Content Marketing: Dance Like Nobody’s Watching

by · February 5, 201353 comments

She danced in an airport.  She was sporting red pants, a gray shirt, and ear buds pumping a jam.  She danced like no one was watching. Of course it was the baggage claim area at LAX, so there were plenty of people to watch.  Many simply ignored her, while a few were aghast, and cast glances that said as much. However, she wasn’t dancing for a couple hundred passengers awaiting luggage… she was dancing for 4.6 million YouTube watchers.  The message?  This girl has some serious confidence. The video is clearly a promotion for the lady-friendly site HelloGiggles.  It also clearly struck a nerve and went viral.  More importantly, it tells us something about creating good content:  write content like nobody’s reading and create content like nobody’s watching.

Sign of Good Content

Courtesy of andertoons.comIn corporate circles, content cycles through an endless maze of revisions and approvals.  Videos are edited and polished.  One syllable words are the center of much agonizing: words are altered or replaced with key words.

This is all in an effort to create the perfect, pithy pitch that will captivate information consumers and compel them to share on social networks.

More often than not, these cycles have the opposite effect.  They strip out the emotion, tone down the personality and leave the content seemingly edgy, but not too edgy.  Seemingly edgy isn’t enough and creative ideas are crushed before they even have the opportunity to compete for traction.

In the comments of a controversial blog post on social PR, Geoff Livingston wrote, “I was afraid to press publish, which is usually the sure sign of a post worth publishing!”  Even Livingston might agree, we can write with emotion, still be diplomatic and appeal to the people that matter to us most.

Everyone desires serious confidence.

Two Sides of Content

Content marketing has come of age.  It’s the new branding, it’s earned 12% of marketing budgets, it’s becoming an arms race,  which means like the “Force” in Star Wars, it has a dark side.

However it doesn’t take a Jedi or mind tricks to produce content that moves.  It just takes a little confidence, some music, a flip cam, and an unlikely venue for videography, for one lady to appeal to strike a chord to a massive following.

If she had taken the offline social cues – the eye-rolls – from those nearby, she might never had made an internet sensation.   Fortunately she did, and the subsequent online social clues tell a dramatically different story.

Long-winded Emotion Moves Content

longer and emotional pieces have a greater tendency to go viral

My contention for emotion and for the unvarnished viewpoint in content marketing isn’t simply my opinion or based solely on my experience.  There’s data to back this claim up.

In a post for SEOmoz titled, Why Content Goes Viral: the Theory and Proof, Carson Ward points to academic research that draws an important conclusion:  longer and emotional pieces have a greater tendency to go viral.

Ward writes:

  • “The first finding is that longer articles tend to be shared far more often. The correlation remains strong even after taking the amount of site exposure into account.”
  • “Content that inspires low-energy emotions like sadness is less likely to be shared, where content that inspires high-energy emotions like awe, anger, and anxiety is far more likely to be shared.”

Emotion Conveyed is Emotion Captured

The indications of how emotions move content are all around us.  Love him or hate him, emotion is how rapper Eminem connects with his audience.   We can disavow his lyrics, while giving him credit for speaking his mind with passion.  His music is a true story.

Politics aside, of the last several Presidents, those that connected with the public had a greater sense for emotion.  Ronald Reagan, dubbed “The Great Communicator” had it, as does Clinton and Obama.   Neither Bush 41 or 43 has it, though I believe George H. W. Bush, remains one of the most dignified, and diplomatic, chief executives the country has ever seen.

We see it in the business world as well among those excelling in content marketing.  Red Bull and Coca-Cola appeal to humor and to inspiration, but more importantly, they convey emotion and in return, they captivate emotion.  It takes real courage to transform a corporate website into an online magazine.

The Key to Content Marketing

I’m not advising people completely toss out their processes for developing content, but I am suggesting we all take a step back.  Put the editorial calendar on hold and focus instead on developing pure ideas.  Set the list of key words aside and face an empty page without it the crutch.  Write something we are, as Livingston said, afraid to publish.

Dancing like no one is watching is the HelloGiggles paradox:  for every person nearby that either doesn’t seem to care, or is appalled at our actions, there may be a million out there that identify with the same independent sense.   And that’s when content moves.

* * *

What do you think? What content has moved you lately? Are you struggling with moving beyond the editorial calendar? Is the red pen destroying your content strategy? Share your thoughts in the comments.

