Creating how-to content: What You Can Learn from Hallmark, Lowe’s, Hershey’s and Friskies

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How-to content exists in many forms, from recipes to DIY demos. And while topics and approaches may differ from brand to brand, one thing is consistent across the board: much of these how-tos aren’t as useful as they could be. To keep your next piece of content from becoming a “how-not-to,” consider these best practices:

Get visual
With many how-tos, the chief problem is the copy. There’s typically tons of it and it’s often not written to create a picture in someone’s mind. The solution: use actual pictures. Hallmark’s Think.Make.Share blog often utilizes photography — and in ample quantities. You don’t even have to hire a pro, as most lifestyle bloggers do the shooting themselves. Creating GIFs from these shots is a great way to clear up any confusion readers may have. If you’re lucky enough to have a designer on staff, infographics can do the same.

Keep it simple
Brevity is something Lowe’s has mastered since embracing Vine in 2013. Their wildly popular “Fix In Six” series provides quick tips in a matter of seconds. While the Vines aren’t technically how-tos, Lowe’s does make instructional content that clocks in around a minute [sorry, this 360° how-to is only viewable on phones]. But what about those who want greater detail than a :06 or :60 video can provide? Many brands have taken to posting a written how-to in the video description or linking off to their blog for more detailed direction.

Share expert-level insights
Hershey’s has a section of their Hershey’s Kitchens site that doesn’t just tell people how to make chocolate chip cookies, it tells them how to make them better. Here their resident baker Linda Stahl offers pro tips — from how a slice of bread can keep baked goods moist to how you can add an extra punch of flavor with a sprinkle of sea salt. Stahl has even created a companion list for those interested in gluten-free baking. Any site can have a library of near-identical how-tos, which is why including unique and ancillary insights can help with repeat engagement.

Hack your way to a larger audience
According to Google research, 41% of millennials have become increasingly interested in content that helps them take something they already have and make it better. Friskies is capitalizing on this trend with its DIY Cat Toy series. It encourages pet owners to transform everyday items into puzzles, tipis and more. Most of these videos have a six-figure view count and one is on its way to cracking the 600,000 mark, proving this type of content really does resonate.

Now what happens when you combine three or four of these best practices into a single how-to? A great example is what’s happening over at BuzzFeed. The publisher’s take on how-tos is very visual, incredibly brief and filled with unconventional thinking. Below are three of the hundreds of how-tos they’ve produced since last summer:

Personally, I think we’ll be seeing more how-tos in the vein of BuzzFeed. Why? Its food-oriented Tasty videos attract as many as 1.8 billion views in a single month. This level of interest is why the publisher quickly followed up Tasty with Nifty (DIY) and Top Knot (beauty). On Facebook alone, their how-to subscriber counts are respectively 68 million, 14.5 million and 3 million. This tells me the majority of people don’t just want to see this style of how-to content once, they want to see it over and over.

So is there a lesson to be learned before you teach others? You bet. To position your brand as the go-to for how-to, making zippy videos like BuzzFeed’s is probably the smartest move, but if you take the written route be sure to include plenty of visual aids and unexpected tips.

For more insights into how top brands are tackling content, download our free Content Idea Book here