Let’s talk about creating engaging content.
Have you ever torn a page out of a book in sheer, desperate anger?
I definitely haven’t. I don’t think I know anyone who has.
As a writer, if I saw someone tear a page out of a book I published, it would feel like they were tearing a page out of my soul.
What a silver lining it’d be to know my writing could compel someone to interact with my book by ripping apart the page and sharing their anger.
My writing mattered to them. My content was enough for them to act on it.
That, despite the undesirable reaction, would make all the difference.
Having words powerful enough to engage the reader is a goal every content writer works toward.
Crossroads of Memory Lane and Opportunity Drive
Back in the day, before dial-up and “You’ve Got Mail!”, a world existed without the Internet.
Farther beyond, a realm without television or movies existed for the majority of recorded human history.
Books were very valuable. Compiling information onto paper for leisure, education, and communication was the cornerstone for sharing our thoughts across the distant lands we couldn’t travel to ourselves.
Now, we live in a world where people can search galactic amounts of information, share their opinions with millions of people, and express their disapproval at the click of a button.
More importantly, we live in a world where more content is created than is consumed.
This pivotal moment in history is crucial. It’s the fundamental underpinning all strategic content writing. With more and more people creating content, the industry is becoming overstuffed and armies of content writers are springing up everyday. Grabbing a large slice of your own readership may appear to be a fool’s paradise.
Or is it?
When my closet is overstuffed, it’s an opportunity to throw out what I don’t need. It’s an intriguing moment, because it forces me to sit down and actually think about what I want to see in my closet every time I open it. I have to be aware of my daily priorities.
And that’s what counts, isn’t it? We live in a world with billions of readers, but it’s what matters most that we’ll want in our lives everyday.
Sorry, Not Sorry: It’s Not About You Anymore
I was never impressed with TIME magazine’s May 2013 cover. The “ME ME ME Generation” concept is a theory that could be applied to every generation at some point.
Still, there is a level of entitlement to young adults today. We are keenly aware of the options offered to us. We get to choose our celebrities and news sources, a freedom not readily available to those born before the ’80s. We don’t have to settle for a handful of cable networks and newspapers to spoon feed us the information we seek.
Industry Standards Are Steadily Rising Everywhere
Having so many options available, consumers are much more selective. Standards are being raised across all industries, and the dependence on monopolized profits is a tune business owners don’t get to sing very often.
A higher standard doesn’t necessarily mean working harder; being smart about your approach and listening to other experts in the field is a tried and true way of propelling your own career.
In fact, listening to anyone other than yourself is a fantastic idea if you want to improve.
Playful sarcasm aside, this shift in the business world has been a positive one, and what’s becoming more important is our responsibility to quality. It’s our duty to improve our skills every day and learn from others; there are no shortcuts in the world of content.
The Ethos of the Internet Community
This shift is apparent in the world of marketing. No one gets to walk in, dressed as Don Draper, and tell you an advertisement is going to work because they say so. Today, internet marketers are expected to use statistics and structured plans of action to sell you on an idea.
A prevalent theme across successful social media marketers is the rule that you should interact with your followers ten times for every post you make. People want to be acknowledged, and everyone values this connection with other people. These interactions are reciprocal in nature. Engaging with your follower is often met with an engagement in return.
It’s cringeworthy to some, sure, but people often place depthless value in the number of likes a post receives or the number of followers who read their tweets. And aren’t most of us guilty of feeling the same? When you speak out, isn’t it great to be heard?
This isn’t specific to the millennial generation, but it’s particular to the new world of social media networking. Now, more than ever, understanding one another is increasingly advantageous.
Everyone Online is a Content Creator
People may not view themselves as writers or content creators, but they love to write Facebook posts. In 2012 alone, Facebook users were publishing over 293,000 status updates every 60 seconds. That’s a lot of writing.
Human beings love to share. They’ll share what’s important to them. If it makes them laugh, they may share it with you. If it solves a problem they’re researching, they may share that as well. And if it means a lot to them, they’ll definitely share it with the world.
Sharing is caring, so what do people care about most? That lies at the heart of the single, most effective strategy for creating highly engaging content.
Repeat After Me: Create Content That Matters
I’m not asking to abandon what matters to you. I personally have a blog with content that is of the utmost importance to me, but I’ll be the first to tell you it has less traffic than a back road in the rural parts of North Dakota.
However, when you want to build a loyal readership and maximize your traffic, knowing what matters to your demographic should be at the core of your content strategy.
And some of you may ask, “how do I find out?” There’s an easy solution.
If you read ten times as much as you write, I’m positive you’ll start to understand what’s important to your readers.
Find Your Keys to Engaging Content
The door to success has more than one key. Creating engaging content is an art. Many seasoned content curators are always designing new techniques to raise the bar and perfect their strategy.
Unlocking the true potential to creating engaging content requires using your own brand of ingenuity. Writers are creatures of creativity; it’s not a stretch to apply that creativity to the way we think about our writing, too.
Being a content specialist, I’ll never get tired of the exhilarating rush I feel when one of my strategies results in lucrative success. I’d love for every content writer to feel the same. One ingredient that will always be found in a winning strategy is relevance, so knowing what matters to your readers should always come first.
Allow me to share some of my own unique practices for understanding your audience and boosting the relevance of your content.
