What X Can Teach You About Y

I’ve got a Mad Lib for you. Fill in the blanks:

You may have heard about (recent social media disaster/current event/meme). This provides us an interesting case study with lots of things you can learn in your (small business/social media strategy/fitness regime). Here are just a few of the lessons you can walk away with:

  • (The power of being an individual)
  • (The importance of being prepared)
  • (Why you should be authentic/transparent/real)
  • (Vague platitude)

Chances are, you’ve read a blog post like this. Every time there’s a mildly interesting current event–everything from the pope resigning to a hot new dance craze–people scramble to extrapolate lessons from it and tell us what we can learn from it. It’s easy, it’s top of mind and it captures the current zeitgeist. Heck, I’ve done it, so please don’t throw stones at my glass house.

I pledge to avoid writing this kind of blog content. I want you to join me. Why?

  • It’s probably not original. A Google search for “What you can learn from Oreo at the Super Bowl,” referring to Oreo’s quick-thinking tweet and accompanying black out image, returns more than 220,000 results about two weeks after the incident. By and large, the lessons aren’t so very different from those you see above, duplicated hundreds of thousands of times across the web. Unless you can provide a truly new or original take on the news–content only you could write–save your fingers the effort.
  • It’s probably not timely. People have incredibly short attention spans. Today’s Gangam Style is tomorrow’s Harlem Shake. When you’re jumping on a current event or a trend, your post has to go out with lightning speed. The best blog posts about the Oreo incident were published, at the latest, the morning after the event. Many were published the night of. If you’re publishing days or, heaven forfend, weeks after the event? You’re too late. Everyone’s moved on. Likewise, that means your content has a limited utility for future searches. A year or two from now, no one will remember or care what the Carnival Triumph disaster can teach you about your social media strategy. Instead of aiming for flashes in the pan, look for content that has legs.
  • It’s too easy. You’re better than this. You have a unique point of view that no one else can match. The things you know and your company can do? They go far beyond what you can learn from Burger King being hacked or how the fiscal cliff is like running a small business. Don’t go for the easy answers. Sure, there are times when you just need content, but push yourself to do more, be more. You have more to offer.

Will you join with us and say no to Mad Lib content?

  • robbyslaughter

    Allison, I admire this pledge. I really do! But it’s tough to commit to it.

    That’s because formulaic posts work so well. This very blog is an example of a post in a well-defined format.

    Title: Clever Example of a Common Phenomenon

    Topic: Why something everyone does is something you shouldn’t do.

    Structure: Everyone is doing this. Here’s why they are doing it. But you shouldn’t do it. And here are reasons why in bullet form: Unoriginal / Not relevant once it becomes old news / Emotional appeal. Call to action—don’t you agree?

    Everything is a trope. If it wasn’t, we’d have a hard time consuming it. I think the secret is to mix in different kinds of tropes at different times, and to use ones that are less familiar as well as those that everyone knows.

    Gotta run. I’m off to write a list post.

  • Robby,

    There’s a difference between a trope and a cliche. As you said, a trope is a recognizable structure or framework upon which to hang more original ideas. A cliche is a hackneyed regurgitation that adds nothing new to the conversation, which I would argue is what these “x and y” posts do. Yes, everything’s been done before–and I’d never advocate eliminating list posts–but as you said, the key is to use tropes to communicate new ideas instead of same old, same old.

  • robbyslaughter

    So: When you take what I said, refine it and add some good points…is that a trope or a cliché?

    Either way, I like it. Thanks for the reply (and for the post!)

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