A somewhat sardonic tale of what makes content engaging.
So here we are in the modern social media world and you need content that offers value to your audience. You do all the 101s, you define your content strategy, you define your marketing persona, and you figure out what exactly they are interested in.
But at a certain point you hit a wall, the wall — the black box of content. The blank page stares right back at you. Taunting you with a seemingly ever more slowly blinking cursor. You start writing. You write everything that your research revealed would be appreciated by your audience. But… the piece you write just sucks.
Let’s assume you needed a travel blog. And this is what it ended up like (just like so many other travel blogs).
We were at the MOST BEAUTIFUL beach. The sea was AMAZINGLY blue. We walked through a PERFECT old town. We had VERY TASTY food for dinner and the MOST DELICIOUS wine. I loved it there SO MUCH, I wish I could go back IMMEDIATELY.
Apart from the fact hat it’s very short this reflects what some blogs look like. I’ve capitalized certain words to make the lousiness even more obvious. In fact, if you leave out the capitalized words it becomes apparent that this whole paragraph didn’t say anything at all. (Come on, re-read it!)
If you’ve paid someone to travel to that destination and they’ve written this, you probably didn’t get your money’s worth. I hope the photos they took are nice because the text is just generic and could’ve been written by anyone without even the need for visiting that place.
It’s a fact though that we are surrounded by a lot of great content. Novels and movies leave impressions on us and, in some cases, can be life-altering experiences. It’s content that we are willing to pay for (unheard of in the world of content marketing). Following the tradition of paid-for content, there are certain things that we can do to improve any content that we put out.
A simple way to create worlds in your audiences heads or to make these worlds seem more believable is to add peculiar details. In case of our travel blog these would be things that are not in travel guides but someone local or someone who’s visited notices.
For example, the fact that at the Croatian coast the south wind, jugo, messes with people’s heads. It’s been known to make waiters irritated, forgetful, and dizzy. Another thing might be the fact that on the Gilis, the islands between Bali and Lombok, there are anthropomorphized mushrooms with crazy facial expressions painted on the walls of venues because these venues sell magic mushrooms.
These are the little things that make worlds believable and make them come alive. It doesn’t need very much at all to come up with several entertaining details that you can put in your content.
There’s this story about my father who used to be an architect. This was way before the time they used computers to draw the blueprints. Back then plans were pieces of paper the size of a desk and painstakingly hand-drawn. A mess of intricate lines that seemed to be a jumble to an untrained eye.
While my father was overseeing construction he would regularly be presented with these plans in order to check them. Usually this takes hours. But my father just needed a couple of seconds and would circle, with his red pen, several details within the plan that needed correction.
How could it be possible to check a plan that quickly? Was my father a savant? How could he do the seemingly impossible?
One day my mother pressed him to tell her. How? How could he find in seconds flaws in huge desk-sized plans that everyone had a hard time to check? That day my father confessed, “Well, everyone’s been making the same mistakes for the past 20 years.”
Like my father amazed with his experience, so you can too. When you are researching for a new piece of content don’t just regurgitate what you find in all the other articles that seem to write the same-old, same-old content. Try to find the seniors in your company and ask them for mistakes they have constantly been seeing throughout their careers. What are the matters that come up again and again? Make use of their wisdom and experience.
Writing about or even implying advanced knowledge in your content makes experts value your opinion. And it will make you more interesting and inspirational for beginners.
So, ask yourself, what amazing knowledge do your experienced colleagues have that is not constantly circulated around the blogs in your niche?
Show, Don’t Tell
This is the granddaddy of them all. It’s a regular problem even among advanced storytellers. But what does it mean? It means that you have to make your audience an active participant in the process. I could write for example:
I like my girlfriend!
Sure, everybody is on the same page. But what you could also do is describe the situations surrounding your feelings. The things one notices when one is in love. Essentially, you have to ask yourself, how would you, as a stranger, notice that two people are a couple?
Her lips curled downward as she imitated Yoda. “Undrink you must what you have drunk so even more you can drink!” She giggled as she poked the ice cubes in her cocktail glass. She got more and more freckles because of the summer sun and her hair moved in the breeze. She looked at me knowingly. I knew what to do. I raised my hand and ordered another round.
So, what’s different? Simply put, in the first example you were just told a fact. In the second one you were shown a moment from a relationship and could draw your own conclusions about the dynamic.
Of course you may have to write about very factual and technical things but even then it can be more pleasing for the reader to be shown a concrete situation and therefore develop a better understanding.
Think about what created a certain emotion in you and write about that situation instead of just telling everyone about that emotion.
Think about the travel blog from the beginning. It was dull to read and uninformative. It could have been a description of any holiday. Even yours.
Now forget this bad example and think of your last holiday. Remind yourself of the peculiar details you noticed. Write down the things that locals told you about the place that you would have never known or noticed yourself. Finally, think of all the little moments and situations that made the place memorable and are giving you an after-holiday blues right now because they are gone forever.
This post was originally published on my website. If you liked this piece of content, please like, share, and consider following me on social media. Facebook — is the hub where I post the latest updates. Instagram — for visual updates from the life of a “dashing” photographer. Twitter — if you’re feeling adventurous and want to tread into uncharted no man’s land.