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Irma, blog posts and the never-ending search for more ‘stuff’

[Image courtesy of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center at Flickr Creative Commons]

Do you ever get the feeling of déjà vu when you’re watching the news?

Don’t we all. 

This week, hurricane Maria is sweeping through the Caribbean, wreaking havoc in its path. The news coverage is very similar to what we saw just two weeks ago with Irma, complete with reporters battling to stay upright as they’re lashed by rain and buffeted by gales.

The whole format is one that’s been used many times, right down to the weatherman/weatherwoman in the studio explaining how hurricanes come about and where the current one is headed.

Then there are the shots of bumper-to-bumper traffic, live interviews on dodgy Skype connections and first-hand byte-sized accounts on Twitter. And maybe even some library pictures to remind us of the last hurricane – or Katrina, if that can be woven into the mix.

It is new and it is news, but it feels as if we’ve seen it all before, and we know how it’s going to play out. But that doesn’t stop us watching it. Somehow, the novelty value keeps us glued to our screens and clicking in our apps to find out the latest.

It all seems familiar, but it’s repackaged in a slightly different way – which is enough to keep us engaged. 

Out with the old, in with the new

By coincidence, I’ve been doing some repackaging of my own recently.

I’ve been working on a client project that’s taking existing content and giving it a new lease of life. Or in the jargon, repurposing

The source content is mostly blog posts, and mostly, they’ve done a good job: attracting  traffic, encouraging blog-feed signups, and promoting other sections of the website. But they’ve got a limited shelf life – either because the information is out of date, or they simply disappear below the fold and are lost in the digital hinterland. 

But that doesn’t mean they’re no longer useful – far from it.

As I’ve been discovering, much like the remains of last night’s meal and other assorted scraps in your fridge, they can be reworked and combined to make a very tasty offering.

And there are some great reasons to repackage existing material: 

  • New content is hard to find and time-consuming to produce.
  • People may not have seen it the first time around – or if they did, they may not have read it to the end, or been receptive to the messages. 
  • You can break it down so it’s targeted at niche audiences, who see a specific spin that’s relevant to their situation or needs.
  • It helps improve your SEO efforts. 
  • You establish yourself as an authority on a particular subject. Remember that ‘just showing up’ (as Woody Allen famously said) is a big part of success. 
  • You can use one piece of content to promote another, so you keep people engaged for longer.

A sense of (re)purpose

So what should you repurpose? Anything you like. 

Blog posts are a great place to start. Dig around in your back catalogue and see what you can reuse. Take your most shared or read posts and use them as a springboard for a new piece of content.

If posts are out of date, that’s actually good news, as it gives you the perfect excuse to write another one that incorporates all the latest developments. 

So one blog post leads to another. But it can also lead to other formats: e-books, slideshares, infographics and even videos.

And don’t get too hung up on the idea that you’re repeating yourself. Remember that repackaging content means you get several bites of the cherry with the same audience – or even with different audiences.

The marketing funnel is really useful when you’re deciding how to reuse and target content.  From high-level thought pieces (TOFU) to mid-level solution pieces (MOFU) to bottom-level product pitches (BOFU) you have lots of ways to slice and dice existing material and make it appealing again.

Because just like tropical hurricanes, novelty is what keeps people interested.

But don’t take my word for it: just wait until Nate, Ophelia, Philippe and Rina hit, and you’ll see how we never tire of the same story. 

With a slightly different spin each time.

Getting the word out

Why viral copy is something you do want to catch

viral copyThinking of starting a blog? Then here’s some required reading.

Viral Copy by Copyblogger’s Brian Clark is a goldmine of information. It’s also very entertaining (even if you’ve never seen WKRP in Cincinnati – in which case you should).

The message is simple: blogging is about trading words for traffic. After all, if you’re blogging, you’re doing it for a reason, right? You want to get more visitors.

