22nd Jan 2021
3 Min Read

Light and shade. Find the balance readers crave

Elle Bradley-Cox
Elle Bradley-Cox
IC & Engagement

Whatever the format, audiences want a balance of content that is different in tone and mood.

We are all demanding and lazy. It’s an ugly fact – and one we don’t think about – but it IS true. Think about every time you consume a piece of media. Whether that’s a podcast, an Instagram story, an article or a film, each of those will have its narrative arc, sure, but it will likely change tone as it goes on. We take a look at how the people in media do it – and how you can steal their ideas.

You usually choose what you want to consume based on what mood you’re in. Having a bad day? Something light will lift your spirits and you’ll feel more ready to take in a serious point after. Equally, if we’re drowning in light-hearted chitchat it can leave us wanting something with a little more substance. Don’t believe me? Track your media consumption for a week and see how your tastes vary according to what you’re in the mood for.

Our lazy brains demand this mix of content alongside a variety of words or pictures to support our tone. If you reread my first paragraph, notice how my sentences are both long and short – I’ve done that specifically to keep your mind busy absorbing it. Your beautiful brain absorbs information so fast that if I don’t keep it on its toes (and I do enjoy picturing exactly what a brain’s toes would look like – gristly and throbbing, I imagine) it will switch off and tell your body to swipe on.

The best content has a mix of light and shade.

Magazines are the ultimate coffee break companion. They’re not necessarily linear so, unlike a book, you can pick and choose what you have time to read, but also what you’re in the mood for. Different media, like films or podcasts, demand a different format and style of consuming, but the principle of light and shade applies to all.

In practice

I was listening to Fortunately ... with Fi Glover and Jane Garvey the other day. For the uninitiated, it’s a frothy Friday treat of a podcast that’s filled with self-deprecating chat and plenty of jokes at the BBC’s expense. The Radio Times described it as ‘a slightly tipsy extension of Woman’s Hour’.

What Fi and Jane do so well with Fortunately … is to allow their wonderfully eccentric personalities to shine through and then talk about a multitude of topics with their guests – both funny and serious. Even the episode names are infinitely clickbaity. ‘Outrageously Glittery Earwax’ is where Dotty, better known as Ashley ‘Dotty’ Charles, the BBC 1Xtra DJ turned author, joins to discuss social media outrage – and the perils and dangers of en suite bathrooms.

At one point, Dotty says: “We need to exert ourselves selectively so that our outrage online doesn’t lose its currency. Every time you are loudly opposed to something you are investing your outrage but often, we don’t seek a return on that investment. We’re so engaged in practicing outrage that we detach ourselves from the outcomes. The purpose of outrage should be progress, not performance.”

It’s a fantastically erudite and well-thought through point – that makes you, dear listener, think hard and reflect on her words. But, if the podcast had gone on for 45 minutes in the same vein, we’d have all switched off and nothing would’ve been so memorable that I’m still quoting it, weeks later. There has to be that balance of light and shade in order to keep us listening. Hence the joy of this wicked exchange about reusable bags as Fi says: “I’m not trying to out-woke you all,” to which Jane rebuts: “Says the women with two jars of capers in her pantry who upcycles furniture on a Saturday and makes her own pesto.”

Tools for the job

When you go to the repository of your chosen content, whether it’s a news app, a magazine, your podcast hub or your streaming service, if done well, it will have been put together with different moods in mind. Sometimes we’re even allowed to tailor our feed or the algorithm is clever enough to predict what we want, based on what we’ve already viewed. Imagine a world where we can convince our budget holders that this stuff matters for our internal audience, too!

Fancy repositories are a nice to have, but there’s some basic best practice that will make your content sing.

  • Consider the mix of tone, mood, words and even sentence structure in your written piece. Find that balance of light and shade.
  • Podcasting? While your topic might be serious in essence, do find those warm moments with your guests – and make each other smile where you can.
  • Got a strategic message you want people to absorb? Consider the format. Strategic doesn’t have to mean snoozeville. Use a quiz to reinforce understanding and move passive readers to active players.
BBC News
Credit: BBC News

Want to have a chat about finding the right balance in your comms? Get in touch.

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