Seven ways to produce content that inspires and engages

Some 95% of digital content gets ignored and forgotten. Since the typical blog takes about 4 hours to write, plus there’s editing and promotion time – that’s a lot of wasted effort. So how can you ensure that your content resonates with your audience, and inspires them into positive action?

There are 3 types of consistently engaging content:

  1. Inspiring / emotive stories – “Hero” content, as defined by Google, is storytelling that warms the cockles of your heart – stuff like the Dove “real woman” campaign. This is the home ground of big-spend brands and ad agencies. Can you do this on a budget? Possibly, yes.
  2. Practical “How to” advice – Youtube is a treasure trove of such gems. You’re looking for gaps – things not yet adequately explained
  3. Hub content – going deep into a topic with regular updates, such as a podcast, video series, etc.

So where does content typically go wrong?

In my experience of working with businesses, the leaders don’t spend enough time working out what they want and why. This self-reflection stage is seen as a waste of time when it can actually result in wonderful discoveries and original content. If you simply buy content like its bags of potatoes, the result is…

In this article, I’ll be helping you join up your content with your raison d’etre and strategy. With this in mind, here are seven ways to strengthen your content:

  1. Be authentic – plan content around your company story and strategy
  2. Plug those information gaps – visualise your ideal audience, and what their problems, goals and questions are. Analyse your own and your competitors’ content for information gaps you can fill and confusions you can clear up.
  3. curate the best content – If you can’t think of something fresh to say then simply piggyback your content off the best expert sources. Regularly trawl through relevant content on the internet, and share the gems with your audiences. Comment and add your spin to give a useful context.
  4. Share something fresh – research useful answers to your customers’ questions, for instance, by interviewing industry experts (including your own inhouse specialists), or surveying your customers and pulling out the key findings.
  5. Be generous – make heroes out of your people and your customers by providing a platform for them to tell their stories
  6. Be thrifty – reuse original content in lots of places – so it works out more cost-effective
  7. Be candid – open up and share your own experiences in a way that benefits your audiences

1. Be authentic – plan your content around your raison d’etre

Let’s face it, consumer cynicism is running high. Before people go online they turn their bullshit detectors on full blast. And there’s nowhere to hide. If you’re putting on a nice front, they’ll be looking through your website, comparing what you say against your social media streams and the reviews about you posted on independent websites.

Trying to second-guess and manipulate can be exhausting. Far easier is to just show how you walk your walk – as opposed to talking the talk. For example, I was really impressed by a Youtube video for a tech startup in which staff were interviewed about why they enjoyed working at the company. And this came out of the About us page, as an extra layer of detail, and also was linked to in their recruitment adverts.

Try Googling your company name and reviews. And see what comes up. What are customers saying about you, and on which websites? Compare that with your own testimonials – are the two stories consistent? Or are there issues and confusions that you need to explain somehow in your content? Try answering these questions to see if they provoke something interesting:

  1. Why are you doing what you’re doing? What gets you up out of bed in the morning?
  2. How are you helping improve people’s lives?
  3. What blessing or gifts have you been given that you want to share?
  4. What problems have you overcome, that you want to help others get through too?
  5. What irritates you about your sector? What do you want to change and why?
  6. Which fact can your customers simply not grasp?
  7. Think of a nightmare client – which of your values did you trample on in your efforts to please them?

2. Audit your content against your raison d’etre

Check your website and social media, and offline materials for gaps – where are you failing to convey your why – where you came from, and your “where to “– your strategy? Which of your values are you not living through your content right now?
This self-reflection process will give you much more sure-footed confident content. For instance, if you note a particular value isn’t coming through right now, you might brief every content creator, to look for opportunities to highlight this value. This is how you get your content resonating on multiple levels.

3. Be discerning – piggyback your content off the best expert sources

Who do you respect in your sector?

Who are your heroes? Who puts out the most reliable and useful/interesting information? Why not follow them on Twitter or sign up to their email newsletters, and pay homage to them by sharing their news. Curating other people’s content is a time-efficient way to engage your audiences and learn which topics most engage them. When you put out your own content, the experts you’ve been giving link love may be willing to share your stuff too.

Write LinkedIn posts

This is a great way to share other trusted sources’ news and spice it up with your own comments, personal experience or numbers. You have 1300 characters to play with – that’s under 250 words or about 12 sentences. You might start by pulling out the most interesting numbers or facts from the source you’re sharing, then name the source and convey your take on it, eg it’s surprising / in line with your experience. Finally, you give 3 hashtags, and insert a link to the content.

