How to build and deploy a winning content strategy
To create and deliver content that rivets your audience, you have to start with one thing: a plan. A solid content strategy will keep you on track all the way from inception to reception. As Hannah Smith at Distilled puts it:
“If you skip the strategy and head straight to delivery you're in danger of creating content which could either confuse or alienate your audience, or fail to reach them at all.”
But what is content strategy, exactly? The team at Brain Traffic has come up with a simple way to break it down. Their Content Strategy Quad focuses on four main areas:
Let’s spend a little time looking at each. By following these steps, you can learn to not only plan an airtight content strategy, but to artfully execute it as you manage your team of freelance content creators.
“Content strategy plans for valuable, findable, meaningful content.” - UX Booth
The word “content” has many meanings. It can refer to insightful blog posts, entertaining videos, educational infographics, and more. Fortunately, you don’t have to do it all. In fact, you shouldn’t. Instead, focus your strategy to find the best content for your brand.
It all starts with your audience. Who exactly is it that you’re speaking to? Do the research on the various demographics of your audience. Often times, businesses make detailed buyer personas to represent their different customers. Consider the interests and priorities of the people who follow your brand.
Once you have a good idea of who’s listening and what they care about, then you can determine what kind of content they enjoy. Are your users interested in podcast interviews with industry experts? Do they prefer blog posts with tips, tricks, and illustrations? Or perhaps they’re looking for instructional videos. Ask them. Let them know you’re listening, and whatever you choose to create, be consistent in tailoring it to your customers.
At the same time, you have to consider what your brand’s message is. What are you trying to convey about who you are and what you offer? Your brand might be the wise sage that offers inspirational advice. Or you might be the fun, outside-the-box innovator. Establishing your message not only affects what topics to cover and which formats to use, but also informs your voice. Your tone and style should match your message. Plan this out so you can remain consistent throughout your content.
“Quality has become the #1 ranking factor in Google” -Neil Patel
Many layers go into making quality content. Yes, the writing has to be well-crafted. Your designs need to pop and your images need to shine. But even the snappiest posts aren’t going to climb the Google mountain if you don’t also lay out a structure for creation and distribution.
First, consider how you’re going to format, display, and curate your content. Just as the tone of your writing needs to match your message and identity, so does your assembly and layout. Is your content organized by topic, by medium, or by season? A news site may place the latest events front and center, but you might prioritize the stories that are most popular.
Second, figure out guidelines for your SEO. Come up with a strategy for how to utilize inbound links, or backlinks. Figure out which keywords to implement, where to place them, and how often. What about tags? Hashtags? Metadata? Each one of these pieces plays a role in how you appear in search results, and how credible your content will be—to computers and humans alike.
Finally, determine where you’re going to share your content, and how often. Especially if you’re juggling several formats and platforms, it’s best to create a system and stick to it. This might mean a weekly post on your home blog, daily posts on Instagram, and bi-monthly episodes on YouTube. Again, investigate your audience’s preferences, and follow best practices.
“We saved an average of 74 minutes of staff time on every blog post we produced after we moved our process to a content marketing platform.” -Content Marketing Institute
Once you’ve made plans for the content itself, the next step is to create a plan for your team. Creating great content takes a lot of time and energy, Make sure to create focused guidelines and standards for how to manage your freelancers, and for what they should expect on their end.
Put systems in place for each phase of your content strategy. From planning to creation to distribution, you should have processes and protocols that everyone adheres to. How many people do you need to fill each role in a project, and what is each person’s part in the workflow? To keep track of it all, establish a content calendar that everyone can follow.
Which other tools are you going to use to collaborate with your freelance team? When people are getting lost in unending email threads, scattered text messages, and conflicting calendars, it’s difficult to keep everyone on the same wavelength. Unify your workflow by creating a system early on. A Freelance Management System like Bonsai can go a long way in centralizing the flow of information.
Set down expectations for time management. What is the standard timeline to create a given piece of content? What is the expected turnaround time for each freelancer when they receive an assignment? How are you setting deadlines, and then tracking and managing them across your team? The more you standardize these details, the less surprises you’ll run into.
“A huge part of content strategy actually has nothing to do with content itself. It’s about people.” -Gather Content
Your systems are in place. Your plans are laid out. You’re ready to go, right? Not so fast. There’s one last piece of your content strategy to plan out: how to keep things organized as you move forward. Governance is all about roles, decision-making, and changes over time.
Because there are so many moving pieces, it’s helpful to define everyone’s roles. When each freelancer knows their roles and responsibilities in the overall process, they develop a sense of ownership and development their area of expertise. From your in-house management to the most distributed of contractors, get everyone aligned on the chain of command. This helps to avoid redundancy, miscommunication, and conflict.
You’ve done a lot of work planning out your content strategy. You’ve come up with a large amount of information that many people will need to follow. Document it all, and make these guidelines available to everyone on the team. When changes need to be made (and they will), decide in advance who makes those calls. Then, update your documents and team members on new protocols.
To really get people oriented, you might go beyond just a shared document, and provide training on your workflow. That could be as simple as a video conference or webinar. Or, it could involve more formal courses and conferences that bring your freelancers and managers up to speed—and keep them there.
Forming an effective content strategy is no small task. There’s a lot to consider, and your plan will need ongoing revisions. By planning ahead and laying the groundwork, however, you can place yourself ahead of your competition. The more thought you put into your content strategy, the more your freelancers will get out of it. It will help them—and you—to generate an ongoing stream of content that makes your audience smile.