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The Hacker Way of Creating Great Content

on October 3, 2016

For the same reason there are endless get rich quick schemes and weight loss formulas, there are also many experts offering advice on how to “create great content.” These articles attract the reader who wants the quick fix.

“Do I really have to diet and exercise? Isn’t there just a pill I can take?”

Unlike having an athletic body, which really does require diet and exercise, there’s a chronic barrage of evidence that a quick fix for creating great content actually exists. Every day we see dozens if not hundreds of pieces of trending content from complete unknowns.  Since we see it daily, we think there must be a secret to doing this.

Therefore, in an effort to be the next successful nobody, we begin searching, “The secret to creating great content,” and organizations who want your content marketing business oblige by writing articles with that exact title and word combination. While those articles may offer formatting advice, they don’t actually provide the true secret to creating great content, which is:

THE SECRET TO GREAT CONTENT IS TO START PRODUCING CONTENT. And accept the fact that your first pieces will probably suck and very few people will look at it.

In other words, to create great content, you have to create bad content first.

That’s not a recommendation to intentionally create bad content, but it’s more of the need to understand you can’t be obsessive about perfection with your first pieces of content. For most, it takes experience to get to “great content.” Sometimes that process is like a wave where at certain moments there’s a peak of “great” and “successful” content, and sometimes you’re at the bottom and nothing happens. Given the hyper competitive fight for your eyeballs online, you can’t debate endlessly about what “great content” is, you need to adopt “The Hacker Way,” popularized by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, and that “Way” is to “move fast and break stuff.”

Be wary of “great content” advice

It won’t take much effort to find plenty of advice on creating “great content.” Keep in mind that for every supposed “rule” to creating great content, there are dozens if not hundreds of examples of people who have done the complete opposite and been very successful.

For example:

RULE to creating great content: It has to be high quality

We’ve all seen low-res and poorly shot videos that have been hugely successful.

RULE to creating great content: It has to be original

YouTube is littered with immensely successful copycat videos (e.g., “The ______ challenge”), meme repeats, people lip syncing songs, and almost every single case study article and video looks exactly the same.

RULE to creating great content: It has to have a strong headline

This is definitely a great formatting tip as it will greatly increase your chances of people clicking on the content, but not all successful content has a clickbait headline.

RULE to creating great content: It has to be actionable

Do you take action after every piece of content? Maybe the only action you wanted was to be entertained or informed. Plenty of great content has zero action requirements.

RULE to creating great content: It provides answers

The content could just be to entertain, and there’s plenty of successful entertaining content that provides no answer. Maybe the answer is I’m no longer bored.

RULE to creating great content: It has to delight

Have you seen Rebecca Black’s “Friday” video, which has over 100 million views? The “nails against the chalkboard” attraction yielded 2.3 million thumbs downs and only 600K thumbs ups.

RULE to creating great content: It must be short

I fight this “great content” theory a lot. Everyone assumes that nobody has the patience for a long article or a video that’s longer than 90 seconds. That’s simply not true. There’s plenty of evidence shows that long articles do much better, and you just look at view counts of long videos on YouTube as well. I recently just bought a Sony camera and spent close to five hours watching YouTube videos about how to operate the camera. Each video I saw had tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of views. None of the videos I watched were produced by Sony.

A baseball metaphor for creating great content

Just like you don’t hit a homerun the first time you play Little League, you don’t immediately leap to great content from the first item you publish. Sure, there are always anomalies, “beginner’s luck” cases, such as viral videos from first time video producers. But how often do you see them pull it off a second time?

Most of us who play Little League will eventually hit a homerun. Those of us who train and get coaches to help us avoid common mistakes will end up hitting more homeruns that our competitors. Those are the same people who read advice and seek out consultants. But this is where the baseball metaphor collapses. Go ahead and read the do’s and don’ts of creating “great content,” but keep in mind you could do the complete opposite and be even more successful. Heck, you could completely change the rules of the game and be successful too.

Publishing is moving fast just like technology

If you want to keep up you simply have to produce more content. You can’t assume that each piece will be great, but you have to realize that every day you’re not publishing, your competition is.

I look at the earliest articles and videos we created. By today’s standards, they’re subpar. But there’s no way we could have arrived at the quality of work we’re doing today if we didn’t start by creating those first articles and videos. We so understand that this is the process of content production, that we always test new content products on ourselves before rolling them out to our clients.

Get out there, produce content and do your best, but don’t obsess. If something doesn’t work just get rolling on the next piece.

And here’s your final treat.

Tip of the hat to Steve Middleton, vp of demand generation, Tendo Communications. It was our conversation on this very topic that inspired this article.

Creative Commons photo credit to Laineyes Repertoire.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael LaRocca October 10, 2016 at 2:40 pm

Chairman Mao taught us that the only way to learn to swim is to swim.

In China, I told my students that the only way to learn to write is to write.

It’s not original advice. But applying it specifically to content, I blogged for about a year and generated over 100 articles that I was proud of. It was a major achievement and it made me happy.

Then, I decided I could whittle them down. By looking at when I may have written about the same topic more than once, and eliminating repetition, I finally wound up with a “greatest hits” package of about 20 articles. This made me even prouder.

In short, I did exactly what this article recommends, and it works. Now jump in the deep end and start writing.

David A Spark October 10, 2016 at 2:46 pm

Michael:

Often though, what I’m discovering is when you start a new production model that seems daunting in the beginning, like any video effort, you will generate some not so top notch stuff. That may be enough to get you to quit. You simply have to figure out your production model so it gets better and faster to produce.

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