The Difference Between Active and Passive Content That Every Publisher Needs to Know

Publishers are boring their audiences with lazy content.

Don’t take that personally: I’m not calling you lazy. I’m just saying your content doesn’t make your audience get off their lazy butts.  As publishers, we’re here to educate, enlighten, entertain, and empower our digital audiences. We publish content to add value to our readers’ lives.  But we will lose our audiences once we’ve lost their attention.  

The fastest way to lose audience attention is to keep rolling out passive content, or content that doesn’t ask the reader to participate.

WHY ISN’T “PASSIVE CONTENT” WORKING FOR ME?

Well, there are two reasons.

  1. Most passive content is disposable. Your audience reads your latest article once (if you’re lucky) and then they’re done — forever.
  2. Passive content doesn’t ask the reader to take action; it doesn’t ask the audience for input and can’t possibly react to the reader in real time.

Here’s the thing: digital audiences expect to interact with your content and brand. If you’re failing to offer meaningful, active experiences, you’ll lose them.

SO HOW DO I CREATE MORE MEANINGFUL EXPERIENCES FOR MY READERS?

You need to start publishing interactive content that requires the audience’s active participation.

In other words, publish content that holds your audience’s attention. After all, driving audience engagement, is the holy grail of any publisher.

Take a page out of the New York Times’ playbook. The Times’ most popular piece of content in 2013 was a quiz.

The data and maps used for the quiz come from over 350,000 survey responses collected by Josh Katz, a graphics editor for the New York Times. Yet rather than stuff all those dry facts and figures into a long-form piece of content, Katz published a quiz

Think about that for a second. Katz and The Times realized that those facts were useless in the wrong format. Those data points, communicated passively in a long-form article, would have been as useful as an Ambien sleep aid to the Times’ digital audience.

The New York Times isn’t the only publication getting into quizzes and playful, interactive content. In January 2015, nine of the ten most-engaged stories on Facebook were quizzes. The combined number of shares for those nine quizzes was 10 million, and one quiz alone had over 1.9 million interactions.

MIND. BLOWN.

Quizzes work because people love to find out interesting things about their world but don’t want to work too hard for that information. Quizzes are the perfect way to satisfy this user craving. Again, the reader is lazy, so your content can’t be.

AREN’T QUIZZES AND OTHER INTERACTIVE CONTENT JUST SENDING THE SAME MESSAGE IN A DIFFERENT WAY?

Interactive content isn’t just a different way of saying the same thing. It’s a different way of actively teaching and reinforcing the value of your content.

For example, a news article about a presidential candidate could include a quiz that playfully assesses and reinforces the reader’s knowledge of that candidate. Plus, great interactive content is reusable. Consider a news organization that uses an assessment quiz to present each user with a personalized set of content recommendations based on their score.

Interactive content also lets you learn about your audience: not just the topics they’re interested in, but how much they know about that topic.

From news organizations who want to publish the right content, at the right time, for the right audience, to brand managers who need deeper insights into their consumer’s behaviors, interactive content has far-reaching implications for every type of content creator.