Sometimes, I really miss being a journalist.
My former profession was difficult. It was grinding. It sometimes felt abusive. I’m a pretty positive person but honestly, after 19 years of working on stories about crime, drugs, death, families in crisis, and dealing with all the viewers (or trolls, depending on your perspective) who came with the advent of social media to comment on our stories, I was feeling pretty beat up. My mental health was one of the reasons I left journalism to work in a library.
But I also kind of miss the work. There is a great joy and satisfaction that comes from telling stories about people who otherwise wouldn’t have a voice. To do it well and honestly is a reward and a privilege.
Lucky for me, marketers have realized the power of storytelling. The embrace of content marketing in library marketing departments means that we are using well-crafted stories about our customers, employees, and organizations to spread our message, educate cardholders, fight for more funding, and impact our communities. Which is why I was excited to attend a session led by Michelle Park Lazette at Content Marketing World. She works as a writer at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. If anyone can sympathize with the bureaucracy, technical language, and sensitive subjects that a library content marketer will need to write about, it’s someone who works in another government agency!
Michelle gave a bunch of tips for writing pieces that will really get the attention of your cardholders. Her approach centers on the journalist mindset–find the stories, tell the stories, explain the stories in a language your cardholder will understand, peak your cardholders emotions. Here are the top six lessons I learned in Michelle’s session. I’ve written a bunch of articles since attending her session, including a cover story for our quarterly magazine, and my writing has already improved. (Thanks, Michelle!)
Use the chicken test with every possible story. Ask yourself: Does my audience care about the chickens? Can my audience see themselves as the chickens? Are the chickens crossing the road now or are they about to? Does anyone care if they did it five years ago? Why and to whom does it matter that chickens are crossing the road?
Dig up fresh, differentiated ideas. Start with the truth your employees and cardholders witness and broaden the scope with industry context. Localize with your insights and experiences. If you are bucking the trend, go ahead and say it. Look at surveys for content ideas. Reveal the story behind the numbers. You must monitor your data to find stories. With events, help an audience that was there AND the audience that wasn’t there. Do pre-event Q&A’s. Changing customers tastes and budgets can be content ideas.
Start your piece with the powerful words. Michelle gave us an example in her own writing. She was putting together a piece on a customer of the Federal Reserve and shared her opening line: “If Lynn Tatum was staying in this depressing place, she was going to make it better.” Use details to take the reader along for the ride. Always ask follow-up questions.
Humble yourself before you subject matter experts. If you don’t know what a term means or how something works, ask. Regularly ask what the experts in the field-librarians, library directors, publishers, are seeing. What are cardholders struggling with? What are they, the experts, struggling with? What brings them joy? How do their jobs work? All of these questions can lead you to great stories which you can share with your cardholders.
Take it all in. When you write, set the scene. What does the place where you are doing the interview look like, smell like, sound like? Including these little details may seem completely unimportant, but it helps the reader experience more of the emotion with you. It makes them feel as if they were there!
Help the reader along. Try to convince your experts that jargon serves no one but them. Find new ways to explain things. (My biggest library marketing example: I never say “periodical” in my writing. They are magazines and newspapers.)
Finally, Michelle left us with one thought which I’ve printed out and taped to the wall of my office. If you are the 17th person to say or do something, are you delivering value? Deliver different and people will be so moved by your content that they’ll be compelled to share your content.
Go to Michelle’s Twitter account to see examples of her work and to be inspired.
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