Five Things That Make You Smile
Before I share my nuggets of content wisdom, I’d like you to take part in an exercise with me.
Find a scrap piece of paper or open up a blank document and create a list of five things that make you smile. Once you’re done, read them over carefully and continue with the article.
Here is my list.
- a slice of cheesecake
- someone else’s smile
- witnessing a random act of kindness
Perfect! You’ve successfully completed the exercise. Let’s find out why you participated.
Strategy #1 A Positive Mindset Leads to Positive Engagements
I can’t stress it enough. Having passion won’t always win people over; combining passion with positivity is an incredible way to engage your readers.
Dr. Bill Conklin at Psychology Today discusses the impact positive actions can have on shaping our brains, such as physical exercise or mindfulness meditation. Instilling a healthy attitude and avoiding unhealthy thought patterns strengthens the part of your brain that activates when you’re happy. Conversely, these activities weaken the part of your brain that is usually more active when you’re sad.
I can attest to this philosophy. It’s been over a year since I read “Buddha’s Brain” by Rick Hanson, and I’ve practiced many of the exercises I found inside. Today, I feel happy by default, as opposed to an attitude I had to work hard to maintain. This lesson in self-improvement has consistently helped me to connect with readers on higher level.
Write a mental list of things that make you happy before you start writing content. It’s an easy way to get yourself in a positive mindset before writing. Imagine each one and embrace the warmth as you prime yourself to serve your readers the same experience.
It’s also a healthy way to evaluate your form; if you’re having trouble feeling happy, it’s probably not the time to be writing meaningful content. Instead, it may be an opportunity to talk to a friend and resolve whatever dilemma is bogging you down.
Strategy #2 Walking 10,000 Steps in Someone’s Shoes
The average American only walks 5,900 steps a day, significantly short of the 10,000 steps recommended by most health communities.
American Writer Nelle Harper Lee, commonly known as the author of the novel “To Kill a Mockingbird”, once wrote a line based on one of her favorite Cherokee proverbs, helping to launch its popularity and facilitate widespread usage:
Most people have seen a variation of the phrase, “before you criticize a person, walk a mile in their shoes.” The idea behind the message is rooted in empathy, a skill best described in this context as the ability to understand a person’s emotions and problems without experiencing them firsthand.
Developing empathy requires a higher level of emotional intelligence. It’s a type of intelligence that is less dependent on how well someone can study feelings and more dependent on the ability to experience them. Interestingly, the ability to understand one’s own feelings is often demonstrative of the ability to understand the feelings of others.
Empathy is a key component of writing engaging content. If empathy doesn’t come easy to you, it may feel difficult accomplish this goal. That’s exactly why you can’t give up—some of your readers feel that same frustration!
When you work hard to understand the problems your demographic faces, you’ll be able to serve them with insightful and helpful content. This level of thoughtfulness will be met with multiple, positive engagements from the people who read it. In return, you’ll feel exponentially more fulfilled for receiving the well deserved feedback on your hard work.
Empathy is a skill you can hone for the rest of your life. There’s no need to try mastering it overnight. Lots of people who walk 10,000 steps a day have seen improvements in their own health, which has led to a higher quality of life. It’s up to you to improve your own emotional intelligence and mentally walk 10,000 steps in someone else’s shoes, every day.
Strategy #3 Learn to Drive More Traffic With Poetic License
Let’s be clear: I don’t suggest deviating from the facts. Rather, it’s essential to start straying away from the conventions of writing and individualize your voice.
I grew up being taught that paragraphs had 3-5 sentences, a sentence never ended in a preposition, and five-paragraph essays were the best way to share a subject with three discussion points.
Can you imagine if a normal conversation followed that format? The thought sends shivers down my spine.
Online writing is a relatively new landscape and content writers are the leading architects. In similar fashion to the pilgrims who voyaged to America hundreds of years ago, we are allowed to build communities in our own style as we carve reputations across the blogosphere.
Many successful content writers can agree on the foundations of quality writing, but no one will give you a step-by-step guide that doesn’t require a little innovation on your end. Write with words you’ve never used, styles you’ve never adopted, and suggestions you’ve never taken. Experimenting as a writer will lead to personal growth, a positive affirmation that nurtures our creativity and fosters the willingness to share our human experiences.
Your Most Loyal Reader is You
I’m willing to bet no one has read your writing as much as you have. You know your strengths and weaknesses best, so it’s your job to seek out ways to improve your writing.
Every writer is effectively an entrepreneur. As such, we’re responsible for the satisfaction of our service to our customers. We are in the business of influence, and always challenging our writing skills to reach new heights will ensure the growth of our readership. If you learn from your failures and capitalize on your successes, you’ll find it becomes increasingly easier to speak from experience.
Writing about having a problem and finding a solution will feel much more natural when you’ve become familiar with its process (as opposed to leaning on empathy to imagine how it feels). I recommend frequently looking at ways you can innovate your writing and always being eager to read about other people’s experiences. Taking these steps will mold your current perspective and give you constant opportunities to reinvent your content.
No single approach to creating successful and engaging content will ever encompass the complex, individual needs of different industries, but one universal rule rings true. If you want to write engaging content for humans, you need to be an engaging person.
Never stop growing.
Interested in learning more about how to create a content strategy for YOUR brand that engages your readers? Download our free ABC Content Strategy checklist.