As we find ourselves propelling deeper and deeper into the internet age, downloading Hollywood blockbusters with a single click of remote control and replying to Mary from New Zealand’s tweets with a litter of angry face emojis to convey disagreement with her views on Love Island, the business of creating content around football – and most specifically writing about football – is as open yet as saturated as it has ever been.
Long gone are the traditional barriers to entry, chiefly the compulsory requirement to work for an age-old media institution, but with the revolution lead by avocado-eating, laptop-carrying boggers comes a new wave of relentless competition; the danger of every piece of content you produce catching one or two eyes during the immediate moments after hitting publish, post or tweet before being lost forever within the ever-expanding vastness of the world wide web is a painfully real one.
Throw into this the simple fact that pageviews (by way of advertising) equate to financial gain, and sheer livelihoods rest on the ability to stand out from the crowd, to be noticed, to float on the surface rather than sink into internet obscurity. With those monolithic media companies still around too, flaunting their significantly superior resources, wealth and access, creating a piece of content ticking all those boxes isn’t easy. So how do we do it at Snack Media? How do Football FanCast strive to stand out in an increasingly congested market?
1. What makes your content different?
Let’s call a spade a spade. Your website is unlikely to ever command the same gravitas as BBC Sport or The Telegraph, so if you’re competing with them to produce the same kind of content, you’re already fighting a losing battle.
They’ve been writing up match reports for years; should the unassuming punter be given the choice between Phil McNulty’s thoughts on the 2019 Champions League final and those of the Joe Bloggs Blog, 99% of the time they’ll opt for the established brand. Likewise, if you’re using those organisations as a source for your own content, are you really doing anything more than regurgitating information that’s already out there?
The challenge is to provide something different – something the mainstream media either can’t, won’t or haven’t thought to create. At Football FanCast, the vast majority of our content revolves around opinion and analysis, whether that’s from our writers, our readers or football fans. It allows us to put completely different spins on current news stories and separate ourselves from outlets we simply can’t compete with when it comes to traditional content formats.
2. The power of a unique idea.
‘Angle’ is a keyword amongst FFC’s writer contingent. It’s all well and good identifying stories, but if you can’t give a new and interesting angle, then what’s the point in covering it at all? For every piece of content we create, we strive to add something new to the conversation.
In football, which especially at this time of year becomes an endless conveyor-belt of everybody from Paul Pogba to Paul Stalteri giving their two cents on whatever issue happens to be the talk of the day, that’s not always easy.
To overcome this, our writers use different methods and strategies to evolve ideas from the obvious, such as Manchester United shouldn’t sign Harry Maguire because he’s too expensive, to something intriguing, provocative and far more specific, such as Maguire price-tag puts Solskjaer’s all-British utopia in danger of descending into another Gaalactico farce.
Obviously, the second angle comes with a lot more depth and detail, but the origins of both are precisely the same – the fact Harry Maguire will cost United a great deal of money. We call it the onion method, and the idea is pretty simple; write out your most basic, fundamental opinion on a piece of paper, draw a circle around it and then slowly add layers to it, expanding the subject matter each time and drawing wider circles. Once you get to the fifth or sixth layer, a simple reaction to a news story becomes something far deeper, far more unique and far more engaging.
3. Use the internet to make your articles dynamic.
I was once told by a rival website that they produce ‘post-literate’ content, the idea being that nobody actually reads anything anymore and everybody just wants shiny, sparkling images jumping out of their phones at them 24 hours a day.
As far as I can tell, people still understand the English alphabet and still have the attention spans (just about) to read a thousand words on an issue they’re genuinely passionate about without having to go for a nap halfway through.
Nonetheless, there are important lessons to be learned here; the days of football content being simply a stream of words are long gone, and every article needs an element of dynamism to it. Perhaps that requires the creation of infographic or bespoke imagery to enrich your content, but the internet is here to help too!
Why not emphasise how poorly Paul Pogba played against West Ham by including tweets from real fans moaning about his performance? Why not grab a video off Youtube (copyright permitting) that further underlines your analysis of Javier Hernandez’s declining finishing? Why not draw on quotes from pundits and players and put them in a shiny quote box to make them stand out even more?
Post-literacy is a fallacy, but it’s certainly true that black font on a white page isn’t enough to sustain the attentions of modem-charged millennials.
4. Understand your platform.
At Football FanCast, most of our traffic comes from NewsNow. But the fact of the matter is that every website has a primary platform, an immediate master, a chief traffic source. Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram or indeed NewsNow, it’s crucial to understand how content is consumed within that platform and what the rules of engagement are.
Take NewsNow for example, which is a news aggregator that lists article titles on webpages separated by subject matter. It gives writers just 96 characters to sell their article, on a single line in a webpage that contains hundreds of other entries – all 96 characters on a single line as well. It’s down to you to make the absolute most of that opportunity, to understand what titles work best and why, and to come up with consistent strategies that will draw readers to your title rather than the countless above and below it. Of course, trial and error plays a big part, but gaining knowledge of the platform is essential.
The same applies for Twitter, Facebook or whichever platform you happen to be on. Whether you’re getting 20 of your mates to retweet your articles on Twitter or encouraging Facebook pages with large followings to post links to your content, a clear strategy is needed. That, in turn, will affect how you create content too; your content will need to be not only fundamentally friendly for that platform, but also stand out on it.
5. Market your content effectively.
Interlinked with points 2 and 3. Quite simply, articles with unique angles are easier to market, and the more you understand about your platform, the more effective your marketing will be. Let’s look at the Maguire examples once again. Which of these titles do you find more interesting?
Man United should avoid £95m signing who won’t prove good value for money
Instead of realising Solskjaer’s dream, £95m target could see Man Utd relive van Gaal nightmare
Both are under 96 characters and both meet NewsNow’s editorial guidelines, but one is clearly more interesting, provocative and engaging than the other.
The other difference, of course, is that one gives the whole story away and the other obliges the reader to try and find out what it’s all about by being slightly elusive and using emotive language.
With that aforementioned internet age has come the art of ‘clickbaiting’, an understandably dirty word that quite simply can be defined as getting an unassuming reader to click on your article no-matter what the cost. Long-standing reputations are secondary to gaining pageviews with one click at a time.
But that is not what Football FanCast are trying to achieve; it’s not about misleading people, it’s about not laying all of your cards out on the table straight away.
If Harry Potter were titled “Harry Potter is a boy who didn’t know he was a wizard but then found out he was an subsequently went to wizard school where he made lifelong friends and battled an evil nemesis called Voldemort for seven years before realising they’re somehow interlinked and ultimately defeating him”, why would anybody bother to read the Philosopher’s Stone, let alone the whole series? You already know the whole story and when abbreviated to that extent it sounds a bit, well.. rubbish.
Content needs to be marketed in a way that doesn’t spell out exactly everything it entails but convinces the reader that it’s worth further pursuing. Once again, this is much, much easier if your content is original and naturally engaging. When content lacks these qualities, content creators tend to succumb to the insidious cyberspace equivalent of black magic – clickbaiting.
To find out how you can write for Football Fancast email Martin@snack-media.com.