100+ Best Content Marketing Hacks in 2019
20 Years ago, content marketing was not exactly popular compared to today’s scenario, not because the internet did not flourish at that time, but because people did not know what content marketing was capable of.
Now, just take a look around yourself. Every other person on the internet is talking about content marketing.
Content marketing has now become an essential part of business operations. And if you're not utilizing it, you are actually missing out on a world of opportunities. This blog explains the 100+ Best content marketing hacks used in 2019.
However, it will be a mistake to think that content marketing can produce instant results because it does not. In fact, you may have to face a number of challenges that may force you to think otherwise.
Here are 25 most challenging tasks and tips in content marketing that you may encounter in your career:
Preparing a viral video
First of all, there is no particular formula to produce a viral video whenever you want. If there was a pattern, top brands would be producing viral content every day and driving all the traffic to their channels.
The best you can do is to give your 100 percent and hope it works. Well, the chances of success are really slim, but you can surely use some optimism while working on the video.
A lot of people used to believe that investing in good camera and equipment might help them produce a quality video which would eventually go viral. But in most cases, the videos that go viral are usually recorded in mobile cameras.
Coping with the frequent changes
Anyone who has been involved in content marketing knows how frequently the trends change in this industry. One day you are getting overwhelming results by posting bite-sized content, the next day you see longer posts are driving more traffic.
Clearly, content marketing is an ever-changing practice, and to stay at the top, the marketers need to get acquainted with the latest trends that are ruling the industry at that very moment.
However, adapting to new trends does not always assure success. There are plenty of instances that indicate that even the most effective trends in the industry do not take much time to fade away.
For a professional, who relies on his creativity and the ability to analyze the consumer needs, adapting to the ever-changing environment can be more challenging than it seems.
Creating user-based content while optimizing it for the search engines
Consumers like the content that is personalized as per their preferences. But in order to make the content SEO-friendly, you need to follow the SEO guidelines as well. Now, creating an SEO-friendly content that also serves the user intent may not be the easiest thing to achieve.
Most content creators find it hard to comply with both the elements at the same time. As you may realize, to rank higher in the search results, the content needs keywords, and its format has to be ideal for SEO.
It's a huge challenge for a content creator to build creative content when there is plenty of guidelines to follow. A writer works best when he is given the space to work freely. Burying him with all the requirements does affect his productivity.
Measuring the content marketing ROI
10 years ago, it was difficult to verify the fact that content marketing could work, because there was no tool to measure the return-on-investment (ROI) of the content marketing efforts. Today, we may have sophisticated tools for analysis, but measuring the ROI of content marketing is still a major hassle.
Surely, the top brands are now familiar with the content marketing practices, but even they go through a tough time to learn how many conversions can be attributed to a particular channel or a blog post. In most cases, the digital conversion paths of these brands cannot be tracked or analyzed.
Furthermore, most of the marketers find it extremely difficult to tie the content to conversions and identify proper and applicable metrics to assess the impact made by the respective content marketing strategies. A few marketers use a “purchase intent model” track the conversion rate to measure ROI, but even that model shows errors.
For small-time marketers, the budget remains the major reason to worry. Since it is not always possible to justify the investment in the content marketing programs, the marketers often get a budget that’s much lower than the actual quotation.
Whether the marketer chooses to produce the content with an in-house team or outsource the task, both the options are going to cost him a significant amount of capital, one way or another. So there's no point in negotiating with the budget. However, every other marketer needs to fight for an adequate budget.
Now that there's a shift in trends towards paid promotion, the budget is going to play a crucial role in determining the efficacy of a content marketing program. There are several ways to fight the budget constraints, but this is one thing that concerns every marketer in the industry.
Dealing with unrealistic expectation
Even though content marketing has been in practice for a significant amount of time, people still have some misconceptions about how the whole thing works. The managerial team in most of the companies falls under the category of people who have those misconceptions.
Any content marketing person who has attended a pitch meeting knows how the discussion goes. The management always wants immediate results, which is very unlikely in the case of content marketing. The real challenge for the marketing team is to get their funds approved by the management, without making any unrealistic promises.
Getting out of the comfort zone
Content marketing is rewarding, but you have to try innumerable times to receive the results you are expecting. So when a content marketing strategy works, the marketers forget everything else and put all their focus on the same strategy for the months, even years.
This explains why there's so much generic content on the internet. The content marketers are only humans, and like us, it is also challenging for them to get out of the comfort zone, especially, when they receive satisfying results by repeating the same plan over and over again.
If a marketer is afraid to try new strategies, he may get in trouble once his successful strategy becomes outdated. Every marketer needs results and repeating previously successful strategies deliver that result.
It's easy to say that one should try something new every day, but when it takes years to achieve the results, it becomes really hard to deviate from the reliable strategy.
The limit of a content marketer
Content plays the most significant role in the content marketing practices, and with every passing day, the requirement for fresh and engaging content is growing steadily in this field.
As a content producer, burnout (reaching your limit) is one of the biggest challenges that you may face in your career, and interestingly it can have adverse effects on your health as well. People have exhibited symptoms of mental conditions because of excessive work pressure over the years, and it’s nothing new in this age of corporate war.
It's not that every professional who has gone past their limit develops some sort of health condition. Sometimes the symptoms are visible in his work as he starts to become sloppy and disorganized. No one would want to jeopardize his or her marketing strategy because of a disengaged member of the team.
Not having a balanced objective
Most of the content strategies in today's market focus either on a topic that is too specific or something that is way too broad to cover. There are only a handful of marketers who focus on something that is neither too specific nor too vague.
