Content Strategy: Or 5 Ways To Be LikableTuesday September 18th, 2012
Being likable in the real world is often a result of successfully mastering five basic traits... being informative, entertaining, relevant, consistent, and honest. In the same way, these five traits make for a successful content strategy for your website or business.
When considering a content strategy for your business, think about the reasons why people choose to interact with you online in the first place. Guess what? They are the same basic reasons people are interested in what you have to say in the real world. Content strategy is a term that has become popular in web development and user experience disciplines over the last three to five years, and the job of a content strategist is to plan, curate and distribute interesting and shareworthy content. If you’re interested in learning more about content strategy and the disciplines within it, you might want to start here. I’m going to discuss how good content strategy is based on real world interactions.
Imagine you walk into a bar full of strangers and state that you’re a professional golfer, then talk about your love of knitting all evening when people initiate conversation. You confuse the people because your title doesn’t match your content. Also, you’re in a jazz cafe, so they weren’t looking for your type of content in the first place. The channel or venue for your content was incorrect.
Let’s put this into more relevant terms. A museum curator has a content strategy to best choose the content for exhibits, based on relevancy, placement, accessibility and with a general goal of setting up content for the greatest engagement from museum-goers. The curator chooses what content to collect and display for an exhibit, and then promotes the exhibit with a meaningful title and description that generates interest, is easy to find and decipher, and gives a true picture of what visitors should expect to find at the museum. If all of this is done effectively, the exhibit is a success and both the museum director and visitors end up happy.
While content strategy can be applied to the offline world, it is a term most commonly found in creating, editing and publishing digital content and driving engagement online. The goals of content strategy carry over to any business that is looking to provide an optimal experience for audience or customers online. The point is to be likable and enjoyable, and real life experiences have the same basic requirements.
Being likable is a result of successfully fulfilling five basic traits with users: informative, entertaining, relevant, consistent, and honest. In the same way, these five traits make for a successful content strategy.
In the real world, you maybe have a different goal, such as being popular or being considered interesting to your peers. In business, a successful content strategy is one that achieves business goals while fulfillment of these five traits of likability in the most natural and organic way possible.
A successful content strategy always brings new insight to users. The content must be valuable and should educate or inform the audience on some level. If you aren’t informative, or if your content is trite, redundant, or can be found easily elsewhere, your results and viewership will suffer.
Good content does not always have to be entertaining, but humans have an innate admiration for content that causes them to cringe, laugh or cry. As shown by Daniel Tosh, content can be made more digestible if it’s entertaining and forms a connection with an audience, even if on a simple level. Users also tend to discuss and share content a lot more when it affects them on an emotional level. A successful content strategy should seek to produce and distribute content that is consistently shared by your audience, but that also can be shared easily.
Understanding what is appropriate, popular or timely content for your target audience is also a major factor. An effective content strategy looks at all channels for distributing content. It’s important to format content to be channel specific. For example, although a video you produce may be relevant to your target market overall, think about how to modify content based on whether you’re distributing through your website, an on-demand platform or at a trade show. The time of day or the season can also play into your content strategy. A week early or a week late can make your content less relevant. While it’s important to tailor your content for different channels, it’s smart to look at performance and engagement based on analytical data, not common sense assumptions. Avoid shortening or simplifying your content too much based on your channel, when simplifying the user experience can be done instead. The last thing you want is to remove important parts of your content because you think users won’t want to take in so much information, on a mobile device, say, versus on their desktop computer. Drew Thomas makes a good case for this in his article about responsive design and keeping content accessible.
People like patterns. They want to find what they’re looking for, minus surprises. While it may seem that audiences yearn for a fresh approach, if you change too much or too quickly, user engagement will suffer from this same sporadic inconsistency. This consistency pertains to your tone and voice as well. If you jump around too much and fall into a cycle of multiple personalities, your audience may find the content to be unpredictable and dizzying. A good content strategy lays out a repeatable system to govern content creation and publishing. That goes for frequency of messaging too. You want to stay in front of your audience as much as possible, without being an annoyance.
Tell your audience what you really think, and don’t be afraid to have an opinion or show personality. With web-based content, and especially blog content, don’t be afraid to open up and put a name, face, backstory and more context to the content they are absorbing. Before content strategy was an industry buzz term, and before Content Strategist was a common job title, Rachel Lovinger stated that unambiguous content is the starting point for good content strategy. This still holds true today.