Monday, August 22, 2016

Businesses Need to Avoid Schlocky Content

Erik Deckers contributed today's post. Eric is the president of Pro Blog Service, a content marketing agency with clients throughout the US. He is also the co-author of Branding Yourself and No Bullshit Social Media. He has been blogging since 1997, and has been a newspaper humor columnist for over 20 years. Erik was recently writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando.

A couple years ago, when Buzzfeed and Upworthy first started making a digital splash, we all saw the headlines on Facebook.

17 Life-Changing Travel Hacks: #14 Will Take Your Breath Away

12 Super Foods That Will Make Your Jaw Drop 

87 Photos of Cute Baby Pets That Will Give You All The Feels. #63 Will MELT YOUR FACE OFF! (Slideshow) 

Most people soon blocked the two "news" sites from their Facebook streams, and now Facebook has even begun looking for ways to block all Buzzfeed-like headlines from their news feeds.

Can I get a 'hallelujah?'

But that doesn't mean you can escape them completely. There's still Twitter and even LinkedIn, where some people share this dreck.

The problem with it is, it's still popular, and still gets traffic, which means people think it's okay to do. And if people think it's okay to do, I'm worried businesses will begin to adopt this kind of writing. They're already well on their way with schlocky content and Buzzfeed-like headlines.

It's Some of the Worst Writing Ever

I've read some pretty bad writing in my day, but Buzzfeed and Upworthy have been some of the worst-written content I've ever had the misfortune of looking at.

And I say that as someone who read the Star Trek/X-Men crossover book.

Imagine an article composed entirely of 18 full-motion GIFs and their 5-word captions, and you have an idea for some of the things that pass as "writing" on these websites.

I had never actually seen someone use "(lol)" in journalistic writing until I read some Buzzfeed articles while researching this post. I'm waiting for them to punctuate their sentences with some damn emojis!

Now I'm sure your business' blog is not going to have anything as terrible and soul-crushing as a Buzzfeed "18 Times 'The Walking Dead' Referenced 'Saved By The Bell'" (not a real article), but that doesn't mean businesses haven't put out schlocky business writing before.

Here are a few ways you can avoid schlocky content for your own writing.

Get GOOD writers. Writing may be a skill we all learned in school, but don't assume everyone can write. Everyone who played a recorder in middle school music isn't in the symphony. Everyone who played softball in gym class isn't a professional ball player. So don't assume that everyone who can string two sentences together is magically a good writer.

If you want good content on your website, get good writers. Get people who are passionate about the written language. Get people who understand the importance and gravitas of language, and would never add "(lol)" to a professional article. Find employees who love to write as a hobby. Better yet, hire or outsource to a professional writer. These are the people who will make your content amazing, and attract people's attention.

Keep list posts to a minimum. I'm a big fan of list posts, because I know it brings in readers, often more readers than my "normal headline" posts. But that doesn't mean I'm going to make every article I write a list post. If I limit those to only once every 8, 10 or 12 blog posts, they have a more dramatic impact.

Remember, "if everyone is special, then nobody is special." So don't overdo it on the special content that people clamor for, or you'll dilute its effectiveness.

Avoid 101-level content. Content marketing has been around for many years, but I'm still seeing basic "Five Secrets to Content Marketing" articles that still include "write good content" as a "secret." You can find the same five secrets on thousands of marketing blogs, and they all say the same damn thing. No one has said anything new on this subject in years.

You're going to run into the same thing in your industry. So many companies will try to be thought leaders that they'll publish the same basic content as everyone else. That means everyone will only cover the basics and never really say anything new or of any consequence. Talk about new regulations. Respond to other blogs or trade media articles. Tell success stories about your clients. Just don't try to educate people like it's their first day at work. That's been done to death.

Dive deep into a subject. I've often said, if you want to blog about a large, generic topic like "marketing," you'll run out of things to say in three weeks. But if you write about something specific like "content marketing for the manufacturing industry," you'll never run out of things to talk about.

Use your blog to explore your industry and your specific niche. Your blog is an opportunity to establish you and/or your company as an industry expert and a thought leader. You're not going to do that by only scratching the surface of your field and writing 101-level content. Get deep into your subject, explore the nuances, and talk a lot of inside baseball.

Businesses that truly want to have an impact on their industry, and want to reach their customers effectively, need to avoid being a Buzzfeed-like source of information. Skip the easy, low-hanging fruit of list posts and animated GIF stories; there are hundreds of other writers already plucking at it. Hire some real writers who have a respect for language, as well as their readers. And sink your teeth into your topics and explore them the way the schlock writers would never dream of doing.

This is the best way to make your blog and your content marketing campaign be a true success. And you can do it all without a single cat GIF.
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