Fluff Equals Failure

  • February 23, 2012 by Corbett Barr
  • 42 Comments

Today I interviewed Derek Halpern from Social Triggers for an upcoming post here at Think Traffic.

As usual it was an insanely useful conversation. As we were talking, my mind kept wandering with ideas for things I need to implement and change on my own sites. You’ll see what I mean when you watch the interview.

Derek is one of the smartest marketing guys I’ve ever met. Seriously. I have a new breakthrough after nearly every time we talk, and this was no exception.

Derek has grown his blog from nothing to over 17,000 subscribers in just 11 months. His blog has grown faster than almost anyone I’ve seen come online in the past few years.

The interview will go up in the next week or two, and this is definitely one to watch. Sign up for email updates from me so you don’t miss out.

But something else also happened today.

After I hit “stop” on the recording button, Derek and I kept talking for another half hour. I asked him for some advice about some big changes I’m planning to make in the coming months.

(some of the best conversations happen before and after interviews when the cameras aren’t rolling — maybe I’ll start secretly recording ‘em for you :) )

Anyway, I wish we had kept recording during that last 30 minutes today because Derek and I started talking about what it takes to get to the “next level” (whatever that might mean for you right now).

Something stood out in our conversation that I want you to think about right now.

This thing is so obvious and so easy to change that you’ll be able to use this advice right away.

Your content has a job to do. It has to do something much deeper than just attract retweets or rank for a search keyword.

To build a thriving audience of true fans who keep coming back, tell the world about you and buy from you, your content has to educate, inspire, entertain and change lives.

You have to deliver results for your readers and customers if you want to experience results yourself.

Yes, we’re talking about writing epic shit here, but hopefully you already know you have to do that.

Let’s look at this problem from the opposite angle today.

Let’s talk about fluff.

What is fluff?

Fluff is what you publish when you’re not focused on helping your readers achieve results. It’s what you publish when you’re just trying to make a deadline. It’s what comes out when you copy someone else’s ideas instead of using your own creativity.

Fluff happens when you let your guard down or stop challenging yourself.

Fluff equals failure.

We’re all guilty of publishing fluff from time to time. I’ve done it plenty of times. Even Derek has done it on occasion.

What matters is your fluff-to-epic-shit ratio.

What’s your ratio right now?

How many fluff posts do you publish for every epic post?

The better the ratio (fewer fluff posts to each epic post), the bigger and stronger your audience will grow.

In the beginning, your ratio is even more important. When you’re new, you don’t have a backlog of epic content to maintain your reputation for you. Every post you publish is critical.

When you’re starting out, too much fluff can kill any growth potential you might have.

Eventually as you build a reputation, fluff won’t damage you as much, but it will keep you from growing very quickly. It’s the two-steps-forward, one-step-back phenomenon.

Each fluff post you publish is a step back.

Fluff damages your reputation and hinders your progress. It stagnates your growth and keeps you from reaching the next level.

The more competitive your topic, the less you can afford to publish fluff.

Don’t freeze up.

One reaction to thinking about the fluff you’ve published might be to freeze up and start worrying that nothing is worth publishing.

Don’t do that.

Instead, start by thinking about your best content. What made is special? What were you trying to accomplish with it?

Then, be honest and take a look at the fluff you’ve published. Where did you go wrong? How did the fluff slip through the cracks?

Now, commit to not publishing any more fluff.

If that means missing your content schedule, so be it. If it means you have to work harder on each post, do what it takes.

Aim higher.

Before publishing any post, honestly ask yourself these questions:

  • Would I take the time to read this post if someone else had written it?
  • Would reading this post be worth my time?

If the answers are “no,” there’s a good chance the post isn’t worth publishing.

Back to the drawing board.

Of course, you have to put yourself in the position of your readers. If you’re writing for beginners but you’re no longer a beginner yourself, think back to when you were starting out and ask yourself the questions above as if you were answering back then.

What fluff isn’t.

Don’t confuse fluff with posts that just aren’t well received.

Sometimes you have the best intentions and a post still falls flat.

That’s bound to happen.

Start with the right intentions before creating every piece of content and your writing will become much more fluff-free.

