The Benefits of Entertaining While You Inform

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"No, I never feel apologetic about an audience having fun."

That quote comes from twice-nominated-for-a-Pulitzer-Prize playwright Sarah Ruhl in an interview about her play Stage Kiss, which I saw here last night. The interviewer apologized for calling the play a "crowd-pleaser," like there was something wrong with that. The play is very funny. And Ruhl made it clear that yes, she has ideas to get across but she also has to entertain.

Gamification works because it entertains and informs. AT BIMS, Joe May, marketing director of Pro Farmer, said that their content has to "educate, entertain and inspire."

So how can our content entertain? Let us count four ways:

1. Instruct in a fun manner. "What's Wrong With This Picture? The Art of Honest Visualizations" is the inviting headline of a 2015 SIPAward-winning article by Mike Woodward in the newsletter DataInformed from Wellesley Information Services, a UCG Company.

He begins by talking about evolutionary pressure and Florence Nightingale. (She "visually presented her analysis of British deaths in the Crimean War.") His language is bold—"But there's a dark side to the power of charts"—and his subheads engaging—Dodgy Diagrams and Virtuous Visualizations. And he's an insider.

"I'm going to show you some of the tricks of the trade," Woodward writes. "It's based on my own experience and it's idiosyncratic, so please feel free to comment."

2. Create videos that inform. SIPA member Lessiter Media offers an excellently done bi-weekly On The Record Video Newscast through its Farm Equipment website. It is sponsored but that doesn't take away at all from the informative, 10-minute video, which is very professionally hosted by managing editor Kim Schmidt. She reads headlines, gives results of surveys they conduct, and airs interesting interviews with key players.

Skift, a travel publisher, has posted a series of videos from a Global Forum they put on in Brooklyn. Over an eight-week period they'll release each of the three dozen-plus presentations from the event. The video, up now, features Michael Klein, Adobe's head of industry strategy, speaking about the need to simplify the user experience.

3. Tell stories that connect emotionally. A group I've written about before—Museum Hack—is revitalizing art institutions by relating stories to their audience. "Storytelling establishes a universal way of communication," they write. "And because it invites audiences to fill in the blanks with their own experiences, it helps to set emotional connections..."

In fact, Nick Gray, founder of Museum Hack, recently spoke at that aforementioned Skift event, underlining the connection between storytelling and B2B publishing. At my local encounter with a Museum Hack storyteller, she turned a special Whistler room into an engaging and informative narrative about a 19th century family squabble. The audience was hooked.

4. Inject humor judiciously. The artistic director of the theater, Ryan Rilette, came out afterwards last night and said that he knew the play had ideas but has been thrilled with the laughs it's getting. "So we're looking for a similar play for next year and, believe me, they are hard to find."

But effective. After analyzing more than 10,000 highly-shared pieces of content on the web, Buzzsumo mapped each piece of content to an emotion. The top four in the results? Awe, laughter, amusement and joy. Here are a couple B2B examples I found:

- Uberflip got a good reaction with this story: 8 Sites for Free Stock Photos That Don't Look Like Free Stock Photos. It began, "What comes to mind when you hear the term 'stock photo'? Probably a group of people in a well-lit room pointing at graphs or shaking hands. Or women who really, really love salad."

- Hootsuite did a very funny video take on Jimmy Kimmel's "Mean Tweets" series to introduce their new dashboard. Employees read the critical tweets, and then this popped up: "Maybe it's time for a change." The music soared, and beautiful new images appeared. Informative, self-deprecating, put diverse faces to the company and entertained.

"Humor is the number one piece of content out there," said May. "Just be careful that it's of the same quality."

SIPA provides niche publishers and media providers with best practices and trends five days a week through its SIPAlert Daily newsletter. Contact Marija Milivojevic to sign up today. 

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…