You’ve tried everything; offline networking, interviews, blog comments, guest posts, how-to videos, Q&A sites… and yet, viral success eludes your content. It simply refuses to take off.
Familiar story? Maybe it’s time you think about your content marketing in a different way.
But how do you even do that?
Every content marketing tactic, strategy and method has been done to death on the web, and when you’re in a plateau, you’ll end up hitting the same roadblocks again and again.
Here are three ideas that may nudge you to change your usual approach. They are mutually exclusive of each other; however, they’re guaranteed to give your inbound marketing a push regardless of the industry you’re in.
[icon image=”dashboard” size=”medium” cont=”yes” float=”left”]Launch an Interactive Platform
Nearly all of the most popular sites on the web are interactive to some degree. In fact, top sites are usually quite a bit more interactive than the typical site.
When you look at huge online successes like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Wikipedia, Google+, Pinterest, or Reddit, you find more than just content. You also find interactive platforms that people can use to create and share their own content, as well as to connect with each other and sometimes even form a common online culture.
A closer look reveals that the content isn’t even what really makes these sites tick. What keeps them going is the fact that their core users get “addicted” to the interactions. They keep coming back because these platforms empower them and allow them to receive validation from others.
While the majority of people who use these sites might use them primarily for entertainment, to consume the content of others, those people wouldn’t be creating that content in the first place if it weren’t an interactive platform.
The most obvious way to do this is by adding a forum to your site. Forum software has come a long way since web 1.0, and modern platforms such as Muut and Discourse make it relatively easy to set up aesthetic forums with modern features.
Other sources of inspiration for interactive platforms might include:
- Image macro sites like imgur’s meme generator and somEEcards.
- Creative apps (both online and mobile) like Office Max’s wildly successful Elf Yourself, which regularly approaches the top of the iTunes charts every year. Apps like these allow users to create something easily that’s funny and shareable.
Here’s the point I’m driving at. Interactive platforms rule the web (and the larger digital marketplace of apps, etc). It’s not just about the tool, and it’s not just about the community. It’s both. The platform is designed to be conducive to community.
Many of these platforms make it easier to create user generated content than would otherwise be possible. Feedback tools like upvotes and downvotes give users validation. Reporting tools allow users to self-police the content. Moderators help define the community and can make it more interesting, entertaining, or useful for a desired target audience.
Your goal here is to create what is now known as a “third place.” The third place is a meeting place other than home and the workplace. The third place is an important part of the human experience, a place where people can interact with others, not for family or business, but simply to socialize.
We can clearly see that many of the most successful sites on the web act as one of these third places, but most corners of the market don’t have a location like this to call their own. As many niche communities as there are on the internet, this is still an underserved need.
Marketers who understand how to help a community build itself can use this to become enormously successful.
[icon image=”star” size=”medium” cont=”yes” float=”left”]Say Something Unique About Something Well-Known
Here are the names of some of the top posts at Cracked last year:
- 6 Famous Documentaries That Were Shockingly Full Of Crap
- 5 Reasons Being A Male Porn Star is Less Fun Than It Looks
- 69 Awesome Brain Hacks That Give You Mind-Blowing Powers
- 13 Photos That Shatter Your Image Of Famous People
- The 21 Wittiest Comebacks Ever To End An Argument
All of these posts have one thing in common: they all tell us something new about something that is virtually a household name.
Not every Cracked post is like this. You see a lot more headlines like this in their list of top posts than you do on any given day on their front page.
There’s a reason posts like this work so well. For starters, they appeal to a large number of people because they talk about something familiar to them. This familiarity is what makes the post relatable and relevant to a large audience.
This on its own isn’t enough to make a post successful, though. A list of famous documentaries or celebrities isn’t going to crash your server with referral traffic anytime soon.
It’s the “insider knowledge” that makes these stories so successful.
A list of famous documentaries won’t interest most people, unless they just happen to be searching for a documentary to watch. But a list of documentaries that are secretly full of crap is going to snap us to attention. Documentaries are supposed to tell the truth. The fact that documentaries could be skewing the truth is a unique perspective, and one that matters to us because it changes the way we think about something we care about.
The same goes for the rest of the stories mentioned. One of them even spells it out in the title: “13 Photos That Shatter Your Image of Famous People.” They are straight up telling you that these photos will change the way you think about famous people.
In fact, this very subject has been studies scientifically by Jonah Berger, a marketing professor who has taken an interest in why people share things online. In one of his studies, he investigated which articles on the New York Times were emailed the most.