It’s not that only the small-time marketing teams struggle to pinpoint their focus on a balanced objective. Even the most resourceful teams in the market may find it difficult to prepare a strategy that is somewhere between being too specific and being too broad.
If your content strategy focuses on a wide subject, you may find it hard to establish your name in the market and run the risk of losing your traffic. If your idea is too specific, you may struggle to expand your reach with that.
People in the marketing industry often look up to the top brands in the market and exclaim how easily these market leaders achieve everything. What they do not notice is the struggle those brands have gone through to earn their position in today’s market.
For a content marketer, finding and establishing a credible and authoritative voice for their brands are two of the greatest challenges in the world. In this world of advanced technology, where people verify the truth several times before accepting, it is too hard to earn the trust of the consumers.
As a matter of fact, even the influencers are failing to earn credibility for the brands. To penetrate the market with content marketing and establish an authoritative voice for the brand is not less challenging than surfing on a high tide with a broken surfboard.
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Putting the interest of the customer before the brand
Earning the credibility will remain a dream if a brand fails to add any value to the consumers with its operations. From a content marketer’s point of view, this is next to impossible. Convincing a brand to put the interest of consumers before its own is like asking a person to give away his organs when he still has enough years to live.
Clearly, the content marketing team needs to inform the management before carrying out their strategy. So even if it seems like the only way to earn credibility among the audience, the marketing team needs others’ approval to execute their strategies.
The brands are here to do business. They don’t have any interests in charity. However, content marketing can help brands add value to the customers by providing what they need at each stage of their buyer’s journey. Convincing the brand, however, remains a challenge.
Maintaining proper coordination among the team members
A content marketing team consists of content strategists, essay writers, PR/Marketing managers, editor, project manager, SEO experts, and several other members. In a small or medium organization, one group of staff may play multiple roles, but in the case of the large entities, one or more professionals are required for each of the roles.
In order to conduct a successful content marketing campaign, all the professionals need to work as a unit with the same goal in mind. However, it's easier said than done. When there's a huge number of professionals in the team, conflict of interest is unavoidable.
For a content marketing head, it is a humongous task to babysit all the members of the team and teach them teamwork so that they can work together to achieve the goal in the easiest way possible. If the content writers don't have any coordination with the SEO team, the posts may fail to drive the traffic it is supposed to.
Well, there's no need to feel discouraged after reading about all the challenges. The latest statistics from the Content Marketing Institute in New York suggests that even after all the challenges more than 90 percent of the businesses still choose to invest in content marketing because it's effective. The challenges only make the practices more interesting for content marketers.
How to Get Started with Content Persona Research
There is always a temptation to ignore persona research when you think that you either are a part of or know your target audience perfectly. I am sad to report that this is never the case.
Just because you are a designer, for example, that does not mean that your brand’s particular audience of designers is interested in your personal content needs. Assuming the opposite makes sense for lifestyle, opinion, fitness, and fashion bloggers, whose platforms are largely built on admiration for their individual personalities.
Even then, personal brands should also make sure they are constantly monitoring their platform for emerging trends and tastes. They, too, need to prioritize content persona research.
B2B Versus B2C Content
These personas are appropriate for brands whose revenue model hinges on B2B transactions. Popular B2B personas include corporate buyers, managers at every level, and entrepreneurs. Because corporate purchase processes are often lengthier and involve more individuals, it is crucial that you identify who the key decision maker is.
It is probable that the gatekeeper you have detected makes such decisions with collaborators’ inputs, but at the end of the day, someone must pull the trigger. For the sake of B2B content personas, focus on the individual within the corporate chain that is most interested and entitled to acquire your offer.
These personas are developed when your business caters to end users directly; hence, they are described as a B2C model. B2C personas represent individuals who often make consumption decisions on their own. Because they act outside of the corporate ladder, consumers’ purchase processes are often swifter and less cumbersome.
Four Steps to Discover and Design Personas
Let us take a look at a few simple steps to begin your persona research. What I am going to share is a lean method that you can complete in-house. Feel free to explore independent vendors or consultants if this isn’t something that you can work on directly at the moment. If you do have the time and bandwidth, read on.
We arrive at personas only after looking at various sources of data. Both quantitative and qualitative information contribute to constructing personas.
Step 1: Start with Existing Data
Look at existing quantitative data that has been collected automatically. Look at sources like your website analytics package and social network insights. If your website and profiles have been around for a while, chances are you will find a wealth of data waiting to be analyzed. You can also try advanced tools like heat mapping to reveal common behavior patterns among your readers.
What to collect here
You should look to gather demographic and psychographic data, click reports, and cohort data.
Step 2: Conduct Nethnography
You might have heard of ethnography as a research method. Essentially, it is about observing behaviors in the environments in which they develop from an insider’s perspective.
Nethnography, then, is taking this research method to the context of the internet, observing your readers where they normally hang out online — forums, discussion boards, blog comment sections, customer support tickets/emails, social media groups (LinkedIn and Facebook work great).
What are they saying and how? What words are they using? What problems are they running into frequently? What frustrates and excites them? Are there any lifestyle traits that seem to pop up across the board?
What to collect here
Glean representative comments, standout discussions, common terms and expressions, frequent problems (as expressed by certain users), interesting conversations, and illustrative blog posts.
This last data source is fascinating in that the researchers used to have to collect physical diaries or journals to obtain this type of information. Known as diary studies, we now can emulate these tools by looking at subjects’ online journals, or blogs.
