In a recent strategy session with a client-partner, the topic of content marketing came up. During this conversation, one of the leaders shared that she had some personal biases against the listicles—the use or over-use of lists curated by the writer for readers. We’ve all seen them, “5 Reasons Why You Need SEO,” “7 Things Not to Do on Vacation,” etc.
I noted that the reason, I believe, the listicle is so heavily used by writers is that people are so busy they want to be told what the most important things are to know. Why think deeply about what constitutes a great work of art when you can skim “The 20 Most Popular Paintings in History?”
During the meeting, I joked that we could all blame David Letterman for his famous Top 10 Lists, but that’s pinning too much on good Mr. Letterman.
As readers, we either don’t have the time, or we’ve forgotten how to think deeply. As content creators, we’ve gotten away from the art of creating stories worth reading.
Truth is we’re all busy, and we are always looking for shortcuts in mundane tasks, including research. Related to this, our attention spans are shrinking. (I wrote a well-circulated article on this.)
As marketers, it seems that we’ve come to believe that the people we are trying to reach are perpetually distracted and the listicle is all they want. While there is some truth in that, how do we explain the significant increase in binge-watching on Netflix, the success of serialized podcasts like those from Malcolm Gladwell or Jonathan Fields, and long-form articles by the likes of the New Yorker? I believe that we’re not just witnessing a change in the way content is consumed, but rather a shift in the behavior and intention of both viewers and content creators according to preferred platform or media.
Content creators are cutting corners on quality, which feeds potato chip-like nourishment to readers. Reader and viewers still want quality (AKA great storytelling), because it’s more fulfilling, informative and moving. Listicles never move people or create meaning. It’s the difference between reading the crib notes of The Great Gatsby and actually reading the classic novel.
The goal of prolific ‘grammers and tweeters is to distract, rather than to immerse their audience into meaningful content that’s valuable to them. People often visit Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram when they are bored and want to be distracted. Steaming services like YouTube and Netflix want to keep us watching. Thus, their intention gives rise to the creation of engaging content and meaningful storytelling. Masters of Twitter and Instagram are artful at distracting content and tend to have little interest in nourishing content.
How we shape and tell stories changes how people react and respond. How audiences react and respond changes the kinds of stories we tell.
We become better storytellers by knowing who we are as a brand and a business. Purposeful storytellers are intentional about the impact they want to have and the messages they choose to send. Storytellers who are committed to providing a valuable reading and viewing experiences for their audience, curate more than a top 10 list, they curate connection.
There is no shortcut to cultivating meaning. And it’s meaning we all seek in our lives.