by Sue Painter
The blessing is that you have the ultimate control over how your content is created and marketed. The curse is that since anyone can do it, a lot of people do – and it’s increasingly difficult to make your content stand out from the ever-growing crowd.
E-training and ebooks are sprouting up faster than dandelions on a warm spring day. Just like off-the-shelf hard copy training products and books, some of them are useful and life-changing – and some of them aren’t worth the time it takes to purchase and download them.
So, how do you make your digital content highly useful, valuable, and compelling? Here are three solid ways to create e-products that your buyers will love so much they will come back for more, and recommend your content to their friends, too:
1) Start with a story. Your end user wants to be drawn into your content, even if it’s training and not the next great American novel. There’s no better way to draw people in than to start with a story. In one of my e-books I started out with these two sentences:
“Once upon a time, I sat in a hospital room visiting a man I’d never met before. It was my job to help him figure out what he was going to do to make a living.”
My editor and the 3 other “test” people I used as reviewers all said they were immediately drawn in to keep reading. They knew the e-book was a product about creating income, and the opening story line intrigued them and made them curious. Why was I there? What did this story have to do with the title of the book? Who was this man? Why did they never know I did that type of work? Do you see how starting with a story can “hook” your end user?
Stories are unexpected and surprising, give a little thrill. They aren’t dry. I could have written “This is an e-book that gives you a bunch of exercises that, if you do them, will help you make money.” Which is more compelling? Start with a story, and if your content is long enough, weave a few more stories into your content in strategic places, too.
2) Build solid objectives for your content. In my opinion, much of the digital training content that’s out there is not created using the principles of instructional design. It’s weak content. Often the end user has to pull together for herself exactly what it is she is supposed to take away. This means your user isn’t getting all the value she should get from your digital content.
Building learning objectives for digital content that is for training purposes (as opposed to a book of fiction) does two things. First, it forces you to create content that is structured well, with all like elements pulled into one place. This makes your end product stronger, less scattered, and a lot more user-friendly.
Second, it tells your user right up front what you are going to teach and what they will be able to do as a result of devouring your content. It gives them a road map, something that adult learners like. Road maps help embed your content into an adult learner’s brain so that the chances that they will actually go off and use what they learn is increased. In the instructional design world this is called “transfer of training.”
Transfer of training is a good thing – this means your user will take what you teach and apply it. It’s obviously helpful for them, but it’s also helpful for you. People talk about what makes their world easier. And they will come back again to a content creator (author) who helped them out before.
They’ll say to themselves something like “Susie’s cookbook on how to make healthy dog biscuits was so well organized and useful, and made cooking dog biscuits so easy. I wonder if she has a cookbook about making treats for birds.” They will seek out more of what you have to offer. So building solid learning objectives into your digital content is a good thing, and puts you in the top 5% of digital content creators already, because many authors either don’t know how to build objectives or are too lazy to do it.
3) Make your tone and held values consistent. I often see digital content that has been put together by cutting and pasting 3 or 4 different teleseminars or speeches into one document. There’s nothing wrong with repurposing content (it’s the law of the Internet marketing industry) but repurposing content doesn’t mean throwing apples, carrots, and kumquats all together in the same bowl and calling the whole thing carrots!
If you’re going to repurpose various pieces of content into a new piece of digital content give it a good edit and make sure that your tone is consistent throughout. It confuses the end user to go from a joking tone to a deadly serious tone to a sarcastic tone.
Decide how you want the married content to read, and then go through it and make changes so that your tone is consistent. If you are calming and encouraging, be calming and encouraging throughout. If you are being hard-core provocative, be that throughout. Pay close attention to the transitions between the married pieces, too. Write new content that makes the transition from one piece to another work smoothly and make sense to your user.
It’s equally important to make sure that you hold the same values throughout your content. In the instructional design world this is called “internal consistency and validity.” Here’s an example that will show you what I mean by “holding consistent values” throughout training content. I once had a team of writers pulling together training for CEO’s about crisis management – what to do if they had an industrial accident or a chemical spill.
As the final reviewer of this digital content, it was my job to make sure we held consistent values throughout the entire training product, which was lengthy. Early in the content we wrote a piece about the importance of keeping local community leaders informed and the press involved, helping to keep citizens informed of evacuation or health concerns.
But on toward the end of the content we had content about security, and in that content we talked about ways to keep the press at bay and offer disinformation to the public. These two pieces of content did not hold the same values and made the entire product lack internal consistency and validity. This had to be corrected before the content could be published and used.
Your digital content should “speak” in one tone, and it should hold the same values throughout. When you do this, you create an experience for the end user that fosters trust in you as the author and in your digital content, too.
With these 3 tips you can go a long way to creating content that is a blessing to your user, and helps to set a high standard for digital publishing. Be a blessing in our industry, not a curse! I’d love to hear your thoughts about this in the comments below…
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