Collect as much text as you can because it is raw material for an interesting analytical method called content analysis, which I will describe in a moment.
Step 3: Try Ethnography
Time to go outside — as in, the real world, find a physical spot where you’re likely to find your convertible readers. Think about places where they work, buy, play, or potentially view your content.
If you are speaking to a business audience (i.e., creating B2B content), consider attending the types of events or conferences that are popular within that industry.
Observe silently and take lots of notes. Just like in step 2, the goal here is to perceive without intervening. Understand without questioning. For this observation technique to be effective, you should literally blend with the background. As far as I am concerned, you are now a hyper-realistic piece of wallpaper.
What to collect here
For this, you want to collect personal notes, environment photos, object photos, any interesting artifacts. You can also draw your observations as maps, where a certain reader’s journey is clearly depicted. This is called behavioral mapping, and many kinds of designers have been using it to synthesize human activity.
Step 4: Ask
Ask and you shall receive. One-on-one interactions can reveal powerful insights. Find convertible readers who are either currently looking at your content or that of a close competitor. Do not be intimidated by your lack of practice interviewing people: we are naturally wired to learn. As social beings, we are born with the ability to empathize with others’ pains and gains.
We can connect with our peers, and conducting effective interviews is just a matter of some committed preparation and practice. If an unstructured interview sounds challenging, you can always use a given set of questions. If this is all sounding terrifying at this point, feel free to create a structured questionnaire and use that as a way to survey your readers.
What to collect here
Gather up transcripts, questionnaire answers, audio, photos, videos, or a combination of any or all of them.
If you have followed the preceding four steps correctly, you should be drowning in evidence. This is good; stay with me. What you will do now is 1) refine the raw data you have so that it isn’t nearly as overwhelming, and 2) find affinities/similarities in what you found so that we can design some actual personas.
Refine All This Fuzziness
Let’s begin with all those data reports from step 1. At this point, you can complement what you found with secondary research. Industry reports, white papers, journal articles, books, and third-party studies can be valuable sources of information — especially when you are trying to find out more about the demographic group you have discovered.
After identifying patterns in the raw data you have collected (steps 2 through 4), adding a layer of third-party information can help characterize the group you are about to target.
Secondary research enriches the picture of your target persona by providing complementary data points that others before you have identified. Going back to Sarah and Jessie, the “mom personas” I mentioned earlier in this blog, it was extremely useful to pair my insights with the following:
Existing industry reports about Millennial moms
Media articles about the rise of the working mother
Market information about products that simplify motherhood
Social trends around motherhood in the workplace
Statistics on mommy bloggers
These sources of secondary research, combined with the primary data that I was collecting, gave a fuller picture of the two personas I was targeting with my content efforts.
Nailing Down Personas: Affinity Diagramming
Affinity is an awesome word. Chemists use it to describe what happens when particles cannot help but crash into one another and combine. And that is exactly what we are trying to do with all these data points we have found: cluster them up into meaningful personas. Here’s the basic roadmap that we’ll follow:
1. Split individual insights into single sticky notes. (Think of “insights” as specific findings that you came across.) Use one note per insight.
2. On a large board or wall, paste all the sticky notes in a way that you can still move them around.
3. You guessed it: now you move them around. Find insights that share some kind of need, pain point, or characteristic. A “pain point” can be any particular situation, issue, or limitation shared by various individuals. The logic here is to cluster together findings that seem like they refer to the same person.
Soon, you will find yourself looking at two or three large buckets. Look closely, because those buckets are soon to become your reader personas.
Get Creative: Name and Design Reader Personas
Here comes the fun part. You get to name these newfound fictional people who have real needs. Experienced researchers suggest going for names that carry a certain connotation that fits the persona. Maria, for instance, points to a Hispanic ancestry. Charlotte carries a certain elite tone. Agnes sounds slightly older than Emily, and so on.
Naming them isn’t a petty suggestion. Whenever you are thinking about a potential reader for a specific piece, now you will imagine an actual being with needs and wants rather than sitting alone thinking about a group of sticky notes. Picking names humanize these personas in a way that makes them useful for content ideation.
That being said, you will need a one-pager to remind yourself and other content creators who it is that you are all aiming for. Synthesize your personas using the template.
This profile summary is what most people understand as personas. It is how you will keep track of the main data points collected and the most actionable traits of this hypothetical reader.
Buyer Personas Versus Reader Personas
Now that you understand the importance of conducting rigorous persona research, I have one more note of caution. There is a difference between content as a means to close a sale versus content as the product itself.
This distinction is crucial at the outset of your personal research study. Although amusing, nobody cares about your one million unique visitors if none of them would ever be willing to pay for what you sell.
When your content is serving as a bridge to close the sale of a different product, you might find that the characteristics of those reading you differ from those who buy from you.
One of your goals as a strategic content manager is to minimize this discrepancy. Think about it: do you want to spend countless hours and resources creating content for readers who are not going to sustain your business in the long run? Nailing down your buyer personas involves figuring out who this ideal user is, and then going for that user with everything you have.
Similarly, when your content is the actual product, you might find that those who consume your free pieces are not necessarily interested in your paid pieces. In this case, try to understand who those buyers actually are. Who is willing to leave money on the table after they have benefited from your free content?
After you determine that buyer profile, she should become your main objective when creating content — your convertible reader persona. Let’s stop on the word convertible for a second; that is, someone you are able to convert.
You want to craft content that attracts consumers within that profile and encourages them on to the next stage, such as purchasing your product.
Your reader won’t always be at the exact point in time at which the need for your product is most active. Sometimes, you must nurture this persona over time in order to convert him when the time comes.
