How to create content people actually want to read or see

Nobody creates content hoping to attract zero audience. But so many people end up doing exactly that. | by Carey Nieuwhof

Chances are that this week you’re going to write something or upload something you hope people will want to look at. And if you’re like most content creators, what you produce will likely get ignored by almost everyone.

You’ll work hard on

  • Your social posts.
  • Your vlog.
  • An email to your audience or congregation.
  • A blog post.
  • Your next talk or message.
  • The media and marketing around your message.
  • A big ask for money or volunteers.

And you’ll be frustrated because you don’t get nearly the response you’d hoped for. In fact, despite your best efforts, only a tiny percentage will open it, read or watch it. Some will simply delete the email, or worse, delete you.

How do you change that?

Every week, I write a blog, release podcast episodes and write almost daily emails. As the audience has grown (the content now gets accessed over a million time a month), I’ve learned a thing or two about what connects and what doesn’t.

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Want to hear the most surprising part?

You don’t have to sell your soul to gain an audience. Many people think to get noticed you need to be loud, opinionated, sensationalist or otherwise attention-grabbing. And while that’s the way the world is going, that’s not the way you need to go.

In fact, you can do the opposite—you can stay true to your convictions, avoid trend-jacking and decline the impulse to comment on every crazy thing that’s happening in the world, and still connect with people, perhaps far more deeply than the angry people do.

Two distinct advantages also arise when you avoid selling your soul to get clicks. First, you sleep better at night because you’re still trying to make the world a better place. And second, you get to be yourself. If you produce content (text, interviews, posts or videos) that flow from the core of who you are, you’ll never run out of content.

Right, you say…but how do I get an audience if I’m just being me?

Below are three things that I’ve seen make a huge difference. At least they have for me.

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When posting content for a cause, business or organization, most people make two fundamental mistakes:

  1. They write from their viewpoint or the viewpoint of the organization.
  2. What they write only helps them, not the reader or viewer.

Create content like that on a regular basis and most people will begin to delete whatever you send them the moment they see who it’s from.

Sure, your mom might read it and tell you that you did a good job, but if you actually knew how few people read your stuff, it would be…depressing.

As someone who writes a lot, the last thing I want to do is spend time writing something nobody reads.

The good news is if you can successfully change just three things, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a better—and far more effective—content creator.

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1. FIGURE OUT THE WHY, NOT JUST THE WHAT

Most of us naturally start communicating by outlining the what, how and when behind our subject.

The problem is nobody actually cares about the what, how or when of your issue until they understand why it matters. I completely agree with Simon Sinek that people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

Why would someone care about what you’re communicating?

Why does this even matter?

How are people going to be better off as a result of reading/watching/listening?

What would they miss out on if they didn’t participate?

If you can’t figure out why, either you have content not worth posting or a message not worth giving.

But once you’ve isolated it, you’ve got the beginning of a great angle for composing your piece.

To break this down a bit, the why behind this article is the issue that most content creators care about: how can I get more people to read or watch my stuff?

Nobody creates content hoping to attract zero audience. But so many people end up doing exactly that.

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2. SHIFT YOUR SCREEN VIEW

To really isolate the why behind your what, try this every time you write something: shift your screen view. Imagine what it would be like to receive your email, read your post, watch your video or listen to your content.

It’s amazing to me that as I’ve coached people on this point, they instinctively know how they’d receive something they just created: it would bore them and they’d delete it or ignore it.

Don’t just think about what you want to accomplish when you create content. Think instead about what your audience wants to accomplish.

So test your piece on yourself. Think about how you would receive the content if you were sitting on the other side of the screen.

When you begin to isolate that, you’ll start to answer the age-old marketing question: What’s In it For Me (marketing people call this the WIFM). As much as you might resist that (it sounds selfish), the truth is you pass everything that comes your way through that filter. You ask yourself: what’s in it for me?

If you can isolate what’s in it for your readers—why they would act—you have struck a chord that will resonate with them.

Then do something great with the why and the WIFM—lead off with it. Make that the first sentence.

“Ever wonder what your 13-year-old son is thinking?” or “Chances are you want to do something significant next year.”

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This week you’re going to write something or upload something you hope people will want to look at. And if you’re like most content creators, what you produce will likely get ignored by almost everyone. (Recognize this?)

Hard to ignore that, isn’t it?

I’m not saying you’ll get it right every time (I don’t), but when you do a decent job of “thinking what my audience is thinking,” the content resonates much more deeply.

All you did is shift your screen view, zero in on the WIFM and isolate why it all matters. Now you’ve got something people care about.

3. BE HELPFUL

So what really makes people read, click and care in the long run? Whenever people ask me why my audience has grown, other than providence and grace which you really can’t control (and which there has been so much of), I immediately point to the word “helpful.”

If you produce content that truly helps your audience, you’ll likely always have an audience.

People are drawn to things that help them—that make their life better or give greater meaning to it (this is good news if you lead a church or non-profit, or work in a company where you’re passionate about your product.)

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If you bend over backwards to help people, you will always have an audience.

And if you run all your writing/events/activities through a ‘helpful’ filter, you will find engagement grows.

So what does helpful look like? Here’s my current approach:

On my blog, I try to solve every day practical leadership and life problems people face.

On my Leadership Podcast, I try to bring you behind the scenes to some of the world’s top leaders and have the backstory conversation you would want to have if you were sitting down with them at lunch.

In my courses, I distill all my best leadership strategies and philosophies into practical, hands-on training in productivitycommunication and church growth.

In my books, I try to help you solve life and leadership issues that require a longer treatment.

In my (almost daily) emails (you can subscribe for free here), I curate the best of my content in digestible chunks to give you daily fuel.

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And what about what I want, you might be asking? Well, to quote Zig Ziglar, you can get everything you want in life if you will just help enough other people get what they want. That is exceptionally true.

CGM

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