How to Use Open Loops In Your Content #227

It’s a noisy world–and you’ve got to cut through that noise to get noticed. What’s the point in creating content that nobody reads or watches? How long will you keep up your content creation journey if you don’t see results? Using curiosity and tension in your content is one of the best ways to ensure your viewer will keep viewing. If you want them to move from your audience to your community ultimately, you’ll want to learn the why + how behind open loops.

With a goal to help established course creators create sustainable, measurable content and reduce their workload, an ambitious content creator embarks on an ironic journey of using Hollywood-style tricks to ethically hack their audience’s natural inclination towards curiosity and keep them coming back for more.

You will learn how to strategically craft compelling stories that keep your audience engaged by uncovering the secrets of open loops.

In this episode, you will learn the following: 
1. How can content creators use open loops to create suspense, tension, and provoke audiences’ curiosity?
2. How can email subject lines be used to grab attention and increase the likelihood of someone opening them?
3. What are the psychological effects of open loops and how can they help move people along the buyer’s journey?

Listen to this episode on:

Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher | Google Play | Amazon Music | How To Subscribe

Highlights in this episode:

[00:01:33] An open loop is a storytelling device used to create suspense and tension and provoke an audience’s curiosity.

[00:02:25] Many of the best subject lines are Curiosity driven.

[00:05:18] Open loops keep your audience returning to your content.

[00:08:25] How to create an open loop in your own business.

[00:09:18] The easiest open loop to employ is a simple teaser.

[00:13:28] Numbers and loops

[00:17:25] Imagine loops

How to Use Open Loops & Curiosity in Your Content

Think of a hula hoop. You start. It flings around. If you keep the momentum (interest) going, the hoop keeps going. If you start losing your rhythm, the hoop slowly loses ground and then, all of a sudden, quickly falls.

In website analytics terms, we call that bounce.

Hubspot calls this a flywheel–a flywheel being a thing that starts out hard to move, but as you get it going, it takes less and less effort. The momentum keeps it going. So, how can you do this in content? How can you create this natural, momentum-building curiosity that fills your program before you launch?

The answer is open loops.

What is an Open Loop?

An open loop is a storytelling device used to create suspense and tension and provoke an audience’s curiosity. This storytelling style is particularly effective due to humans’ natural inclination towards curiosity–and your audience is no different. We want to bridge the gap between what we know and what we want to know. By expanding on this curiosity, content creators can create tension and the same feeling of an epic cliffhanger that keeps viewers engaged and wanting more.

Email subject lines depend on curiosity

Content creators are no stranger to using curiosity to encourage a call to action. For those who use email marketing, knowing how to write and use subject lines isn’t just a nice skill–it’s a must. As I’ve said before:

“Give them a reason to keep reading, even if it’s just to see how Britney can possibly tie this line into a marketing email.”

Many of the best subject lines are curiosity-driven. Some of my best-performing emails are attention-grabbing with a strong hook:

  • a listicle style hook that leaves the audience wondering what that third bullet could be
  • using a celebrity or pop culture reference that aligns with your topic
  • using a word in a way it’s not usually used

The goal is to pique your audience’s interest just enough to get them to take the next step–opening the email instead of deleting it. (Actually that’s the goal of every marketing step! But doubly so for an email subject line.)

Take a cue from shows like Ozark and The Handmaid’s Tale

If “Netflix and Binge” actually means chilling on the couch and watching episode after episode of shows like Ozark, powering through an entire season until you suddenly realize it’s 2:17am and you definitely have to be awake at 7am…I’m not going to judge.

In fact, you can take a cue from binge-able seasons! Even older sitcoms like Friends occasionally had two-part episodes where they left us hanging, yearning for next week so we could see the outcome. Or worse–leaving the whole season on a cliffhanger! The open loop concept is often used as a cliffhanger or plot point, leaving the story unresolved until the next season. 

The reason shows–particularly ones meant for streaming services–use the open loop technique so often is because their primary goal is to keep you watching. Pushing up against that natural tendency to fulfill your curiosity keeps you watching. (Hot tip: next time this happens to you, stop watching 10 minutes into the next episode when the cliffhanger is resolved so you can get some zzzzz’s!)

