9 Types of Stories that Cause Engagement

Modern marketing is about conversations and engaging with people in stimulating discussions. It’s about talking with people in our own voice and in our own style through a variety of channels, methods, and platforms. It’s becoming less and less about advertising and brochures; it’s about engaging audiences in a dialog that leads them in their own personal discoveries.

“If it’s not a conversation, then it’s not effective marketing.” Lois Kelly, author of Beyond Buzz: The Next Generation of Word-of-Mouth Marketing

The key to every conversation is having something interesting to talk about. So what do people find stimulating and what makes people want to share?

That’s the question the team at NPR Digital services asked, and to answer they conducted a study to define what types of content cause the most sharing and engagement.

The Study Setup

As part of the experiment, they targeted local content created by Seattle member station KPLU on the NPR Facebook page. They geo-targeted content so that only people in the Seattle area could see it within their Facebook News Feeds. Their success metric: Of the unique people who saw each post, what percentage liked it, shared it, or commented on it?

Rather than geo-targeting just any news story they were selective with the types of local stories that were posted. The content had to have compelling headlines, and be locally relevant and meaningful. They looked at every story they geo-targeted during the months of July, August and September of 2012 and identified similarities which allowed them to create nine distinct content categories.

To identify the categories, they asked a series of questions and repeated this exercise several times for each piece of content until they were confident with the placement. The questions they asked to identify placement were. Why did people share this story? What reaction did people have when they shared it? What is the story actually delivering to people – an explanation, video, or hard news story?

Here is the 9 types of local stories that the NPR Digital Services team identified that caused engagement (download a printable version of the list here):

1. Place Explainers – Every person, place or thing has traits, quirks and habits that are begging to be dissected. These characteristics are well known, but no one ever stops to explain why they even exist in the first place. These Place Explainers investigate, answer and explain these questions.

2. Crowd Pleasers – Crowd Pleasers zero in on that feeling of pride. Everyone loves to brag once in awhile. These stories provide an opportunity to celebrate the things we love.

3. Curiosity Stimulators
– These are the stories you come across that you can’t turndown? The ones that have you hooked at the headline? These types of stories capture our geeky and quirky side. And after people click through and read a Curiosity Stimulator, they often feel compelled to share it because they get the sensation of stumbling upon a gem.

4. News Explainers – Event-based stories chronicle and make sense of the news. Rather than just telling you what happened, News Explainers dissect why or how it happened. They take complex topics and make sense of them for people.

5. Major Breaking News – Our lives are saturated with everyday news stories such as thunderstorms or traffic jams. But Major Breaking News has a much bigger impact our lives. Major Breaking News doesn’t often happen – but when they do they tend to make life difficult for lots of people.

6. Feel-Good Smilers – Think awesome, think hilarious, and most of all think positive. The Feel-Good category is made up of happy stories. A Feel-Good Smiler is a 10-year-old girl who convinces Jamba Juice to stop using foam cups. It’s humor, which tends to make people feel good, also plays a role in Feel-Good Smiler content.

7. Topical Buzzers – A Topical Buzzer is the story of the moment that everyone’s talking about. It’s when Charlie Sheen is “winning” during a meltdown. A Topical Buzzer rides the viral coattails of the story. The key to deploying a Topical Buzzer on your site: knowing when something is beginning to buzz.

8. Provocative Controversies
– It’s the story that makes your blood boil. It’s a topic people have strong feelings and are highly opinionated about.

9. Awe-Inspiring Visuals
– It’s the feeling you get when you see a killer whale catching air in Puget Sound. People love to view at beautiful images. Awe-Inspiring Visuals capture that wonderment through photos and videos.

These nine types of content are not the only kinds of content that exist or matter. Rather, in this study, the team at NPR is articulating data-backed trends they discovered in the analysis of content.

Need help getting the conversation started about your company? Give your company something interesting to talk about, something that piques customer’s interest and help them better understand what you are all about. Try any one of these 9 types of stories and look for ways you can create themes to build your customer engagement around.

Have you had success in creating conversations at your company? Tell us about it in the comments below.