You’re a Publisher Now: How to Foster a Culture of Content
By: Andrew Buck
Here’s what we know for sure: The more valuable, beautiful, useful content your organization puts into the world, the more supporters you’ll attract and retain. It’s a simple formula—but it’s easier said than done.
In this lively, example-filled presentation, you’ll learn how to foster a culture of content within your organization—even if you’re strapped for time, money, and resources.
Designed for any communications professional who believes in the power of free, helpful, audience-focused content to support your organizational goals, this session is a must.
By the end of this session, you should be able to:
- Make a clear, compelling case for investing in more content creation
- Form your very own content squad
- Find and launch more content from across your association
- Get the most of the content you create
Jarrett: Alright, good afternoon from Austin, Texas. My name is Jarrett Way, marketing manager here at Mighty Citizen, and today we’re here for the You’re a Publisher Now webinar. I want to thank you all for attending today, and before we get started, I want to go over just a few housekeeping items. The first thing is that this webinar will go for about 45 to 50 minutes, and we’ll have some time at the end for questions as well. So, if you have any questions that arise during the webinar, please ask them in the questions area and we’ll look at those throughout the presentation today. The second item, is that we will send the slides, and a link to the recording in the next few days, so no pressure to take notes the whole time. At this time, I would like to introduce you all to Andrew Buck, our content strategist chair at Mighty Citizen who will be leading our webinar today. Andrew brings 18 years of experience in nonprofit communications and content strategy to our agency. And we’re excited for you all to hear from him on the subject. Andrew…
Andrew: Hello everybody, thanks for joining us all today and thanks Jarrett for getting us going. Yeah, so this is You’re a Publisher Now: How to Foster a Culture of Content and I want to start today with something a bit unusual, I hope you all brought cash to the webinar today because I would like to conduct a Mighty Citizen auction.
So here’s how this is going to work - I’m going to show you three items and you are going to bid on what you would pay for those items, of course, we’re doing this virtually, this is a bit of a put-on, so we’re not actually expecting you to pay for this but we’re going to play along right? Ok, here we go, starting with the first item on the block a tiny, little, old jar of mayonnaise. What would you be willing to pay for this? There’s a penny there to give you a little sense of scale, but this is the kind of mayonnaise jar you might get with room service in a hotel. And the question is - would you pay $5 for this? Would you pay $10 for this? Maybe even more? So think about that long and hard - what would you be willing to pay for this beautiful jar of mayonnaise? Ok, now while you’re thinking about that we’re going to be moving on to item number two. Now, item number two is for the boomers in the webinar today, because it is a peace and love hippie teddy bear figurine. Quite small, but quite intricately adorned, I might say. And so again - would we start at $5? Do we start $20? $30 maybe for something like this? Ok, alright finally the third item, probably my favorite item and the one I suspect will go for the greatest amount, and it is the world’s saddest egg whisk. This is a plastic egg, that is actually used to beat other eggs and I think that’s a bit cruel if you ask me, but it’s quite adorable so do I hear the bidding start at $20? $25? $50? $100?
Alright, so, now that we’ve thought through these three wonderful items, I have something to share. And what I have to share is that these three items were part of an experiment that took place several years ago by a journalist by the name of Rob Walker. Now what Rob did was, he went onto ebay, and he purchased a number of what he considered insignificant objects. Very small, very cheap things. In fact he bought 200 of these items and paid a total of $250. So, you can imagine how cheap each item was. But then what he did was he contacted a bunch of authors and writers of different sorts and he said, “If I sent you one of these objects would you please write a story about it? Or write-up a really fantastic description for this object?” And once he had his 200 authors and the 200 objects went out, he collected all the items and their stories and descriptions back from all these writers, and he put these objects back up onto ebay to sell. And so, the question is, how much did these 200 insignificant objects sell for, now that the only difference was that they were a bit older and they had a better written description or story to go with them?
Usually when I do this presentation people guess $500, $1000, $2000 and they’re usually shocked to discover that Rob sold those 200 items for about $8000. That’s pretty astounding if you ask me. And the reason that those insignificant items became significant is because of content. So, content, content, content right? It’s a word, we talk about it, we hear it, we read it, it’s all over the blogs etc. etc. I would argue that everything is content. Everything that your organization does is content. And that goes from obviously the big things like your website, and emails you send, and your social media - down to smaller interactions. Whether it’s something you print for your members, or a brochure you share with prospective students at your University, or your annual report you give to your donors, but it goes all the way down, of course, to interactions that you have personally with your various audiences. If everything is content then it becomes really important for us, as professional communicators and marketers - which I’m assuming most of you are, to really get a hold of the content and make the most of it. And that’s really what we’re going to talk about today, but I did want to share those three items actually sold for the following amounts. The tiny jar of mayonnaise sold for a whopping $51, so if anything were to prove that the power of really well-crafted and well-placed content is effective I think it’s this experiment.
