Why your listicles sometimes get more traction than your serious pieces

That ever-changing balance between puppies and politics…

Maybe you’ve also been there… You spend a good amount of time researching, interviewing expert sources, writing then rewriting again, before finally pressing the “Ready to Publish” button. You’re proud of the piece you spent time pouring into. Maybe it’s over a topic you’re passionate about… You send it off into the Medium world, making sure to share it on Twitter, then wait to check the stats the next day, excited to see the conversation it sparks and how many claps it’ll receive because it’s over an important topic that warrants well-informed opinions.

Then reality slaps you in the face because no one is reading the said piece. Zero claps, zero comments, zero highlights. No, they’re all still clapping for a listicle you wrote a month ago that took ten minutes to throw together cause you thought you’d share your limited knowledge on a certain topic. It was a fluff piece, an I-Can’t-Write-Today-So-Here-This-Is piece. Oh, and the one you spent a lot of time on… nothing.

Anyone else? Is it just me? Please, dear God, let someone understand the utter frustration!!!!

I sat there, banging my head against the desk, wondering why I bothered at all? I doubt I’m alone in this particularly frustrating writing dilemma but I kept asking myself why this is the case? Why do people seem to clap more for nonsensical stories but skim or not even glance at one covering an important topic we’re struggling through today? It’s not always the case, but I think I figured it out, and hopefully, this will help you the next time you’re bruising your forehead.

Sometimes people just need a damn break

Just like you took a mental break throwing together that listicle (or maybe you tried really hard so props to you) readers need a respite from the overwhelming 24-hour news cycle as well. Why do you think Buzzfeed quizzes about what kind of pizza fits your personality are so popular? (I’m a classic pepperoni in case you were wondering.) I’m a member of the media and even I find days where I’ll just read the headlines because I can’t bring myself to read what idiotic or horrific thing just happened. I get tired of the Twitter debates and Facebook trolls too.

People understandably are tired. We the media are tired. That’s just one of many reasons a story I wrote over immigration got less traction than a piece with tips about writing your first book. It’s not that writing your first book is a less or more important topic than immigration; it was just an easier, lighter read and people sometimes need that.

If you ever study how and why certain things go viral, you’ll see a common thread between a lot of viral content: fluffy and emotional. Military homecomings are tearjerkers, the kid shooting the impossible shot at the last second is inspiring, the puppy singing… who doesn’t want to watch a puppy singing? Yes, some of it may seem unimportant or rather less important than some pressing issues of the day, but you’ll still hear about those things. You’ll still hear about the border crisis, the latest idiotic happening in D.C., the latest terrorist attack, the latest obituary… But is it so terrible to also hear about the singing puppy? No, it’s really not.

And that’s why your thought-out, well-researched story may get less attention than the listicle on any given day. The piece doesn’t lessen in value and the topic is still important so by all means, keep writing, but don’t judge it’s value on the claps or likes or comments. Yes, you’ll still have those hair-pulling days where you’re frustrated that the Pulitzer Prize-winning piece didn’t top the puppy, but at the end of the day, just remember people need both. A dose of reality and a dose of happiness. Our intellect won’t shrink if people read the fluff piece over the informative piece today. It’ll be okay…

Just keep on writing