Other times, this persona isn’t directly the purchaser; he is a “gatekeeper” to certain communities. Gatekeepers are convertible reader personas because they, too, are potential purchase drivers.
The goal of designing convertible reader personas is to find people whose demographic and psychographic characteristics make them potential buyers, whether that is now, in a few weeks, or even months, and whether they are buying directly or strongly influencing someone else’s decision.
Every business identifies one or more activities that lie at the core of its survival. These positive conversion actions are completed by users (visitors, readers, viewers) during their experience with your product (site, content, app).
Every time you are producing content, you are betting on a certain reader to complete a specific action at some point in time. All sales funnels are different. You need to understand yours and connect it to your content production process. This is the only way to connect content production with a true return on investment.
As you begin developing new content for the personas you are targeting, it is important to realize that not all of them are created equal. Even within a group of individuals that share certain affinities (i.e., your fictional persona), there are levels of engagement that dictate how they interact with your content.
You should plan for both low- and high-engagement readers by offering content in various formats in order to maximize success. We discuss how to achieve this in the next sections.
Low-Involvement and High-Involvement Readers
Put simply, a reader won’t experience content the same way when completely distracted in scrolling mode as they do when being utterly immersed in research mode. The first kind of user is passively waiting for a shiny object to catch his attention, whereas the second — more proactive — the user is laser-focused on an issue that needs solving.
The first user is under a condition typically known in marketing as low involvement. He isn’t particularly invested in any kind of decision-making process. When presented with the type of content you are offering, he will react (click, like, or comment) based on impulse.
There is no complex, time-consuming evaluation of alternatives in which he checks out other sites for the information you are supplying. You just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
The second user has an active need that has put him in a more invested content research mode. He requires a specific kind of information and bases his conscious decision to consume clear criteria like length, quality, and reputation of the content pieces at hand.
When analyzing buying behavior, marketers label this condition as high involvement. The reality is no different when looking at the content consumption experience: some users are actively searching for information, whereas others are passively ingesting it.
Why is this important? Because depending on their level of involvement, your audience members will be interested in different types of content. Those in a condition of low involvement will be drawn to you because of something we call peripheral cues:1 picture, music, shiny objects.
Meanwhile, those who are highly involved will be persuaded by more central cues: factual information, long-form articles, in-depth analysis. Whenever you are pitching a content piece to your audience, you will always need to rely on either a peripheral or central route to persuasion. Sometimes it is both.
As you read this, it is highly probable that you have already arrived at a mental image of what these two types of users look like for your case. Understanding the difference between these two content consumers will affect your strategy in powerful ways. It is the first step in succeeding both in short- and long-term content production.
No longer will you become frustrated when someone hurts your bounce rate with a two-second visit, or wonder why someone else spent 10 minutes looking at that one article.
It is crucial to consider both low- and high-involvement users when you are creating the pieces with which they will interact. With low-involvement content consumers, the challenge is capturing their interest so that they can spend longer periods of time exploring your content. With high-involvement content consumers, it is all about serving the type of depth they are after in a way that satisfies their needs and triggers repeat visits.
How will you go about reaching your ideal audience? Answering this question involves thinking about channels. In any communication process, a channel is a medium with which a message is sent.
You might be thinking about a specific message you want to share, and the proper channel will be instrumental in your being able to do so. This blog explains how to select and prioritize communication channels that can truly amplify your content.
You are probably familiar with some of the most widespread online channels available to brands today: social media platforms, magazines, newspapers, and email newsletters, among many others.
Are there any particular ones in which you invest more of your time? Chances are there is a brand trying to figure out the absolute best channel to reach you as you read these lines.
Somewhere, a content creator is trying to send you (and people like you) a message through the platforms that affect you the most. All we are doing here is becoming that content creator. Essentially, we are trying to understand what is the best possible venue in which to hold our concert.
How to Keep Up with New Channels
The platforms that would have made great choices five years ago might not even exist anymore. In our fast-paced, real-time society can be challenging to stay current with everything going on around communication channels.
You might be wondering how to keep up with the overwhelming amount of changes, updates, and launches. Let’s go over a few suggestions that will help you stay in the loop:
To spot channels that are becoming increasingly popular, follow reports by research agencies like Comscore and Emarketer.
For the latest scoop on emerging social media channels, follow the blogs of popular social media management tools like Hootsuite and Buffer.
Run a routine search for the phrase “marketing trends” using your search engine of choice. It is often helpful to add the current or upcoming year to your query; for example, “marketing trends” and “2017.” This type of search also will work in video platforms like YouTube, resulting in more interactive explanations of up-and-coming trends.
Follow and analyze the agenda of influential marketing events like AdAge’s Digital Conference, Inbound, the Content Marketing Conference, Content Marketing World, and MozCon. Attending these events would be ideal, but at the very least you can always check out the different sessions’ titles to unveil overarching trends.
How to Prioritize Your Channels
Being everything to everyone in every single platform is impossible. To be effective at content management, you need to allocate resources in proportion to how much each expense can affect your goals.
An area in which many content creators and managers have problems is that we do not recognize that time is also a depletable resource — the scarcest one if you ask me.
In spending time doing something, we are always incurring an expense. At the very least, that expense is worth the value of whatever else we could be doing at the moment. Understanding the notion of opportunity cost, as my economist friends like to call it, will make you a much more efficient content manager — and save your sanity along the way.
Therefore, before you invest any time building out social profiles, analyze the following questions:
Based on the goals you have defined, which channel is likely to bring higher quality readers? Where are your convertible readers most probably found?
