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The Importance of Being Engaging: Part 3 – Plan your Strategy

By Tony Greene


In Part One and Part Two I talked about what engaging content is and why we need to create it. But before dashing off to the drawing board, we need a Content Strategy or plan of attack. A disciplined, predetermined approach sets you up with the best chance for success. Like cooking or painting, remodeling, or writing a novel, you have to know what you’re making and figure out how to make it before the “art” begins.



There are many approaches out there, and varied how-to lists to follow, even tools to assist you, and in most of it you can find plenty of value. But there’s a lot of ideas out there, some wonderful, some conflicting, some questionable, and some that are no longer relevant. In my experience creating content in national and global markets, I have worked with many people in product, content, marketing, advertising, customer operations, analytics, and technology – people far smarter than I am in their chosen roles – and I have been inspired by the latest trends and thought leaders, influenced by the same social and cultural shifts as everyone else, and what I’ve learned is that even though times, markets, algorithms, and customer needs ebb and flow, there remains these 6 Essential Ingredients that should go into any perfectly baked content strategy:


1. Know your Audience


When I worked on the product team at SAGE Publications, we created personas for the various digital products that we sold. We catered to undergrads, graduate students, researchers, academics, and authors. Within each of those groups were more specific personas. We needed to identify as many of them as we could so that we fully understood the needs of our audience.

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Grad students want to be close to a Starbucks or click Postmates for their meals. They want cool-looking cars (but probably can’t afford one right now) and are actively dating. That persona is widely different from the Associate Professor who teaches Music Theory. The Associate Professor is writing for a science journal but wants to write a novel, is married with a daughter and a second child on the way, and needs to get a bigger apartment, but doesn’t have tenure yet. What the academic needs from us can be far different than what our Grad student is searching for. But there is a lot of overlap and overlap is where we can get the most mileage out of our content.


2. What’s Your Problem?


At EVgo we discovered that a lot of our customer complaints came from customers who were having trouble charging their electric vehicle at a fast-charging station. Their problem is that they haven’t been fully educated in how electric charging works and, more practically, how to charge their vehicles. That is a problem for an EV driver, so we decided to solve their problem.


We created a series of How-to videos. Lots of how-to videos. How to Fast Charge Your Nissan LEAF. How to Fast Charge Your Chevy Bolt. How to Fast Charge Your Tesla Model 3. How to EVgo at ChargePoint. How to Use the EVgo App. How-to articles are a great starting point in any content strategy because they give your audience meaningful evergreen knowledge for free.


While we valued “How do I charge my car?” as a high priority question, it wasn’t the only one. Customers of any industry will have many questions, complaints, concerns, or suggestions that should be addressed in one way or another. Looking at your customers' comments, listening to their calls, tracking their posts, will not only be enlightening, but it will give you enough customer-generated fodder to keep you or your content team busy making smart, valuable, entertaining, and engaging content for them.


3. What makes you unique?


This is one of my favorites because it’s about how you present your work. How did you take it out of the box, make it original, and engaging, turn it into something that convinces customers to LIKE, SHARE, SIGN UP, or CONTACT US.


The best way to be unique is to be yourself. Don’t try to be the next marketing genius of the year. It’s ok if you let them influence you and carry the torch for a bit, but ultimately the only way you will stand out is to do an about-face, turn upside down, juggle three carving knives, or tell a horror story (after all, it’s almost Halloween!).


Look at all the competition around us. Graphic designers, videographers, bloggers, social media rock stars. There is so much excellent content out there. There is likely a lot of content that directly competes for attention with you. That content is probably excellent. Yours can be excellent, too. It just has to be different. It has to take a different slant, point of view. Maybe your point of view. Conan O’Brien tells a joke a lot differently than Steve Martin would. They have their own style, their own pace, their way of expressing themselves.


Need help finding your brand’s voice? Get a free consultation.

