Middle-of-the-road content doesn’t travel very far.
By Andrew Hanelly
There are a lot of blips on our daily radars. We check our Twitter stream. We drop in on Google+. We comb through our RSS feeds. And for the most part, we ignore most of the content we see.
Because we’ve read it before. Because it sounds too familiar. Because it’s obvious. Because it’s just another echo in the echo chamber.
This article is starting to feel guilty of the same sins. And chances are, you probably won’t share it.
Why? Because it doesn’t give you a compelling reason to share it. And the best content does. Usually by doing one of these five things:
1. It asks a question and doesn’t completely answer it. We talk a lot about generating comments on blog posts. But we don’t talk a lot about starting discussions with the general world.
Writing posts that seek to ask (and not necessarily answer) a question provides fodder for readers to share with their network that might get a conversation started on their turf. The New York Times recently commissioned a survey that found that 85 percent of people say the response they get from posting content to a social media site provokes more thought than the original piece itself.
Ask readers a good question and they’ll pass it along to see what answers they get in their own circles.
2. It provides an innovative solution to a common problem. There’s a reason Lifehacker took off as a website, receiving nearly 1 million unique visitors in a given month. Started in 2005 as a site dedicated to "… getting things done,” it has consistently been popular by providing readers with unconventional solutions to problems they faced on a daily basis.
With content, success is found by being useful or being entertaining. Lifehacker proved that it was very useful, so much so that Mensa listed it as one of their top 50 sites (and those are some smart people).
3. It expresses the personality of the sharer. If your post isn’t taking a stand, if it isn’t a manifesto, if it isn’t making a statement, none of your readers will use it to make a statement either. If it’s lukewarm, it’s socially stagnant.
Just like people who grow a mohawk, get tattoos, or wear khakis and cardigans are "expressing themselves” via their attire, people express themselves be adorning their social media profiles with content they believe represents how they feel.
Look at the Pepsi Refresh project ("I believe in this cause!”) or the Oatmeal’s cartoons ("I am mocking this thing!”) for examples. Middle-of-the-road content doesn’t travel very far. And, according to the aforementioned New York Times survey, 68 percent of people share content as an advertisement for themselves, to give others a better sense of who they are.
4. It gives them bragging rights. Exclusive content, breaking news—anything where you can allow your members to be the first to know—is content they’ll share. There is equity in being the first on your block to have something—whether it’s a car, a technology, or a piece of content.
The concept of social currency is at play here. Content that makes people in the know, ahead of the game, or well-informed is content that they will share to boost their reputation (and maybe a little bit of their ego).
5. It entertains. Jonah Peretti, founder of Buzzfeed, describes the most influential group of people on the web as the bored at work network. (Chances are, you’re reading this post at work.) Much content on the web is made or broken by the collective opinion of the cubicle farm.
It’s tough getting an audience around your content (or, "driving traffic”). It’s even tougher to get them to care enough to pass your content along. If you’re not being useful, you better be entertaining.
So give them a good reason to share it, and they might spread your post around.
Andrew Hanelly is director of digital strategy for TMG.