One thing we all can agree on is that the essence of a great content strategy is about producing quality content and distributing it to the right, most passionate audience. Following are six must-haves:
Truth No. 1: Be Clear About Your End Game
You must have a clearly defined goal/KPI: What is the purpose of this content? I like to say that content usually fits into one of two camps online: news you can use or a time-waster - something that is entertaining and inspiring. Are you simply trying to evoke an emotion or engender a connection? Or, are you trying to provide value as a thought leader with actionable information?
Truth No. 2: Speak Differently to Your Audience Than Everyone Else Does
Voice, tone, cadence, themes must be consistently articulated throughout the program. At my company we take the brands we work with through a rigorous "editorial brief" process, collaborating with them to define the personality of the content. We make sure that the content being produced is completely keeping with the voice, look, and feel of the brand. Finally, white space - if there is any, grab it.
Truth No. 3: Showing Up Is 90 Percent of the Challenge
In my mind, there is no dabbling in content. Be part of the conversation. Listen but be prepared to talk and keep the conversation going. It is fruitless to do one-off content programs that dip in and out of certain audiences on a given subject matter and then disappear. Commit. Be always on or don't play.
Truth No. 4: Assemble a Great Team
Impassioned authors/influencers will deliver that all-important element of authenticity. Work with authors over a sustained period of time and get them excited/energized about the brand's goals. A loyal band of influencers will establish you as a thought leader in a certain category as these people put their names next to yours and amplify the content through their own social graphs.
Truth No. 5: Be Nimble and Lean Into Strengths Discovered Along the Way
The best content strategy is one that is dynamic and changes as you test and learn. Don't be too rigid, and make sure all key stakeholders understand that the magic sometimes is in the doing. Toss out what isn't working quickly and capitalize on themes that the audience seems to be rewarding through expressions (sharing and commenting, for example) instead of just impressions (in and out, a bigger churn). A more qualified audience is always a good thing.
Truth No. 6: Repeat After Me, "Editorial Is Not Neat and Tidy"
You just can't measure editorial the way you want to. You can't measure the efficacy of each piece and expect to find the winning formula. As much as marketers try to find the answers in measuring the performance of each piece of content, it is the entire body of work that needs to be examined. There will be some months when you strike it rich and others that fall flat. Certain authors are better than others at delivering winners but not to a certainty. There was a great piece in The Atlantic by Alexis Madrigal called "A Day in the Life of a Digital Editor, 2013."
One quote toward the end expresses this idea well:
"...looking at the numbers teaches you about the social reality of the Internet. In a very real sense, unless you look at the numbers, you do not know what (the dynamic sociotechnical space that is) the Internet looks like. Your view lets you see its boulevards and parks, but it is like a photograph from the 1850s when the exposure times were too long to capture moving people. Your Paris is empty.
OK, sorry, I will wipe the spittle off my screen now."
Finally, some advice: trust your readers (they'll do the right thing if you do).
Image on home page via Shutterstock.
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Mary Gail is an experienced digital and print content strategist. At FM, Mary Gail runs a number of branded content development programs for AMEX, Chevy, Citi, Intel and L'Oreal to name a few. She is actively engaged in helping brands understand the value of quality content to meet key marketing objectives. Prior to FM, she was Executive Producer for Lucky and Luckymag.com managing the website, directing Lucky's social media strategy, and planning multi-platform tech and content partnerships. Mary Gail also held a corporate position at Condé Nast as Editorial Projects Director, jump-starting Cour online initiatives company-wide. Her early years in publishing were as the Managing Editor of several titles including GQ, Harper's Bazaar, Domino, Women's Sports and Fitness, and Details magazines. She graduated with a B.A. from Emory University and holds an M.B.A. from New York University.
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