The Secret Behind the Most Popular Online Content

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Catherine Hughes

Director of the 8 Women Dream Project at 8 Women Dream
Catherine’s dream is to make 8 Women Dream the premier online publication for women looking to pursue their dreams. She is a published author, a freelance writer, and a guide for those who want their dreams to come true online. Catherine would someday like to be invited to speak at TED about her observations about her 8WD project inviting women to take a chance on their dreams. Wine was required... Catherine posts on Sunday evenings and fills in dream stories as needed. If you aren't sure how to comment on this story, click here.

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The Secret Behind Most Popular Online Content

Is there a secret to being popular online?

Actually there is, but often creative artists don’t want to hear the truth. Writers who are new to blogging tend to write like the world hasn’t changed in the last ten years and suffer in silence until they quit blogging altogether. They blame their lack of popularity or “anything happening” on outside circumstances, other people, or they’ve allowed well-meaning family (or friends) to scare them into not risking everything online.

And you can’t be popular online without taking big risks.

I believe that you can still be true to your writing, while at the same time delivering what your audience craves by being brave enough to take big, scary risks. Otherwise, you will eventually get bored with your content too, but by then you’ll be so in love with seeing yourself in print that you’ll continue blogging — never fully rising to the occasion to produce popular online content forged by your true personality.

Your writing will sit as still as a spring lake at sunrise — never creating any waves.

If your writing isn’t getting the attention you believe it deserves, then check in with the following tips and ask yourself how often you follow any of them when you are publishing anything on the Internet.

7 secret tips for writing popular content –

1. Is this worth reading?

This is the question that every writer online should ask themselves.  Is what you offered really worthy of someone’s time? How much time did you put into writing it? Have you “fixed it” until you hated it? Does your personality stand out? Do you leave the reader with wanting more from you?  Do you give them a reason to come back?

2. Do you use drama?

Is your content dramatic? It’s a great question to ask yourself.

Amazing and dramatic stories draw readers in. Do you remember the last online story you read? What drew you in?

Recently a great news title caught my eye:Woman accidentally sets home on fire after finding snake“. The title alone made me laugh, even though the story wasn’t funny for the poor woman involved. The title and the story were dramatic, and something I will never forget.

3. Do you answer needs and desires?

Needs and desires are fueled by fear  — you wanting to avoid pain — or by positive motivators — you seeking pleasure. Does your story help someone avoid pain, or feel pleasure? Neurologist, Sigmund Freud defined this pleasure-pain theory as driving impulse for gaining satisfaction. Does your content offer satisfaction?

4. Be scandalous.

I hate to be the one to break this to you, but in case you haven’t noticed, the Internet is just like high school. People love to talk about other people, except online they like to talk about someone in the form of sharing who they want to talk about with their friends and gain a mutual consensus. Scandalous stories are number one.

It’s called the, “Can you believe she did that?!” factor.

Are you brave enough to be scandalous? Like writers, Penelope Trunk or Timothy Ferris? Or do you shy away from putting it all out there and taking risks? People will love to share your scandalous story, just so they can talk about you to feel better about themselves.

Just like when you were in high school.  Game on.

5. Are you exclusive?

Do you have the inside story on something? Can you be the original source to a story? Can you get an interview with someone that no one else can get to return a phone call? Is there something happening in your life that you know other people experience, but no one talks about?

Heather Armstrong became famous when she admitted on her blog that she had postpartum depression and didn’t like being a mother. She was the first woman to loudly confess what other women had been experiencing, but were too afraid to say.  Being first makes you popular.

6. Can you entertain?

Do you take unique photographs? Does your writing make people laugh out loud? Do you paint beautiful paintings? Are you the person everyone always wants to talk to at a party? Can you do video? Good entertainment is always surprising and that’s why people love it. Think about the viral videos you have shared… hasn’t there always been something in it that surprised you?

Think Ann Wilson’s rendition of Stairway to Heaven at the Kennedy Center Honors Led Zeppelin. If you haven’t seen it, you’ve missed pure entertainment and content that nails it.

7. Are you controversial?

Just in case you haven’t noticed, negative content that creates anger and anxiety in the reader is shared more online than positive content. The more controversial your topic, the more likely readers will respond and share to get other opinions.

Are you brave enough to be controversial?  Do you have an opinion?

All too often online content plays it too safe — you protect too much, or worry to much about what family or friends will think. You create “contained” content for the people you know instead of creating risky content for the world to read.  Then you sit back and wonder why the world isn’t enthralled by your content.  You do boring instead of walking across a tightrope.

There have been times when I’ve had to explain the content I’ve allowed on 8 Women Dream to other writers who have found certain stories offensive.  Good God, people, this is a publication and writing is supposed to evoke strong feelings from you or it may as well be The Federalist Papers (most boring book voted by college students).

If I got you to write me about the content, then the content is a success.  It’s popular.  That’s how it works.

You won’t get anywhere online unless you learn to evoke strong feelings from an audience.

And if you don’t believe me, see what Sally Hogshead, the author of Fascinate had to say on this subject at TEDX —

Use this. Go fascinate.

Pretend it’s high school.

Bring boxing gloves and take your earrings out.


  • ImanWoods

    Great check list to read before sitting down to write.