A while ago I wrote about using selective reporting to frame news, grab attention and make your content stand out from the rest of the competition. Now lets looks at creating original content specifically for a social media channel. How do you increase the chances of your article striking a nerve and spreading like wildfire within a specific community?
The answer is simple. I’ve mentioned it before. First of all, you need to start by gathering tactical knowledge on the specific website. Know your audience’s fetishes. Know what they love/hate and know what they talk about. Know what cliques exist within the community. Know what totems, symbols, personalities and ideas are embraced by the general populace.
After knowing that, you can start to create content that is angled towards the specific audience. The mistake that most people make is not having broad appeal. A large general community has many members, each with different interests but a microscopic and overly technical focus on a small topic area may rob your content of the chance of truly going viral.
So what do you do? One method that works is just to use references to heighten content relevance and styling your articles in a catchy format that is easily accessible. What this template looks like will of course, depend on the specific website you are targeting.
Let’s use Digg as an example.
I’m not going to go into all the details on creating digg-friendly content (all that jazz about writing good headlines, using attractive pictures blah blah), instead I’m going to point you to Cracked.com, an example of a website that has perfected the art of writing original content that is attractive to not only Digg but many other channels like forums, blogs and social sites.
A general humor site, Cracked has gradually learned to create a template that works perfectly for a broad range of topics. Their content style does not vary from article to article: they use a more or less fixed template while inserting their topic-of-the-day into it.
What does this mean? That content producers in every conceivable niche/field can create content that will be appealing to a broad audience, just by learning how to use an attention grabbing frame. No more complaints about your site topic being inherently boring or obscure.
Cracked.com publishes a few articles everyday of the week and without fail, almost all of them will get to the frontpage of digg and sometimes, sites like Reddit. It’s a given that they’ll get frontpage glory, the only question is how many hours it’ll take for them to get there.
Like many other popular sites on digg, their success is accumulative: digg users see their content on the frontpage, read it and subscribe to their site via RSS or bookmark. They then visit it when new articles are published and end up digging them. And it goes on and on, untill a sizable number of digg users have become regular readers of their publication.
A lot of their initial success in the beginning was due to the fact that they wrote interesting content which was supported by a few power users who started submitting their stories. Over time, their integration with digg grew deeper and now every morning you’ll see users refreshing the Cracked.com homepage repeatedly just to be the first to submit the new article.
So apart from having supporters early on, how did Cracked.com take off? Mainly through good writing/ideas and the use of a sensationalistic, list-based content template. Instead of analyzing their website myself, I’ll refer you to two key articles they’ve written on the very topic of creating digg-friendly content and getting it to the frontpage.
The first one talks about writing a cracked-style list post and this quote here is most useful:
There are incredibly important questions in the world that need to be answered, which is why people read the The New York Times. Often when writing a list, your goal is to come up with a question that nobody on the face of the earth would ever actually need the answer to–a question that may in fact have never been asked before in the history of the human race.
This might sound easy but think of it like this: Real newspapers give people answers to the questions they’re already asking. What’s going on in Iraq? What’s up with this Bin Laden guy? It’s easy to know what questions to answer when they’re being asked of you.
But nobody’s asking Cracked and me “Who ARE the Top 10 Greatest Character Actors Who Ever Played Ninjas?” or “What DOES Science Have to Say About the Likelihood of a Zombie Apocalypse?” Journalists have it easy.
They even developed a tongue-in-cheek popularity equation for their list posts:
The” + (Number) + “Most” + (Over the top adjective) + (Subject) + Of All Time (Synonyms like “in History” or “Ever” will also be accepted) = Popularity
The second article (published today) talks about the 7 cheats for hitting the digg frontpage. This is more of a satirical piece and has only two points which are useful. The first is to use to talk about and reference Digg. I’ve talked about this before. The other point is to play to the crowd’s interests. Here’s an exaggerated mockup of a story that does that:
Note how the title crams in some of the big issues that Digg users care about.
Many people have written about content creation for social media, site optimization and ways to leverage digg. The hundreds of guides or tutorials out there are great but you’ll learn the fastest by observing the best. Apart from regularly watching what goes popular on various social channels, sites like Cracked.com can help you learn how to make even a small topical focus attractive to a general audience. And that’s what you need to reach more people online.
By the way, you might want to add me as a friend on Digg.
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