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Why content campaigns need to be surprising to earn top-tier press

30-second summary:

  • Every successful content campaign understands its audience and knows their pulse. How do you know whether your content campaign is worthy of being viral?
  • Fractl’s first in-depth study into viral emotions found that the most common emotions invoked when consuming viral content were amusement, interest, and surprise.
  • Domenica D’Ottavio shares the key ingredients of successful content campaigns with some interesting examples.

Successful content begins with understanding your audience. What does your audience like? What do they avoid? What do they want to learn more about? What are they most likely to share and engage with?

Fractl’s first in-depth study into viral emotions found that the most common emotions invoked when consuming viral content were amusement, interest, and surprise. After executing thousands of content campaigns, we keep these three emotions in mind when creating content—particularly the element of surprise.

Easier said than done, though. What makes content surprising? How can you use surprise in your content marketing campaigns to earn links and media coverage at top-tier websites?

In this post, I’m going to share two examples of content market campaigns that embraced the element of surprise and why they were primed to be successful.

Content with shock value is primed for social sharing

You often don’t know, until you start working on a project, whether your content will offer something readers don’t expect.

If something is surprising enough to get Whoopi Goldberg talking about it, you know you were successful. In a survey execution for one home-improvement client, we asked 1,000 Americans about their cooking habits.

What seemed innocuous at first, quickly became a link building success, in large because of the huge disparities in the results.


Why the content worked

Not only did we learn that Millennials are the worst cooks, but we also learned they have trouble identifying a butter knife, compared to other generations surveyed.

These two news hooks directly resulted in widespread coverage, because they were surprising enough, but also relatable enough, to spark conversation among readers.

Content campaigns that surprise - Example of Millenials being unable to identify a butter knife

After the first placement went live with Washington Post, this campaign spread like wildfire across the internet, earning top tier placements at dozens of publishers including USA Today, Thrillist, and The Daily Meal totalling 145 press mentions for a simple survey execution.

This content campaign is a perfect example of how just a few data points can carry a campaign. The content idea itself doesn’t need to be surprising — that is, exploring cooking habits — just as long as a single component of the data is shocking.

Surprising content that’s useful, too, can produce big wins

While the previous two campaigns produced results full of shock-value, a project doesn’t have to be controversial to be successful.

A lot of brands and businesses want to produce content that’s not only entertaining but also informative and useful to their audience. When producing surprising content that also can be informative, consider the impact of the information. What ideas can you produce that will contribute positively to people’s lives?

In a content campaign for one career-related client, we wanted to find out how much money you could make in various careers that don’t require a degree.

Millennials are the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. Many of whom entered college during or following the great recession. So, topics related to career and finance are hot for millennials, as many of them graduated with student debt, and may have trouble finding work with the degree they earned.

Survey executions are useful for new studies, but when the data already exists and is available for use, why not use it?  The average person often finds it difficult to interpret meaningful findings from existing data sets, which is why they can be perfect for link building content campaigns.

After digging through the data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (a free-to-the-public data source) we found that contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a degree or to own your own business in America and earn 6-figures.

In addition to being surprising, this data also proved useful to our audience.

Many college graduates in America are not making six-figures. So, this campaign was surprising and eye-opening to them. For those looking to get started in a different field, this study provided a glimpse into what high-paying jobs are out there. For those without degrees, this study provided hope and inspiration to improve their situation.

After earning coverage on CNBC, this campaign appeared across many work and career-related publishers wanting to cater to their audience and deliver these surprising and informative findings. Capping out at 141 press mentions, this campaign was also featured on MSN, Marketwatch, and The Ladders.

An element of surprise grabs and keeps the audiences’ attention

When producing content, not every aspect of your piece has to be surprising. In fact, we find that it’s usually one or two data points that yield the majority of link building results for our clients.

The key to creating successful content campaigns in any niche is to intend to serve your audience first. Come up with ideas that answer their questions, and then put your own surprising spin on it.

When producing any successful content campaign, make sure that there’s an element that’s newsworthy, surprising, and data-driven for optimum success.

Domenica D’Ottavio is a Brand Relationship Manager at Fractl. She can be found on Twitter @atdomenica.

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