Content Strategy 101: What your business needs to know

It is essential to develop a content strategy for your online marketing campaign. Consider the opening lines of the new book, The Content Rules: How To Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks and Webinars:

Blogs, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other online platforms are giving organizations like yours an enormous opportunity to engage directly with your customers or would-be customers. That’s a lucky thing, because instead of creating awareness about your company or your brand solely the old-school way (by annoying people with advertising, bugging them with direct mail, or interrupting them with a phone call during dinner), you now have an unprecedented and enormous opportunity.

We recently spoke with the authors of The Content Rules about why content strategy is so important and what steps every business should take.

Content Rules was written by Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman. Ann is the chief content officer of MarketingProfs.com, a former journalist and regular contributor to American Express OPEN Forum, Mashable and The Huffington Post.  C.C. is the founder of Digital Dads and a veteran online marketer who has worked with businesses including The Coca Cola Company, HBO and American Eagle.

Why did you write this book?

C.C.: Our reasons were varied and different. A, I wanted to work with Ann. But B, as someone who has worked in this space on both the personal side and the agency side, there is a big lack of people who understand content. They want to play with blogging and think video is the next big thing, but they really haven’t thought it out fully. We want people to understand why creating good content is important and to be inspired to do it.

Ann: We also didn’t want to write a book that was all theory and no action. This notion that marketers have to be thinking about creating original content is an idea that has been out there for a couple of years, and people are starting to really pay attention to it. Still, we saw a lack in the market for a book that answered the question of how to actually do it effectively.

How would you define content and/or content strategy?

C.C.: I define content as anything an individual or a company creates and shares to tell their story.

Ann: How I define content is broadly. Anything you create or share that tells your story. Online, that includes anything on your own site as well as anything on outposts like Facebook, Twittter, LinkedIn, etc. It’s anything that expresses the soul of your brand or business.

How I define content strategy is simply it’s the why behind the what. It’s thinking through what you are creating to further to ensure that the content has a purpose and is igniting relationships for your business.

Why is developing a content strategy so important?

Ann: A lot of companies have already been creating content through traditionally published magazines or other offline efforts. Now, because of the rise of new media, people are really ready to share stuff socially. That makes  content even more important.

This is especially true for B-to-B marketers. It used to be that your sales staff was out there as the front line selling directly to the client. Now those clients are first going online, they’re doing their own research and they’re asking friend and colleagues for recommendations on who they use through sites like LinkedIn, for example.

C.C.: You simply have to think about content now. Every tweet is content, every Facebook status is content, every photo you put on your website is content. You’re not strategically thinking if you’re not integrating all of this content into your marketing campaign.

At the same time, we are all experiencing information overload. So you need to create something that is going to stand out, something that is going to get people’s attention but is still appropriate.

Ann: One thing I’d like to add. I do think that people who are resistant to the idea of making content part of their marketing plan are forgetting that they’re already doing it. If you have a website or a newsletter, you’re already creating content. Now you need to define what you’re doing and talk about ways you can add to it.

So how does a business start to develop its content strategy?

Ann: I would say look to your own strengths. What excites you the most? What are you trying to accomplish? Where are you trying to reach people? Before you automatically think a blog, you should ask yourself these questions.

My first recommendation is to actually start a blog. A blog is the hub of your online content. It’s easy to update—you don’t need to involve IT to make an update. It’s a good sandbox to get to know your voice and who you are. That’s always my first recommendation with the caveat that you have to think through yourstrategy.

You also don’t have to have all the answers up front. First try to figure out what you’re going to accomplish. Then set some fort of metrics and goals in place, even if they have to be adjusted later.

In the book, you discuss strategies for developing blogs, podcasts, videos, newsletters, e-books and social networks. How does a business stay on top of the next hot thing?

C.C.: It is difficult because let’s face it—new things are coming out every day. We talk about this a bit in the book. One of the things I do is go to places that are curating the latest news. One of my favorites is Mashable. I know that Mashable.com is going to cover the latest everything. It’s a trusted source I’ve come to appreciate. If they are covering it, I know it’s something I know I need to pay attention to.

Our advice is to find the site or person that is covering the things that interest you the most. You want to find the people in  your industry who are the tastemakers. If it gets on their radar, it should be on your radar.

Ann: Also don’t get too caught up in the latest and greatest and shiny stuff. I take more of a wait-and-see approach. You’ve got to really think if this is something that’s going to be useful for your business.

You talk a lot about creating content that has wings. What if a business wants to control how its content is shared?

C.C.:  If that’s your mentality, then get off the Internet. Seriously. The reason why the Internet was created is so that people could share information. If you’re going to be creating stuff, you’re going to be spending a lot of time and effort on nothing if you don’t want to actually share it.

It’s different if you’re creating something to make money, like a paid newsletter or paid forum. Obviously you need to protect that content. But if you’re making something like videos or podcasts, you want people to want share them. You want them to have this emotional response and feel like they have to share it right away.

Ann: A lot of B-to-B’s in particular are used to putting things behind the gate. Content has long been a part of the lead-generating process. You don’t want to share a white paper without collecting names for a database of people that you can later market to.

It’s fine if some of your content is behind the registration page. But the default has always been to register to download anything and that needs to change. Otherwise you are going to get a lot of bogus names like mickeymouse123@hotmail.com and you’re not going to be getting a lot of quality leads.

So figure out what one pieces of content you really want to keep behind the registration wall. Everything else should be free and easy to share.

What other advice do you have for businesses?

C.C.: The biggest thing to realize is that companies often get hung up in worrying about far behind they are. In reality, they’re probably not.

Our biggest piece of advice is to look at what you’ve got right now for content. This could be brochures, photos, newsletters. Look at what you’ve got now and look at where you’re headed. Rather than saying we have to be on this platform or that platform, think about where you have to go to and how you’re going to get there.

Ann:  Right now content marketing is a lot like sex in high school. Everybody says they’re doing it, but few are doing it well. There’s lots of opportunities to quickly get going and having a big impact.

Ready to start your own company blog? Check out our four-part series, beginning with Starting Your Company Blog: Planning Your Editorial Strategy.