It can be overwhelming to consider putting together your own content strategy. It’s even more pressure to rely on your content to make an impact on your business goals. If your small business or nonprofit organization can’t afford to hire an experienced marketer, you might wonder how you’ll even get started.
What even IS a content strategy? It’s the intentional plan by which you create and distribute various pieces of content in specific places for your target audience. The key word here is intentional—it’s not a strategy if you are simply throwing things out to see what sticks! Try these steps for building an impactful content strategy for your organization.
1. Outline Your Content Goals
Before you can create a strategy, you need to identify, understand, and document your purpose. This is a major part of being intentional!
Some content marketing goals might be:
- Increase brand awareness among your target audience
- Increase inbound qualified leads
- Position your business as a thought leader in your industry
- Provide a value-added resource to your existing clients
I’m a fan of creating SMART goals. This means that each goal should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely. For example, if you want to increase brand awareness, your goal might read like this. “By July 31, 2023, we will increase website pageviews by 5% by creating and publishing consistent content.” At this stage, you can’t exactly outline which content and on which platforms. But you can always go back and revise your goals after you build your strategy.
2. Reinforce Your Brand Foundation
Before you try to engage new and existing audiences, you have to prepare for the questions they will have. Who are you? What do you do? How long have you been around? Why should I care?
Review The 10 Commandments of Branding and, if necessary, reinforce your brand foundation. Make sure you have a clear and strong mission, vision, and values and if possible, write a brand story to guide your content creation. You also should create a brand style guide if you don’t already have one to ensure that you’re creating consistent and accurate content.
3. Identify Your Target Audience
You may think you know who your potential clients are, but it’s a good idea to do some research. Look into your current clients and identify commonalities between them. Are they all a specific type of business or in the same industry? Are your contacts around the same age range or at a specific job title? Ask yourself these and other questions to try and pinpoint your target audience.
Also look into your competition, if possible. Who are they currently working with? Who is their content speaking to? You shouldn’t copy their efforts, but some competitive research can help you formulate your own target audience.
Going one step further, create personas for different segments of your target audience. These personas are specific profiles of an imaginary person that fits into your demographics for each segment. Include each person’s pain points and why they would choose to use your business to solve them. Say your accounting firm has a persona for Carol, who is 45 and struggles with bookkeeping for her small business. You’ll have an easier time creating content that speaks directly to her pain points (and therefore, those of the people like her in your segment).
4. Decide on Content Formats
There are so many formats that you can use to publish content in today’s digital world. Will you write blog posts? Create YouTube videos? Share quick Instagram Reels or TikTok videos? Show vivid images of your work?
This is another area where competitive research can be helpful. Compare your business website and social media channels with others in your industry. You can even look into how they rank on Google and what keywords they’re using. You might find content voids where there is a great opportunity to share a specific type of content that isn’t currently being leveraged.
That said, make sure you are comfortable creating content in your chosen formats. If you can’t imagine getting in front of a camera, don’t say that you’re going to make selfie-style Instagram Reels. Instead, play to your strengths and consider formats that don’t require you to show your face all the time!
5. Select Distribution Platforms
Now that you’ve established who your target audience is, you need to find out where they hang out online. Your content strategy should include social media channels where your target audience is present! You also have to make sure you choose platforms you’re comfortable with. But only so many—if you spread yourself too thin trying to publish on every platform, it won’t end up well.
If you already have social media channels set up, now is a good time to evaluate how well they are working. It’s absolutely allowed to quit a social platform that isn’t giving you the results you need. Don’t waste your limited time on a platform that isn’t serving you!
6. Define Your Production Processes
It’s helpful to define your process for each content format you’ll be creating. Whether you’re a one-woman show or a team of 20, you need to document your process so that you can be consistent, save time, and be ready for others to assist you. (You might not be a one-woman show forever, and it will be much easier to bring on assistance if you already have your process documented.)
Different formats will have different processes for creation and publishing. For example, my video creation process is very different from my blog creation process. Similarly, the tools I use to schedule and publish blogs are different than the tools I use to schedule and publish social media. Take the time to figure out a process that works for you, write it down, and revise it as necessary if you figure out a better way to do things.
7. Decide on a Publishing Schedule
A publishing schedule is critical for holding yourself accountable and staying consistent. If you know that you publish a blog post every Tuesday, then on Friday you know you need to get cracking if you haven’t written one yet. (Although I highly recommend batching your content creation. This just means setting aside a block of time for creating a several pieces of content while you’re in the zone.)
