The content you’re creating now is arguably the glue holding your organization together and never been so important. And as the world returns to some form of ‘business as usual’, you’ll need more than ever to efficiently produce the type of content that truly engages your external audiences.
I speak with Communicators across the world everyday, and I’ve been hearing a growing interest around “content strategy.” This term seems to have reached the level of a nebulous buzzword status, where a content strategy, sure, sounds great, and is obviously no doubt something you’d want to pursue. However, I see it defined so differently from company to company with some Communicators not really sure what it is, or whether the one they have is actually that thing at all, let alone whether it’s effective or not.
The question for external Communications leaders becomes, therefore; what exactly are the components of a content strategy that improves the effectiveness of our content for external audiences, in ways that lead to outcomes that matter most to the business?
Just like those cooking recipes I’ve been trying to so desperately follow with limited success during lockdown, but with some, dare I say, even master, I will share with you the three key steps to Creating an External Communications Content Strategy based on your ever growing appetite…(sorry)…in this area.
Step 1: Identify Business Priorities
Align the content strategy to the business strategy to focus on key business priorities and audiences.
Way too often, in an attempt to achieve consistency and business value, external Communications leaders use business initiatives or goals as their verbatim content strategy themes.
To identify business priorities key to the development of an external Communications content strategy, firstly review available strategy documentation. Key questions to probe with business leaders may include:
- What are your current priorities and initiatives?
- What are the target business outcomes and metrics that will be used to measure success?
- What is the target stakeholder group, and what are the metrics that will be used to measure stakeholder behaviour?
- Why are you focusing on these areas?
Step 2: Identify an Audience Goal or Need Relevant to the Business Objective
Think like your key audiences. Notice the word is ‘key’ not ‘all’. Not all audiences require treatment, and that’s ok. However, the goal is to conduct research into your external audiences to understand their prioritized needs and how they perceive the organization in areas important to the business. Focusing on audiences relevant to a narrow business goal creates deeper audience understanding, improving messaging and business partner consultation. Too often, the very way organizations define their audiences is by their relationship to company. For example, ‘customers’. Sure, that’s what they are, but that’s not who they are. As an example, maybe they are environmentally conscious customers who are curious, self-aware individuals who connect individual consumption with environmental impact. Can you begin to imagine the changes you would make to your content themes if you knew that about your audiences?
Tips for this step:
Identify whether there are any audience experts (i.e., those with frequent contact or close relationships with the audience) within your organization. This will improve your understanding of how the organization already relates to these key audiences. It is also an opportunity to test whether any trends identified externally for a broader demographic group is relevant within the organizational context.
Step 3: Establish and Document Content Priorities
This is where we take our business goals and audience research and create potential content priorities we will pursue; then, formally document the Communications content strategy and supporting materials.
Consider the following set of questions when developing preliminary content priorities based on audience needs:
- Is the identified audience need relevant to organizational objectives and business success?
- Can the organization credibly fulfil the audience need?
- Can Communications content be an impactful part of the solution to the need?
- Would fulfilling the audience need have an emotional impact?
This ensures content priorities are business-relevant and represent areas where the organizational content can be part of a credible solution to the audience need., as well as whether the audience need is highly resonant.
I review external Communications content strategies every day. I see them being captured and presented in varying presentation formats as a way to suit and reflect the specific taste of your company’s palate, which is absolutely fine. However, regardless of your specific presentation choices, just be sure to always include the four key ingredients to your strategy base:
- Intent Statement: High-level statements that summarize the overall objectives of the content strategy.
- Audiences: The prioritized internal and/or external audiences that content is targeted toward.
- Pillars: The ideas, themes or topics that govern produced content.
- Measurement and Evaluation: The plan for qualitatively and quantitatively assessing the success of the content strategy.
With the right company goals and priorities defined, and key audiences understood, the external Communications content cuisine your company is serving is sure to make your content the envy of all your industry competitors and be the life and soul of any LinkedIn thought leadership group. And with that, I think I’ve stretched this cooking analogy as far as even I can go.
So there you have it, three key steps to ensure that the external Communications content that you’re serving not only pops with positive sentiment, but moreover, resonates with key audiences so much that it leads to the behaviours and outcomes most critical to the strategic success of your organization. With audiences coming back to your content kitchen for seconds, time and time again. (Ok, sorry again, but that was the last one!)