Content Strategy Follow-Up: Summary, Tools, References & Resources
Thanks to everyone who attended Content Strategy for Non-Marketers, hosted by Google for Entrepreneurs and CoCo Minneapolis. This summary is designed as an event supplement for those wishing to follow up on specifics that were discussed. Please feel free to get in touch with me as well if you have any questions, critiques or suggestions! Note: none of the following links are sponsored and all of the tools mentioned are ones I use.
Tell a Good Story
The very phrase ‘content strategy’ can be contentious – for one thing, it risks commodifying creativity. At the end of the day, whatever your end goal, storytelling can help you achieve it. If you are in this for the long haul, you have to be engaged with and enthusiastic about the stories you want to tell, before and beyond fitting them to a professional purpose. Moreover, you have to be willing to learn from other storytellers and open to learning from your own victories and mistakes along the way.
Content Strategy is Iterative
Creativity does not happen in a vacuum and strategies cannot be constructed in a void. If you are trying to build an audience, for whatever reason, your approach has to evolve around successes and failures, trials and errors – write, socialize, learn, strategize, implement, repeat. Try thinking in terms of three audience types – social (and) media influencers who can help you build an audience in the first place, direct readership that grows from social exposure and search visitors who come with time, traffic and links. The low barrier to entry for online publishing cuts both ways – you (but also: anyone else) can throw up a WordPress site in minutes, install free themes and essential plugins and start publishing. Of course, there is also no one-size-fits-all solution, so know your goals, play to your strengths and grow with your audience.
Learn Your Landscape
Look around for role models and potential peer sites – and consider reaching out with questions to those you admire (they won’t bite). Once you have a site or two in mind to compare and analyze, SimilarSites and Alexa are great (free) places to start seeing what other sites are already out there in a given niche. Then, these two sites as well as Quantcast and Compete can provide further free data on the traffic, demographics and more with respect to a given site. There are a lot of ways to compare successes within a site as well, through everything from reader comments to share counts. When it comes to your own site, Google Analytics is the unrivaled tool to track visitors and has countless customization options. If you are in it for the long haul, cast a narrow enough net to carve out a space for yourself but a wide enough one to attract the audience you want and avoid burnout by having plenty to talk about. Consider writing beyond your comfort zone or core niche to see what happens.
Optimize Your Layout
The design of your site should reflect the goals you have for your audience. Consider whether, for instance, you want them to follow you on social media, sign up for your newsletter, buy your book, or delve deeper into your content. If you are starting out or starting over, try to utilize a responsive design that smoothly accommodates a wide range of screen sizes and device types. If you are not sure where to start, the default WordPress themes these days are all responsive and somewhat malleable, and there are lots of lists out there of free and cheap layouts. Of course, there are other options like Tumblr, TypePad, SquareSpace and Blogger, including some with lower barriers to entry, which may be worth comparing. Make sure that critical elements are visible and usable in a way that makes sense for each size and scale of device and screen.
Prioritize Your Content
Feed readers and social visitors need to be given good reasons to both start and keep reading your work. Understand the importance of headlines, thumbnails, first images and paragraphs – ask yourself whether they will engage people, convince them to keep reading and share what they find or come back for more. Keep in mind the pacing of your content – if writing: create sections, mix in images, videos, lists and other relevant elements that can break up large blocks of text and provide visual relief for readers. Similar pacing strategies apply to producing video, audio and other forms of content as well. Beyond tapping into your own creativity, also look to your (digital) neighbors, peers and mentors for advice, guidance and inspiration. You should develop your own subjects, style and approach, but know how you fit into a broader community of people discussing similar topics or using parallel strategies.
Getting Started on Social Media
Social strategy should be a natural extension of storytelling. While Facebook and Twitter may seem like obvious places to start sharing, it takes fans and followers to get traction and build momentum in those social spaces – consider beginning with more accessible and democratic social sites. With Reddit, for instance, anyone can join, unsubscribe from the default set of sections, then find and engage within relevant SubReddits (search for some here)- similarly on StumbleUpon: it is easy to join up and subscribe to topics of interest. Be sure, though, to take your time to understand each space you approach and what makes it unique, then engage actively only once you can successfully contribute to the community (beyond self-promotion). Also remember that engagement is often inversely correlated with traffic volume – getting a big front-page hit on a major social site (or section/topic within a site) may generate less long-term traction than a smaller-niche success.
Basic & Automated Monetization
There are virtually infinite ways to approach monetization, but start by asking yourself how much time and effort you want to spend on this front – especially if your site is just taking off. For more automatic approaches, consider contextual text, link and image networks including AdSense or Chitika (contextual), Kontera or Infolinks (links), GumGum or Vibrant (images). These are as simple as it gets: you add scripts to pages and the networks take a cut and do the rest. There are many mass-market options for standard IAB banners, including Technorati or Tribal Fusion. There are management platforms and exchanges, too, like OpenX, DFP (DoubleClick for Publishers), and DoubleClick Ad Exchange. And then there are self-serve, on-site networks, such as BlogAds and BuySellAds, that can give advertisers an easier route to directly purchase space directly from your page.
Manual & Custom Monetization
Depending on your niche and approach, more hands-on solutions such as Amazon Affiliates (commission-based product links) and Commission Junction (cost-per-click and cost-per-action) may be a fit or at least worth testing. Highly custom options might include native advertising, non-start unit sizes or high-tech integrations. Whatever you do: balance your priorities and know your limits – the more time you spend on the monetary side the less time you may find you have for content and technology, and no one likes pop-ups or advertising masquerading as content. Advanced (tech-savvy) users can also start with basic options and then filter certain ads out for loyal regular readers.
Pitching to Media Outlets
Keep your pitches short and targeted, and then provide links to supporting materials (additional information, images and videos). Prioritize your pitches and consider giving something extra to publications that are particularly relevant – a logo on your crowdfunding campaign, an early exclusive, advance copy or prototype can help hook a media outlet. Be honest, direct and brief but also be sure to research the magazines, beat editors or bloggers you are addressing individually, especially those that are most important to you. In the end, you are communicating with people who are interested in telling good stories, so help them start crafting one with your pitch.
Don’t Think – Do!
Hopefully some of the materials provided here are helpful as you start or continue your endeavor, but before you get lost in endless analysis and second-guessing, remember to just start and keep trying things. Content strategy is iterative – you have to try out different approaches, test them and learn from both successes and failures. And if the words ‘content’ and ‘strategy’ get in your way, forget the rest and recall that it all starts and ends with telling and sharing stories.