12 Tips on Creating Content for Social Media

“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.

Creating Content for Social Media

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.

storytelling

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:

magazine linkbait examples

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.

Bonus Tips

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.

Conclusion

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.

Comments (25)

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  1. Brian Brady says:

    RE: #1

    Do you think it unwise to have a presence (i.e. profile) in communities where you won’t be a significant contributor?

  2. Matt McGee says:

    I’m a big believer in “claiming real estate” online, Brian, and do encourage clients to create profiles on any and all social media sites even if they don’t plan to use them. There are branding reasons for this — you don’t want someone else getting and using your company name on a Twitter account, for example. That could cause all kinds of reputation management issues. My friend David Wallace wrote about this a while back, but it’s still good advice:

    http://www.searchrank.com/blog/2007/10/using-social-media-to-manage-online-reputation.html

    Beyond that, there might be some minor link benefits from the sites that let you link from your profile back to your site. Of course, if your profile just sits with little activity, that link isn’t likely to carry much weight.

    Still, I do think it’s smart to claim that online real estate – get your profiles for branding and reputation management, if nothing else.

  3. Matt, love the post thanks for the great tips. My personal favorite of the 12 is “8.) Write great headlines.”

    I think this is very important in creating buzz and attracting more followers. This is probably my weakest point that I continue to work on.

    Any suggestions to help me and others out with writing great headlines?

  4. I have had guest bloggers on my EGO blog. I have been blogging for about six years and have got in contact with several bloggers. I think that I have inspired a few of my readers to start blogging themselves.

    I have had individuals writing longer pieces like columns and wrap-up posts with plenty of items from the blogosphere.

    In August 2005 I went to Hungary for a couple of weeks. I contacted some fellow bloggers and regular readers and asked them if they wanted to jump in and become guest bloggers. It was a fun experience to sit in Hungary and read my own blog, ruled by others for a short period of time. On my blog you could read great contributions by Elizabeth Anema, Anita Campbell, Andy Clarkson, Gus Van Horn and Roland Horvath. It was funny to see how my guest bloggers tried to adopt my writing style and at the same time using their own personal flavor to add a new twist to the blog.

    I look forward to take a new blog break in the future…

  5. Just finishing a bio that includes:
    “Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood.” Stephen Covey’s 5th principle of “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” …which covers a core value of life AND marketing. Like your brother-in-law, a great storyteller knows his audience first. You’ve summarized this in an awesome manner.

    One of the reasons for your success is you’re genuine. Being genuine is also key in social media!

  6. Holly Powell says:

    Matt,

    I’m an avid reader and the advice you give here is dead on with what I teach my team and clients.

    Thanks for the reinforcement.

  7. Jenn says:

    I like the “contrasting” idea. I have always told people that arguing a point seems to create the most buzz and get you noticed. I did this with the “save the breakfast sandwich” site and got thousands of hits within the first day of launching the site.

    All good ideas – keep them coming !

    Jenn

  8. Related to #7: (especially) if you pick a “controversial” topic, don’t just think about it in terms of “linkbait”; also consider how it may affect your reputation/brand in the future!

  9. Fantastic article Matt. And thanks for the nod!

    I’m glad you hit on the story-telling point. I wrote a post on my blog a few weeks ago called “If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys” and I told a story about dishwasher detergent to get my point across. Two things happened – it generated more interest from readers, and it totally flowed better. It’s just feels more genuine and shows better that you know what you’re talking about. It’s now something I’m striving to do with each post.

  10. V.I. says:

    This is a “just in time” post for me.

    I just checked my email and saw where I picked up another Twitter follower… and I’m not a Twitter user. So I was just wondering if I should open Twitter and start using it… because a few people are now “following” me. Then I came here and read your opening line…. “Pick and choose your social communities wisely.”

    THANK YOU!!!

    Twitter isn’t a great “story telling” tool and I have to agree, I’ve seen a lot more “action” on posts and articles when I share stories instead of teach lessons.

  11. Matt McGee says:

    Thanks for the great feedback, gang. A couple quick replies:

    @Garrett — I’ve bookmarked a handful of articles about headlines in my delicious account. Some of these might help:

    http://del.icio.us/pleeker/headlines

    @Dana – thank you. In my first draft of this article, I did make mention of “be real, be authentic” … but somehow that got lost in the final version. Darn. This should be 13 tips, not 12. That’s a great addition. :)

    Thanks again for the excellent conversation here.

  12. Donace says:

    Nowa days social media is THE key for a good site and due to this alot of the main stream ones get flooded.

    As mentioned in point it is vital to join the one specific to your needs; but don’t forget that some of the smaller ones niche ones such as mixx and sphinn have greater ‘weight’ attached the categories they ‘major’ in.

    Greta article again (ssem to be saying this over and over today)

  13. Vince says:

    Great article. I’m glad to see number 3. Story telling is such a great way to connect.

    A comment on number 1. I’ve always viewed it flipped from the way it’s stated. Always create content that’s right for the crowd you’re in.

    So I join every network I can and study it. If I can shape my message and contribution to fit I do it. If not I have a placeholder for when I can.

    Heads and tails of the same coin I think.

    Thx for the great article.

  14. dean says:

    I find this a good one:
    4.) Give away your own knowledge.

    We have had alot of success with an ebook which we even have in print now. Kind of funny as at times you forget how limited your knowledge was in certain areas when you started out, and how much you have learnt over the years and how much this info can help others.

  15. Blog about the social media that you’re involved with and make your sm profiles known to your readers so that they can friend you and you can friend them back (and should).

  16. All sorts of quality ideas here Matt. The trick is to leverage others for their stories.

  17. david king says:

    Great list, particularly number 6 making lists. also choosing the right community..

  18. Excellent post, Matt. I love the suggestion to not worry about content until you are part of the network. This is the mistake too many people make. You need to build a network of people to read your stuff, some credibility and most importantly learn what people int he network want to read!!!

  19. Heather Harrington says:

    When creating content for Social Media sites, the biggest factor is conent that is going to engage users. You want people that are following you company to respond and interact with what you are posting to increase followers. This is one of the biggest struggles that we face.

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