Which platform offers more control in terms of the content you can and cannot share, how and when it is served, and how its success is tracked?
Does this channel allow you to put monetization features in place in order to facilitate transactions?
What many creators find is that a self-hosted blog is a natural hub for all content efforts. You control how the content is presented, stored, shared, and accessed. You can put in place special kinds of analytics packages to detect what is going on beneath the surface.
A blog, especially when self-hosted, can connect with your product in deeper ways that are completely under your control. Your development team can experiment with features like A/B testing, product embeds, gated content, quick payment flows, opt-in modules, and much more.
Five Reasons to Choose a Blog As Your Main Content Hub
Where you decide to focus your content resources is entirely up to you and the goals you have set, but here are some of the advantages of building a blog-centric content plan:
You are in total control of the platform, what information is shown, and which features are rolled out. This isn’t true for third-party spaces like social media channels.
Many different content formats of all lengths and sizes can live in your blog; in contrast, for other channels media is restricted to video, imagery, or short texts. The specifications with which you can play are entirely up to you — think video duration, text length, and image sizes.
You control which analytics package best serves your measurement needs. While other platforms impose their own reporting, you can implement whatever kind of analytics tool you desire to try in your brand’s blog. Performance data collection is virtually boundless.
There is less risk that your content will be lost, hacked, or deleted because you decide what type of security and backup alternatives work best for you.
If you are trying to use content as a means to close a sale, hosting the pieces in the same place where your products are (i.e., the brand’s website) can offer many advantages in terms of conversion. You can easily link products with content, analyze conversion funnels that include content, and implement gated content strategies to stimulate purchases.
After you have selected the main channel you will be focusing on, select two or three secondary platforms that support that one directly. These could be, for example, social networks that you will use to drive traffic to that online hub.
As an example, consider a brand that has selected a blog as the main channel and Facebook and Pinterest as secondary ones. The content team would create articles that live in the brand’s blog and use social networks as traffic drivers.
That isn’t to say that certain social platforms cannot serve as your main content hub. By all means, go for it if it makes sense for your business model. I have seen brands that rely on Facebook or Twitter as their online home — the place where all of their content efforts are directed.
Whatever you decide, understand that any platforms outside of your control will constantly change the rules of the game. If you decide to focus on a certain social network as your core channel.
For example, you must accept the fact that this other company will do everything in its power to scale its business model — even if that means shredding your hard-earned work with a sudden algorithm change. Building up an audience and investing most of your resources in a space that is operating with its own agenda is a risky move.
The trend is for all kinds of content creators to open a channel of their own to redirect and convert their audience. And, considering what I shared earlier, it is an understandable move. YouTubers, Twitterers, Snapchatters, and Instagrammers are launching blogs and websites to ensure that they can secure their readership despite platform changes.
As influencers try to migrate their audiences from spaces outside of their control, email lists and websites will garner more and more attention — especially from content creators rolling out robust business models.
Choosing Your Social Channels
If we want to allocate resources wisely, it is only natural that we focus on the social platforms that promise better results. Therefore, before you invest any time building out social profiles, analyze the following questions:
Which social networking sites appeal to the target audience that you want to affect?
Certain social networks are a better fit for specific demographic and psychographic groups. It is widely reported, for example, that Pinterest skews feminine; Instagram appeals to young adults;
Twitter is more popular among urban residents, and LinkedIn’s audience tends to be employed and slightly older. Facebook, in the meantime, is a much more diverse audience spanning all ages and socioeconomic levels — with a particular ability to attract older adults and seniors.
Given their composition, certain social networks might be uniquely equipped to deliver results when you share content. Be aware of the latest research describing these platforms and relate those findings back to the investments you are making in each.
Where are your competitors’ posts being shared the most?
This is a key question. If you are just entering a space, competitive research can be truly eye-opening. Make a list of competing or similar brands and monitor their activities in social media.
You can also use a tool like Buzzsumo to look at your competitors’ most shared content by social channel. If O’Reilly Media were my competitor, for example, I would quickly identify where most of its content shares are coming from.
Qualify the opportunity: does the site have the conversion potential you need?
Now, sometimes competitors have entirely different goals with content. Remember that we cannot go around assuming that everyone is creating pieces for the same reasons we are.
Some brands will even target different content goals depending on the business’ lifecycle or the time of the year. That said, watch out for a given social platform’s ability to convert as you need it to — if you need it to.
Some social networking sites, for example, are not desktop sites at all. The entire experience takes place in a mobile device, changing buying behavior completely.
Some social networks prevent you from inserting links in posts, making calls to action cumbersome. Evaluate each social platform on the basis of its potential to help you realize your goals.
You do not need to do what everyone else is doing unless you want to go exactly where they want to go. In that case, do more of what’s working for them and less of what is not.
Should you be everywhere? No. Should you try to be where your audience is? Certainly. Should you be where competitors are? Not necessarily. Should you be where your content goals can be fulfilled? Absolutely.
Setting Up Your Social Channels
Each social networking site contains unique spaces to give your audience information about who you are. Some provide space for an extended biography, whereas others offer a character-delimited blurb.
Specific sizes for profile and cover images are constantly changing for most social networking sites, so you should search for “[Site name] profile image size” to find the most current specs.
Another general piece of advice is to populate your social profile with content so that early followers can get a feel for what they will continue to see, should they join you. That said, consider the following checklist when you begin setting up some of the most popular social media channels:
Add a profile image. This is the square avatar that represents your page everywhere on Facebook. Make sure it is readable and distinguishable at a thumbnail size because this is how many users will see it throughout the site.
