Screw the Long-Term Strategy! Smart Content Marketing is Agile

There’s an old story about an architect who was hired to design an entire campus of buildings surrounding a large empty quad. When the buildings were done, the administrators asked the architect to lay out a series of sidewalks between buildings.

He decided to wait instead. As he waited, people walked between the buildings, finding their own way, eventually wearing the most efficient paths into the grass. Then the architect had the sidewalks installed on the paths the people had made, saying they were more efficient and useful than anything he could have created himself.

How many times have companies created a long-term strategy for content marketing or social media marketing, only to scrap the entire plan after two weeks because of a crisis or major event.

I’ve talked with companies that will schedule everything — blog posts, Facebook updates, and even individual tweets. I’ve seen spreadsheets of scheduled tweets, three per day, five days a week, which took days and weeks to create, all thrown away because of a change in a law, regulations, or even a CEO or CMO.

There are plenty of reasons to have a long-term strategy, but plenty more reasons to avoid the strategy and be more agile. Here are five ways you can be more agile with your content marketing.

1. Create a topic checklist.

Marathon Checklist signFor some clients, we’ll blog about particular topics each month, but the actual titles of the blog post are wide open. We’re more concerned about the general theme of the month, but we don’t script each individual post. For example, a men’s clothing line might have a topic checklist like this:

November

  • 2 posts on dressing warm for winter
  • 2 posts on hats
  • 2 posts on scarves
  • 2 posts on winter suits

The blog posts themselves could be about how to wear a suit in the bitter cold, which kind of hat to wear to the office, the proper way to tie a scarf, and what materials are warmest in the winter.

This method lets the content marketing manager decide what to write about, taking input from product managers, as well as PR and marketing staff. It’s also flexible enough to change if problems or news stories arise. For example, if hats became suddenly more popular, they could drop a couple posts on suits and scarves, and write more about hats.

2. Watch your analytics

Google AnalyticsGoogle has stopped telling us what keywords bring people to our blogs, but you can still get a good idea by looking at the pages that get the most traffic. If you spot a pattern, you’ll understand what people are turning to you for. This means you should put more energy into those topics.

Keep an eye on your Google rank as well. Use a service like WebCEO to find your true Google rank for certain keywords and topics. Write about the areas you want to shore up, as well as write more about the things you want to improve.

3. Answer customer service and tech support questions

People who ask questions are usually a smaller subset of people who have a particular problem. That is, if 10 people ask a question, there may be anywhere from 100 – 250 people with the same problem. Write blog posts and create videos to answer those questions. As people search for the answers to their questions, they’ll find your content and visit your site.

Search your email for questions that start with “how do I. . .” Talk to your customer service department to find out what people are calling about. Rewrite and publish FAQs and tech support knowledge forums into blog posts. Use screencasts and videos to show people how to complete a particular process or fix a problem.

4. Monitor the industry news

As David Meerman Scott says, newsjacking is about injecting your ideas into a breaking news story. It’s about becoming the “second sentence” in a news article.

Newsjacking chart

As soon as you hear about breaking news in your industry, write a response story that includes your take and your ideas on how it affects your customers and your industry. It should be the second sentence in your blog post or press release. At the very least, your customers will appreciate you alerting them to the issue. At best, journalists will see you as one of the authorities on it, and call you for a response.

Be a voracious reader of little-known and industry insider sites. Create RSS feeds of your industry’s thought leader blogs and news sites. Set up Twitter lists of those people and monitor them constantly.

Most importantly, be prepared to jump on those news stories immediately. Take a crisis communication approach: Be first, be right, be credible. That means writing blog posts as soon as things happen, or even assigning someone to be a dedicated content marketer whose primary responsibility is to write content. (This may mean giving them a “get out of meetings free” pass.)

5. Think like a beginner, or ask your beginning customers

You work in a particular field day in, day out. You’ve talked about your work so much, you’re sure everyone knows the most basic information about what you do. It turns out, most people know nothing about your industry, your company, or your specialty. They come to your website because they have those basic questions and they need answers.

Ask your salespeople to explain their sales pitch, and look to your FAQ. Come up with lists posts like “Five Things to Consider About _____,” “Five Things to Avoid When Buying _____,” or “Five Reasons You Need _____” to answer those beginning questions.

Many of my clients are surprised to see these beginning posts are some of their most-visited posts. They figured “everyone” knew all about the subject, but it turned out no one did. I’ve helped clients scrap entire content marketing strategies because they had to take it back to the beginning.

Rather than spending a lot of time and effort creating a content calendar, leave yourself open to serendipity and happenstance. An agile content marketing approach lets you change directions and go with the flow when responding to events as they arise. It lets you provide more value to your customers and clients than a fully-developed and strictly-followed content calendar will ever do.

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    About Erik Deckers

    Erik Deckers is the President of Pro Blog Service, a content marketing and social media marketing agency He co-authored four social media books, including No Bullshit Social Media with Jason Falls (2011, Que Biz-Tech), and Branding Yourself with Kyle Lacy (3rd ed., 2017, Que Biz-Tech), and The Owned Media Doctrine (2013, Archway Publishing). Erik has written a weekly newspaper humor column for 10 papers around Indiana since 1995. He was also the Spring 2016 writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando, FL.

    Comments

    1. Erik, Great post. Love the title. Way too few people have developed a real-time mindset. That’s good news because people like us who understand can be successful with the strategy.

      • Thanks, David. Too many content marketing plans are so rigidly defined, they can only freeze and watch those newsjacking opportunities sail by, because they didn’t fit in the script. I’ve often thought crisis communication (CERC, the kind public health officials use) would benefit from newsjacking thinking, and finally decided to write this post.