Reach Your Audience by Filling 'White Space'

One way to cut through the clutter in the marketplace is to find trending topics, then look for the white spaces around the edges that you can fill with quality content and get noticed.

One way to cut through the clutter in the marketplace is to find trending topics, then look for the white spaces around the edges that you can fill with quality content and get noticed.

Breaking through and gaining attention in today’s crowded communications universe may seem insurmountable. But the secret to online prominence may lie in finding the white space in what’s popular and trending.

White space derives from visual arts. Also called negative space, it is the absence of any meaningful content that draws attention to the main objects. Painter Andrew Wyeth exploited what he called the positive space between subjects to give his art depth and realism. Sometimes portions of his canvasses contained nothing but switches of white paint.

In contemporary communications terms, white space means the margins between trending topics, the edges left uncovered and unexplored, but still of latent interest to the Internet herd. This is the place where you can stake a claim to attention.

Like a video game, finding white space is a moving target. It is not a destination; it is a gap you anticipate and exploit.

Andrew Wyeth’s “Christina World” shows the visual power of separating two subjects by a nondescript distance of what we call white space.

Andrew Wyeth’s “Christina World” shows the visual power of separating two subjects by a nondescript distance of what we call white space.

Finding white space takes concentration. You can employ social media tools to help, but the best detection devices are your eyes and ears. You aren’t watching and listening for what’s there. You are trying to decipher what’s missing.

When you find the hole – the white space, you need the savvy to know how to fill it. If something is missing, what will quench the thirst of the audience? This is a high-risk form of content marketing, but it offers a lot of upside with little downside.

You aren’t betting the farm on a major marketing campaign. You are betting you can spot an opening and close it with informative, relevant, useful and entertaining content that attracts an audience. To borrow a bad example, it is a lot like finding a date on the rebound.

Some have turned the exercise of looking for white space into a data plunger. But skip with cold waters and rely on your wit and intuition. Watch a story and see an opportunity. Be entertained by what you see, while being curious about what’s missing.

Your best opportunity to stand out is to stand in a space where no one else is present. You can get attention without a lot of competition. You can win the day by out-positioning your opposition. And you don’t have to push the tackling dummy an inch.

For better or worse, there is no pre-programmed formula for finding white space. You can use any tool you like, but your best resource is your own instinct. If you stay engaged and remain curious, you will inevitably see openings. Train yourself to chase those white space opportunities as soon as they appear.

White spaces aren’t permanent. They exist and cease to exist. You will thrive by exploiting their barren landscape and providing creative, compelling content that people are poised to hear. You will be the white knight that rides into battle with a fresh flag and a brilliant call to arms.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.