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As the new year starts, many Aussie small businesses are facing the pressure of producing engaging content on their websites and their social media properties. The following tips will help you start this year off right by developing a better understanding of what your readers want and what makes for good content.

I’ll state upfront, though, that quality is always priority number one, so those Throwback Thursday, Fri-Yay and Motivation Monday posts aren’t going to cut it. Neither is asking inane generalised questions such as “what’s most important to you as a small business owner?” to try and get your engagement up. We’re all getting too smart for that kind of “social media in a box” stuff that gets sold by unaccredited social media coaches.

With that in mind, let’s get on with making some better content in 2022, ok?

What Makes Content Engaging?

In order to create engaging content, you need to know the qualities of good content that engages. Some of the best content out there has some combination of the following in common:

-A sense of urgency

– A sense of humour

-Useful information

-Thought-provoking

-Easy to consume

-Makes you feel something

– Relates to the world of your audience

– Relates to your survival

Think about the last time you reacted to something posted on social media.

A relative’s new puppy? It’s not complicated or confusing. It makes you feel something. The puppy’s antics make you smile (sense of humour)

A traffic accident in your local area? A sense of urgency. Useful information. Makes you feel something. Relates to your world. May even relate to your survival.

A new limited-time flavour of milkshake at your favourite fast-food joint? A sense of urgency. Not complicated or confusing. Relates to your world.

A post from a group cleaning up the ocean? Thought-provoking. A sense of urgency. Makes you feel something.

Getting the pattern here? A simple message. An attention-getting video or image. Relevant to the audience you want to reach. Makes you think or even feel something. That’s where engagement lies.

Using the Content Reaction Wheel here will help you choose better content. Just make sure that your social media or blog post elicits at least two of the responses on the wheel.

The Art of Crafting a Compelling Headline

If your headlines are dull and uninteresting, people won’t bother to read your content. They’ll scroll past it as quickly as possible to find something else more interesting.

Headlines need to be compelling. They need to make readers curious enough to click and read what they’ve written. Start by thinking about what’s the most interesting thing that can happen in your article. What’s going to make someone want to read it?

If you’re having trouble coming up with a compelling headline, start by asking yourself this question: “What’s happening in this article?”

In most cases, that will help you come up with your headline.

For example, if you are writing about the problems you have with making skincare products in China, then the most interesting fact that you may be delivering, is that your reader’s favourite moisturiser or serum isn’t made in a local lab, but in a mass production line in China. So rather than a headline that says:

The trouble with natural skincare in 2022

It may be better to unbury the juicy lead that is further in your story with something more like:

Is your “natural” skincare product just mass-produced Chinese goo?

Questions make for good headlines. Especially when you’re writing for a niche audience who is probably asking questions like the ones you are using in your headlines.

Make Your Blog Posts Easy to Read

When writing blog posts, keep in mind that your readers will be skimming the post and they don’t really have time to read it all. This means you need to write your blog posts so they are easy to read. It’s a simple as that!

Use shorter sentences and paragraphs. You want your reader to feel like they can get through your content quickly without having too much of a struggle on their hands. A good guideline here is to keep sentences to no more than twenty words. Another is to keep paragraphs explaining no more than one idea at a time.

Use headings and subheadings to break up large blocks of text by either highlighting certain aspects or zooming in on one topic. This makes it easier for the reader to digest what you’re writing at any given point in time.

Write shorter paragraphs and make sure each paragraph has a clear beginning and end sentence, so the reader doesn’t feel lost or confused throughout the post.

Services like Grammarly for your computer or Yoast for your WordPress website are useful. They will tell you when you’re using too many words when a sentence is too long, and other tips.

Use Social Media to Engage With Readers… not just promote your products

In Australia, we’re some 13 years into using Facebook. For at least 10 of those, I’ve been asking small businesses to build communities with their customers on social media instead of just throwing sales posts at them. And 99% are continuing to do the same thing they’ve always done, whilst whining about Facebook “throttling their posts” or “holding them back from reaching their audience.”

I’ll be as blunt as I have always been on this point. Your posts suck. They are absolutely awful. They ignore the word “social” in social media and just go straight for the kill. And because no one is interested in being constantly advertised to by you, they ignore you. And when you keep producing this stuff, and people continue to ignore you, Facebook buries you. Not because Facebook doesn’t like you, but because you don’t respect the platform you’re using. We all create the Facebook we have by engaging with what we engage with, and ignoring what we ignore. Don’t blame Facebook. Blame your audience for not liking your stuff. And then blame yourself for not making stuff they like.

The very first step in using social media as a tool for engagement is making sure that your content is interesting and relevant. And that means looking at what the most interesting and relevant stuff is on social media for your target audience. If your audience is loving in-depth videos made by creators like Nas Daily, Simon Sinek, Brene Brown or Mari Smith, then what makes you think that your post asking what everyone’s up to on the weekend will ever be able to compete with that?

There are various ways you can make content more interesting, from posting photos of your products and services being used (rather than just sitting there in a packet) to sharing interesting articles that aren’t necessarily interesting to you, but interesting to your customers. Another way is by commenting on other posts related to your industry or brand. This keeps readers interested in seeing what others have said about their product or service and makes them feel like they’re missing out on something if they don’t follow back.

You also want to make sure that the things you post are timely so they’ll be more likely to get attention and shares. If you post content that isn’t timely, people won’t care because it doesn’t reflect anything that they care about right now.