Ok, so real quick about me. Oh! That’s not me! Sorry, I got ahead of myself there, but these are three people I want to introduce you to, you probably recognize the name that’s Gutenberg, William Randolph Hearst, and Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin. These three people are three of the most popular, or the most famous I should say, or impactful publishers in the history of publishing. And at different times obviously, but all saw the value of really putting out into the world content in one form or another. And the good news is that of course, today we’re going to try to bring you into that company - if you aren’t already there. We’re going to figure out how we can begin to create more, get more out of our content, and make it work for our organization.
This is me. Looking quite coy if you ask me, I am a Content Strategist here at Mighty Citizen. For those of you who don’t know, Mighty Citizen is a full-service marketing, branding, and web-design agency. We’re located here in Austin, Texas. I’ve been doing this work for about 18 years now, and I’m really excited - I get really excited when I get to talk about content in all of its various forms and permutations. So, even after this session is over, if you have questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly, because like I said, I tend to geek-out over talking this stuff out with various folks.
By the end, you’ll be able to…
So, with that in mind, this is the agenda that we’re going to cover in the next 40-45 minutes or so. We want to start by identifying why content is even key. Why are we spending time talking about this on a Thursday afternoon? Then we’re going to talk about how we can form a content squad, even on a budget. We’re going to talk a little bit about how to find and create more content, and finally once we actually create something for our organization, how do we leverage it to get the most bang for our buck. Ok, so with that in mind, let’s start with a little bit of a poll here.
And I guess we could use the questions window in your webinar there to do this. Because I’m always really curious, we’ve got a few hundred people on the call today, so I’m always really curious about a few things. Curious if - and you can just type ‘yes’ or ‘checkmark’ or ‘x’ or something like that - if you find the idea of becoming a content publisher daunting or stressful. Usually when I ask this question, a lot of hands shoot up when we’re doing this live in a room. Because I feel like over the last ten years, the notion of content, or content strategy, or content marketing has really settled in to various industries. Like associations, and nonprofits, and Universities, and government agencies, we kind of caught on to the value just to some extent of it, but now that we’ve gotten more used to it, we turn to more tactical, practical questions like - how do we actually do this day to day in our organizations?
Ok, how many of you have a blog? You can either click ‘yes’ or ‘blog’ or something like that. Again, lots of hands often shoot up here. When someone doesn’t raise their hand here, usually my response is, “that’s the very first thing you should do when you get back to your office, is start a blog.” And again, you don’t have to call it a blog, but you need a platform for your organization by which your audiences come to expect regular content being produced. In a blog it’s sort of the short-hand for that, but it can take different forms. It can be through email, of course, but you want to find a steady, easy, flexible, responsive way to share what you have to say with the world.
Alright, next question, if you - show of hands if you have published more than four pieces of content per month. And that’s a rough number, you can get in there if you do three or even two. But I would say that this is a nice solid goal, for us as communicators, to pursue. Right? Four pieces of content. And we’ll talk about a little bit later - content isn’t always words, of course, it often is words, but it isn’t always. So, four doesn’t have to seem quite as daunting as it might at first blush. And finally, I’m curious if you’ve published a video this year? Again, along with content marketing, we hear video marketing constantly, I know many of you are probably regularly contacted by video marketing vendors who are looking to get your business. Because we understand that video seems to have a really strong place, but video is an interesting thing for an organization to handle. How do we do it? How do we produce it? Where do we publish it? That might be the most important question of all. Ok, so I’m going to huddle with Jarrett later to get those responses, but the point here is that I want to make is that it’s a really dynamic, complex subject and we’re going to begin to sort of dig into it today.
And I would argue that the way we dig into is through this thesis. If this presentation has a theme, it is that you, as an organization, need to create a lot more valuable beautiful content than you are right now. I’ll let that sit for just a second. And that’s mostly towards the end of this presentation. When we say ‘create’ that can be repurposing and releveraging existing content. In fact, it probably should be that. But whether it’s something we’re creating from whole cloth originally, or something that we’re reforming or repurposing or repromoting, we need to be creating and sharing a lot more valuable beautiful content. And I would add that those adjectives are really intentional. ‘Valuable’ meaning of course the people that want to consume it find some real use - learning in it. And ‘beautiful,” as we’ll talk about here in a minute, because design is more important to the stickiness and impact of your content than you may initially give it credit for.
The Perils of Mission-Focused Orgs
And before we jump into the rest of the presentation, I want to take a side street here to talk about what I might call ‘the perils of mission-focused organizations’ when it comes to their approach to content strategy and public communications. These are things I’ve seen over the course of my career. I’ve certainly contributed some of these things, in different points in my career, but in my role now - working with mission-focused organizations primarily, I’ve seen these patterns emerge and repeat.
The first is that often, organizations feel entitled to their audience’s attention and money, because they are mission-focused. There’s an assumption that because we’re doing good for the world, we’re not just another for-profit entity that people should be more likely to give us their attention and money. In fact, it’s imperative that they do. That of course, as you can see when it’s spelled out on the screen there, is probably not quite true. And even if it is true, that we feel like we should get a little more attention, it doesn’t mean that we don’t have to do the serious, and sometimes taxing work, of managing our content marketing efforts.
