A study done by Microsoft has concluded that humans now have shorter attention spans than goldfish.
As marketers, we need to find the balance between providing substantial information that can move our audience to action, and instant comprehension within an all too small 8-second window.
The solution to that is micro content marketing. But what is a micro content? Jake Burkett from Visage explains what this instantly consumable content is all about and how to use it effectively in your marketing.
Jake Burkett is a career software enthusiast who, for four years, oversaw software development, client services and content strategy for Column Five. Column Five is a large information design agency.
Jake has made a name for himself through consulting and speaking engagements where he shares his passion for effective visual communication. He has worked with large Fortune 100 companies and start-up organizations.
In 2014, Jake co-founded a software platform called Visage that enables companies to create on-brand visual content themselves easily. The inspiration in creating Visage came from Column Five’s clients who wanted an economical alternative to Column Five’s done-for-you services.
A QUICK PREVIEW OF THE PODCAST:
Here are some of the highlights from episode 72 of the Traffic Jam Podcast…
- What is Micro Content?
- Typical Micro Content Formats.
- Creating Micro Content Pieces.
- Micro Content vs. Long Form Content.
- Micro Content Topics.
- Creating Content with Appeal.
- Testing Micro Content Effectiveness.
- Distributing Your Content.
- Tools to Help.
- Action Steps to Get You Started.
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Hey there listeners! Welcome back to the Traffic Jam podcast. This is show#72! Thanks for joining me today for yet another episode, I am back in the groove with recording and I am happy to share another awesome show with you today.
But before we get to the meaty part of the episode I want to say a quick thank you to Gun Hudson who left a five-star iTunes review and Gun said, “the podcast is full of great information, I like the music at the end, a real nice break from the business talk which adds real character. “
So thank you to you Gun, really appreciate that. I would really appreciate your comments and reviews as well, just a quick reminder that you can do that very easily by going to TrafficJamCast.com/iTunes or if you prefer to leave your review on Stitcher, TrafficJamCast.com/Stitcher.
So what is coming up on today’ show? Well, in the spotlight today, we are going to be talking about micro-content – small, snackable content pieces that are quick to produce and easy for your audience to consume. Now we are going to be talking about how to create micro-content, both quickly and easily, when and where to use micro-content, and how to use that micro-content to drive traffic from your content pieces through to your website.
Our expert guiding us through the process is Jake Burkett who’s a serial software startup guy now involved with a company called Column Five who created in fact a micro-creation tool called Visage, and this is a tool that my team have been enjoying using for the past few months or so.
So I guess without any further ramblings from me, let’s get stuck on today’s show. We are joined as I said by Jake Burkett, from Visage.
James: So welcome back Traffic Jam listeners, this is show#72 of the Traffic Jam podcast and today we’re joined by Jake Burkett. Jake, how are you doing?
Jake: I am doing great! Thanks James!
James: Great to have you on the call! We are going to be diving in to a different topic this week, we are going to be talking about micro-content so I guess we should probably open up the show with what is micro-content? Just give us a quick lowdown on what that format is.
Jake: Sure! Micro-content is technically classified, it came from the larger long form content like when you think about your white papers, your reports, your e-books or presentations or infographics. The micro-content are little snapshots that could be data driven, they could be just a luster dev, they could be diagrams but they are communicating a concept that doesn’t need a lot of extra support so at the same time you also get some benefits there because a piece of micro-content may not take the amount of time to produce that the longer form content will. So that is just kind of a nutshell how we think about micro content.
James: Perfect! Well I guess to probably frame that maybe we can give some examples of what micro-content might look like. What are its typical format?
Jake: Typically the most common type of micro-content would be static design. You also see examples of animated GIFs or in some cases you’ll see interactive or dynamic visual content appearing in the form of micro-content but in the most, at least right now, the static design seems to be the largest carrier of what micro-content is and again, as I mentioned before, that doesn’t necessarily have to be data driven. It is just common to see little data stores being told in the form of a micro-content but these can include things like customer testimonial or a notable quote from a thought leader in a specific industry or with an illustration that kind of correlates to what the marketer wants to talk about, does that make sense?
James: Yeah, absolutely! So I guess we’ve got a couple of things coming up here, one is that the content tells the story in itself, I mean it’s a short, very consumable piece of content but another line that you picked up on is that it should probably be easy to produce. Would you say that’s fair to say?