The basic hierarchy of content that engages is shown in the diagram below. You’ll notice that video is increasingly important as a way of sharing information. The gulf between both long and short format video to other types of content is very telling.

Making video content for Social Media

You can’t really escape video. You get that. But what do you do with it? Thankfully social media provides a range of tools that can help you out.

From Facebook’s Creator Studio which gives you some basic tools to animate and illuminate your images, to Instagram Stories that let you animate almost anything or produce short-sharp videos often.

Canva now features quite a good video creation and editing suite. In fact, the video below was made in Canva using stock footage, logo graphics and text in less than 30 seconds.https://clickstarter.com.au/media/ada5c8a5b70c5c25121fb52b6ff37312

How to Produce Quality Images

It’s always important to produce quality images, and with the increased use of destinations like Instagram, it’s more important than ever. But quality doesn’t always require expensive equipment. In fact, these days it feels like the most beautiful moments are being captured on mobile phones.

Two of your best friends when it comes to taking photos are:

1. Light and shade

2. The rule of thirds

Working with Light and Shade

With any camera, light is of the utmost importance. It’s the factor that makes a camera work. The more light, the more detail. And the more detail, the more data your smartphone has to improve your image. With current-generation mobiles like the iPhone 13, Google Pixel 6, Samsung Galaxy S21 and others in the mid to high range of pricing for smartphones, there’s a tonne of software processing that attempts to make your photo look better.

The more light and shade you have in your image, the better that this software processing works. This results in the kinds of photos below. When you look at scenes or place people in scenes that have great light and shadow in them, it creates a sense of drama that draws the eye, encourages someone to read the caption and absorb your message.

Working with the Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds works by placing the most important part of an image in a position on a grid that tends to look the most satisfying and aesthetically pleasing to a viewer. This works by you placing a grid (real or imaginary) over the scene and adjusting the position so that the important focus points of the photo are either on, or close to the intersections of the grid lines. A perfect example of this is below.

Levelling up your photos

When it comes to taking good photos, you might be thinking you need a DSLR or a high-end camera to take great pictures. These days, you just need a phone.

You can capture moments on the fly that professional photographers can’t because it takes them so long to set up their equipment and compose their scene. But if you really want to level up your photos without a big expensive rig, there are a few inexpensive tools that can really lift your game.

For quirky and fun videos, use your phone’s timer and take three, five-second videos then edit them together in post. This will help you feel more comfortable in front of the camera and avoid taking any long videos of yourself where you trip over the words or moves.

Another option is to use a selfie stick or tripod. These can help you take better pictures by giving you extra room with which to move around or set up props like bottles and coffee mugs. These days you can get items like these from discount stores for under $50.

Lastly, always remember that lighting is key! So stay in control of your lighting by keeping your subject or scene outside of direct sunlight and close enough so that they are not too dark or too bright. But if you do need a little extra light, a ring light from Kmart is just $35 and can hold your phone and cast either a sunlight or indoor light effect on your scene.

Five Tips for Editing Photos

We’ve all seen it hundreds of times: the person who spends an hour editing their photos, only to post them on a social media site that isn’t even optimized for high-quality photos. Maybe you’ve seen this too — maybe you’re that person. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to just have good photos, because nobody is going to share them if they don’t look sharp for the platform that they’re on.

Here are five ways to edit your photos so they actually look good when they’re posted online. And you don’t need pro software to do it.

1. Before editing your photo with any software, make sure that it has good contrast and clarity. This will help ensure that the colours in the photo don’t look washed out. If needed, there are plenty of filters on Instagram, Canva and other mobile apps that will help you achieve this.

2. Use the brightness settings on Instagram or Snapchat to highlight the bits you want to be highlighted and let the shadows fade into the background

3. Try using the settings on your phone camera itself first, to create a better photo so that you’re not having to over-edit the photo later. Remember, it’s a case of garbage in, garbage out. Feeding a better photo into Instagram or Facebook or whatever app you’re using, means that the filters and editing tools will work better

4. Position the shot, then get someone else to take the photo — and then make sure that they take at least six versions of it so that you can choose the best one later

5. Keep calm with the face tuning. There is a point where the skin smoothing starts to look weird. And it’s about 20% less than when you think it is. Remember, no one is as critical about what you look like as you are of yourself. So pull back the intensity of the face tuning and skin smoothing a bit, or ask a good friend to tell you if it’s too much or if you could use a little more without looking silly. This goes for guys as well as girls.

Designing and Creating Infographics and Charts

One of the best ways to create engaging content is by developing and creating infographics and charts. Infographics are great for displaying data in a visually appealing way that’s easy to understand. I’ve used them throughout this article to help illustrate some points and make it easier for you to remember what you learned.

The one key thing to remember in infographics is to not overdo the text. Infographics are designed to communicate key points using smaller amounts of text with charts, icons and shapes to make it easier to absorb the information in the graphic.

Ready to get started on better engagement?

1. Get to know your audience

2. Understand what they’re looking for

3. Have a plan and follow it

4. Aim for some realistic goals so you get some success before you grow bored

5. Create content with an outcome in mind — and an audience

6. Don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t work the first time — after all, it’s only social media!

Dante St James is the founder of Clickstarter, a Meta Blueprint Certified Lead Trainer, a Community Trainer with Meta Australia, a digital advisor with Business Station, an accredited Digital Solutions advisor and presenter, an Entrepreneur Facilitator, and the editor at The Small Marketer. You can watch free 1-hour webinars and grow your digital skills at Dante’s YouTube Channel.