“Do you have any tips on how to develop meaningful content for social media?”
That’s the question posed by Sanjay Kumar in a conversation I’ve been following on Small Business Trends. The conversation began with Anita Campbell telling us some interesting real-life stories of small business owners who’ve tried social media with varying levels of success. As often happens, the comment discussion has made a great post even stronger as it branches off into related ideas — like developing content for crowds.
Developing Content for Social Media
Here’s how I’d answer Sanjay’s question:
1.) Pick and choose your social communities wisely. The first step is always getting involved in the right place. You can create the most amazing content, but if you present it to the wrong crowd, it’ll fail miserably. In the comments of the SBT post, Stephanie of Scratchpad Secretaries hits on this when she says, “It is so important to make sure you don’t just join any and all social networks, but the ones that are suited for your particular business – that is a great point, that I learned the hard way!”
2.) Don’t worry about creating meaningful content until you’ve been an active member of the community for at least a couple months, if not longer. When getting involved in social media, enthusiasm is great — and you probably have it in spades at the start of any new venture. But contribute first by joining existing discussions on other content. You should be studying the types of content that get the most attention, whether it be in the form of votes, comments, or whatever the ‘hook’ is for that social community. Knowing the audience is key to creating content they’ll love.
If you’re already past this point and have joined in the right communities and been studying/participating for some time, then you should have a good idea of the type of content the crowd will value.
Every audience will be different but, generally speaking, here’s what works:
3.) Tell stories. Consider the post I referenced above from Small Business Trends — it’s about small business owners that have shared stories about their own experiences with social media. Look at the amount of comments the post is getting over a long, holiday weekend. We’re attracted to stories. James Chartrand recently wrote about the power of storytelling on Copyblogger:
A good story grabs anyone’s attention. We love stories. We listen to the tale and imagine everything in our mind’s eye. We experience emotion and are compelled to take action because of the stories we hear.
This is a family photo. The guy on the right is my brother-in-law. He has a reputation in the family for being a great storyteller. Look at the emotions and reactions he’s getting in this photo. When the family — our own little social network — is together, we all listen to him. Great storytelling always draws a crowd in any community.
4.) Give away your own knowledge. Your experience and expertise in your field will probably be of interest to others in your social community. This might be in the form of posts on your own blog, guest articles on other sites, how to videos, photo galleries, white paper PDFs, and more. Giving away your knowledge sets you up as an authority, earns respect, and helps you develop an audience. And isn’t that one of the main reasons you’re getting into social media in the first place? Because you’re trying to develop an audience of new prospects, customers, peers, business partners, or whatever.
5.) Interviews with industry personalities. Interviews aren’t easy to land when you’re just starting out. But once you become a known entity and have an audience, people will be more willing to answer questions. An interview with someone your crowd knows and respects will often play well in social communities. And perhaps best of all, this type of content almost writes itself: You just need to focus on developing great questions and letting your interview subject do the rest. (Hint: Before the interview, ask your audience what they would want to know from this person, or take your best guess if you can’t ask them directly before the interview.)
6.) Lists are almost always popular with any crowd. Take a look at the magazines in the checkout line next time you’re at the grocery store. Music magazines will have lists of the best albums or hottest new bands of the year. Sports magazines will have articles listing the greatest games of all time, or the top rookies that year. Female-oriented magazines are almost nothing but lists! These folks have been selling magazines for decades; they know that lists work. I wrote about linkbait in the offline world late last year, and included this image from some magazines on my office bookshelf:
Lists catch the eye and encourage debate. Your list might be tips, resources, rankings, or something funny. The sky’s the limit when it comes to lists.
7.) Debate another popular member of your community, or take the opposing point of view on a current topic. Being a contrarian isn’t for everyone; many people have a fairly strong desire to fit in and play along with the crowd. But disagreeing with the conventional wisdom, and having strong evidence or opinions to support your argument, can become great content.
If you do a Google search for [small business barriers to entry], you’ll see an August, 2006, article by Todd Malicoat in the No. 1 spot. Down at No. 3 (at least for me), you’ll find a contrarian article I wrote two days later. My blog was only four months old at the time, and by taking the contrarian approach I picked up some nice links from Todd himself, Rand, and others. It helped me grow my audience.
Would a few extra thoughts on creating content for social media — not necessarily about the types of content, but about delivering that content — be helpful? Hope so.
8.) Write great headlines. This is where attracting a crowd begins.
9.) Follow through on the promise of your headline. Don’t disappoint people with an article that doesn’t meet the expectations that your headline created.
10.) Tell your audience what’s in it for them. This can be in your headline, or early in the content — lay out the reasons they should pay attention to the content you’ve created.
11.) Cite external examples and resources as evidence supporting your point of view.
12.) If creating articles or blog posts, include quality imagery to illustrate your words. Visuals can be strong reinforcements. They also help with usability by making long blocks of text easier to read.
Creating great content for your social network starts with preparation. Get to know the community and the types of content they like before spending your time and energy on content development. Once you know the people and what content plays well, you have lots of choices — lists, interviews, and stories are almost always popular with any social media community. None of this, of course, comes easy. Like any type of marketing that’s worthwhile, patience and persistence are a must.
Your turn: What tips would you add about creating content for social media? Tell us a story about what’s worked for you … or what didn’t.