By: Ann Handley
In this multi-part series on driving company branding, Ann Handley explains how to rethink your site content to make it more engaging. This is excerpted, in part, from her book, Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business
In my previous article, Social Media Marketing: the Six Defining Elements of Online Content, we looked at the six characteristics of a good content idea or story.
Content that has all or most of those six elements will attract your audience and appeal to them on a fundamental, emotional level. In essence, creating stories that have these elements allows your audience to connect with you as one person to another, and view your business as what it is: a living, breathing entity run by real people.
Are you wondering how you are going to create all this content when you don’t have breaking news to share on a regular basis?
Previously, companies were expected to talk to the world only when they had something newsworthy to share. Those days are over. If you want to remain relevant and top of mind, you need to find a way to converse with customers and prospects much more frequently than only when you have big news as part of your social media strategy.
So what might you talk about when there’s “nothing” to say? Consider these approaches to developing relevant content.
1. Chat with customers. Arm your recruiters and other customer-facing folks with micro-video cameras to capture face time with prospects or customers. Bring a camera along the next time you attend a networking event. Not sure what to say? Try asking customers a single question to unify their answers and string them together for a compelling video. Ask something like, “What’s your biggest marketing challenge? Name one business goal for 2011.” Or, “What’s a strategy you’re using to grow your business this year?”
2. Interview luminaries. Question and answer interviews with thought-leaders, strategic partners, or flat-out interesting or creative thinkers make for compelling text, audio, or video content. They also raise your profile with them, and they will most likely link to the interview from their own, better-read sites. And don’t forget the thought leaders in your own organization, too. [Tip: A simple Q&A chat via Skype is easy to do and allows for back-and-forth banter that gives an interview more energy and makes it more fun to read. Capture the text, edit for clarity, slap on a headline, and you’re done!
3. Share real-time photos. Configure your blog to work with Flickr so that you can upload photos from industry events, meetups, or other gatherings. Snap photos to share on Twitter via Twitpic or other Twitter photo-sharing services. Having fresh content matters here, so consider posting photos straight from your mobile phone, or invest in an EyeFi card that fits most digital cameras and will upload photos to the Web instantly. Bonus: The faster you can get your photos up, the more likely it is that people will use them to refer to, share with others, and drive traffic to your content.
4. Ask customer service. The front line is a great source for content, so ask them: What are customers contacting us about? What problems do they have? How might you help them resolve their issues? This approach is great for regular content with a recurring “questions from our customers” theme.
5. Monitor search keywords. What keywords are people using when they land on your blog or job postings? Monitoring those keywords can inform your content stories and suggest new opportunities; keywords tell you what your would-be customers are interested in and actively looking for; the right keywords will also help your content and job postings searchable.
6. Monitor social media keywords, too. Monitoring social media conversations and trending keyword topics on Twitter, blogs, and social status updates can be a rich source of content ideas. Doing so gives you a sense of what people are talking about in real time and what matters to your customers now.
Bonus: Choose trending topics that your audience might never connect to your business. This is a great way to surprise your community, and often leads to more conversation and interaction.
7. Research online. Use something like Google AdWords Keyword Tool to determine what people are searching for. If you sell rubber ducks, for example, you might be interested to know that 750 people have searched for “bride and groom rubber ducks” in any given month, 501 for “yellow floating ducks,” and another 460 for “cheap rubber duckies.” Those might suggest topics to create content around.
Bonus: Google Predictive Search is great for this, too, as Google auto-completes your search query with suggestions of what people are actually looking for. Another great place to research content ideas is Yahoo! Answers; the questions people post related to your own searches or queries can reveal a treasure trove of information.
8. Trawl industry news. Share an opinion about a recent news story that’s affecting your industry or audience. Whenever possible, be timely; you could benefit from the extra boost of being one of the first to comment on the topic, as latecomers are likely to reference and link to you.
8a. Related to the preceding: Trawl non-industry news, too. Play off a popular general news story and relate it to your own industry. In journalism, this is called using a “news hook.” What did the 2010 FIFA World Cup have to do with growing your small business? Nothing, really. But in an article at American Express OPEN Forum, Rohit Bhargava offered four lessons that small businesses could glean from South Africa’s hosting of the games.
9. Get inspired by your own passions. Consider these recent blog posts: What World of Warcraft’s Patchwerk Can Teach You about Recovering Morale (by Christopher S. Penn) or Brian Clark’s Ernest Hemingway’s Top 5 Tips for Writing Well. On the surface, they may make you tilt your head, doggie-style, and wonder how those combos came about. It’s exactly such piqued curiosity that draws in more readers.
10. Go behind the scenes. Show things that your readers or followers don’t usually get to see. Share photos that give an insider’s view of your company. Consider using these as teasers of some new, compelling content, product, or event that you’ll be sharing soon.
Bonus: Encourage your customers to also share their photos of or stories about favorite staff members they have interacted with, or how they use your products in their lives. Have your employees join in the fun by sharing pictures of their workspaces.
11. Reach into your community. Create content that showcases your readers, viewers, commenters and other active members of your community. If you notice that two visitors consistently comment on your blog posts, for example, write a post thanking them; also point out who they are, and link back to their blogs or businesses. You might even highlight some of your favorite posts from their blogs.
Bonus: Once you start highlighting your audience members, you might well spark more participation by others who hope that they too might get a spotlight shone on them.
So there you go: 11+ ways to find the compelling stories within your own organization that help build your brand. There are many more approaches, of course. What ways have you found to be most effective?
Ann Handley is the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs and the co-author, with C.C. Chapman, of Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business (Wiley, 2011).