What Empathetic Content Writing Can Do for You
By Emma Siemasko on January 15, 2016
As a content marketer, I care about my audience. I want my content writing to be genuinely helpful, and I want to create stuff that makes my readers feel less alone.
Even though I have good intentions, it's sometimes hard to get on the same level as my readers. I find myself so wrapped up in my own struggles that it's difficult to imagine what someone else is going through.
I've seen a lot of articles pop up about empathy lately, and how content marketers can leverage it to create better content. The truth is, empathy isn't like a new software platform that can help us be more efficient. Empathy is about learning to listen to someone else's heart.
As I try to create better resources-ones that solve readers' problems and inspire them to do better work-I'm working to become more empathetic, and I encourage you to do the same.
As content marketers, how can we use empathy to be successful in our efforts? What place does it have in our everyday jobs?
What Is Empathy?
Empathy is the ability to understand and even share the feelings and emotions of someone else.
While sympathy is the ability to feel for someone, empathy is feeling as someone. If you're empathetic, you're putting yourself into someone else's shoes. If you're sympathetic, you have compassion for someone else, and can feel with them. In short, empathy is the ability to imagine that you're someone else.
When it comes to writing content, you want to have empathy for your reader. That way, you'll be able to relate to their problem, and write to solve it. You'll be able to write in a way they can understand.
When you're empathetic, you're imagining someone else's situation, which means that you're required to cast away your own preconceived ideas and judgments. You can only be empathetic when you are truly able to imagine what it might be like to be someone else.
Psychologist Blythe Clinchy says:
"The heart of connected knowing is imaginative attachment: trying to get behind the other person's eyes and 'look at it from that person's point of view.' ...You must suspend your disbelief, put your own views aside, try to see the logic in the idea. You need not ultimately agree with it. But while you are entertaining it you must...'say yes to it.' You must empathize with it, feel with and think with the person who created it."
When you begin writing a new piece of content, you come to the process with a lot of ideas about the person who will be receiving it, as well as what best practices might get you results. However, you need to imagine the reader on the other end, and write to that person. What would you say to this person if you met them at an event? Your content writing should be directed at one person, even though it's applicable to many, and you should write with their logic and thoughts in mind.
Reflect Back What You're Hearing
When you talk to a reader-whether it's on social media, in a comments section, or via email-it's important to listen to what they have to say. Psychologists recommend that you reflect back what you're hearing.
Psychologist Carl Rogers introduced the concept of "reflection" as a way to express your empathy for another person. Rather than position yourself as the knowledgeable counselor, Rogers believed that you should let the person you're talking to-the one that needs help-be the expert. When they tell you something, you should reflect back what they've heard, helping them come to a fuller understanding of what they think and feel. For example, you might say, "It sounds like you're struggling to develop a business process that works" after a reader tells you about their issues retaining clients.
This is a good strategy to use for writing. What have your clients said about their challenges? Turn those into stories. This tactic can work particularly well for writing landing pages when you're trying to show a customer that you understand where they're coming from.
Put Less Weight on Your Own Challenges
When most people think of empathy, they think they should bring their own experiences to the table. "I've been through that before," they say. "I totally understand how others would struggle."
But it turns out that those who have similar past experiences to the person they're talking to can actually be less empathetic. They reason that they've been through it before, forget the pain of the experience, and expect the other person to easily come out on the other side.
If you're expressing empathy, then it needs to be completely about the other person-your reader-and not at all about you. Your own challenges taught you a lot, but don't rely on them as a way to relate to someone else.
How to Inject Empathy into Your Content Writing
Now that you understand the basics of empathy, here's how you can improve your content marketing:
- Talk to your readers. Even though we know we're supposed to understand our readers, many marketers write content blindly, without talking to their audience to understand their biggest struggles. Unfortunately, we can't be fully empathetic if we never pick up the phone to understand what our readers think and feel. Make a list of 5-10 readers that you can reach out to, and give them a call. Ask them what their biggest struggles are, and think about how you can address these struggles in your writing.
- Strive to better their lives. It's not enough to write quick articles that gloss over the details. If you're empathetic, then you're intent on improving your reader's life, and you can't do that with crappy content. Empathy requires you to go deep, meet the reader on their level, and then work with them to get them up to yours.
- Be authentic. Inauthenticity is a huge turn-off. It shows readers that you're not willing to let your guard down to get to know them. Readers can sense inauthenticity as soon as they begin reading an article, so it's important to be authentic and add your own personality into your content writing.
The Power of Empathy
Having empathy can help you relate to your audience so that you can create content that resonates with them. But empathy will help you with a lot more than content-empathy can help you understand your boss, colleagues, and clients. If you're able to deeply understand what someone else is going through, you'll be a better writer, as well as a better marketer.
Want to read more career advice stories for content creators? Subscribe to the Content Standard Newsletter.