Huffington Post, the Long Con (unapologetically ripped from the front page of The Huff Post) in journalism or genius content marketer? Truth be revealed they’re a little of both.
This overnight titan of publishing, conceived in 2005 by Arianna Huffington, is best described as a little bit news, a whole lot aggregator, and a nearly free for all blog. It’s quirky blend of a tiny bit of serious journalism mixed with a firehose of bite-size stories people want to read, comment on, and share makes it the quintessential model for content marketing perfection.
Inspired by this excellent analysis of The Huffington Post content machine, here’s my synthesized checklist for Huffington Post-style content marketing.
- It’s all about the headline – Just read the front page. It’s stuffed full of must-click teasers. A blend of names and stories you know carefully twisted with the sensational word or two that convinces you there is more… I challenge you to scroll the page and click on less than 2-3 headlines. You can’t do it!
- Test your headlines – Like any good marketer, they are testers. They A/B test their frontline stories to make sure they resonant. According to Huffington Post stories these tests often center around familiarity with names, testing the stronger lead or aspect of the story, and images. The key point here is that you can’t let journalism bury the lead. People have to get it at a glance.
- There is a magic formula – Don’t get too religious about your copywriting art. Since the advent of Google as the purveyor of Web traffic, there is a formula that sucks in the eyeballs. In a nutshell: Saucy, high click yielding words plus a hot trending search topic. My stab at a Huffington Post headline: Romney squandered VP choice on this dud?
- Tell stories like we do – There’s a lot of overlooked magic in this one. Swiped from the likes of renegade journalist like Hunter S. Thompson and David Carr, The Huff Post has learned to tell a story the way we do. When we shoot a quick email, hang out at the coffee shop, chat over lunch, or unload our view of the world from our back patio we don’t mince words or parse prepared statements. We gesture wildly with our hands, let the passion color our language, grossly over simplify the facts, and make ridiculously unbalanced arguments. Yet, in all cases we deliver the story and it’s really all we want, maybe even all we need, to go about our lives.
- Google brings the traffic – Hopefully, I don’t have to go too deep on this one. Dump your religious, purist journalistic fervor over this one. Google brings you readers. Your chops as a publisher, editor, or writer is critical only after you have properly sucked up to the big boss of Web traffic, Google. Learn to what SEO stands for and start standing for it too.
- You don’t have to be first or original – There are no awards for a scoop on the Web. Google doesn’t give a damn who got the story. They only care about whether people are happy with what they find. So, stop fancying yourself Scoop Jackson and start perfecting your skills as a master storyteller.
- We’re busy, keep it short – Don’t give us 800 words if you can tell it in 200. Don’t retell the details if they’ve already been told. Don’t write if you can aggregate. Readers want the story, just like Google, they don’t care who uncovered or wrote it first.
- Guest bloggers bring traffic – The Huffington Post struck gold with this one. There are millions of writers. All ambitiously hoping to be their literary hero. And, on the flip side there are millions of readers with broad and eclectic tastes and notions of credibility. Bringing these forces of nature together with a cornucopia of voices and micro-communities can create the equivalent of a Big Bang for your content platform.
- Quantity and quality are critical – You can’t win this partisan debate. The formula for success is not embodied in either perspective, singularly. When you’re serving a community with content there are things that people simply need to know, then there are things that are of fleetingly importance or interest, and then there are truths that should be investigated, uncovered, and revealed. Serve those needs in a relevant way and allocate your resources appropriately to maximize the value you can create for your community.
- Let readers finish the story – There’s a reason that The Huffington Post averages thousands of comments per article while the gold standard of journalism, the New York Times, may garner one or two. The Huffington Post appreciates the fact that readers want to have the last word. Let them. Encourage them. Incite them. It really makes for a better story, don’t you think?
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What do you think? Do you like The Huff Post model? Do you apply any of these principles to your content marketing strategy?