Add a cover image. This is a horizontal graphic that appears at the top.
Choose the right page category. Facebook offers various types, including movies, sports, TV, blog, books, organizations, and brands. The page category you select determines the types of fields you are able to fill out later.
A “Local Business,” for example, can add details about its location and business hours. This category is also used by Instagram, as you will see in the checklist for that channel.
Create tabs and rearrange them according to the order in which you would like them to be seen by visitors.
Fill in your description, also known as your “Story.”
Add a phone, email, and website where people can learn more. This link could be your website’s homepage or an alternative page within the site.
Assign administrative permissions to any team members who need access.
Add a profile image. This is the square avatar that represents your profile everywhere on Twitter.
Add a header photo. This is a horizontal graphic displayed above your tweets and behind your profile image.
Add a bio. As of this writing, this description is up to 160 characters in length.
Insert your location. This might help foster connections between users who live in the same area.
Add your main website.
Add a profile photo. This is the round avatar that represents your business everywhere on Instagram. As is the case with other networks, ensure that the image is still identifiable as a thumbnail, because that is the size most users will see.
Right after you have finished signing up for the account, tap the settings button (the gear icon) and select “Switch to Business Profile.” Find your brand’s Facebook Page and link this Instagram profile to it.
This connection will allow you to access the ads platform for both networks. Details like your page type will also be imported from the current setup of your Facebook page.
Add your website. You can select a particular page within the site to link to. Because Instagram does not currently support links on individual posts, many businesses rotate this website space frequently; they change the link depending on the content they are promoting in the most recent post.
Add at least one contact option, whether that is a phone, address, or email. You also can add them all.
Exercise: Mapping Your Channels
Planning a channel strategy is easier said than done. It involves understanding that in order to fulfill business goals in our main content hub (e.g., blog), all other channels must be at its service. In a way, they are like the legs of a long flight. People are not supposed to stay there; they are supposed to reach their final destination.
What happens when we share 100 percent of the same value that lives in our strategic content hub directly through these secondary channels? Crickets.
That’s because we have already shown everything there is to see, and there is no use in clicking through just to interact with the exact same information again. So why do we keep broadcasting the same content across all channels, in full?
We know that it isn’t effective to throw away all of our content’s value in a channel that isn’t our primary one. We intuitively know this. And yet, somehow, we forget the basic principle of desire: people will not crave what they already have.
The Content Desire Chart
This exercise will help you come up with a solid strategy to keep interested flowing through your channels in a way that maximizes audience engagement.
1. Draw a circle for each channel where some form of your content will live. These channels can host the shortest of posts like Twitter or full-length articles like your website. Place your primary channel (content hub) at the center. Write the name of the channel inside the circle and leave some space for more text below.
2. Spend a few minutes observing your secondary channels and the type of content for which they are best equipped. If it helps, go ahead and experience these channels for some time in order to understand what the audience engages with the most.
3. Draw a line between your secondary and primary channels.
4. Inside your primary channel’s circle, write the title of a sample piece of content that you would publish. This is the type of content that you would like users to come after, triggering the completion of some other conversion action.
5. Above each line, write an answer to the question: why would I want to go from here all the way to there? “Here” being the secondary channel, and “there” being your content hub.
6. Now below each of the circles holding your secondary channels, write a few words describing the type of content that could make the answer in step 5 happen.
At this point.
This exercise was just an attempt to visualize audience behavior. It is far too easy to forget that there are hundreds of thousands of human beings behind the screen. People who react emotionally, instinctively, and sometimes rationally to what we share out. It is our responsibility to give them something to go after.
Something small that triggers desire for something large. Housing that “something larger” in our main content hub and generating traffic by serving several different versions is a great way to ensure that there is actually something new to see.
Real-Life Examples of Core Themes
National Geographic Travel and A global nonprofit committed to exploring and protecting the planet
Asana Planning A task-management software company creating an easy way for Project teams to track their work.
Airbnb Hospitality An online marketplace for people to list, discover and book Wonderful accommodations around the world.
A practical way to analyze your competitors’ themes is to look at the content hub’s categories and commonly used tags. This content hub, as I pointed out earlier, is often the brand’s blog or magazine. This straightforward method can quickly shed light on a given company’s core themes because it is common practice to surface these as content categories or tags.
Aside from being a content manager myself, I have mentored hundreds of creators in the process of unveiling these core themes. Along the way, I have found a technique that helps anyone, at every level of knowledge, come up with an actionable list of core themes to create content around. Let’s explore this in the next section.
The Four-Question Technique to Find Your Own Themes
To start this process, write a list of words or phrases that answer each of the following four questions:
What issues does your target buyer face on a normal day?
If your brand were the name of a section within a bookstore, what books would we be able to find there?
If your target buyer suddenly had a need for a product like yours and sat in front of her computer right now, what would she type in the search bar to find a solution?
If your product/service came with a dictionary, which terms would it contain?
If you have completed this exercise correctly, there should be a list of topics to craft your content strategy around.
When we look at issues that your target buyer faces on a normal day, we are considering the pain points that might drive someone to purchase your product/service.
In creating content around these issues, your brand will become a thought leader. Whenever this potential buyer experiences the issue at hand, she will turn to you for trusted advice.
The second question points to the bookstore idea as a way to help you think in terms of long-form content. If you are building a brand for a tech device, for example, try using that same name to refer to a section within a bookstore. What kinds of books would those shelves contain?
