This guide, written in collaboration with news user needs evangelist Dmitry Shishkin, is part of a series on writing news stories based on the user needs approach.

The smartocto team have once again collaborated with Dmitry to expand the model of six by adding two extra user needs. The reason is pragmatic: as circumstances change, media need new approaches to tempt their audience into clicking and subscribing. The ultimate goal of the model is to connect to the audience in a stronger, more meaningful way - creating more engagement and loyalty in the process, and increasing the relevance of your brand.

New to the user needs?

We created a new User Need Model in March 2023. Check our page and download the whitepaper if you're interested! We did a webinar about the User Needs Model 2.0. Watch the recording!

In this part, we talk about the user need 'help me', sharing useful formats, writing tips and - critically - when to use this approach. Let’s go!

The user need ‘help me’

This user need is action-driven and stems from the trend of service journalism. From the motivation of your readers it means that your visitors are searching for information that helps them act on a personal level. Sometimes it is enough to show the impact of developing events, as long as they encourage your audience to do something. Take readers by the hand, mark the steps, and find a clear solution to their problems. To formulate it simply: help your audience in their day-to-day lives. It's the news you can use.

Check these user needs as well:

Kee me engaged

Update me

Educate me

Give me perspective

Divert me

Inspire me

Connect me

Why should you write ‘help me’ pieces?

Over the last two decades, the internet has exploded with an enormous amount of information. Social media, blogs and marketing efforts have jumped into the gap that traditional service sectors have left behind. Companies and governments have shifted towards more individual responsibility.

Journalism has an important role to overcome the trusted information gap. Media can guide, give people direction in their daily lives, prepare them for the news ahead and give practical advice that activates their audience. Addressing the individual needs of visitors can lead to growing relevance, especially when you can actually help them make better-informed decisions. Quality practical information contributes in building trust and subsequently improves the authority of your brand.

These stories, when done well, have the potential to become 'evergreen' pieces on your site: a valuable source of information for weeks, months or even years to come, building SEO authority over time and attracting more new visitors to your platform. Be of service to them.

It's the news you can use.

When to write a ‘help me’ story

If there’s a practical problem, you might choose to create a ‘help me’ story. It all starts with a question - as we all know from good journalism. Sometimes that question gives away that helping your audience is the way to go. How can you save money? What are nice city trip destinations? Where’s the best place to park my car at that festival I’m going to? Which political party deserves my vote?

The answers to those questions go beyond explaining the options. So it’s not enough to say: you can save money by economising on energy. No, your audience wants to know: how? ‘Insulate your roof’. No! How? ‘Take these five steps.’ Yes!

You want to create ‘help me’ stories when people are searching for ‘how to’ information. It could be a simple follow-up on an ‘update me’ story, but it is a great starting point in situations when there’s no clear news angle.

Getting started with a ‘help me’ story

Start by asking these questions:

  • How might we help visitors connect with others?
  • How can we help visitors be better equipped to affect change?
  • What information gap can we fill with usable, practical tips and suggestions?
  • What steps are needed for the solution of a clear personal problem?
  • Which stories can create impact in the households of our audience?
  • What practical topics are connected to our brand authority?

Often, these kinds of articles are approached slightly differently to those fulfilling more conventional user needs, and suffer from rehashing other information. Because these have good potential to become long-lasting pieces, it’s important to follow the same high standards as for regular journalism. So, once you’ve got a clear view of what you want to achieve, do your own independent research, collect the information and create your content. And, because of the evergreen potential in these articles, it’s important to factor in time in the future to ensure these remain up-to-date and relevant: your audience will likely find articles like these via search engines, so they need to remain current.

Useful formats for a ‘help me’ piece

The most typical formats for a ‘help me’ piece are a:

  • Checklist
  • Timeline
  • Question and answer (Q&A)
  • Step 1-2-3-4-5
  • Interview an expert
  • Curator

A good ‘help me’ headline

‘How to calculate the optimum number of solar panels for your house’

Yes, it's as simple as that. You obviously can just use your most important question as a headline. It’s better to give a clear direction - so that visitors know what to expect. Make sure that the headline illustrates that this piece is different and informative, as that helps attract people looking for information via search engines. Include words that indicate the practical advice or service-oriented nature of the article.

Great examples of ‘help me’ articles

Dmitry’s pro tip

This user need is especially important for local and regional newsrooms, where you as editors and journalists are part of your audience. Regional media have already put significant effort into serving those living in their region. But they could become the highest authority in their area when it comes to day trips, attractions, road trips, and such like. Same goes for other things, like restaurants or schools, or indeed, a helpful guide on all frequently asked questions about your area. There are sites like Answerthepublic, that show most FAQs for all locations and topics. That would be a good start.