By Jessica Brown published December 21, 2011

How to Create Content that Ignites Reader Conversation

In order to create content that ignites a two-way conversation, you first need to visualize your reader or viewer in front of you. Really picture that person in the room with you as you craft your content. What would you say to them in person? What would your mannerisms be? And what would they say back to you? Try to capture these conversational dynamics in your content.

These tactics increase your authenticity and connection to the audience because the message feels like a real conversation, not just a one-way statement.

Two companies that create two-way conversations well are Google and Etsy.  For those that don’t know Etsy, it’s an artist and crafters’ haven — a marketplace online. And for those that don’t know Google, you should just stop reading now.<wink>

Google’s lesson: Stir curiosity and ask for a response

Google’s high school accolade would be “Most Popular.” Not only does Google come up in multiple conversations a day, it creates its own conversations with users. For example, Google’s latest conversation-starter is “A Google a Day,” a daily puzzle game that sends users on a virtual scavenger hunt. Google advertises the game online and in traditional media outlets, like newspapers.

Google stirs curiosity by posing a random and peculiar question to the reader each day, and then sending them to a website to check their answer. There is no right way to find the answer, but there is only one right answer.

Therefore, users are challenged to be creative when solving the puzzle. They could ask a friend what she thinks (which is what I did when I first played), or they could Google it, which of course adds to the popularity and ranking of Google as the most used search engine (TechZoom, 2011).

This puzzle game ignites a curiosity spark in viewers and asks for a response. Once that viewer responds, they get an immediate answer back from Google — bringing the conversation full circle. And the following is what we all hope to see after we enter our answer: a big green “correct.”

Figure 1: “a Google a Day” answer on November 16, 2011 (


Etsy’s lesson: Keep it simple and relevant

We’re not all billion-dollar companies like Google, with the resources to create a website devoted to a customized game. But we all can use social networks. From Etsy, this simple two-way conversation lesson comes from its Facebook page. Periodically, Etsy posts a question in a picture format, as seen below.

Figure 2: Etsy’s Facebook page (November, 2011)

This simple piece of content is a prime example of an effective  two-way conversation-starter for the following reasons:

  1. Etsy is seen as a human brand because the photo is of an actual employee with a handwritten question. There is no graphic manipulation or animation to distract.
  2. The audience, primarily crafters and artists, can see Etsy’s commitment to its “practice what you preach” mentality in the handmade chalkboard and strap.
  3. The copy is relevant. Heading into the holiday season, people are thinking about what gifts to get for their loved ones and friends. People are apt to respond and read others’ comments because the question is already on their minds.

As evidenced by almost 300 comments and 70 “likes”, this simple and relevant Facebook question ignites a conversation.

The important lesson learned from these Google and Etsy examples is to appeal to human curiosity, making your content clever and personable, while asking for a reply back. Once you’ve ignited the two-way conversation, remember to keep your audience stoked.

What is a clever campaign your company has created to generate a conversation?

Author: Jessica Brown

Jessica Brown loves to consume and create quality content. Currently she serves as the content manager for Citrix Online, makers of GoToMeeting, GoToMyPC, etc. She manages the marketing content creation program and frequently speaks on webinars with experts and influencers. She believes that ideas should be expressed, people should create honest work, and quality always reigns over quantity. You can follow her on Twitter @ContentCr8.

Other posts by Jessica Brown

  • Nick Stamoulis

    The key is to show some personality.  If your content is boring and robot-like, people won’t care much to interact with it.  

    • Jessica Brown

      Exactly, Nick – in an age where we’re all used to casual conversations on the web, it’s fair to say that being real and using “human speak” is the way to go. Robots are cool and all, but they are still not real peeps 🙂

  • Local Search SEO

    I read somewhere not so long ago similar concept(s) on how to get your audience to engage more actively with your content.

    1. Educate 2. Motivate 3. Stimulate

    option B

    1. Question 2. Controversy 3. Compliment

  • Allison from Miracle

    I love the idea of piquing curiosity to start a
    conversation.  What do you think is the
    best way to get started, though?  Etsy
    and Google already have a giant following- driving traffic to our blog initially
    is the biggest challenge.

    • Jessica Brown

      Hi Allison – Thanks for asking this. A lot of marketers have this concern (including myself).

      Based on experience and observing companies/personalities who have done this right, here is my advice:

      Partner up. With every content partner you work with (i.e. third parties who help create your content to lend credibility), have them promote and share the content on their end. That way you get the added-value of having their followers exposed to you–and hopefully follow you as well. I’ve done this a couple of ways:

      1. Pick partners to create content that already have a following.
      2. Write promotion of content in your contracts with partners.
      3. Make sure they put your handle and contact info when they promote to their audience.

      In addition to partnering, I would suggest going out to other blogs or sites that would be interested in your content. For example, with this post I tweeted to Etsy. They then replied @ContentCr8 Thanks for the love. Then the next day I had an Etsy follower follow me. It’s a snowball once you get going 🙂

      Good luck!

      PS – Your company has a very clean site. I love that your social icons are easy to find – top right.

  • Barry Feldman

    Love your question (because I have a fun answer). I believe I started a couple hundred, or maybe over a thousand conversations with a t-shirt:

    • Jessica Brown

      Barry – that is a rad idea. Not only is the shirt a practical way to keep track of the people you meet, but it’s a great conversation starter to make friends and potential business partners. Also, I love the fact that you don’t have to hold on to a million business cards and input them. Hard copy is so 1999 😉

      I think you’re on to something. Maybe more people will use this tactic. Thanks for sharing.

  • Platinum Resource

    It makes a lot of sense to stoke human curiosity, but keeping it simple. But how do find out what interests your audience when they are so varied? Just keep throwing out stuff and see what sticks?

    • Jessica Brown

      I would say stop throwing out stuff to your audience. Take the metrics you’ve gathered about what you’ve already done (be that “likes,” open rates, etc.), and use the best performing pieces to inform your next piece of content. Use a similar message or format.

      Additionally, you should narrow your audience into buckets and promote to them separately. Develop buyer personas and target them with content they care about.

      Overall advice: 
      1. Bucket your audience and develop/promote separately to them.
      2. Use metrics from your past content to see what works best in terms of message and format.

      Hope that helps!

  • Elizabeth McGee

    It makes a lot of sense to go after a reader’s curiosity and then encourage conversation by asking for a response. Always be asking questions and seeking responses, especially if it’s a topic that hits home for certain people, which also makes finding your exact target market that much more important 🙂