Today’s internet is all about content. Whether it’s a blog, a podcast, an eBook, or a YouTube video, content rules the roost when it comes to building an audience and cultivating a community around you and your brand. There’s been a lot of talk recently about how brands aren’t necessarily supposed to be publishers. Well, I believe that to be a flawed way of thinking. I think anybody with an internet persona (brands included) should be a content creator and should strive to produce killer content for their audience. The trick is not to use your content purely as a selling tool. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t sell people on the products and services you provide, but do so in a way that also provides value and positions you as a thought leader in your field. I have a theory about how to produce killer content, and I’ll share that with you in this article.
Find Your Voice
Whether you are speaking as your business or as yourself personally, you need to find your voice. By this I mean that you need to determine the tone and delivery method of your content. You need to sit down and write out your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to content creation. Are you good at writing? Are you bad at writing? Are you good on camera? Do you have a strong voice, suited for audio work? These are all types of questions you should be asking yourself, or that you should be asking of your team as you decide who is going to do what in the grand scheme of your content strategy.
Once you’ve determined what you’re going to create (blog posts, podcasts, etc.), then it’s time to determine the tone of the content. Are you a no-nonsense guy/gal? Do you like to inject the occasional joke into your content? Basically what you’re trying to work out here is how people will describe you when they tell other people about your work. Examples include:
“You’ve got to check out this guy on YouTube. He teaches you to speak Spanish and his jokes are hilarious!”
“This lady is awesome! She gets right down to business and teaches you stuff you never knew about financial planning.”
Whatever you choose for your tone, make sure you are comfortable with it and that you stick to it. When it comes to content creation, consistency promotes awareness. A great example is Gary Vaynerchuk. Gary made waves in the wine world with his Wine Library TV show a few years back because he was different. His antics were over the top, he was loud and sometimes obnoxious, but at the end of the day the show was fun and you learned a ton about wine. Gary never “broke character” and always delivered an upbeat and energetic show. That was his tone, and that’s why he was successful.
Once you’ve found your voice, you should spend time refining it. Write out dummy articles, record demo podcasts, and shoot blooper videos. This will help you become comfortable in your own skin and give you some much needed practice for the real deal down the road.
Stay On Message & Create a Funnel
Messaging is an essential part of any content strategy. However, messaging doesn’t have to be a hard sell necessarily. They beautiful thing about watching Steve Jobs on stage was that he never used a hard sell on you. He simply came up on stage and talked about some awesome product that he was using. It was as if he had just found this thing on the side of the road, picked it up, and it magically transformed his life. The man had a gift. He could sell you without selling you, and oftentimes he sold you before you knew you needed something. Throughout this presentation though, Steve was always on message. Apple is very strict about their messaging, and as nonchalant as he may have seemed, Steve knew this and never deviated from the script.
You must do the same thing in your content that you create on the web. Ask yourself, “What is my goal with this content?” If the answer is to sell someone something, then you must find a way to do that. If the answer is that you want to drive traffic to your website or service, then you must find a way to do that. I call this “Creating a Funnel” for your audience. The bottom of the funnel is where, ultimately, you want your audience to wind up. The top of that funnel is where you place all the content that you’re creating. All of this content must lead the audience down to the bottom in some way, and you must do it without sounding like a door-to-door salesman. This is more of an artform than a skill and it will take some time to develop, but anyone can do it.
An example of a funnel would be my Photoshop Quicktips Podcast that I used to produce. This free video series got my foot in a lot of doors and attracted a lot of people to what I was doing. Throughout the episodes I would make casual references to my graphic design business or to my training DVDs & classes. This planted a seed within the brain of my audience members, and so (hopefully) when they found themselves needing a designer or training down the road, I would come to mind and they would follow links in my blog posts or that I referenced in my videos in order to find my website and either get in touch or purchase training.
I also create funnels in other ways. For example, I’m a huge proponent of allowing people to contact me on the internet. I have a contact form on my website that is completely open for anyone to send me a message if they want. I’m also a stickler for answering my email. Sure, this is hard to scale, as I get many emails throughout the day, but I do my best. With every reply the user will see my signature which includes information about me and directs them to various profiles and websites that I’m a part of. Again, another funnel.
People like to be guided, and people (unbeknownst to them) like being told what to do and where to go. It’s like how a magician forces you to choose a card, but at the same time makes you feel as though you’ve chosen it of your own free will. That’s what you need to master here. Make them feel as though they’ve found you organically, when in truth you’ve been directing them the entire time.