Another thing I notice is that a lot of organizations, and I would say that this is especially true for nonprofit organizations and associations, they deal in data less than they deal in stories. We’re going to talk about stories here just in a minute; but the thing about data, I’ve noticed, is that while it is important - and often required of you to create, generate, share data - the way in which we’re sharing data often makes it completely uncompelling to our audiences. If we’re a nonprofit and we want to share the number of people we helped last year then we need to think of more creative, interesting ways to share that so that it’s impactful, and it’s not just a number sitting on a page.
And then finally, it’s just a matter of volume. You know, again I’ll probably repeat this a few times, we just have to be creating more. One of the reasons we have to create more, by the way, is because attention is at a premium right now. The amount of content making its way onto the internet every 60 seconds versus the attention short span of our users, the competition we have, meaning that we have to fight our way through the glut. And one way to do that is making sure that we’re producing a lot more regularly. So, let’s dig into that a little more.
Four Reasons to Create More Content
Four quick reasons why you should do this. And if I, if you’re in your organization thinking, “yes, Andrew I totally agree with this, in fact I already knew all of this, but how do I sell this up in my organization?” You know, maybe we’re a small group, maybe I’m a one-person team, or a two or three-person team, we don’t have the resources that we need to do all this creation and sharing of content. Well hopefully this section will offer you some additional arguments to have when you go to your supervisors or bosses and try to explain why y’all really need to make this investment in your marketing content.
Gary Vaynerchuk, who you all probably know who I find pretty fascinating, I don’t always agree with everything he says, but I definitely agree with the bulk of it. And I definitely agree with this here, where he said, “content is the gateway drug of small organizations.” Meaning this is your way into the conversation. You know, we talk very nebulously as professional marketers about engagement and having a conversation, but practically what that means is lending to that conversation. And the way you lend, the way that you hold up your part of that bargain is by offering, again, valuable, beautiful stuff.
Become an Actual Thought Leader
So the first reason is that, this is how you actually become a thought leader. That’s another term of course that gets used probably too much - thought leadership. We as an organization want to be thought leaders, well what does that mean? Well, it means that you actually have to create thoughts. You know, if you search thought leader by the way on Google, you get about 356 million search results, and it’s definitely not enough just to claim it. Again, this goes back to this notion of are we as organizations just constantly making claims to our various audiences? Or are we telling stories and sharing helpful information? So again, content, whether that’s a blog article, an email, a social media post, or video what have you, is how your audiences will evaluate the quality of your ideas. Thought leadership only comes to organizations that produce thoughts. By the way, I’ll also add that it reduces cognitive load. I would say that maybe one of the two or three most important things we can do, as professional communicators and marketers, is reduce the cognitive load. That is, make it as easy and straight-forward and simple as possible to interact with us. Even above coming up with really clever design, or really clever messages, or website does all sorts of fancy things, even more important than that stuff is just making it easy. Remember - tiny attention spans, lots of competition out there for that attention too, so how do you fight that? You make it easy, when things are not easy, people tend to disengage.
Now the pro tip here is that you really can align yourself with other groups with a trusted reputation. If you’re a small team especially. One way to re-leverage yourself is to publish it elsewhere. So if you’re writing a blog, or a whitepaper, or a research report, or an annual report - are there other organizations in your space, associations, etc. that have a decent enough reputation online that would be willing to share your content. Quick and easy way to grow your audience. Grow your potential audience anyway, without a huge budget to invest in advertisement.
Drive More Online Traffic
Alright, so, second reason you need to be doing this, it’s simple as this - you need to drive more online traffic. More online traffic equals more conversions, however you define a conversion - a donation, an application, a volunteer sign-up, etc. By the way, I would encourage us to think of content as an ecosystem. This is another one of those kinds of terms that gets thrown around a lot, but it is one that I actually kind of buy into. Which is, it’s really easy to get a little myopic, a little ‘can’t see the forest through the trees’ in our day-to-day work; but to the extent that we can, we want to constantly be reminding ourselves that this thing I’m creating, or this thing I’m putting out there, is part of a large ecosystem of content. In fact, we also offer some webinars, some great blog articles at Mighty Citizen about content governance. So, how do we get our hands around everything that we’re creating to make sure it’s accurate and on-brand, and sings, and it’s working.
By the way, you should invest in more flexible website design. What I mean by that is what we might call modular web design, so that when you have something that you want to share with the world, or something you want to create, it’s easy for you to put that online in a way that is as compelling and simple to access as possible. A lot of websites, especially among mission-focused organizations are very locked-down. Meaning they don’t have the flexibility of moving things around, having different interactions, creating a different user experience, so consider that. By the way, I know I keep saying ‘by the way’ but everything is ‘by the way.’ Mobile responsive isn’t really good enough, it needs to be mobile friendly. It’s no longer, by the way, this isn’t me saying this, this is Google saying this. Google will ding you hard if your mobile website isn’t very responsive, or isn’t friendly, let alone responsive.
