Flickr: Philo Nordlund / Creative Commons

Just Do It

You won’t know what sticks until you hit the publish button.

As 20-something year olds, we spend the decade working out who we are. Finding out about what we like and what we dislike. We go out a lot, meet lots of people, and experience life to understand more about ourselves. By the time we hit our 30s, we have a much better idea of who we are and are comfortable in our own skin. We have a small group of close friends whom we see regularly. We have hit our stride.

The thing to remember is that at no point did we lock ourselves away in our rooms over several months to dream up the person we want to be when we’re older. We have a broad ambition or idea about who we want to be, and we start doing the things, bit by bit, that would get us there. Our actions are rooted in the real world, where we respond to the world around us and evolve accordingly.

“I never dreamt that I would get to be, the creature that I always meant to be.” Pet Shop Boys, Being Boring

Brands are just like us. At the beginning, they have trouble knowing who they are. They look around their world, and see their competitors confidently going about their business, gaining market share and behaving like kings of the world. All the brand does is dream about growing up.

The only way for brands to find out about itself is to dive into this scary grown-up world and join in. This world is a noisy one, where brands, publishers, bloggers and vloggers (and whoever else is in your feed) vie for the attention of the consumer. Everyone is chatting and connecting, sideways, up and down and every which way. It’s a cacophony of opinions, feedback and sharing.

To join in the conversation, brands need to have something to say. And that is done through content.

Take Buffer, for example. In its early days, its founders Leo Widrich and Joel Gascoigne pitched Buffer to publications such as Mashable and TechCrunch to get some PR coverage but nobody wanted to write about them. So they decided to do it themselves and so the Buffer blog was born.

Now, 90% of the content that Buffer shares is their own. That is huge. Buffer has gone out of their way to own and engage with their audience. Social media is the way the most people find their way to Buffer’s blog — Pinterest is the 7th best referrer.

Referral traffic to the Buffer blog

So you see, until you start creating and sharing, you won’t know what sticks with your audience. Eight months into their blogging efforts, Buffer realised that producing general social media tips on their blog had a limited reach. Scale was what they were after.

Widrich realised they needed to create for people who could potentially interact with potential customers. And not for current customers or potential customers. In an interview with Mixergy, he explained:

“We want to scale this. We want to really, really have a large audience that could be inspired, be interested by the content we produce and go away and maybe tell someone, ‘Hey, I read this great post on the Buffer blog’. And this guy says, ‘Actually, that’s cool, and also Buffer looks cool — I might use that’.”

Widrich refined the target audience of the blog. To communicate with people who had an audience (ie. opinion formers), Buffer diversified its content into psychology, creativity, and general life hacks. Their social shares shot up, going from 250 shares per post to more than 1,000 shares per post.

That eight months played an important part in Buffer’s journey towards success. Only by putting content out there were they able to realise the limitations of their strategy.

Which leads me to my point on data. Buffer looked at their data and revisited their blog strategy. Data comes into its own when you have a piece of content published on the internet, which you can then quantify. How are people reacting to it (dwell time and visits to other blog pages or company pages) and what they doing with it (social shares)?

Use data wisely; don’t be a slave to it. It can give you insights, show you a trend, help you identity a pattern in your audience’s behaviour. It certainly helps inform your decision, but your ultimate decision should not be wholly dependent on it. Data, by its very nature, is inherently historical. If all you do is follow the data, then you’ll always be behind the curve.

Austin Kleon’s book (Show Your Work!) about the concept of being self-promotional without being a turn-off, is interesting for all content marketers. The role for the content that content marketers produce, to put in its most simplistic, is for self-promotion.

Show Your Work! is the follow-up to Austin Kleon’s New York Times bestseller Steal Like An Artist

So don’t hold back. Create a blog for your company, make it engaging, get to know your audience, keep a close eye on the data, and use social to distribute your content.

To understand whether your content resonates with the audience, you need to hit publish and see what sticks. Until you do that, it’s pure speculation and anecdotal, and you can theorise till the cows come home.

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