This week, just before our monthly webinar “Winning Tactics for Content Creation and Marketing” on October 14 at 11:30 a.m. EST, I had the pleasure to sit down (virtually) with Alison Driscoll, an interactive copywriter and social media strategist with a background in advertising and marketing. She has worked with a wide variety of clients ranging from small, local businesses to international brands and is the co-author of the forthcoming “Facebook Marketing Book” from O’Reilly. She currently works as an interactive copywriter and community manager at Zipcar in Boston while running her own social media consultancy.
Elise Redlin-Cook: I hear the phrase “content strategy” used in different contexts and ways. How would you define content strategy?
Alison Driscoll: A content strategy is a well-thought out plan for writing and publishing content to the web. With more and more avenues to choose from, there is the opportunity to post more content than ever before. But you should not post whatever and whenever you feel like it. Each piece of content should work towards achieving one or more goals.
Publishing content is also faster than ever before, thanks to one-click posting on sites like Facebook and Twitter. This makes it even more important for marketers and brands to think before they speak.
While it is not advisable to copy and paste email content into a landing page, Twitter post and Facebook update, current content should work together and support each other. I’m a huge fan of creating patterns or topics for days of content and tweaking slightly for each channel, without reinventing the wheel with each piece.
Elise: I take a very similar approach. So, let me ask you…What are the best ways that you’ve found to organize or prioritize your content creation and curation tasks?
Alison: Like I said, topics and patterns can be a huge help, both for you the creator, and your audience. As you write new content, having set topics for each day will help you get the ideas flowing and trim down a daunting task.
For example, if you have a website and corresponding social channels about shoes, there are hundreds of topics and styles to talk about. But if you’ve designated Monday as high-heel day, you just gave yourself a place to focus.
This also helps your audience get to know you better and tune in on their favorite days. A sneaker fan might not always want to read about high-heels on Monday, but they always check in for Tuesday’s talk about running shoes.
Elise: Would you like to talk about any specific tools that you’ve found useful in creation of content strategies? How about specific tools that you’ve found useful in measuring and reporting the success of your content?
Alison:Listening is the most important thing you can do to keep a content strategy going. For me, this means subscribing to email lists and newsletters in my industry, and staying on top of trends and topics with an RSS reader and, admittedly, somewhat of an addiction to Twitter.
For tools, I love Google Reader to keep blogs and sites organized. As for Twitter, I personally still like to spend some time scrolling through Twitter.com, but I’ve found using Tweetdeck search columns and Twitter lists to be more effective from a content standpoint. Creating lists and search of keywords and topics in your industry gives you a great place to pull ideas from, as well as people to talk to about your content once it’s published.
Elise: What are the primary elements or pieces of a complete content strategy?
Alison: For me, a complete content strategy spans across multiple channels and plays to each one’s own specific strengths and areas of interest. This might be a website or blog, a Facebook page, Twitter account and newsletter or email list.
One general content idea can be used across all four channels, but in different ways. The main piece of content will live on the website or blog. The email can summarize it, to varying lengths or degrees, and drive people to the full article. The Facebook status update should be a quick snippet that’s easy to share, like or comment on, and may link to the full article on the site or through a Facebook application like Notes or Social RSS. And finally, the Tweet, which is the shortest of all and should get right to the point or headline, with a link to the full article.
The content strategy doesn’t stop there of course. On the social channels, you also want to foster discussion by asking questions. (As well as answering or commenting on responses.) You also may want to repost the link to your article later in the day, with a different hook, to hit all time zones effectively.
Elise: I’ve been finding out that many content strategists come from very different parts of the industry with very diverse backgrounds. How did you find yourself in this specialization?
Alison: From a very young age, I wanted to go into advertising. I’m talking age 7, I was writing jingles. This led me to enter the Communications department at Boston University, where I concentrated in copywriting. The focus there was still on print advertising, but I learned a lot. I also joined Facebook the first year it spread outside of Harvard, which had a lot to do with how my career progressed.
After school, I started working at a small SEO and web development shop. It was there that I learned the value of balancing search engine optimization with content clarity. I also started working on social media marketing projects, before Facebook pages even existed. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Overall, I would say my love of the written word guides me through all types of content creation. I don’t believe in sacrificing clarity for more keywords, or punctuation and proper grammar for brevity on Twitter.
Elise: Where would you say that Content Strategy is going now? Do you see any big changes on the horizon?
Alison: Social Media is playing a larger and larger role in content creation and promotion. These platforms are quick and easy to update and are becoming an integral part of search results. My advice is to always cross-promote your content, from website or blog to email, Facebook, Twitter and any other channels you have found that work for you or your audience.
People use these sites differently, so you may need to experiment with what type of content, phrasing or timing works best. Often, you are using Facebook or Twitter to promote external content on your site. But this doesn’t mean that you can’t give each setup post its own unique spin. Every sentence you post, no matter how short, is important. It’s all content, and it all drives back to your site and represents your brand. Put as much thought into a Tweet as you do a headline.
This extends to answering questions and engaging in discussions on these sites. Your response is content, too, and should be treated with care.
Elise: Are you inspired by anything in particular outside of your Content Strategy field?
Alison: I always look to fashion brands as inspiration for new content ideas. There are only so many things that can be said about a shirt, but they are some of the most active content producers, particularly in social media. They break outside of their specific product and talk about how to use it, care for it, and style for different occasions. When you can do a whole blog post on the versatility of one sweater or bag, you’ll never have a problem with scrambling to find content ideas.