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