Research, Research, Research: The Most Important Element of Content Strategy

When I first looked at the long list of deliverables that I would eventually need to complete for the content strategy of Making Music Magazine, I had no idea which element would take the longest, which element would be the hardest to find or complete, which elements would be easy or which elements were most important. There was so much information packed into 10 deliverables that I knew they’d all have importance and they would all take serious effort. There one most important thing I learned during this whole process was:

The more research you do, the better the overall content strategy will be.

As far as I’m concerned, there’s no such thing as too much research. This is a lesson that every student hoping to pursue content strategy should be taught. But the most interesting thing about this project is that only two of the deliverables were researched-based, the quantitative audit and the analysis summary document. But I can honestly say that those two elements, mostly the analysis summary document, took up 80% of my time to complete. But good research makes my job easier.

The research I completed for this project was:

  • An interview with the client
  • A complete audit of the website and content
  • A complete audit of each social channel and their content
  • Monitoring online conversation around the brand using Sysomos
  • Monitoring competitor conversation and determining share of voice
  • Using Google Analytics for website insights
  • Using Facebook insights for Facebook data
  • Using Twitter analytics for Twitter insights
  • Demographic information searches

And I’m sure I’m forgetting a few things. But this research made the rest of the job so much easier, and this is a great lesson going forward while I pursue a career in content strategy. The more I research, the easier my job will be.

One of the biggest challenges of this project was that in order to develop a strong content strategy and really know what’s best for a brand and its content, you really need to be an expert on the topic being covered, the brand and even the industry as a whole. I was certainly not an expert on the music magazine industry and I had never heard of Making Music Magazine and time was extremely limited. So I became as much of an expert as I could possibly have become in that amount of time and I can name more music education social media influencers than I ever thought I’d be able to. But becoming an expert and doing that research isn’t just something that makes the job easier, it’s a requirement in completing the job.

The easiest part of developing a content strategy was connecting insights to strategy. Once the research was done, there was a lot of information in place and and not much sense could be made of it. But it was a lot like a puzzle, all the pieces were there but they had yet to be put together. I grabbed those pieces and aligned them in a way that made sense. One thing to always be sure of is that you’re always connecting a strategy to both an insight and an objective. If strategy isn’t based on an insight than it’s not going to accomplish an objective.

This process was eye opening and a great exercise on how to build a content strategy. But the most important thing to come out of it for me was the value of research. If I would have been light on my research, this would have been an entirely different, more difficult experience.

Two Reasons to Use a Content Calendar

Content can be overwhelming. There’s typically a lot of it, if a content manager is doing his or her job correctly, and it’s consistently being pushed out to the masses. When developing a content strategy, a lot of elements are involved like meta data, message architecture, keyword strategy and some sort of plan to attack search engine optimization. When just starting out, an element of a content strategy that is sometimes overlooked is a content calendar, also occasionally referred to as an editorial calendar.

Here are two reasons why a content calendar is a must for every content strategy:

1. It keeps you organized:

With so much content flowing in and out, it’s nearly impossible to keep track of it all if not for a content calendar. This is exceedingly helpful when there are multiple people contributing content. If it’s a blog with multiple bloggers, the content will be coming in from all over the place and it can’t just be published as soon as it comes in. A content strategist must make sure there’s an equal amount content coming out daily. There can’t be 10 posts on one day and none the next. All of this is far easier to keep track of when there’s a content calendar keeping track of these things all in one place. Many content management systems, like WordPress, have a function like this built right in. This is most likely because these services realize the extreme importance of a content calendar.



2. It’s easier to keep strategy aligned:

Keeping the content strategy on track is extremely important because when brands sway away from their strategy, they often lose track of their brand voice as consistency, as well. A content calendar lays out your content and allows you to place it and distribute it in ways that make sense and will contribute to the message you’re trying to get across before you don’t have the ability to control it anymore. What I mean by that is, if you’re just pushing out content that you think aligns well with your brand message, you can’t identify any potential problems until all the content is already out there. With a content calendar, it’s easy to have foresight before the content is published to be sure the message you’re sending is strong and effective.

Content calendars can be helpful for a variety of different mediums, whether it be social media content, blog content, or any other types of content.

Two Questions to Ask When No One is Talking

via Google+

via Google+

Last week, I took over the reins of the Google+ Community to moderate the class discussion about content strategy. Some posts generated discussion and others didn’t, and it got me thinking about people who moderate professionally. Every day, community managers and moderators post content, measure engagement, interact with commenters and then do it all over again. There have to be certain times when a piece of content is posted and no one responds. When posting so much content daily, not everything is going to be successful. A moderator shouldn’t see this as a failure but they should take the opportunity to identify why the post didn’t perform well.

Here are two questions a moderator should ask when no one is talking:

1. Am I targeting the right audience?

Whether it be the entire content strategy or one particular post, it’s important to know if the content being produced is focused on the right audience. Before you even create the social media account or platform you’re moderating, you know what audience you’re targeting. Make sure you know how they use social media and more importantly, how they best like to consume content. Certain audiences can be extremely particular with the types of content they like. Some groups love photos but hate videos, others prefer links, so it’s important to know and cater to these preferences.

The next step is to go through either the post or all of your recent content to see if you’re targeting it in the way you intend to. After doing something for a while, it’s not always easy to take a step back and examine your own work. But, it’s extremely necessary.


