Making topical content last: Then, now and forever

Coming up with a regular stream of quality content for your audience to enjoy can be a slog at times, so when a big event or juicy bit of news connected to your industry crops up, it can be a godsend. Topical content can breathe new life into your offering and provide solid opportunities.

Keeping your digital content on the ball

It shows you’ve got your finger on the pulse of your industry. When something happens Monday morning and you’re talking about it by lunchtime with a detailed, reasoned analysis, you’re clearly someone your audience can trust.

From there, it’s easy to seize momentum and put yourself in a position of authority with ongoing thought leadership goodness as the dialogue progresses. If you’re the first to meaningfully explore a topic with a lot of buzz around it, your content is instantly shareable.

That being said, if staying ahead of the curve was easy we’d all be doing it. When I say ‘topical content,’ I’m not talking about Christmas/Easter/British Weather-related stuff which you can re-share next year. It’s reasonable to assume you’ll be able to use a Christmas video once every 12 months.

Topical content in this sense refers to pieces covering one-off significant events. It needs to be not just good but also fast. If your company has several layers of sign-off needed before anything can be released (it shouldn’t, trust your content creators!) then you might want to look at streamlining things in exceptional circumstances.

You also need to treat a fine line with tone. An overly impassioned response can start the wrong kind of dialogue. You want to be first with the facts, not the mud-slinging. Ultimately, however, the biggest problem with this kind of content is that if you write it too narrowly, it’s only relevant for as long as the story it covers.

Get evergreen content with a buzz

So how do you produce content with both relevance and staying power? First take a look at what you’re sharing exactly. Does the momentous event in question merit a departure from your usual format? Is it a complex issue which you could clear up with an infographic? Does it require a more human touch which a vlog might cover?

Speaking of the human touch, appealing to emotion makes you incredibly shareable so you should definitely be giving some indicator of how you feel on a topic. However, it’s important to balance that with a rational assessment of the facts. People’s opinions on things change over time, but their opinion of someone who consistently produces well-crafted content is always likely to be good.

Memes are your friend. By using memes right (see picture above) you can tap into a whole cultural alphabet and make your point succinctly and with a knowing nod to the context your audience is most familiar with. Of course, you know exactly what this context is, because you know your audience so well. Right?

Tell the story behind the news.

By knowing this context, you can work out what your audience is really asking. Things happen for a reason, and you can use the topic in question as a springboard to discuss the trends and patterns in your industry and what they mean for you.

Take a look at this great piece by Paul Mason. Written back in 2011 during the Arab Spring, at a time when it felt like it was ‘kicking off everywhere,’ it beautifully addresses the topic at hand and still remains evergreen by tackling the root causes and deeper factors behind it.

So don’t slavishly pick apart each aspect of the event. Don’t speculate on people’s personal circumstances unless you’re a tabloid. Good topical content isn’t about who, what or when, that’s just description. It’s about why, it’s about insight.

In terms of tone, you need to be knowing and informed but not preachy or arrogant. Never underestimate the power of snark. Don’t make personal attacks, but if something happens which has validated a long-help opinion of yours, point this out. Never neuter your opinion; it’s why people read your stuff!

Writing for now, and for the future

On a more technical level, it’s best to avoid putting too many current references in the titles, subheadings and metadata. These will expire, so focus on keywords with a longer lifespan.

The same applies to the language you use throughout the piece, common jargon and in-jokes surrounding the topic will age and expire, so be sure you explain what they mean somewhere in the piece. Don’t say ‘this year’ or ‘next month’ either, be specific and make sure this content will stand the test of time.

The above Guardian gallery on underwhelming UK holiday photographs is a good example of this. They don't talk about summer 2015 or that make the content date quickly; instead, they have a gallery which can be shared and added to year after year.

Of course, you can always come back and edit your content later. There’s no shame in curating a page as new information arises as long as you’re transparent about it. This is also a great way to keep all your info on one topic in one place, which, as anyone who knows SEO will tell you, is a big boost.

Topical content is great, but topical content that still brings something to the table a year later is brilliant. By keeping one eye on how things are going to age it’s easily possible to have your say, give your opinion and build momentum without sacrificing in the long-term.