If you’re involved in the business of digital content, then you know you contend with distracted consumers, multi-screened attention and multi-threaded conversations. You probably have thousands of post-its on your desk reminding you to use odd numbers in your headlines, refer to pop culture, tell stories, use video, don’t use video, etc. to make your content stand out.
All of this advice can be perplexing as much of it is contradictory. Truth be told, no one really knows why some content reverberates and other content that you thought was so amazingly awesome sits with no clicks. You can test, test and still not be sure why certain content resonates with consumers and other does not.
Know Why People Search
So what can you control? Well, you can control your positive attitude that eventually your content will reach your intended audience. Rather than multi-threaded conversations posing a problem, I actually think that changing patterns in consumer content consumption can be helpful to marketers.
The trick is to understand the mindset of your consumer while they are interacting with your content — or better yet, brushing up against it.
When people are online they are in pursuit of information. They may be bored out of their minds, but in some way they are looking for a distraction — a new nugget — that they can use or tuck in their back pocket for later. That’s why Facebook feeds are so popular — they change often enough to make it fun and worthwhile to check your feed daily.
Look at this chart that shows the five most popular information-seeking activities and their associated mindsets:
Create Content for the Action
Let’s look at the five most popular information-seeking activities online and see if we can make some sense of how to create content for those five mindsets. We’ll use Ginny Redish’s example of content as a bite, snack and meal; meaning, a small piece, a larger piece and then the complement of information a consumer might want. (You can learn more about Redish’s formulation in her book, "Letting Go of the Words, Second Edition: Writing Web Content That Works.")
|Activity||Mindset||Type of Content|
|Browsing||Interested||Snack — if they find something about your content interesting, they will engage fully.
Browsing Example: I might be looking at a hashtag or within a group I belong to on LinkedIn for new and valuable information related to a specific topic. I’m not exactly sure what I’m looking for, but I have a sense I’m in the right place.
|Following||Fan||Bite, snack and meal — typically fans are engaged with almost all of your content, although they may be most interested in meals, as they are looking for robust information on a topic.
Following Example: There are certain bloggers whose content I check out — at least four out of five times a week.
|Searching||Actively Need||Bite and meal — typically people who are searching will hold on to a tidbit of content that gives them a clue for the next place to jump, as they continue their research. A snack will only frustrate them, as they look to have the biggest meal they can about the piece of information they seek.
Searching Example: If I know I want a pair of boots I admired on a friend, I’m going straight to Google. I might use a comparison site to check prices, but if the choices are limited, then usually I’ll just look at the list provided by Google.
|Scrolling||Back Corner of the Mind||
As people access content on mobile devices, like smartphones and tablets, they scroll through feeds — Facebook, Twitter and the like. So don’t despair that your content isn’t being read the day you post it, or that no one is paying attention to that video you just posted. If they are in a scrolling type of mood, they may be browsing, or they are just storing information for later (favorites on Twitter are good for this). They may come back to you — so make sure you leave a bite with a promise of a snack or a meal.
Scrolling Example: I may see something about a political candidate I will want to read later — but that doesn’t mean I’m going to read it while waiting for my name to be called in the doctor’s office.
I think most users who are comparison shopping are looking for snacks that will lead them to fuller meals once they narrow down their choices to three or fewer. Make sure you have both snacks and meals of content available for your audience, so they can get all the information they need.
Comparing Example: When shopping for a coffee table, I wanted to know all the dimensions. When one site didn’t list them, I bought the exact same table from a different etailer who did list the dimensions. (The price was the same, so who cared?)
How about you? What do you find frustrating about no knowing your user’s state of mind? How do you try to remedy that?
Editor's Note: Ahava writes frequently with helpful tips on content strategy. To read more, try Content Strategy: 3 Ways to Integrate Your Social Media Strategy
About the Author
Based in the Washington, D.C. metro area, Ahava Leibtag is a Web content strategist and writer. She leads AHA Media Group, a Web and content consulting firm operating since 2005. She authors the blog Online it ALL Matters.
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