So, one little side note here, perform keyword research to generate content ideas. Then write to them. We can’t really get into SEO, but by the way the future of content is SEO. If you don’t know how to appear in the first-page of Google search results, let alone the top three, you will - you might as well kind of not exist to the audiences you’re trying to target. So, take the time, go do your keyword research, again Mighty Citizen’s happy to offer free resources on their website about how that might happen, but then go create the best content you can around those ideas. You need to go where the people are searching, rather than writing whatever it is you want, and hoping they find you.
Third reason to invest in more content, kind of a culture of content in your organizations, is really just - this kind of goes without saying right? We want to stay top-of-mind. Stay top-of-mind. Let me ask these questions, and maybe in the chat box. How often do you think about your organization? I would say that for most of you on this webinar today, you probably think about your organization roughly 40 hours a week. The 40 hours you’re in the office, and maybe a little bit more. When you’re at home at night worrying about something. So, the question is, how does that compare to how often your audience thinks of your organization. Which is roughly 0 hours per week alright? I’m being a little cheeky here, but the point I’m trying to make is that if we are to get the people we want to pay attention to us in any real way, and the only way we can get that 0 up to maybe 0.5 or 1 hour a week, is through content. Advertising is not what it used to be right? And advertising now, is just another word for content.
You should share your content more often that you think you should. I might repeat this later, but it’s such an important point ok? I was guilty of this for many years in my career. In fact, I think on this webinar is a former supervisor of mind from way back in my career, and he can probably attest to this. But I would, we would, create a marketing campaign, or create this really great piece of content, or send out all these great emails, and we would do that for a month, three months, six months, and then internally as the communicators, as the people kind of trying to make this happen we would get bored with the idea. Again, we’re spending 40 hours a week thinking about it, so we kind of naturally get bored with that thing, so we go and change it up. Alright, now we’re going to do something new. The problem is, that just about the time we get bored with something we’re putting out into the world, is the time when it might start catching on a little bit. Right? Your audience doesn’t think about you nearly as much as you do, so it’s imperative on you, to keep reminding them. It might feel a little boring sometimes, on your side of things when you’ve been running the same campaign for a year and a half, but as long as you’re tracking the metrics and the effectiveness, then you should continue with it as long as it’s working.
Defeat the Curse of Knowledge
Last thing, is something we might call the curse of knowledge. I talk about this in pretty much every talk I give, because I think it’s relevant across this entire profession. The curse of knowledge says, that once you know something, it’s impossible to imagine what it was like not to know that thing. The picture here is a person drumming their fingers because there’s a great experiment where you can prove this. If you go home tonight to your kids, or your partner, or your friends, your neighbors, what have you - try this little experiment. Tap out the star-spangled banner on the table, or you know use your knuckles to knock it on the table. Don’t hum it, don’t sing it, don’t tell them what you’re doing, just tap out the star-spangled banner and then ask them if they know what song it is you’re tapping out. They 100% guaranteed will not know what song it is. And that’s the curse of knowledge at work. While you’re tapping, you have the knowledge, you have the context, you can almost hear the song playing in your head, but because they don’t have the context, or the reference, or the experience, they don’t. So, content marketing - that is the production of valuable, beautiful content, is a way for us to sort of circumvent to some extent the curse of knowledge. In part, because as we create more, we learn more, about what works and what doesn’t. And we have to learn that often, what we start with, you know, where we begin our ideas, or how we begin a blog, is already beyond the interest or comprehension of the people we’re trying to reach. A good example of this, is how some universities on their website talk about prospective students versus future students. Right? Same word, or two words that mean essentially the same thing, but one word is very obvious. The other one, for some users, might not be as clear.
Recruit Your Content Team
Ok, so let’s now talk about your content team. Who are the people who are going to make this happen day-to-day? And I would argue that there’s three key components of any sort of content marketing team. Now, you go to a big organization and AT&T and Time Warner and Apple, what have you, they probably have 1000 of each of these people. I’m assuming most of you aren’t in that position, but you need a Managing Editor, a Writer, and a Designer. Now, I should say that sometimes you find one person who can play both roles for you well. Ideally though they would be three different people in order to increase your output. So, we have that Managing Editor, the Writer, and the Designer. Let me just talk about each one a little bit in detail so we understand.
This is the one that might be most foreign to your organization. We all know what a writer and a designer is, but what is a managing editor? Well this goes back to the title of this presentation. Which is - You’re a publisher now right? We have to sort of adopt some of the thinking, and maybe even the language, of a publishing company. Should you have Managing Editors right? Managing Editors really is the linchpin of your content marketing strategy. Their role is to generate ideas and to project manage. Here at Mighty Citizen where we try to put out a lot of stuff, we have a project manager and a coordinator dedicated only to that effort right? So, they’re helping make sure that all the steps and work flows are in place and are being abided by in order for us to meet our goal. Now, managing editors should really be obsessive about details, deadline conscious, and it’s great if they have copy editing jobs. If they’re able to turn a really good draft of something into a really great draft. A side note, if they’re ego-less that’s fantastic, because they need to sort of - it’s their job to generate ideas, but it doesn’t mean that everything gets accepted. So you need someone who’s kind of constantyly fueling the fire, but not getting defensive.
