Social media posts are littered with lists: 10 Reasons to Use Twitter, 3 Ways to Generate More Leads, 5 Best Places to Live, etc. They may not be the most creative way to get our attention, but get our attention they do. Experienced bloggers are well aware that lists drive traffic and generate very high-quality click-throughs, borrowing a page from experienced legacy media journalists and writers who’ve been doing this kind of thing for many years.
Have you ever read Maclean magazine’s of universities? Noticed CNBC and Twitter’s joint contest to determine through use of hashtags the best U.S. state to do business (Texas won, in case you were wondering)? Read about the reaction to Forbes’ magazine’s declaration of Stockton, California as the most miserable place to live? Consulted TripAdvisor for the three best brunch places in Northampton, MA (or wherever you happen to be going)?
On one level, we know these lists may erase or overlook really important information in lieu of simplicity. There are certainly more than ten good reasons to use Twitter, more than five ways to generate leads with LinkedIn and more than five great places to live. A college mid-ranked on overall ranking might have a first-rate agricultural sciences program, say, or excellent job placement rates for graduates. Those in charge of the listings may be biased or too narrowly (or broadly focused) or not have access to up-to-date information. The ranking itself may be unscientific or skewed to a certain kind of votes. People who take the trouble to review or rate products and services online tend to be motivated to do so by either first-rate or awful experiences. Lists are notorious for their tunnel vision, but a well done list — with top quality information — can rise above all this by delivering excellent, useable information.
Either way, there is no question that, despite their imperfections, lists are highly likely to be read, which is why we promote lists as part of the content generation strategies for our social media clients. What follows are some of the reasons lists
- Lists offer a sense of clarity. As GIS Planning’s CEO, Anatolio Ubalde, points out, “the world is complex and lists are simple.” There is something extremely appealing in the notion that a complicated concept, issue or task can be broken down into digestible elements. What to do: To build a clear list, you must actually have a solid understanding of your topic, and pick out the most salient elements to help readers make sense of it. Ask yourself if each element contributes to a simplified understanding of the issue at hand.
- Lists are quick to read. People are busy. They want to quickly learn and absorb important new material, but that can be difficult to do with hundreds of emails piling up in your inbox, unread blogs, continuously scrolling social media feeds and a ringing telephone. What to do: Keep your sentences short and punchy. Offset the key phrase for each list element by putting it in bold or a contrasting colour so people can quickly scan the list.
- Lists suggest a logical order. They help readers organize their thoughts about a topic by ordering different elements. This is particularly helpful when you are walking readers through a process. What to do: Make sure there is an overall logic to the placement of elements in a list, and make sure you work through them from the beginning to the end. Nothing is worse than finding an important element in a process missing, or having it all jumbled together in a confusing way.
- Lists imply expertise. An extension of the “say it with confidence and people will believe you” rule. Lists imply that someone clever studied this topic and put their analysis together in a coherent way. What to do: Write what you know. Use the list format to establish your personal expertise in ways that are useful to others AND round out your searchable presence online.
- Lists are easily shared. And this is the whole point of social media, right? A well-written list gives you a pithy, easily communicated headline to Tweet and post. What to do: Put together an SEO-optimized headline (use Google AdWords to help you find popular, low competition terms), and get it out there on all your social media accounts.
Do you enjoy reading list posts? Feel free to share your favourites here, and I’ll build them into a blog that lists the best list blogs I’ve seen.