Brand Publishing

July 23rd, 2013

Content For A First Date? An Interview With Melissa Lafsky Wall

The dating site market has been a crowded one for years, but a start-up site called HowAboutWe has quickly become a notable player. It’s done this not just through a simple and refreshing approach to helping people meet one another — having them propose what they’d do on a first date — but also through an extensive content strategy.

Melissa Lafsky Wall

Melissa Lafsky Wall

HowAboutWe’s content site, Date Report, is full of content from a variety of writers on subjects that range from date recommendations in certain cities to brainy takes on celebrity marriages. Date Report, with contributions from a variety of journalists, authors, and brand writers, has been a noteworthy success for the company and now pulls in over 500,000 unique visitors per month.

The Strategist spoke with Melissa Lafsky Wall, the brand content strategist and editor who was brought on board to build out Date Report. Wall founded Newsweek’s iPad edition, then went on to develop and run HowAboutWe’s content strategy, and now is launching an editorial consulting firm called Brick Wall Media.

Why do start-ups in particular need to tell their stories? Some people would say they should just be focusing on product and experience at this early point.

There’s no question that the product is vital – you can have the best idea/vision/story in the world, but if the product isn’t good, you won’t convert users.

But the best product in the world will languish if no one knows about it — if it doesn’t insert itself into the mainstream conversation and become relevant. And that’s where storytelling gets crucial — in building brand awareness. Content can differentiate your brand as one that matters, one that has a voice and something to say. Some products may be functionally identical to others, but what differs is the brand voice.

Dating sites are a perfect example – in deciding to sign up for Match or OKCupid, many people say, “Match has a ton of people on it, but I identify more with OKCupid’s voice online.”

Plus if your product isn’t perfect at the outset (and no product is), if you’ve built a strong relationship with your users through great content, you’ll have a much better chance of having them stick around while you iterate. We’re more forgiving of the people we like. Same goes with brands.

 

How has having the Date Report built out helped HowAboutWe as a whole? Are new people discovering HowAboutWe in general by following links from the blog? Or something else?

As of May, HowAboutWe’s content site had about 500,000 unique visitors a month, an increase of 67% from the end of 2012. These are people who are coming solely to read the content – they may or may not have ever heard of the product, or interacted with it. The content site is the first line of communication with these consumers – it is the mouthpiece telling potential users what this brand is and what it stands for. If they like what they read, they’re far more likely to convert and/or tell their friends about the brand.

For existing users, content can be the tool that turns someone who signed up 3 months ago and forgot about it into a regular user. Newsletters and other distribution tools are incredibly effective ways of engaging non-active users. Of course, those newsletters have to be populated with content that people actually want to read. That’s the catch.

 

Syndication partnerships are something that all content marketers know they need to know about, but very few of them feel like they have an adequate grasp on how to do it. What would you say are the first steps?

The first step is creating content that outlets want to syndicate. Writers and editors love to say “content is king,” to the point where it’s become a trope. But the fact is that it’ll be easy to attract syndication partners — and readers, for that matter — if you’re producing great content that offers people real value.

The second step is knowing and respecting the outlets you want to partner with, and making sure you offer them content that serves their purposes, as well as their readers’ purposes. Ask partners what they’re looking for, and work with them proactively – don’t just dump content on them and expect them to do the rest.

 

What kinds of topics have readers responded to the best? What are the lessons here in general (e.g. for startups that aren’t dating startups?)

The kinds of content people respond to best are the exact same kinds of content people respond to best on the Huffington Post, or the Daily Beast, or any other mainstream outlet. Rich, compelling stories that matter — either through service-oriented ways to improve our lives, or emotional stories. Getting at universal truths that connect back to your brand vision – that’s what works.

Case in point: the day after Ben Affleck gave his controversial Oscar speech, I wrote this post for HowAboutWe’s site. It immediately went viral, was syndicated on HuffPo, and wound up getting over a million pageviews. All for a piece of branded content. The key: no one cared whether it was branded content or not. They just cared that it said something that resonated with a mass audience.

The lesson is that if you invest in powerful storytelling, and get help from people who know how to do it, then your content won’t just be a box to check on your marketing plan — it’ll be an invaluable tool for building your brand.


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