Open Loop Hacks Keep Your Audience Coming Back

In addition to open loops keeping you watching a show, they keep your audience returning to your content. When you surprise people and then deliver on that surprise, you add a bit of delight into their life. People like that!

Unsurprisingly, digital marketing has caught on. They’re using this Hollywood trick in everything from copywriting on emails to sales pages and even in infographics.

One of the early marketers I learned about was Jeff Walker and his Product Launch Formula. I never bought into his course, but it was a master study on open-loop marketing. The very concept that you had to wait tomorrow till the next video was peak curiosity marketing! When you intentionally leave the loop open, you get your audience thinking and pondering. If you use this method to launch, best make sure you close the initial loops well or you can lose trust.

Psychological effects of opening a loop

I often discuss connecting the dotted line between where your best client is right now, where they want to be, and where you are.

Think about it in terms of a road trip Google maps request. You’re starting out in Seattle. You’re going to make it to Oregon at some point. And you want to stop at the Chihuly Glass Museum in Tacoma on the way, then maybe Mt. Rainier, and finally head down south. You’ve got a vague idea of the route, but until you plug it all in, it’s just a vague dotted-line idea. You want a solid path so you know where you’re going and about how long it will take.

open loops

Until you enter the stops in the maps program, there’s a gap between what you know and what you want to know–and that gap is everything to your best client.

That gap is an itch they HAVE to scratch.

Your content’s goal is to move them to Oregon. They’ll need some stops along the way. But each stop is a bit of an open loop until they’ve experienced it, then you start the next open loop to get them to the next step.

From the glass museum, you drop a hint that the tee shirt and cutoffs they’re wearing won’t cut it up on Mt. Rainier, even though it’s August. You open the curiosity up in their minds, and now they have to go check it out. That’s how you use content to move your best client along the buyer’s journey.

How To Create An Open Loop

Start with some information you know your best client will find relevant to their current situation. Don’t give it all away.

You want your best client to feel like you’re just about to give them the rest of the information–if they proceed and follow your call to action.

While one of our loops is a teaser, you’re not being a tease. Leave that to Upworthy! Your goal is to get them to read on or to click for more.

7 Examples of Open Loops You Can Use In Your Content

The teaser

The easiest open loop to employ is a simple teaser. This is great in long-form content where you pause for a moment to explain a concept, tell a story, or otherwise section off a portion of your content. It works well in the beginning of the piece after describing what’s included.

In this article, I could have said, “I’ll get back to the psychological reasons open loops work, but first let’s see what Hollywood is doing with them.” I’m teasing the psychological facts I’ll be sharing and stopping in at a hard example first.

The in-the-dark loop

Using words like “proprietary” or “little-known” give the air of secrecy. And they build authority at the same time! Straight from the elementary-school playground, this technique works. Sally Jane’s pithy “well, I know what Sarah thinks about you, but I can’t tell you” isn’t exactly how we want our audience to feel, but it’s the best visual. Are you picturing Sally Jane with a dishwater blond blow cut yet?

This is an easy one to pass off casually in any piece of content. “And if you haven’t seen my Chaos-Free Guide to Content Planning yet, you’ll want to pick that up–so you can finally balance your content creation.”

You’ll create an open loop simply by mentioning something they need to know.

The not-so-clickbait-y open loop

The not-so-clickbait-y open loop is a tricky concept. On the one hand, you don’t want to be too bait like and cheesy with it! Most people recognize the most popular example of this as “and you’ll never guess what happens next” popularized by the early days of Buzzfeed–that’s not the vibe we’re going for here.

Clickbait can still be classy if used in moderation. You need to focus on providing value while also using some of the same strategies that make clickbait so effective. To do this, be sure you are providing helpful information and don’t focus on the shock factor too much. By doing this, you can use what makes clickbait successful without going overboard or turning away potential readers with your headline.

I use these in emails announcing my latest podcast often:

“If you liked that tip, you’ll love the other two ways to define your content buckets. They’re easy for any course creator to use in their marketing!”

