As part of our series on what makes for quality content, let’s tackle timeliness and accuracy, two things that can bring even the greatest content to its knees if not given due consideration.
In both cases, you’ll want to swap your writer hat for your editor hat (or pass your content to whomever serves as editor in your workflow). As an editor, you need to divorce yourself from the content creator’s attachment to his work and be the standard-bearer for the business, determining the most advantageous time to publish and ensuring content is buttoned-down and ready for public consumption. That might mean revisiting the initial impulse to hitch your content to a hot news story or slowing down to check facts further.
Give your audience a hook to bite
The most engaging content has a news hook that compels people to look at it in the moment. A news hook is something topical, trending, and happening RIGHT NOW that you latch onto to give your content extra relevance. The most common (and obvious) news hooks are holidays, big events like the Winter Olympics or Oscar night, and seasonal occasions like back-to-school or graduation. Take something people are already thinking and talking about to provide a natural bridge to your own content and increase its likelihood of getting read, shared, tweeted and reposted.
Don’t limit yourself to just the big stories. Your hook might only be “news” inside your industry or customer base. The whole country might talk about taxes leading up to April 15, but you can bet there are topical issues being discussed throughout the year by financial advisors who want to maintain a connection to their peers, influencers and customers. And those targeted niche news hooks are probably more effective than being lost amid the crush of content directed to every John Doe filing a 1040 at tax time.
Hooking the big one
If you keep your eyes open and are creative, you might want to ride the wave of actual breaking or developing news, such as a security company writing a blog post explaining how it would have responded to Target’s credit card breach.
One of the most well known examples of timely content was the famous Oreo tweet during the Super Bowl XLVII blackout. Not only can you attract more readers with content tied to a news hook, you can also broaden your audience to include people who may not have otherwise come across it. Keep in mind, the Oreo tweet was not the spontaneous work of a dedicated Nabisco employee working after hours; rather, the brand assembled a social media team specifically tasked with pushing out relevant content during the game. It takes planning and people for ALL content, news hook or not.
But maybe not so fast…
Content that riffs on hot news can draw lots of attention, but you need to be careful too. In the rush to publish topical content, many companies harm themselves – by saying something that hasn’t been approved by management, weighing in on a story whose facts haven’t even been verified yet, violating brand or style rules, etc. Sometimes, a clever marketer can’t resist the temptation to jump on a juicy subject, regardless of how tenuous its link to the business may be.
The Internet is littered with examples of well-intentioned but clumsy or tone-deaf attempts to ride the coattails of Big News. It’s worth taking the time to think through what you have in mind and consider how it will be received by your audience — along with everyone else who happens upon it. It may be tempting to capitalize on a story that’s gotten people abuzz, but don’t force it. Remember, another hallmark of quality content is authenticity.
That’s why it’s so important to have policies and processes around content creation. You can still be nimble and timely but not toss business objectives and brand values out the window.
A few words about accuracy
It goes without saying that whatever you publish must be accurate and true. Your brand’s credibility and integrity depend on it.
News organizations use fact-checkers (at least they used to, pre-digital) to corroborate details in articles, and you should be just as careful in verifying the accuracy of your content. Some missteps you really don’t want to make:
- Inadvertent errors: Even professional journalists are notorious for misinterpreting data and drawing false conclusions. Be extra careful whenever you do math and be sure you’re reading the data correctly. Determining percentages can be very tricky.
- Perpetuating a mistake: Try to use primary sources — the firm that conducted the study, not the website reporting the results — and when you can’t, be sure you can point to other trusted sources that back up your statements.
- Citations and attributions: Don’t leave readers wondering if what you say is true. Cite the sources of statistics and information, and link directly to them when possible. Show, don’t tell, where your information comes from.
- Sloppiness: There’s no excuse for getting names, dates and places wrong. As news organizations have cut costs by eliminating copy desks, there’s been a marked increase in lazy mistakes like putting a photo of the wrong “Jane Smith” next to a story or misstating which direction a street runs. People will notice these seemingly small infractions, they will judge your brand for it, and they won’t be easy to win back.
Right time, right information
To get the most value out of your content, look for ways to connect it to something your audience is already thinking and talking about while being cautious not to push too far. And don’t let inaccuracies get in the way of delivering your strong messages either.