long term (meaning more than 5 minutes) commitment for your ideas, messages and content.
Tech tricks can help to the point, and it is great to talk about optimizing content, and distribution mechanisms. Ultimately it is people who will make or break your content and ideas – the best memes will win out in the end, and until machines can think like people, they will be no match in identifying and sharing top content and ideas.
Brothers Dan and Chip Heath wrote a great book on the topic, called Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, which I referenced in my posts Building Better Memes in PR and Social Media, Parts 1 and 2
Seth Miller reviewed the book on the Magnet Media labs blog, and described the acronym SUCCESs, which encapsulates the Heath brothers’ secrets to building stick ideas. To do it right, the concepts should be:
- Simple –Especially important in a noisy news and social media environment
- Unexpected – We pay more attention when we see something unexpected
- Concrete – Using numbers to support your story can help, but you need to go further. According to the review, “data is hard to touch. It’s hard to envision. The human mind is biased towards tangibles rather than abstracts. It takes creativity to bridge the two.”
- Credible – It is not only the message that counts, but the messenger
- Emotional – Miller writes “People have to care in order to take action. And they’re more likely to care if they’re emotionally involved.”
- Stories – They tap the power of narrative to keep people engaged
The last point is so important, that I break it out separately, as the third key strategy in this series.
3) Tap the Power of Storytelling
When I led sales and marketing for a software startup years ago, a sales veteran offered me the following advice: “If the prospect invites you in for a cup of coffee, take it – that makes it harder for them to throw you out.” Telling a great story is the content equivalent of that proverbial coffee offer. It invites you in to sit for a spell, and enjoy content in a sequential narrative, from start to finish.
There are many good articles about the power of storytelling in content marketing. I saw one recently on the Peak Blog: Science and Tech PR – How to Find Your Story. It hit home because I work in tech, and know firsthand that it can be difficult to tell stories that break things down and connect the dots with complex science and technology.
Peak blogger Stephanie Orford advises answering the following questions to help you create and tune your story (while her focus is developing pitches for the media, these storytelling ideas can apply to other areas of content marketing). The points below are excerpts from the post:
- What is the essence of your story? Will your product/discovery save lives or make a difference in the way people live… Find the right hook, and you’re in.
- What are the human stories behind your news? Who are the makers/designers/discoverers and why are they passionate about what they do? Was the product/discovery an accident? Where did the idea come from? Does the product/discovery have a fun social backstory?
- What statistics or facts stand out? Be able to offer a brief summary of one to three of the most salient, including references.
- What is visually interesting about your story? A cool photo or video of your team/product/discovery in action might just cinch the deal
- What are the key details of your news? You’ll need to give some background on how the product was developed or how the research was done. Distill this technical information into less than five sentences.
- How does your story fit into what is going on in your field? If you don’t give journalists context, they may not understand just how important your product/discovery is. Give them background information as necessary, again referencing reliable and accessible sources.
Goodbye and Thank You to Neal Schaffer, MSB Contributors and Community
This concludes my post about sticky content, and also my run as a content marketing columnist for MSB. It has been a pleasure working with Neal Schaffer and the team for over two years now.
I thank Neal for the opportunity to write for MSB, and have enjoyed collaborating with him and the top pros that comprise the team of MSB contributors. It has been a blast to share ideas, with them and the MSB community, in this exciting and growing area, and I look forward to following MSB and staying in touch.