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The secret recipe for a great content strategy

The secret recipe for a great content strategy Kaitlin Carpenter
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Good content is a big, juicy burger you're serving up to your audiences, not some watery alphabet soup with the same sales message week after week. Having a good content strategy is the difference between a juicy burger and watery soup.


The secret recipe for a great content strategy


It determines what you communicate and how you do it. And when you're doing it right, you're communicating:



  • Effectively. You're producing the right content for the right audience.

  • Efficiently. The way you organize and produce content reduces redundancy and helps all of your departments and channels to contribute.

  • Appropriately. You're using the right tools to communicate with the right people.

A good content strategy is like your secret recipe to connect and engage with your audiences, and it's a critical piece of any digital strategy.


The good news is that you don't have to be the Iron Chef of communications to create a strong content strategy. Whether you're starting from scratch or rejuvenating what's already in place, it never hurts to review the four main pieces that your "recipe" or content strategy should have: message, audiences, delivery, and timing.


Message


The elements of your message are mission, tone, and output. If you ensure that every message fits the criteria you've set for these, you'll be sending the right message every time.


Mission
It might seem obvious that the mission behind your message should align with your branding and organizational goals. But brands often create content in a separate silo from the organization as a whole, and the mission isn't communicated. Does everything you write and produce fit your organization's vision and overall goals? Make sure it does.


Another obstacle can be turning a complex mission into content your audiences can understand. One of Carousel30's clients had a very high-level goal: cultivate and catalyze collaborative action among diverse interests to abate the threat to North American forests from non-native insects and diseases. That's not exactly a memorable mission. But once it was translated into a message that was simple, tangible, and actionable -- "Don't move firewood" -- the content represented an accomplishable mission for target audiences.


Tone
Tone is how your message comes across. It's the personality and attitude in your writing -- a substantial consideration. Is your audience expecting to hear "good morning" or "hey tweeps?" Establishing a consistent tone will enable all audiences to have a consistent experience with your brand, though a little variation might be needed to resonate with particular audiences. For example, your tone probably needs a little adjustment between a Facebook post to your fans and an email to your stakeholders.


Output
When you set out to create content for your brand, it won't be in just one form. There's the content on your website -- the organizational description, case studies, press releases, team bios, etc. -- and then there are blog posts, social media posts, and other pieces of content unique in subject and purpose. Don't forget to take output into consideration when you're creating a content strategy.


Audiences


Every organization has several different audiences, and each of them has unique interests and needs. What this means as part of an effective content strategy is that your content should aim to meet the needs of each audience.


If you're not sure how to achieve this, try creating personas. A persona is a hybrid profile of the individuals in an audience. What content would be useful for each persona's interests and age group? What would be the most useful thing for each persona to see on your website?


Of course, as you determine who your audiences are and create personas for each, it's important that you measure them and their interactions with your brand. Say you're an online clothing retailer. Men, women, and teenage girls each navigate your website differently. If you're measuring visits to your website, who's clicking on your emails, who's using coupons, and who's following you on Facebook, you'll be able to better address everyone's content needs.

Delivery


Delivery is about making the connection between where your content resides, what audiences it's connected to, and what goals it addresses for your brand.


First look at where your content resides online -- probably your primary website, any related sites, social media profiles, and advertising. Then consider the tools you can use to accentuate your delivery across those properties, such as search engine marketing (SEM), email marketing, and public relations.


You also need to ensure you're delivering your content where your audience is able to find it. Lots of brands produce great content, but it never reaches their audiences because they're not delivering it in the right place or promoting it using the best tools.


When you take the time to craft content with the right message, for the right audience, and for the right location, you've successfully delivered your content. It's when you fail to consider how your content will be delivered that it can fall flat or not even reach the correct audience.


Timing


The final piece to your four-part content strategy recipe is timing. Timing doesn't have to be guesswork, and there are three tools you can use to get it right.


Editorial calendar
Your message needs to come at the right time to be relevant. The easiest way to make sure your content is always timely is to use an editorial calendar. This is the schedule by which you release content and information, so you need to create it with both a time- and topic-based breakdown. It should also be based on your broader organizational calendar so that your online efforts support and augment content produced for other efforts.


Just saying, "Post blogs twice a week" doesn't convey the direction of the content you're producing. Instead, you could decide to focus on a specific organizational goal each month or quarter -- something more like "Post blogs twice a week with blog topics related to the focus for that quarter. The first quarter's focus is our new service, so 65 percent of blogs should be about or related to the new service, and 35 percent related to our brand or industry in general. Additionally, one blog each month must be written by the CEO."


Using your editorial calendar to align several tactics (like email marketing, blogging, website content, social media posts, etc.) can make them more effective because each will support the same message within the same time frame. You can also use your digital editorial calendar to form mini campaigns within your organization's larger editorial calendar.


Media relations
Don't forget media relations as a tool to share your content and make it available to others. This includes making sure blog content related to press releases is readily available, sharing posts about press releases on your social media channels, or even just ensuring press releases are available on your website as soon as possible. This alignment will give your content broader reach.


Content review
Even the best content has a shelf life. Keep your content relevant and informative by setting a schedule for review and making sure it happens. How often you review content for accuracy, timeliness, and alignment with what's happening at the organization will vary by type of content. Semi-permanent website content, for instance, like service or focus area descriptions, should be reviewed or rewritten every six months. However, reviewing social media posts is more about reviewing the overall focus of the content going forward, since you're obviously not rewriting old posts.


Conclusion


Creating a solid content strategy can seem like a big task. But it's really about defining your message, your audiences, and your delivery, and then setting editorial and review calendars so you can keep everything consistent, current, and relevant.


Once you have a content strategy in place, you have a clear roadmap for the course ahead. You save time and resources because basic decisions aren't made more than once, and you know where you're going. Your content will build your brand, be more consistent, and give a clear picture to your audience of what you do and what they can expect from you.


You won't just be producing content for the sake of content. You'll be using your own secret recipe to produce content strategically with your goals and audiences in mind.


Kaitlin Carpenter is a marketing associate at Carousel30.


On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.


"Young housewife making a recipe dish" image via Shutterstock.

Making sure the daily grind refers only to her coffee, Kaitlin is a marketing associate at Carousel30, a full-service digital agency with national clients based in historic Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, and with offices in Raleigh, NC, and...

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