There’s no question that the Internet and social media have changed the way we consume media forever. There is an infinite amount of information available to us, on demand, practically anywhere we are, and as a result, our reading habits have drastically changed. Some would argue this is for the better, since we now have access to more material than ever before. Some would argue this is for the worse, as attention spans have dropped and the written word has lost significant value.
I would argue that this isn’t better or worse; it’s just different. Today’s readers have different needs than those of our parents’ generation, and we need to write differently to please them. The way I see it, there are seven types of modern online readers, and if you want the best results for your internet marketing campaign, you’ll have to write a little differently for each of them:
The blind sharer is an interesting type of reader because he isn’t actually a reader at all. Rather than seeing an interesting title, reading the synopsis, clicking through to the actual article, reading the article, and then deciding whether or not to share it, the blind sharer cuts out all those pesky middle steps. Instead, he glances at a title, makes an assumption, and if it looks good, he shares it to his own followers. Some writers hate this type of reader, but he’s actually quite valuable—all you have to do is write snappier, more concise headlines and you’ll instantly start getting more shares. Sensationalism works here, as long as you don’t go over-the-top.
The skimmer may be suffering from a limited attention span, or she may just have limited time to work with. Unlike the blind sharer, she will click through to the article, and she’ll likely read some of it—but she doesn’t have the time or patience to sit through the whole thing. The skimmer will, instead, look at the pictures, read the headlines and occasionally the first line of each paragraph, check out the bullet points, and then make a judgment about the piece. For the skimmer, you’ll have to skillfully structure your article and ensure the gist of your meaning can be gathered at a glance.
The bored worker is reading content while on a break from doing something he doesn’t really want to do. He’s looking for inspiration, or entertainment, but more importantly, he’s looking for a distraction. In order to please the bored worker, your content has to pack something of a punch. It has to be flashy and memorable, or he will quickly move on to something that provides a better distraction from the task at hand. Including images can be very helpful for keeping his focus, as well as injecting humor and levity into your voice.
The researcher isn’t looking for entertainment or a distraction, nor is she really interested in reading. She’s on a mission: to find raw information, and it doesn’t matter where that information comes from as long as it’s accurate. This type of reader loves details, whether those are in cited statistics and figures or just regimented instructions in a tutorial. In order to get (and keep) her attention, you’ll have to ensure that your articles are as detailed and informative as possible, and the more specific you can get, the better. She only wants the facts, so give them to her.
The snob is used to a high level of reading. Sometimes that means he’s read a ton of high-class literature. Sometimes that means he’s attended a well-known university and works to maintain a reputation of class and taste. Sometimes that means he’s arrogant and is desperate to prove how intelligent he is. In any case, he’ll only read content if it’s long, original, unique, and extremely well-written. This is a difficult balance to strike, as most viral articles have a low-level vocabulary, but if you want to appeal to the snob, you have to step up your game and hire a professional writer.
The loyalist places a high value on the source of her information. Rather than browsing for individual subjects, the loyalist tries to find organizations that regularly produce reliable and interesting content, and then follows them indefinitely. To attract the loyalist’s attention, you have to be extremely consistent in the quality, tone, and direction of your posts. Only after a proven track record of great hits will the loyalist start returning to your site for more—but once she does, there’s almost no stopping her.
Last but not least, the industry influencer reads content within his own industry for the sole purpose of getting more involved in his community. He’s looking for new information and new contacts, and if your content fits the bill, he’ll go a long way in boosting your reputation. To attract him, you’ll often have to seek him out directly—ask him for a guest post, engage him in conversation, or ask him to share your material. You’ll be surprised how often that leads to an ongoing reader relationship.
Depending on your strategy and experience, you may want to weigh your strategy toward one type of reader more than the others, or work to maximize your chances at appealing to all of them. As with any marketing strategy, the key to success is experimentation—trying new things, measuring the results, keeping the tactics that work and getting rid of the ones that don’t. Do that, and you’ll build a loyal and appropriate audience for your content in no time.
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