Image by Richard Elzey via Flickr

The Telling Signs of Content Flops, and 6 Ways To Fix Content Marketer’s Worst Nightmare

Even the best-loved brands have their haters—that’s unavoidable. So for marketers, it’s often better to focus on being memorable and stand out from the crowd. Think of all those commercial jingles that just won’t get out of your head, or anticipation of products associated with the coming of a new season (Pumpkin Spice Latte, I’m looking at you). Brands that achieve this do so by straying off the beaten path. Marketing guru Seth Godin calls this “finding your purple cow,” a term inspired by a short 19th century nonsense poem and used by Godin to describe being remarkable, and succeeding in advertising by thinking outside the box.

Should you be thinking about finding your own brand’s purple cow? Finding that truly unique way of telling your story means taking risks and surprising your audience. That means the first step down the path to a more memorable bovine brand is to figure out if you’ve been boring your followers.

3 warning signs that you might be boring your followers

Your Twitter engagement rate is low

Once Twitter has rolled out their analytics tools to all users, determining how well your messaging is performing on the microblogging network is easier than ever. Perhaps the most telling of all metrics available to users is the engagement rate, a number calculated based on the number of impressions (i.e. how many people saw the Tweet) and the number of engagements (link clicks, favorites, retweets, etc.) with your Tweets. Obviously, the higher the engagement rate, the better you’re doing. We experienced this ourselves when we doubled our Twitter engagement rate in two months.

Looks like my personal account could use a change of strategy…

Ideally, you should track engagement for all of the Tweets sent from your account, to see which Tweets outperform others and try to gage the reasons behind this. However, if that’s not a realistic expectation, check your engagement metric once a day and see how it fluctuates. If you notice a steady decline in the number, it may be a good time to investigate and brush up on your knowledge of composing Tweets to drive click-throughs.

Your number of unfollows is climbing

Now, I know it hurts to watch followers go, but it’s important that your brand tracks those numbers. It is natural to lose a few followers every week, as people decide to clean up their Twitter feeds, or only followed your brand’s account with expectations of a mutual follow. However, if the number of unfollows keeps increasing week over week and it’s disproportionately large in comparison to the followers gained, this is a cause for concern. It’s a good idea to take a look at the users who unfollowed your account to see if they have anything in common, and to see if they fit the description of your target audience—which is when you’ll know you’re really in trouble.


If you don’t know how to track the total number of followers gained and lost over the week without doing so manually, check out tools such as SocialBro and SumAll. You can get insights on different social networks delivered weekly to your inbox, and raise a red flag as soon as you notice the unfollow numbers climbing compared to prior weeks.

Results of our quiz said you’re boring

If you just wondered, “What quiz?” you should review how engaging your Twitter account is in this quiz we published a few months ago. In addition to showing your results by matching your account with a social media doppelgänger, this quiz goes over some essential elements of keeping an engaging social media presence—such as the number of Tweets you send every day, the main focus of your messaging, and your level of engagement with people who @mention you in their own Tweets.

So what can you do to avoid being boring, in any aspect of your work? In order to find what works for your unique audience, the best practice is thorough audience research, trial-and-error, and relentlessness. We’ve seen the same general principles work for Hootsuite and other brands in the past, so we’ve compiled them into this list of 7 ways to fix boring content.

6 ways to fix boring content

Lead by example

My high school chemistry teacher taught the class about formation of a chemical compound by presenting us with two cupcakes and taking a bite out of each one. While the effectiveness of this demonstration in learning the theory of chemical bonds is questionable, it was a very memorable presentation, because the teacher translated a piece of theoretical knowledge into a concrete, familiar cupcake example.

Social media presents a great opportunity to try something out and share your experience with other users, to encourage them to draw their own inferences from a similar experience of their own. Use examples of your own experience to spice up tutorials or how-to posts; or demonstrate a concept that gets discussed a lot in theory, but rarely gets shown in practice. Last summer, our blog editor David Godsall experimented with ways to influence content that shows up on his Facebook News Feed. News Feed algorithms get discussed a lot, even on this blog, but rarely get the spotlight as part of someone’s personal experience—unless it concerns a fake Southeast Asia trip, or ways to creep out your Facebook friends. Leading by example can show off a new angle on a frequently discussed topic, and adds a bit of personal flare to the subject matter, making it easier to digest and remember.

