There are a lot of content marketers out there, and for mostly good reasons—there’s a lot of demand for content. Despite the unimaginable depths of the Internet, there are always new niches that need to be explored and people who are ready to eat your content up—if it’s good enough.
When it comes to writing content, most people think about the straightforward quality of their material first; they think about their choice of topics, their main arguments, and the points they want to make. This is super important, and I don’t want to underplay its significance, but there’s another dimension of quality you’ll need to consider: your voice.
Truth be told, a lot of content marketers and bloggers these days end up sounding like assholes, whether they meant to or not (though really, who means to sound like an asshole?). If you want to maximize your readership and reader retention, you’ll have to avoid this unfortunate association.
What Does an Asshole Sound Like?
I know the term “asshole” is pretty vague, and using it makes me sound like kind of an asshole. I’m fine with that—but I’m not fine with the ambiguity, so let’s define what I mean by “sounding like an asshole.” What, exactly, does an asshole sound like?
- Boring. The first trap most people fall into is the “boring” trap, and honestly, this is because most industries are boring. Unless you’re writing about hot new tech or superhero movies, chances are your industry is “boring”—by default. It doesn’t have to be! Boring content will lull your audience to sleep and make you sound like you’re only producing content for the sake of producing content.
- Repetitive. When you repeat yourself, or you explain yourself too much, people will start questioning whether you’re actually trying to make a point or whether you’re just trying to fill space.
- Stuffy. “Stuffy” content is hard to describe, but for the most part it has to do with an air of elitism or corporate-ness. Basically, if it feels like it’s being written by a snob or a corporation, and not a person, it will turn people away.
- Jargony. I don’t care how knowledgeable or educated your audience is. If your content is packed with jargon like buzzwords or technical terms, it’s going to be a bitch to get through, and you’ll sound like a windbag for writing it (windbags are a subspecies of asshole).
- Unhelpful. Finally, if your content doesn’t address some kind of problem, provide some kind of information, or offer some kind of entertainment value, it has no real function, and people will think you’re an asshole for trying to pass it off as if it does.
These are just some general descriptors—you may have some of your own opinions about what an asshole sounds like in writing. In any case, following these best practices can help you sound like less of an asshole and more of a relatable human being:
Lesson 1: Have something to say
First, make sure you have something valuable to say. Most of these “asshole” problems can be avoided if you simply have a good point to make, a good topic to cover, and enough of a vested interest to make the content interesting. This will help you avoid sounding boring, will make your content more inherently valuable, and will help you write in a more personal, engaging voice. It’s tough to find something good to say sometimes, but it’s a prerequisite if you want to write good material.
Lesson 2: Write like you talk
This may go against your intuition, but trust me on this. People don’t read content online because they want a “textbook” experience, so don’t write to them like you’re writing a technical manual. With very rare exceptions, most content becomes more engaging and more relatable if it’s conversational. Force yourself to think through your writing as if you were having a conversation with someone else. It will help you find a more casual tone.
Lesson 3: Find a connection
This is a key strategy for overcoming the problems related to “boring” industries, as well as forging a strong audience connection. Find something that your audience can relate to, and latch onto it. For complex topics, especially conceptual ones, try to boil the problem down into basic terms, or an illustrative metaphor with cats that makes everything more accessible. Connections can be forged in a number of different ways, so look for these opportunities everywhere.
Lesson 4: Assume a lay audience, but be thorough
It’s also a good idea to assume your audience doesn’t know what the hell you’re talking about, even if your typical reader is somewhat familiar with the topic. This will force you to explain things more completely, and in a way that’s approachable for all readers—even if it over-explains a few points. The only temptation to watch for here is keeping things too high-level; you’ll still want to be thorough in your exploration.
Lesson 5: Check yourself
Finally, you’ll want to do a final run-through of every article you produce. Put yourself in the shoes of your reader, or better yet, read your post aloud. Are there any sentences or key points that sound “off” to you? Trust your internal radar, and make corrections before publishing.
Okay, so hopefully by this point in the article you understand the dangers of sounding like an asshole, but you’ve also got some good steps to avoid sounding like one in the first place. Don’t worry; we’re all assholes, and we all have the potential to sound like one (or rise above such a potential pitfall). With the right strategy and enough practice, you can perfect your own brand voice—whether that’s your company’s or your personal voice.
If you need some help getting started, dopplepop has the experts for you—who am I kidding, it’s me and Sarah. Work directly with us—we’re ghost writing and personal branding professionals, and master your own personal brand!