Creating content: seven timeless tips

Formats come and go, but the rules of communication will live forever.

By: Helen Gilchrist,   3 minutes

The world can change a lot in seven months. Cold war enemies come together, commercial spaceships are launched and robots start giving TED talks. The relentless march of technological progress and digital innovation makes seven months in the world of content and communications seem like a long time indeed.

So, starting work again after seven months on maternity leave, I was eager to get stuck in and up to speed on the latest developments. But at the same time, it struck me how easy it is to get sidetracked by all the noise and chatter about the Next Big Thing – often at the expense of doing the simple things well. Don’t get me wrong, I’m immensely excited by the new possibilities that are opening up to us on a near daily basis, but it also made me think about the important things that don’t change when it comes to creating content – on or offline – that really engages people.

Here are seven tips for your content that are as important now as they were seven months – or even seven years – ago…

1. There are no rules when it comes to format
Writing content that people will want to read, share and talk about means using all the creativity at your disposal. Don’t feel tied to continuous paragraphs and conventional article structures – often ideas can be brought to life in more interesting, ‘non-linear’ ways. And it’s not just about lists, tips and Q&As; think about how you could use quotes, dialogue/ conversation, infographics, picture captions, multiple authors and so on to make your content punchy and different. Or borrow from formats in other contexts your audience will be familiar with; whether it’s TV shows, takeaway menus or games, with a little imagination they can often be repurposed to create memorable content that’s quicker to read and more compelling to share.

2. Think theme
If you know you need to create good content but don’t know where to start, coming up with an overarching theme or concept can be a great backbone from which to flesh out your ideas. Narrowing the focus can help generate new ideas and subject matter, and make your content feel more cohesive and meaningful.

3. Get over yourself
Just like when you’re talking in person, no one wants to listen to you bang on about yourself. You may be writing content to promote your brand, product or organisation, but it’ll be very boring if that’s all you have to say and people will switch off/ go elsewhere/ delete/ put you in the recycling long before they even consider interacting, let alone buying. As in life, use the same principles of conversation – think about who you’re talking to, what they might be interested in and what you could talk about to strike up a rapport with them. And don’t just talk – ask questions! Your content can be the beginning of a conversation that comes to life across social media to build an engaging and loyal community.

4. Read, watch, listen
Absorb yourself in magazines, blogs, websites, newspapers and TV to see what makes other content strike a chord for you. Why would you tell your friends about it? What grates? As the author AL Kennedy advises new writers, “Read. As much as you can. As deeply and widely and nourishingly and irritatingly as you can. And the good things will make you remember them, so you won’t need to take notes.”

5. Be original
The internet can be an incredible research tool and there is some fascinating content out there to link to. But don’t just regurgitate what’s already out there. Although curating/ filtering third party content in an interesting way can be great for helping communicate your brand values quickly and easily, try to allow space/ time/ resources to create your own original content too. Something distinct that can’t be found anywhere else will add value and attract new audiences.

6. Mix media
If your content is online, use pictures, film, music, PDF downloads, links and so on to enhance the user experience and give them more. But remember to frame it with snappy, well-written copy to draw users in and encourage them to dig deeper – readers are unlikely to watch films or click on links unless you give them a good reason to.

7. What’s the draw?
There’s no point in having a wonderfully written and fascinating article, post or newsletter if people aren’t enticed to read it. Allow time and attention for all the other elements that draw people in like the header, standfirst, pull-out text, menu/ contents pages, SEO elements, email subject lines and so on.

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