You have to experiment wildly with different types of content in order to find out what works. Some of these experiments will succeed and others won’t.

This experimentation is necessary. Fluff isn’t.

Make sure you understand the difference.

The Fluff Antidote

Ideally, you should ask yourself the questions I proposed above before you start creating each piece of content.

Before you start writing a post, shooting a video or producing a podcast, think about your goals. If you’re just hoping for a retweet or search ranking, think again. If you’re just trying to fill a hole in your schedule, hit the brakes.

Aim to inspire, educate, entertain and change lives.

Think about the actions you want your readers to take. Think about the results they might get from taking those actions.

Start from that point of mind and your fluff ratio will improve dramatically.

Don’t write just to fill a schedule, write to effect change.

Now take action.

Go take a look at your content archives.

Be honest with yourself.

How much fluff have you been producing? How can you improve your fluff ratio?

You know you have some incredible content inside you waiting to be shared. Don’t give yourself any other option but to let that incredible content out.

Ditch the fluff and start growing your audience like never before.

Written by . Corbett is cofounder of Fizzle, a place for creative entrepreneurs, writers, makers, coders and artists, all working to support themselves doing what they love independently on the Internet. Follow Corbett on on Twitter.


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Shamelle@BetterBloggingWays February 23, 2012 at 6:32 am

Not many people can produce “epic” posts continuously and sometimes they tend to just “publish”, just for the sake of publishing.

“Every post should solve a problem for your readers. If it doesn’t, delete it.” This is a slogan I try to live by.
No fluff.. Shamelle ;-)

Corbett Barr February 23, 2012 at 7:52 am

You’re completely right. It’s impossible to produce “epic” content every time, but most content producers could easily avoid much more fluff by using a mantra like you suggest.

Hector Cuevas February 23, 2012 at 9:31 am

I read your comment after I left mine.. and I have to say, I’m guilty of this. Maybe it was the pressure of keeping a certain posting schedule, or the fear of my readers going away – but I can see now how publishing fluff (or stuff that’s not remarkable) more often can be detrimental to your blogging goals.

James Kirk February 23, 2012 at 6:38 am

Wow! Thanks. Thanks a lot. Thanks for this great post. And thanks for pointing out I am either a spectacular failure of a blogger. Or I am an amazingly successful fluffer :| . Seriously, good stuff, much appreciated!

Corbett Barr February 23, 2012 at 7:52 am

Let’s assume you’re neither of those James :) Glad to help in any case.

Stewart February 23, 2012 at 7:30 am

“What matters is your fluff-to-epic-shit ratio.”

Funniest comment I’ve read in a while… but also one of the best.

Sometimes “Fluff” is rehashing your Epic content as a reminder, but don’t be confused, this is still “fluff”. It’s just OK fluff. So, is ALL epic content really possible? Probably not. Is it even the best thing?

Considering sometimes you want to step back and “regroup” the new followers, it’s good to throw in that kind of “fluff”. However, something with no content what-so-ever? Well… we should all know better by now.

Good article Corbett. Looking forward to the actual interview.

Corbett Barr February 23, 2012 at 7:54 am

Regrouping for new followers is certainly not fluff. It’s useful for existing readers to be reminded about why your site exists as well.

Gregory Ciotti February 23, 2012 at 7:38 am

One of the best metaphors I’ve heard about this is food related (I’m Italian, go figure :) ).

The fine meal to the quick snack, many folks can’t take the time to enjoy a fine meal, but the rewards are so much greater than stuffing your face with “filler”.

The problem is that the cheap snacks sometimes work too well when it comes to superfluous numbers.

An example (I won’t name names) I noticed came from two recent posts on Copyblogger: one was an appeal to the “quick-n-easy” crowd and got a ton of retweets, while offering little of value.

The other was long, in-depth, and had a ton of strategies, but wasn’t easily digested, so it got less exposure.

On your own blog though, that truly valuable post that might not have “quick-n-easy” appeal is typically the one that creates true engagement, or is the one that really shows you are writing with meaning to your true followers.

And I’ll take a single loyal reader over 50 “browsers” any day.

