01/26

How to Create Killer Content Online

Ann Handley and is Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs.com which is one of my favorite resources for how to do digital media. She is also the co-author of a fabulous new book, Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business (New Rules Social Media Series).

In the conversation below (click the video), Ann and I talk about the special opportunities for broadcasters in a world where Content is King.

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Here’s an abbreviated transcript of our conversation:

Ann, the average broadcaster gets maybe 85% of their revenue from traditional over-the-air advertising, and a lot of them are asking the obvious question:  Given that, why should I put in effort to digital platforms?  Why should I spend the time and money to create content online?

That’s a question that every business is asking themselves, no matter what you’re selling.  But if you are doing business online, if you need to market yourself online, content really does have to be a cornerstone of what you’re doing and we lay out the reasons in the book.

The rules have changed.  Your customers or your listeners are going to be looking for you, and they’re looking to see who you are online, so that old one-way marketing communication isn’t around anymore.

Basically it’s all about creating content that’s going to serve as a cornerstone of your marketing both from the content perspective to engage customers and from the search perspective so people can find you online.

But the average broadcaster’s going to tell you the dictate from the corner office is to monetize everything online or don’t do it at all.  Which is the chicken and which is the egg in this case?  You don’t get the monetization unless you get the mass audience. and you don’t get the mass audience unless you have the content, and you’re not going to be supported in the creation of the content unless you have monetization, so what message would you have us take to the suits in the corner office?

Well, you know some broadcasters right now are already focused on creating content.  I mean in a way, they’re more uniquely positioned for this than anybody else because they already are publishers unlike most businesses. So they’re already creating content, they’re already matching that content to an audience.

Essentially, the message of the book – and I think it’s also true for your audience – is that content does matter.  It’s really important to be producing stuff that’s engaging and not just anything.

For marketers historically that’s been a very different equation.  They have been all about producing collateral, very one-way and just talking at people. So in a way marketers need to be more like broadcasters and broadcasters (if they want to grow their audiences) need to apply these concepts to their own digital strategies.

The question I get from a lot of broadcasters all the time is: What do I do on the website?  What are some of the content rules that broadcasters should be mindful of?

The first is one I think broadcasters have already nailed:  Accept the fact that you’re a publisher; embrace the fact that what you put on your website is really what you want to use to tease your customers, to bring them into a deeper relationship with your brand.

Another is one I think is more of a natural for broadcasters:  Speak human – speak in very human and engaging terms with your customers or your listeners.  That means losing “Franken-speak” and these nonsense marketing words.

Another one I think is a natural for broadcasters is to show, not tell. Basically, to show the stories of people. I listen to NPR all the time.  Broadcasters do a really good job of bringing the stories of people – giving them bones and flesh to expand those concepts and to make your product live in the world.

I think a lot of the content rules are natural for broadcasters, and it’s just a matter of applying them in a different form to your website versus the shows you have on-air.

I guess that’s the challenge, translating it into the digital platform for people who are generally unfamiliar with the rules of the road in that translation.  We really have two goals on digital platforms for broadcasters:  One is to attract the eyeballs to that platform because that’s how we monetize it, and the other is to attract ears to the radio station.  I’m sure you would argue that digital content can facilitate both those goals.  Can you offer any ideas on how exactly we could go about doing those two things?

I think the first thing is to determine the goal of whatever it is that a broadcaster is going to put on their website.  If the ultimate goal is just to drive people to the website, that’s one thing, but for very few people is that ever the ultimate goal, right?

In other words, if you’re any business out there your goal is not just to get people to your website unless you truly are just a content site and all you want to do is monetize impressions through the advertising on the site.  There’s usually something else, some other behavior you want to drive.  It’s about creating momentum with that customer or that listener or whoever the audience is.

Define the goal.  You bring somebody to the website.  What is it that you want them to do there?  Do you want them to sign up to get regular podcasts, for example?  Do you want them to subscribe to some of your shows, or do you want to remind them to get more engaged with the hosts of their favorite programs?  In that case, would you want the host to have a blog and to solicit customer feedback to increase engagement there?

There are lots of things you can do.  It’s just a matter of defining what your goals are first, and that’s really where the strategy comes from.

What you’re talking about is a very strategic beginning, yet what I see is a lot of tactical application.  For example, we need a mobile application NOW, we need Facebook page NOW, we need a blog NOW, as if the doing of these things will invariably attract mass interest and preference from fans.  But that’s not true, right?

Right, exactly.  It’s so funny because when I told people I was writing this book I heard, “Oh that’s so great because I really want a Facebook page.  Is this the book that will tell me how to have a Facebook page?  What do I put on there?”  But before you think about the tools, the fun stuff like the Facebook page, the Twitter feed, the LinkedIn profile, whatever…before you do any of that you have to consider what you’re going to put on there and what’s the purpose of it.

