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Powering Content by Laura Busche

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Chapter 4. Defining Your Channels

How will you go about reaching your ideal audience? Answering this question involves thinking about channels. In any communication process, a channel is the medium with which a message is sent. You might be thinking about a specific message you want to share, and the proper channel will be instrumental in your being able to do so. This chapter explains how to select and prioritize communication channels that can truly amplify your content.

You are probably familiar with some of the most widespread online channels available to brands today: social media platforms, magazines, newspapers, and email newsletters, among many others. Are there any particular ones in which you invest more of your time? Chances are there is a brand trying to figure out the absolute best channel to reach you as you read these lines. Somewhere, a content creator is trying to send you (and people like you) a message through the platforms that affect you the most. All we are doing here is becoming that content creator. Essentially, we are trying to understand what is the best possible venue in which to hold our concert.

How to Keep Up with New Channels

The platforms that would have made great choices five years ago might not even exist anymore. In our fast-paced, real-time society it can be challenging to stay current with everything going on around communication channels. You might be wondering how to keep up with the overwhelming amount of changes, updates, and launches. Let’s go over a few suggestions that will help you stay in the loop:

  • To spot channels that are becoming increasingly popular, follow reports by research agencies like Comscore and Emarketer.

  • For the latest scoop on emerging social media channels, follow the blogs of popular social media management tools like Hootsuite and Buffer.

  • Run a routine search for the phrase “marketing trends” using your search engine of choice. It is often helpful to add the current or upcoming year to your query; for example, “marketing trends” and “2017.” This type of search also will work in video platforms like YouTube, resulting in more interactive explanations of up-and-coming trends.

  • Follow and analyze the agenda of influential marketing events like AdAge’s Digital Conference, Inbound, the Content Marketing Conference, Content Marketing World, and MozCon. Attending these events would be ideal, but at the very least you can always check out the different sessions’ titles to unveil overarching trends.

How to Prioritize Your Channels

Being everything to everyone in every single platform is impossible. To be effective at content management, you need to allocate resources in proportion to how much each expense can affect your goals. An area in which many content creators and managers have problems is that we do not recognize that time is also a depletable resource—the scarcest one, if you ask me.

In spending time doing something, we are always incurring an expense. At the very least, that expense is worth the value of whatever else we could be doing at the moment. Understanding the notion of opportunity cost, as my economist friends like to call it, will make you a much more efficient content manager—and save your sanity along the way.

Therefore, before you invest any time building out social profiles, analyze the following questions:

  • Based on the goals you have defined, which channel is likely to bring higher quality readers? Where are your convertible readers most probably found?

  • Which platform offers more control in terms of the content you can and cannot share, how and when it is served, and how its success is tracked?

  • Does this channel allow you to put monetization features in place in order to facilitate transactions?

What many creators find is that a self-hosted blog is a natural hub for all content efforts. You control how content is presented, stored, shared, and accessed. You can put in place special kinds of analytics packages to detect what is going on beneath the surface. A blog, especially when self-hosted, can connect with your product in deeper ways that are completely under your control. Your development team can experiment with features like A/B testing, product embeds, gated content, quick payment flows, opt-in modules, and much more.

Five Reasons to Choose a Blog As Your Main Content Hub

Where you decide to focus your content resources is entirely up to you and the goals you have set, but here are some of the advantages of building a blog-centric content plan:

  • You are in total control of the platform, what information is shown, and which features are rolled out. This isn’t true for third-party spaces like social media channels.

  • Many different content formats of all lengths and sizes can live in your blog; in contrast, for other channels media is restricted to video, imagery, or short texts. The specifications with which you can play are entirely up to you—think video duration, text length, and image sizes.

  • You control which analytics package best serves your measurement needs. While other platforms impose their own reporting, you can implement whatever kind of analytics tool you desire to try in your brand’s blog. Performance data collection is virtually boundless.

  • There is less risk that your content will be lost, hacked, or deleted because you decide what type of security and backup alternatives work best for you.

  • If you are trying to use content as a means to close a sale, hosting the pieces in the same place where your products are (i.e., the brand’s website) can offer many advantages in terms of conversion. You can easily link products with content, analyze conversion funnels that include content, and implement gated content strategies to stimulate purchases.

After you have selected the main channel you will be focusing on, select two or three secondary platforms that support that one directly. These could be, for example, social networks that you will use to drive traffic to that online hub. As an example, consider a brand that has selected a blog as the main channel and Facebook and Pinterest as secondary ones. The content team would create articles that live in the brand’s blog and use social networks as traffic drivers.

That isn’t to say that certain social platforms cannot serve as your main content hub. By all means, go for it if it makes sense for your business model. I have seen brands that rely on Facebook or Twitter as their online home—the place where all of their content efforts are directed.

