10 lessons journalists can teach content marketers

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10 lessons journalists can teach content marketers

In today’s digital world, almost anyone can call themselves a journalist.

With smartphones and always-accessible blogs and social media sites, everyone is now a “reporter” – under the right circumstances – with the ability to bring stories from anywhere in the world to a potential audience of billions.

So maybe it’s time for all of us – especially marketers – to get trained like reporters. After all, journalists have been telling stories for a long time now – before the Internet, before viral videos, before Twitter, Facebook and Vine.

Which storytelling tips stand the test of time, and how can you incorporate them into your own content marketing?

Let’s look at 10 lessons journalism can teach us about storytelling.

1. Find a fresh topic

Most important? Have something new to say. In an Internet world where it’s all too easy to click the little ‘close’ button at the top of a window, adding something new to the conversation is a crucial part of keeping people interested.

It can be tough, but journalists have to face this challenge, too – with events that happen year after year, or stories that are important but drag on until it’s tough to pay attention.

Take a page from their book and keep it fresh. Brainstorm a new angle on a well known topic. Tell an old story in a new format. No retreading the same old clickbait!

2. Craft attention-grabbing headlines

A story has to grab a reader with its headline. Make sure there’s something about it to entice the reader to delve into the rest of the text with intrigue and anticipation.

A headline could be seen as a promise to the reader; a promise that should be fulfilled by the rest of the piece. But it takes practice. Exercise your headline-writing muscles by writing 10-20 headlines for each piece like Upworthy does.

3. Don’t forget the basics

Although there’s plenty of room for creativity, stories must be told efficiently to have the greatest effect.

Don’t forget to cover the five Ws: who, what, when, where and why. (OK, and ‘how,’ too.)

Introduce points in the order of importance to the reader – if the main details are found in the last paragraph, the reader will move onto something else long before they get far enough to learn anything.newspaper-front-page

Once the basics are taken care of, then you can experiment.

4. Create multiple points of entry

In a newspaper, headlines usually provide the biggest opportunity to grab a reader – but there are also photos, pullquotes, stat boxes and graphics designed as second-chance elements to pull you in.

With online content, news might come to you via a traditional headline or through a variety of other ways – as a quote on Facebook, an image on Pinterest or from a tweet. That means marketers, too, should prepare each piece of content with multiple elements to engage readers.

5. Think evergreen

When you think about the effort it takes to put out a newspaper every day (and yes, that includes holidays, vacation days, birthdays…), it’s not so crazy that they’ve been called a “daily miracle.” Helping that miracle along is evergreen content – stories that have a long shelf life and can be stored until they’re needed.

Marketers can benefit even more from evergreen content – popular posts with a long life can be great for SEO in that they continuously attract links and social shares. Make sure your content strategy takes into account a plan for creating and regularly unearthing or updating evergreen content.

6. Know your audience

When it comes to news, stories have to be relevant to an audience to get read. If someone finds that the news story is happening on their street, for example, they are suddenly much more likely to read on.

Similarly, a website’s content can only be effective if it’s relevant to the reader. For example, a website advertising printing services will benefit from publishing news stories related to the industry; the people visiting the site will most likely be interested in printing.

Make sure you’re writing what your audience wants to consume – and share. And always keep the audience front of mind: how can your information be most easily consumed and understood by them?

7. Always tell the truth

Honesty is crucial when it comes to writing news stories and writing marketing content.

If a website’s user finds out they’re being fed bad information, they will lose all trust in the source; causing irreversible damage.

Even when writing content that promotes your own product or service, always be fair when discussing competitors.

8. Crowdsource your content

All the best stories – whether they’re in a newspaper or on a brand’s blog – come from the same source: people. Journalists rely on key community sources for tips, but your job as a marketer is even easier – just ask your online community.

Asking questions relevant to your industry on your social media platforms is a great way to start conversations and uncover new content opportunities.

9. Stay curious

News doesn’t always come to you – sometimes you have to go out and find it. Journalists are trained to find hidden stories and always be on the lookout for their next article.

Marketers can do this by training ourselves to stay curious.

Read unexpected news sources – as far outside your industry as you dare – and identify recurring features, themes and blog-worthy parallels.

Interview unlikely sources, including your own employees – you just might get a better understanding of your customers’ biggest questions.

Look for stories in your own backyard. Share behind-the-scenes photos and videos from your staff to show a little personality and fun.

10. Quality content trumps all

Online content has never been more important for a successful business.

With the right content, a website can flourish; standing above its competitors in an overcrowded market.

Telling a story is an art well worth mastering, which is why professional, journalism- trained writers can be of great benefit to any organisation.

What tips have you gleaned from the journalism world – or even another profession? Share them in the comments.

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Rebecca Flynn works for Direct Content, a UK company specializing in high quality content for businesses of all sizes. The company, which is based in Cheshire, also provides content for a number of SEO firms and internet marketing agencies.

Tell us what you think

  • Andy Crestodina

    Nice post on a great topic. Here’s another tip that bloggers can learn from journalists: hit your deadlines! Bloggers aren’t usually under the same pressures that reporters are, but they would benefit from the urgency that comes with a drop-dead deadline…

  • starshiplove

    Interesting article. To some extent journalism today is more topic and content driven. The barrier to creating online content is low so the quality has to be quite high to capture some real attention. I think that too many companies out there try to get attention way too quickly rather than focusing on quality. They try shortcuts like trying to buy Facebook fans (see how many companies are listed at http://www.buyfacebookfansreviews.com for example) when they should mainly be focusing on creating high quality content that benefits everybody in the long run. I also think that just like journalists have to be multi-platform superstars today, companies need to make sure they’re marketing on all kinds of platforms. Whether its social, email, search engines, etc, everybody needs to make sure that they have some sort of presence just about everywhere. That takes a lot of effort and energy but the results can be worth it for your business in the long run.

  • RavenCourtney

    Ha! Touche, Brendan. ;)

  • brendan McNally

    Great article, I just somehow doubt that people who think in terms of content would know story if it bit them on the ass.

  • RavenCourtney

    We agree; Rebecca did a great job. Thanks for reading!

  • RoseAnnPan

    Great list, definitely learned a lot from this article. Thanks for sharing and keep them comin.