One of the hallmarks of social media is content: creating it, sharing it and engaging with it.
The best content in social media inspires, informs, educates or entertains (and if you’re really lucky, it does all four!). But how do you create content that goes viral?
What follows are seven strategies you can employ to help your content succeed.
The idea for this post came from Jay Baer’s excellent article on creating reusable social media content, which defined how companies can generate more value by repurposing existing content.
Content Creation Is Easier Than Ever
With the growing number of social media tools coming online each day, creating content is easier than ever. You can grab a bunch of pictures from your camera and create an Animoto slideshow in just a few steps. You can also upload these pictures to Facebook and Twitter using sites like Twitpic or Tweetphoto. By adding captions and explanations, you help those in your network share the experience with you.
Will They Notice if You Create It?
Similarly, it’s reasonably easy to get started with blogging. The challenge is, even though content is easy to produce (and a lot of people are actively creating it), how do you create powerful content that actually gets attention?
The answer to this lies at the intersection of neuroscience, individual psychology and group dynamics. Here’s a bit more detail.
#1: The Cocktail Party Phenomenon
In terms of neuroscience, there are a few concepts you need to know. The first is the reticular activating system (RAS). The RAS is one of the structures in the brain responsible for orientation and attention. Most commonly, the RAS is associated with the concept of selective attention, which means that we naturally orient to information or ideas that we are invested in.
An example of the RAS at work would be in a crowded room where you can’t hear much of anything, but you suddenly turn to someone who has just used your name in conversation. As our names are one thing we are clearly interested and invested in, we naturally focus more fully when someone mentions us.
One strategy is to create content that is relevant and meaningful. Sounds obvious, right?
But the trick is that it needs to be relevant, meaningful and usable. Adult learning theory says that adults are much more interested in content that addresses a specific problem they are having right now. If you want your social media content to stand out, don’t be afraid to get specific and target your audience very tightly. The more relevant your content is to a specific group of people, the greater attention it will receive.
For example, let’s say that you’re a time management expert. You have productivity tips that would help everyone, but you’ll get more attention and notice if you target the tips to a specific group, such as “time management for working Moms.”
#2: More Formats: Better Learning
The second concept related to neuroscience is the idea of assisting people to interact with your content in multiple ways. The concept of “multimodal learning” explains that people are more likely to learn and retain information when it is presented in multiple modalities such as written (visual) and aural (auditory) at the same time. Your content will get more attention if you offer people multiple formats by which they can consume it.
Edgar Dale’s Cone of Learning demonstrates this concept well:
#3: Emotional Narratives Are Remembered Best
As we turn to human psychology, we can find a few ideas that are useful in terms of content creation. First, remember that people tend to respond more strongly to stories and to find meaning in narrative. To the extent that your content is logically presented, sequential, easy to follow and includes emotional elements, your audience will pay more attention. Use stories in your marketing to make it more relevant and personal.
For example, when sharing content on social sites, include case studies and examples of how your concepts or ideas were applied successfully with good results. People remember narratives better than a series of facts.
#4: Familiarity Fosters Likeability
Another concept from human psychology comes from Swap (1977), who found that familiarity fosters likeability. The findings of this study suggest that the more exposure we have to someone, the more we are predisposed to like them, especially when we feel they are giving us value or rewards. For your content, this means you should syndicate your content widely and be out in front of your target audience every chance you get. As people see you “everywhere,” they start to pay more attention. And as they pay more attention, you become more familiar. And as you become more familiar, they like you more. We all are more inclined to do business with people we know and like.
#5: People Want Shortcuts
A third concept from human psychology that we can apply is the idea that people want shortcuts to help them make good decisions. As Barry Schwartz points out in his book, The Paradox of Choice, we all want lots of options—but, paradoxically, the more options we have, the less able we are to decide. This means, as a marketer, your content has to filter, not aggregate.
While people do appreciate resource lists, and you should use these in your marketing, it’s also important to include some suggestions and ideas for how people can benefit from these resource lists. Guide your visitors to make good decisions, filtered through your expertise. This is a powerful content—and persuasion—strategy.
#6: People Take Advice From People They Don’t Even Know
Turning now to group dynamics, let’s talk a bit about social decision-making and the value of social proof. Social decision-making is a term used to describe the idea that we are looking for ways to make good decisions without extraordinary effort. One way we do this is by asking questions of our social group. Sites like Yelp.com (and other review sites) tap into the wisdom of the crowds, to help you make a better decision about where to eat and where to shop.
A study completed in 2008 by Jupiter Research found that 50% of people consulted a blog before making a purchase. This means that we are basing our purchasing decisions on the wisdom of the group and can be influenced by people we have never met and hardly know. This growing focus on social decision-making has an important implication for you. You must position yourself as an expert resource for your clients. When you do this effectively, clients are more likely to trust, and act on, your recommendations. When your potential clients are ready to make a buying decision, you want them to think of you as the best solution.
#7: Engage, Captain!
As a content creator, it’s important to seek out comments and feedback from your audience, because not only do you connect with them more deeply, but you also start building your group of true supporters. These true supporters will look to you for guidance, information and assistance in making crucial decisions. As you gather more true supporters, your status grows. And, as your status grows, people are naturally more willing to listen to what you say and act on your suggestions.
So your content is powerful when it moves people to take action for personally positive results. Social proof is activated when others start talking about you, and sharing positive experiences with you. This naturally builds your credibility and visibility, and makes it more likely that people will pay attention to you and your content.
Putting it all Together
So as you focus on building content, keep in mind that it should:
- Be relevant, targeted, and usable
- Be offered in multiple formats
- Use stories and sequencing to appeal to emotions and logic
- Be consistently delivered
- Guide your visitors to make the best decisions for them
- Focus on building your true base of fans
- Move people to personally positive results
When you use these principles in your social media marketing, you’ll be benefiting from the convergence of neuroscience, human psychology and group dynamics, which will call attention to your content. And getting attention is the first step to making anything happen.
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What about you? What powerful content creation strategies do you use? Let me know what you think in the box below.