I won’t lie: content marketing is hard. But most of us make it harder than it needs to be. We pour energy and resources into minute gains, instead of focusing our attention on the simple changes that make a huge difference.
Today, I’d like to talk about 7 content marketing tips that will get you so much more with so much less. It’s about working smarter, not harder.
Let’s get going.
#1. Start with the headline
Most content marketers and bloggers start with a post idea, write it up, and then try to come up with a viral headline that will blow people away. This is all backward.
Think about it:
- People don’t read blog posts because they know the blog post is going to be good. They read blog posts because the title catches their attention.
- Blog posts don’t go viral, headlines do. It’s the headline that people share on Facebook. It’s the headline that people talk about at the water cooler. Complex ideas do not go viral. Viral ideas are simple, yet impactful.
- Headlines set the expectation for the rest of the article. If you put the blog post first, only to realize that the idea can’t be summed up into a viral headline, you either settle for a crummy headline, or you write up a misleading one.
The secret to writing headlines
What’s the secret to writing headlines that people just can’t ignore? Well, there are two ways to approach this:
- Copy headline structures that work
- Use the basic principles of viral attention
I would advise doing both.
That first one can mess people up, so let me explain. How many times have you seen a title that went something like: “[X] Things Your [Trusted Person] Will Never Tell You” or “[X] [Subject] Mistakes You Never Realized You Were Making?”
Those look familiar, don’t they?
Well, pick up a copy of Jon Morrow’s Headline Hacks (it’s free) and prepare to be amazed. Pretty much every viral headline you’ve seen has been in circulation for at least half a century, with a little bit of updated language and a healthy dose of mad libs to keep things current.
I strongly advise you to take a look at the most viral headlines on the web. Just copy the headline, and swap out a few words to make it relevant to your industry. If there is only one thing you do to improve your headlines, (not to mention your entire content marketing strategy) do this.
Trust me, those very headlines have been written thousands of times before. Nobody is going to care.
6 principles of content that goes viral
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, I’d like to address a few basic principles of viral attention that are going to keep coming up throughout this post. First, Dr. Jonah Berger’s 6 principles of viral sharing:
- Social Currency – People only share things because it helps them improve or maintain their social standing. It doesn’t matter how much we love a piece of content. We won’t share it if doing so doesn’t help our relationships or help us define who we are to other people.
- Triggers – Context and associations shape how likely we are to share something. Votes held in churches are more likely to be for conservative politicians. Think of peanut butter and you’ll probably think of jelly. Play French music in a grocery store and people will be more likely to buy French wine.
- Emotions – Intense emotions like fear, anger, humor, and awe beg to be shared. Disaffecting emotions, like sadness, do not. Of all emotions, awe is the most powerful. When we learn something new, or learn to see it in a different way, we are compelled to share the experience more than anything else. Humor takes the silver medal, which is of course closely related to surprise, which is closely related to awe.
- Public – This is about our inherent trust in the wisdom of the crowd. If others have taken an action, we are more likely to follow them, especially if it seems to be a crowd of like-minded people. In other words, it takes a seed of sharing activity for something to go viral.
- Practical – Content marketers already know this one. Actionable content begs to be shared.
- Stories – Humans are hard-wired to listen to and tell stories. Stories are about facing struggles and solving problems. They are purposeful, not merely descriptive. There is a reason why most people will say “what was the point?” to a Cohen brothers’ film. When we listen to stories, we expect people to struggle with problems and either succeed or fail tragically. We don’t expect a series of purposeless events.