Whatever you decide, understand that any platforms outside of your control will constantly change the rules of the game. If you decide to focus on a certain social network as your core channel, for example, you must accept the fact that this other company will do everything in its power to scale its business model—even if that means shredding your hard-earned work with a sudden algorithm change. Building up an audience and investing most of your resources in a space that is operating with its own agenda is a risky move.

The trend is for all kinds of content creators to open a channel of their own to redirect and convert their audience. And, considering what I shared earlier, it is an understandable move. YouTubers, Twitterers, Snapchatters, and Instagrammers are launching blogs and websites to ensure that they can secure their readership despite platform changes. As influencers try to migrate their audiences from spaces outside of their control, email lists and websites will garner more and more attention—especially from content creators rolling out robust business models.

Choosing Your Social Channels

If we want to allocate resources wisely, it is only natural that we focus on the social platforms that promise better results. Therefore, before you invest any time building out social profiles, analyze the following questions:

Which social networking sites appeal to the target audience that you want to affect?
Certain social networks are a better fit for specific demographic and psychographic groups. It is widely reported, for example, that Pinterest skews feminine; Instagram appeals to young adults; Twitter is more popular among urban residents; and LinkedIn’s audience tends to be employed and slightly older. Facebook, in the meantime, is a much more diverse audience spanning all ages and socioeconomic levels—with a particular ability to attract older adults and seniors.
Given their composition, certain social networks might be uniquely equipped to deliver results when you share content. Be aware of the latest research describing these platforms and relate those findings back to the investments you are making in each.
Where are your competitors’ posts being shared the most?
This is a key question. If you are just entering a space, competitive research can be truly eye-opening. Make a list of competing or similar brands and monitor their activities in social media.
You can also use a tool like Buzzsumo to look at your competitors’ most shared content by social channel. If O’Reilly Media were my competitor, for example, I would quickly identify where most of its content shares are coming from. As Figure 4-1 demonstrates, in O’Reilly’s case, all signs point to Facebook.
Using Buzzumo for competitive content analysis
Figure 4-1. Using Buzzumo for competitive content analysis
Qualify the opportunity: does the site have the conversion potential you need?
Now, sometimes competitors have entirely different goals with content. Remember that we cannot go around assuming that everyone is creating pieces for the same reasons we are. Some brands will even target different content goals depending on the business’ lifecycle or the time of the year. That said, watch out for a given social platform’s ability to convert like you need it to—if you need it to.
Some social networking sites, for example, are not desktop sites at all. The entire experience takes place in a mobile device, changing buying behavior completely. Some social networks prevent you from inserting links in posts, making calls to action cumbersome. Evaluate each social platform on the basis of its potential to help you realize your goals. You do not need to do what everyone else is doing unless you want to go exactly where they want to go. In that case, do more of what’s working for them and less of what is not.

Should you be everywhere? No. Should you try to be where your audience is? Certainly. Should you be where competitors are? Not necessarily. Should you be where your content goals can be fulfilled? Absolutely.

Setting Up Your Social Channels

Each social networking site contains unique spaces to give your audience information about who you are. Some provide space for an extended biography, whereas others offer a character-delimited blurb. Specific sizes for profile and cover images are constantly changing for most social networking sites, so you should search for “[Site name] profile image size” to find the most current specs. Another general piece of advice is to populate your social profile with content so that early followers can get a feel for what they will continue to see, should they join you. That said, consider the following checklist when you begin setting up some of the most popular social media channels:

Facebook Page

  • Add a profile image. This is the square avatar that represents your page everywhere on Facebook. Make sure it is readable and distinguishable at a thumbnail size because this is how many users will see it throughout the site.

  • Add a cover image. This is a horizontal graphic that appears at the top.

  • Choose the right page category. Facebook offers various types, including movies, sports, TV, blog, books, organizations, and brands. The page category you select determines the types of fields you are able to fill out later. A “Local Business,” for example, can add details about its location and business hours. This category is also used by Instagram, as you will see in the checklist for that channel.

  • Create tabs and rearrange them according to the order in which you would like them to be seen by visitors.

  • Fill in your description, also known as your “Story.”

  • Add a phone, email, and website where people can learn more. This link could be your website’s home page or an alternative page within the site.

  • Assign administrative permissions to any team members who need access.

  • Add a privacy policy if there are particular community guidelines or legal indications that you would like your Facebook fans to know about.

Twitter

  • Add a profile image. This is the square avatar that represents your profile everywhere on Twitter.

  • Add a header photo. This is a horizontal graphic displayed above your tweets and behind your profile image.

  • Add a bio. As of this writing, this description is up to 160 characters in length.

  • Insert your location. This might help foster connections between users who live in the same area.

  • Add your main website.