Everybody loves to talk about the shiny, fun stuff because it’s shiny and fun, but people don’t often think through that first step.  It’s really, really, really important.  It’s not nearly as fun but you’ve got to think strategically about why are we doing what we’re doing – what’s your goal? What behavior do you want to drive?  And what momentum do we want to create?

The other thing I think you’re alluding to is that we shouldn’t think of these tools so narrowly.  There should be a purpose deeper, broader, better than that in order to enhance relationships and motivate people to tune in to a radio station.

One of the things, Ann, that’s almost nonexistent in radio is a registered user. We have people who join clubs to participate in contests – we call those “databases” or “loyalty clubs,” but we really don’t have large numbers of consumers who register for what the brand represents.  As I wrote recently, they register to play.  They don’t register for value.  Can we talk about that for a second?

Everybody out there, every organization – whether you’re a radio station or a rock band – you’ve got a great opportunity to talk to your customers one-on-one.  Radio already does a really good job of talking to people.  They don’t do as great a job of listening.  I think there’s a huge opportunity there, and ultimately it’s only going to make your business better, right?  I mean you’re only going to engage with them more.  You’re going to be able to respond to them and meet their needs more which is certainly the ultimate goal in order to grow in anything.

I think there’s an enormous opportunity there.  As an NPR fan, I would love to have an opportunity to, for example, engage more fully with Tom Ashbrook who hosts the midday show.  Really, radio should begin by  leveraging some of that stuff that it is already doing really well.  You’re already creating engaging content.  Now how do you get people to talk back to you?  How do you deepen that relationship?

What is the role of video in terms of content – even for a medium like radio which is built around audio?

I think audio and video content is really awesome.  Just look at what we’re doing here.  You and I are having a conversation, and you’re a real person to me now – not a disjointed voice on the radio. I think it helps to add a visual element.  Maybe a companion video that shows the personality or guest.  Video is very, very powerful, and in the book we discuss a Forrester study where video was like fifty times more likely to show up in a search result for most keywords than almost any other kind of content, text especially.  So it’s a really, really powerful way to communicate something not just because it’s visually compelling but also for search reasons.  Not as many people are doing video, not as many people are optimizing it well, so there is more of an opportunity there.

In the book you stress not repurposing content but “reimagining” content.  As we create content on the air, how can we reimagine that content in multiple forms for our digital platforms?

To me “repurpose” always sounds like an afterthought, and so we focus on “reimagining,” which is all about thinking at the inception of any piece of content:  How can we express this across various platforms?

You may have a piece of audio content – a show or a segment or whatever. How could we reimagine that on a Facebook page?  Could we do a Q&A with the host that is based on audience feedback from a blog post, etc?  In other words, think about expanding on a piece of content and reimagining it in various formats, in video, audio, video, in text, maybe a series of blog posts becomes a longer eBook download, for example.  There are all kinds of ways that you can think about reimagining what you’re doing.

Ann, at the heart of this it seems to me that there’s a fundamental principle, and that is that you have to care.  You have to care about your brand, you have to care about your audience, your consumers, and you have to care about deepening those relationship you maintain with them.  Isn’t that really a prerequisite for any of this?

Absolutely.  One of the things we talk about in the book is that at its very heart your content is not just the words on the page but it’s really the soul of your brand, and that’s what I think is so amazing.  That’s why I think that companies do have such an opportunity.  There are just so many ways that you can express your brands through the content you’re producing, and you can do it in a meaningful, intimate way.

I think radio people already get that.  Radio people already know that content is king, content rocks.  The challenge is to translate that into different areas online – not just audio.

Think about that, broadcasters.  It’s not your station’s website.  It’s the soul of your brand.

That’s right, exactly.

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  • Ctrappe

    I agree that you need the “mass audience” but even small(er) and target audience can also be powerful.

  • WadeCollins

    “Franken-Speak” Do we allow her just to make statements without explanation? I don't trust her instincts which are very NPR-centric. She speaks in cliches “engaging content”. C'mon my marketing class would fail her with this kind of general tripe. Be specific!

  • http://www.markramseymedia.com Mark Ramsey

    That's what books are for, Wade. And hers is full of specifics. You should check it out.

  • BarryMac

    This is like Social Media Content Scrabble. It's painful to listen to this kind of stuff.

    I come away from it wondering what the heck is this conversation about – absolutely nothing! Both of you need to listen to this a few times and really get that nothing is happening here. It would make a great SNL spoof!

    BTY I own the book Content Rules and am very disappointed to listen to this.

  • http://www.markramseymedia.com Mark Ramsey

    I'm sorry you feel that way. Some folks are finding value in this chat.

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