The Web is a weird place. There are potentially hundreds of millions of people you can reach here, but at the end of the day you will reach no more than dozens usually. Unless of course you know the ultimate secret magic writing formula!
Just kidding. There is none, of course.
Most publications that have millions of visitors are huge publishing companies with teams of writers who are constantly creating high-quality content.
There are ways to attract hundreds, thousands or even tens of thousands of readers though, even if you’re a mere mortal like me. I can’t just list them though. I have to explain or it won’t work for you.
Stop Limiting Your Audience
The Internet is like a huge party. In case you look good and talk about something that interests lots of people, you will have a lot listeners. A party with just a few guests is not likely to give you the opportunity to reach a lot of people. Even a party with lots of people is no guarantee to make people listen to you.
Personally, I have written a lot about niche topics for years. Most people still don’t know what I’m talking about or what certain niche-specific terms and acronyms I use even mean most of the time.
Writing about niche topics is like entering a party and explaining that you are representing Jehovah’s Witness.
In case nobody else from your group is in the room, not even some fellow Christians who’d like to talk with you about the Bible, you’ve already lost. So most likely it would be wiser to speak about faith or even spirituality in order to broaden your reach and the potential audience appeal.
It’s not about being less specific. Instead, it’s more about using topics and concepts that more people can relate to.
When you speak about faith, you may only appeal to religious types. When talking about spirituality, both religious types and “new age” type of spiritual people will listen.
Why not broaden your scope even more? Why not talk about divinity, like poets do? Of course using the word “divinity” would limit your audience again. So you have to explain divinity in simple terms.
There are some deep truths out there that are always true
No matter if you believe in God, think that meditation is the path to enlightenment, or that only science can answer each and every question on Earth, avoid specific terms when you want to connect with the average person or to write for large audiences, not just dozens of people. So even if you write about an esoteric topic reserved for experts, talk about it in layman’s terms when you want to reach a broader audience.
Include Both the Old and the New
Even if you manage to attract a large audience and everybody understands you, that doesn’t mean you have convinced them to stick it out with you until the end of every sentence, paragraph or the entire article. In everything you write, you need to include both the old and the new.
What the hell does this mean? You’re probably asking.
Think about a sentence like “the sky is blue.” Everything in this sentence is “old,” tired and cliché. We know that the sky is blue, so there’s nothing new here unless of course the sky earlier that day was very cloudy and dark grey. Then “the sky is blue” might mean really good news!
Instead, consider a headline like:
“The Sky is Red!”
Ouch! That sounds a bit scary, or romantic, depending on who you are and what time of day it is or the overall context. On Mars, for example, the sky is red all the time. Anyway, the purpose of the second example is to show you that “the sky is red” is about the “new,” fresh and unique.
We expect the sky to be some kind of blue or even grey.
When the sun sets the sky turns red sometimes, but it’s still rare enough to be interesting. You have to add something new to your messaging or it is not a message of value at all. Something is missing. When everybody knows that at a particular place and time the sky is blue, why tell them?
I see it happening often. People are writing Captain Obvious types of articles, using headlines we have seen a thousand times before or repeating simply what they have found somewhere else. Don’t do it.
Choose a Topic Your Mother Likes
When choosing a topic for your article, make sure to make the mother test before starting to write about it. In case you know your mother well you can just ask yourself whether it would be interesting for her. In case you are not sure but lucky enough to be able to call up your mom, do it. Ask her. You don’t really need to explain a whole lot, that you write an article etc. just mention the topic and look out for signs of interest.
My mother loves books, she has been writing herself and she worked for publishing houses for decades. So obviously she’d like this article for example.
Point is, when you can come up with a topic that appeals to your mother, there’s a good chance it will have mass appeal.
Evoke the Right Emotions
When writing something that tries to appeal to a mass audience, you need to provide more than just information. Information overload is everywhere. Don’t write just for the small group of people who haven’t read this information yet. Inject something that will evoke emotion in your readers.
I learned this lesson in my early days as a writer: an inspiring and uplifting story works better than one that makes you sad.
Who wants to read bad news all the time? Masochists?
Even masochists don’t assume that their friends want to suffer too. But there is one exception: when the suffering is accompanied by the opportunity to actually help. That’s a good reason to focus on bad news.
The New York Times proved this positivity theory recently in an extensive study conducted on their own content. They wanted to find out what type of content gets shared a lot on social media, via email etc. Guess what…it was content that inspires people and makes them feel good.
So you have to evoke the right emotions.
- Inspire people
- Make people happy
- Help people
Some argue that making people angry works too, but that’s a bit short-sighted. People will flock to your site once, denounce it and hate you for years to come or simply consider you as an unreliable source. So don’t enrage visitors, even if it’s righteous anger. Your readers will only remember that your site made them angry, not why.
Strike a Chord
In order to get large crowds interested in what you have to say, you not only have to get their attention, interest and approval, you also have to strike a chord. It means they have to agree with you fervently not just casually. They must be convinced that your message is true, and that they want to spread your truth too.
Many writers try to align with the powerful and the popular. They use opportunism to get an audience to agree with them.
Examples of this are articles on how products by Apple, Google or Nike are the greatest and appear on the Web daily. Sure, many people agree with that, but will they spread it? Not so sure. Especially since there will be at least a hundred other articles praising the newest phone, gadget or sneaker.
In contrast, siding with the underdog may seem riskier, but is actually the way to reach and inspire large crowds.
That said, you don’t have to bash Apple, Google or Nike (like I have successfully done in the past). After all, there has been a lot of corporate crime attributed to each. Your goal isn’t to make people angry though. You want to reach the other people, those who quietly root for the little guy. They will spread the news.
Consider these two similar news stories dealing with banks and foreclosures and their share stats on Facebook:
- Philadelphia Man Forecloses on Wells Fargo over Mortgage – ABC News
- Homeowner Forecloses on Bank of America – TIME.com
Both stories definitely strike a chord, don’t they?
So reaching the masses is not about opportunism or dumbing down your writing, so that everybody gets it. Writing for mass appeal is about embracing audiences, respect for your mother and compassion.
More Resources on Writing for Large Audiences:
- The Psychology of Digital Storytelling
- We Can Do Better Than This
- Use Old Words When Writing for Findability
- Forget SEO Tactics. Put Your Audience First
- Blog Writing: For Best Results, Use Real English
- 6 Keys to Writing for Your Small Business Blog
- I Have a Blog for My Business, But What Should I Be Writing About?
- Timeless Content Marketing Lessons from the World’s Fastest Growing Online Publication
* Creative Commons image by Montecruz Foto