Show your audience what not to do

In a similar vein, leading by example sometimes means realizing you’ve made a mistake and help others avoid the same issues. Otto von Bismarck famously said that “only a fool learns from his own mistakes, the wise man learns from the mistakes of others.” And while the startup culture goes against the Prussian politician’s wisdom, you shouldn’t be afraid to play the fool for the benefit of your audience—because your ultimate victory lies in delivering great informative content, even if it means admitting a mistake.

On the Hootsuite blog, we talk a lot about ways to ensure your online content performs well—hey, even this post discusses this favorite topic of ours! Sometimes, the easiest way to show that is by giving examples of topics and formats that worked—and didn’t work—for us. That’s exactly what we did in this blog post about our worst-performing content: we reviewed our numbers, and tried to figure out what got in the way of pageviews for a selection of past blog posts. Admitting defeat adds personality to the brand, showing that there are real human beings behind every piece of content, and that it’s only human to misstep from time to time.

Say it with a picture

Whether it’s a Tweet or a blog post you are crafting, ask yourself this: can I illustrate this point with a picture? This can be a clever visual pun on your topic, or a literal illustration of the concept as an infographic or a chart. Overall, visual media such as images, GIFs, or videos have shown to increase engagement on major social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. If you combine them with a witty message, it makes for a perfect anti-boredom recipe.

Adding an image to your posts also helps out members of your audience who are primarily visual learners. While the learning styles theory has been largely debunked, researchers do say that mixing things up boosts attention—and after a hard work day or a much-too-fun weekend, looking at a picture is easier than reading 700 words. That’s why we try to illustrate some of our long-form, explanatory posts with charts or graphs that sum up the main idea—as we did in our 8 types of social media post.


Be mindful of headlines and subject lines

Along with header images, headlines are the display window of your content. They offer a sneak peek into the topic, the angle you’re using to approach that topic, and the general tone of your article. If you’re engaging in email marketing campaigns, the same thing goes for your subject lines—any conversion copywriter will tell you that an email subject can make or break your open rates.

Headlines and subject lines are often the last thing writers think about, but they are the most difficult part of the article or email to write. The art of a shareable headline is all about finding that golden middle. Your headline needs to be intriguing, but without employing click baiting tactics. Your headline shouldn’t give away everything you discuss, but it should also deliver on its promise in the body of the article. A good test for headlines or subject lines is to ask yourself, Would I tweet that? If not, revisit and rewrite.

Zoom out and show the bigger picture

Sadly, sometimes the boring content contains information all of us really should be reading. The problem with this kind of copy is that it’s often positioned in a prescriptive way, saying things like “you should do this” and listing off the reasons why this is the case. I admit, we do that a lot—which is why we try to liven up those types of blogs in other methods from this list. However, there is another approach you can try out for these types of posts, and that is putting them in a larger context.

A small example of providing context is including numbers from recent studies or surveys on the subject. For example, I introduced this article about boosting Facebook posts—not the most exciting of topics, but vital if you’re a brand advertising on the network—by listing off an average estimated time I spent on Facebook to show the significant role the social network plays in a life of any user.

Of course, in terms of zooming out, this isn’t as “big picture” as many brands go to find their own purple cow. To see examples of some big brands going completely off the charts with context for their campaigns, read about the 5 most successful brand campaigns of the last decade.

Go off the beaten path

I saved this piece of advice for last, since this is the first recommendation given to brands who are looking for their own social media purple cow. Thinking outside the box rarely fails to make things interesting, sure—but how exactly can you do this, especially when everyone else is trying to surpass their competitors for a spot outside of the box?

Brands could learn a thing or two from Frank Stella. Image via Flickr.

Try to approach it like an artist—after all, the best advertising campaigns out there are akin to works of art. For a long time, tradition and gallery standards called for visual artists to display their canvases within a rectangular frame. Many artists played with perspective, angles, and canvas priming to make their art stand out among other exhibits. Their innovative techniques were considered “thinking outside the box.” But consider the first artist to ever attempt a shaped canvas—a canvas that assumes a shape different from a rectangle or assumes a three-dimensional surface. Not only was that individual thinking outside of the box, he or she redefined what the box actually was.

Try to figure out what your brand advertising’s “box” is, and ways you can accomplish a refresh. Can you show off your purple colours with an interactive campaign, or by making your customer the hero of the story? Whatever it is, don’t be afraid to take your own spin on it. And if you fail, don’t worry—there’s interesting content that can come out of that.

 Do you know of any other ways to remedy under-performing content? Share your wisdom with us in the comments below!