Content has become one of the most powerful tools in a modern corporation’s arsenal. So much so, that it has created a high-demand marketplace for content strategy specialists and agencies.
But where do you begin? In a proactive gesture to demonstrate my own thinking and a gesture to those who are otherwise contemplating content marketing, I am drafting a content philosophy that can help both brands and publications alike.
This is an uber article – let’s call it a living listicle – which will link out to longer pieces on each topic as I flesh them out further (these in-depth articles will be highlighted with a more below each section. I purposefully did not number each section because the marketplace is changing and the order of considerations might follow. But this is the order that makes sense in my brain.
Either you are starting something up alone or in a group, or you’ve been hired to run or help a content operation. Before you get into any of it, know this: it’s hard. It’s very hard. Your audience will be fickle, its attention scattered across thousands of platforms, and traditional competitors and new upstarts will be trying to outflank you. Or they may ignore you, which means you’re not bothering them. I’d prefer the former.
The best thing you can do is decide to go no further. But if you’re a brazen fool, read on.
In a word: what? In a few more words: what is this grand experiment about? Imaging the standard elevator pitch helps. How would you describe what you’re about in under 10 seconds?
Try to sketch out your idea of a perfect piece of content. What does it look like? What does it entail?
What does the publication look like in five years?
The below advice will be helpful regardless of whether you are a one-person operation or part of a small group.
Start with building blocks. Things you want to cover, sketch a logo, what would your Facebook page look like, how would you handle Q&As, who would be your biggest get for a live event. What would a theme week look like? Use a digital app like Trello, or stick things up in a conference room.
Keep detailed notes from this session, but don’t expect to figure it all out. Make a goal of having three universal themes answered.
Shallow? Deep? There is no wrong answer, but try to get it right. If you are, say, one of the thousands of gold-rush mattress blogs (caveat emptor), you will need to be super deep on the subject of bedding. If you are covering all of modern history, you’re likely to start shallow (while retaining the option of going deeper on specific topics). By topics, I mean war. You’re probably writing about war.
The work above will help you understand which direction you are looking to take this. A simple calculus is whether or not the list of subject matter you could cover – the topics that fall under your umbrellas – is long or short. Let that guide you.
Look, I know it’s super cool to pivot to video these days – and you’ll have ample time to do that in the future – but you need to know what you and your brand/publication are good at and what you’re not. You must decide: what’s necessary? If you have subject matter that is super-visual, then it’s worth the video investment. Doing audio-only might not be as smart. You can trick or convince yourself into doing any and everything. Much harder to make the more narrowly focused decision.
We live in an agile world. The likes of Talk Magazine will never be seen again. You (and the marketplace) do not have the time to launch the final project. You get something live and you hang a shingle. So, you’ve mapped out what you want the fully-formed operation to look like. But what’s the first step? A newsletter? A video series? Polls on Twitter? The only way to start is to start.
I admit I could devote 100,000 characters to this section and leave you more confused than when you started. In short, decisions for this section should be determined above (yes, I know I have purposefully not numbered sections).
I would break personnel down into two categories. What do you need to launch? Maybe you only need yourself and some training.
And then map out the people or skillsets you will need for the second phase of the project. Do you need jack-of-all-trade generalists or hyper-expert specialists? Every organization has different requirements.
If you are bringing people on board, you should involve them in the final decision process. Show them your notes and work with them to refine so they buy into the final structure and assignments.
Nothing dooms a new publication more than lack of organization. If you think you will wake up every morning bursting with inspiration, well, you would be the first person in history to accomplish that. Content is a slog and ideas can wane, so you should prepare as much as possible. Always have a bank of completed articles and story ideas for when the well has run dry.
While web design is important, what keeps most people actively engaged on your site is a clean taxonomy. Simply put, you should have well-thought-out tagging and categorization strategy. Remember all of the stuff you jotted down during your understanding period? Try to organize those things into buckets and create a tagging guide. This will help you build out sections and archives.
How do you want your content to feel? Is it playful? A good thought experiment is imaging a reader of yours discussing your publication with a friend. This friend may say something akin to: “Oh yeah, what’s so good about it?”
While you may assume they will discuss the subject matter, think about any time you’ve answered such a question. You’re more than likely to respond by saying – “It’s really interesting… or informative… or funny… or introspective.” The content is easy enough to understand; the tone is what sets you apart from everyone else discussing those subjects.
The easiest thing to do is often the thing never done. Everything discussed above should be documented somewhere accessible. And documented in a sensible format. Why don’t people document? They tell themselves it will either make people inefficient in their jobs or that no one will read it.
But documentation is not just about printing out reams of paper or setting up a wiki. It’s a living functionality. Documentation has versions. It requires discussions. It involves reminders. Documentation is the engineering of any successful content operation.
It can help your colleagues, you, and/or your employees to structure their days and weeks, and also put into place expectations and responsibilities. This can be immensely helpful if you are worried about people skipping vital behind-the-scenes functions, such as, as you will see below, analytics.
Much like documentation, you can convince yourself that no one will check the analytics, so why bother? Well, for one, you can’t retrieve historical data without putting the tracking in place. So you’re betting that your boss or your boss’ boss, or the head turtle in charge will never want to know how any historic article performed.
And, ultimately, what’s the point of creating content if you have no idea whether it’s doing its job or not?
Build into the documentation responsibilities for analytics to ensure someone can speak credibly at any time.
Now the real work begins. You have started work (either alone or with a team) and content proceeds apace. How are you ensuring you are staying on top of everything? Documentation helps. Analytics tell you the story of success. But who is driving future strategy? Who is keeping on top of third-party apps, and industry trends?
The first month should be focused on execution the launch plan. But do not wait too long until you convene all stakeholders to map out what the next 60-90-180-180,000 days hold for your new product.
This is a living document. There will be additions and (hopefully few) subtractions. I will do my best to minimize the latter. Like what you read? You can excerpt it on your blog or site, but do not copy the entire work. Can’t believe I have to say that in Twenty Nineteen. Looking to pick my brain? You can hire me to do workshops, proposals, or run your content operations. Contact me here.
-30- for now….