How Your Content Can Actually Make Money

The pen is mightier than the business plan, as Humans of New York demonstrated last year by raising over $1 million to support a beleaguered middle school in New York City. Content marketers take note – good writing moves people to take out their wallets. Yes, it’s that simple. HONY’s success is a powerful example of making an emotional, and financial, connection with readers.

In one of the world’s largest cities, where it’s physically impossible to notice each person, Brandon Stanton invited readers to stop shoving through the subway and instead pay attention to the passers by. His original goal in 2010 was to photograph 10,000 everyday New Yorkers. Then he added pithy captions to the photos. Those captions slowly grew into short stories.

HONY delivers on the Internet’s promise of “citizen journalism,” in which everyday people can cover local news. Brandon shares stories, without judging, about the man on the street. Sometimes that man (or woman) is a lawyer, a professor, medical worker or precocious child. But there are also homeless drug addicts, handicapped street vendors and welfare moms who can’t pay the rent. Like the incendiary lyrics of Amy Winehouse, Brandon’s profiles give voice to often-overlooked people, sharing their struggles and doubts.

These small clips, one or two each week, soon earned HONY over 7 million Facebook followers. Not all of the reader response has been positive, with plenty of judgmental remarks about life choices. But all of the responses are passionate.

This is the soul of great writing – making an emotional connection with the reader. Readers don’t care about your product and what it does, they care about other people. Readers care about conflict, struggle and survival in the face of seemingly hopeless odds. They want to be inspired.

So, how can you implement this strategy in content writing?

  1. People want to read about people, goes the old journalism adage. Don’t write about your product, write about the people who use it and the difference it makes in their lives. Use characters, humor, drama and other narrative devices to create a compelling story.
  2. All good stories center on a struggle. What is your story’s central focus? A problem to solve? A battle to win? A journey to complete? Find the conflict, or the goal, and write about how your characters overcome or achieve it.
  3. Take risks and be controversial. Maybe not everyone will like your content, but nobody likes bland, flavorless writing. Identify your brand voice, then strike a tone with your topics and opinions. That will help you naturally find your target audience, and provoke passionate responses.
  4. Set an appointment with your audience. Whether it’s weekly, biweekly or monthly, create the expectation that your good stories will keep coming. Readers will begin to look forward to them.

You don’t have to be bringing higher education to inner-city kids to land a million dollars. But you must make your target audience feel something to take out their wallets. Making an emotional connection with customers gives them a reason to keep coming back, and to feel good about spending money with you.