Five Rules for Stories That Get Attention

Posted by Lauren Quaintance On April 14, 2015

Here’s the thing about content. There’s no shortage of ideas but it’s harder than ever to come up with stories that stand out. We are all exposed to a tsunami of content via social media and the web and it’s tougher than ever to get noticed. As Wired so presciently put it back in 1997, the currency of the new economy is not money – it’s attention. In the two decades I spent as a journalist and editor before I became a content marketer, I learned a few shortcuts for coming up with story ideas that are more likely to get attention.

1. Show an unexpected side to a familiar topic
Whether you’re writing about superannuation – or ocean cruising – you need to mine that topic over and over again for stories that have a slight twist and deliver a fresh perspective on a familiar topic. Being too broad is the fastest way to ensure your content is ignored.

2. Let your audience in on a little secret
Everyone wants to feel like an insider so if your audience feel like you are helping them discover something before their peers they’ll keep reading. This is especially true in travel and food and wine content. While you don’t want to over-do it, stories about “undiscovered” destinations and “secret” restaurants and bars work because everyone wants to be the first to know.

3. Create a sense of urgency and timeliness
There’s a subtle but significant difference between a story with the headline “25 Destinations to Visit” and one that reads “25 Destinations to Visit Now”. The use of “now” or “must” creates a sense of urgency that suggests that you must take action soon or the hordes will soon descend and you will be left behind.

4. Be the longest, fastest, highest, scariest
Blame the fact that attention spans are getting shorter but stories that make a definitive claim get attention. When I was General Manager of the travel editorial teams at Fairfax Media, we would see clear spikes in traffic for stories with the words like “longest, highest, scariest” (At one point the most viewed video was of the world’s shortest runway in Nepal). Just be sure to deliver on the promise of the headline or risk losing your audience altogether.

5. Tell me something I didn’t know
In journalism these are often called “watercooler stories”, they are stories that are bound to get people talking because they reveal a curious or surprising fact you’re itching to share with a friend. Social media is possibly the ultimate watercooler. It’s where stories that are beyond-the-norm get shared and shared again. Buzz Feed is particularly good at this; they have made making odd-ball things go viral an art-form. Vegemite chocolate bar anyone?

Lauern Quaintance is head of Content at Storyation.

Lauren Quaintance