2. Am I talking about the right things?

If you’re a blog about science, don’t post about literature unless you have a fantastic way to relate back to science. There’s a reason people come and comment, it’s because they love or are experts in a certain subject. They don’t come to find out more about other subjects. So if you answer “yes” to question 1, this might be the problem.

Some groups that require moderation talk about some very specific topics. This summer, I moderated a group that only talked about cloud-based technology solutions for small businesses. They didn’t want to talk about mobile solutions for small businesses or social media solutions for small business, only solutions related to cloud-based technology. The big issues is that there’s not always fresh content to talk about, but that doesn’t give you an excuse to be inactive. It’s important to give the audience the content related to the subject they are interested in and keep the conversation going when the conversation isn’t necessarily fresh.

Content experts emphasize the growing importance of mobile, technology

As a panelist pointed out, content strategy isn’t something new. It’s not something like social media strategy that has emerged with the popularity of technology and online brands. Content strategy has been around for a long time, in its simplest form helping brands deliver their messages to consumers. But the oncoming importance of mobile and technology has certainly changed the ways content strategists thing and how brands are delivering content.

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A panel of experts recently discussed this emergence of technology and mobile. On hand was:

Georgy Cohen

  • Associate creative director of content strategy at Oho Interactive, a digital agency that develops strategies for brands in higher education, travel and healthcare.
  • Co-founder of Meet Content, helping brands in higher education develop successful content.

Niketa Patel 

  • Managing Director in the Rebel Media Lab at  RebelMouse, a content curation platform that allows brands to bring content from all over the web to one landing page.
  • Formerly worked in social at CNN Money and ABC News.

The question about a mobile emphasis was greeted by Margot with a groan, as mobile has certainly given content strategists headaches, but Niketa chimed in, calling it “an incredibly exciting time to be working in content strategy.” She discussed the shift from telling stories in current media to telling stories on mobile and how those two things were different. On mobile, in order to reach an audience the content has to be short, concise and to-the-point. Niketa recommended deconstructing a story in order to tell it on mobile. Rather than just putting content from other media on mobile, it’s important to repurpose it, making it visual and something that the audience will actually want to consume.

But it’s also about the technology that’s helping make it easier to think “mobile-first” as Nikita said. She talked about BuzzFeed’s CMS and how there’s a mobile preview as well as a desktop preview before posting. It’s important for companies to adopt technology like this or they’ll never truly be putting mobile as a priority. For too long, brands have been putting mobile to the side and it’s finally come to a point when audiences are demanding mobile as a first option.

Margot brought up an interesting point about how it’s about more than the technology, it’s about the editorial process and culture that supports that technology. If the entire process doesn’t emphasize mobile-first, it can’t be successful. “In order for content to be mobile-friendly, I would argue that it doesn’t just have to be short… but it needs to be modular,” she said. “It needs to be in chunks, not blobs… And to do that, the back-end content management system needs to support that type of content creation.”

But is this really any different that what content strategy has been since its early days? Georgy argues that going back to the core principals of content strategy is all you need to be successful on mobile. You must continue to ask the question like:

  • What’s important?
  • Who are we talking to?
  • How are we reaching them?
  • What does the content need to achieve its goal?

This is the key. While the medium of content strategy has changed over the years, the core principals have stayed the same. Mobile is just another medium content strategists are finding ways to deliver messages on.

Three Tips for Writing a Fantastic Blog Post

2312596915_dea8339cf2_zA blog can be a fantastic asset for a brand. Among other things, it allows the brand to control its own message, boost search engine optimization and helps craft an identity online. But a blog is useless unless its updated frequently and effectively. A blog post needs to capture the audience’s attention and hold it throughout the entire post. It also needs to deliver some sort of value to the brand, which is often easy to forget. It’s important to know company goals and values before embarking on a blogging journey so that you know what direction to take every post. But you can’t accomplish any of these things if your blog isn’t properly structured.

Here are three easy things you can do to help create a great blog post:

1. Think of a catchy title.

A catchy blog post title is the best way to capture your audiences attention. Your blog post can’t be great if no one is reading it, and no one is going to click on it if your title is boring. It’s the first thing people see, so it sets the tone of the entire post. The title shouldn’t be ambiguous. People should know what they’re in for the moment they click on the post. This makes it easy for the people who know what they’re searching for. This blog post, for example, is targeted at people writing blogs. Those blog writers are likely to search for ways to improve their blogs and when they see the title, they’ll know this post will help.

2. Link to other bloggers.

Why would I link to a competitors blog? Then all my traffic will also go to them and I wont be setting myself apart. While that type of thinking made sense at one time, in the world of online blogging, linking to other blogs is a great thing.  The Internet, and especially blogs, are all about an open exchange of ideas. If you’re not linking to other blogs, you’ll be seen as less reputable. It would be like writing an academic paper without sources.

3.  Don’t write a novel, but tell a story.

According to Anagard, the average Internet user’s attention span is just six seconds. Of course, that attention span will expand if you’re distributing great content, but it emphasizes the fact that audiences are no longer interested in long-form writing like they once were. Try to write in a concise way and get your point across in as few words as possible. But just because you’re not writing an extremely long post doesn’t mean you can’t still tell a story. The story is what is going to keep the reader hooked. Don’t sacrifice your story by using too few words.

Photo via P4BLoX