There are two kinds of content in this world. There’s average content, the kind of content you create to feed the beast. The content you make because you have to. You have to write a certain number of blog posts per year, you have to design this infographic, you have to make this demo video. You know it’s not your best work, but it’s good enough. Then there’s remarkable content. The content you think about carefully, research thoroughly, write and design passionately, proof-read, optimize, promote. When it comes to content marketing, you can’t have it both ways. You can either make remarkable content, or you can pump out a vast quantity of average content It sounds like a dilemma, but it’s not. Remarkable content wins every single time. Half of all content published is shared eight times or less on social media, and receives zero (yes, ZERO) inbound links. There’s a vast surplus of average content in the digital world — from ephemera like viral maps to huge white papers that maybe a dozen people will read.In other words, making average content is a waste of your time and budget. Remarkable content wins every time. Well, almost every time — there a few barriers to making remarkable content:
- It’s hard. Otherwise everyone would already be doing it.
- It’s expensive. Good designers, writers and developers are pricey.
- It’s scary. Because what if you sink significant resources into a piece, hit “publish”, and nobody cares?
But what if you knew in advance that your content was going to be widely shared, earn media placements, and drive a ton of traffic? Then making the gamble would always be worthwhile, right? Luckily, there’s a process for testing your content ideas before you commit the time and budget to actually develop a piece. Let’s dive in!
Research Many Ideas Before Culling Them
If you’re going to embark on a quality-driven content marketing campaign, you need to start with A LOT of ideas. From sticky notes to data mining, there are plenty of different methods for ideation, but no matter how you handle brainstorming, your process of elimination should be a little like the Hunger Games. Start with a dozen ideas that seem good, then use research to whittle them down to one ultimate winner. It’s up to you on how you want to kill them off. Specifically, you need to use data to find a kernel of information, a lead, or a perspective that’s novel and tends to surprise your audience. As BuzzSumo showed with their analysis of the most shared articles of 2015, surprise is the key to overcoming content shock. What could this surprise look like? If you’re lucky, you can leverage some proprietary data to come up with a surprising data point (like “the average article is shared eight times”). But if not, you can still scour the internet for an underreported, surprising idea. Better yet, run a survey to develop your own data. Either way, it’s going to take a little effort — but it’s better to spend your time thoroughly researching and understanding a content idea before committing budget to developing it. Let’s say you wanted to do a piece on the Volkswagen emissions scandal last year. Here’s a few questions you could use to get started:
- What’s the TL;DR of this story?
- What are the main points that news reports are hitting?
- What are the most widely shared articles on the subject?
- Have you come across any facts that surprised you? Or any that you feel are underreported?
Is your story idea simple but overreported? Is it running out of steam? Or is there an original angle that’s being overlooked? Now you can start winnowing down.
Feed the Trolls
If only there was a place on the internet full of subject matter experts, who would gladly share their opinion with you on anything, and you could sort through their ideas based on popularity. Oh wait, that does exist, and it’s called Reddit. While “subject matter experts” may be generous, the population of a given subreddit consists largely of enthusiasts on a given topic. There are a few ways you can mine reddit for ideas. Search a given subreddit (like r/cars) for given keywords (“Volkswagen emissions”) and comb through the comments. Look for phrases like “what nobody’s talking about”, “It’s tough to believe”, etc. If you have questions that you feel are unanswered or underreported, then ask them (e.g. “how did they actually hide the emissions? Who knew and when?”). If there’s a relevant thread, ask your question there. If not, then start your own. If your question spurs debate, you’re onto something. If it’s obvious or irrelevant, you’ll get eaten alive, but at least you won’t waste any budget on a concept that doesn’t resonate with your target audience.
Pitch Ideas in Advance
Now we’re getting closer to a concept that will work, but it’s not time to push “go” on the content machine quite yet, because even if you think you have a great idea for a piece, you still need to test it in front of the experts. And the best way to do that is by pitching your piece to influencers and publishers before you publish it. You can find relevant influencers by using tools like Followerwonk, or BuzzSumo’s “influencer search,” or ScribbleLive’s Influence. From Buzzsumo:
Use these tools to put together a list of at least 30-40 influencers. And remember, this is 30-40 influencers per idea, which at this stage may mean 100+ people, total. Pitching your idea in advance is what saves you from sinking all your development budget into an idea that’s going to flop. Before you pitch them, do some work to warm up the relationship a little at first – favorite a Tweet or two and comment on some articles over the course of a few days. Then send them an email pitching your idea. Write your email like a news article:
- Your subject line is your lead, and it needs to hit the “surprise” angle
- The body of your email is your nut graph – it gives the who, what, when, where, why and how of your story.
- Sign off by asking for feedback. Do they think the idea would resonate? Why/why not? Are we missing anything?
Wait for responses, and follow-up after a day or two. If you hear crickets on any of the ideas, then it’s time to move onto something else. When you get responses, it will not only validate your concept, but their feedback may help you refine your it. You might also wind up with a quote or two, and when the time comes to promote it, you may have a champion waiting to help you spread the word. It may seem like a long process, but doing this legwork will fix the odds in your favor to keep your big investment from becoming a big flop. Dive even deeper in our on-demand webinar→ BIO: Kyle Olson is the Senior Content Strategist at Digital Third Coast, a leading Chicago SEO agency. When Kyle isn’t collecting vinyl records, he’s developing, strategizing and promoting content for his wide array of clients. His content has been featured on The Washington Post, Yahoo, The Chicago Tribune, Forbes, VentureBeat, ABC News, Esquire, Entrepreneur, and Fortune.