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Can great content be about nothing?
Can Great Content Be About Nothing?

Original, quantitative, in-depth research can produce solid, compelling content, but it’s not the only approach to creating great content other people want to read.
You can also write about nothing… provided that you know a little something about the nothing you’re writing about!

Take Your Cue from “Seinfeld”

Jerry Seinfeld built an iconic TV series talking about “nothing.” The show took everyday topics and blew them out of proportion, like waiting for a table at a Chinese restaurant or not being able to find your car in the parking garage. The show also gave us a glimpse into the oddball experiences Jerry and his friends shared that bound them together, like Kramer’s black market showerhead that gave all the guys that funny flat-hair look.

Seinfeld Still

Photo credit: YouTube

So how do you create compelling content from “nothing”?

Just like Seinfeld successfully did, you can create compelling content if you:

  • Pick topics people want to read or talk about
  • Add humor and emotional details that other people can relate to
  • Share your content in the places your audience will see it
How can you tell what’s popular and what people want to talk about?

Start by finding out what’s most-searched-for on the web. People want to read about interesting and fresh opinions, interviews from credible people, how-to’s, Hollywood and entertainment news, reviews, roundups and more. Use a tool like Market Samurai to find out what your competition is saying, what keywords are being targeted, and where their backlinks are coming from.

You can also research what is popular using social analytics tools like NetBase to see what hashtags and topics are trending on social media. Explore topics to see how many comments, likes, shares, follows, and retweets the topic is given.

How do you make your content have an emotional connection to your reader?

Look at what you can do to create emotion in your blog. This emotion may come from stories you tell, humor you share or examples you provide that your reader relates to. If you use humor, be sure and test it out on a few people – especially people who do not have the same type of humor as you — to be sure it is both tasteful and humorous. You want to be sure your intent shines through in a positive way!

Photos and videos will give you more credit in search as well as make your content more interesting and memorable for your reader. Visuals that exaggerate your point are excellent for audience recall. Plus, posts with photos and video are more sharable in social channels (Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, Twitter…). Gratisography is a great source for photos that exaggerate or can appeal to irreverence.

Believe it or not, your typeface, font size and spacing has an impact. I found this topic discussed best in Mikael Cho’s Blog The Science Behind Fonts (and how they make you feel), and The Aesthetics of Reading, a study by MIT and Microsoft.

How do you share content where your reader sees it?

Have a clear outline of your target audience, including their demographics, psychographics. Create personas for your key targets. Use Google analytics to see who is hitting your website and blogs. Use surveys, monitor social channels to see who is following/liking/sharing/commenting on your blogs and interview your customers and ask where they look for information – go where they are!

I recently met with Jason Lemkin, a partner at StormVentures. He told me a key step he takes is to interview 25 customers to understand what matters to them and where they go for information and research. Good advice.

You should also look at where your competition is posting and sharing their information. I turn to Google analytics, Market Samurai and NetBase for this. Social analytics tools (NetBase, Salesforce/Radian 6, SAP, Brandwatch, Oracle, Crimson Hexagon) can tell you who your top influencers are, what they are blogging about, where they are sharing their content and how popular the topics are.

A Personal Story: Going Viral

How can you ensure your content will go viral?

You can’t — and the huge majority of content never comes close to going viral. If there were a “formula for virality,” we’d all follow it like robots. The thing is, there will never be such a formula because content that goes viral is original, timely, funny, shocking, sad, goofy or something else that doesn’t fit into a repeatable process. This is why it is so important you get the emotional connection happening with your target audience as discussed above.

You have to have content that resonates to increase your chances of getting on the viral track – and remember keywords are important. Will people be searching for your topic? Are you using highly searched keywords? Is your content on trustworthy domains, have backlinks and ranked high by Google? Are people commenting or sharing your content to boost it in search? Are you pushing it out in various places so it will be found? Are you breaking up the content so you can use it in various channels to grab attention (social, PR, your blog and third-party blogs, email, website quotes, etc.)?

At NetBase, the “What Women Want” infographic went viral. Why? People want to talk about gender differences and want to know what other people like themselves are saying about them. NetBase listened to and analyzed social conversations on the topic. The results were launched at SXSW where we had ice cream served at our booth, which highlighted what women want most – ice cream. The story was picked up by the press, won awards, drove a packed booth and quality leads, and is still referenced today by top social influencers. The leads and awareness more than tripled previous campaigns. I’d call that going viral, and for a startup with a minimal budget, it delivered a great ROI.

This example addresses the 3 points: creating interesting content that people relate to, want to talk about and will share. And it went viral by using the content and repurposing it in various forms in social, providing quotes to other websites, sharing it with the press and through key influencers, etc.

As a topic for content, gender differences aren’t exactly “nothing”, but it’s also not a serious industry-related topic. The success of that content shows that you can succeed talking or writing about nothing as long as the topic is of interest to your audience. After all, as Jerry said to George after hearing his pitch for a sitcom about nothing, “I think you may have something here.”

Some additional resources and insights on this topic can be found in Pratik Dholakiya’s blog How to Write Interesting Content for a “Boring” Topic.

I’d love to hear from you about your own successes with creating compelling content. Join the discussion in the comments, or on my blog.

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Written by Gretchen Hoffman
Gretchen Hoffman
Gretchen is currently VP of Marketing at Brightidea (@BrightIdeaHQ), and formerly a senior marketing executive at NetBase and Alcatel-Lucent. She's also mom to two energetic little boys and three dogs. Connect with Gretchen on LinkedIn, or follow her on Twitter.

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