Jake: Oh absolutely! And here’s kind of a cool angle on micro-content, that now it is easier to produce in general a piece of micro-content but it can be even more so if you take the approach that the visage parent company called this concept here as far as I am concerned, as far as I am aware, but you take a piece of seminal content that maybe takes you some serious thought, some serious research that design researchers to put together. So let’s call it a white paper. So you have a 30 page white paper and throughout that white paper you have all kinds of illustrations and diagrams that support and augment that text copy that you have invested in writing, right? So, an interesting approach to micro-content is divisible content. So you are taking a larger piece of content that may take you weeks or even months in terms of what your editorial calendar might look like but you are able to extract these small, mini visual stories that are meant for getting people interested in the larger body of work. So in that way they kind of entice the visitor, or the reader, or the user to dig deeper.
James: So it is not in a sense replacing long form content, it is complementary to long form content or perhaps is even a promotion mechanism for a longer form piece of content or a pillar piece of content perhaps that sits on your website.
Jake: I think that is probably the most wicked and efficient use of the micro-content format is exactly that, yeah. At the end of the day, you touched on something earlier that is really interesting- these types of pieces are meant for almost instant comprehension. People’s attention span are so short so if we are serving them a 17-page ebook versus a snap size content, the odds that they are going to understand and have that immediate comprehension content with a micro-content is much higher so by nature these micro-content tends to be the top of funnel content that leads a link to a library of articles or other pieces of content that are really designed to elicit action and once somebody kind of arrives at your site.
James: Well, let’s talk a little bit about how to produce micro-content. I think in perhaps a moment we’ll talk about the actual creation of micro-content but let’s take a step back and talk about the process that might go in to actually what that micro-content may become. What’s the process? Do we start off with that pillar piece of content, what the real message is, the real strong piece of content that perhaps lives and sits on our site and becomes what we base our marketing around, is that where we start first and then work out how we divide content afterwards? Is that the process where we kind of start with the main piece and then work your way out from there?
Jake: That’s right! That’s a fantastic place to start. But we don’t have to start there. One thing that is such a cool part of the role of the marketer is experimentation and split testing and kind of just figuring out what people are interested in and what works and one thing that micro-content is so great for is that because of the amount of time it takes to create versus other formats and visual content. So, it could just be an idea that you have in the shower or on your way to work that you want to experiment with and see if it elicits more interest than maybe something else with your readership. So that is one place you could start, or like you said, you could start with a larger piece of work and kind of take the divisible content route and the things that you are looking for when you take that approach are what are the most noble, interesting, hard hitting topics in this piece of work? If let’s say you have a very nicely designed visual presentation that you are looking at to kind of extract those micro-stories from. If you have to boil that down to a one-page visual narrative from that 17 pages, those are the points that you will want to turn in to micro-content.
James: I guess it’s a process that really encourages the minimalist in us, right? Really sort of just drilling things down to the absolute essential message and information and presenting it in one very succinct piece of content for, as you said, instant consumption.
Jake: That’s right. At the same time it also provides an opportunity for us to kind of flex our creative muscle because that is a pretty straightforward approach about thinking about what’s the most important hard hitting thing in this larger piece of work that I can visualize, that I can have designed very easily. You also want to take the opportunity to not just present a data set without really editorializing it or a diagram or a construct without taking the opportunity to think about your audience and who this is going to because oftentimes there is a lot of opportunity to be clever with your headline to be humorous or to take kind of a different approach to how you write that copy with the micro-content so while it is an easier approach to produce, it also gives us an opportunity to get creative.
James: Yeah, so where might we find ideas, assuming that we haven’t gone for the major piece of content and created that in to divisible pieces of content afterward. Where would we go for ideas to produce standalone micro-content pieces?
Jake: Yeah, well the first step, and this is kind of the no doubt statement of the week, is I would just recommend thinking about your target audience. That’s where it always starts. Look at your editorial calendar. Or if you have a running list of topics that you are planning on writing on, or blogging about, this is kind of the fertile feel of being able to harvest those little nuggets of ideas to be able to then visualize or get designed in to macro content. So that is going to be always your best bet. What does my audience care about? What motivates them? What are interesting trends that I see in the business that I come in, whether it is setting up a bunch of Google alerts to have those firing so that you can kind of see once in a while, you’ll get an interesting hit on a data set or an angle that’s noble to the place that you’re in. that’s probably the best place to start.
James: What about design tips? You mentioned that quite often the mistake is that people produce content that is kind of too cluttered visually. What advice have you got for producing visually appealing micro-content?
