The amount and types of content on the web is becoming mind-boggling. Long gone are the days of simple HTML pages, largely full of text, hyperlinked together.
Today the internet continues to geometrically expand as the infrastructure for serving information and entertainment, radically changing the types and quantity of content available for consumers. At the same time there is another radical change afoot as the web also becomes the connective tissue for the Internet of Things–radically transforming the ways that we consume content.
This brings me to an important question: How does this environment alter the way we should be thinking about content creation and distribution?
Any discussion on creating effective content has to begin with how consumers are consuming content. Like everything else about content, this is quickly changing.
Considering How People Consume Content
One of the most notable changes in how people consume content is the variety of devices that they are using to access content. Smartphones, tablets, Apple Watches, car dashboards, even your clothes; everything seems to be emitting content and looking for attention. And just to further complicate things, all of these devices have completely different form factors with simultaneous limitations and advantages.
Then we come to the issue of how we seek content. Some might debate that we don’t really seek content at all anymore. For example, search seems to be increasingly relegated to navigation. Meanwhile, much of our content discovery is coming in the form of our monitoring of various newsfeeds of content or as the father of RSS and continued content scientist, Dave Winer, refers to it–rivers of news.
Once limited to news content, the broad adoption of the newsfeed, largely popularized by Facebook and advanced by Twitter, Instagram, and Linkedin has become the most prominent user experience for consuming content.
This, of course, leads into one more important factor in how people consume content: Who (or what) controls what the user sees. The sheer volume of content and the 20/80 rule of quality versus complete nonsensical rubbish mandates some form of filtration. It has been a problem from the earliest days of the Web, first addressed with directories (e.g., Yahoo! and Altavista) and then global search indexes (e.g., Google) and now with very personal algorithms within platforms like Facebook and Twitter. There is no shortage of controversy around the nature of how this filtering is done, but it is nonetheless necessary.
Therefore, as a content creator you must be mindful of these visibility algorithms, a student of their inner workings, and seek to optimize your content to maximize its appeal to the algorithms as well as your audience.
This is our messy canvas. From here we begin to think about how to get our content into a position to reach and impact its intended audience.
What Do We Want Our Content to Accomplish?
Whenever you’re in a competitive situation, I think it is important to start with a goal. Content marketing is unquestionably a competitive endeavor, so begin with the end in mind.
What is the goal of your content? Where do you want people to see it? What do you want them to do with it? What impact do you want it to have on them–immediately and in the future?
These are all increasingly important questions. Simply publishing content for the expressed goal of “gaining more web traffic” is no longer a viable strategy. The mere presence of content, even great content, on the web is no guarantee that it will ever find it’s way into a Google search, a Facebook feed, or any other of the hundreds of rivers of news that people monitor in the web.
I always start with a very simple framework to focus the objective of any piece of new content:
- Who do I want to read it?
- Where do I want them to read it?
- What do I want them to do with the content?
- What do I want them to do with the information?
- What publishing platform will accomplish this the best?
- What kind of content will be the most effective?
The more you think about content in a three-dimensional way: when, where, and how the more effective your efforts will be.
How to Create Content in This New World
Considering all of these factors is an important first step. However, rolling it up into a repeatable process for creating content is the end game.
Let’s start with a few of the common mistakes I see in this confusing content and publishing environment:
- Publish and forget – This is the worst of mistakes. I’ve seen many content creators, including myself, get into a rut of publishing for the sake of publishing. We develop a requirement, expectation, or habit of publishing content. But, because we don’t have any real objective or audience in mind, we just publish our content and walk-away without any real passion for promoting or getting in front of the audience we want to influence.
- Automated publishing, everywhere – Just because it’s getting easier and easier to publish and shotgun your content out into the various rivers of news on the internet, doesn’t mean you should. You certainly want to address your audience in multiple channels and often it makes sense to syndicate content you have published in other channels. The subtle trick though is doing it in a way that feels native and appropriate to the channel. For example, a video 10-20 minute video published on YouTube won’t have much impact if simply shared as a link on Facebook. However, if you trim is to a minute or less and upload it directly to Facebook it is very likely to garner lots of Like and Shares.
- Publishing in a vacuum – Publishing to your website or blog is always a smart ultimate strategy. However, as you’re attempting to develop and grow an audience of your own, you’re going to need to start publishing at least some of your content in places that already have a significant audience–to introduce yourself and deliver some value to an existing community. That might mean leveraging an audience of friends and family on Facebook, business associates and colleagues on Linkedin, so intentionally buying the attention of relevant people you think you can help with Google AdWords or Facebook Ads. Don’t simply toil in obscurity, publishing on your blog, hoping to be discovered.
Now let’s talk about some specific strategies to create and publish content that works in this messy world:
- Avoid publishing without a clear objective – I try with all of my might to avoid publishing anything without a clear objective. That doesn’t mean I don’t have a Google Drive full of content at various stages of completion and some even finished and looking for a home. But, if I don’t understand its purpose or I have meandered in senseless loops, I try to avoid publishing it until it has a clear objective.
- Create your core content independent of the ecosystem – Many might disagree with me, but I believe in creating core, thoughtful, intentional content outside of any publishing platform. There are two important reasons for this, in my mind. First, I think that you should think and process your arguments (I generally think of content in the context of an argumentative or influence piece, especially in the context of marketing content) independent of the context to ensure you have considered it appropriately. Second, I think the confines of most publishing platforms seriously limit your ability or encouragement to broadly repurpose that content in a variety of channels.
- Revise and optimize your content for the channel – Avoid mindlessly copying and pasting or worse automating the publishing and syndicating of your content. Carefully understand and consider the norms of the channel(s) in which you’re publishing. This often includes everything from titles to tone and length to style. In the immediate future this is going to also need to include a careful consideration of the output interface, far beyond the current simple consideration of various screen sizes. Seek to stand out from the crowd while conforming to community norms.
- Publish natively in the channel you’re addressing – This closely relates to optimizing for the channel. Simply pushing or syndicating into a channel from another publishing platform is typically going to setup your content to perform poorly. Not only does it often look peculiar and hard to view, it’s also often disadvantaged by the publishing platform for all the same reasons. These publishers and platforms live and die by the experience that they deliver to users. Therefore, they demand that your content delivers a consistent experience or it will most likely find itself buried below channel optimized content.
- Create for the unique community – Every publisher and publishing channel takes on a unique vibe. It is in the best interest of your content to understand and play to that unique community and their preferences.
- Master the art of the riff – There is nothing more powerful than referencing the familiar, stroking an influential ego, or weighing in on a raging debate. These are the tools of The Riff. Your content will get a lot of visibility if you are tapped into the community that you intend to serve with your content. Leveraging that familiarity with the community and collaborating and referencing directly with them on a named basis all while stepping directly into the fray of what they are passionate about will surge your content into the forefront. A riff, in it’s simplest form from blog post to comment is simply a passionate, personal perspective piece in the midst of a much larger ongoing body of work you’re offering the community.
This, as long as it is, is a very cursory discussion of the mounting complexity in the world of content marketing and distribution. Our jobs, as content marketers, is going to get increasingly complex as we try to reach into the attention of a hyper-connected world. A content environment that you would think would be advantaged by increasing access point, but in reality is heavily disadvantaged by form factors and distractions.
Now is the time to start thinking about how you adjust your content marketing strategies to address these challenges.
How can we help?
Kaleidico is full-service digital marketing agency enabling clients across the US and in Canada to compete in an environment that has all the complexity and beauty of a kaleidoscope (assuming you have the right strategy). Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 313-566-4849 to discuss your next marketing campaign.