Trying to diversify and liven up your brand’s digital content experience? Borrow some story formats from magazines and newspapers.
Marketers tend to lean toward the straightforward single-topic blog post or personality profile for their blogs, but there are many other tried-and-true article structures you can borrow from editorial publications, with great effect.
Here are five classic magazine content formats that will liven up your blog and draw in readers.
1. The Advice Column
This is a beloved format that gets great traction everywhere from home DIY to family publications to men’s magazines.
No matter how much information is out there, people tend to have an insatiable interest in answers to very specific problems. (Hence the popularity of Quora. But Quora is hilariously unreliable, whereas the appeal of experts hired by real publications is that, presumably, they’re the best qualified to give advice in their subject.)
Whether people enjoy reading issues similar to their own, or they get a thrill of relief out of reading all the problems that other people have but they don’t, well-written advice columns dependably draw an audience.
This format is versatile enough to be applied in many branded sectors including personal finance, pet care and beauty. One of the most creative recent examples, though, is Budweiser.
Where many beer and liquor brands have produced city guide expert intelligence or drinks-making content, the beer company launched a social media advice column penned by characters created for the brand as a digital experience for Lime-A-Rita.
Remember: For SEO purposes and brand consistency, choose an advice column topic that’s relevant to your business and industry.
2. The Roundup
This is where each paragraph is dedicated to a different venue or product that are all connected by one theme. Travel publishers use it constantly, as do many other lifestyle verticals. Shopping guides and “where to dine in X different neighborhoods” are common roundup formats.
But bloggers actually perfected this for the online space. Back in the day before Google began to penalize blog networks, bloggers would look through the recent posts of several similar/friendly blogs in their space and highlight a favorite post from each, with 1-2 sentences summarizing it and a link out to the post. This gave readers a jump-off to many different stories they might enjoy.
Google decided that, as a promotional tactic, this sort of reciprocal linking between blogs wasn’t strictly above board, and thus you don’t see the regular blog roll roundups much anymore. The roundup as a format, however, is alive and well. And it works very well for brands.
It’s a great way for you to shine a light on businesses that complement yours, while competing for traffic with roundups by editorial publications.
Examples: Beauty brands typically produce roundup content as high quality as beauty magazines these days — but for eclecticism and being on top of the latest releases, Birchbox and Sephora continually lead in content.
Remember: Don’t do a roundup of your specific product featuring your brand and several competitors. Pick an ancillary or complementary category. If you’re a hair salon, don’t round up the best hair salons — round up the best products for X type of hair (available in your salon, of course).
3. The Personal Essay
Some say that the heyday of XOJane was also the peak of the vicariously embarrassing personal essay. That was certainly when young writers were encouraged (with rates ranging in the tens of dollars!) to mine their most humiliating, unflattering or even traumatizing nuggets of personal information for the collective amusement and/or rage of internet readers.
Countless publications were publishing these cheap-thrill essays to the point where the internet got saturated. Publications were forced to evolve or fold.
Personal essays in online publications these days are more introspective, more culturally attuned, oftentimes better researched, with a stronger POV. But we’ve witnessed the rise of a different type of super-basic personal essay — the professional-personal hybrid.
It is a format born on LinkedIn that a few select LI personalities were able to gain viral traffic with, and thousands of others are attempting.
The style is very distinctive.
Every sentence is its own paragraph.
Sentences are short, mostly.
Although sometimes they can be longer — mulling over a moment, a feeling, a time in the past when the author felt stuck in a certain pattern of thinking.
Then, a personal anecdote.
It contains some nugget of counterintuitive wisdom.
The author has a breakthrough.
Let this be your daily inspiration to go forth and hustle!
In 2017, Buzzfeed hilariously coined the term “broetry” to describe this cross between a self-help article and a very basic poem. It’s only gained popularity since then, probably because it’s quite easy to write and read.
We do not suggest adopting it exactly for a blog — we’re simply mentioning it to point out that personal essays don’t need to be NYT-caliber. They can be quite simple and revolve around a single personal anecdote, and they can still engage people because they ARE so easy to comprehend and relate to.
Examples: LinkedIn’s annual Top Voices list allows you to see all the people who are making noise on the social platform. Not all are doing essay-style posts, but many are. Here’s an example from Susan Cain, who made the list in the “influencer” category.
Remember: If you’ve started to dabble in this format for LinkedIn posts, you could start by expanding one to blog length rather than starting from scratch.
4. The Recap
ICYMI (in case you missed it), here’s what happened last week on a favorite soap opera, or last Friday at that black-tie charity event or at the star-studded parties surrounding an award show. Whenever there’s an event that most people couldn’t attend in person, there’s probably also a written recap.
The success of a recap depends on how much people are interested in whatever the event is that they missed. Some television series recaps find a huge readership — not even of people who didn’t see the show, but people who want to rehashed it with others.
Branded content publications don’t use recaps nearly as much, but it’s certainly a format to consider. If you sponsored an event, attended a conference or even took a trip recently, try to figure out an angle to write about it that might be of interest to business associates who weren’t there.
And, just like the television recap audience, there may be an audience for you of people who actually were at the event along with you, or at a similar event recently and are reading because they want to see if your experience/opinion lines up with their own
Remember: Find a way to provide some value (e.g. recapping the best moments from highly attended panel discussions or the best products unveiled) — don’t just promote that you were there and you spoke on a panel.
5. The Q&A
This is typically the format that magazines (print and digital) use for celebrity pieces where they didn’t get enough one-on-one time to do a full feature, but they got enough to fill a page.
In an age where there are so many ways to conduct an interview (phone, DM, text, email), the Q&A lends itself better to almost every type of interview except the in-person kind where a writer gets to shadow the personality for the day.
The Q&A is among the easiest of formats to execute — but challenging to turn into interesting copy, especially when you’re doing it with someone who doesn’t have a larger-than-life persona. A Q&A with the factory floor manager of the St. Louis plant, or the VP of sales who just celebrated his 20-year anniversary, is going to be supremely uninteresting to everyone except immediate family, if you just put forth generic questions.
The trick to a good Q&A is figuring out an interesting topic that your interviewee is an expert in, and crafting questions that will inspire and draw out their expertise.
Example: Payment platform Stripe scored a coup for its blog when it got Marc Andreessen of Andreessen-Horowitz to drop by the Stripe blog and participate in a Q&A. This is particularly notable because the a16z blog is an industry must-read, and getting Andreessen to cross-pollinate on the blog of a company in their portfolio is a great piece of SEO-juicy promotion.
Remember: Never use the same set of questions twice. Tailor everything to the person and their unique POV and experience.