The Secret Ingredient to Great Social Media Content…

“Are you not entertained?”

Maximus Decimus Meridius, Commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions [Gladiator]

In recent months, I have been giving a lot of thought to what makes for great social media content. I have considered why I use social media platforms and what posts stick in my mind and how I can find the ‘secret sauce’ for my own content.

At a recent #MilSocialMedia training event, I gave a presentation on “What Makes Good Content”, in reviewing the presentation we (Paul Ellis and myself) were trying to think of what it is that ‘works’.

I am haunted by the echoes of a senior commander asking me to …“produce something that will go viral!” – but how?

We took some time considering the issue from the point of view of the audience; how to better engage with other actors and advocates to amplify content or simply, how to tell a better story through the  medium of social media… it all boiled down to one simple golden nugget – I want a smile!


“You can go a long way with a smile… You can go a lot farther with a smile and a gun!”

Al Capone
So, here is i3 Gen’s six components of great social media content:


The first thing that any social media content, on any platform, must do is grab the attention of the user.

We have become scrollers, endlessly thumbing through content and only stopping when something grabs our attention. I am emphatically not advocating ‘click-bait’ but something must stop the audience and stimulate their interest.

An image, a headline and a question; what will make them pause?

Once you have their attention, you need to give them something that will reinforce or strengthen their own position, narrative or view.


Some content will grab my attention, even make me smile, but I don’t share it – because it may be seen as inappropriate, offensive, immature, off-topic or simply boring by others. It simply does not fit with my online narrative or my social media Presence Posture Profile (PPP).

Recent analytics by i3 Gen found that a client’s social media content had taken an unexpected dip. On investigation, the content in question related to issues of bullying, particularly cyber-bullying. It posed the question, “What would you do?” It seems that asking a question, while traditionally seen as a invitation for audiences to engage, had had the opposite effect, by placing them in an awkward position and that they were unlikely to share the content publicly.

Sharing content reflects upon the individual that shares it, it is part of their ‘personal brand’.

So, your content must fit with your audiences’ expectations of you and your account, while also matching their interests and likes. For my Twitter followers, Military Working Dogs is always a popular topic and rich source of great images.


The content must move your audience, there has to be an emotion involved.

Far too much online content is designed to enrage, anger or ‘trigger’ audiences, often for political or ideological ends. The myth-busting, fact-checking website advocates, “If you are being triggered, you are being played!”

But more often the content that is more widely shared, but not picked up by news media outlet, is the posts that make us laugh, force us to think beyond our own self-importance or simple make us say “AWWWW!”


“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Maya Angelou

Whatever community we are part of, we must never forget the importance of the emotional hooks that link us to that community; this is especially true for the #MilSocialMedia community and its links with the wider military.

Emotions such as pride, a sense of belonging or being inspired can all be used to help tell our unique stories and strengthen the moral component of our message or indeed our fighting power – however, a soldier’s “unique” sense of humour may not always translate so well to the public at large.


It has been shown time and again that posts with images are far more attention grabbing and impactful than those without.

A well-composed still image (photograph!) is still the most effective, especially if it is unusual and not a stock image. [Military photographers are great at what they do, but it is the access they (and service personnel) have that make the images different.]

Alternatively, videos and moving GIFs can be used. Twitter allows video links to be previewed silently, so many now include captions or subtitles so viewers can understand the message without clicking to see and hear more. Animated GIFs are especially useful to express emotions and inject a degree of levity.


Now that you have the audiences’ attention, aroused an emotional response and delighted them with an awesome image, you want them to act – to become part of the conversation. This usually means getting them to click a link. This maybe just the ‘view the full video here’, or to read an article or blog post (like this one).

Alternatively and increasingly, you hope that the audience will support a cause, register interest in an event or share the information as a retweet or repost.

Links to an online giving site or crowdfunded support pages,  your organisation’s or unit’s Facebook page, or a commercial website all provide the audience with a “next step” in the process, to be part of the community that the content has linked them to.


Most importantly, the content must be engaging.

Attention is soon lost, nice photographs are easily ‘liked’ and moved past.

But engaging content will generate discussion and debate, ideas will be shared, other accounts and activities ‘spot-lighted’, other users tagged in the conversation and threads generated.

This can be further supported by the use of #hashtags or the additional volume created by advocates, influencers, and other ‘supporting callsigns’.


Above all, good social media content is generating interest and influence, by ensuring that our collective voice is heard amongst the chatter and that key messages are not lost to the negativity and bad news of the day.

docere, delectare, et movere

“The three aims of the orator, are docere, delectare, et movere.”
Marcus Tullius Cicero, 106 - 43 BC In other words, to be effective in communications we need to
Teach, Delight and Move emotionally our audience

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