Corbett Barr February 23, 2012 at 8:02 am

I’m not sure I would call either of the types of posts you mentioned above “fluff” really. I assume both were useful in some way. Fluff to me is just calendar filler and generally a waste of time to read.

I think your bigger point is the difference between just getting traffic vs. building a thriving audience. Traffic is fun, but it won’t pay the bills by itself. That traffic has to exist for a deeper reason. Those visitors have to know who you are and how you can help, entertain or inspire them.

It’s definitely possible to drive traffic with deeply engaging (hence more valuable) posts as well. Epic content still needs great headlines. Meaningful content can be just as viral as fluffy stuff. It’s just harder to create, and that’s the real challenge of creating content.

Hector Cuevas February 23, 2012 at 9:17 am

Fluff-to-epic-shit ratio.. that’s a new one.. I like it :)

I wrote a post a few months back titled, “If It’s Not Remarkable, Why Publish It?” – the point was that we can’t be remarkable every time we write – the same way that not every post is going to be Epic.. it’s not sustainable.

I’ve definitely written some fluffy posts – mostly when I was stuck and couldn’t think of anything to write.. and I’m sure we can all tell when we’re about to read fluff.

- Headlines aren’t compelling
- Opening sentence doesn’t grab you
- You get this feeling like, “I’ve read this before..”

…but there’s definitely truth to writing content that gets people results.. I think that’s the fastest way to build trust and authority.

Always leave your blog with food for thought Corbett.. thanks

Corbett Barr February 23, 2012 at 1:12 pm

That’s a great question Hector. Should you publish at all if you don’t have anything worthwhile to say?

Are there ways to push yourself harder when your in the “fluff creative zone?”

I think this is all part of growing as a blogger. Being aware of the damage that mediocre posts can do is a good starting point.

Mike Long February 23, 2012 at 9:39 am

What an excellent point!

For years, the concept of “fluff” was discussed regarding ebooks. In the early years of internet marketing, ebooks quickly spiraled out of control in length. It got to the point of being absolutely ridiculous – a basic primer on SEO that shouldn’t have taken more than 20-30 pages become 350 pages of garbage.

I think it can be tougher on a blogger though…especially in the early days of a new site, when you don’t have the benefit of reader feedback. What you think is “epic shit” might actually just be fluff to others. My most recent post is a good example of that. It’s huge, but is it useful? Is it epic? Ultimately my readers will decide, but it can be a fine line to navigate in the early days without others around to help you determine what is and what isn’t “awesomeness”. :)

-Mike

Corbett Barr February 23, 2012 at 1:17 pm

Hey Mike, the early stages are definitely challenging as a content producer. You definitely have to experiment, despite having limited feedback. But if you really produce something epic, you’ll know, even if your audience is small.

Justin February 23, 2012 at 10:54 am

Great post, Corbett…one of the best I’ve read in a while and really applies to me right now.

We find ourselves bouncing back and forth between giving very specific information about how to work with niche sites and more general internet marketing issues, our successes/failures, etc. Some of our audience likes the balance, but others are more focused on one area or the other, I think.

Our “nuts and bolts” posts are quite useful, I think…but lack some of the fun/excitement that the other posts and podcasts have. I’m not sure either are “fluffy” exactly, but the non-nuts-and-bolts posts do tend to sound a bit more general, I guess.

I just wrote a post that I almost didn’t publish. I was writing it and about halfway through I realized I didn’t think it was terribly great. Still, I thought it had a few points that were worthwhile and published anyway. :-) Need to write more epic shit though, seriously….thanks, man!

Corbett Barr February 23, 2012 at 1:19 pm

Hey Justin, it sounds like you’re publishing to accomplish a goal in all cases, which is a great thing. Those posts might not be epic blockbusters, but they’re helping people, engaging your audience and providing value. That doesn’t sound fluffy to me.

Monica February 23, 2012 at 11:10 am

After reading this, I’m thinking I should actually add “fluff” to our content, because we usually post financial articles, and let’s face it, it’s not always exciting to read about money! I’d be interested to hear some thoughts on our content from people outside of the personal finance sphere to get a better perspective. Your post is definitely making me rethink some things, thank you for sharing.