The third question is related to Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Our fourth and last question will help you to find a list of expressions and technical terms that are part of your industry’s jargon.
After you line up that list of complex terms, it will help you to create a content strategy aimed at beginners in your space. Unlike what we would like to believe, not all buyers are 100 percent prepared to make full use of what we sell.
Not all of them have years of experience at what they do. Some buyers are just aspiring to get closer to how you actually picture them: area experts.
Some see you and your content as a gate to becoming increasingly better at something. Therefore, including basic definitions as part of your content strategy is a way to broaden your reach and widen your market.
Brand Voice Success.
What do you feel when a brand talks to you like a robot? Using expressions — like the one you just read — creates an invisible barrier between you and your audience. Lifeless terms and the distance they convey can prevent your customers from listening to your message and engaging with it.
Can you think of any opportunities for which your brand could adopt a more genuine voice — the kind of words you would expect from a human being?
There are dozens of tiny interactions in which you get the chance to relate to your audience on a human level. At the end of the day, people will relate to people, and if your brand sounds like people, they will relate to you, too.
Put simply, a brand’s voice is the overarching, unique style with which it communicates. It is what makes your audience go, “Oh, they said that for sure,” or “That sounds so (brand here).”
The goal when developing this voice is to arrive at a way of saying things that expresses your brand’s personality. Consider your answers to the following questions as you shape a unique brand voice:
Are you more formal or casual?
How do you use slang or local expressions?
Do you have a preference for American or British English? Or any other local variation of the language you are using?
Do you use emojis or GIFs in a certain way?
Has your brand made up its own words?
Finding Your Brand’s Unique Voice
Defining your brand’s voice for the first time can be both an exciting and uncertain experience. It’s exciting because you are figuring out what your brand sounds like and exploring the characteristics that will help you engage with humans.
It’s uncertain because starting from scratch presents its own challenges: there is nothing to spin off, build from, or learn from. I have found that this exercise often resolves those questions for teams that are just getting underway. Here is how it works:
1. You will need index cards or printouts with at least 100 tweets sent out by different brands. The brand’s name must not be visible. During this exercise, I normally provide a preselected group of tweets chosen, as described in a moment. A Twitter analytics tool like Twitonomy can easily show a brand’s most retweeted, and hence most popular, messages. Here’s how those tweets should break down:
a. Twenty-five popular tweets from brands in the same space.
b. Fifteen popular tweets from brands in an unrelated space that target a similar audience.
c. Fifteen popular tweets from celebrities or influential individuals followed by your intended audience.
d. Twenty-five popular tweets from large media outlets with a broad audience (think accounts like the Huffington Post, the New York Times, CNN, and the BBC).
e. Ten popular tweets from brands in any space that excel at support. It helps to come up with a list of five and pull two tweets from each.
f. Ten popular tweets from brands in any space that excel at voice and tone. It helps to come up with a list of five and pull two tweets from each.
2. For every message, answer “absolutely,” “maybe,” “no,” or “never” to the question: “Would your brand ever say this?” Save the cards to which you said “absolutely” in a special pile. Similarly, group those to which you said “never.” If you are going through these with a team and find a significant difference in opinions, vote to decide where each message should go.
3. Look at the “absolutely” pile: what kind of person would say this? Take note of this description because it points to your brand’s overall voice.
4. Look at the “never” pile: what kind of person would say this? Take note of this description because it points to the type of voice your brand should stay away from. In providing this direction, it is also indirectly defining the voice you are aiming for.
5. Consider which scenarios would be ideal to use the messages in your “absolutely” pile. If it helps, sort the cards by assigning them to any of the following situations.
Voice Versus Tone
Remember this as you are thinking about voice and tone: although a brand communicates using a single voice, it can make use of various tones to adapt to each communication situation. If you completed the preceding voice exercise, you are probably beginning to notice that the “situation buckets” we used actually refer to a brand’s various tones.
For the conversational tone, we appeal to a casual statement that you could share with someone else in person. It is empathetic, and appeals to personal habits by saying “you might think you eat a lot.” To reproduce this message using a funny tone, we exaggerate a person’s sense of hunger with the phrase “starving to death.”
Then, we bring up the fact that hummingbirds can genuinely die if they do not eat, and that should be enough to make the two of you soulmates — another exaggeration. For the last tone, informed, we stick to the facts and provide a specific number to quantify just how much a human being would need to eat to match a hummingbird’s diet.
Sample Experimental Tones
Let’s discuss these tones for a moment. You will find yourself using variants of that voice to address issues in different contexts, in different environments, and for different segments of your audience.
Although there is a seemingly infinite list of tones you can adopt, I have categorized them into the aforementioned three large buckets: conversational, funny, and informed.
Hopefully, this will make them much easier to remember and implement. Do remember that all three of these include many different tone variations, some of which we’ll look at shortly. That said, consider applying one or more of these whenever you create a new content piece.
Here is your close friend sharing some vital piece of information with you. You know…in a café or something. This isn’t by any means a piece of content someone would cite in a college paper. As a matter of fact, this is precisely the type of content your professors warned you about.
Subjective, one-sided, and casual, the conversational tone works best for reflective pieces in which you are sharing an opinion (versus facts) and expect readers to voice theirs. Think of it as an attempt to open a conversation outside of a formal setting. The “café with friends” metaphor helps me quickly find this tone all the time, so I would highly suggest you try it.
