How to plan and create great content for your brand

It’s one thing to say, ‘Content is king.’ It’s a whole other thing to—you know—produce compelling copy. The author shares four insights into his team’s process.

Once a month I stare down the barrel of four blank content calendars. Call it writer’s block. Call it procrastination. Call it what you will, but those four calendars have to be filled with close to 90 pieces of individual content that are “on brand” and “on voice” and will be approved by a finicky legal team.

The content needs to fit with the overall marketing strategy and incorporate the needs of (in some cases) a dozen individual stakeholders who all have different things they want to promote in the social space.

Good luck.

Despite these hurdles, we manage to crank it out every month. Here are some insights into how my team develops its content:

1. Listen

This is going to seem like a basic tenet for any writer, but it’s something I had to do every day as a reporter and am now employing with some success as a social media manager. It warrants a reminder.

As a reporter I had to listen intently to my sources to find out what they were really saying. Professional athletes and politicians aren’t exactly forthcoming, so I would have to listen close to the information they would offer. If I did that well, I could come back with the key follow-up question that would make my story a success.

It’s the same when working with clients and managing your community.

If you work on the agency side, chances are you spend a healthy amount of time in meetings, talking about the brand and talking about how it should be positioned in social media. Getting as much information as you can from the client regarding what they want to accomplish gives you the ability to attack your content calendar with the end in mind.

You can hear what the client is saying and understand the day-to-day requests they’re making. But what are they really looking to gain from interacting in these spaces? Once you can answer that, you begin to know the types of things you’re going to want to say.

If you’re not working with clients and you’re producing this content in-house, then you have to listen to what your audience is telling you it wants. This should go without saying, but it’s never good enough to post something to Facebook or Twitter and walk away. Listen to those people who are advocating for your brand, ask them leading questions and get them talking about the types of things that get them excited.

Being a good listener is among the most important traits of a good writer.

2. Steal

Never plagiarize. I haven’t heard of a brand blatantly posting something another brand had verbatim (retweets don’t count), but you don’t want to be the first to be called out on it. I know I certainly don’t.

But if you see something work for another brand that you think you can adapt, try it. Take an in-depth look at the brands you interact with and the brands that are doing impressive things in the social space. Chances are, there’s something there that you can take for your own brand.

Check out those posts that get the highest engagement. What makes those posts successful? What’s the key word or phrase that captured those fans? What calls to action garner the most enthusiasm on the page?

Once you’ve discerned this, find ways to plug them into your calendar and use those words or phrases as springboards.

But seriously—don’t plagiarize.

3. Create content buckets

If tasked with eating a whole pie, I’d prefer to eat it one piece at a time. Eating six individual slices of pie is easier to envision than cramming the whole thing down my gullet. Same outcome either way—one just seems more manageable.

Applying this strategy to the social media world, create content buckets for yourself. Switching metaphors: It’s less daunting to fill a few buckets than it is an entire barrel, even if it’s the same volume of liquid.

OK, enough with the metaphors—here’s how we do it.

We break our content into categories and content types. Categories are things like engagement posts or links to outside content. Content types get more specific: polls, open-ended questions, video, etc.

If we can determine on the front end how many of each of these we need, it becomes much easier to start knocking out the calendar. If I know I want to link to two outside articles for my brand each month, I can find those outside articles (or hold the space for future articles) and ask an engaging question around that topic.

Let’s say, hypothetically, that one of the brands I manage sells milk and my target audience is millennial moms. I might link to an outside article touting the benefits of getting plenty of calcium in your kid’s diet and ask an open ended question to engage my audience in a dialogue about it: “How do you make sure your child is getting enough calcium each day? Check out this article about the benefits …”

You get the picture.

Maybe my next outside link points to something championing National Chocolate Milk Day (if this doesn’t exist, it should). My post might be something along the lines of, “Click ‘Like’ if you loved chocolate milk as a kid! Raise a glass to National Chocolate Milk Day!”

Include the link and suddenly we’ve knocked out one of our content buckets. I feel a sense of accomplishment and can build some momentum going into the next bucket.

4. Edit your inner idiot

As a reporter, I always felt like I was a better editor than a writer.

If I was ever feeling blocked as a reporter, chances are I could still mash out some idiotic version of whatever it was I wanted to say: “Two teams played a game today and one team scored more points than the other.”

Then I would put on my editor hat and start to improve this moron’s copy, piece by painful piece. It may sound like you’re doubling up the work, but you’re really not. More than half of what it takes to be a successful content writer is just getting some words on paper. Another big chunk is the ability to edit, refine and improve.

If I’m feeling blocked while trying to hammer out a content calendar, I’ll put dumbed-down versions of whatever it is I think I might want to say as a placeholder. Once I’ve started to gain some momentum and hit my stride, I’ll go back and edit my inner idiot.

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