What’s your style? What’s your voice? How do you express yourself? If you’re a writer, write it down. If you’re a graphic artist, draw it. It’s going to be unique if it comes from you.

 

4. To Blog or Not to Blog?


While some people prefer to read blogs (sadly dwindling) others (like me!) would rather watch a 5-second to 3-minute video, or an IG Story, a TikTok post, an infographic, giphy, animation, slideshow, or read an email. There are many ways we can present our content and any one of them can be an effective way to deliver your message. In fact, you will get the best results by utilizing multiple content formats for your regular posting and marketing campaigns. The best use of your valuable time is to create content that is pliable, meaning it can be easily tweaked for multiple format uses:



It’s important to note that you should only create content sets that apply to the platforms you have chosen to use (see “Name Your Platforms” below). As you learn more about your customer base you may be surprised to find out that those videos you were ready to make are not what your people want and just like that your priorities will change. You may cut some priorities altogether. But that’s the point. You want to be sure that the formats suit your customer’s wants and needs, that they “get” that kind of content, that voice, that information. You don’t even have to get it right the first time. A Content Strategy is your map until the road you’re on deadends and suddenly you need to improvise on other roads. Experiment down different roads. Some may work, some may not. If one gets you there, BRAVO. So try out all the formats. Try out all the platforms. See what spikes and what sinks. The Pew Research Center has studied the demographics of social media users and the value of each social media platform. For example, if you were the marketing director at Ceiling Bling, specializing in indoor lighting, you would likely post business news on LinkedIn and Twitter. Facebook might promote certain sales and pop-up events. Instagram would show photos of your hottest indoor lighting options. TikTok? Maybe blinking LED lights with the words “The lights are on, and off, and on again, even when nobody’s home.”


So what content formats will you use? If you know your audience, you will know the answer. If you don’t know your audience, you might be fishing for a while.


5. Name Your Platforms



Not too difficult a question to answer these days since most companies want to create content for all social and business media platforms: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and the latest, TikTok. Twitter is a teaser or a bite-sized bit of news, Instagram will take a square image with room for copy and some #hashtags and Facebook offers maximum options to help you promote your brand. LinkedIn is a hub for giving you credibility and promoting your brand, sharing company or industry news, publishing articles, giving away free advice or helpful tips, and liking and following other companies or individuals. 


But by knowing your audience you might decide that you need video and the best place to build a video library is YouTube. YouTube will be your first priority. Then, to promote those videos you will create Facebook and Instagram accounts. On the flip side, you might have a flower business and you don’t need YouTube at all. You promote your work through Instagram and Facebook and even dip into TikTok since high school birthday parties are one of your most consistent events.


If your content strategy is the tree trunk, each social media platform is a prominent branch. Each will have its own strategy laced with various foliage that includes budget, topics, whether your content is created in-house or outsourced, will it have real photos or illustrations, will you link your channels or keep them separate? 


6. No CMS? No problem


Figuring out how you'll create and publish all your content can be a daunting task. It's important for a content strategy to know who's creating what, where it's being published, and when it's going live. I’ve been spoiled for a lot of my career. In most cases, we had homegrown Content Management Systems that, while clunky and in need of regular updates and enhancements, they fit our needs. At Internet Brands our home-grown system allowed us to hire writers, send them assignments with notes, it gave them a space to create their blogs or slideshows, and submit. We could provide notes through the system, edit through the system, pay writers, publish and republish if we needed to make any updates. You can see every date and step that your article went through, you can run reports on anything from article clicks to how much any given writer has earned over any period of time.

But not all companies have CMS systems – homegrown or 3rd party subscriptions. Sometimes you have to create your own. Below is a social media calendar that you can use to keep track of all your content.




Social Media Calendar
.xlsx
Download XLSX • 34KB

 Mixed from the ingredients above, you are certain to create content that is entertaining, informative, discoverable, and actionable, meaning that it should eventually help grow your company’s success.


This is Part 3 in a series on How to Create Engaging Content by Tony Greene.


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