Not surprisingly, he found that if an article elicited a strong emotional response in the reader, they were more likely to share it. But, more specifically, he found that positive emotions usually had a stronger effect. Most importantly, the most powerful emotion was awe.
What’s truly revealing is the way that awe was defined in the study:
“[an] emotion of self-transcendence, a feeling of admiration and elevation in the face of something greater than the self.”
Or, as Berger described it:
“It involves the opening and broadening of the mind.”
This is why the most popular content on the web is so often referred to as “mind-blowing.” It actually makes us see things in a new way.
A little bit of thought makes it clear that we can’t change our mind about something if we didn’t know anything about it in the first place.
That is why posts like the Cracked articles mentioned above perform so well. Yes, they create the positive emotion of humor, which itself makes things much easier to share. But they take things a step further by helping us realize why what we thought we knew about these famous celebrities, movies and documentaries was either wrong or incomplete.
Just as importantly, these posts don’t read like persuasive essays. They aren’t opinion pieces. This may also play an important part in their success.
Jonah Berger found, surprisingly, that some of the most shared articles on the New York Times were science articles. We might typically think of science as a dry, emotionless subject. But when it captures attention, it almost always does so by changing the way that we see things we thought we understood. More importantly, the science is presumably backed up by…well…science. There’s less room to debate the conclusions. You don’t feel threatened by this new way of looking at the world. Instead, you feel awe inspired.
The successful Cracked posts mentioned above aren’t just being contrarian. They’re not just taking a popular subject and adopting a controversial stance. They’re actually giving you factual accounts that change the way you see something you thought you understood.
There’s also another important lesson for marketers here. These Cracked articles aren’t some kind of “insider exclusive.” This isn’t breaking news. All of the information in these articles was already available in the public domain somewhere. Even so, most people still weren’t aware of all of this information. By putting all of it together in a single article, they compound its shareability, and reach a massive audience.
[icon image=”search” size=”medium” cont=”yes” float=”left”]Focus on Audience Retention
I think audience retention is the single most important concept in content marketing.
Here’s three reasons why:
- The more often a single person sees you, the more likely they are to develop a sense of trust, and make a purchase
- The more returning visitors you have, the more overall traffic you will have
- Social sharing activity can only expand your existing reach by a certain percentage. The larger your recurring audience, the more social referrals you will get.
Now, here are a few things people often miss about audience retention:
- Social media is the worst place to retain an audience. With Facebook killing off organic reach for brands, and with average Twitter CTR at 1.64 percent, email is still the best platform to reach your audience. According to Mailchimp, email has average open rates of over 20 percent and click rates around 3.5 percent. Social networks are always secondary as a platform for retention. They work better as a channel for acquisition.
- Email signup forms need to be front and center. While you don’t necessarily need to use a pop-up (especially if it shows up before the visitor is finished or even before they get a chance to do anything), you almost certainly need to put it somewhere very prominent. Don’t hide it in the sidebar.
- One email signup form isn’t enough. Signup forms should be at the top and bottom of blog posts and in your About page at a minimum.
- Email signup forms should offer something to entice the user like a free guide, access to a software tool, a 30 day challenge, a video, or something to that effect.
- When you write guest posts, you should link people to an email signup form from your bio. Use a customized landing page that follows naturally from the guest post, and that clearly communicates the value of what they will get for signing up.
- Continue to offer valuable content, tools, and resources so that subscribers keep opening your emails and learn to trust you over time.
- Always ask your readers to do something for you, like share the article or leave a comment. This is helpful for obvious reasons, but it also trains audiences to expect you to ask things of them. This is important because you don’t want an audience that feels “entitled” to free content and resources if you plan on selling them something eventually.
- You should never buy an email list and it should preferably consist entirely of double opt-in members.
- There is no shame in using PPC or affiliate advertisements and a targeted landing page to build an email list, assuming you can safely estimate the lifetime value of your subscribers and keep advertising costs below that mark.
It you aren’t converting your visitors into subscribers, you’re wasting your time. It’s that simple.
Over to You
Take your time with your content marketing tactics. Don’t get stuck in a rut but don’t jump at new techniques or go off on tangents either. Do make a deliberate, well thought out attempt at rethinking your content strategy every now and then. And remember, nothing will work if your content sucks.
Please let me know in the comments about your efforts at gaining new eyeballs and keeping them staring!