Instagram

  • Add a profile photo. This is the round avatar that represents your business everywhere on Instagram. As is the case with other networks, ensure that the image is still identifiable as a thumbnail, because that is the size most users will see.

  • Right after you have finished signing up for the account, tap the settings button (the gear icon) and select “Switch to Business Profile.” Find your brand’s Facebook Page and link this Instagram profile to it. This connection will allow you to access the ads platform for both networks. Details like your page type will also be imported from the current setup of your Facebook page.

  • Add your website. You can select a particular page within the site to link to. Because Instagram does not currently support links on individual posts, many businesses rotate this website space frequently; they change the link depending on the content they are promoting in the most recent post.

  • Add at least one contact option, whether that is a phone, address, or email. You also can add them all.

Pinterest

  • Sign up for a Pinterest Business Account. With a personal Pinterest account, you can’t advertise on the platform later on. If you already have a personal account for the brand, convert it to a business account before you move on with step 2.

  • Add a profile photo. This is the round avatar that represents your business everywhere on Pinterest.

  • Choose your Business Type. Among the options Pinterest offers are Public Figure, Brand, and Retailer.

  • Add your website. If you want it to appear “verified” this link must correspond to a domain’s home page, not to a page within that domain. For example, Pinterest will verify something like laurabusche.com, not laurabusche.com/join.

  • Fill in the About You section. As of this writing, there is a 160-character limit.

  • Create a few boards and add pins that your first followers would be interested in. Each board should be clearly described and named in a way that Pinterest users typing queries can find them. In a way, Pinterest’s search bar operates like a standalone search engine (think Google).

LinkedIn

  • All LinkedIn Company Pages are tied to an individual profile. Therefore, step one is signing up for a personal account if you do not already have one. Only current employees are eligible to create a Company Page.

  • Create the page by adding your company’s name and corporate email. You also will need to select a checkbox to verify that you have the right to act on behalf of the brand.

  • Add a company description, industry, size, URL, location, and administrators.

  • LinkedIn also allows you to upload a profile picture and cover image for the company page.

  • Create a few posts that your first followers would be interested in. Ask team members to join by updating their individual LinkedIn profiles to state that they work at the company you have created. This increases the profile’s reach and potential following.

After you have set up these channels, there are different tactics to secure maximum distribution for your carefully crafted content pieces. Chapter 14 touches on actionable techniques to multiply your reach in social channels. For now, let’s spend some time clarifying what the big picture looks like in terms of channels.

Exercise: Mapping Your Channels

Planning a channel strategy is easier said than done. It involves understanding that in order to fulfill business goals in our main content hub (e.g., blog), all other channels must be at its service. In a way, they are like legs of a longer flight. People are not supposed to stay there; they are supposed to reach their final destination.

What happens when we share 100 percent of the same value that lives in our strategic content hub directly through these secondary channels? Crickets. That’s because because we have already shown everything there is to see, and there is no use in clicking through just to interact with the exact same information again. So why do we keep broadcasting the same content across all channels, in full?

We know that it isn’t effective to throw away all of our content’s value in a channel that isn’t our primary one. We intuitively know this. And yet, somehow, we forget the basic principle of desire: people will not crave what they already have.

The Content Desire Chart

This exercise will help you come up with a solid strategy to keep interest flowing through your channels in a way that maximizes audience engagement.

  1. Draw a circle for each channel where some form of your content will live. These channels can host the shortest of posts like Twitter or full-length articles like your website. Place your primary channel (content hub) at the center. Write the name of the channel inside the circle and leave some space for more text below, as demonstrated in Figure 4-2.

    Mapping out your content channels
    Figure 4-2. Mapping out your content channels
  2. Spend a few minutes observing your secondary channels and the type of content for which they are best equipped. If it helps, go ahead and experience these channels for some time in order to understand what the audience engages with the most.

  3. Draw a line between your secondary and primary channels.

  4. Inside your primary channel’s circle, write the title of a sample piece of content that you would publish. This is the type of content that you would like users to come after, triggering the completion of some other conversion action.

  5. Above each line, write an answer to the question: why would I want to go from here all the way to there? “Here” being the secondary channel, and “there” being your content hub.

  6. Now below each of the circles holding your secondary channels, write a few words describing the type of content that could make the answer in step 5 happen.

    At this point, your map should look something like Figure 4-3.

Defining unique content types for each channel
Figure 4-3. Defining unique content types for each channel

This exercise was just an attempt to visualize audience behavior. It is far too easy to forget that there are hundreds of thousands of human beings behind the screen. People who react emotionally, instinctively, and sometimes rationally to what we share out. It is our responsibility to give them something to go after. Something small that triggers desire for something large. Housing that “something larger” in our main content hub and generating traffic by serving several different versions is a great way to ensure that there is actually something new to see.

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