Want your articles to spread like Gangnam online? You’d better master the art of capturing the micro-attention of your readers. Here are 10 guiding principles to help you on the path of writeousness (yes, that word just happened). 

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1. Craft a compelling headline.

A catchy headline can make all the difference to the success of an article. Content startup UpWorthy has gained millions of readers based on their ability to rewrite headlines about serious and important issues in a catchy, web-friendly way. If you want your content to spread online it is worthwhile to dedicate extra time to crafting an enticing headline.

2. Start with the most important content.

 Summarize the point of your article in the first paragraph. Be specific in this summary, and try to add immediate value. Even if some of your readers won't get further than this, their first impression of an article of often determines whether or not they'll share the post with their networks.  

3. A post should only be as long as necessary.

Beware the ever-shrinking attention span of your reader! Even in super-short form web-publishing formats like the Facebook status it has been proven that posts with less characters get shared more. In longer formats like articles and blog posts your article should be compelling from beginning to end. Usually the easiest way to achieve this is to simply write shorter articles. There are a few masters who can hold reader attention for long-pieces on the internet. Those writers and those pieces become the stuff of web legend.

4. Where a picture will say more than words can, use it.

 It’s worth spending the time to select the picture that will bring your writing to life.  Also, a good caption to a picture is as important as a good picture for the story. I’ve learned this from using Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook that a fairly ordinary photograph can become a conversation point by accompanying it with a caption. You could, for example use the caption to draw the viewer’s attention to a particular aspect of the picture, or to help them see the picture differently. 

5. Format for the Skim-Reader

The skim-reader is not a lesser being. The skim-reader is half your audience! Use formatting such as sub-headings, bold, italic, underlined, and bullet points to help content stand out for skim-readers and search engines.

7. Be specific.

If you are vague online, you will lose your reader. Also, using specific language is a great way to get search traffic on different search terms. For example, instead of just saying “the horse” every time you mention it in your article, you might try “the Arabian thoroughbred”. 

8. Cite your Sources.

Use hyperlinks to reference points that may require back-reading or validation. This is part of enhancing the user experience of your article. It helps build trust and interest in the issue you’re writing about. 

9. Tight prose wins.

Editing for clarity and simplicity, down to the sentence-structure level will make a difference.  On the web, full-stops tend to beat commas and semi-colons. Rather break a long, complex sentence filled with commas and semi-colons into a few shorter sentences. Also, take care to craft a few take-out sentences that social media readers can use to summarize highlights when they are sharing your article. While you’re at it, eliminate cliches. 

10. Check before you publish.

It’s very difficult, and embarrassing to try to retract misinformation or grammatical mistakes once your post is live on the web - particularly on Twitter and Facebook where your post can be quoted and shared on profiles and pages that you don't control. Even if you might lose the scoop by taking a little bit longer to confirm your facts, it is better in the long run to gain the trust of your readers. 

11. Encourage Social Commentary. 

Your work as a writer online doesn’t end when your article is published. You should share your writing on your own social channels, and also participate in the commentary around it. People are encouraged to comment when the writer responds and acknowledges their contribution.

The commenters may not be experts in the subject you’re writing about (although they could be). They may even be completely clueless about the issue. However, their opinions on a subject can be indicative of public perception about an issue, and therefore very interesting and relevant. The comments are often as interesting as the main piece.

So there you have it. I went up to Mount Table, and came back with these Commandments. Fortunately they're not written on stone tablets (so old school since the iPad, really) so we can remix them if we want. If you like, then please hit the little heart below, or leave comment below to enhance it.

Some of the regular visitors to this blog may have noticed that I have posted progressively less over the last 6 months. Recently my posting has almost come to a standstill. There's a lot behind this, which I've been trying to make sense of.