About the Author:  Guest blogger Frank Strong is a classically trained PR professional with new media savvy.  Find him on Twitter, Google+ or read more from him on his blog:  Sword and the Script.

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About Nichole Kelly

Nichole Kelly

Nichole Kelly is the CEO of Social Media Explorer|SME Digital. She is also the author of How to Measure Social Media. Her team helps companies figure out where social media fits and then helps execute the recommended strategy across the “right” mix of social media channels. Do you want to rock the awesome with your digital marketing strategy? Contact Nichole

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Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://occamsrazr.com Ike Pigott

    I love this, Frank — but I would be a lot happier when we could move to a better word than “content.”

    I cut my teeth in television news, and the industry started down a slow spiral of irrelevance when it stopped looking at storytelling as a craft, and put Producers in charge of the agenda. Literally speaking, we got away from news as Story and embraced it as “Product.”

    I don’t know yet what word we can use to displace “content” and give it more shine, but I can’t help but cringe that it’s all about cranking out something for the sake of something’s sake.

    • http://www.swordandthescript.com/ Frank Strong

      Ah, Ike, but the whole point of this post is not to crank for crank’s sake. As for the terminology, I’ve had this discussion with so many people:  I really like the term content marketing while storytelling reminds me of campfires and marshmallows.  There are however, a lot of people that agree with you.  Thanks for the comment.

  • http://twitter.com/Thatvideomag Thatvideomagazine

    This article is on point and so very true. We created a 15 minute video that received 40,000 views in 30 days due to it’s honesty and emotion. We were quite surprised.

    • http://www.swordandthescript.com/ Frank Strong

      Lot of people would do almost anything for 40,000 views.  Glad to hear your are able to connect on an emotional level.  Let us know if you think that makes a more loyal customer.

  • http://www.razorsocial.com/ Ian Cleary

    I’ve recently started following Jon Morrows and he has content that moves and he also has great tips on getting content to go viral and part of this is getting your reader to express emotion after reading the post (e.g. laugh or cry).  Your article is interesting and thought provoking. Thanks!

    • http://www.swordandthescript.com/ Frank Strong

      Thanks Ian.  I’ll have to check out Jon too!

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  • C_bergshoeff

    An excellent piece to get the creative juices flowing! There is definitely a difference between the content that I create using a formula/keywords/voice and the content I create with complete freedom. I can relate to that fear of pressing “publish”, and I’m happy to dance a little more like no one is watching!

    • http://www.swordandthescript.com/ Frank Strong

      Lace up those dancing shoes!  Thanks for the comment.

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  • http://twitter.com/dynamicTimmy Tim Halloran

    Excellent writing.

    • http://www.swordandthescript.com/ Frank Strong

      Thank you, cheers! 

  • http://www.callboxinc.com.au/ Maegan Anderson

     Our content will be more appreciated when we write with emotion and sometimes based on our own experience.For me, honesty and confidence plays a big role in writing a good content.Thanks for the post Kelly!

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  • http://www.toprankmarketing.com/ Lee Odden

    “Put the editorial calendar on hold and focus instead on developing pure ideas.  Set the list of key words aside and face an empty page without it the crutch.

    “Really? I’ve been using an editorial calendar with keywords and topics as a guide for 5+ years. We have one of the most popular marketing blogs on the web. Traffic, inquiries and awareness of our business have never been higher. Our posts get hundreds and sometimes thousands of social shares and anywhere from 4,000-8,000 visits per day.  We’ve had a 6 year engagement with a $100bn company because of that content. We helped launch a new social community with one of the world’s largest computer manufacturers because of that content. 

    If someone is ineffective at using tools like an editorial calendar, search phrases and social topics, does that mean those tactics stand in the way of creative inspiration? 

    Content planning that considers the information needs of the audience you’re after that will ultimately buy you, your products and services deserves guidelines. There’s plenty of room for creative execution, just as there’s room for content planning to be accountable for business outcomes. It’s not enough to dance like no one’s looking to be competitive.  

    Could businesses stand to be more creative and free with the content they produce? Of course. But I’ll take creative + performance over creative + personal expression every time.

    • http://www.swordandthescript.com/ Frank Strong

      Hi Lee, thanks for diving in. Of course you have an exceptional blog and I remember seeing a bit of the case study you allude to here when you presented it in person several years ago.  Very impressive and also pretty darn difficult to replicate.  There’s only one Lee Odden.