Having a publishing schedule also helps you take advantage of holidays, special events in your industry, and other key dates. You’ll be able to match specific content with these dates and schedule it accordingly. And speaking of scheduling, take this time to research and select a scheduling tool that allows you to “set it and forget it.” You want to avoid having to manually post on certain days or at specific times if at all possible. I use Hootsuite to schedule my social media posts and WordPress to schedule blog posts in advance.
Even with a scheduling tool, you need to be realistic about the time you have to devote to content creation and publishing. Even with marketing tools to help automate your process, you’ll be spending a LOT of time on executing this strategy! It’s OK to start with publishing less frequently and work your way up to posting more often if you find that you have the time and resources to do so.
8. Develop Content Pillars and Subtopics
You’re getting into the fun part now! Having dedicated content topics that you focus on—also called content pillars—makes your creation so much easier. Have a brainstorming session to consider the major topics that you want to focus on.
Remember, these should be adding value to your current clients and target audience. Think about their pain points that you identified when you were building your personas. What are the major topics that someone would search for to help solve them? Smaller topics that relate to your content pillars are your subtopics, and there can be an infinite number of content pieces to discuss them.
You can also post other content, of course. We want to educate, inspire, and entertain our audience! So if you want to post a relatable meme on your social channel, go for it! You can also share content that humanizes your business, like behind the scenes videos or employee spotlights.
9. Create Pieces of Content
We’ve reached my favorite step! I love creating content to share—but that wasn’t always the case. I was nervous about sharing my thoughts and, in some cases, opinions with the world. This is totally understandable and normal! However, you have to take ownership of your expertise, skills, and experience and act like the expert you are.
Since you’ve already identified your content pillars and subtopics, you know where to start. Make a big list of content ideas, even if they are half-baked to start. You can flesh them out and assign them to specific formats and platforms as you go. (Side note: If you’re writing blog posts, I cannot recommend HemingwayApp enough. It is my essential tool for composing clear and readable content!)
Take advantage of research tools to find detailed information to back up your own thoughts. Scour recent headlines and search engine questions to get ideas for timely content in your industry. While current events are trending for a time, make sure you plan for evergreen content as well. This is content about your business or industry that doesn’t change—or at least rarely. These will be blog posts and graphics that you can refer and link to time after time.
You might also consider having guest content as well, especially on your blog. Invite a guest for an interview or even ask them to write a blog post that you can publish on your website. Or on social media, you can partner with another business in a related field within your industry. For example, if you’re a wedding photographer, you can partner with a caterer and tag both companies on Instagram. You’ll gain more exposure to your shared target audience that way.
Remember to repurpose content for different formats and different formats! If you write a blog post, condense your main points and share in a TikTok video with a link to the post in the caption. Make a graphic for your Instagram that relates to the post. It’s OK to mix and match formats using the same content. Your audience is spread out among different platforms, so this will help you reach more people with the same ideas.
Once you start creating content, you want to set up a place to hold it all. Your content library can simply be organized into folders on your computer, saved in an organized Dropbox, or held in a Google drive. Whatever way you choose to save it, make sure it’s organized so that you can find things when you need to.
10. Publish, Engage, and Track
Now you can publish your content—yay! If you’re using a scheduling tool, this is effortless because you’ve already set it up. If you’re publishing manually, that’s OK too. However you need to do it, shake off the nerves and hit post!
Once you’ve sent your content out into the world, watch for engagement and respond accordingly. If someone leaves a comment, acknowledge them! Commenting can sometimes be just as scary as publishing in the first place. You’ll also encourage further engagement if people see that you’re interacting with them.
After your content has been posted for a bit, check the analytics that are built into each platform you’re using. You can check to see how many people viewed it, shared it, etc. This is valuable intel for you to see what kinds of topics and formats resonate with your audience. It’s also going to inform the measurement part of your content goals and the way you evaluate your success.
Eventually, you can perform a content audit on multiple pieces you’ve posted to get an overall view of what’s working best. You also should monitor trends with your competitors’ content for the same reason.
Now that you have a content strategy and a plan for content creation, it’s time to get started! If you need help along the way, feel free to reach out to me for advice and assistance. Happy creating!