By: Chris Bennett

Taking Social Media Beyond the “Top 10 List”

April 6, 2009


This is a guest post written by Vince Blackham.
Follow him on Twitter

Top 10 Waynes World

With social media reaching near its peak, more and more people and businesses are realizing its importance. Unfortunately for most, they get their ideas from a “bag-and-tag” blog post that claims it has the end-all result to reaching viral success. There’s especially been a lot of chatter on Twitter about people being so called “social media experts/gurus” and, in turn, there have been a bunch of blog posts to ridicule those type of people. One of my favorites on the subject was You’re Not a Social Media Expert, You Idiot (funny read w/ some good insight).

One thing I think I’ve personally seen is the overuse and abuse of the “Top 10” lists. It’s crazy…it’s like some people think they can turn their crappy content into a less-crappy viral piece by chopping it up into 10 pieces. Don’t get me wrong, I love lists and do believe they work fabulously if you put the right amount of effort into it and complement it with great content and supporting images/videos. I definitely think some people have it down to a “T” when it comes to lists (just take a look at Wired – many of those articles get great social love from all over). That’s what I want to get into with this article is placing more emphasis on your content and not taking the easy way out by going straight for a list of some type.

Prepare Your Content Well

I remember reading a great post on DoshDosh a while back (sorry, can’t remember the post) where he went into getting better content into your posts. One thing that stood out most to me was the tip to jot down some of the first things that come to mind (in regards to the article you’re prepping) and then throw that piece of paper (or document) away. THIS is your starting point! Don’t include the obvious info for your viral piece, this will help you go beyond peoples’ expectations and you’ll have a better article because of it.

Sometimes You Don’t Need to Say Anything

I’ve already said how much I like the posts made by Wired, but here’s a great example of an excellent viral piece with ALMOST no content: Top 10 Time-Lapse Videos Show Nature at Work. What an awesome concept! Videos and images are an essential ingredient to your viral souffle (duh). Never underestimate the power of content mixed in with your videos though. One place that does this well is Mixergy. They create great videos of interviews with power-players and then summarize their video with content below (great to watch + Google gets new content = everybody’s happy).

Another great example is: 34 Amazing Tumblr Themes (Twitter Never Looked So Good). If you need to rely on your images/videos, make sure they speak for themselves!

Graphics, Charts & Stats

I’ve got to say, above all, one place that I highly admire for their social efforts is Mint! Not only can they produce insanely killer content like “8 Things You Should Never Buy New” (nearly image-less), but their new wave of “information graphics” are so well put together! In case you haven’t seen any of them, here are a couple I really liked:

Now, I realize many of you are probably like me who couldn’t draw to save their lives. But outsourcing a simple task like this and turning your research into visual points creates a much greater impact on the people who read them. A quick visit to Elance could easily help you find someone who could put your thoughts into graphs for a reasonable price.

Work Backwards

One thing that can force you to be unique is to work backwards. I think a lot of people think “this would be a great top 10 list” and then start thinking of 10 things that they can come up with. Instead, do the opposite; work on your content and research and THEN find if you can segregate that information in 10 (or 8 or 6…whatever) main concepts for a list. This way, you put more emphasis on what people read and you don’t need to pull out 10 things from your ass to make your list.

Think of List-Alternatives

Lists do great, if you get them right, but there are other ways to look at your article before you immediately think of tearing it up into 10 pieces. Here are a couple of my favorites:

Go Back in Time

You don’t need to reach 88 MPH to get there, just grab some images from Flickr and/or Google Images (be sure to reference your source!). No matter what industry you are in, you can show what it used to be like 20, 30 or 100 years ago and how people did the same things. One great ideas was 25 Years of Mac: Classic Macs Still at Work (a great article about a business owner who still uses her old school Macintosh).

Another funny one is What lifestyle gaming pics looked like in the 70’s. It’s always fun to go back and see how stupid or inefficient we were back then.

Just about any industry can do this; Automotive, Marketing, Underwater Basket-Weaving, even Skateboarding: A Radical Collection of Vintage Skateboard Advertisements


These can be a lot of fun to put together. Whether it be a “Pros vs. Cons” type article or like this Battlestar Galactica comparison, you can easily put together a little data that would show the ups and downs to a product, service or style. Apple hit a homerun in their Apple vs. Windows commercials because they detailed out many of the features that people loved and showed how Apple did them better.


Find What People Like

Everyone’s pre-prepping research should involve a few simple steps to make sure you’re going to be heading in the right direction. Twitter Search can be a great way to find information about what’s happening right now and what peoples’ reactions are. Chris did a really good article here about Twitter becoming the most important website since Google (a great read if you haven’t already).

Another quick search on many of the popular aggregates (Reddit, Mixx, Digg, etc) will quickly give you ideas on what to do and what’s been done. If your idea has recently been taken, read through some of those relevant posts and find how you can evolve your idea into something further. Just because it’s been said before doesn’t mean it can’t be built upon by another perspective.

Be sure to put your piece together for YOUR audience of readers, it differs amongst industries and throughout the different social sites (depending on which one you’re targeting). Jane Copeland put together a massively resourceful article on How to Leverage Web 2.0 & Social Media Sites to Market Your Brand & Control Your Message. I highly recommend reading this simply for the knowledge of how each site works and what they’re after.

Another must-read is a collaboration of must-reads over at Traffik’d: 35 Must-Read Articles for Social Media Marketers.

I was going to put together a list of websites that never made the front page of some social websites and tear them apart to find why they didn’t and what they could’ve done to improve, but I think I’ll leave that for another post. Here are a few to look at, feel free to critique/talk about them in the comments below:


Written by Chris Bennett on April 6, 2009

Chris Bennett is the Founder and CEO of 97th Floor. You can connect with him on LinkedIn or follow him below.

Follow me: