6 Key Lessons Content Marketers Could Learn From Journalists
Content Marketing has become a massively popular form of digital communication over the last decade, meaning that new material finds itself in a far more competitive marketplace than ever before. The question is; how can we make our content stand out?
Whilst Content Marketing is already a well-established discipline, it’s popularity still looks set to rise into the future. The Content Marketing Institute found in a 2015 report that 76% of B2B companies intended to produce more content in 2016 than they did in 2015, and that 86% planned to either maintain or increase their Content Marketing budgets in the coming year.
A visual representation of this huge increase in the discipline’s popularity can be seen in Google Trends, where the term “Content Marketing” was virtually non-existent 10 years ago, and has since exploded into life. Similar (but distinct) terms “Native Marketing” and “Inbound Marketing” have also grown in popularity over this time period.
The Challenges Facing Content Marketers
Mark Schaefer wrote in 2014 that the massive volume of content being produced will eventually be its downfall. He predicted that, as supply rises beyond all proportion to demand, there will simply be too much content online for consumers to read. Once this is the case, Schaefer argues, the costs of producing content will no longer be justifiable. Whilst some have countered that the best material will still make it to the top, the fact remains that content must battle its way through a more crowded internet than ever before in order to be successful, and the challenge only looks set to increase into the future.
To make matters worse for content creators, Soomin Go, when writing for the Guardian in 2015, highlighted findings suggesting that users may be getting tired of traditional content. His company Carat found that 41% of consumers feel overwhelmed by content on the Internet and – perhaps more worryingly for marketers – that 55% of people have stopped browsing the Internet for content discovery and purchases.
Compounding this challenge for digital marketers is the fact that many of the tools which have traditionally given them an advantage – such as keyword research, basic optimisation and writing for social media – are now widely recognised and used by everyone from smaller businesses and start-ups, to traditional media companies.
One possible way to stand out in this increasingly crowded marketplace is to learn lessons from those who practice a far more established storytelling profession.
Journalists have been battling to win our attention for centuries, often in the midst of extremely fierce competition. With this in mind, there’s certainly a trick or two that we can learn from them if we want our content to be read.
1) Get to the Point
When planning their writing, many journalists use what’s known as the “Inverted Pyramid Model”. The point of this practice is to communicate the most important elements of a story first, then move on to the less crucial information later. This style both engages the reader immediately and shares as much of the piece’s core message as quickly as possible.
Although this technique can be a difficult one to master, there’s certainly a lot to be said for a writing style which imparts your most important messages first, especially when evidence (as well as first-hand experience) shows us that most users don’t reach the end of content that they come across online.
What’s more, as changing user behaviours mean that so-called Micro-Moments – brief, frequent engages – become the primary interactions between consumers and brands, immediately fulfilling your reader’s needs becomes all the more important.
2) Keep it Clear
Even though it’s nice to wow readers with startling vocabulary and complex sentences, most journalists realise that clear, succinct content is the most likely to be read. Of course, match your writing to your readers’ taste and knowledge level, but the most important thing is that you get your key messages across to them effectively. If you do find yourself struggling to communicate something simply, try and explain it to yourself at its most basic first. As it says in the Economist’s style guide:
“Clarity of writing usually follows clarity of thought. So think what you want to say, then say it as simply as possible”
3) Write Engaging Headlines
The headline is what grabs you into a piece of writing, and can therefore have a great effect on how many people are drawn into – and share – your content. It’s true that many classically written journalistic headlines simply wouldn’t work from an SEO point of view (there wouldn’t be much search volume for headlines like “Paddy Pantsdown” or “Gotcha” before they were published), we can learn from the makeup of newspaper headlines in our own writing.
When writing a journalistic headline for the web, the BBC recommends using action words, clarity and simplicity, as well as ensuring that a headline completely matches the content of a piece.
If we’re to learn anything from those who’ve excelled in online headline-writing, it’s worth taking note of Buzzfeed, who’ve shown us – among other things – how effective adding numbers to a title can be.
Finally on this point, a useful piece of journalist’s headline advice courtesy of Matt Thompson at Poynter. He says that whenever you’re stuck for a headline, look to add one of the following words whenever you can: “Top, Why, How, Will, New, Secret, Future, Your, Best, Worst.”
4) Verify Your Sources
Source verification and accuracy is the cornerstone of good journalism, and one of the key reasons that the news media remains our first port of call when looking for the truth on any current affairs. Justifying claims is of course best practice in any writing, if you’re looking to build up your organisation as an authority within an industry, there really is no substitute for good sourcing.
When we see a trusted newspaper’s masthead, we instinctively know that what what’s inside is likely to be well-evidenced, edited and verified. Practice the same high standards in your own organisation and you’ll win this same trust from your readership.
5) Use the Now
All journalists know that breaking news can have huge reach. In the same way that the news media look to feature what’s new and important, taking advantage of what’s in the public eye can give brands a huge publicity boost.
Pick up on a social media trend and you’ll grant yourself instant access to a massive audience; share something useful with this audience and you’re onto a winner.
A perfect example of businesses capitalising on a trending news event comes from the “Piggate” scandal of September 2015, which I’ve written about in other posts too. This event was generating a huge amount of interest and companies who wanted to appear funny saw a great opportunity to hijack some publicity.
Whilst it may be a little brazen to mock the elites in your own branded content, building trending events into your material is an excellent way to give yourself a boost of publicity. Just remember that journalist’s news value of recency; there’s no point putting out content once a trend’s lost its momentum.
6) Give Them What They Want
In the same way as each newspaper has a specific readership which prefers news on particular topics and in a certain style and tone, each company will find that their customers and prospects have certain expectations with regards to the content that they’ll engage with.
Narrowing down your typical audience persona can be a difficult – and often misleading – exercise, but it is incredibly useful when you know who you’re speaking to in your content. Use analytics research, surveys and full length interviews if possible when building your audience persona, then find out what matters to them and how you can align this with your content offering. Regularly creating material that’s of genuine use to your readers, presented in a tone which they’ll identify with and a format they’ll engage with is the perfect way to win yourself over loyal content consumers.
So there you have it. 6 handy journalist’s tips to boost our content writing. Whether it’s sorting our sourcing, pleasing our audience or just clarifying our content, there’s a whole lot that practitioners of the new art of content marketing can learn from the proud old profession of journalism.