three people walking between blank wordle cards

5 Things Wordle Teaches Us About Content Strategy

The popular word game is a viral phenomenon and a huge source of digital discourse. For associations looking to effectively reach and engage with their members online, it’s a game worth studying.

By Melissa Bouma

If you’re like any of the wordsmiths at Manifest, you’ve probably found yourself playing the wildly addictive online game Wordle, which poses a daily challenge in the form of a five-letter word. You get six guesses, and if you figure out the word, you can share how quickly you did so on social media.

If you’ve read anything about Wordle, you might know it was created by its near namesake, Josh Wardle, as a gift for his partner, who is a fan of word games. Nothing more, nothing less.

“I think people kind of appreciate that there’s this thing online that’s just fun,” Wardle told The New York Times. “It’s not trying to do anything shady with your data or your eyeballs. It’s just a game that’s fun.”

(Maybe it’s no surprise that the Times’ parent company, a famous purveyor of word puzzles, bought Wordle late last month.)

It’s a rare beast: a word-of-mouth success story in its purest form, without even an underlying business model.

It’s worth a closer look for organizations that are trying to generate their own lightning in a bottle. How does Wordle make it look so easy? Here are five key features that you can easily apply to your content strategy.

1. Build a Strong Ritual

Whether it’s the first thing you do when you wake up or you stay up past midnight to play as soon as it’s ready, Wordle creates a daily ritual that a lot of people enjoy engaging with.

This basic idea translates well to associations. It’s important, for example, to ensure that your email newsletter appears in your members’ inboxes every weekday morning, or that your latest podcast episode drops at a specific time.

If the timing of your ritual goes even a little off-step, it harms your momentum with members.

(Tyler Lastrovich/Unsplash; Manifest Photo Illustration)

2. Design Your Offerings With Scarcity in Mind

Beyond forming a ritual, Wordle succeeds by differentiating itself from other word games by providing less content instead of more.

In offering just one word a day, and using the same word for every player, Wordle enables participants to compare notes and makes the game a shared experience. Being fun but scarce also creates a demand for Wordle that encourages repeat plays.

What’s something valuable you can offer that your members can get only from you? Is it a weekly industry roundup, or education offerings so niche that only you can provide them? Perhaps it’s an expert voice that your association alone can showcase with its readers, or a private community for your members. Ultimately, you have to find your unique formula.

3. Create a Feedback Loop That Ties Into Social Media

If you win a game of Wordle, congrats! You get to tell your friends, whether through a text message or a tweet—all with the help of the game’s clever use of emoji blocks to let other Wordle superfans know exactly how you played.

In many ways, the game itself only starts on the website (no app needed here), but it truly takes shape on social media.

Some organizations spend years figuring out a way to do this, because it’s a sign of true engagement. By creating an experience that people want to share unprompted, it expands your reach a little more.

Here’s a strategy to try: Engage in social listening to track member discussions, then develop a campaign around their interests.

4. Give Observers Something to Talk About

Wordle is a simple word game with its own discourse (which this article is, of course, adding to). It’s even had something of a backlash, and a backlash to the backlash. There have been unauthorized clones and even a bot that tried to spoil the game for fervent players.

Your association might be used to a more targeted approach to marketing, but there’s still a case for creating the occasional tentpole campaign, which draws in a public-facing audience that might benefit from your messaging or your advocacy.

Perhaps the approach is fun, or aims broadly. One example is the Paper and Packaging Board’s How Life Unfolds, which, much like Wordle, has a sense of whimsy that helps it reach relevant audiences beyond the usual targets.

5. Bring People Together

The ultimate trend that Wordle—and other pandemic-era hits such as Clubhouse and Zoom—has so astutely perfected is getting people to come together. Isn’t that what associations are always seeking to do? In light of Wordle’s success, reexamine what makes your members interact. This may just be the moment to get your association communicating in a new way. If a supercharged internet word game can do it, so can you.

Melissa Bouma, president of Manifest, has more than 15 years of experience building insight-driven branding and content strategy, with a client base representing large companies, major universities, and prominent associations.