Anybody else getting a little tired of being bombarded with 5 ways to do this, 3 reasons for that, or 7 idea that will help you...? Hey, we’re guilty of it too. Some of our top posts use this list format. Just last week we published "5 Unbelievable Neurohacks to Up Your Storytelling Game."
But list posts are common because they work. As the storyteller it’s important that we always take a moment to look at the world around us and do our best to understand why it works the way it does.
So what we have are these titles that seem to draw the audience in. And that’s something storytellers want to do as well, right? When we post a blog, a new video, or anything else–we want the audience to lean in, take a moment to click, and check it out.
Therefore, taking the time to understand why these list formats are so effective can unlock some insight to help us be better storytellers, and pull the audience into our stories.
Let’s take a look at a popular post that we did in the past as an example. It's titled, "4 Killer Light Hacks to Use on Your Next Shoot."
Have you ever taken a moment to look at something like this and think about what happens inside the mind of your audience? It’s a pretty powerful exploration.
First and foremost, the audience gets a very clear idea of what it is that they’re getting. We could have titled it "Lighting tips for your next shoot” but that’s way less tangible than hearing that we have “4 killer lighting hacks…”
First, the list format makes the value of the content more tangible.
List formats give the audience a clear sense of the value they’re going to get if they check out the content. In Muse, we talk about this as the Purpose Pillar of story–what it is that you are going to leave your viewer with. The goal here is to express to your audience something that’s of value to them, in a very clear way, so that they’ll take the time to check out your story.
What I truly appreciate about this is the respect that content marketers have for their audience. They know that it’s on them to provide value for their viewer so that they’ll be motivated to check out what they’ve served up.
As storytellers we often fail to think about the value we’re bringing to our audience. Yet, our audience isn’t viewing our content out of compassion for the time we spent to create it. They’re constantly asking, what’s in it for me? The moment that your story has nothing more to offer them, well, then they’re gone.
As storytellers, what we can really learn from the popularity of the list posts is the power of respecting your audience and considering the value that your story could bring to them.
But it’s more than just that. When we say that there are "4 Killer Light Hacks to Use on Your Next Shoot” it also creates a question in the viewer—what are these hacks? Do I know them?
And as humans, when we have a question we care about and don’t know the answer, we’re driven to find that answer. And, of course, the trick here is that you get the answer to the question by consuming the content.
Some of you may remember a post we did a while back that explored the Plot Pillar, titled "What Is Plot?" and within that we looked at the main function of plot: engagement. In that post, we discuss how one of the main ways that your plot creates engagement is by creating a question. Will they end up together? Will he save the earth? Can Batman defeat Spiderman? And it’s this question, and the promise of an answer, that keeps our audience wrapped within our story until its very end.
So another major insight is the power of creating a question in the mind of your audience. By setting up the 5 things you need to know, we immediately create a question in the mind of our audience and that pulls them closer to our story.
When we take our understanding of storytelling and apply it to the popularity of list posts we can see that it’s far from lucky or random with how effective they are.
A great story needs to offer value for its viewer. And it can keep them engaged by creating a question that they want to know the answer to. That’s the secret behind the power of list posts.
So while we all may be a little tired of seeing another ‘5 ways’ something can be done on our Twitter feed, it’s important that we take a moment and understand why they’re there in the first place—and why they work.
List content capitalizes on some foundational aspects of storytelling: they create focused and tangible content for the audience (Purpose), and they create a question in their minds (Plot, or in other words, engagement).
Whether you write blog posts, social media content, or you tell your stories in video–there is so much power in really creating a valuable experience for our audience.
For further reading, check out our Ultimate Guide to Plot if you’d like to go deeper. It’s a solid post that will give you the two main ways to construct a solid plot that engages every time.