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The Push-to-Start Guide to Creating Your Best Content Yet

Photo Credit: VSCO / Larkvain

Photo Credit: VSCO / Larkvain

 

Just stop the crap.

I love this phrase. Equal parts exasperation and frustration hit the nail on the head every time.

It also happens to be the name of a blog that my friend Allen updates to identify and publicly shame products, taglines, or things that serve no purpose but to fill up our collective subconscious with a steady stream of uselessness.

I've fielded a lot of crappy questions about content lately.

Questions like, "How can we fill up our Buffer queue, so that we can churn out content and look alive?"

Or, "How can we automate our content so that we don't have to think about it?"

And my personal favorite, "Can't I just crawl the web and share links that other people write?"

When you don't spend time thinking about the quality of your content, you don't spend time thinking about the value you provide to your customer base. What’s the point of selling something if you don’t make them feel something?

Here are a few habits to nip in the bud, and a few new ones to try on for size.

 
 

Bad Habits

  • Stop writing blog post headlines that use rhetorical questions. No one talks to themselves enough to answer them the way you think they do.
  • Stop writing Top Ten content lists. For the love of God, please stop. It serves no purpose other than luring with clickbait that fails to follow through.
  • Stop writing slideshow content that uses stock imagery. No one looks like that out here in the real world, and no one as the time (or precision) to poke through these on mobile browsers. Plus, we know you're just using us to make money from your ad partners.
  • Stop putting invasive newsletter signup forms onto blog posts. You anger your readers much more than you stand to ever gain a new lead.
  • Stop producing content that preys on your audience's insecurity, fear, and lack of Ingredient X. When people feel reinforced, they're better prepared to recall and retain information.
  • Stop with banner ads. All of them. Just take them out to the backyard and burn 'em.
  • Stop calling yourself a guru, ninja or rockstar. Those phrases went out of fashion faster than Juicy Couture sweatpants. Wait - those never were in fashion? Well I guess that's saying something.
  • Stop planning every single minutiae of your content months in advance. By robo-content blasting, you're doing more harm than good by failing to interact. Like a human does...with real people.

Good Habits

  • Start writing headlines that get into the mind of whom you're writing for. What keeps them up at night, and how can you solve a specific problem with a specific call to action?
  • Start devoting your time to longform content. Study the art of storyboarding and persona development, both of which add direct richness to the readers you target. Despite what social media suggests, humans are capable of focusing their attention span on content that actually matters to them. Avid readers tend to bookmark juicy long reads to their app of choice (Pocket, Instapaper) if it provides a mix of resourcefulness, candor, and entertainment. While I may not have time to read Dark Rye as soon as it hits my inbox, I send it straight to Pocket. Crafting content for reactionary reading (i.e. short blips without substance) is a surefire way to crash and burn your content.
  • Start thinking about how you can get creative with your own imagery, rather than someone else's. Think about what might be relevant to the content you've written about within your piece, and how you may repurpose it for social media, now more visual heavy than ever. If you can't find time to go out and shoot your own photos, contract with a photographer who can curate them for you.
  • Start encouraging people to sign up for your newsletter by word of mouth. As Kathleen Shannon said in our conversation, inboxes are sacred spaces. People will approach them on their own time, so step back and let it ride. Add a signup link to your email signature or embed it where your brand isn't explicitly asking, begging, or pleading with people to hear from you. If they want to hear from you or buy from you, they'll come looking for you.
  • Start producing content that begins with "yes, and". By giving people something to build off of, like a skill set they already possess, you're encouraging them to build upon what they've got, rather than reinvent the wheel. Negative content that pokes holes in people, their professions, and their aptitude induces anxiety. When people feel good about an experience, they almost always return to it. As I've said before about negative content, who wants to click that?
  • Start thinking about ways to diversify your advertising structure. Try mixing up a new ad cocktail every few months: a low-budget mix of Twitter ads, sponsored LinkedIn updates to specific segments, and 30-60 minutes each week to contribute your content to Google+ communities is a healthy mix.
  • Start calling yourself a specialist or an orchestrator. Peter Corbett is dead on with this one. There are two people in this world. Specialists niche themselves into a highly specific field (SEO, content strategy, Wordpress development). Orchestrators can see a vision on the horizon, and help move the chains so that all the pieces work together to accomplish a task or project. If you're one or the other, network until you can find someone that can riff off of your complementary strengths. You'll be amazed at what you can accomplish as a duo.
  • Start dividing your content in sections of 70/20/10. Guy Duncan, Global Creative Director at Coca-Cola, explained it best. 70% of your content should be a bread and butter, turnkey processes that comes as a reflex. 20% of your content should be explorative in areas that you're comfortable in, while adding in a bit of a challenge. Maybe that's turning your content into a photo essay rather than your usual article format. 10% of your content is innovative, "blue sky" stuff that you spend time researching, planning, and developing a new skill in. A good friend that runs a successful agency has been playing with drones on the beach this month. By the time the need arises to produce work for a client using the same skill, he'll be proficient – and tan.

Big news! On July 1st, I'm launching Lexicontent an emotionally-driven brand storytelling studio. Sit down, get comfy, and tell me more about what you're working on.