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If you want your content to matter, you have to care

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I’ve been thinking lately about the most basic steps you need to stick to in order to produce good, successful content on the Web. Here’s the basest one I can think of:

Care.

If you don’t genuinely care about your content/your message/your work, it will show, and no one else will care about it, either.

Maybe this is why newspapers have had such a tough time translating themselves to new media. The old voice-of-god is just, well, so superior and self-important that it comes across as detached—especially in a medium where people are talking back-and-forth all the time in their own voices. I’m not saying the secret to caring is simply a matter of switching from third-person to first-person narrative (though I do think it’s a good idea), but there’s a palpable difference between reading a bunch of facts and reading a story.

Follow-up is another big part of caring. You can’t say you care if your general practice is to post a story and then move on to the next one. Get involved in the comment thread. Update your story according to the interaction—the questions and insights—that goes on there. Ask people what they think. I see stories with dozens of comments, none of which are from the person who wrote the story, and I feel the same way as when I eat a Happy Meal: This is mass-produced, hastily prepared crap that serves the largest quantity of customers possible.

Familiarity with your audience is a huge factor in caring. What do your readers care about? How do you know that? How many of your readers do you talk you every day on Facebook? On Twitter? In your comment threads? For that  matter, which social media service is the most popular in your community? What’s the ratio, in your Rolodex file, of readers to talking heads?

The next time you’re kicking your foot into the ground over some post of yours that just won’t take off the way you thought it would, or how much of a cesspool your comment threads are, think about these things. Think about how much you’ve invested in your audience and the things they care about. If you’re drawing a blank or pointing to a handful of letters to the editor, you aren’t doing nearly enough for your readers.

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