Now the writer, we all know what a writer is, and this is a thing that I for a long time had on my LinkedIn - it might actually still be there I don’t remember. “When all else is equal, hire the better writer.” Right? If you’re, regardless of the role you’re hiring for, always hire the better writer. Obviously the writer if the producer of content, you want curiosity, you want somebody who’s very readable, who understands how to talk to your audience. Do you know the average reading level in America is eighth grade? Eighth grade. So that means that even if your audience is highly technical or highly educated, you should be writing below or around an eighth grade level. So you need a writer who already kind of understands those things. So not only are they writing in a way that reduces cognitive load, but of course, it’s interesting it stands out. There’s so much bland, generic, general content being produced. If you can find a writer who can talk in specifics and examples and have dynamic language - you should hire that person. They need some flexibility of course, and again the ego-lessness helps here, although finding the ego-less writer is probably impossible, but if they can really accept editing that will really speed up your process.
And then finally, we have the designer. So, this is nice to have, but increasingly it’s becoming a must-have. And I say nice to have because I know that for a lot of organizations they’re not going to dedicate the resources right now, to hiring a marketing designer who just works with your marketing and communications teams. But listen, 65% of people are visual learners. And the internet is becoming increasingly image and photo dependent. Even as, sort of, more word-based platforms become popular, we still find a need to stand out in the glut of content - do really great design. My boss, Rachel, often says that, you know, design is no longer a luxury it’s the cost of doing business. It’s the cost of entry into the market. Again you want somebody who’s user-focused, hopefully they’re social media savvy because often the stuff they’ll be designing for is sharing your content on social. And of course it’s great if they have some real technical chops and can work on different design platforms. Here’s the thing, if you can’t have a designer right now, maybe you can contract one out part-time. Maybe you can borrow a designer for 10 hours a month from another department, or maybe you can just begin making the case for why you should hire a designer. This doesn’t have to be someone highly senior, it can be someone relatively junior, but a designer is going to take what is good content from good to great. So, please consider making that case.
Content Marketing on a Budget
Quick note about content marketing on a budget - we kind of talked about it throughout, you know, small teams, one, two, three-person teams how do you do it? That’s the first step, again I you know, it seems a little self-interested, I mean you talk about how great writers are, but no you really do need to hire a writer because even though you’re going to be creating great designs and images and videos and what not, at the end, you need a great written message. In various forms. And, a great writer is going to get you there and I emphasize ‘great’ ok? If you’re going to hire somebody, maybe give them a writing sample to give you. This is interesting - quantity over quality. It is more important, for a smaller organization, or at least an organization with a burgeoning or small marketing communications team to produce more content than spending a lot of time producing better content. And it goes back to what I said a few slides ago, about how they way that we’re going to overcome that ‘cure of knowledge’ the way that we’re going to be able to better engage and create a conversation with people out there that we don’t know through, you know, space and time on the internet is by creating more and keeping a close eye on how the content performs. And you know, in fact, for the content squad we can probably add a fourth person which is like a Google Analytics expert right? We want to see how that content performs so we figure out what to spend time creating. I would argue that another quick way to compete with the glut of content out there is just through sheer quantity. Now, obviously we have to have standards we can’t put out anything that is really off brand, or that had a bunch of typos, so there’s some work flows you gotta build in there to make sure things reach, they sort of, you know, minimum standard of quality; but right now for small teams, quantity over quality. Video’s cheap. Most of us have smartphones, most of them have fantastic cameras, it’s really that simple. And by the way, use the resources you have. I’ve seen organizations where there were one or two marketing people, but they were really great at creating relationships with the other people in the organization - in other departments, in other teams, completely unrelated departments and teams, and ask them to help creating content, generating ideas. So, if you already have those relationships, or if you’re sort of building those relationships internally, you might be surprised that just asking them to help will produce some real results. By the way, target your ad spend, if you’re spending money on Google ads like search ads, for example, get really targeted with it. Because if you’re not targeted enough you’re wasting money and you’re paying too much for your clicks. And again, feel free to email me, if you want to talk about this whole content marketing on a budget thing.
How to Find Content
Ok, I want to talk a little bit about how to find content, and I’m borrowing some of this from another presentation you can find on our site, another recorded webinar about Storytelling for Impact but I think it’s important to remind ourselves of this, even if we kind of know it instinctively.
Certain plots never fail
And that is, certain plots never fail, right? So you might be sitting there going - “content, content, content he won’t shut up about content,” well where do I, you know what should I be creating? And I would say - stories. And I know storytelling is very buzzy in a marketing world, but they A) they really work, truly actually work. What I should say they work a lot better than claim-making; which is what a lot of us organizations do - we make claims, “we are this, we do this.” That is not nearly as engaging, sort of psychologically at a sort of fundamental level, with audiences as storytelling. And the good news is there are certain plots that if you tell these stories, again and again and again, people will never notice that you’re telling the same plot, because the details change and the stories are great. So, I want to tell you these three:
The first is David v. Goliath, I probably don’t have to explain what this is to most of you, you know, classic underdog. We love stories of people overcoming the odds - find those stories and tell them. For mission-focused organizations, this is remarkably easy. When I’ve worked with, you know, for-profit companies, they find this a little bit tougher, but you’re probably brimming with stories of people who’ve done amazing things despite circumstances saying that they shouldn’t or wouldn’t. And again, because the details change, people won’t - your audience is never going to come to you and say, “I don’t want to engage with you, I don’t want to do business, I don’t want to send my kid to your school, or I don’t want to donate to your cause, because you keep telling these underdog stories.” It just won’t happen. So, use these tricks.
