When it comes to writing a content strategy, there is only one place to start – research!
The truth is that research is time consuming; it can be boring and it can make you feel overwhelmed. The ‘what do I do with all of this information?!’ feeling is not uncommon.
However, it is so important. It is lovely to base a strategy around your instincts, your passions and your interests – but that won’t cut it for long.
You have got to put in some hard work and get some evidence and reasons for your strategy choices. And yes, though it is time-consuming, you will never regret it. You will learn new things, you will become more knowledgeable and you will have even better and bigger ideas. Importantly, this will then show through when speaking with clients, when producing your content and when keeping on course with your strategy long term. All of the time and energy will not go to waste.
So, what are the key areas of research? Let me give you some suggestions:
Whether it is when I am discussing strategy with clients or running the Business Skills Workshops, so many people seem ‘scared’ of researching their competitors.
Firstly, remember that research is nowhere near the same as copying or stealing ideas. You know where that ‘line’ is and you mustn’t cross it. However, you are also a fool if you don’t have a look at competitor websites and social media accounts (information which is publicly and easily available to all) to see what they are up to. Do you think Tesco doesn’t keep an eye on Sainsbury’s?
Competitors don’t have to been seen as your enemy. As a sole trader or small business, your company is unique because it is run by you – you make it a success. Equally your competitors will do things unique to them. Some people will prefer that and others will prefer you and they will be your clients. That’s how the world works!
When I mention competitors, think far and wide, not just locally, but nationally and, even, internationally. Think big, as well as small. Take a look at ‘quantitative’ elements as well as ‘qualitative’ elements of their content output. This means not just want they are actually saying (qualitative) and assessing what you think of that, but also the numbers (quantitative)– how often are they posting across how many different social media accounts? How often do they blog? How many pages does their website have? How often do they send out a newsletter? How often do they run special offers? Get some numbers and make some comparisons.
All of this information is available by simply searching via the internet – it is all there for you to see and assess…for free!
Then, figure out where you fit or where you would like to fit and how your strategy will reflect this.
As I mentioned above, don’t just look locally and small when it comes to research, think big too. Just because you are a small business yourself, doesn’t mean you can’t learn from what the big brands and industry leaders are doing in your field.
Obviously, you won’t have the resources to create the amount of content they do, but looking at industry leaders isn’t just about quantity, it is about quality, style, variation, approach and innovation.
Thought leaders are those in your field or profession who are seen to be experts. The Brian Cox of science, for example. Find out who they are in your field and find out more about their ‘content output’. Are they active on Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn? Who also follows them? Are there other ‘thought leaders’ you didn’t know about?
Put simply, these people will be saying interesting things. They will have interesting opinions – not that you necessarily agree with!!! – about relevant areas in your field.
Follow them and see what they are saying. Learn more about their jobs or businesses. This research will really help with more innovative ideas for your own content. This is important because content can’t always be about who you are and what you are selling. Let’s be honest, that is boring and there is enough of it flooding our feeds and inboxes as it is.
Interesting, content is about sharing new ideas and (when you have the confidence) sharing your own thoughts, attitudes and opinions on areas of your profession. You can’t do this without researching, reading and evaluating the latest discussions and developments yourself.
Your own content
Another area of research is to look at your own content output so far. It’s time for analysis and reflection.
Don’t only think about ‘what’ worked well, but ‘how’ it worked well? So for example, you may have written a social media post that you would consider worked well because it got ‘100 likes’, however, you may also have written a social media post that only got ’20 likes’ but two new clients or leads. Think about that – which is better and how (perhaps in different ways)! Then, think about the content that leads to the different kind of engagement.
It is the same for blog posts, one post may have got 50 views, whereas another only got 10, but there were 5 comments.
Likes, share, views, reach are all great for exposure, but engagement and actual enquiries or leads are going to convert to sales more readily, I suspect. So, analyse the content. In your strategy, you probably want a bit of both. Importantly, don’t dismiss content because of its lack of ‘likes’ alone!
Your own time
Finally, take the time to think about and ‘research’ your time. I know it sounds weird, but it is all very well doing loads of research, coming up with a strategy and plan, only to realise it is simply not realistic.
If you decide from your research you want to blog once a week, but were struggling to post once a month only last year, then investigate how you are actually going to make this happen. Consider outsourcing; consider focussing on one form of content or platform more than another for now, or consider doing less overall.
Importantly, analyse your research and make informed decisions.
This is just the beginning…
With any research, it is something which shouldn’t be done once and forgotten about. Ideally, keep it all in a format which is easy to return to, look at again and update – perhaps a spreadsheet or Word document, with clear headings or tables. Even if you do lots of handwritten notes or print off items, keep them in a book or folder that you can easily access and add to.
As I said at the beginning, research is time-consuming and hard to make space for when ‘doing the day job’, but you will never regret it, not even the tiniest amount, and will make any strategy more effective and more realistic. Good luck and get googling!