Are you an expert in quantum physics?
What about performance psychology or interior design? Do you know how to read body language or the Latin origin of words? If we are being honest, the answer to most of these questions will be a resounding “no.” While many of us would call ourselves experts on one or two subjects, we all know there will always be someone out there smarter than us on a particular topic. And for those who regularly create content: this is great news. You don’t have to be the expert to write expertly.
With a quick internet search, we are able to access an expert on a whole universe of topics. What does this provide, if not infinite facts and knowledge at our fingertips? It provides the basic structure for compelling blog posts.
This video on Dark Patterns is a fascinating one, bringing us into the not so innocent world of digital companies’ never-ending quest to maintain engagement with you — the consumer. While you may learn a thing or two about the seedy underworld of unsubscribing, something else may catch your eye as you watch this video — the expert who lays out this complex topic, YouTuber Evan Puschak, is actually not an expert at all. Did you watch the video? Listen to the narrator? Puschak wrote that script in the form of an essay and he borrowed all of the expertise from work published by others elsewhere.
But perhaps even more intriguing than the authoritative video itself is the structure that Puschak uses to create this compelling piece of content. Employing an organizing principle that asserts a claim, offers proof, and provides a solution, the video essayist is able to access an interesting topic, reference the expert at hand, and implement strategic skills to create content that is compelling and engaging for clients and prospects alike.
The Problem and the Proof
Why do I like the Dark Patterns example of a video essay? Two reasons. First, it exposes a crystal clear framework for developing an informative, engaging essay on a given topic. It does this by making an immediate claim or offer of new information and provides a compelling description of a problem: a problem with websites that is so pernicious that it “tricks users.” The example provided is the largest, most used e-commerce company in the world. This is a big problem. And it’s right under our noses.
The essayist then cites an expert who has devoted ten years to studying the problem and even coined the phrase commonly used to describe it. Later, four more examples of proof are given and finally, we’re given a solution which we are now well prepared to employ: “Be aware.”
We’ve just become aware, so the audience feels empowered to address this problem. To top it off, the author suggests we “shame the companies that use [dark patterns.]” The author has us right where he wants us: we’re on the internet, watching a video on a social network — we are ready and prepared to shame companies. If you haven’t watched the video yet, take five minutes. Once you do I think you’ll pretty upset these manipulative companies and be compelled to act.
Now, here’s that persuasive and informative framework stripped down to its essentials:
Sourcing Experts for a Solution
The second reason I really like this example of a video essay is the expert. But it’s not the insights of the expert, the expert’s turn of phrase or notoriety that draws me in. I like the expert because he has done all the leg work for the essayist. The expert is the source of all the expertise in the video essay, allowing the essayist to focus on writing and crafting a compelling experience for the audience.
Uncovering a topic expert (or multiple experts!), is the key to crafting an engaging essay with the claim-proof-solution framework. The essayist actually doesn’t know (or need to know) anything about the problem or how to solve it. She just needs to know how to write a more compelling story about it — an essay that will capture an audience and enthrall them. In the process, the essayist gains influence and notoriety with the audience members. She has effectively captured the value from the knowledge work of the expert and presented it as her own by putting it in her own words and form — one best suited to her audience.
Is this stealing? Yes. But it is also stolen with integrity:
- The expert is well cited and credited in the essay, they benefit from this additional piece of content based upon their prior work. Experts are experts, and frequently not widely-known, and benefit from the essayist’s mention.
- The essayist has a unique skill and talent for conveying expert information in a format her audience enjoys far better than that of the original expert. She is in effect expanding the expert’s audience while making her audience more informed. A win/win as they say.
The Framework in Action
Consider a time when a topic or story piqued your interest, but the transition between “brilliant idea” and “consumable blog post” was difficult to suss out. Whether it is the latest gadget, or a quote from your most inspired investor, the claim, proof, solution can help any topic be transformed into engaging, compelling content your future clients can’t wait to interact with.