Sunday, 14 March 2010

11 Steps towards an online content strategy

Posted 10 March 2010 17:54pm by Rebecca Lieb

IBM recently published research showing that about 80 percent of those who begin a corporate blog never post more than five entries. And that's just blogging. The Internet is littered with near-tweetless Twitter accounts, expressionless Facebook pages, no-one-home YouTube channels. In the rush to adopt social media as a tactic, too many marketers leave strategy in the dust.

Increasingly, marketing isn't about buying media, the advertising model. Media is cheap -- or often even free. But rolling your own media brings with it a new set of challenges: coming up with enough content to fill all those blank pages, blog posts, profiles and such....and doing so on a regular basis, not just in a one-off burst of Week 1 enthusiam.

In short, brands are media. Marketers are editors, or at least need to start thinking like editors and producers if they don't want to come up short-handed. So herewith, 12 steps toward editor-think to help marketers get beyond that accusatory Blank White Page and start thinking like an editor.

1. Know your audience

Couldn't be simpler or more self-evident, but the importance of knowing who you're producing content for cannot be overstated. Customers? Prospects? Fans? Industry peers? Colleagues? The media? Some or all of the above? Selecting topics and tailoring messaging is a whole lot easier when you know who's on the receiving end.

2. Define key themes and messages

Now that you know who you're addressing, what is it, broadly speaking, you want to communicate to them? Don't just focus on your product, service or business here, but do some thinking as to how it relates to an audience's real-world concerns. If you're a local business, you may want to weave broader local themes into your content. If you're hawking something with a high consideration curve, education and learning may be part of your messaging. Use your knowledge of your audience, your tone-of-voice, and the broader informational environment in which you reside to inform themes and messaging.

3. Establish a frequency framework

Half the journalists I know say the write for periodicals because they need deadlines in order to produce. In the trade, it's called feeding the beast. You may not need to blog, or write, or tweet, or status-update every day, but once per month is probably not enough...and you risk the whole endeavor tipping off the cliff. Create a schedule for content updates and adhere to it. Map out potential stories, features, or other content in advance so that when the deadline looms, you'll have a sense of what's due. Falling into a rythm beats falling out of visibility altogether.

4. Create an editorial calendar

An editorial calendar plugs directly into the frequency framework. Just as your local newspaper has a fod and dining feature on Wednesdays, an expanded entertainment section on Friday, and home and gardening on Thursdays, mapping a type of content to your frequency framework is a great step forward in terms of making relevant content happen on a reasonably frequent schedule.

5. Develop regular features and rubrics

Creating a few regularly-appearing content elements is one of the oldest editorial tricks in the book. Comics, horoscopes, weather and film listings all help round off a newspaper's offerings and keep readers coming back for more. Moreover, once you've got these regular features, they're all but auto-populating. Highlights of the week, links out to other relevant content, a quote of the day are just a few down-and-dirty ideas to keep the flow of content coming.

6. Interview

Interviews probably belong up in item #5, but are notable enough to warrant discussion on their own. Are your own ideas drying up? Talk to someone else! Experts in your field, enthusiatic users, people in your company. Make a list of potential interview subjects, and consider making interviews a regular content feature.

7. Go multimedia

Content isn't limited to text alone, of course. Images, photos, video and audio all expand and enhance your content offerings. Blogging? Posts accompanied by a graphic image draw attention to themselves. Don't take my word for it, give it a shot -- web metrics bear this one out.

8. Enlist contributors and provide them with guidelines

You don't have to go it alone. Look around at your coworkers, colleagues, professional network. There are lots of potential content contributors out there. Often, all you have to do is ask, either for one-off contributions or regular features. User-generated content is, of course, a whole new route to ensuring content is created for you, be it comments, ratings and reviews, or contests. With clearly defined guidelines and expectations, and a little bit of polite asking, you may be surprised at how much content is created for you rather than by you.

9. Opine and editorialize

A frequent stumbling block to content creation is when the creators think they're obligated to be first to break a piece of news. It's a big internet out there and news is traveling at the speed of fiber optic cable. This is a losing game. Leave it to the pros. Divest yourself of the notion that you're a reporter and instead become an expert observer and interpreter of what news means to your audience. Establish youself, your company or your brand as a thought leader, not a deadline reporter.

10 Turn on comments and feedback

Whatever digital platform you're creating content for, ensure comments and feedback mechanisms are in place, easy to use, and monitored. This not only creates a platform for participation, it's a gauge of how well you're doing, what excites and interests your audience, and will doubtless feed in ideas for shaping and improving future content.

11 Listen

Listen to what others in your space are saying, and do so outside the parameters of your own comments section. Set up topic alerts for your relevant themes. Get out there and participate in what others are saying within your arena of expertise. It's the social media equivalent of leaving the house.

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