The second plot is what you might call Odd Couples. This is why we watch YouTube videos of cats riding on the back of pigs for 10 minutes right? We love stories of two people, or groups, bridging some sort of gap. That gap could be geographical, in this image it could be based on your species, it could be based on gender, or ethnicity, or socio-economic status, or education, or points of view - whatever. We love when people who shouldn’t initially come together, do come together to pursue something greater than themselves. I see this a lot in the university setting - where we see stories of professors and students sort of bridging some sort of gap to do something greater. Often, differences between organizations that team up to do something wonderful together.
And the third is what I might call The MacGyver. The MacGyver, for those of you who are too young to remember, MacGyver was a TV character in the 80s and 90s who was kind of a secret agent, what he would do is he would always solve a problem by sheer ingenuity. He could make a bomb out of like toothpaste and paper clip. He was always coming up with these contraptions at the last second, the point here is we love stories about people who use innovation, or new thinking, or loop-holes in the system to do something new, or to do something old in a new way. Think of Isaac Newton with the apple falling on his head, kind of helps him realize gravity. Of course, probably not true, but we still love the story because we love hearing stories of people or groups who suddenly are trying something new in a new way. So look for those three plots.
Ask these questions at every team meeting
Another thing you should do is every time you have a team meeting, and I assume most of you have some sort of staff or team meeting once a week, or once a month or something, ask these three questions:
- Whom did we turn away last week?
We turned them away for a reason I’m sure, whatever turn away means in your instance, but we turn them away for a reason, but why? There’s a story there - ask the follow-up questions, but start with that question. Whom did we turn away last week?
- Who can’t we forget?
Someone, a client, a donor, a member, a student, a constituent, someone is sticking in your head for one reason or another. Well why? There’s a reason they’re sticking in your head, and that reason might be a really great story, a source of content.
- Who’s our favorite client (or donor or volunteer or student or member or faculty etc.)?
Who’s the person we just love for one reason or another? And by the way, you can sometimes use somebody from on your staff, of course. But why do we like them so much? Again, content there, story there. So much content I see, so many sort of big content, are like whitepapers and research reports, which are great - but to make the most compelling you have to add humanity into them. Make your claims and share your data through the lense of a story.
Make the Most of Your Content
Alright last section here, before we eventually turn to some questions. And this is, we’re just scratching the surface here, I should point that out, we could spend an entire two or three-hour webinar I’m sure talking more about how to make the most out of our content, because their are so many channels out there and tactics and ways to make your work flows more efficient. But, I wanted to introduce you to The Pyramid Approach.
The Pyramid Approach
The pyramid approach, this is like a bit of a variation on something that Gary Vaynerchuk has really championed and that we use here at Mighty Citizen and have found it to be pretty successful. And as we’ve introduced it to some of our clients, I think that their lightbulb is going off for them like, “this is a way for us to really leverage the time we do have and get more out of it.” So the pyramid approach basically says this, first you spend the time creating a long-form piece of content. That could be a whitepaper, a podcast, a video, a really long series of blog articles, what have you. Now, you may say, “but Andrew doesn’t this contradict what you said a minute ago about quantity over quality?” I would argue that quantity over quality is especially true for very small teams that don’t have a lot of time or resources to devote to content creation and public communication; but even if you are on a small team, if you do spend the time at the beginning to create the long-form, then suddenly the quantity picks up because of the pyramid approach. The pyramid approach allows you to turn one piece into many pieces. So, you start by creating the long-form piece of content, and by the way that should be valuable and beautiful. Then you start slicing and dicing and turning the long-form content into shorter forms - articles, images, quotes, memes. And then you begin to distribute the content - through email, through website, through social media- those are of course your three primary channels. So, that’s the pyramid approach. Now I want to show you how it might actually work in a couple of scenarios.
Example: Health Advocacy Nonprofit
So let’s say that you’re a nonprofit and your mission is health advocacy. So using the pyramid approach we could say, we’re going to start a monthly podcast, we’re going to get our executive director, and our operations manager, and a couple of our clients into a room for a couple hours once a month, we’re going to record a podcast - “Healthy in an Hour.” Once we do that, we can turn that podcast into at least 3 or 4 blog articles. By the way, little short pro-tip here - get a translation service, they’re really affordable and if you’re doing video or audio content, send them the file, a day or two later they send you back the full transcription which makes turning it into written content infinitely easier. And maybe you create memes. This is something that Veynerchuk often talks about, and I’ve really come around to his point-of-view on this which is - that memes, you know images and .gifs, that are sort of hoped to become virally shared are totally acceptable forms of content. Now the question is, how do you brand it? How do you connect a meme to your organization? Well, that’s a little bit of a more dynamic question with different answers, although a designer sure would help there. And then it’s like, how do we distribute this content? Well, we’re going to send one blog every week via email to this part of our constituency, or maybe our entire audience. We’re going to put the memes on social - the three big ones are Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. So that’s one sort of example how the pyramid might work.
