Engagement content marketingIt appears we have an engagement problem in content marketing. Brands are producing more content than ever, but are seeing engagement dwindle all the same.

That’s not just an observation, it’s what research is telling us. A new report from TrackMaven reveals that brands increased their content marketing output by 35% per channel in 2015, while engagement dropped 17%.

The question is, do we have to just accept that content marketing has had its heyday and shrug our shoulders at the limited returns? Naturally, we don’t think so.

We think content marketing is suffering from quality issues. That is, in the battle to get content off the production line quicker, brands are prepared to settle for lower-quality output.

That strategy is ultimately proving self-defeating. It’s expensive and unrewarding, and will make you lose faith in a marketing approach which many believe to be the key to future – and present – success.

Therefore, it’s time to start scrutinising your content to see where it’s falling short of standard. People aren’t going to engage with something unless they feel urged to do so – simple as that.

We consulted the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) to see what it thinks brands need to do to get more people talking about their content. It came up with five things you should add to every blog post to increase engagement:

1. Don’t beat around the bush

Writers can get carried away sometimes. We tend to think that readers will appreciate a bit of ‘flair’, i.e. going OTT with setting the scene, maybe with a ‘drop intro’ that necessitates readers read through to the third paragraph to figure out what on earth the writer is on about.

Here’s one example of a drop intro – taken from the 15th February 2015 edition of the Washington Post – that the Guardian suggests could be the worst ever written:

“Red stands for the heart, and perhaps many of them were stolen on Valentine’s Day. Red is also the color of an Alexandria-based food truck, and police say it was stolen on Valentine’s Day or the night before.”

It’s tenuous to say the least, and it’s the sort of thing that drives readers mad. Imagine if every writer went with an over-elaborate intro.

Readers would much prefer it if you make your point in your first few lines, then repeating the point in the conclusion. The intro and conclusion should be the most compelling parts of your blog post, inciting readers to get involved in the debate.

2. Make it easy to read

This goes without saying, doesn’t it? You’d like to think so, but you’d be surprised how many writers still manage to make their writing unreadable due to poor structure.

Even a bulky first paragraph is enough to put plenty of readers off. There aren’t too many who present their thoughts in a wall of text anymore thankfully, but in these times of dwindling attention spans, you’ve got to ensure the structure is perfect.

If you don’t give the visual structure of the piece enough thought, you risk creating a wonderful piece that no-one will want to read – so disheartening for both a writer and their employer.

CMI also warns against “merely [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][stringing] together a few thoughts”, urging writers instead to “create something with shape and substance”. Make it clear to the reader where the article is headed, allowing them to ready their comment once they’re done reading.

3. End with a bang

How often do you hear a filmgoer say: “I liked it – bar the ending.” Quite often, we’d suggest. A compelling conclusion to a piece of work can be the difference between someone recommending it to a friend and forgetting about it entirely.

Maybe it’s just writer’s exhaustion that means a conclusion is often not as strong as it could be. Whatever it is, it has to stop, otherwise you risk losing your reader’s gaze, just as they are in a position to engage with the post.

CMI says there are a few basic elements to a great ending:

  • It’s labelled as a conclusion
  • It’s short
  • It sums things up concisely
  • It encourages action

Perhaps it’s worth holding something back specifically for the conclusion. Make it live long in the memory. Maybe use the ending from ‘Inception’, with the spinning top, as inspiration.

4. Ask a question

We’re undecided on the benefits of asking a question to incite engagement, we must say. It makes a lot of sense, of course. However, is it a little obvious?

Perhaps it boils down to the quality of the question. For example, if we ended this piece simply with “So, are your blog posts engaging enough?”, it hardly asks the reader to answer it directly, does it.

The aim of the question should be to open the subject up for debate; getting the reader to think out loud, rather than just to themselves.

However, there’s a new theory that a closing statement makes for better engagement. Something that has the reader thinking “I agree with that” or “That’s not what I think”. After all, engagement doesn’t always have to take the form of “Great article. I agree”. In fact, it can sometimes be more beneficial to get a “Great article. But here’s why I think you’re wrong”.

5. Be controversial

With the last point in mind, it can even be beneficial to be a little controversial or opinionated on occasion.

People love to debate, or “Put the world to rights” – that’s what makes Twitter such a popular platform.

It can take a lot of courage as a marketer to express your opinion to the world, as we’re programmed to not upset our target audience. However, as long as your opinions aren’t political or misplaced, it’s fine to make them known.

Making a controversial comment can go one of two ways. Either your readers will agree with you and you will gain their trust for pointing out something that others have missed. Or they will disagree with you and enter into debate about why it is that you’re wrong. Both should be fairly conducive for engagement. Maybe just run your opinions past a colleague first before publishing.

Conclusion

Yes, content marketing is getting tougher. It’s hard to admit, but with the amount of content that brands are producing now, it was somewhat inevitable.

However, why is it that brands are producing more content, despite dwindling engagement? Because content marketing has proved itself to be so darn effective. And we believe that blogging should still play a big part in a content marketing strategy, despite what you’ve read about visual content being the be all and end all.

In fact, HubSpot found that marketers who have prioritised blogging are 13 times more likely to have a positive ROI.

Marketers are only going to continue seeing a positive ROI and healthy levels of engagement, however, if they go to the effort of making their written content compelling.

If they don’t bother to think about whether their article is inviting enough to get readers to comment or share it, the trend of more content, less engagement, will get worse and worse.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

Ben Hollom

March 3, 2016