Unless you just stumbled upon the concept of content marketing this morning, you’ve heard over and over that you should focus on your audience, not yourself. You've probably told yourself that a thousand times. But are you really doing that? The most productive content marketing strategy is one that prioritizes listening. Talk less. Listen more.
We talk about “delivering” content, so yes, it’s a hand-off from marketer to customer. But delivering valuable content is like giving a gift you know will be appreciated. It shows you’ve been listening – in this case to what the target audiences are saying they want and need.
So let’s see if we can help you bone up on those online listening skills. Your content marketing strategy is the perfect place to start, because content can serve as a superb listening device.
Who should you listen to?
Everyone, says Jeffrey Cohen. That includes:
Look at what they share, the sources of what they’re sharing, the questions they ask about your products or your competitors’ products.
Look for special needs that differ from those of your existing customers. If you’re targeting companies, listen to key influencers within that workplace as well as the company’s brand-based social conversations, to get a broader idea what’s top-of-mind with them.
You can’t focus on what differentiates you if you don’t know what the competition is saying, so check in with them on a regular basis.
Staying up-to-date on trends and best practices enables you to incorporate that information in your content. That builds credibility and establishes your business as a leader. Good listening haunts include forums -- not just groups you host, but those you belong to on LinkedIn, etc. Participate actively to show you’re listening.
Listening is valuable, but you should overly ask what they want.
Good content marketing strategy isn’t about guessing or reading between the lines. Actively solicit stories about customer experiences with your company or products. Their testimonials, comments, videos, photos, etc. that illustrate how they’re using your products to solve problems or make their lives better make great content.
Create opportunities to converse with people. Arrange a Google+ hangout or a “Q&A” webinar featuring your key staff. You’re listening, providing content, learning you’re your audience, humanizing your business and underscoring your authority all at the same time.
Conduct surveys, remembering that several very short surveys will elicit greater response than longer, time-consuming ones. Publish them on multiple platforms – your website, email, all your social media, maybe even as a blog article – so see where you get the most response and also see how responses might differ from one platform to another.
Respond, to show you’re listening.
Respond to ratings and reviews as well as comments and direct questions posed via social media. Reply to customer questions on multiple platforms to reach more people, and note that your comments are in response to a question, so people get it. Respond to online complaints in the same way, for the same reasons. You don’t have to draw unnecessary attention to problems, but showing you take action builds credibility and trust.
Use what you learn to sharpen your content marketing strategy.
Study what’s being shared, and by whom. What are people saying about your company, your products? Your competitors? Related topics? Using your online analytics and a specialized social media listening application can help personalize your website. That shows you’re listening.
Plot the trends – not just what content is most-shared, but which formats are most popular with each of your audience segments. And which platforms. Are they using a social media network not currently part of your mix?
Create content that’s most timely and interesting or which helps solve their problems. That doesn’t mean your content can’t be intriguing, or fun, or funny if that’s the tone of the conversation or it fits the subject matter.
Use blog articles and Facebook posts to provide shorter, simpler solutions. Address more complex questions or topics with ebooks, whitepapers, webinars, videos or infographics. Collect the questions your audience asks, and turn them into a FAQ page on your website. Or a handout for your sales reps. Or a series of “did you know…?” posts via Twitter or Facebook. You can use those as revolving call-outs on your website’s home page, too.
A content marketing strategy designed to talk less and listen more will impress your target audience as well as inform them. So don’t just start some online conversations, tune in to what people are saying. That’s how you get results.