Oftentimes, we hit the mark, and our readers like, share and interact with our content. Other times, content we were excited to publish falls flat. What I’ve realized is that the content that sparks interest in turn generates interaction. Conversations become micro-communities of engagement where our readers launch beyond the content provided to create even deeper understanding.
When content resonates with the reader, it gives them that “ah-hah” moment where they feel like they almost could have written it themselves. Alternately, content can go even deeper (like goose bumpsdeeper, even life-altering deeper), finally providing the piece of information they were looking for, or that they didn’t even know they needed. It’s that meaningful connection between reader and content that drives engagement. When people find information that resonates on that level, they feel compelled to like, share and discuss what they have found. It is this type of content marketing that meets both the business-oriented and altruistic goals we have in mind, and it is this content that gives readers a sense of joy.
I’ve spent the last few years publishing marketing articles through Entrepreneur.com, and I’ve been able to gauge the success and failure rates of my own writing by studying reader engagement. Through trial-and-error, I’ve learned three key lessons for creating content that brings satisfaction and joy to readers:
1. ‘Hot’ doesn’t always mean right
Sometimes it’s tempting to latch onto the latest hot idea that’s taken over your industry. Before you jump on the bandwagon and follow the trends, make sure you understand and consider your target personas.
The most poorly performing piece I published in Entrepreneur was an infographic titled, “How to Find Your Next Marketing Rock Star” that used imagery to provide hiring guidelines in a very competitive industry space. As a marketer, I know the impact of visual elements. I’ve seen ROI studies, and I’ve created award-winning campaigns myself, that reinforced the benefits of infographics. I just “knew” this one would be a hit.
Well, I was wrong. The piece didn’t totally crash and burn, but it wasn’t the ticket to the viral response I’d hoped for. While the delivery was trendy, and the topic was on point, sometimes the ‘hot’ marketing trend isn’t always the right one to spark enthusiasm in your target audience.
Infographics may be a hit for certain topics and buyer personas, but for mine, the content wasn’t what my audience wanted.
The lesson: When deciding which marketing tactics to pursue, do a gut check. Is your message and approach something your customers have asked for? Do you have any substantive reason to believe one particular tactic will address their needs enough to spark enthusiasm? Are you sending your trendy delivery out into a noisy, oversaturated space where it might get lost? If you’re not confident that your content will fill a need with your audience, buck the trends. Go with what you know readers will want.
2. Focus on engagement
Engagement can be defined as interaction with your posts, but it has to go beyond likes and shares. Comments—and any resulting interaction between readers—are the holy grail of engagement. If your readers are engaged with your post enough to start conversations amongst themselves, then they are telling you, “We are enjoying this content.” The information that garners this type of interaction is resonating with your audience. It’s filling a need and providing meaning.
Think for a minute about the trade articles that you’ve liked or shared versus those you’ve commented on. The latter most likely provided an elevated amount of meaning for you. There were take-aways somewhere in there that sparked excitement. Those bits of content resonated, drove you to interaction, and probably stuck with you long after you were done reading.
When you focus on providing content that drives engagement, you’re giving your audience what they crave. You fill a need, close a gap, or provide a bit of clarity that they might have been lacking.
The lesson: Going by the number of social shares alone isn’t an ironclad way to measure success. We’d have to weigh the engagement of each individual who interacted with a piece to understand how it measured up. I won’t get too mathematical here, but it’s fair to say that the articles with the greatest return are those that encouraged the highest-quality comments and sparked conversations.
Judging by this criterion, my article on 4 Ways to Revamp Your Marketing to Mesmerize the Crowd was the winner. The fact that it generated 5,000 shares was great, but what tipped it over the edge was the in-depth conversation that resulted between interested readers. The quality of the questions asked, and the interest paid to answers, showed that engagement was extremely high. The article filled a need and provided deep meaning for the readers. In essence, it was what they needed and wanted.
3. Dig deep to deliver meaningful value
We all know that headlines matter. Writing email subject lines, article titles or call-to-action copy is oftentimes more difficult than writing the copy itself. We agonize over these tidbits of copy because we know they drive engagement. They have to be just right in order to captivate the audience enough to get them to click through, download, share or comment.
What we may not realize is that the content itself should be just as deeply scrutinized as our short-form copy. As we search for ways to give our customers content that they care about, we must remind ourselves that it’s all about them, not us.
When we’re writing for a persona, we have to assume that they already have limited time to devote to our content. It’s our job is to dig deep into our own experience to provide actionable, relevant content. It might be tempting to write subtle, philosophical ideas, but you’re going to end up producing content that gets skimmed or skipped over entirely.
What your readers crave is meaningful, meaty ideas that they can act upon. For example, my article, 5 Things CEOs Don’t Ask about Marketing, but Should is an actionable set of steps the reader can take immediately. It leverages my own experience as a CEO and assumes a fair amount of savvy knowledge in the reader. The article elicited 2,000 Facebook shares because it met the needs of its intended audience.
The lesson: Our ideal client (and therefore our target reader) wants quick and dirty tips that can be implemented today. He or she doesn’t want to read my philosophical waxing about the trajectory of marketing.
Sometimes you have to dig deep in order to deliver meaningful content, even if it pushes you outside of your comfort zone. If we want content to connect with our target audience, it’s important that we capture their attention and then deliver meaning. Eye-catching, action-driving headlines aren’t enough. As a B2B technology marketing agency, we have learned that when provide timely and actionable information that leverages our own experiences, our readers reward us with the engagement numbers that show both their enthusiasm and our success which in return, provides a great content marketing strategy.
There’s no doubt that quality content can help your customers and satiate their needs, as well as get you and your company noticed. If you stay focused on delivering content your audience craves, then work hard to deliver, your audience will respond. And when you witness your customers interacting with your posts, deriving both meaning and joy from your words, you’ll understand the nature and reality of delivering successful content.