And this report makes a crucial point: you want quality, not quantity. Or as Brian puts it, ‘targeted traffic is more valuable than tons of traffic’ (not easy to say after three G&Ts).

Just the other day, I was chatting with a client about blogging. He’s very keen, as he’s heard it’s ‘the new newsletter’. But when I asked what he was expecting to get out of it, he was less sure.

Viral Copy brings blogging back to basics, asking:

  • What are you hoping to achieve?
  • What do you want people to think when they arrive?
  • Are they likely to come back?
  • Will the attention you get from your blog reflect well on you?

And much, much more. These are critical questions, and ones all bloggers should ask themselves before they begin.

Viral Copy is a hugely enjoyable read. From ‘eleven strategies for link love’ to dropping turkeys out of helicopters (now that was funny) it’s all there.

Catch it while you can.

The truth about blogs

Staying in regular touch with your customers is a great way to ensure they remain customers – your customers, that is. Because if they’re not hearing from you, they’re probably hearing from somebody else.

It’s not practical, of course, to get in front of every customer every week or month, so the next best thing is to send them something regular to read.

That’s why blogs and newsletters are all the rage. Hardly a week goes by without a call from somebody asking me for advice on getting a blog or newsletter up and running.

On the face of it, they seem the perfect choice: easy to get off the ground, cheap, trackable and completely scalable. What could be simpler?

But appearances can be deceptive. Blogs and newsletters are a great way to stay on the customer radar, but I think they should come with one of those warnings you see about puppies and kittens: they’re not just for Christmas, but for life.

So here are my top tips for launching a successful blog or newsletter.

Plan ahead

Magazines have this down to a fine art. It’s September and you’re a freelance writer with a great idea for an article in the Christmas issue? Too late. Christmas planning was back in July. An Easter idea in January? Maybe next year. The Easter issue was put together in October.

Magazines are never caught short – they usually know six months ahead of time what an issue will contain. You’ll need to take the same sort of approach – though in your case, six weeks should be more than enough.

Be realistic

It’s easy to think that you’ll never run out of material and that you’ll always have the time to write and publish your blog or newsletter. That’s rarely the case. You may well use all your best ideas in the first few issues, and then run out of steam.You may also find that you’ve committed yourself to a schedule that’s simply not sustainable.

That’s why it’s always best to test before you launch. Collect material, develop ideas and write several issues. Going through the motions will make it seem real, and give you a feel for what’s doable.

Make it irresistible

In the past week alone, I’ve stopped reading one blog and unsubscribed from two newsletters. I lost interest. And that reason was simple: the writer had lost interest too.

The guiding principle of blogs and newsletters is to make them informative and entertaining. Tell readers something they couldn’t find elsewhere, or something they couldn’t find as easily elsewhere. Give them facts, anecdotes, statistics. Spice it up with humour.

Show them that behind your business are real people who make mistakes, feel frustrations and don’t take themselves too seriously. In other words, connect with them.

Do it because you want to

When your blog or newsletter becomes a chore, you know you’re in trouble. Remember, it’s all the things I said earlier: quick, easy, cheap, and very effective. Why would you not want to do it?

If you find yourself turning up at the keyboard with a heavy heart, scratching your head for inspiration, you need to remember that done well, a blog or newsletter can be a goldmine. Done badly, it can damage your image and reputation.

Always be on the lookout

Freelance journalists are great at this sort of thing. Without ideas, they have nothing to write about. And with nothing to write about, they earn nothing. You see the problem.

So they always carry a notebook around with them, and have their antennae extended for ideas, angles and interesting stories.

And inspiration is everywhere. Just this week, I noticed this ad by Sainsbury’s (the UK supermarket chain).

In a Lynn Truss moment, I saw a missing apostrophe in one and wondered about the effect on a brand of dodgy punctuation. If I spotted it, how many others would? And does it really matter?

The idea is still on the drawing board. Together with lots of other ideas, some fully formed, some just twinkles in the eye of my blog.