As you prepare your 2017 editorial calendar and brainstorm ideas for blog posts, guest posts, and other on-site or off-site content, there’s one thing that should be top of mind: educational content.
We don’t mean education in the sense of teaching children how to read or obtaining a bachelor’s degree – rather, providing readers with valuable information that sticks and makes them want to share. This can be anything from the health effects of e-cigarettes to asking your employer for a raise.
The reason for creating content that informs is twofold:
- Learning something new is the main reason people choose what they read online.
- Publishers are more eager to share your educational content.
No matter your industry, you can create educational content that is worthy of journalists covering. Here are six tips on making your on-site content interesting and substantive so that editors will be happy to slot your story into their editorial calendar.
Use Appropriate Packaging
There are a slew of innovative content formats to choose from – each with their own merits and roadblocks, so selecting the right one for your educational content marketing is imperative. When we surveyed 500 publishers on the type of content they want to be pitched, articles were No. 1, with infographics, mixed-media pieces, and data visualizations following. This is a great place to start. Then select the format that’s best suited to your specific idea.
For example, a client wanted us to cover the sensitive topic of pregnancy and substance abuse so the message would be heard loud and clear. It’s common knowledge that drugs and alcohol are harmful to pregnant women; however, the challenge was choosing a format that was different than what anybody had seen before. The resulting animagraphs we created were shocking and portrayed the information in a new, emotional way.
Had we simply written an article regurgitating well-founded research on the topic, publishers likely would not have cared. This campaign needed to elicit an emotional response from readers, and that it did – nearly 700 publishers covered it.
Include Startling Stats Up High
Provide journalists with a strong hook or newsworthy angle by putting your most surprising statistics at the top of your content. Whether it’s a survey you or your organization ran or a large dataset you crunched the numbers on, revealing the most compelling stats right away will catch the eye of publishers and make their job easier by informing the direction of their articles.
For a campaign about how drug overdoses impact life expectancy rates, we did several data visualizations, including a map of each state’s average age of fatal drug overdose victims and the average age at death over time. But we knew the most startling statistic would be that, on average, those who lose their lives to drug overdoses cut their natural life expectancy in half, so that’s what we led with.
Take a look at the headline by one publisher.
Supplementing your main content with complementary statistics from reputable sources or studies also gives your content more meat for publishers to bite into. For example, if you create an infographic about living wages, you could add stats about housing prices to the landing page text that surrounds the infographic.
Avoid Offending or Shaming
The last thing you want to do in your educational content is insult, embarrass, or chastise your readers. It’s a delicate balance being authoritative without being domineering. How do you strike that balance? Keep your tone and content informative and not critical.
In our “Pregnancy and Addiction” example above, we were careful not to put down pregnant women who abuse substances. The intent of the campaign was not to call out women for making poor choices; it was to highlight the dangers of addiction, which is a disease (not a choice), and to encourage those in need of treatment to reach out and get help.
Daily Mail covered the exclusive for this report and included, “But fortunately, [the report] said quitting the vices may reduce some of the risks posed to unborn babies.” The writer helped to spread our client’s message accurately by sticking to the facts, just as our campaign did.
However, if you look at the comments section of the Daily Mail article, one reader was called out by another for fear mongering. The first commenter said:
Another commenter responded with:
While it’s likely the intent of the first commenter was to influence women to have healthy pregnancies and babies, the tactic was shameful and came across as righteous. Our report covered the most updated research and studies available, and by sticking to the facts, no comments suggested the information in the article was incorrect. This is important to note because had we been shameful in our report, journalists would have sent our pitch to the trash and our client’s brand would have been tarnished.
Educational Content Must Be Objective
You or your client’s brand is likely biased against competitors, as should be the case. If a dog food company doesn’t believe it has the best dog food on the market, then why should consumers feed it to their pups? But when you’re creating informational content that is intended to educate readers on a particular topic (not promote your product or service), your content needs to be unbiased.
While creating a survey-based campaign for Paychex, an HR solutions provider that helps clients with ways to retain and attract employees, we remained objective in our questions and results. “Employee Retention: What Makes Employees Stay or Leave” revealed that low salaries and being overworked were the top reasons for employees to leave a job, while inexpensive, quality health care and bonuses were the most common benefits that caused employees to stay put. The results were also broken down by industry and generation.
How did we avoid subjectivity? We composed our survey questions without taking into account our client’s own employee offerings, those of the companies they provide HR resources to, or the benefits they offer support services for. And when we compiled our results, we presented them with complete objectivity and honesty.
The campaign was mentioned and linked to several times in this Forbes article, indicating the journalist found the survey results to be credible and our client Paychex to be trustworthy. In total, the study was included in 134 online stories and shared over 12,500 times.
If you plan to run a survey, remember to frame the questions in an unbiased way to ensure you’re not communicating an impression or opinion (e.g., “Are you repulsed by Nickelback’s music?” versus “On a scale of 1–10, how favorably/unfavorably do you feel about Nickelback’s music?”). You’ll also want to make sure your answer choices cover all potential responses – use “Not applicable” or “None of the above” so you don’t force people to select an untrue answer.
Use Only Recent, Credible Sources
At Fractl, we require sources to be from within the past year, and if they’re older, the researcher or writer must explain that nothing newer exists and why the older source is still valid. Of course, there are exceptions from time to time, but this is our general rule of thumb, especially for educational content.
To give our content an edge, we also go out and seek information to determine the truth behind topics we’re exploring. These primary sources include exclusive surveys we run, data journalism, and live video interviews or experiments.
Here are some characteristics of valid sources:
Avoid using or citing the following sources:
In addition to the tips above, a good place to learn how to evaluate sources is the Purdue Online Writing Lab. When you’re creating informational content, it needs to be substantiated by credible sources so both readers on your site and publishers who you want to cover your story believe your company or organization is the authority on the matter.
Always Fact Check
The 2016 presidential campaigns and debates brought the importance of fact-checking to the forefront, and journalists and fact-checkers everywhere rejoiced. Fact-checking isn’t always a quick or easy task – it’s often time-intensive and tedious. Why? Because every factual statement, statistic, etc., must be checked against its main source.
Our resident fact-checker and his team review every piece of content produced at Fractl.
As an example of the scope of a full fact check, our project on germs in the London Underground, which had 11 separate assets, required the following to be reviewed:
- Data verification against lab reports
- Correct names of stations and lines
- Accuracy of maps for geography
- Accuracy of maps for color coding concerning CFU count
- Math for X times more bacteria formulas
- Landing page text with 13 external sources
Picked up by over 100 publishers, any error in this campaign would have been damaging to the client’s brand as well as our relationships with writers and editors.
For more guidance on the fact-checking process, the Poynter Institute offers articles and courses to help you get up to speed and avoid errors in your content.
When creating educational content for your site or brand, follow the tips above to ensure your articles, studies, reports, or graphics give your readers a new, startling piece of information, and that your rock-solid content appeals to publishers.