Guest column by Dan Brotzel, Sticky Content.
Our new survey of the U.K.’s content culture paints a picture of a business world that is fully on board with the importance of inbound, editorial-style, self-published content as a key marketing priority.
Indeed, about one in three businesses say they regard content as business critical, and a similar amount have dedicated content teams whose full-time responsibilities are content planning, creation, delivery, and governance.
What’s alarming, however, is a sense that content efforts are still being hamstrung by internal issues relating to operations, strategy, and culture.
More than 60 percent of businesses say the biggest challenge when creating content is an absence of clear strategy or direction. 30 percent say the main issue is getting content out of their business.
Perhaps the most alarming stat of all is that nearly half of all written content never even gets published, in 15 percent of businesses.
This is an extreme amount in a relatively modest proportion of respondents, but we know from years of client-facing experience that wasted content is an issue for the U.K.
- One finance provider had oodles of content assets in mid-production, from surveys to data visualizations to white papers. However, they lacked an agreed-upon view of the production flow, and did not have an overall owner to coordinate content priorities and delivery.
- Another finance provider had loads of content items stuck in an immovable IT change request queue, which was unable to account for the topical milestones or seasonal priorities. So when things were eventually finalized, they were often obsolete before they were able to be published.
- A professional services company set a goal to produce 30 items of content every single month, regardless of the fact that it had only a very small team to plan, produce, and govern all the content. It also failed to consider the possibility of struggling to come up with 30 things to say about a particular subject during uneventful months.
- One travel provider recently discovered a big cache of destination content. No one could quite remember why it had all been commissioned in the first place or why it was so unfit for purpose, but a big chunk of additional budget was then incurred in trying to find a way to make it work. Eventually, everyone involved agreed it would have been much more sensible just to start again from scratch.
Addressing the waste issue
Taking steps to reduce the issue of wasted content is an obvious quick win for businesses on a number of levels.
Reducing waste has an obvious ROI benefit, as businesses end up with more content to publish, distribute, and promote for their marketing buck. No one likes to see their efforts go unused, so reducing content waste can improve motivation levels and inspire greater confidence in both business processes and direction.
But in order to reduce waste, the first challenge is to understand its underlying causes. Here are four key factors and some suggestions for addressing them.
Note: Though I’ve separated them, these issues will often be present in combination.
Issue 1: “Plan? What plan?”
The lack of a clear content plan or strategy can lead to content that gets commissioned and created on an ad hoc basis, often as a knee-jerk response to a one-off conversation or an external event.
Content becomes a matter of subjective enthusiasms or personal hunch. That is, until somewhere further down the line someone points out that the article, blog post, or infographic doesn’t really fit with the brand or perhaps contradicts another piece of content already created by the business.
Remedy: Implement a content strategy
The short-term pain of devising and agreeing a content plan or strategy will yield long-term benefits in the form of focused, engaging content that effectively articulates your brand and actually does some marketing for you.
Your planning process can take many forms. However, at its most basic level, it’s vital to agree what you stand for as a content brand, ideally expressed as a single content strategy statement everyone can get on board with.
It is important to reach an agreement on:
- The audiences you are trying to reach
- How content can service your users’ needs
- Where your content will live
- How you’re going to distribute it
- Your tone of voice
- How you’ll measure success
Issue 2: “I thought YOU were posting it…”
Creating a content plan is only half the battle. Making sure everyone knows about it and is on board with its direction is quite another.
As your content strategy turns into a working calendar, an absence of well-defined workflows and editorial reporting lines can lead to a content free-for-all:
- Assets are created in siloes
- No one owns the publishing process
- Perfectly good content can easily get overlooked in the melee
Remedy: Agree on workflows, roles, and responsibilities
Editorial operations may be agile and fast-moving, but they are also highly organized and regimented. Everyone knows their part in the process, and understands the critical path between planning a piece of content and publishing it. Teams in different departments also pull together to deliver against a common deadline.
Simply sketching out the current process you follow in order to get a piece of content produced can be a real eye-opener. Once you’ve mapped your current workflow, look for bottlenecks, production siloes, and areas of uncertainty. Then, you can start to build a team and a production process designed to deliver against your content strategy and calendar.
Above all, make sure there is someone with oversight of the whole process who is empowered to switch deadlines and priorities so that your calendar can adapt to changing events in real-time. Someone who can make sure that content doesn’t get wasted.
Issue 3: “Do you think 3,000 words is a bit long for a quick Facebook update?”
Your content team will rightly be unwilling to publish content that they don’t feel fits or has purpose. Examples include impenetrable slabs of unscannable text, cryptic headlines that contain no keywords, and solemn Tweets from senior stakeholders that show no familiarity with the informality of social media platforms.
Content that feels as if it’s been written for print and takes no account of the ruthless, restless scanning behavior of time-poor readers will get set aside for repurposing. This is an extra job that may never happen if resources are squeezed, as they invariably are in Team Content.
Remedy: Familiarize your people with digital content best practice
There are lots of things you can do to raise the basic digital literacy of your people:
- Develop content creation guidelines
- Run training courses in writing for the Internet
- Create a platform where you can showcase successful examples of digital content created by your business
Bad grammar makes us [sic] #GiveTwitterASlogan pic.twitter.com/g3oxqkVSR9
— Huffington Post (@HuffingtonPost) October 13, 2015
You can also take a long hard look at your tone of voice guidelines too. Are there lots of examples that show how to make your voice work in common online contexts such as web pages, transactional emails, and social feeds?
Issue 4: “We need to get another seven pieces done by Friday!”
In the rush to become publishers in their own right, some businesses have interpreted the very real need to keep up content flow and momentum, as an argument for quantity over quality.
The result is an endless stream of agreeable, insincere, “me, too” content. This, along with hasty rehashings of previous offerings, contrived newsjackings, social posts for the sake of it, and superficial treatments of topics that bear little connection to the brand publishing them. We’ve all seen this happen; invariably, the content team gets stretched and content goes unused.
Remedy: Don’t sacrifice quality for quantity
Creating effective content marketing isn’t about stuffing the world’s digital outlets with endless loads of stuff. Quality will always win out. It’s far better to create fewer pieces of more valuable content than huge amounts of vapid fodder that will ultimately only undermine engagement.
Look to plan and create content that adds value to the user. It needs to tell them something they need to know and also speak credibly and authoritatively from within your niche, as encapsulated in your content strategy statement.
Funnily enough, creating fewer quality pieces in this way can end up turning into quantity, too. Your valuable assets travel further socially via earned media and gets rewarded for being useful and interesting with more favorable search rankings. More people will find your content, and more people will want to share it.
Dan Brotzel is the co-founder of Sticky Content.
Homepage image via Flickr.
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