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About four years ago, I wrote about the idea of “Content Shock” — and maybe I was a tiny bit snarky about it.

“Content Shock” is Mark Schaefer’s term for the point when there’s so much content published every day that we’re all drowning in it — and content stops working.

I stand by my original response, which is that we’re (still) not suffering from a glut of good content.

Audiences have excellent crap detectors. They tune out the junky stuff, and keep responding to the good stuff.

But I underestimated the difficulty of implementing the advice to “create more good stuff.”

No one is born with the knowledge of how to create compelling content, any more than we’re born with the knowledge of how to play the piano or cook an omelet.

We have to learn.

Watching the pile of junky content get higher and higher inspired the Creative Content Foundations course — to get people writing and recording the kind of content that’s actually worth our audiences’ time and attention.

Today, I asked my fellow instructors in that course to weigh in on a question:

What’s the best way to create content that stands out, given the huge volume of not-so-great stuff we have to compete with?

Here’s what they had to say:

Stefanie Flaxman, editor-in-chief

Stefanie joins me inside the course to teach you how to polish content to a professional standard, and take your content from good to great.

Every time you create content, you need to ask yourself:

“Is this tailored to a specific person I want to connect with, from my point of view?”

The two key parts of that question are:

  • A specific person I want to connect with
  • My point of view

The intersection of those elements gives readers, listeners, and viewers an experience that is different from other content on the same topic.

Your editing skills will also make it thoughtful, so that you don’t waste your audience’s time. People appreciate that; they return to — and engage with — sites that get to the point.

Look at your favorite websites as examples. You’ll find that they consistently publish thoughtful content for a specific person they want to connect with, from their own points of view.

Chris Garrett, chief digital officer

Chris joins us to talk about creative productivity and processes, so we can hit our deadlines and create excellent content more reliably.

My answer is to write the article that your most-desired audience actually wants to read.

That sounds almost flippant, so I want to break it down a bit.

First, who do you most want to appeal to?

If you want to stand out, don’t try to reach everyone. Work out the target audience you can most credibly help and most easily reach, and drill into their problems and goals so you understand them almost better than they understand themselves.

Next, develop headlines that speak to their most urgent needs. If your headline matches what they need right now, it will get noticed on social media today and on the search engines in the future.

We all have a part of our brain that actively looks for what we need. Speak to that.

Finally, make it easy and attractive to consume. Spend the extra time on a featured image, reader-friendly formatting, and a strong ending. Leave the reader with a desire to share your work, rather than a desire to do painful things to you for wasting their time.

Sean Jackson, chief financial officer

Sean joins us to teach the evergreen best practices for SEO — what we sometimes call “SEO literacy” — as well as the most useful SEO tools for content creators today.

Creating compelling content — the kind that builds authority and trust — takes effort and time. And once you create that compelling content, it can often take months or years for it to really gain traction.

But what if there was a way to multiply the reach of that content without spending a lot of time and effort? A way to amplify its reach and influence across an industry, quickly and easily.

That’s what I love about original research.

Today, creating surveys and analyzing their results is very simple to do. In fact, we have a handy guide that will help you do it.

The real power of original research comes when you repurpose and re-deploy it — further expanding its impact.

Of course you’ll publish your original research on your own site. But you should also create additional media assets that others can use — linking back, naturally, to your own site as the source of the data.

Infographics, slides, videos, and podcast episodes are just a few potential by-products of that one piece. You have lots of options for outlets that aggregate this content — sites like SlideShare, YouTube, and Pinterest, to name a few.

But the benefits don’t stop there.

Your original research can also attract opportunities to guest post for popular sites, to be interviewed on podcasts, and to speak at industry conferences. You may even find that traditional media publications will cite it in their reporting.

Many firms have leveraged this approach to great success. Moz and Stone Temple Consulting have become dominant influencers in the SEO space, based in large part on their research publishing.

Andy Crestodina’s annual survey of bloggers creates a wealth of publicity and good will for his design firm. Even consumer brands have used their research to stand out from the competition — think of the “Pepsi Challenge” or the “9 out of 10 dentists recommend” campaigns.

Creating content that stands out is not easy. But if you want to leverage your effort, and amplify it, then create a survey and publish your results. You will be pleasantly surprised by how quickly you’ll build authority and trust.

Sonia Simone, chief content officer

Hey, that’s me! In the course, I teach the fundamentals of content strategy, and how all of the various pieces go together to find your audience and turn them into clients or customers. I’m also a co-teacher on most of the course material.

Smart content strategy is fundamental to creating high-quality content. It helps you decide what to publish, how to publish it, and sometimes even who to publish it for.

But strategy alone has never been enough to create something remarkable. And given the number of analytical tools and dashboards being used to craft content today, over-reliance on strategy gets less and less effective.

To create content that stands out — in 2008 or 2018 or 2218 — keep the human element as your priority.

As my fellow instructors advise — know who you’re talking to. And why you’re choosing to talk with that particular “Who.”

Use all of the art, craft, and personality you can muster, to create a piece of communication that speaks human-to-human.

Solve human problems, with a human voice, and by sharing human values.

Business is always fundamentally about people. So are nonprofits, hobby sites, passion projects, and political endeavors.

Speak to humans.

Then use smart strategy and clever analytical tools to thoughtfully optimize that communication — and let your message reach more and more people.

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