Example: Law School at Public University
Here’s another one. Let’s say you’re the law school at a large public university, well you might decide to do a monthly video address from the President of the Law Review. This is just an example, but the idea is how are we going to get one big thing that we can drift off. So, a little five minute video where we sit down with the President of the Law Review and they talk about, you know, they answer questions, or they talk about the latest in the news, what have you. And that’s going to be at least a couple blog articles, and because we have video we can do .gifs. And then we distribute it, we put it on YouTube, we put it on Vimeo. We create clips, with captions, captions, captions, captions please. And then maybe we do some comic-style illustration posted across social. This is where you can begin to get creative. The pyramid approach allows you to get a little more creative because instead of having to generate smaller pieces whole cloth, we’ve got this big chunk of ideas that we can then slice and dice in numerous ways. So we can be a bit more diverse in our thinking there.
Example: Association of Dog Walkers
Finally, last example, alright let’s say you’re a professional Association of Dog Walkers. Well you can write a whitepaper called, “10 Biggest Mistakes New Dog Walkers Make.” It’s a nice 8 page .pdf maybe print them too, great design, really helpful, great resources, but then you can turn each of the mistakes in your list into a stand-alone blog article. You can create an amazing infographic, lists are great for infographics, and of course memes - always an option. And then maybe you post one meme per day to your social, you know a whitepaper, and 8 page whitepaper can probably produce a dozen memes - that’s a lot of content. Create a slideshare and post it to LinkedIn. Maybe you put the infographic together, send in an email, make sure it’s on your homepage as well. Listen, it’s not about the specific ideas here, I hope some of them maybe resonate with you, but again, it’s just showing you how we start with something big, we slice it down, and begin sharing relentlessly.
Distribution > Creation
Distribution is more important than creation. Doesn’t matter how wonderful, beautiful, or compelling your content is if you don’t distribute it well, because people aren’t going to consume it otherwise. So we need to be utilizing social, we need to be utilizing email, of course our website, and that’s a conversation for another day I’m afraid we can’t get into that now, but I did want to make this semi-bold statement here.
Summing It Up
So, let’s sum all this up.
- You are in the business of content creation now. You’re a publisher now, and that’s because it is the surest way of connecting with your users at scale.
The surest way of connecting with your user is, I don’t know, knocking on their front door and talking to them, but you’re not going to do that.
- You need to invest in (at least) one great writer.
If you can go a step further and get someone to project manage it like a managing editor, and really if you can get a designer who works well with your writer then you’re really going to begin to set yourself apart from the competition.
- You need to build content idea-generation into your operations.
Ask those questions at your staff meeting, etc.
- And create big pieces of content and slice and dice into smaller pieces.
Use that pyramid model that Vaynerchuk introduced. How do we create big pieces of content, and again, you know leverage that into smaller pieces so that we’ve got that quantity over quality thing.
By the way, we will be emailing you the slide deck from this, and a recording of this webinar; but if you’re hungry to get it now, you can go to mightycitizen.com/publisher and get them now. Or you can just go to mightycitizen.com/tools and see all of the free templates and resources and webinar recordings we have. I want to thank you all for paying attention, I know sometimes webinars go on and on, I hope this was useful. And now we have a little bit of time to pause and Jarrett has been looking at questions that have come in and I’ll let you ask that Jarrett.
Jarrett: Alright, I have been looking at questions Andrew thank you, let’s jump right on in. Olivia mentioned that she is just overwhelmed with the amount of content that she has to create, so what advice would you have for her?
Andrew: Oh boy, well you know, it’s tough with questions sometimes because it’s like I have so many follow-ups like, when you say you have content you have to create like, says who you have to create it? Is it like you have written down a plan where we’re going to produce all this content? Is this coming from somewhere else in the organization saying, “you Olivia, have to make all this content.” But regardless, I guess of where this demand for content comes from, I think a lot of sound, traditional, professional rules apply. For example - prioritization, saying no, and I hope you’re, maybe you’re a one-person team, you know if you are overwhelmed then hopefully the people who make the decisions about how to make you less overwhelmed notice that. And are willing to give you some support. But Olivia - oh my email address by the way is firstname.lastname@example.org, A. Buck is my name so my email address is email@example.com feel free to email me and we can chat further about it. I’m sorry I don’t have a more specific answer for you Olivia, but prioritization and pushing back is one place I would be likely to start.
Jarrett: So maybe that’s a good segway into this next question, about selling up and maybe getting some initiatives in place from your supervisors. So what are some of the first steps that fall on copy content team can take to optimize their content if we don’t have the resources to hire?
