When we talk about Building in Public, it comes down to two groups of believers.
One group is more building-oriented. They love building products, and Building in Public is about showing their work → getting some publicity along the way.
The other group is more marketing-oriented. They might also be builders at heart, but they see Building in Public as a way to form relationships and curate a following. The method of sharing publicly gets them exposure to their work. For them, Building in Public is about getting publicity → sharing work along the way.
Why am I bringing this up?
Because this chapter on how to write awesome posts is going to be marketing-oriented. After all, sharing is storytelling.
It doesn't mean I don't believe in the approach of the first group. It is only that my background and experience as a startup founder enable me to look at things from a marketing angle, and I see tremendous value to approach Building in Public this way.
The examples below are centered around blog posts and tweets, but the concepts are applicable to other channels and formats.
1) #1 rule of storytelling = tell the story to your friend
Every time you're about to create content, you can imagine your best friend sitting right in front of you. You're holding a can of soda and a bag of chips, and your friend is looking right at you with a ton of curiosity. How will you tell this story?
This is super tricky, especially if you don’t come from a marketing/communication/writing background. Most of us learn writing in schools, and the default way of writing is structured (and of course boring). But when you think about it, that's not how people like to read.
If you've been reading on the Internet, you see that writing has changed quite a bit in recent years. Blog posts used to be dull, now they're vivid and energetic. Reading them can almost feel like you’re listening to a story.
To learn good writing, we can look at David Perell, known as "The Writing Guy", on how to tell good stories.
Use "And" "But" "So" to start a sentence
It is how we talk in real life, and doing so turns your writing into a conversation between you and your readers.
[Bonus: highlighted in blue] Add in your personal stories to elevate that even more.
Use short sentences and simple words
Shorter sentences get your point to readers quicker, and simple words make your writing accessible to all kinds of readers.
Have shorter paragraphs, even just one sentence
When you have a strong point to make, call it out by giving them a standalone paragraph.
Use clear headings to divide up the storytelling flow
2) Provide so much value in your sharing that surprises readers
Not every single thing you publish online needs to be for Building in Public and not every single post needs to provide value. But, some of your content better be offering great values.
I’ve come across a number of creators saying, "People love sharing successes like how much they're making or how many users they're getting. Even if they start off with a failure story, it always ends up with a happy ending. Why can't I just share my failures?"
Here is the catch. It is not about sharing successes or failures, it is whether the story offers incredible learning value to readers.
Let me give you two scenarios:
- John shares that 2 weeks ago, he created a super useful, action-packed blog post for his followers. He wrote it because they were all asking for it, but the blog post only brings in 1-2 visitors a day. Bummer! [A failure]
- Ivanna shares that 2 weeks ago, she created a super useful, action-packed blog post for her followers. She only had 1-2 visitors reading the blog post ever at first. She wasn't happy about that, so she decided to contact 10 websites to see if she could get featured. Last week, 3 of them posted her blog post. Now there are 100-200 visitors every day! Woohoo! [A failure -> how she turned it around]
John's story is about him and it provides zero value to the readers. However, Ivanna's story teaches readers a brilliant way to get traffic.
What is likely to be in the readers’ minds when they read Ivanna's story? "I have the same struggle, and let me try contacting some websites!" Ivanna's sharing is educational and it triggers her readers to take action. Powerful.
3) What makes a good story?
No matter what format you share, you need a good story.
I read an amazing book about storytelling called Building a StoryBrand by Donald Miller. I highly recommend you to check out his book because it has helped me a lot from all perspectives, not just for Building in Public.
To create a good story, we can study how a movie is produced.
Think about what goes into a movie: there is always the main character who is also the victim, a bad person, a hero to help the main character, a low and a climax, and a happy ending.
Now we can revisit why it is a good story to start with a failure then turn it into a success? Because victim → low → hero → climax → happy ending.
Obviously, you're not creating a movie (or a brand according to this book’s title), so you don’t have to follow it 100%. But you should at least understand the flow of storytelling.
However, there is one thing that is different about writing content online versus producing a movie. When you're creating a movie, you can leave the exciting ending till the end for the audience to find out. This is because they're stuck in the cinema or they've already dedicated 2 hours of their lives to watch your movie.
Creating content online is different. 99.99% of the time, you want to put the ending upfront so the audience knows what they're getting. Once you have their attention, then you can tell the story from the very beginning.
Here is a good example from Gagan Biyani, co-founder of Udemy and co-founder of a new platform for Cohort-Based Courses. Click on it to see the full thread.
4) You only have 2 seconds
It is hard to believe that you only have 2 seconds to catch someone's attention.
I don't have scientific evidence to support this claim, but you know what I mean.
Most people read the first line and quickly decide whether they want to keep going. This means that your opening line in any blog post, tweet, video, etc. is your most important line.
For that, we should learn from marketer Dave Gerhardt who is known for writing killer opening lines.
“Just tell me the price over email. Please.”
We read this line and start to wonder what he wants to say, so we read on.
If you want to learn more from Dave, I previously wrote a post dissecting how he writes on LinkedIn.
The opening line is so important that you should always come back to revisit it after you’re done with all the writing. Some people prefer a mysterious, clickbaity opening, but I prefer a straight to the point opening. It is better to tell readers directly what they will get, so we're saving everyone's precious time and setting the right expectation.
5) Screenshots to level up the stories
If you have screenshots from your product, email, or anything, you should include them as they add authenticity to your sharing.
When I first launched this guide, I shared the traffic numbers with screenshots from my Google Analytics.
Traditional marketing often encourages us to make things look nice, such as an HTML email template, an infographic, etc. The truth is ... the world doesn't need that anymore.
The more you polish it up, the less authentic you are.
However, there is one exception. For an opening visual like your 1st image on a tweet-thread or your featured image of a blog post, you want to make it appealing because first impressions still count. Then within the thread or blog post, keeping it raw with screenshots can never go wrong.