      I’d respond with several thoughts: 

      First, I believe there’s nothing incongruent about emotion and results or accountability. I define emotion in the meaning of pisteis and its three parts of persuasion — ethos, pathos and logos. Emotion moves content and its why so many marketers strive to appeal to emotion.  An easy example is political communication — it uses anger to galvanize the base even as it polarizes the opposition. Businesses do it too when they perform outrageous stunts designed to stir up a fuss. 

      Second, tools like key word lists and edcals can be helpful, but what often happens is businesses get so focused on these parameters  they are unable to think beyond them.  Combine this with corporate speak and the result is metallic and repetitive content devoid of passion. If we as marketers aren’t plainly passionate about whatever it is we’re promoting, why should a prospective customer feel that way?  

      Third, as you know, I’ve read your blog for a long time.  I’ve read your book.  I’ve seen you speak in person on multiple occasions.  You Sir, are not without emotion in your content. It’s obvious you write with conviction and that’s what I find compelling.

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  • http://www.truenorthwriting.com.au/ Matt

    Hi Kelly.  

  • http://www.truenorthwriting.com.au/ Matt

    There’s a fair bit of research showing that longer content is LESS likely to be read and shared, not more.  Where content does go viral, it’s probably due to some other factors such as narrative – or emotion, as you say.  So length in itself shouldn’t be the end game

    • http://www.swordandthescript.com/ Frank Strong

      I think that was true at one time.  It’s not any more.  There’s a good link to solid research in the post — go take a look. One thing we do agree on is that length shouldn’t be the end game.  Good, creative content…is good creative content regardless of length. 

    • Matt

      Hi Frank, I think this bit from the article sums it up best:  

      “Correlation isn’t causation (sorry, the phrase is cliché for a reason), and it’s possible that there’s something else at work here. Perhaps the journalists tend to write longer pieces when they’re writing on hot topics, for example.”

      So talking about length in itself probably isn’t helpful.  Can you share the research backing up the shift away from Nielsen’s research?   Books come out of user-testing, such as ‘Letting Go of the Words’ by Jinny Reddish suggest that long-winded content is still a turn-off.

      • http://www.swordandthescript.com/ Frank Strong

        Matt, you are highlighting a caveat, not a conclusion.  
        The academic study cited in this very post aside (which is quite long itself), I’d start primary research with the media outlets like the WSJ and Economist that are not only profitable but growing.  They specialize in long form. Count the words in the links posted to TechMeme.  Look at the length of posts on A-List blogs, with the exception being Seth Godin, but of course, he’s an exception to about everything and often writes to those points. On a personal observation, my longer posts are often the most read. I’ve also found this to be true on my contributions. There’s a point of validation in Mark Twain’s famous quote; on the other hand, we live in a complex world where the nuance is in the details. Five tips for writing short posts has run it’s course. I’m not familiar with the Nielsen study you cite — feel free to provide a link. 

        In either case, you are certainly welcome to your view and are entitled to write short posts. 

        • http://www.truenorthwriting.com.au/ Matt

          Hi Frank.  The research to check out is at http://www.nngroup.com/articles/how-users-read-on-the-web/

          I think the things we agree on are:1) Long posts can work, as long as they meet other quality criteria and don’t waffle2) Short posts can also work, though there is a lot of superficial stuff out there.Personally I prefer to write more in-depth posts for the reasons we’ve covered.I think the only point of genuine disagreement here concerns the usefulness of the original research, but this may be one of those ‘intelligent minds may differ’ situations.

          • http://www.swordandthescript.com/ Frank Strong

            Matt, that research has a dateline of 1997, though it still ranks well in search.  Excite, Lycos and Altavista were still popular search engines. People would not buy products online.  I had a Hotmail account. 

            The web has changed a whole lot. The original research link here is actually about two separate studies.  First, two professors looked at the most emailed articles on The New York Times site and found the most shared tend to be long form.  Second, SEOmoz, which I don’t know how they fair in your neck of the woods, but they have a credible reputation here, conducted a similar study of blog posts — and found the same correlation. Conclusive?  Of course not.  Compelling?  Yes, Sir. I’d never recommend someone set out to write 1,200 word posts when three paragraphs will do the job.  The length of copy is a lousy objective, but for a good writer with prose that flows — have at it. 

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