I had the great pleasure last night of attending Malcolm ‘The Tipping Point’ Gladwell’s theatre tour. And though it was a little strange being in vast Brighton Dome to hear one chap talk for an hour, it was a great experience.
Sitting with nearly 2000 other people engrossed in one person talking for an hour, I realised just how much people building link bait content can learn from the curly haired wunderkid.
Weave a narrative into your work – When trying to make big sweeping points about society and life in general, Gladwell always uses a narrative to get his point across. It’s not surprising how successful he is at writing because every human being is hardwired to appreciate a good story.
We look for stories in random patterns and events even when they aren’t any. This almost primeval desire is something the link baiter really ought to think about. Can you use a narrative to progress your idea of content? If you can – you should.
Take complex ideas and make them accessible – Gladwell gets quite a bit of stick for riding on the coat-tails of the scientific researchers, historians etc, who he bases his theories on. But what he does excellently is take complex uninviting data and findings and synthesize them into a form lots of people can understand and enjoy.
This process is a goldmine for the link baiter, take something deep and hard to grasp created by a specialist in your sector and makes it easy to digest. It’s impossible not to be a little reductive in this process but it needn’t be a problem as long as you treat your base material with respect.
Make your audience feel clever – another master stroke of Gladwell’s writing is that you come away feeling a little bit cleverer without having to undergo anything too rigorous. Again if you can achieve this with your link bait you’ll do well. Help people learn but make it as easy for them to learn as you can.
Construct your work in easily digestible chunks, with clear headlines and built around self contained arguments and ideas.
Just because it is common sense doesn’t make it unexpected – You can summarise Gladwell’s books in one sentence pretty easily.
His most recent Outliers – there’s no such thing as ‘luck’
His second book Blink – sometimes the more you know the worse decisions you make
And his break through hit Tipping point – Things that get popular reach a certain point where they very quickly go from niche to mainstream.
On their own none of these topics are revelatory; but the skill is taking something not entirely unexpected and explaining it in a lucid and engaging way. It’s the same with link bait. You don’t have to do anything completely unexpected as long as the way your present your argument it original and unique.