How to Turn Your Bad Habits into Great Content

We’re in the first weeks of a new year, which means it’s prime season for committing to new good habits – or at least to breaking bad ones. Even if you, like me, don’t care much for resolutions, paying attention to your bad habits can lead you to some excellent content.

Here’s why: everyone has bad habits. Writing about yours can help you bond with and win the trust of your audience.

Plus, when you document bad habits as part of efforts to improve, you provide valuable information to anyone in your audience struggling through something similar.

Here are four formulas to try as you turn your worst habits into great content.

The Expert Interview

interview-iconHere’s where being in charge of your organization’s content can be really fun. If you have a bad habit that you’d like guidance getting past, you can use your role as content creator as an excuse to interview experts on the topic.

Here are two examples:

  1. An NPR reporter interviews experts on what traditional Inuit culture can teach her about managing her three-year-old daughter’s anger.
  2. A New York Times reporter speaks with experts on how to stop doomscrolling (and why it’s a habit worth breaking).

This content formula is powerful for a few reasons:

  • You get insight from actual experts about how to improve your bad habit, which is valuable to you.
  • By publishing this insight, you offer something of great value to your audience.
  • By featuring outside sources, you increase your content’s reach when they share it with their networks.
  • You boost your organization’s credibility on the topic in question.

How it might work for a health tech startup

Bad habit: You consistently put off replying to friends’ texts and emails.

Solution: Interview experts who can speak to the wellness benefits of maintaining social relationships, as well as behavioral psychologists or communication experts who can help you overcome the habit. Publish a piece that synthesizes their insight into a guide aimed at helping your audience achieve better overall health by maintaining better communication with friends.

Bonus: after publishing the original piece, you can develop journey-style content about your quest to be more responsive (see #4 below).

The “X Lessons from Y” Post

teaching-lesson-iconI love this bad-habit content formula because you can apply it to almost anything. Here’s the premise: identify your bad habit (say, bingeing Netflix) and then derive lessons from it.

For example, in 2019, Propllr senior media specialist Jillian Smith found herself bingeing The Great British Baking Show (and really, who among us hasn’t?). Instead of kicking herself for not writing the next great American novel or exercising,, Jillian discovered that all those pastries and sponges had taught her valuable lessons about her job.

She wrote them up in her post “What the Great British Baking Show Taught Me About PR.”

Jillian isn’t the only one who’s found wisdom in TV, either. Kaitlin McManus, a writer for career guidance site Vault, published a similar piece last summer, when most of us had been quarantining (and bingeing) for months: “ 4 Career Lessons I Learned from Quarantine Binge-Watching.”

The potential applications are endless. The key ingredient to making this type of bad-habit content work is applying the “fail fast” mentality that drives so much startup innovation: as long as you can learn from something you’re doing (wrong), you can create great content about it!

(Note: if you’re on the media side, “X Lessons from Y” is also a great trope to pitch.)

How it might work for a B2C fintech startup

Bad habit: You regularly sign up for free trials and then forget to cancel them, meaning you pay way too much for services you don’t use and end up trying to convince customer service reps to give you a refund.

Solution: Write a piece on the negotiation skills you’ve learned and how applying them to other areas of your life has helped you earn more, pay less, and reach your financial goals faster.

The Roundup

roundup-iconRoundups are a great way to get value from your bad habits because they let you share the knowledge you’ve gained with an audience that shares your habit.

For example, maybe you mean to cook for yourself most nights but inevitably end up refreshing Twitter until you’re too hungry to cook and so you settle for cereal or takeout. Or maybe that social media habit is keeping you on the couch when you mean to exercise.

Don’t despair! Turn your quest to put down the phone into great content. Individual automation app Zapier did just that in its piece “The 7 Best Apps to Help You Focus and Block Distractions.”

Like the “X Lessons from Y” formula, you can apply the roundup formula to nearly anything, as long as it offers value to your audience.

How it might work for an HR SaaS startup

Bad habit: You’re always running late to meetings.

Solution: Write a roundup of apps, strategies, and calendar hacks you’ve tried and position it as an “ultimate guide” to time management tools and strategies for managers. Offer honest reviews, along with whether and how each helped you and any tips you have for other people struggling with time management.

Bonus: if you haven’t yet broken your habit, this can be a piece of content you update as you try new solutions.

The Real-Time Journey

journey-map-iconThere’s no need to actually break a bad habit before using it as a valuable source of content. This is where the real-time journey format comes in.

Rather than creating a single content asset (blog post, podcast episode), this type of content is an ongoing project in which you document your progress toward breaking your bad habit.

The idea is to bring your audience along for your journey. This kind of content resonates with audiences for a few reasons:

  • It creates suspense (will you or won’t you succeed?).
  • It gives people with the same habit a sense of community.
  • It makes you extremely relatable.

Note that this format is not for the faint of heart. Part of what makes this kind of content compelling is that it offers a “warts and all” view of someone’s experience. To do this, you have to be okay with exposing something beyond the best, most polished version of yourself or your startup.

If you can accept that (and if it makes sense to present an unpolished persona to your audience), journey content can position you to become a thought leader in the area you’re writing about. That, in turn, could open up a slew of new opportunities.

One example of this type of journey content (though not one based on a bad habit) is the blog-turned-book MWF Seeking BFF, which documents one woman’s journey to finding a best friend in her new hometown by going on 52 “friend dates” over the course of a year. Worth a read!

How it might work for a digital security startup

Bad habit: You always delay installing updates on your personal devices.

Solution: Commit to a series of blog posts that you’ll write every time you remember to (or get around to) updating your apps and devices. In each, highlight the new security features, bug fixes, and patches the updates provide. Use the series to illustrate to your readers the dangers of not installing updates on time.

Bonus: The series can also help other members of your team understand the mindset of potential customers, who may also have a lax approach to security.

Bad Habits Unite Us, and That Makes Them Great Content Fuel

Modern life is bizarre in many ways. The “bad habits” so many of us struggle with are often once-useful evolutionary adaptations (e.g., not exercising = not expending more energy than is absolutely necessary) or totally normal responses to the state of the world (e.g., becoming distracted by news updates as society unravels).

While this is often not great for the goals we set ourselves, it can provide a helpful starting point for content marketers looking for ways to connect with their audiences – especially now.

Let’s face it: work for most office employees in the United States has been anything but normal for almost a year now. Business content that actually acknowledges that strangeness and offers some comfort or joy within it can stand out from the noise and genuinely help the people you’re hoping to reach.