Jake: Yeah, I am really glad you asked that question. I myself am not a designer. But I surrounded myself with fantastic designers for almost the last 10 years and one of my co-founder at Visage, he also happens to be one of the founders of Column Five which in an information design agency headquartered in California. Ross, he’s not a designer but the guy knows more about good design than any other designer I have ever met. And he told me one time, this is probably only about a year ago, he said, 80% of good design is spacing, margins, and topography. And I didn’t really get it when he first said it and then I started watching, I started looking at pieces of micro-content, I started looking at more seminal, larger pieces of work that our agency was putting out, other agencies are putting out, and what other practitioners were creating, and I realized that he was right. So bringing this home, as this relates to how when you are thinking about design and particularly micro-content, you want to keep it clean. You do not want a cluttered piece because again, that works against the point. The point in the first place, your top priority with micro-content is instant comprehension and immediately catch somebody’s attention and if they have to squint at this format of content that is four times as small as maybe other types of content and maybe they are spending 30 seconds trying to read it and digest what you’ve designed then you’ve failed.
James: How might you test that? How would you know that is instantly appealing? I am just thinking of scrolling down my screen each day and the content that typically stands out, that’s probably a good test, right? You sort of like scroll past the content very quickly and to double check and to look at it for a few seconds and digest, it has probably failed its purpose but if you can consume it instantly it’s probably doing its job. Would you say that’s true?
Jake: I would say that’s true, and further I think unless you are using some gnarly software to measure site analytics and having lots of kind of looking at other people’s shoulders and let us pretend we are not doing that, one really easy way to validate the content that you are creating for marketing purposes is social proof. There’s plenty of research out there that would suggest visual content opposed to just the written word gets so much more attention and I guess traction, than just the written word so I would recommend as you are creating micro- content, don’t just use your own site, use social channels and kind of look at the pickup and the traction that those pieces get, maybe other posts, tweets or kind of – yeah you get what I mean.
James: Okay so let us move our conversation forward to distribution. What are some of the channels where we can place micro-content?
Jake: To answer that question, I’ll give you two different perspectives. It’s kind of the perspective of the agency. If you are running the agency and you are putting a part of the exercise is to put visibility to a client, whether it is raising awareness, dragging traffic, or eventually once you get those visitors back to your property somewhere asking them to take action that kind of the approach to micro-content for an agency that is representing a brand might be slightly different or just a bit robust than maybe the individual practitioner that is managing a power blog or a website. And here is why, one thing that we had noticed at Column Five is that editors and journalists applications have become more hesitant to publish third party long form content. However, they have been extremely receptive to really well designed, thoughtful micro-content. So this goes back to the divisible content approach. This is a really good approach for agencies that have either a PR firm that they work with like good relationships with publications to have micro-content created that is associated with those campaigns. From a distribution perspective for agencies, media, in other words, third party websites are really an interesting angle for micro-content. And I guess that would also be the same for brand recognition like if you are a marketing leadership or content creator at a brand that one also holds true. So, secondarily, all folks, or all audiences that might be thinking of creating micro-content for the purpose of marketing, social is just going to be a slam dunk, right? Because as you kind of scroll through your Twitter feed, you’ll notice the visual posts, they’ll jump out of you. They’ll get more attention. So that is definitely an absolute no brainer is using micro-content in social. And then definitely, one thing that we have seen a lot that works really well is just using micro-content to break up an article that you write. So instead of writing a hundred word article with just all text, create some micro-content at some point to emphasize something that you are saying or something that you are sighting. Again, it could be a quote, it could be a diagram that is illustrating or visually representing the concept that you are talking about and probably a really good third area in terms of distribution is just using it in articles that you write, whether they are in your own site or whether you have distributorship somewhere or whether that piece is being syndicated. Does that make sense?
James: Absolutely! That is awesome! A question I wanted to ask to follow up to that, especially in terms of social shared micro-content is I guess the worry that because micro-content is so quickly consumable that it may not prove to be a valid form of content to drive people to your website. How can people get around that? How can people use micro-content to really drive traffic to a site and get people back to probably your pillar piece of content sitting on your own piece of website?
Jake: Well, yeah. That is a fair question. But my thought is you stack a good piece of micro-content up against a piece of long form type of content and some of those classic distribution channels and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know what is going to elicit more interest. It is going to be the piece that is more readily understood and doesn’t look like it requires a lot of work. Our brains move so fast, but they don’t move so fast- they move fast enough to recognize a piece of content that is going to take a while to interpret. So the tendency for somebody in one of these channels that is presented with that type of content is going to be okay, that’s a lot so I would argue that as a traffic generator, as a top of funnel traffic generator you’re probably going to be served better with micro content than you will a full blown content that again takes weeks and months to actually create if you are doing good work.
James: Yeah and you are meeting the market in the mindset they are in when you are browsing through the Twitter stream, that is the content that you want. You are going there for a quick fix just to dip in and take something away. That’s where that content is best served and if it can act as a little doorway in to your longer form content and spike interest I guess it served exactly the purpose that we want it to serve.