In the voice exercise, we just went over, the ones where you had to categorize messages were mostly conversational. Here are some particular styles that apply the conversational tone:
Smart humor can do wonders to engage and expand your audience. Not too over the top, not too bland, a joke can break the ice and get your link shared. Pulling off the funny tone seems like an easy feat, but it isn’t, by any means. If you or the creators with whom you are working do not have a natural inclination for humor, it is better to abstain from using it in any significant way.
Nothing is sadder than a joke that falls flat — especially coming from a reputable brand. Consider the following styles when you are adopting a funny tone:
This tone works when you need to explain a series of steps, definitions, or otherwise formally impart information. People expect you to be knowledgeable about the topic you are sharing, and your tone must help establish that authority.
Although some brands manage to mix the funny and informed tones in a humane, relatable persona, this type of approach is more difficult to master — especially when you are beginning.
The following styles can help you apply variations of this informed tone:
There are many other subtleties that you can explore here: combining different tones, innovating with new ones, or imitating a similar brand’s approach. What works best is always what comes naturally to you and your team.
The more effort that needs to go into adapting your tone to some other foreign style that you like, the more difficult it will be to maintain that much-needed publishing cadence.
Switching Between Tones
Switching tones can be an effective method to engage people. One of the most useful techniques to jump from one tone to the next is to consider the questions presented.
Instead of considering a café, for example, it might make more sense for your brand to get inspiration out of a happy-hour conversation. Instead of thinking about a comic strip or meme to apply a funny tone to your message, it might make more sense to imagine a standup comedy scenario or even an animated GIF.
In the end, it is all about helping yourself (and your team of creators) adopt the right mindset to facilitate applying these tones every single day.
Watch Your Mood!
A word of caution about tone: avoid confusing the creator’s mood with the persona that you are trying to create for your brand — especially when you are that creator.
God knows there are days when I wake up the most antisocial, monosyllabic person on the planet and yet I still need to pull off that conversational style. You would be surprised at how some humorists literally need to force that funny bone out of nowhere at best, and depression at worst.
That is why tuning your tone before you begin creating anything is so important. If you are the creator, do whatever it takes to get into that mood. If you are managing a team of creators, send them ideas every now and then to make sure they can get themselves to that place from which they create.
Documenting Your Voice and Tone Guidelines
For this whole voice-and-tone strategy to be scalable, you need to be able to communicate it clearly. When you are a team of one, finding the right tone is always sort of a monologue situation.
When dealing with multiple writers, however, articulating expectations is crucial. If your brand cares about the way it is portrayed, maintaining a certain voice and tone will definitely turn into a prerequisite.
Let’s make this as painless as possible: coming up with a Voice-and-Tone Style Guide should be a team effort. You shouldn’t be expected to create a set of guidelines out of the blue and then ask the rest to oblige.
That isn’t how it works. A very effective way to do this is by using a participative approach. Identify the different areas of your business that will interact with an audience:
Other functional areas that you can think of
Then, introduce this initiative as something that will benefit the entire team and help onboard new members. Find some time to meet with team leaders in each of the preceding areas.
This can be a short call, and the more prepared they come, the better will be the use of everyone’s time. Ask them the following questions:
How does our brand’s voice come through in the area on which you are working?
You speak to a subset of our audience. Could you describe it?
What channels are you using to reach out to that audience?
Which principles guide the way in which you communicate with that audience?
Finding Your Brand’s Aesthetic
Almost half of our brain is involved in processing visuals. Color, typography, photography, textures, and many other elements are being continuously decoded in our minds.
We see an image and immediately begin forming impressions about the meaning behind it. Over time, we come to recognize the brands we love in the character of their visuals.
Whether that vision is the brand’s logo, social media graphic, or site banner, it becomes an indicator of what the product stands for. Powerful content creation involves understanding the symbolism at play every time you share a graphic along with your brand story.
Typography and Brand Personality
Typography refers to the art and science of arranging type. Traditionally, typographers had to arrange words, letters, numbers, and symbols by hand for publication. Because modern computers did not exist, they were forced to place (set) individual blocks of movable type in a specific order to form sentences and phrases.
Typesetters stored hundreds of letter blocks that would allow them to build templates for text. A typeface is the complete family of variants in a single style (e.g., Times New Roman). Meanwhile, the font is a specific size and width within that family (Times New Roman, 12 points, bold).
Fortunately for us, digital typography is now accessible to pretty much everyone — experimenting with typefaces, placement, spaces, and size is just a click away. That kind of availability is both a blessing and a curse. Having so many options can easily confuse someone who has not defined what the content reading experience should be like.
If you have not defined your brand’s aesthetic, looking at a catalog of 1,500 fonts can quickly become overwhelming. The trick to smart typographic decisions when designing content is the same as that of many other disciplines: preparation.
To make sound choices to enhance your content, there are two building blocks: understanding the implications of certain type choices for the user experience, and knowing your brand’s particular preferences with regard to typography.
Choosing Your Brand’s Typography Scheme
When you understand the implications of certain font choices, deciding on a font family and a typography scheme to use in your brand content becomes much easier. You will begin to develop a feel for what works based on the values, voice, and vision of the brand. Let’s look a bit closer at each:
Certain fonts convey specific values and attitudes toward life. Is your brand big on minimalism, productivity, or extravagance? Do you embrace eclecticism and modernity, or a more conservative outlook on life? Specific font families can send that message to you.
Fonts also express a certain mood that is immediately associated with the brand sharing the message. Are you outstandingly joyful, formal, pragmatic, dramatic, or enthusiastic?
Those traits can come through in your font choices for brand content. If your brand manages various tones within that general voice, feel free to assemble a group of fonts versus going for a single font family.