Creating an Effective Content Strategy, Part 1: Where to Start
Content marketing can be overwhelming for startups. But it doesn’t have to be.
There are a hundred ways to reach your customers, but when content marketing needs to be at the crux of it, there are a few simple ways to produce, organize, and distribute your content that help drive qualified traffic and make your life easier.
Here are 5 tips on how to get your content strategy started:
1. Mine the right topics
In 2007, American Express created a platform called OPEN forum. AmEx had identified small business owners as their largest untapped market, so they made a community for them to ask questions and network. Today this community gives AmEx a really detailed view on what their target audience is most interested in. Before turning out content that addressed the questions of the users, AmEx looked at stats on how much people trust internal content from financial institutions. Surprise — they don’t. Now almost all of the content that’s published on OPEN comes straight from outside experts. They recognized their readership wasn’t interested in branded content, so they got opinions from objective sources.
When you’re setting up your company’s blog (which you need to be doing), the first step should identifying what topics your audience cares about. Google Trends shows you a breakdown of specific, related topics people have been Googling. Also check popular threads on Reddit, Hacker News, StumbleUpon, etc. to understand where people are putting their attention.
Whether it’s a reddit thread, trend detector, or casual conversations, you need to understand your what your target customer talks about.
2. Fill the whitespace
Understand what your competitors are focusing their content strategy on by investing time reading their blogs and social media. Look for the opportunities and fill in the gaps with your material.
You can also search for a word or phrase in Buzzsumo, and it will show you what content has produced around that topic and how popular it is.
Sometimes you want to write pieces about the topics people are searching for, and other times you want to see what’s been produced and write something with a different angle. Or try both approaches together to figure out what you should produce to fill the gaps.
The whitespace between what people are talking about and what needs to be talked about is the content you should produce.
Yes, there is benefit to be had in covering the exact stuff that others are writing about to capitalize on the SEO value, but you still need a unique spin that contributes in a relevant way.
And what’s more effective is understanding where the windows of opportunity lie and producing content to fill them.
3. Distribute and amplify
#1 and #2 focus on content production, but that’s only a piece of the battle. The real challenge — and opportunity! — is building and engaging an audience. I’ve worked with startups who feel like they’re doing everything they should be doing (blogging consistently, Tweeting, etc.) but can’t figure out why the traffic isn’t rolling in. The huge piece they were missing was seeking out and actively building their audience with a content strategy. (You can’t just create and post content and expect people to see and interact with it.)
Here are some suggestions for cultivating a followership:
- Medium is a great, community-inspired platform for your startup. Once you’ve posted a story, submit your article to a relevant Medium collection.
- Create a “boost group” with a Facebook group or group Instagram message. When anyone in the group posts/publishes something that they want to boost, they can send a simple heart emoji (or other symbol) to the group and members will respond with a like + comment on their post.
- Reach out to influencers. People with an avid social media following know that it’s all about affiliations. If they believe in your company’s mission/product, or just believe in you as a person, they may be willing to share your content with their audiences, too.
- Repost and reposition content until you figure out what’s engaging your audience. Tweet an article out over and over, Pin it, share it on Facebook with bonus details, swap out images images. Whatever you do, don’t just publish something and sit on it.
4. Use a content calendar
If you’re not using a scheduling calendar for every piece of content, you’re handicapping your marketing.
How will you see how your day-to-day posts and engagement map back to your overall strategy if you’re not thinking about what that content should look and sound like, and when it should go out? How will you coordinate who writes what content and what channels it should go out on without a content calendar? And how will you organize testing and optimizing headlines and images if they’re not laid out and looked at beforehand?
You can’t. You should be using a calendar and use a couple tools to carry out that strategy. Avoid the lure of fancy tools and embrace the efficiency of Google Sheets. Going too far on the side of simplicity, like with an Excel spreadsheet, can also limit your ability to share and see changes in real time.
Make your distribution even more fluid with the DistroSheet tool.
The site links a Google Spreadsheet to your Twitter account, so you can tweet directly from your content calendar and don’t have to copy and paste.
5. Organize your content strategy
Set up your DistroSheet with all the right categories and include the following, along with anything else that’s particular to your brand’s content:
- UTM codes (to track the performance of each piece)
- Visual collateral (e.g. image files, thumbnails)
- Link shorteners
- Author/Team member assigned to task (you can also tag people with their email address in a DistroSheet comment to alert them that they’re in charge of something)
- 5–10 social headlines (watch out for character limits!)
- UTM codes (seriously, without the data you’ll get from these tags you may as well toss your content out into the void)
Now the fun part: go live and start pushing out content. You’ll quickly see which formats, hashtags, and distribution channels reach and resonate with your target audience best. From there, you can adapt your content strategy to reach your customers more effectively.
Implementing a content system like this can be a major undertaking when you’re first launching. If you need a boost, InterimCMO can get your team set up, or can take care of it all for you.