5 Powerful Lessons Content Marketers Can Learn from Journalism

Are you planning to create more content this year? If so, you aren’t alone. In fact, 66 percent of B2B marketers plan to produce more content in the coming months. They too understand that creating valuable content for their target audience is a surefire way to beef up results and revenue. Content marketing costs 62 percent less than traditional marketing and generates about three times as many leads.

A larger amount of content, however, also means something else … more noise. So how can your content stand out? The answer is simple: Think like a journalist. Here are five tips to swipe from journalism to strengthen your content marketing efforts this year.

1. Get to the Point (aka Don’t Bury the Lead)

Aspiring journalists are taught the “inverted or upside-down pyramid.” The structure is pretty straightforward and also very effective. The most important details appear at the top of the story, either in the lead paragraph or a close-to-the top “nut graph” that gives the point of the story and explains its news worthiness in a nutshell. Less-essential details appear, in order of importance, in the subsequent paragraphs.

When crafting the lead, start with the “five W’s” of journalism, better known as “the who, what, when, where, and why.”

The body of a news story also includes things like quotes from sources (more on this a little later), statistics, background information, and other critical details, with the least important information at the end.

This structure is pretty old, but there is one reason why it’s still relevant today, especially for content marketing. People are skimming content when reading online. In fact, readers don’t consume 80 percent of the words you write!

Experiment with this journalism-inspired structure on your next content marketing piece and monitor the results. You may be surprised by higher engagement and increased results.

2. Create Greater Depth: Use Quotes

Journalists use quotes for a variety of reasons, such as crafting a stronger narrative, adding credibility, and bringing a story to life ― and you can too. Each piece of content that you create has an underlying audience pain point, something that connects you to the audience. For example, let’s say you decide to generate a blog post series on sales and marketing alignment, a known pain point for your target audience and a problem your software offering resolves.

Adding quotes to the content marketing piece will not only illustrate that pain point, but also make your piece more reliable. Here are a few tips for using quotes strategically in your content marketing.

  • Select experts. Seek people in the industry who are considered authorities on a particular subject. For example, perhaps choose a technology security expert when you’re strategically creating content that supports a software security product.
  • Seek peers. Who is reading your content? Maybe it’s the CIOs at small-to-medium-sized organizations. If so, seek out these types of people to discuss common pain points and quote them in your content marketing.
  • Partner with influencers. Who is an established influencer in your space? For example, perhaps you’re strategically creating content about the Internet of Things (IoT). If so, seek IoT influencers through the social media channels in which your audience engages, such as Twitter and LinkedIn.

Once you speak with these experts, quote them in your content marketing, just as a journalist would, to add life to your story.

3. Leverage the Power of Storytelling

Some of the greatest journalists are also skilled storytellers. Some media outlets are even creating new visual formats specifically for storytelling, such as the New York Times story “Snow Fall,” which uses text and digital visuals to tell about an avalanche at Tunnel Creek in Stevens Pass in Washington state. Within six days, the story was viewed over 3.5 million times.

The Washington Post put together an interactive visual journey through Lesbos in 2016. The engaging documentary uses video, text, and even audience participation (in the form of yes/no questions) to learn about the experiences of refugees on the Greek island.

These two examples can inspire marketers to create their own interactive content marketing that leverages storytelling. Here are a few tips for creating more powerful stories:

  • Use emotion. The best way to draw a reader into a tale is to build an emotional connection. Find a narrative in history that relates to your content marketing message. For example, if you’re telling a story about overcoming failure, you might highlight the anecdote of how Walt Disney’s newspaper editor told the aspiring cartoonist that he simply was not creative enough. The Kansas City Star editor said that Disney “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” When you find a great story that ties into your message, readers will instantly feel more engaged.
  • Create challenge and conflict. The best stories present a problem, obstacle, or struggle that needs to be resolved or overcome. The conflict can be simple, such as a CIO struggling with an increased risk of security breach ― and identifying his or her enterprise’s weaknesses.
  • Shock and awe. A recent Entrepreneur article highlights the power of “shock and awe” in human thinking patterns. It says that “We process the vast exposure to information and try to spit out a logical understanding. A break in that linear pattern is like a splash of icy water on your face. That’s why movies like ‘The Sixth Sense,’ ‘Fight Club,’ and ‘Romeo & Juliet’ are capturing. The twist endings created a mental pattern break.” Look for opportunities to provide something unexpected or surprising in your content marketing.
  • Drop early hints. Leave breadcrumbs that show what is coming in the near future to keep your readers engaged.
  • Create stories that are sharable. People share content for a variety of reasons, but mostly they’re trying to be helpful to peers and demonstrate authority in their niche. If your content marketing aligns with these purposes, it will be easier to share.

Look at your content and start asking, “Where is the story?” and “Would I want to read this?” This will help you create content that is more engaging and valuable to your target audience.

Want to create a blog post or a piece of content that has a greater chance of going viral? Piggyback hot trends. This strategy, which is often used by journalists, takes trends that are making the news and ties an angle to a specific topic or industry.

Find these hot topics by watching the headlines and by monitoring trade publications or industry-related media sources that your target audience follows. Look for relevant statistics, topic coverage by multiple publications, and online content that is setting a tone of comments and engagement. Then jump on those trends and tie them into your content.

5. Fact-Check Like a Pro

Good journalists are meticulous about fact-checking, mostly because they have a responsibility to their readers and also because somebody else will ensure they’ve done their due diligence on reporting. Generations of reporters have been trained with the popular saying “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”

Fact-checking is even more important today because incorrect statements don’t get recycled in the most current edition of the news. Instead they spread on social media through tweets and shares. Here are a few fact-checking tips for marketers:

  • Find the best sources possible. For example, when reading the New York Times, you may find a great fact that fits nicely into the content that you’re publishing. Instead of citing the publication, go to the original study or source, verify it, and then include the information.
  • Use two reliable sources when possible. Some media outlets have a rule that all facts should be confirmed by two sources.
  • Determine whether the source is reliable. Ask yourself some basic questions about each source, such as “Is it reliable, trustworthy, and unbiased?” If not, look for another source with similar facts.
  • Confirm with subject matter experts. Did you find a really great fact but need another source to back it up or add additional credibility? If so, interview a subject matter expert and get his or her opinion to create additional credibility.

One more tip. When doing research, it’s tempting to quote people who say great things that support your piece. But instead, try getting in touch with the person and obtaining a fresh new quote that relates specifically to your content marketing piece. The content will instantly be much stronger.

Audience First … Always

Last, great journalists always put the audience first. They are providing a service; they are educating, informing, and sharing information. Content marketers can do exactly the same thing while still getting excellent results and earning more trust from their consumers.

Understand the audience’s pain points, deliver content that hits these problems ― and always look for angles that other marketers are missing. When you do this, you’ll quickly cut through the noise and become an invaluable resource for your target audience.

What do you think journalism can teach content marketing? Please share your thoughts below!