Quality Over Clickbait: Standing Out on the Web

I’m not usually a big fan of The Onion, but this headline got me:
Study: Online Content Creators Outnumber Consumers 2,000 To 1
qualityAll satire is rooted in at least a little truth, and with every passing year, the more people who get into the content game, the more crowded the field is starting to seem. Brands are told they can’t just make products or offer services anymore—they have to become publishers. In order to do that, they need people to create all that content they’re now expected to publish, whether in house or through outsourcing to marketing or content development agencies. And those content creators and marketing agencies need to publish their own content, too. In order to do that, they need people to create all that content… You see where I’m going with this. So with everyone clamoring to tell their story and be heard above the cacophony the Internet has become, what can you do to stand out, be heard (or read), and reach that all-important audience you’re trying to connect with? Have you noticed how lately, even headlines from authoritative and normally staid news outlets are emulating the Upworthy model? Check out this one from the Washington Post:
Released from the hospital, a rabbi assumes he’s okay. That’s when things take a turn.
And this borderline one from NPR:
Ex-IRS Official Invokes 5th Amendment Again, Then Things Get Hot
While Upworthy’s headlines do generate a phenomenal click-through rate, the company itself has said it’s not their headlines that make their content successful. It’s that people share their content. And why do they share that content? Because they like it. And why do they like it? Because it’s funny, enlightening, educational, insert positive adjective here. But I think people don’t share Upworthy’s content just because it’s good. I think it’s because the content makes them feel good, and who wouldn’t want to share that? Focus on creating good, high-quality content that speaks to people. The breathless, hyperbolic headlines may draw people in, but if you’re not backing those headlines up with substantial, meaningful content, you’re wasting your audience’s time, and your own.

Create Something Worth Sharing

OK, so now that you’re not relying on clickbait headlines, and are trying to create content with a little more substance, exactly how do you go about that? How do you know what people will want to read and share? Well, here’s where metrics come in handy. Whatever tool or tools you’re using to measure social actions and interactions, use that data to see what’s working, and then try to emulate—not duplicate—those efforts. But there’s a more personal way to go about this, too. Ask yourself what would speak to you. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes. Practice empathy. What would you want to know/read/learn/share? That’s what you need to create. But remember there’s a fine line between empathizing and pandering. Don’t be afraid to push the envelope from time to time, and create content that challenges the status quo or makes people think. That said, there’s also a difference between creating content that is genuinely meant to offer a different perspective and encourage discussion, and creating content meant solely to provoke and divide. Do you want your brand to be known for encouraging critical thinking, intelligent discussion, and positive reactions? Or for instigating conflict? Remember you only have control over how your brand is represented and perceived while you’re creating your content. Once you release it into the wild, people can share it with any sort of editorial comment they may have. Try to encourage those comments to be positive, and your brand perception will be better for it.

Repurpose Your Content

Your audience will not always be in one place. If you’re trying to cater only to your blog readers, you’re missing out on a big world of potential readers—and customers. While your blog should always act as your home base, it doesn’t have to be your exclusive outlet. I do not have a green thumb by any means, but you know those plants that when you take a small cutting, it actually promotes their growth? And then you can plant that cutting somewhere else, and it takes root and grows too? That’s your blog. Take something from your blog, and plant it somewhere else. YouTube, SlideShare, an e-book, a resource page on your site, a conference presentation, or some combination thereof. Put your ideas in front of more people in more places, and you build not just a broader audience, but a stronger brand. Repurposing only works when the original content is substantial enough to support it, though. Which takes us back to the beginning. Create something worthwhile first. Make it something people will want to share. Put it in more places in more formats to reach more people. Then do it all over again. And again. And pretty soon, you won’t have to shout so loudly to be heard over the hyperbole.
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