Want to Generate Buzz? Make a List

Top 10 lists aren’t just for comedians. Creating one can lead to industry credibility, viral publicity, and new customers for your business.

Among thousands of trade magazines known only within their narrow industries, just one — the music industry publication Billboard — became a household name. How? It made a list.

On January 4, 1936, Billboard struck a chord with radio, vinyl and juke box listeners everywhere by publishing a ranking of the best-selling records. Called the Hit Parade, the inaugural list was topped by jazz violinist Joe Venuti’s “Stop! Look! Listen!” Seventy-five years later, Venuti is gone and vinyl records are relics of the past. But thanks to its weekly lists, Billboard still makes news with its roundups of chart-topping songs, albums, movies and, as of 2004, even ringtones.

5 ways numbered lists create buzz

5. Lists make news

Conduct an online search for “Billboard lists” and you’ll reach millions of results — proof that editors love lists, as do consumers, bloggers and social media users.

Conduct the same search for “top 10 lists” and the results number in the hundreds of thousands — even more if you search through blogs. A search for “top 5 lists” fares even better.

Lists work because, unlike so many other news releases, they make a clear promise. They tell journalists and consumers exactly what they’re going to get and they assure readers that the information is concise, organized and authoritative. As a result, they get picked up and passed along — which brings me to reason No. 4 to make a list.

4. Lists get talked about, retweeted and reposted

Social media analytics company Sysomos released 2010 findings showing that 71 percent of all tweets get no response whatsoever, and that only 6 percent get retweeted. But according to viral marketing specialist Dan Zarrella, tweets with links get retweeted at triple the rate of those without. Also — more news in favor of lists — “top” and “10” are among the 20 most retweeted words.

Add the fact that many users retweet without looking at the contents of the link they’re sharing, and you can see how lists — which make an immediate and understandable promise just through their short title — get shared with confidence.

3. Online users search for lists

In addition to having your list shared by users, writing a list is a good way to get found online. In an effort to refine results down to only the best of the lot, people type “top 5” or “top 10” in front of whatever it is they’re looking for. So instead of writing a release on how to stage homes for resale, a realtor would fare better with a findable, shareable, retweetable list of “Top 5 Home Staging Secrets.”

2. Lists establish you as an authority

By compiling a list, you share your knowledge — acquired by your business or otherwise — and become recognized as an authority. Your options for lists are limitless: “The top 10 trends we’re seeing this year,” “Five ways this year’s buyers are different,” or “The 10 most frequently asked questions about X.” The key is to find an area where your unique knowledge overlaps with widespread market interest.

Consider the difference between “Five ways to use social media” and “Five ways social media can land you a job.” Guess which one is more apt to get passed along?

1. No one leaves before learning what tops the list

Whether their own opinions or experiences are affirmed or not, readers go all the way through lists to see whether they agree or disagree. Seattle-based arts and technical writer Sam Machkovech puts it perfectly when he says, “The top ten list is a classic carrot-dangler. … The journey from bottom to top tickles our inner list-makers, like when we introduce a roster of nominees before opening the envelope.”

If you know things other people don’t, make lists

Deliver your lists to editors. Post them on your business blog or Facebook page. Send them to customers, prospects and colleagues. Tweet them — and retweet them after they’re retweeted. If you include your business name every single time, your lists will become brand messengers.

Lists work hard — yet they require surprisingly little work to produce results for you and your business.

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