How to make Content Attention-Catching - A Powerful Secret

How to make Content Attention-Catching – A Powerful Secret

We all want to be read, heard, we all want as much people as possible to engage with our content. That’s easier said than done: In a world with decreasing attention spans on the one side, and millions of marketers and brands wooing potential customers on the other side, it can be really hard to find people who actually care about what you are doing. High-quality content alone isn’t a proven recipe for success – it’s just a requirement.

But how do we get the people to read (and engage with) our content? I analyzed highly successful posts of a facebook page I have been running until February and found an interesting pattern that I want to share with you. At the end of this post I will show you how I crafted a post with this pattern that reached way above average results.

Spotted: University of X

I don’t know how familiar you are with the Spotted: University of X pages that have recently been springing up like mushrooms in every city. The following info about the Glasgow library Spotted:-page should suffice as explanation: “It’s simple! if there is someone in the library you can’t take your eyes off message us and we’ll post your comment anonymously!” Spotted:-pages are a great example for simple ideas that spread very fast.

A friend of mine and I started the page Spotted: KIT (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology) as the second Spotted:-page in Germany as an experiment (can we grow it to a few thousand users without revealing to our friends that we created it?) and within a few weeks we reached over 5000 likes – that’s a quarter of all students enrolled in our university!

After growing the page, administrating it became more of a chore than fun. Reviewing messages of people, writing them back, posting the messages – not very exciting, huh? So I decided to play around a bit with the data we got about the virality and engagement of our posts, and found something interesting: Although most posts got between 5 and 20 likes (it’s about one person spotting another, how many should care?), a few stood out with more than 200 likes. Let’s see what makes them different.

“To the cute girl who got picked up from her mother by car at the traffic barrier today. You wore an anthracite-colored jacket and and a gaudy yellow bag. Is your mother single? She was really hot and I would like to become your even-aged stepdad. Please get in touch with me!

“Yesterday, in the club. Me on the dancefloor. You behind me, very shy and unobtrusive, so I didn’t notice you – until you suddenly and elegantly emptied your stomach contents on my back. (…)”

So, what did distinguish the above mentioned posts from all the others, that barely got attention? Sure, they are funny, sometimes a bit nasty or disgusting, but others have been too.

The Power of Unexpectedness

In their great book “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die” (affiliate link) the brothers Chip and Dan Heath examined ideas, rumors, proverbs, gossip and other things that remain in the minds of people. They identified six qualities for sticky ideas: Simplicity, Unexpectedness, Concreteness, Credibility, Emotional, and Stories.

Unexpected things violate our schemas. See how the the two posts above begin. You would not expect something unusual when reading “To the cute girl…” But then something happens and lets us hesitate. A great example for used unexpectedness is the Enclave commercial. See for yourself:

This great commercial begins like any boring car commercial. Suddenly, there is an unexpected collision that triggers our surprise. But why is unexpectedness so greatly effective? Let’s take a look inside our brains.

Unexpectedness and our Brain

Did you know that our brain receives 11 million bits per second? But only 40 are conscious. The rest is processed subconsciously. But how does our brain decide on which information it should focus? A lot of research in neuroscience and cognitive psychology is done here. One attempt to explain how our subconscious mind works thinks of our brain as a pattern recognition machine. When receiving data, our brain is looking for patterns. You don’t believe it? Try to remember the following 10 letters: “G H B F Y K N U U R”. Is it quite hard? What about “A B C D E F G H I J”? A lot easier! When something doesn’t fit in our patterns (when it is unexpected) we need to focus on details.

In this great post, Todd Follansbee shows how we can use insights about our brains when designing user experiences on web pages. There he introduces the analogy to a factory: Our brain is designed like a hierarchical system, where in the subconsciousness there are thousands of assembly line workers who just do their jobs until something happens they can’t handle, something that doesn’t fit in our patterns. They then contact the supervisor who tries to find a pattern, and so on… The higher the problem needs to be passed within the hierarchy, the more we get distracted.

Regarding those insights, it is obvious why the unexpectedness of the above mentioned posts is so powerful. While starting with familiar schemas like “To the cute girl…” our factory workers just do their jobs, not expecting anything unusual – it’s just another “boring” Spotted:-post. But then: Alarm! After a few lines the schema is fully violated.

Crafting an Unexpected Status Update

Just recognizing this pattern was not enough, I wanted to try it out for myself. So I faked the following post to see what happens:

“To the cute boy with the brown curly hair and the button nose who is sitting opposite me and has been trying to catch the gaze of the girl sitting next to me all morning.

That’s my girlfriend. Sorry, bro.”

Bamm, fourth most popular post in the history of the Spotted:-page. So I would say unexpectedness works. Just try it out for yourself to see what happens. In my opinion you can use unexpectedness in many circumstances: product management, marketing, relationships… Why not give it a chance? What do you say? Have you experienced other important elements of powerful content?


Photo Credits: Jesse757 / Flickr