No matter what you’re writing, whether it’s a grocery list, a novel or a blog, you need a plan. Creating online content is no different. But even the most experienced content strategists amongst us have fallen victim to at least one (if not all) of the following:
- A sense of panic in responding to trends,
- putting anything out there because your brand’s been a bit quiet lately, or
- simply just shooting before aiming.
Sometimes in the always-innovative, ticker-tape world of online content, it’s good to be reminded of the basics.
So where do you start? To lay the groundwork for your content plan, try these six steps for creating the kind of content that speaks directly to your ideal customer and convinces them that your product/service is the one to beat:
Step 1: Get creative
This is the part that can cause anyone to throw their hands in the air…and then throw in the towel. But it really needn’t be. Society has created a mystical cloud around creativity reserved only for painters and novelists – but the truth is, we’re all creative – and it’s the only reason the human race has survived. We’re born problem solvers.
Most schools of thought divide creativity into two components – idiosyncratic creativity (deeply personal) and sociocultural creativity (the result of working with other people and ideas).
The former can be said to promote an idealist approach. It will come when it comes – don’t rush it. In other words, not very helpful. The latter gives us more to work with – a belief that creative success is only achieved through action, by engaging with your materials.
In short, the sooner you start working; the sooner inspiration will strike. Do research, watch TED Talks, make lists, map out your ideas or draw them. Most of the time, your ideas get even better when you engage with them.
Step 2: Identify your ideal customer
During this step, you create an impression of your ideal client, also known as a customer avatar. Ever heard of the audience of one? Well, your avatar is your first step to creating content that will seem to many like you’re talking to them directly.
When you create a customer avatar, you’re essentially creating a character – and like all the best characters, the more rooted in reality, the better.
Draw up a two-column table and list as much information about your ideal customer as you can – ranging from her name and job title to what car she drives and what blogs she reads. What clothes does she wear and what does she fear to be true about her job and her life?
The more information you have, the clearer your picture of her will become and the better you’ll be able to figure out how to make your product/service appeal to her.
What about other customers that don’t fit her profile? They can come too, but they’ll need their own avatars, which means you’ll need to create separate content for each of them. But start with one, identifying who you most want to target and focus only on them.
As you start planning your content, you’ll know exactly who you’re creating it for. Most importantly – don’t try to please every possible customer with one blog, pin, tweet or infographic. It will leave your content with little more personality than an instruction manual. Ultimately, you’re trying to create a journey that will lead them straight to your business.
Step 3: Set clear objectives
Let’s start with the bad news: A good objective is not, Get more customers to make more money. That’s a given. As with all strategy, the more specific you are about what you want, the more targeted your tactics become and eventually, the more customers you’ll entice with your amazingness.
The good news is, you already know what you want – you just need to break it up into bite-sized chunks. One example of an objective would be to increase the number of email inquiries through your newsletter by 5% month-on-month over the next 6 months. What you want to achieve, how much of it you can manage and sustain and over how long a period of time?
In this example, if you have 100 subscribers, for instance, and get 5 inquiries per newsletter every month, you’ve got 5 potential new clients.
Step 4: Identify your topics
Now that you know who you’re creating for and what you want them to do, the real brainstorming begins. What information will they find valuable, how will they use it and at what point will they need your help?
General rule-of-thumb: generate as many ideas as you can, because often, only 10% of those ideas will be a home run (to use a completely out-of-character expression). Many of them will be good enough, but you’re aiming for a grand slam (better?).
I recently worked with a great personal brand consultant who suggested a technique for generating ideas that I find really helpful. Using a timer, give yourself 10 minutes to write down every topic that comes into your head, even if it’s not great – it might give you an idea for something else.
By the end of those 10 minutes, you’ll have a page or more of topics that you can flesh out, change or develop further. It’s quick and it’s a great starting point.
Step 5: Find the best platform
Choosing where to post your content can make or break every effort you’ve made up to this point. There are endless social platforms to choose from, for instance, and seemingly infinite ways in which to display your content.
Although the social media landscape is anything but simple, choosing where to post your content is not that complicated. You’ve already created your customer avatar, right?
Where does your ideal customer hang out? Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn? Once you’ve figured that out, all you need to do is to create content that competes with other content on that platform – not all kinds of content on all platforms.
Another consideration is how important your website is to your brand. Every brand’s home on the internet is its website – and it should reflect what you do, how and why you do it and should convey your personality. But with all the hype around SEO, many businesses spend a lot of time and effort driving traffic to their websites, yet fail to ask the all-important question: Then what?
Step 6: Let it flow
Now that you’ve got a plan, all that remains is knuckle down and do it. Whether you’re going create your content yourself or get a content creator to do it is up to you – but you’ll find that you’re able to communicate your ideas better, manage your time better and better justify the time and money you invest in content with concrete research.
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