Corbett Barr February 23, 2012 at 1:24 pm

I get what you’re saying Monica. In your case, I wouldn’t call those new article types “fluff” though. You can be entertaining and inspirational (instead of boring old educational) without being fluffy. You can still help people and accomplish goals with those posts too.

Better yet, combine entertainment or inspirational content with your educational components in the same post. That’s a great recipe for making new breakthroughs.

Shaun @ Money Cactus February 23, 2012 at 1:37 pm

I really try to steer clear of fluff, but it has meant that I don’t post as often. I’d rather be 100% happy with what I produce though. A good lesson I learned was when I first started submitting guest posts to bigger blogs. You will soon know if the content is fluff!

Dror February 23, 2012 at 1:51 pm

This surly wasn’t fluff content :)

Great stuff here and I totally get your point. When I think about it, I think only Glen Allsop from Viperchill is only posting epic stuff with no fluff. Not sure if no fluff is the right way to go since it would be very hard to produce epic content on continuous basis.

I think that sticking to a posting schedule (2-3 posts per week) is a sure way to end up with plenty of fluff since not many bloggers can produce so much great content. Shifting focus from just posting new stuff to posting great and truly valuable stuff is the way to go.

Hope I can do that on my blog in 2012 :)

Thomas Frank February 23, 2012 at 1:56 pm

The fluff-to-epic-shit ratio is something I’ve been trying to improve on ever since I started reading blogs like Zen Habits, Man Vs. Debt, and of course ThinkTraffic.

When I started blogging, my main inspiration sources were the other blogs in my niche – HackCollege, CollegeBeing, and others like those. I wanted to build a blog like those ones because that’s what I thought it took to be successful in my niche.

Eventually, though, I realized something. Whenever I’d go to those blogs, I’d usually spend most of my time analyzing design elements or stats – but NOT reading their content! I realized that because they tried to post very frequently, a lot of posts just seemed to be “alright” – not epic.

On the other hand, when I go to blogs like ThinkTraffic or Zen Habits, I always sit down and actually read entire articles. And I share them. And comment on them.

So I’ve been trying really hard to publish more epic content lately. I recently published an 11,000 word post. Sure, it took way longer to write than a regular post – but it also got a lot more traction!

Okto February 23, 2012 at 5:34 pm

I like this post and really enjoy to read it. Nice work Corbett!

I like to share insight from me (the start-up bloggers). That situation always happen to me back then. But I think there is cause for this. Well, let’s say if I search Google about “How to Make a Good Blog” there will be one strong messages … keep making content constantly! and many high-profile bloggers back-up this statement with quality proof!. That will make newbie blogger doesn’t have any chances but make new content daily or weekly (maybe include the fluff one). That was happened to me too.

I agree with Shamelle statement “Not many people can produce “epic” posts continuously and sometimes they tend to just “publish”, just for the sake of publishing.” ( because all the sources say so that push many bloggers race for content updates)

Until I find your blog thinktraffic.net that has changed my mindset about this situations and make me more comfortable in doing my own business from my own blog. Now I just focus on what value I can provide and write my own voices.

Thanks Corbett

Janus February 23, 2012 at 6:28 pm

“your content has to educate, inspire, entertain and change lives.”

“You have to deliver results for your readers and customers if you want to experience results yourself.”

If fluff equals failure, then I think the above statements are really the keys to success. I think you have achieved that in this great, inspiring post Corbett.

Thanks for the great work!

Rosemary Jayne February 24, 2012 at 8:04 am

I have a tag in Evernote called “This needs to be better” in this tag you can find all the stuff that I worked on and then realised was definitely not good enough to be shown to other people. The idea is I will go back and re-work these posts and make them into something epic. However not all content can be saved.

Sometimes a little bit of fluff is good though – like the edge of a hood. If it’s something that lets your readers know more about you so they can relate to you better, it might not solve a problem of theirs – but it will result in better engagement. You just have to be careful about which bits of fluff you let out, otherwise the down from the entire coat will be covering your blog.

Now, I’m off to analyse my blog archives and find all the bits of fluff that don’t belong.
(P.S. Sorry about the random coat analogy but it’s what popped into my head!)

