By: Ann Handley
In this multi-part series, content expert Ann Handley explains how to rethink your site content to make it more engaging to enhance your small business marketing, company branding and small business social media strategy. This article is excerpted, in part, from her book, Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business (Wiley, 2011).
What is your audience genuinely interested in reading, seeing, or knowing about? Your job is to generate new ideas and pull compelling stories out of your own organization. And by “stories,” we don’t mean yarns or fairytales; we mean how your business (or its products or services) exist in the real world.
Here are six characteristics of a good content idea or story that can enhance your small business marketing and social media strategy:
1. True. Make truth the cornerstone of anything you create. Your web content should feature real people, real situations, genuine emotions, and facts. As much as possible, it should show, not tell. It should show your product as it exists in the world, through customer stories, case studies, or client narratives. It should explain, in terms that people can relate to, how it adds value to the lives of your customers, eases their troubles, meets their needs. Your content is not about storytelling; it’s about telling a true story well.
2. Relevant. What’s the purpose of your content? What is its key message? Why are you telling it and what do you hope to accomplish? One trick from journalism school: Try to express the gist of a piece of content in a single sentence. Doing so will help you focus what it’s about and what your reader will take away from it.
3. Human. Good content must have a human element to it. Why? Because your readers are people, and so will better relate to the story if you relate to them on their level, rather than talking above their heads. This is true of B2B companies, too: Even if you are a company that sells to other companies, focus on how your products or services touch the lives of people. By the way, when you are writing about people, here’s a good rule of thumb: Be specific enough to be believable and universal enough to be relevant. (That’s another journalism school gem.)
4. Passionate. This one is simple: You have to care. If you don’t care about what you are writing about, neither will your audience. To quote blogger Johanna Hill of The Mercurial Wife, “Nobody cares until you start caring.” In other words, passion is contagious. Encourage your customers who are most passionate about your business to share your story in their own unique and genuine ways. In their voice!
5. Original. Your content should give a new and fresh perspective on your topic. What’s new about it? Why is it important? As my former journalism teacher, Charlie Ball, would say (quoting veteran New York Sun journalist John B. Bogart), “When a dog bites a man, that is not news, because it happens so often. But if a man bites a dog, that is news.”
6. Surprising. Good stories have an element of the unexpected. They arouse curiosity or surprise your readers. Your story must engage before it can be expected to do anything else.
Online content that has all or most of those six elements will attract your audience and appeal to them on a fundamental, emotional level. In essence, creating stories that have these elements allows your audience to connect with you as one person to another, and view your business as what it is: a living, breathing entity run by real people.
Next: Company Branding: Create Visibility for your Small Business
Ann Handley is the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs and the co-author, with C.C. Chapman, of Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business (Wiley, 2011).