How to Create Powerful, Contagious Content to Excite Your Readers and Turn Them into Loyal Fans
Creating contagious content is a skill you can learn to provide your readers with value and a connection to you.
Those of us trying to write for a living, are always seeking to create content that will attract readers attention and catch on, meaning that it is talked about and shared. It seems like an easy enough idea on the surface: Identify ideas that a lot of people want to read about and create content that discusses it. In part, we believe that something that we find intriguing will intrigue others. Sometimes this is true and sometimes it isn’t. We may also think that by imitating viral articles that are already published on topics that we are interested in, will likewise go viral, gaining a huge audience and earning a log of money. This rarely happens.
For anyone who has seriously tried to turn writing into a career, creating contagious content is often viewed as an elusive unicorn, something that is nice to believe in but not something they’ll ever see. It’s also the case that it can be difficult to figure out why one article became so popular while others, including our own, did not.
How many times have you read a piece that had tons of views, follows, likes and/or comments, that you thought was fine but not anything particularly great? When we see these types of articles, we can’t help but wonder what we’re missing. Since no matter how hard we work on our own articles, they don’t go viral, we assume this means that when other mediocre stories do there is something going on behind the scenes that we can’t access.
The truth is, this possibility isn’t completely farfetched as there are a number of ways people use to inflate article popularity that have nothing to do with article quality. The reality is that better work doesn’t always win out and sometimes poor writing seems to gain favor while far better work languishes. However, don’t loose heart. There are concrete techniques you can use to increase your article popularity without sacrificing quality to make it become downright contagious.
The Popularity Myth
As writers, we analyze writing outcomes to determine what to write, improve our writing skills and find cheap or free ways to promote our work. We have faith that these strategies will enable us to create viral or at least consistently popular writing. And while I won’t discount these aspects of writing success, popularity is a more complex animal.
Think about what kinds of products are popular. Most, if not all of us, use a QWERTY keyboard. This layout is old, dating back to the typewriter. It was created to minimize the potential of bars colliding and keys jamming when typing by placing keys rarely used in succession next to each other and those most likely to be used together far apart. Yet now that we use computers instead of typewriters, other layouts have been developed that are far more efficient.
For example, the Dvorak configuration places the most frequently used letters on the home row where the fingers rest and under the strongest fingers. This layout allows people to type 30 percent faster, make far fewer mistakes, and type for longer. Almost all speed and duration typing records were achieved using a Dvorak keyboard. Yet despite all this, the layout has never caught on.
Why? Because the QWERTY layout was already established, and when computers were created, it made sense to transfer the layout to their keyboards. This would prevent the need to learn a different system from scratch, along with establishing new muscle memory all of which would be extremely time consuming.
Experts agree that, hands down, the Dvorak layout is far better than the QWERTY one. But by the time it came along people were already prepared to use the QWERTY layout and those were the keyboards being produced. Sometimes popularity is as simple as being first.
Some Instagram posts and Youtube videos take off and others fall by the wayside. Some memes are remembered for years while others are hardly noticed. The same can be said for ideas and content. What makes all of these things popular is not what we might otherwise predict. Better doesn’t always win out.
It’s All About Behavioral Science and Social Dynamics
All other things being equal, why are some stories more successful than others? At the center of contagious ideas and products, are social dynamics. What makes some ideas stick in the minds of others? Why do people share things more than others? Why do people imitate others? How do social networks affect sharing? What influences whether we even begin to read an article at all?
The secret behind contagious content is creating a connection which you can turn into a relationship with your readers. There are several strategies to use when doing this, but it’s important to remember that you are writing for an audience not solely to display your skills or present your idea without any effort at making it accessible. This is the difference between someone coming away from your article and saying, “Interesting,” and “Wow, now that I have to share!”
Get There First
Whenever something big comes out on the news, who gets the most follows and shares? Usually, it’s the person who covers the article first. Once we’ve read the account, we don’t want to bother with a bunch of other stories recounting the same thing unless they’re unique accounts with information not in the other stories. Whatever strong emotion we felt when reading the story also creates a sense of connection between us and the author. If the story is big and has legs, we will keep returning to the original writer rather than explore other versions.
Think about the QWERTY keyboard. I personally don’t know anyone who uses a different layout. Even knowing that the layout on some other models is far better for speed of typing, minimizing errors and muscle fatigue is not enough to make me consider switching. I don’t see any need to. QWERTY got there first, planted their flag and everyone used it.
If you can capture your audience and get them to buy into your message, then it will take something that is truly extraordinary to convince them to turn their attention to another writer focusing on similar topics.
Teach an Essential or Frequently Used Skill in and Accessible Manner
If you write about skills-based topics or anything with a learning focus, giving thought to what exactly you are teaching and how useful it is will help you take advantage of this strategy. Choose something that almost everyone will need to do repeatedly, that can be a pain in the neck when you don’t know how to accomplish it. Then create an easy to follow, step by step process that you can teach others to use to solve the problem. Include exercises and positive practice to make sure they have truly learned the strategy and can accomplish it effectively.
it’s important to present this information in a way that makes it possible for others to truly learn the skill. If you accomplish this, then even if someone else comes along with a better technique, many people will stick with yours since no one wants to learn how to do something more than once if the way they are doing it already works.
Once we put a lot of effort into learning how to achieve something, we are unlikely to want to switch unless we have to for some reason. This is especially true for skills that take a while to learn. The more time we put into learning how to do something, the less likely we are to abandon it or the person who taught us for another approach.
This will also give you credibility and form a connection with your readers. When someone has helped us solve a problem we feel positively toward them are likely to return to them for other information.
It is not always the best writing, the highest quality writing, the most profound writing or the most innovative or creative writing that catches on and gets endlessly shared.
Contagious content which spreads through sharing, word of mouth, reposting and discussion is not always the best work out there. It may not be perfectly written, may discuss topics that have been discussed many times before or teach something that there are already classes and lessons available for viewing.
When this type of content goes viral, it can make those of us who didn’t write it a bit crazy. The best content should rise to the top, and the rest should fall below the waves — Isn’t that how it’s supposed to work?” We ask ourselves.
Perhaps it should work that way, but it rarely does.
It’s the work that the writer uses to establish a relationship with their audience that seems to be the most shared and receive the most comments. When we can establish a connection to our readers that makes them loyal, then we are moving towards creating contagious content.
Sometimes the easiest way to do this is to get there first. Sometimes it is to establish a process for solving a common problem or teaching a frequently used skill in a way that is accessible and easy to imitate. These two strategies can help you convert readers into followers, and followers into fans who will share your work such that it becomes distributed widely.
Natalie Frank has a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and often writes about mental health and writing. She is the Managing Editor for Novellas and Serials at LVP Publications. Her collection of poetry, Disguised I Breathe, In Love I Hold, can be found here on Amazon. She currently is proud to work for the U.S. Census Bureau.
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