4 Ways Personal Essays Stir Up Audience Engagement

It’s no surprise that personal essays make good ”click bait.” Dry facts are just that, but personal narratives give people something with which to compare and contrast their own experiences. Reading a personal essay feels more indulgent than reading a straight news or technical piece, and including them occasionally on your news or trade publication site can be great for audience engagement.

Personal essays can reach people on a deeper level than straight informational pieces.
Personal essays can reach people on a deeper level than straight informational pieces.


Many people condemn personal essays as useless navel gazing, and indeed they can be that. However, the strong personal narrative appropriately placed within a website’s overall context can improve not only traffic, but also audience engagement. And when you have an engaged audience, you’re more likely to have people explore your site and discover things like your e-commerce page or your targeted job board. Here are four ways personal essays stimulate audience engagement, plus tips on using personal essays without turning into a ”true confessions” website.

1. By Putting a Human Face On a Story

Video news reporters interview witnesses to events because it helps viewers understand what it was like experiencing a situation. Likewise, when someone in your trade or your local community experiences something newsworthy, they can provide readers with a more realistic connection to the story. The plain facts of a situation are the meat and potatoes of your site, but the personal essay about the situation deepens the connection with readers and makes content more shareable.

2. By Being Exclusive to Your Site or Brand

People can find out the facts about a new law affecting their profession, or a newsworthy event in countless places online. But when one of your writers posts a firsthand account of how that new law or headline-making event affected them, you offer readers something they won’t find elsewhere. Informational stories spell out the facts and are indispensable. Yes, you could forego the personal essay and not lose any of the quality or importance of the informational narrative. However, when you include a personal story along with the dry facts, you offer something unique to your brand and compelling to your audience. That extra human touch inspires people to keep reading, to share the story on social media, or to comment.

3. By Inspiring People

Personal essays can inspire readers to better their own lives or the lives of others.
Personal essays can inspire readers to better their own lives or the lives of others.

People love it when someone overcomes challenges, particularly if they can relate to those challenges. By comparing an essayist’s take on a situation to their own, the reader internalizes the information more thoroughly. The thought process may go something like this: ”She had just as hard a time complying with that new regulation as I did. But she did X, Y, and Z, and it helped her move past her difficulties. Maybe I can learn something from her.” People tend to comment on or share content that inspires.

4. By Stimulating Discussion

Look at any news aggregation site, and you’ll almost always find that stories told from a personal point of view, particularly if they’re about provocative subjects, have many more comments than informational articles. This is not to imply that straight news and information are less worthwhile. On the contrary, factual, well-sourced reporting is as essential as it ever was. But the personal stories stimulate the most discussion. You don’t want to turn your news or trade publication website into a litany of confessions, but when you include the occasional personal narrative, you add unique value to your site and keep people coming back.

If you operate a news or trade publication website, you should never abandon well-written, factual information for content designed to pull at heartstrings. After all, people come to your site for the baseball scores, the latest on industry regulation, or information on new techniques used in their profession. If you stop providing that, they’ll stop visiting.

However, when you include the occasional personal essay that’s relevant, well-written, and carefully vetted and edited, you give readers one more reason to return to your site. You also give readers the opportunity to share a powerful story with their friends and contacts and draw new readers, aiding your audience development strategy.

Some of those new readers will stick around, exploring your site, perhaps considering a subscription, or exploring your site’s job board. Personal essays draw people in because they give readers something to relate to or help readers understand a topic or a news story on a deeper level. These pieces can seriously boost audience engagement, and if you include them regularly, you give readers one more reason to turn to your site for the information they want.

Photo Credits: David Castillo Dominici / freedigitalphotos.net, Paul Gooddy / freedigitalphotos.net

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