How to write pop culture references into evergreen blog posts
Aug. 17, 2016
“All employees trained by Mr. Miyagi!” That’s how the car wash sign read today when I drove by.
That’s Mr. Miyagi of 1984’s The Karate Kid’s “wax on, wax off” celebrity. I haven’t seen that movie since the mid-‘90s. It took my brain a couple of clicks to put the name with the movie, and one stoplight down when it fell into place, all I could think about was writing this blog post. Because guys? That’s a brilliantly placed pop culture reference.
Should we talk about what makes it absolutely brilliant? Um, duh.
Thirty years later—more than that—and Mr. Miyagi is still a buzzword. How’s that for longevity?
We’ve got a lot of pop culture to work with, but compared to the amount of stuff that is produced and released every year, relatively few movies, books, T.V. shows, etc., stick around in our brains long enough to endure.
Those things that do, miraculously, reach icon status are the ones that trigger emotions—most often, positive emotions. With Mr. Miyagi, it’s the feelings of mentorship and hope his story exudes. With a character like Scarlett O’Hara, it’s a sense of ambition and a somehow-endearing selfishness.
This makes sense. A number of studies have found that the human brain is more likely to remember something that is tied to an emotion.
In addition to that, our brains recall emotional memories more quickly than non-emotional memories. The stronger the emotions, the quicker we are able to draw their associated memories to the front of our minds.
Take heed of the science, bosses. It’ll be a boon when you’re working to craft evergreen blog posts.
Evergreen blog posts are posts that aren’t dated by the references or the advice they give.
Dated posts might offer productivity tips about the Sunrise app or Google Reader, an off-hand reference to an upcoming album from Prince (sigh) or a new movie featuring Alan Rickman (sob).
Evergreen blog posts, on the other hand, are ones that will still be relevant next year or even five years from now. They can even be seasonal or holiday-centric, so long as those posts are relevant from year to year or holiday to holiday.
One of my favorite elements of recent reboots is how on they are when it comes to paying tribute to what’s come before. 2016’s Ghostbusters gives Slimer a cameo. The first trailer for 2017’s live-action Beauty and the Beast mirrors the original trailer. Fuller House is all about the wink-wink references to Full House (and its MIA Olsen twins).
All three of these examples had a lot to live up to. So do you. Here’s how to get your references right and keep those blog posts evergreen.
Tip #1: Aim for nostalgia, not popularity
In 1997, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone hit the United States, Candace Bushnell published Sex and the City, and Don Miguel Ruiz released The Four Agreements. That same year James Patterson, Patricia Cornwell, and Kurt Vonnegut celebrated books of their own—but of the books released in 1997, they’re not the ones you want to casually namedrop.
Why? Because while they were popular, they didn’t become touchstones of a time, like Sex and the City, or a generation, like the Harry Potter series.
Popularity or trendiness isn’t the sign of a strong pop culture reference. What you want to look for is how that reference has endured, and, again, the emotions it triggers.
Tip #2: Sprinkle lightly
When you can’t figure out how to write exactly what you mean, it’s easy to latch on to similes, overused metaphors, and pop culture references to get your meaning across to your audience. It’s easier and faster to do that, but it doesn’t make your blog post strong.
In fact, if you rely on them too much, they become your post’s weak links. A pop culture reference in every other paragraph waters down their effect. Use them sparingly, and only when they’ll have impact.
Tip #3: Make it ring true to you
I could talk about A Wrinkle in Time all day, but honestly, y’all? I really don’t love that book. I wouldn’t even say I like it. The only reason I’d include it is because I’ve read about how much other people—people like you, maybe—adore it. I could drop in a slick reference (hat tip to Google for the assist), but that reference would be pandering. You might not know it—yet—but I would.
And that’s not real or honest. I firmly believe that the best writing comes from a place of truth. It’s one of my values (the first I mention here, actually), and it’s one that I hope you will incorporate into your writing, too.
Tip #4: Get it exactly right
Google is practically all powerful. Toss your pop culture reference into the search box and it’ll spit out the correct spelling, whatever trademark phrase that you can’t quite remember, theme songs, jingles—just about anything you could want to reference.
The easiest way to ace this tip is to build it into your editing process. As you proofread your blog posts, do your due diligence every single time. Hit up Google to make sure you nail that pop culture reference.
Tip #5: Go with the best, not the first
It’s not news that our first ideas are often not our best ideas. Those tiny two-word pop culture references in your blog posts are not exceptions.
The next time you go to plug one in, pause for 30 seconds and ask yourself if there is a better reference for whatever it is you’re writing about.
Remember, you want your pop culture references to ring true not only to you, but to your audience, too. For example, if your crowd comprises moms of toddlers, a reference to Top Gear might be a bust while Tickle Me Elmo might soar.
If you’re thinking, “ZOMG, Brittany, I have 71 other concerns that are keeping me up at night. Why do you want me to worry about name dropping Honey Boo Boo?!” I hear you. I hear you on those 71 other things, boss!
I’m shoving this worry under your nose today because while it seems pretty insignificant–I mean, these references might make up what, 5 percent of your next blog post–all the bits and bobs matter.
Unlike the keywords I know you spend more than a minute working on for every piece of content you produce, these pop culture references are memorable. They’re the bits that humanize you, the bobs that turn passive readers into engaged commenters. They’re what get people to double-tap your Instagram graphics and share your tweets with their followers.
Though they be but little, they are fiercely important–and not just because they engage your audience.
The pop culture references you decide to include in your blog posts and your social media marketing efforts add depth to your brand story. They give your a brand personality that your audience can build lasting emotional relationships with.
I mean, let’s face it: If you’re brand is up on Harry Potter, you know I’m gonna love it. That’s just how the Chocolate Frog hops, yo.
It’s never too late to go back and revise old content. That’s what makes the Internet so awesome–I mean, aside from Hamster Dance and Google and Instagram hearts.
Intimidated by a huge blog archive? Take a deep breath, and then hit up your Google Analytics. Make a list of your best blog posts according to the traffic they’ve received over the last years. Start your revisions at the top of the list and work your way down as your schedule allows. Add a quick post revision to your weekly workflow, and it’ll soon become habit.
Bonus: The more you work with the checklist, the more careful you’ll be as you write and publish new blog posts. That means fewer revisions for future you!
How to download your free Forever-green Blog Post Checklist: Enter your email in the form below, click the button, and boom! The checklist will be in your inbox in just a few minutes.