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I’m about to make your life easier and your marketing better by sharing one of the most overlooked, underrated yet most powerful allies you have as a web, search and social marketer: content. If you’re not creating, using and promoting content as part of your marketing strategy, it’s such a huge mistake that you should stop what you’re doing and start counting those lost dollars now. Content marketing has the power to propel even the smallest business into the same space as some of the biggest players. Here’s what makes it so important and how you can turn what might sound like a scary concept into your business’s new best friend.
What The Heck is “Content” Anyway?
Dictionary.com defines content as:
Something that is to be expressed through some medium, as speech, writing, or any of various arts; substantive information or creative material
Notice the first key point in that definition: any of various arts. Content is not “a thing”. Content is many things. It may be words or graphics, photos or videos, speeches or presentations. I bet you’re already creating content and don’t realize it. If you’ve ever produced a brochure, pitched a prospect in a meeting or updated your Facebook status, you’ve created content. Yes, even a tweet is content, even if you don’t quite think of it that way yet.
The second key point in the definition is creative material. I know this panics some people. Me?? Creative?? Sounds hard. And like work. Well guess what, folks, if you’re in business it is hard, and it is work, but that doesn’t mean you need to be an artist or a writer or think of yourself as an especially creative person to come up with creative content. You just need some ideas, a push in the right direction, a willingness to work hard and the insight to know when it’s time to hire a professional to help.
Why Does Content Matter?
When Bill Gates wrote the original “Content is King” article I’m sure he didn’t expect to spawn a cliché. Many marketers and business people have had the “content is king” mantra banged over their heads to the point where it becomes just more noise in an endless cacophony of “do this, don’t do that” advice.
So forget the cliché for now and focus on the reality of the impact that content has on your web, search and social marketing:
- The only way you can get into search engines and in front of customers and prospects looking for your product or service is with content.
- The only way you can educate your customers and prospects about your products and services is with content.
- The only way you can interest anyone in what you’re selling is with content.
- The only way you can persuade someone to buy what you’re selling is with content.
- The only way you can establish authority and credibility is with content.
- The only way you can connect in a personal, meaningful way with customers and prospects is with content.
- The only way you will rise above the competition, be noticed, be taken seriously and be counted among the top tier in your profession is with content.
Notice I did not give you any facts and figures about how many people use search or how many are on Facebook, read blogs, check email, watch video or consume any other type of content. The statistics are irrelevant to the fact that you need content. The type of content is another matter, but you must be creating content in one form or another, and preferably in multiple forms. I guarantee you there isn’t a profitable business today that doesn’t create content, even if it’s as fundamental as a sales pitch.
Some Basic Content Types And How To Use Them In Your Web, Search and Social Marketing
The good news for anyone still worried that they’re simply not creative is that content takes a multitude of forms and while you may not be a genius with a thesaurus, you may have a keen eye for framing a photo. Here are some examples of content that you may not be considering content right now, but can be incorporated to great effect into your online marketing plan.
Now don’t get huffy about not being a writer or having time (there are many excellent copywriting professionals who can assist), and no, blogs are not just for teenagers and cat lovers. They’re serious business. Don’t call it a blog if that bugs you. Think of it as your news report, roundtable, business weekly or industry journal. Blogs themselves can contain a variety of content types, but for now let’s consider a standard, written blog.
How To Use It:
- Write a how-to guide related to your business.
- Provide a product comparison or review.
- Give helpful advice or tips.
- Tell a human interest story about your business.
- Write about (and dispel) common myths related to your business or industry.
- Share a war story or cautionary tale to help your prospects and customers avoid doing business with the wrong kind of people in your industry.
- Share news about innovations or improvements in your own business.
- Conduct an interview with someone interesting, powerful or unique in your business or industry.
- Write a “Top 10” (or Top-Something) list of tips, statistics, little known facts or other ideas.
- Capitalize on your customers and prospects by inviting them to write guest posts. You don’t have to labor over it, and it still counts as content.
Ask around… you’d be surprised at what people know, don’t know, want to know or *think* they know about your business. Use this as fodder for an article.
Don’t feel like writing (or need to write) feature-length articles? Create a short-form blog with mini updates. Tumblr is a good example of this, and even Twitter is considered a microblog. The difference is that Tumblr gives you the flexibility of using photos, video or text in whatever combination or proportion that you want. Twitter is limited to 140 characters of text.
How To Use It:
- Share photos of you-on-the-job if you have an active profession.
