Every brand that’s focusing their marketing efforts on content marketing has the word community on their mind.
Growing an engaged and active community around the content that you’re developing is the holy grail of marketing. We’ve seen businesses like Snapchat and Instagram be valued into the billions of dollars purely based on the community of users that they hold – it’s pretty crazy when you think about it.
Yet however crazy it may seem, this is what’s been the key driver behind the exponential growth of these startups. Building a community isn’t easy, and more often than not, it doesn’t happen overnight – believe me.
Before you start going crazy with plans to dedicate a ton of your budget to creating new content and piling people through to your Facebook page, you need to start with the basics…
What is going to make your content different from that of anyone else’s?
That answer to that question isn’t always immediately obvious, and it doesn’t always need to be overly complicated either.
I’ve spoken to so many businesses that think an infographic is the answer to all their problems (I’m sighing as I write this). I actually touched on this in my recent article geared towards content promotion, but I’m going to emphasise this again…
I’m not saying that infographics are dead, I’m just emphasising the fact that they only work in certain situations. Anyway, that’s my infographics vendetta out of the way….
Before you begin thinking about the medium or format of your content, you need to go back to that question of what will make ours different?
Even if you’d consider your business to operate within a boring industry, there are ways to carve out an audience. You just need to find an angle.
The first thing that I do when I work with a client to develop their content strategy is map out the various facets of their business. This could include:
Once you’ve mapped this all out, it becomes a little easier to find the slight nuances of your business that can be expanded and capitalised upon within a content marketing campaign.
For example, I’ve worked with a company that specialises in the manufacturing of valves. These valves can be placed within car engines, oil rigs, medical systems and a whole host of industrial automation applications.
Now, on their own the valves aren’t exactly the most interesting thing to talk about. Sure, they’re really innovative in their field and their products are superior to their competitors, but you can’t just dine out on that forever and hope to build a thriving community around your content.
You need to open it up to a wider audience. You need those people that may have a way of communicating with your target audience to be placing this in front of them. This is where we decided to focus less on the products and more on the application. We told the story of how these valves played a small part in a much larger operation.
We created video content and interactive microsites that visualised each of these different processes. From something as simple as how the valves could be used to change gears in a car, right through to how whole oil rigs were running and some facts surrounding them. This had a much wider appeal but also tied deeply in with the role of their products as well. Not only that, but they could be used as a powerful sales tool too.
Another example that I love is from Trucker Classifieds (I had no role in this campaign but am just a huge fan).
Trucker Classifieds is a website focused on jobs for truckers. On first glance, you’d think that there wasn’t really much that they could do to make their content interesting and fun, but you’d be far from right.
They created the Truckpocalypse, an interactive webpage that enables you to scroll through and see the effects of what would happen if the trucking industry collapsed within the US.
This as a topic itself doesn’t sound enthralling, but when it’s given an apocalyptic theme, it really does engage all kinds of viewers, me included. Not only that, but it ties in directly with the overall brand messaging of the company.
I know what you’re probably thinking now: Matt, that’s all great, but I don’t have the budget to be making loads of interactive content, videos and apps!
Don’t worry, I know the feeling (and so do some of my clients!).
The reality is that it’s less about the size of your content and more about the message.
It has to be relevant to your target audience and also be delivered in a format that they’re comfortable consuming.
An example that I can give of a smaller scale campaign that I’ve ran is for a client that is focused on marketing communications for SMEs. We ran a lot of big content campaigns, but one of the most successful content themes was a microsite that we created. The microsite was a blog with one sole purpose – to deliver a single business tip within each blog post that could be explained in fewer than 200 words.
The result was that the content became highly shareable, and from our side the content production resources were relatively low. It’s pretty easy to hammer out 200 words.
Another campaign that I really loved was that of another UK digital agency, Hitreach. They ran a small campaign where they commissioned an illustrator to create a number of short comic strips relevant to their target audience (search marketers). Here’s an example:
(click image to enlarge)
Image source: Hitreach
These simple comic strips cost very little to produce and have actually yielded some pretty impressive results in terms of social shares and inbound links.
Once you’ve settled on some core themes that you’ll be focusing on, you’ll need to tie in a roadmap for how the content will be produced and how it will be promoted.
This is where you need to decide upon the format of your content.
The key here is to understand the best format to get your message across. Sometimes this can be in the shape of a blog post, other times it can be a simple image. Here are a few ideas for different content formats that you can explore:
These are just a few, but with a little research, you can get a deeper understanding of what works for your audience.
Social media will often be a huge channel for growing your online audience. Even in industries where you wouldn’t necessarily anticipate that there will be vast numbers of interested social media users, you’ll often find that the smaller group of active users will have a more intense interest. These are prime candidates to try and build into brand promoters.
Starting from the basics though, you’ll want to completely optimise the sharing of your content through your social channels. Here’s a diagram that I’ve created based on a talk from Rand Fishkin that outlines optimal posting patterns across a number of different social networks:
Image source: Mathew Barby
When it comes to retaining users within your community, there can’t be many things more powerful (and more obvious) than analysing their behaviour and engagement towards your content.
It’s so important that you set clear metrics for success against each of your different content campaigns, whether these be focused on sales, i.e. direct leads as a result of reading content, or engagement, i.e. blog comments, social shares or backlinks.
I’m not going to go into all of the fine details of analysing your content, but the key takeaway is that you should be looking deeper into what your audience is responding well to, what trends are amongst the content that isn’t performing so well, and then creating a plan of action to act upon your findings.
If you want more detailed advice on running content analysis, you can view my content analysis case study.
Another extremely effective way of building a community around your content is to create content you know that your target audience wants. Now this is pretty obvious and almost seems like a pointless statement to make, however, what I mean is that you actively need to ask your audience what they want and also listen to what they’re saying.
The first part that involves asking your audience can be done in a number of ways. One of my favourite routes to do this is within the content that I’m producing via services like Qualaroo. This tool enables you to ask your website visitors questions as they navigate through your content and it can reveal some very interesting information.
Another way to do this is via email. Whenever somebody new signs up to my email list, I send them an email that asks why they signed up, what type of content they’re looking for and one criticism. You wouldn’t believe how useful the feedback I get is.
On the other side, involving listening, my tool of choice is BuzzBundle. Using BuzzBundle, you’ll be able to scour through blogs, forums, social networks and Q&A websites (e.g. Yahoo! Answers) to find out what questions your target audience are asking.
Using this data you can tailor content to fill a gap. This can work incredibly well in more technical industries.