You may have heard about this Internet phenomenon known as “The Dress.” Now, don’t worry; this isn’t a test to see which dress comes out on top (BTW, I was Team #WhiteandGold…and I’m still not sure if I’m right about that) but I bring it up to illustrate a point. How can an organization—even one as important as yours—compete with the hype of #TheDress? Well, frankly—and by no means is this meant to discourage—you can’t.
As communicators, it’s our responsibility to battle short attention spans, compete with notes from family and friends, and go up against silly Internet memes. No matter how ridiculous or frustrating it may seem, it’s the world we live in, and it’s not gonna change any time soon.
That said, it’s not time to give up. It’s time to dig in and get smarter. Here are the critical stages to developing great content that captures your audiences’ attention, amidst a tidal wave of compelling content.
Stage one: Define your goals
The first thing to get clear about is your goals. Sharing meme after meme in the hopes of chasing “likes” really doesn’t matter at the end of the day, if it’s not helping you achieve what you’re hoping to achieve. Otherwise you’re just wasting your precious energy and resources. Be intentional about the work you want to do and stick with it.
Stage two: Get clear about your audience
In the same vein, be thoughtful about who you want to engage and reach. It doesn’t matter how many followers you have if they’re not the people that you need to connect with. You should use that clarity around your audience to not only guide the content you’re producing, but also where you’re sharing it.
Stage three: Develop your content strategy
When thinking about your approach to content, you want to look at two core questions:
1. What are your key messages or priorities?
2. What does your audience want to hear?
Finding the happy middle should ensure you’re getting the things across that you need to, while giving your audience what they want.
Then, it becomes about understanding how to produce and manage that content
3. How do we want to organize and structure this content?
4. Who’s responsible for producing the content?
My colleague Ada Kardos will dig deeper into these elements of a content strategy in the second part of this series, which I recommend checking out.
Stage four: Identify your content
Once you have an approach that meets your needs and your audiences’ desires, as well as some understanding about how you’re going to organize and create your content, you can get to planning. With simple guidelines in place, you can bring more focus and creativity to the types of pieces you know you wish to share. A helpful frame to think about is building out “always on” content and “trending” content. Here’s how I like to think about the two:
- “Always on” content: These are your milestone pieces. These are the various types of content and messages that you know you’ll need to communicate on a regular basis. These may originate from your organization, or they may originate from your community, virtual or real. You can count on these pieces to keep your digital channels relevant, timely, and fresh.
- “Trending” content: These are the unexpected opportunities (or in some cases hurdles) that come up. These trending pieces may come from the same sources as the “always on” content, internal teams, or external audiences. They may relate to things happening in the general social sphere (i.e., llamas on the loose) or news in your local community. These pieces can be an important way to demonstrate that you’re an active participant of the community you’re building.
Additionally, whoever is in charge of content creation should also be playing a role as content curator. If possible, try to seek out content from sources other than yourself or your organization to add some fresh points of view and information to your communities. An example of this might be sharing a retweet from someone who found a valuable solution to his or her problem on your website and responding with a “Happy to be of service!”
There are a number of best practices out there to bring some fresh ideas and approaches to what you’re sharing, once you build your balanced content mix. Here are a few resources that I found valuable:
- “4 Step System for Writing a Great Blog Post” by CoSchedule Blog
- “The Ideal Length of Everything Online" Backed by Research” by Buffer “
- New Data: What Types of Content Perform Best on Social Media” by Hubspot
- “Moz: Social Media Best Practices” by Moz
The value of a good editorial calendar
A final comment on planning. As you’ve likely noticed, these recommendations truly only succeed if you carve out time to actually build the plan and put pen to paper (or fingers to keys). I highly recommend using an editorial calendar to help you manage the day-to-day once your plan is in place. An editorial calendar will help you continue to bring thoughtfulness to what you’re sharing, how frequently you’re sharing, and how that aligns with your established content strategy. It’s an opportunity to start planning your content way ahead of when it needs to be published. It’ll help you insert ad hoc requests into a place that makes the most sense based on everything else you’ve got scheduled for the week or month. It’ll help you explain to others what else you have in the pipeline and where their request might be best slotted in.
We’re fortunate to live in a time where we have the opportunity to share important information and experiences so easily and so effectively with digital tools. The challenge is learning how to outsmart the tools and think beyond the tactical—about why you’re there, what value you can bring to your audience, and, at the end of the day, how to build relationships with people that matter.
What stage are you at? We're always here to help. Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org. And stay tuned for parts two and three in this series, where we’ll dig deeper into content strategy and explore effective ways to share your content online.