Be original and newsworthy – chase the most interesting and little-known facts
It’s better to mine a rough diamond rather than polish some recycled tin. So let everyone else scour Google while you dig up something genuinely new and different for your audiences. You could approach experts directly for help. You might ask them their opinion on a controversy, give advice for your audiences, or share their personal experiences of something. It could be as simple as a video interview conversation via Zoom or Skype, recorded and posted to your Youtube channel.
If you have customers who are good talkers and have a genuinely interesting experience to share with others, why not ask them to do a regular feature with you. The beauty of this approach is that you’ll be creating and sharing a body of original material that you could always work up at a later date, into something more ambitious.
For hard data, you could survey your own customers to create benchmarking reports. You may be able to get PR coverage for these too, eg from specialist magazines.

Be generous – make heroes out of your people and your customers

Sharing the limelight leads to more interesting content and helps defuse any sense of arrogance.

The purple ones – and other stories

When I was a child, at Christmas we got a big jar of Quality Street an assortment of chocolates, each a different flavour and shape and wrapped in bright, colourful layers. My favourites were the purple ones – you untwisted the cellophane wrapper, unwrapped the tin foil and the chocolate smelled of vanilla. When you bit through the oozing caramel you crunched into a whole hazelnut at the centre.

And my point is? Stories are a core message charged with a particular emotion. Because they are a roundabout way of conveying a message, that message goes deeper. You basically distract your audience with the interesting story, feed them facts along the way, and then point to your overall message. This is how it bypasses the ego and conscious mind.

Politicians, marketing people and ad agencies have long known this. The result is that consumers expect to be entertained with great stories – so you’re under pressure to storify your information to make it more palatable. And yet your audience is also cynical about being manipulated with glossy content. So authentic “storydoing” is the latest trend.

Humans make sense of the world through stories. And pretty much every great story features an interesting character facing some difficulty – we stay tuned to find out if they will overcome their adversity. Stories can provide a memorable structure in which to highlight your products’ features/benefits / unique selling points – you can animate some otherwise boring facts by weaving them into a story about a person and their challenges. Best to make your customers your biggest heroes, and put your staff into a helpful cameo role. Think of your product as like a prop in a stage play – or product placement in a TV serial. It’s needed for the action. It should be clearly visible. But it’s not the theatre itself.

Ways to strengthen your stories:
What’s the top personal strength or quality of your hero – what makes a great customer and a great employee for you? How do they use this strength in order to beat their problem?
Before – What situation were they in (before), what did they need and what obstacles, negative emotions, weaknesses or shortages were in the way?
During – what special tools or strengths did your organisation / employee bring to this situation? This could be a USP of your product/ service or a personal strength in your employee who helped. This is a very engaging and subtle way of transmitting mission and values.
After – what changed about your customer’s situation? What internal struggle was resolved eg they overcame their fear / doubt about a or b. What did the customer learn as a result? How did they change their mindset / way of organising themselves.

6. Be thrifty – reuse original content in lots of places

Great chefs never throw anything away – every part of the chicken has a use, and vegetable tops are great for making stock. So why do we waste so much content resource?
A green investment house wanted to produce blog content. As a new business they had several recipients of the first wave of funding – but the website only included the name of the company and sector. So I put myself in the shoes of a start-up seeking funding, If I were them I would be thirsty for details about people who’d done this already. So I suggested to the client that I create a series of interviews with the CEOs of the recipient companies – like a diary of a green startup. The side benefit is that I could then pull out the relevant key facts and use it to plump out the information on the static page about that funding winner. I’m talking here about killing two birds with one stone. With any piece of original content about your business, think of how you could use this research twice or three times. For instance, you might reuse the info to craft a testimonial/review text and invite the customer to post that to a relevant website themselves.

7. Be candid – open up and share your own experiences

No one else can replicate your individual experience of the world. And your readers may be interested to reflect on how their experience compares with yours. So why not open up a little?

  1. Maybe write a series of opinions on hot topics in your industry, or get a journalist to interview you and pull out the most interesting points.
  2. If you’re writing yourself, go back on your first drafts and try to include anecdotes and specifics, including sensory details – what you saw, heard, felt, etc.
  3. Consider getting a copy editor to give their thoughts on how to make your text stronger.

You might publish these reflections gradually in a series so that you give your audience time to get to know you better. Who knows? It could be the start of a beautiful conversation.

Most of this advice is about developing thought-leadership style content. Which of these points is most actionable for you, and could create the biggest difference?

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