In short, it comes down to a sense of frustration I'm having with the amount of information I seem to have to deal with before anything actually gets done. As an example, besides spam, I get around 80 emails a day, all of which seem to require an urgent response. This is not good for someone who spends most of his time out the office working with groups. It basically means that most of my time in the office is split between dealing with email, and reading news so I can stay in touch with industry trends and innovations. This leaves very little time to spend working with my colleagues (at Huddlemind, Creative Commons and Muti) on important stuff like strategy. All this information feels like it's paralysing me!

In fact, this sense has sat with me for a while, and it's the primary reason why I've been so drawn to the study and practice of "Attention Economics".

So, regarding my blog...

Someone Has Already Said It

Perhaps the main reason I haven't been posting is because, quite honestly, everything I can think of saying has already been said by someone else online. And its not often that I have felt I could say it better.

For those who are interested in what I recommend reading, or what I find interesting, I would like to introduce you to my Diigo links which you can see in the sidebar on the right. There are some superb finds there, and they're all sorted by topic/tag.

I feel so full up with other people's information that there's barely enough space for me to form my own insights and share them.

Experiences vs Information

Maya Angelou once said: "People will forget what you tell them, but will never forget how you make them feel".

For people, like me, who believe that our Attention is increasingly scarce and valuable today, there is a cost attached to each new piece of information that we consume. Information consumes Attention. Despite my knowledge and understanding of "Attention Economics", I've been spendthrift with my own Attention. Now I have a bit of a deficit to deal with - each waking moment is currently spent processing the information I've amassed, at the expense of the experiences and interactions I could be having.

Information, by the way, is inherent in everything. It's just that we have come to prioritize encoded information - in the form of writing, sounds, and video - over real-world, information - in the form of experiences.

Reading and Writing

When I first started blogging, I enjoyed the sense of personal discovery through public disclosure. However, at some point the blogging became more about building an audience than about sharing ideas.

I can say the same about live chat, email, and meetings. My initial experience of these filled me with delight in the process of sharing ideas. They all now seem more like an obligation than a priviledge.

So in my attempt to reclaim my own sense of daily delight in my work and online pursuits, I am cutting down on all these attention traps, drastically. In their place, I hope to clear some space to experience and to reflect more, and to allow my own insights to emerge.

As my esteemed friend, Joe Botha, has said: "The true breakfast of champions is a low information diet".
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AuthorDave Duarte
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This is my realisation as I've been waiting for my schedule to magically clear up enough for me to write a blog post:

I'm not going to have time for it unless I make time for it.

So what's my 3 main motivators for blogging:

  1. Each new post can introduce me to a new person or people through emails and comments

  2. Each new post can add momentum to ideas that I support

  3. Each new post reminds the people who already subscribe to this blog by RSS that I still exist:)


Anyway, this is my long-winded way of announcing that I'm back in the game and will be blogging more regularly going forward.
Posted
AuthorDave Duarte
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From Gentle Reader, Stay Awhile; I will be Faithful, here's some useful advice for any other bloggers and writers who've ever experienced stagefright in the face of a blank page and a deadline:

I don’t write for an audience. Audiences are impersonal and distant. When I think of writing for an audience, I feel obligated to put on a show and be properly entertaining. But although I do hope my readers enjoy what I write, my primary goal isn’t to appear larger-than-life. Therefore, when I write, I initiate an intimate conversation with one reader. Not an audience: just one person. If I imagine that I am inviting a single person to journey with me into a topic about which we both care, I am much more likely to reach his heart and mind, and this is what I want. I want him engaged—I want him glad he invested his time with me.


I know my reader could be doing any number of other things, but he is choosing to spend his time with me, and this is another reason I don’t write for an audience. Audiences don’t have “time� to respect. It’s easy to think of an audience as a captive and to abuse our time together; it is more difficult to think of a single reader that way. The single reader is much more likely to flee and he is therefore more demanding of my attention and respect.



Perfection, ironically, is not attractive because it leaves no room for debate. Readers also want to know my weaknesses and where the gaps in my knowledge are. These are the pauses in the conversation that allow the other person to add their opinion, and thus be engaged.



Via Thinking Machine
Posted
AuthorDave Duarte