Todd Kuslikis February 24, 2012 at 7:37 pm

The fluff-to-epic ratio is huge. You know, I hired someone a little while back to write articles. She was good but the posts weren’t epic. I realize how much of a mistake this was.

I think, even it takes a week to write a post, it needs to truly help the reader in a deep and meaningful way.

Very helpful articel Corbett!

Todd

Lewis LaLanne aka Nerd #2 February 25, 2012 at 1:26 pm

I just finished taking 180 pages of notes on the beast that is Brendon Burchard’s Total Product Blueprint course. Half of the course was designed to show you how to create killer content for the 12 different types of products/services.

Like you learned a couple things from Derek, I learned a ton from Brendon and I thought I’d share some of the insights I picked up from this guy who’s built up a $4 million dollar information business in 24 months . . .

Great products differentiate you in your market. Especially if it’s crowded. He believes Total Product Blueprint is one of the best out there when it comes to showing you how to teach people – even if you don’t know what to teach yet.

Here’s some of the key lessons he passed on to me in his killer content on how to keep the fluff out of your content . . .

First Step: Understand Your Role As A Teacher

It doesn’t matter how you’re serving up content, you need to know your role in this expert industry.

Your role is to Inspire and Instruct people to increase the quality of their lives by achieving a specific outcome.

One way to approach the task of becoming a guru is to just lay out textbooks. People don’t want tactics alone. They only endured this in school because someone made them and as soon as no one could make them endure them, they quit reading them.

People prefer to be inspired to transcend the place they are now and shown the path of least resistance that leads them to their destination.
When creating content you always want to be thinking, “Will this inspire people?” not “Will this instruct people?”

Next thing you need to know is who is the perfect prospect for your inspiration and instruction.

He believes that what you’ve been taught about having to narrow down your niche to the minutia – age, sex, personal preferences, etc. is a myth. He doesn’t like the idea of thinking a super narrow niche is the path to success.

The general dreams, hopes, aspirations, frustrations, and desires of your audience is enough to get started.

If you’re good at something and you want to share what you know, you probably already know your audience because you’re one of them. What’s cool about this business is that you can be teaching what you wanted to know to other people who are like you were when you started.

Second Step: Keep Outcomes As The Prize To Be Had By Your Perfect Prospect

The main question you need to find answers to is, “What does my perfect prospect want to achieve?”

You’re driving towards showing someone how to do something specific or be something specific rather than just fuzzy, blurry, abstract theory.

Blurry Example: “Have better relationships”. That’s broad and undefined. “Stop Fighting” is specific.

Theory, aka useful but incomplete information, leads to people being inspired but not having practices to do anything new to lead them towards their desired outcome.

Be Sure To Include These Core Components In All Of Your Content

1. Based On a Problem

You always want to focus people on what the problem is and how these steps you’re showing them are helping them move away from it. All great marketing is based on this.

The only reason people will ever give you the time of day is if you’re a solution to the problems and hurdles in the way of their desires.

2. Possibility Of Success

People always need to see how it’s possible to go from where they are to where they want to be. Theory doesn’t do this. Stories/examples do.

3. Clarity On How To Get The Job Done

People thrive on paint by the number guidance.

4. Your Personal Story

He believes your brand and your products need to revolve around you and your personality. The reason you weave this in is so that you and your content lands on someone and feels relevant and real. People won’t believe the message if they don’t believe the messenger.

5. Map Showing How To Get From Where They Are To Where They Want To Be

People need to see you have logical steps waiting for them that will lead to them from where they are to where they want to be.

6. Optimism

No matter how your perfect prospects consume your content – video, brail, reading, audio, they need to experience a message of hope – your belief in what’s possible for them to achieve. Think Tony Robbins here.

Your content needs to radiate energy. Your writing can’t be boring. Your voice can’t be monotone. Your physiology can’t be tired. Not if you want your content to be perceived as being world class.

He believes one of the key reasons you don’t have as much money as you want in life is because you’re not expressing yourself as dynamically as possible.

I can’t recommend Brendon’s content highly enough! This guy REALLY knows his shit! And on top of this he’s a great trainer. Anyone looking to improve how they convey their content as well as the quality of it would definitely be served by seeking this guy’s advice.