Jake: Yeah, that is right.
James: So I guess the next question is, can anyone do this? I know design is obviously an important factor whilst design can be learned, all of that has that skill set. Can anyone produce these types of content? And if they can, what sort of tools or other recommendations could you make to make life easier for someone who produce this stuff?
Jake: Yeah, that is a good question. It is a lot easier for the non-designer now to create micro-content, or even other formats of content than several years ago. There are several software applications or software platforms that can help with that. We know that Illustrator is kind of the workhorse for the designer and even if you spent the time actually to use illustrator it doesn’t mean that what you are going to create is going to look good, I know this from personal experience so one example would be the company that we started which is called Visage. Visage is designed to help people become better story tellers that is micro-content. We have a couple other content formats that work within the micro-content paradigm but then there is also a couple other software players that also focus on putting and giving design tools to non-designers to help them create something that doesn’t look like an absolute train wreck. So that is definitely worth looking in to if you are a non-designer and if you are in the communications or the marketing world and want to create micro-content. That is probably a good place to start. Do some online research and look at Visage.
James: Yeah, you’ll know that I found you through the Visage platform. We started using it, not particularly for micro-content, we’re actually using it primarily to produce beautiful, branded SEO reports because everything that was available out there in our non-designer hands ended up looking awful and did not give us the data sets that we wanted to communicate so we thought first of all let’s be able to put in the data that we wanted to put in, and then what tool can we find that can help us make this look pretty and we stumbled across Visage and it has been doing a great job for us and I really see though if we really apply this elsewhere in our business, be it in our marketing that we can leverage our very poor design skills probably a lot further than we do, right now.
Jake: Yeah, charting is not easy, and it really never has been and really what we endeavor to do in the early days is just create an application that was the easiest way to create beautiful charts on the planet. So I think we are on a good start and we are on our way, and it is so cool to hear that that’s how you are using Visage. We do find that probably a third of our users are like hey I want to create really nice branded charts really quickly so that I can communicate those for reporting purposes to my clients or to internal stake holders so it is definitely the case that makes sense.
James: Yeah, okay, so let us wrap things up with some action steps. The term micro-content may be new to people and perhaps it is the first time that we’ve kind of discussed it, at least on this show. Someone wanting to go out there now and produce some of this stuff, what should they do next? Perhaps one or two action steps for our listeners to close things out.
Jake: Sure, I would say do some inventory on the topics that you have been wanting to write about, that you have been wanting to talk about, maybe that you have already produced good looking collateral around and harvest those artifacts or your little mental file on what you want to write about to identify opportunities to tell really brief, high impact, bite sized stories. That is step number one. Step number two, do a little bit of digging online and try to find some applications if you are not a designer that will help you actually put that in to practice once you kind of organized your thinking. And then if you are a designer you probably already know what James and I are talking about but then you don’t have to do the second step because you already are an illustrator wizard.
James: Awesome stuff! We’ll wrap things out there, I will make sure of course that we’ve got a link off to Visage within the show notes and any of the other resources mentioned in the show. Jake, is there anywhere else that our listeners should go and connect with you online?
Jake: Yeah, you can reach out to us at visage.co. Other than that, James it has been a pleasure, thank you so much for having me.
James: How awesome to have you on, and to you the listener, to get all the resources mentioned in today’s show, a link to Visage, and various ways to connect with Jake online, go to TrafficJamCast.com/72.
So there you go, that was Jake Burkett from Visage. Thank you for listening in to episode#72 of Traffic Jam. We will be back fingers crossed, next week with another show. So as not to miss that show, as soon as it is released, please subscribe via iTunes by going to TrafficJamCast.com/iTunes or subscribe on Stitcher radio by going to TrafficJamCast.com/Stitcher.
For a direct link for all of the bonuses that come with this episode, including MP3, downloadable transcript, plus a special bonus tools guide, containing the very best tools on the internet for creating micro-content, go to TrafficJamCast.com/72 where of course, you can also join in for the discussion on this episode.
Now, we end the show as we do every week with the traffic jam chosen by our guest, Jake Burkett has chosen Untitled Four, a track by the Icelandic band Sigur Ross, hopefully, I have pronounced that correctly. Enjoy the track and I will see you back here for another episode, real soon.
THE TRAFFIC JAM:
The Traffic Jam is a musical Jam chosen by our guest, and Jake Burkett has chosen Untitled Four, a track by the Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Ros.
Untitled Four appeared in their Album All Songs Considered 3.
YOUR NEXT STEPS:
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- 5 Dirt Cheap Micro Content Creation Tools (Hint: All of them are free!)
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