We live in a 140-character culture. People’s attention spans are famously short. “Doesn’t anyone answer the second question in an email?” a friend of mine recently moaned on Facebook. Yeah, well “who’s got time for that?”
Twitter and Facebook feed our appetites with bite sized morsels of information we can easily digest – while giving us, through links, the opportunity to get more if we want it. Modern communication is all about the art of the appetizer. Just make sure to give your audience the types of appetizer that makes them want to move on to the main course.
When beginning to create content I ask three questions:
1. How can I make a connection to my audience with my opening content?
2. How can I arouse their curiosity?
3. What do I want them to do?
By being able to answer these three questions I can develop content that is useful, meaningful and leads to results.
Connect with Your Audience
Remember your audience – what is the right message that will make an immediate connection that will make them want to know more? The key is to connect with their interests, values, emotions and desires up front. You have to start with something they already care about. It’s no accident that the most powerful word on Twitter is “you.” The 3rd person singular pronoun is a personal bridge between you and your audience.
Figuring out how to connect with your audience depends on that golden rule of communication: The right message to the right audience. You need to know who your audience is, what motivates them, what values and passions you share in common and what your audience can get out of your product or service. If you can’t answer the question “what’s in it for me?” from your audience’s point-of-view, you aren’t ready to communicate.
Create Curiosity then Feed It
The two most important words online may be “Learn more.”
Give them enough information to make them want to know more or to act. Raise questions in your reader’s mind and then give them a way to answer it, further engaging readers and drawing them in.
Once, while reviewing a draft phone script I had created, a client called me. “After hearing that introduction in your script, I’d be asking…” and the client then said the question I wanted the audience to ask.
Yes, I said, we want the audience asking that question, and the script prompts it. Creating curiosity gives the call recipient a reason to ask a question and naturally change the phone call from a monologue from the caller to a dialogue. If the call recipient asks a question, he or she has suddenly become invested in the call, opening their minds to learn more.
This is where your audience research and segmentation becomes valuable – you have to create the questions that the audience wants answered and that will matter to them.
There is an art to this, especially when creating web-based copy. The information you provide has to create the right amount of curiosity while not fragmenting your information into so many pieces that your reader gets lost or loses interest. Analytics will help you determine if you have the right balance, and you can keep tweaking your work until you find it.
Act: Give Your Audience Something to Do
Your audience should be invited (and if you’ve done your job, actually feel compelled) to do something. Maybe it’s simply signing up for your mailing list or to buy your product. Further action could be to contact you or another key decision maker, or to simply follow you on social media. While some of your audience may only be seeking information, you still must provide an avenue for action. Unless you have “college” or “university” as part of your name, you are communicating for a purpose that usually involves getting someone to do something. Remember the fundraising adage: People give money because they were asked. So ask your audience to take action.
At each stage or level or information offer a way for your audience to act. Some may be skimmers and just need the top-level degree of information; others may be scrutinizers who need to dig deep before committing to action. Plan for both types of readers or target audience members.
Asking these three questions and using the answers will help you create content that gets the attention of your audience and results you want.
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Scott Barker has more than 27 years of experience in public affairs communication. He has worked with Fortune 100 companies, senior level government officials, political leaders and candidates to deliver winning communications campaigns.