The content we consume has changed drastically in recent years. It’s much more visual, much shorter, and much more direct. The product that most exemplifies the way we’ve grown accustomed to consuming content is the Story: short, precise, and once we’ve exhausted it, an easy tap of the finger will skip to the next one.
There are several ways we can capture attention for our content:
The Peak-End Rule
Daniel Kahneman, the 2002 Nobel Laureate in Economics, came up with a theory that could really help us understand how to formulate a piece of text that people would tend to remember. When we go through an experience of any kind, we will remember the highlights, or peaks, as well as the end. What happened at the beginning and throughout the process will not accompany the readers – only the peaks and ending would.
When creating content, if you remember this rule put forth by Kahneman, you can generate content that will be much more successful. You need to remember to engineer peaks into the content itself, and remember that the ending of the text is of crucial importance. I always try to think about where I’m taking my reader at the end of the text.
The Independence Day Manipulation
As a kid I remember attending quite a few Independence Day events, but I don’t remember who performed in them. I can barely remember what happened there – but I do remember the fireworks at the end of the night.
Academia and school always tell us that you have to establish background and exposition first. In the digital world, the opposite is true. You have to start from the peak, from the meat of the matter. People have very short attention spans. They would read the first line and if you haven’t captured their attention in the first two sentences, it doesn’t matter what you write after that. Even if it’s the most amazing text they would ever read, they simply won’t get to it.
That is why, when we formulate a piece of writing, we have to remember to start from the main idea, or at the very least from a topic that will pique interest and capture readers’ attention. Only after that you can get to the background, and only assuming it’s actually meaningful and relevant. Before doing that, however, you must capture the reader’s attention.
Arouse curiosity – preferably in the very first sentence. Take a look at the headline below, from TechCrunch. It’s very hard to read a headline like that and not get sucked into it. It generates curiosity, it’s brief, it’s interesting, and it raises the chance that you’ll proceed to the first paragraph.
Priming is a psychological term that refers to the fact we tend to look at things from a certain perspective based on a previous experience we had. That means that if something is occupying our mind, it will affect how we see things afterwards. Priming is used a lot in the advertising world and quite a few mentalists use it as well.
When it comes to content, you can piggyback off of something that’s in the news right now. The week Israel signed the agreement with vaccine maker Moderna, Haaretz newspaper published a story explaining how vaccines work. The fact that public discourse has been constantly dealing with the subject of the Moderna vaccines helped their article gain popularity. Or, for example, the technology website The Verge publishes a story every year on the day after Christmas about “The 12 coolest apps for Your phone.” That’s because they know that after Christmas, many people have just received popular products like iPhones or Xbox as gifts and will now be looking for exactly that.
If we find what’s on people’s minds right now, we can ‘hijack’ their attention more easily.
Capturing Attention Using Images
When we look for images to accompany our content, our inclination is often to go for the obvious. Take a look at this image:
On the one hand, it’s a well-made image, and it can work with many different topics. But it’s an image that’s very difficult to relate to because it’s very staged. Here are some rules of thumb to help you choose images:
- If our text is excellent and our image is of poor quality, it might just color our entire text as amateurish.
- Try to think in terms of associations. Are you talking about New York? You can use an image of the New York skyline, which we’ve seen hundreds of times and is completely generic, or you can instead use a picture of the girls from Sex and the City. You can think associatively about what comes to mind when you think of New York, and what will capture the gaze of your audience. Don’t go for the obvious, go one step further.
- Our brains are drawn to faces. When we’re in a new environment, we’ll always notice the eyes of the people around us first. Using an image that has a face on it increases the chance of capturing the reader’s attention. Take a look at the two examples below and you’ll immediately see to which one your eye is drawn first:
Use the Algorithm to Your Advantage
Behind every social network there’s an algorithm that manages our feed. These algorithms change occasionally, but the principle that guides them usually stays the same. Here are some rules that can help you crack the algorithm:
1. Keep the reader on the platform. The platform has a vested interest in keeping its users on it as long as possible. Its worth is measured by how long you stay on it. Sharing a YouTube video on Facebook? Sharing a Facebook link on LinkedIn? The algorithm will punish you. Do you want to send the reader to an external website anyway? You can use the well-known manipulation of leaving a link in the first comment.
2. It’s all about timing. There are times of day when people consume more content, so the algorithm will promote the content accordingly. It varies from country to country and across periods, but there are things that are pretty consistent:
- Steer clear of lunch
- Aim for the middle of the week (Wednesday and Thursday)
- Stay away from the edges of the week (Monday and Friday)
- Best time window for advertising in Israel: middle of the week, 9:00-11:00, 14:00-16:00
3. The first few minutes of publication are critical. The algorithm likes posts that receive likes and comments within the first five minutes of publication better. The platforms take the first few minutes and predict whether they think this post has greater potential for exposure. That’s why people often write in their posts, for example, “Contact me for the recipe” – with the aim of encouraging a plurality of comments and thus actually raising the rating of the post and its future exposure.
Content Writing Process
These are the steps I go through in writing and thinking about my content:
- Hunt for an idea. I, for example, am subscribed to a lot of aggregators, and content actually comes to me. I have a list where I write down everything I think might be interesting for me to write about. When I have time on my hands, I go through that list.
- Consider your most interesting point. Put it in the opening of the text. This will be your bait.
- Do some research, look for more information.
- Try to find a topical angle. piggyback off of things currently in the news cycle. This is exactly the priming we mentioned earlier.
- Think about the target audience. They’re the ones consuming the content. On LinkedIn, for that matter, people tend to put themselves at the center and post updates only when something happens in their lives, as if they are the center of the world. Most of us don’t care about other people. We’re looking for value.
- Build a story, create interest.
- Choose a relevant image, but one that isn’t conventional. Don’t lean into the banal.
- Leave the text for an hour and then return to it. We tend not to recognize drafting and phrasing errors when we are writing and on the first time going over the draft. If we turn to other activities and then go back to our text, we can often find out where it can be improved.