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What We Learned From Our Worst-Performing Content

As content marketers, we spend a lot of time looking at what content works best. We find the formats that succeed, the patterns, times and subjects that capture attention, and then we use and reuse them. But what about the content that you invest a lot of time and effort on that doesn’t meet your expectations, or just plain flops? Very few marketers are willing to talk about the content that underperforms, when you can learn just as much from these content marketing failures as your can your success.

For this post, we swallowed our pride and took a look at some of the Hootsuite blog’s, er let’s say less awesome pieces of content, and what these misses taught us.

Let your blog posts breathe 

Early last year we decided to create a blog campaign that promoted social media for tourism. Some of our users in that industry had expressed an interest in more content to help them on social, so we knew there was a void we could fill. We put together four different blog posts, including interviews with tourism companies seeing success on social media and tips for Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. The content turned out great, but all four posts underperformed, and it all had to do with our schedule.

When we decided to do a blog campaign, we thought we could attract attention by posting all four posts in one week. We were going to dedicate that week to tourism, in a sense, and hopefully get people in the industry coming back daily for the next post in the series.

Essentially the opposite happened.

Facepalm Giiiiirlll

We were promoting so many posts about tourism that they all sort of cancelled each other out. People would read the first one they heard about and not click through to the others. On social media, many people assumed the many posts we sent about tourism were all just the same one they had read. We were trying to fill a void and ended up creating a mountain of content that nobody wanted to climb.

This experience taught us to space out content that focused on a very specific theme, niche or vertical. Allowing each post to breath ensures that they get the attention they deserve on social media, and that they’re not being confused for one another. It also reduces the subject fatigue among those who may not be interested in that particular topic.

A wall of text, no matter how appealing, needs visuals

A few months ago I wrote a blog post called How to Make a Good First Impression on Social Media. The topic was one I had discussed with many people on our team, and I knew it was a common question asked of our social media coaches. I researched the science behind first impressions and offered some tips that would help social media users insure they left a positive and lasting mark on their online contacts. We published the post with high hopes, and were disappointed when only a few hundreds views trickled in over the next few days.

We knew the subject had appeal, so we were forced to look elsewhere to discover why the post didn’t succeed. One of the first metrics we looked at was social shares. The post had garnered almost no Facebook or Google+ shares, but was doing fairly well on Twitter. Another look at my post made the problem so obvious, I couldn’t believe I had made the mistake. I had written 1,200 words, but the only image was the header at the top. This post was the dreaded ‘wall of text’ smart social media brands know to avoid.

Hamm Facepalm

Images aren’t just there to appease the visual-loving audience. They serve to break up long strings of text, making the reading experience easier and helping to set the pace. The images can also add context to the points you make in your post. And, perhaps most importantly, they give readers an asset that they can share with their own followers on social media. If people read your post and like it, they’re far more likely to share it if it comes with images they can use on very visual networks like Facebook, Google+ or Pinterest. Images increase click-through, and the more your post gets shared, the more pageviews you’re likely to get. This was an easily fixable, blogging 101 mistake on my part.

Timing is everything 

Last spring we decided to start a weekend series called “This week in social.” The idea was that every Sunday we would present our readers with a roundup of the last seven days in social media news. We thought that people would want to catch up on all the big stories they missed, in one comprehensive blog post. We also assumed, since it was Sunday, that people would have time to relax and would want catch up on some reading.

The series underperformed.


It turns out that Sunday was the wrong day for this blog series. We quickly learned that our audience was more interested in spending their weekend being entertained that they were reading lengthy pieces focused on old news stories. Hootsuite videos and blogs that were fun or had wide appeal would consistently outperform This Week in Social on Sundays, even if the content was old or recycled. This Week in Social would also often perform better on Monday, when we weren’t even promoting it. Clearly people are more inclined to read industry news when they’re at work.

We responded by changing the format and the timing. This Week in Social was shelved until we launched a video series called Social Update. Video is a much more passive format, which makes it great for people relaxing on the weekend. At the same time, we released our Social Update videos on Friday, so people winding down their work weeks can catch up on industry news before they head off for the weekend.


Use common terms, or your post won’t get clicked

Social media video is a huge story right now. Facebook became a leading video platform in 2014 and now Twitter is really making a video push as well. This past fall I decided to do a long-form post on social video. I started researching and found that the subject was so vast, it probably deserved two separate posts.

The first post, A Guide to Social Video, and Where it Fits in Your Marketing Plan, was written by our Director of Marketing Cameron Uganec. It focused on the social video phenomenon, why it was important and tips for your own social media videos. The piece performed very well, and confirmed our suspicion that people were interested in the topic.

The second post, Which Social Video Platform is Right For Your Business, was a deep dive into each individual social network that you could use for social video. The piece performed well under my expectations, and far worse than the first post.

When we tried to find the reason for its lack of success, we settled on one main thing: the terminology. We always make an effort to make our posts SEO-optimized, which the first post in the series was. As a result, I wasn’t particularly concerned about SEO for the second post. “Social video platform” has fairly low Google search volume, but I thought people on social media would be very interested in the subject.

Of course, I was incorrect.

Colbert Facepalm

The term, which we use in-house, isn’t widely used by our followers or readers. People were thrown off by the word platform, maybe thinking it referred to programs or software as opposed to social networks. A post that I spent a lot of time researching and writing didn’t get the attention it deserved, and it’s all because I neglected to find the common language people were using to talk about my subject. 

Remember you’re writing for your audience, not yourself

We work at a social media company, so we tend to be obsessed with the tech industry as a whole. Every new app, fad or trend is talked about and debated casually by our team. Some of those topics make great blog posts. That’s what we thought we had landed on with
Do You Speak Emoji?, a post examining the rapid rise of emoticons and their applications. The post really interested us and we made the assumption that the same would be true of our followers.

Unfortunately our readers didn’t respond to the post how we had hoped.

The Office Facepalm

There wasn’t too much interest or discussion around the content. Most of our readers are tech-savvy and already used emoticons. They just weren’t really interested in a detailed story about their rise to popularity.

In this case we made a classic writer’s mistake. We wrote a post for us, not for our audience. When choosing a blog topic, you really need to be audience-focused. People look to us for tips or news about social media and marketing, and while we tied emojis back to social media, the post really didn’t meet our readers’ expectations.

For more content tips, check out our Practical Social Media Tips to Enhance Your Content Marketing.