Set a Schedule and Stick With It
Inconsistent posting is one of the big downfalls of content creators. When you stop producing content on a regular basis, you stop being relevant and people stop looking for your stuff. When I was producing my podcast, I made sure a new episode went out the door every single week. During the two years that I was able to keep that schedule, my number skyrocketed. When I stopped posting consistently, my numbers went down faster than the Titanic.
Maybe you don’t have the drive to publish something every day or every week for that matter. That’s ok. You should pick a schedule that works for you and that you feel comfortable with maintaining for the long term. Also make sure to set your audience’s expectations. They need to know when a new episode and/or blog post will be produced. Otherwise you leave them hanging in the wind and they’ll just go somewhere else.
As a fallback, you should always have 5-6 of whatever it is that you produce (blogs, podcasts, etc.) “in the can” so that if you need to take a break or have an emergency you can still maintain your publishing schedule. That being said, don’t just can all of your stuff right out of the gate. By this I mean don’t record 52 episodes of your podcast in one week and then release them over the course of a year. Your content should strive to be relevant to current events and news. You are trying to position yourself as a thought leader in your community and you can’t afford to miss a big news story or event in your chosen area of interest.
Answer Questions & Solve Problems
One of the easiest ways to build a following online is to bill yourself as someone who can help other people. Whether that’s teaching them how to make a peanut butter & jelly sandwich or showing them how to change their oil filter. Listen to your community. What are they asking you for? What problems do they have? Take the time to incorporate these things into the content you create and also give a personal “shout out” to the person who asked the question or posted the problem. This lets your audience know that you’re listening and makes them feel like they’re a part of your creative process. Some of my most popular podcasts were ones where I answered viewer emails directly and showed them how to accomplish something that was giving them trouble in Photoshop. People respond to this kind of stuff, and you should always attempt to keep your audience engaged.
In order to do this, you must make yourself accessible to your audience. Give people a contact form to fill out on your website. Develop a Twitter hashtag for them to use (i.e. #askjustin) or create your own Google+ community page. These are all ways that you can crowd source information and analyze what the people in your community want from you. Then, you give it them. It’s that simple.
Repurpose Your Content for Maximum Reach
If you want your audience to grow and your content to reach as many people as possible, you must repurpose your content into many forms. For instance, if you write a blog post, that single post can be turned into an email blast, a downloadable PDF or even an eBook. If you create a video, then you should upload it to YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, and anywhere else you can think of. You can also include video in PDFs and in some eBook formats as well. I tell you to do this because not everyone is a reader and not everyone is a video consumer. I realize that this goes against your “voice” but it will also help you branch out and reach new people as well.
You should produce content that’s on the bleeding edge of whatever your chosen area of interest is. Learn the controversial topics that surround your community and engage them. Give your opinions. Right or wrong, your opinion matters and your audience will want to know what it is. Whether they agree with you or not is irrelevant. You’re simply starting a conversation, and on the web that’s what it’s all about. Look at Perez Hilton. He’s not where he is today because he’s a good writer. Nope, Perez got where he is today because he’s bold, he’s flashy, and he doesn’t give a damn what people think.
Being bold goes hand-in-hand with being honest. You have to stay true to yourself. Don’t be controversial just to be controversial. If you have an opinion, voice it, but make sure it is your opinion and not just a contrarian point of view. People can see right through bullshit, so don’t try to pull the wool over their eyes. Be yourself and stay true to your and/or your company’s beliefs.
I learned this one very quickly. It’s easy to get swept up in the “glory of the internet” these days. You make a video, you get a few views, and all of a sudden you think you’re six feet tall and bulletproof. Well, it just doesn’t work that way. Sooner or later someone will come along and slap you back down to earth, or you’ll make a mistake and get called out on it publicly (that one always stings). In any case you must stay humble and that must shine through in the content you create. This goes along with staying on message and maintaining your voice. People will be able to tell if and when you change your voice and/or message, and they won’t like it. After all, they come to you because they liked your tone and message the way they were.
You also need to develop thick skin. You won’t believe the type of comments and negativity you’re opening yourself up to by posting things on the internet. What you also need to understand is that 99% of the time people who don’t have a problem with you and who aren’t jerks won’t post anything at all in your comments. Rest assured, however, that 99% of the time people that do have a problem with you and who are jerks, will always post something in your comments, and chances are it’ll be gruesome. You just have to let this roll off your back. Remember, if they’re commenting, they’re watching and in the end, that’s all that matters.
I realize that content creation isn’t everyone’s strong suit, and that’s ok. You can develop your skills over time, and each time you produce a new piece of content you should treat that as an opportunity to deliver something that is better than the piece you delivered previously. We’re living in a content-dominated society. Everyone is producing it, and everyone is consuming it. If you, your brand, or your business aren’t in the game, you will be left behind. Now is the time, so get out there and start producing killer content.