Andrew: Well, again I probably want to ask what you mean by optimize? So, if you mean in the very strictest sense like, for search engines, then I’d say you got to go do your keyword research. There’s also a great tool that we’ve been introduced lately to here at Mighty Citizen called, ClearScope that makes SEO keyword research a lot easier and actually kind of fun. It’s called ClearScope, but if you’re speaking sort of more generally or vaguely about optimizing to get the like - how do we get the most out of it? Well, I would say look closely at your analytics to determine what has worked in the past, like what are people actually consuming for example, on your website or on your social media platforms, and start your investigation there. Why was certain content so much better performing than others? Sort of dissect it, sort of reverse engineer it - if you will. And I guess another thing I would say about optimizing content is to get rid of distribution channels that aren’t working. Because every time you add a new, for example, social media platform, that you’re going to publish to, it really does add a significant amount of work over time. And you just might not be actually getting any traction on a certain platform, so let it go. Really focus your efforts - I think it’s the Pareto Principle that says that “80% of the results come from about 20% of your efforts.” So, really figure out where that 80% of results are coming from and just do that thing, or those things, more and more. Hope that answers a little bit.
Jarrett: Andrew, John wants to know, if there are any other content creators outside of Gary that you’re fond of?
Andrew: Yeah, thanks John, to answer I guess, the answer is yes there are, but I don’t consume a lot of the content marketing evangelists. Like that’s what I would consider Gary Vaynerchuk. Listen, I did go through a serious Seth Godin phase, last year when I was reading a bunch of his stuff. I think he’s pretty great, I’ve moved on from him a little bit, I’m not reading his blog quite as much as I would. But Seth Godin is good. But I like the folks who end up talking about content, sort of, indirectly. So, they’re not talking about it in the strictest terms as we are as marketers, but they talk about how do ideas get generated and how do they stick. A great book I would recommend is by Dan and Chip Heath called Made to Stick. Another book that believe it or not I’ve gotten a lot out of is Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow. These are pretty big books, many of you have probably encountered them or read them, but I tend to go back to them again and again. And one other thing I’ll add, there’s a company called, Newfangled I believe they are - they’re either in Minnesota or North Carolina I think, forgive me for not knowing. They, I think, are some of the best content idea people in the game right now. So, Newfangled has a really great blog and MightyCitizen.com.
Jarrett: And Andrew, in terms of that top of the pyramid, the content distribution, Edith wants to know if any particular social media that is more effective for distributing nonprofit content to achieve potential donors, and if you have any comments about LinkedIn versus Facebook.
Andrew: Yes. The famous social media question. Yeah, I love this stuff because my opinions have shifted on this over the years. So, the first part of your question - what social media platforms would I recommend for nonprofits? It absolutely depends on who your target audience is. I mean if you’re trying to do it for fundraising purposes and you know for example, that your donors run slightly older then you’re going to go Facebook and email and, maybe still, plenty of direct mail. If you are interested in running a campaign that increases the percentage of donors who are younger, then I’m going Instagram, I might even buy ads on Instagram if you have the budget for that. And then Snapchat too, of course. TikTok I haven’t made a TikTok yet, I need to though, so I can speak about it. But the question of - Facebook versus LinkedIn. Again, I think LinkedIn, nonprofits should probably have an account on LinkedIn, but I probably wouldn’t spend any time as a nonprofit on LinkedIn. It’s just not your audience. I hope that’s what you were asking. Yep, one more.
Jarrett: I will do one more Andrew. Caroline wants to know how much time should be spent on measuring performance versus content development.
Andrew: Oh, that is a good question Caroline. So, I can tell you what we do here, for starters. Here at Mighty Citizen. We keep a pretty close eye on our analytics. We are sort of officially running a series of reports on our analytics at least once a month and talking about them as a team. Really kind of digging into the numbers, and it helps that we have a couple of people on staff who are analytics masters and can break it all down for us non-analytics masters. If I were to hazard a guess at like a percentage breakdown between spending time creating and refining content versus examining its effectiveness it would be like 90-10 or something like that. I mean, it shouldn’t take you too long to figure out what’s working and what’s not working, if you can A) look at your analytics and B) spend a little bit of time viewing the conversation. One of the things that Gary Vaynerchuk does, again, not to keep going back to this guy but, that I think he does so well is - he always sort of asks for feedback when he shares content. So if you put out a social post that’s advertising a page on your site, for example, ask people what they think of it. And not in a really formal way, just be like, do you find this useful? Let me know in the comments if this was helpful. You won’t probably get a ton of engagement that way, but you’ll get some, and it’s a real conversation, and you can just follow those bread crumbs. I hope that helps a little bit.
Jarrett: Andrew, thanks so much for another great presentation, and thank you all for attending today, I know we didn’t get to get to everyone’s questions, but again, you can email Andrew. That’s firstname.lastname@example.org. Please remember that we will be sending out the slides and a recording of this webinar to everyone who registered, and we will also include a link to a feedback form for our webinar today and hope you’ll take a minute to tell us what you think. If you have any questions about what we talked about today, again, you can email Andrew, or you can email our general email at email@example.com. Thanks again for attending, have a great rest of your day.
Andrew: Bye everybody. Thank you.