I also recently described a marketing lesson from a car accident I almost had. I started the video by saying, “Hey, we’re going to talk about all the AI content tools out there, but we’re going to talk about it through the lens of what could have been an awful car accident.” It’s got some peak-curiosity going on without going for the shock. It really makes the viewer wonder, how’s she going to connect these two things?

The number open loop

If you’ve ever seen a listicle headline, you know this loop. I’ve already used it here–5 examples of open loops. Use the open loop when you’ve got a good list of relevant items or a strong statistic that will invoke that curiosity hit. These are all from The Show Up System 2.0’s sales page:

  • Small businesses who regularly use social see 76% in growth
  • Social media is the most relevant advertising channel for 42% of Millenials

I frame those stats by opening with a teaser loop,

“Here’s why spending even just one more day avoiding social media is costing your biz more than consistent sales but also crushing its growth entirely…”

The “understood” type of open loop

The “understood” type of open loop is when you refer to a concept and assume your audience understands it already. It’s the opposite of the loop that leaves you in the dark. This can be a risky move because if the audience doesn’t understand what you’re talking about, they may feel left out or even experience FOMO. They’ll likely want to move on to content that catches them up on what was previously said.

To avoid the bad side of FOMO, provide a callback so that your audience can easily access the information needed to keep up with the conversation. Callbacks can come in the form of links, visuals, or anything else that will help bring them back up to speed on whatever was discussed before.

The biggest benefit of this open loop type is that it keeps your audience member engaged with your content longer.

In my social posts promoting my content pillars article, one of the examples I provide talks about The 3 M’s as an understood concept in just this way.

Easter egg personality loops

Okay, I might be making this one up, and I’m sharing it anyway. Why? When you decide to move from building an audience to building a community, you will end up creating a lot of inside jokes.

You’ll know it’s real when you hop on a Zoom call with a potential client and they ask which tea you’re drinking today.

Weaving personal details and personality “easter eggs” into your content gives your audience a sense of ownership. That kind of loyalty is impossible to manufacture. It builds from a small amount of details that grow into a foundation of personality that makes up the you in you.

Imagination open loop

This framing technique creates a powerful open loop for those offering some sort of transformation. Suppose you’re a holistic practitioner who helps with SAD symptoms, for example. In that case, you can open up content by saying, “Imagine waking up and feeling the energy of a summer day, even in the dismal midst of January…”

Create tension in one line. You’re painting the picture, showing, not telling. Use strong verbs and delectable descriptions. Here’s what you want; here’s where you are now.

The SEO Benefits of Open Loops

Curiosity isn’t just a human benefit that serves your audience. It helps your SEO. Search engine optimization (SEO) is not going away anytime soon!

One key element of SEO is the time a viewer spends on a site after clicking on it from a search engine or landing page. Open loops are one way to keep your viewers engaged and spending more time on your site. Open loops give users a reason to stay by providing incomplete references, stories, or questions that draw them further into the site via internal linking. This increased engagement not only increases buy-in and loyalty but also boosts SEO as the almighty Google looks at how much time a user spends on your site before moving on to another search result. By employing open loops, you can lower bounce rates and increase user engagement, leading to higher rankings for your website in search engines.

Where To Use Open Loops

Open loops work well anywhere you create content:

  1. Long-form content: use them to introduce the topics you’ll cover and to tease further sections of the video or article.
  2. Short-form content: sometimes, close the loop at the end of the content piece; others could mention different posts to create story arcs.
  3. Sales pages: tie your solution to your best client’s current predicament with numbers.
  4. Email subject lines: to give you a better open rate.
  5. Course content: encourage more purchasers to finish modules and the course with open loops.

Your loop strategy can be small and woven into each content area you create. It can be as simple as setting up a template on your blog that links to articles on the same topic or as complex as a 9-gride on Instagram. Whatever you choose to create in your content marketing strategy, open loops help your audience along the trust-building journey.

Need help creating open loops in your content?


Resources Mentioned

Music by Michael De La Torre. Thanks, Mikey!

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