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The Importance of Being Engaging

PART 1: What is Engaging Content?


By Tony Greene

Chrissie is already in full flight toward the shore. In she goes, a delicate splash, surfacing in a cold ocean that is unusually placid. Chrissie pulls with her arms, drawing herself into deeper water.

That's when we see it. A gentle bulge in the water, a ripple that passes her a dozen feet away. A wave of pressure lifts her up and eases her down again. Her face shows the beginning of fear. Maybe it's Tom. She smiles and looks around for him, then her eyes go to the beach where Tom -- too drunk to stand -- one pant leg off, is struggling with his other shoe. Chrissie turns and starts for shore.

Suddenly Chrissie’s expression freezes. The water-lump is racing for her. It bolts her upright, out of the water to her hips, then slams her hard, whipping her in an upward arc of eight feet before she is jerked down to her open mouth. Another jolt to her floating hair. One hand claws the air, fingers trying to breathe, then it, too, is sucked below in a final and terrible jerking motion.

This is the opening scene from the iconic 1975 horror classic, Jaws (Directed by Steven Spielberg). To its credit, the film is still being referenced and studied 45 years later and its opening sequence has been indelibly branded into the memory banks of moviegoers for generations.

Like the book before it (Jaws, Benchley, 1974), the movie exhibits engaging content. The writers and Spielberg bait their hook, throw out the line, catch our attention, and reel us in. Said another way, while stealing a different fishing metaphor, Jaws gets you hook, line, and sinker.

This “hook your audience” strategy doesn’t apply to movies alone. It applies to all kinds of content, from how-to videos to blogs, email blasts to social media posts.

So what is meant by “engaging content”?

Engaging content offers something new: a new perspective, an unexpected laugh, bits of knowledge, or something helpful, inspiring, or entertaining. Engaging content gives your reader a peek at something he or she hasn't seen before but can relate to in some way.

So at its very core, the content itself is original, not derivative, not a regurgitation of someone else’s content, spun into some new form. It’s a new thought, a new idea, or even an old one presented in a new way. Engaging content is likely to trigger imagination, spark new ideas, bring about ah-ha moments in others. And it is found through a combination of research you have done on topics that are meaningful to people but presented through the lens of your own imagination and style.

Now think about a few other movies: Orca, Grizzly, Tentacles, Piranha, Tremors, Snakehead Terror (written by yours truly), Rats, and Anaconda. I could keep going but you probably see the pattern here. These are derivative movies that give us similar circumstances, beats, ominous music, battle scenes, Rewards, and Return home. The thinking behind them was, "Jaws worked, made a lot of money, so let’s do what they did."

No, stop right there. While you can certainly hitch a ride on someone else’s imagination carpet, and maybe even get a few Likes and Shares by creating your own branded knock-off of someone else’s genius, your content is not going to feel fresh. It’s going to feel dated and predictable and will be judged as unimaginative, a rip-off, and the worst thing you can be: boring. If you don’t bring some fresh perspective to the table, people will stop clicking on your channel and your subscriber numbers will level off and likely begin to decline.

If you want to do another Halloween slasher film, don’t do Nightmares in a Damaged Brain. Do Scream.

If you want to write another biography of Alexander Hamilton, don’t write another The Life and Times of Alexander Hamilton. Write a musical.

By the same token, avoid creating an Instagram post like this...

… when you could create something more engaging (especially during the week that Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker was released), something like this:

If you take anything away from this short piece, this is it: Engage your audience with a new perspective, an unexpected laugh, bits of knowledge, or something helpful, inspiring, or entertaining. If you’re in tap with your imagination and a little lucky, you might hit your audience with two or more of the above and go viral.

Happy creating!


This is the first part in a series of articles on The Importance of Being Engaging. Next Week: “Part 2: Why Do We Need Engaging Content?

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