One of the most important traits of good content is that it helps teach its audience a core lesson. Too many ‘experts’ focus their content on ‘let me tell you what I know’ when they should be focused on ‘let me teach you what you don’t know’. When your only frame of reference is what works for you, then you can’t effectively teach others how to succeed. The best teachers are the ones that can share a successful case study and then relate the core teachings to your business so that you can learn how to apply those lessons to your unique situation.
Over the last decade I’ve created content here, I’ve spoken at hundreds of events, I’ve given workshops and training sessions for companies, and even written a very successful business book. These are three traits I’ve discovered for creating content that also facilitates learning for your audience:
1 – Case studies alone don’t teach anything. So many ‘teachers’ miss this, but if you are trying to teach a new concept to a group, probably the worst thing you can do is simply use one case study to illustrate the concept in action. What happens when you do this is your audience won’t learn the concept, they will learn the case study. They will be able to explain what the company in the case study did, but since that’s their only reference to the concept in action, they won’t understand the concept itself. Instead, you want to use a mix of case studies and hypothetical scenarios. Instead of just explaining a case study of how Chick Fil-A used hashtags to reach moms, you want to also explain how a babyfood company and a small daycare could do the same thing. By using both exact and abstract examples, the audience can more easily grasp the core concept that runs through all examples.
2 – This is what it looks like when you do it right, and this is what it looks like when you mess up. When I’m working at home, I will often turn on the tv just to have background noise so I can better focus on my work. Sounds weird, but it works for me. And I will typically have the PBS Create TV channel on, which has a mixture of cooking, travel and hobby-related programming. One show they have is called Cook’s Country, it’s a cooking show that teaches you how to cook. But one thing the staff does that I love is before they start showing you how to cook a particular dish, they will show you how it will look if you mess up. And they will explain how you messed up. If you cook it on too high of a temperature, it looks like this, if you use warm butter instead of chilled, it looks like this. They address common errors that are made in cooking a dish at the start, and explain what you did wrong and how to avoid it. Then as they cook the dish, they explain how they aren’t replicating that error, then the end result is a gorgeous dish and you have a complete understanding of how the dish should look if you do it correctly. More importantly, you understand what you did wrong before, so you can correct your error in the future.
3 – You learn by doing. Building on both of the previous examples, you can also use scenarios to apply what you’ve learned. Giving your audience examples of ‘this is what it looks like when it’s messed up’, and let them apply what they have learned to fix it. For example, in my content strategy and creation workshops, one of the exercises I have attendees do is I give them a ‘bad’ post headline, and ask them to re-write it, using the concepts I’ve taught them for writing a better headline. This is especially true in an in-person setting, but if you just explain a concept without having the audience put that learning into action, they won’t grasp it as fully. This is honestly where a lot of workshops fail attendees, they forget that a workshop isn’t a presentation with Q&A, it’s for learning via participation. The attendees are supposed to be involved because you want them to apply what they have learned before they leave, so it helps cement the learning process for them.
When you are creating content, whether its writing a blog post or creating a white paper, give thought to how you are teaching and more importantly what you are teaching. Don’t just write that case study because you think it will make your business or your agency look good, also teach your audience how they can get similar results for their business. If you teach your audience a new skill that improves their own business efforts, you have created value for them, and that’s how you win their attention and create word of mouth (word of mouse?) for your business online.