Corbett Barr February 26, 2012 at 12:08 pm

Wow, powerful stuff. Thanks so much for sharing Lewis. I agree completely.

How do you plan to implement these strategies yourself?

Stanley Lee February 25, 2012 at 5:20 pm

Finally someone who spoke up against the “publish on a schedule at all costs” bullshit. I personally like to take my time to ensure the content I publish is helpful to readers.

Coop February 29, 2012 at 11:50 am

Hey Corbett,
Thanks for this post as it’s an important reminder to “Aim to inspire, educate, entertain and change lives.”

A simple yet important phrase.
Best,
Coop

Brett@Smart Income Investing March 1, 2012 at 6:18 am

Good post! Too many MMO people are writing junk backlinking articles, spinning crap and SEO’ing like it’s 2010 all over again.

As the man says, just write epic content and it will get noticed…

MIKE PURCELL March 1, 2012 at 9:31 am

I think about this subject as well when I go to comment on someones blog these days. My comments can be real fluffy. I guess that is ok, but I really want to start contributing to the conversation and not just saying “great post”. I am a newb so with time I guess. Thx, great post. ; )

Jennifer March 1, 2012 at 12:26 pm

I don’t really understand what sort of posts are considered “fluff”. What one reader considers bland might be extremely useful to a different reader. And I would actually imagine it would be much harder to create a “fluff” post since it’s essentially a post that lacks structure. How else do you write a post unless you’ve already planned what the post will be about?

I’m very new to blogging and I’ve noticed that my posts are all very short and it worries me that they might not be very helpful. But it was either keep it short and focused or try to increase its length and lose its focus. And to be honest, there are a lot of long posts that I just skim through myself.

It’s not us who decide which posts are fluff, but our readers. And for those of us going through a writer’s block for a long period of time, what’s better, posting “fluff” or nothing at all?

Sergio Garcia December 17, 2012 at 6:46 pm

Hey Corbett,

Not sure how I stumbled upon your site, but it has just been in the past few days and I have kept coming back daily for inspiration (and plan to keep coming back more).

I’m a photographer and like every other photographer I started a blog. I know its good for SEO and such, but before I started it I would go around looking at other photographers and most of their posts consisted of their images that were already on their website to begin with or of images that were part of a series on their site, that did not make the final cut.

Of course I did the same, why not? Everyone else was doing it.

I started it in Feb of this year, and the SEO traffic has been good. My blog is bringing in anywhere from 1,500-4,500 views a month. But, most of the content I have written is the same everyone other photographer is doing. Which is pretty much fluff, as you mention.

Nothing really of value for anyone reading it.

Anyway, for quite some time I’ve thought about posting more informative posts on the likes:

• How I lit specific shots of mine, with gear I used
• Photo equipment and gadgets to aid with a photographers workflow I recommend
etc

I actually just started doing this last week and have a few more posts scheduled for post this week.

(Am I ranting right now??) ;)

Basically the purpose of this comment is to let you know that your information has been so valuable to me these past few days, and I can’t wait to see what writing more ‘epic shit’ posts will do to my site. I hope along the way I can teach aspiring photographers useful information.

Thanks again Corbett!

Sergio

Gregory Ciotti February 23, 2012 at 9:20 am

The “usefulness” is determined to the reader, but I’m sure if you read the two I’m referring to, you’d get what I meant.

I’m not saying that deep content can’t go viral, it often does, I’m talking about the skin deep social media filler that targets new people who think they’re learning something real, when in reality it’s basic stuff they would have picked up just by getting themselves out there.

That aside, we definitely see eye to eye on the end game about an enthusiastic audience, and I agree wholeheartedly that even the most engaging content needs a headline that draws in the clicks.

Corbett Barr February 23, 2012 at 1:00 pm

I think we’re all guilty of this!

But, look at the blogs which are growing fastest. Most of them have very good fluff/epic ratios. Definitely something to think about.

Corbett Barr February 23, 2012 at 1:01 pm

Maybe “filler” deserves to be another category :) I agree, there’s way to much of that as well, although it can be effective for growing an audience (although no doubt a less engaged one).

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