- Share photos of your work.
- Publish quick tips or short snippets of helpful advice.
- Share favorite, inspirational, funny or relevant quotes.
- Share news and articles from other content sources.
- Publish links to your website, Facebook page, promotion, or blog.
It’s all content! Bet you didn’t realize those tweets count. And trust me, sometimes creating the right content to fit into a 140 character space is more challenging that writing an entire feature length blog.
There are two ways to create a video: the professional way and the home-grown way. Professional video can lend authority and create a perception of quality through good camera work, graphics, scripting and composition. If you can budget for it, I suggest you do it. But don’t let budget stop you from taking advantage of video. Even cell phones have decent video cameras in a pinch. The idea is to create interesting, compelling, sharable content.
How To Use It
- Create testimonial videos with clients who can talk about the value of your product or service.
- Record yourself doing your job for a human interest story or to demonstrate expertise.
- Record a screen session as you perform a task on your computer and turn it into a tutorial for a how-to.
- Perform a product demonstration.
- Record a straight-up sales pitch. Speak the benefits of your product or service, with a little personality and enthusiasm.
- Make an offer. Instead of a big “click here” starburst and a long-winded paragraph, create a video of the freebie, deal or promotion you’re offering.
- Tell a story or verbally record a blog post. If you have a great idea that you want to share but aren’t inclined to write it, why not speak it?
Anything you can write, you can show. Video is a great opportunity to inject personality into your content and create a compelling experience for your audience.
I hear you complaining already that you’re not a photographer, certainly no genius with Photoshop and the last photo you took of your cat ended up looking more like a mushroom. So I’ll just go ahead a say it: hire a professional. There’s a place for amateur photography, and if you’re half-decent at it you can get a good amount of mileage out of it. Even cell phone snapshots can be used as content on Facebook or your Tumblr. But sometimes professional photography is called for, so use your judgment. You probably don’t want cell phone shots of the $500 painting you’re selling.
How To Use It
- Use photos to liven up your blog or microblog.
- Create a “photo blog” either as part of or separate from a regular blog.
- Take “behind the scenes” photos to put a friendly face on your company.
- Tell a story in pictures. You can even include your audience in the content creation process by asking for caption submissions!
- Create a how-to guide with photos to illustrate the steps in a process.
- Create a photo gallery using a free service like Flickr and link to interesting and relevant photos from your blog or other social media account.
Photos are a great way to create interest and many people who otherwise don’t seem to be paying attention will like, tweet or share photos.
Other Content Types To Consider
I’ve given you some basics and a place to start. But there are many other types of content and you may or may not want to use them depending on your business, audience and goals. Here are just a few:
- Email courses
There is such a plethora of rich media that you can’t say you don’t have options. It’s a matter of choosing the right options for your business and marketing them to your advantage.
Tying It Together
Remember many words ago when I told you that content is not “a thing”? Content comes in many forms, and you should be creating it in many forms. The more types of content you create, the more opportunities you will create for yourself to be found, to be noticed and to build your brand, credibility and expertise.
But be cautious: don’t jump into the content creation pool and start throwing out photos, videos and blog posts however and wherever you can. If you’re planning a blog, plus a photo gallery, and home-grown video, you’ve got to synch those pieces and tie them together cohesively. And you’ve got to market them cohesively. If you’re writing a blog post about a cute cat and publishing a video of a funny dog and tweeting about a silly mouse… well, you get where I’m going with this analogy. Don’t turn your marketing into a menagerie of mayhem.
Focus on your goal and build content around it. And while we haven’t touched on the myriad types of offline content you can create, be sure to integrate it into your total marketing plan so your online and offline efforts are in synch.
Reuse And Repurpose
Market your content across channels – on your blog, website, Facebook, Twitter, email, Tumblr, YouTube channel, whatever. You don’t need to – and certainly shouldn’t! – create different content for each. Different types of content – yes. Content with different messages and themes – no. You can publish the same photo to Facebook and Tumblr and your blog and Flickr and link to it from Twitter. You may want to tweak and present it with a slightly different flair, but don’t exhaust yourself by trying to come up with something unique for each channel.
Once you have content, you can use it again and again. People who saw your video today are not the same people who will see it a week or month or year from now. If you’ve got great content, you can use it many ways, in many places and many times over.
Convinced yet that content is your friend? You should be, but if you still doubt or hesitate, I’d love to hear why. Otherwise, get out there and start creating.