The thing about content platforms is they’re hungry beasts.
It’s something journalists have known for a long time. Every hour there’s another bulletin to write; every evening there’s another half-hour of news to find; every day there’s another hundred pages to fill.
It’s a demanding, exciting, cutthroat environment. There’s always, always, a deadline.
As one of those career journalists who has found their way into content marketing, I’m reminded every single day of just how invaluable the skills I picked up in 17 years in the newsroom are to my new life in a content agency. You certainly don’t have to be a journalist to be a great content marketer, but being able to think like one sure helps.
Here are 11 questions to ask yourself about every single idea when you’re planning content to fill your editorial calendar.
Is this of interest to our audience?
Know whom your audience is.
Every journalist, no matter their medium or publication, puts their audience first. They ask themselves “will this be of interest to my readers/listeners/viewers?” If the answer is no, why would you spend time and resources creating that content?
This should always be the first question you ask yourself. Then interrogate your answer: Why is this of interest to my audience?
[tweet] Always ask yourself whom your audience is for any piece of content. Then interrogate your answer: why is this of interest to my audience? [/tweet]
Is this topical?
Having established that an idea is of interest to your audience, ask yourself if it is of interest right now?
Analyse the following:
- Timing: Why are we publishing this now? Would it make more sense at another time?
- Significance: Why is this article important right now? What benefit will our audience get from this if they read it now?
- Prominence: Why should your audience care about the story? How important is it to them at this time?
- Proximity: Where are our readers and can they get to/take part in this story?
- Emotion: Will this story make the audience feel something? Does it have a “human interest” angle?
What’s the hook?
The “hook” is the top line of the story. What’s the thing that’s going to get the audience’s attention and keep them reading, listening or watching?
A “hook” is really the moment someone’s eyes light up when you’re telling them a story; the moment you know they’re engaged. It could be something shocking, funny, surprising, entertaining, worrying or alarming.
Knowing what your hook is gives clarity to the brief.
What’s the point we’re trying to get across?
What’s the reason you’re telling this story? What’s the message you want your audience to walk away with? Knowing the purpose for a story provides editorial direction. It’s a crucial bit of information for your writer, producer, presenter, etc., to understand.
What’s the best way to tell this story?
What kind of story is this? Does it have a strong visual element to it that will require lots of images? If there’s a lot of interesting detail, would it be better as a long-form article or a documentary video? If your audience is primarily on social media, could you tell the story more effectively as an infographic?
Think about who is consuming the story, how they’re consuming it, and where they’re consuming it. Then identify the platform, medium and method that best fit your audience.
[tweet] Think about who is consuming the story, how they’re consuming it, and where they’re consuming it. Then identify the platform, medium and method that best fit your audience. [/tweet]
What are the facts?
This is a bit of Journalism 101, but facts are incredibly important. Don’t make assumptions about the story you’re going to tell. Get a clear picture of the facts before you start writing, recording or commissioning.
Check the veracity of your sources and resources. You can save a lot of back and forth, not to mention costly mistakes, this way.
Have we provided enough evidence?
Can you prove what you’re saying? Where’s the evidence? Link to sources and resources so the audience allows themselves to be convinced by what you’re saying.
Providing evidence for any claims helps create trust with the audience – and trust is invaluable. Mislead your audience and you will lose their trust, which means they won’t be back.
Who is the expert voice?
Identify expert sources you can use to back up what you’re saying and add credibility.
In traditional journalism, (as opposed to opinion or analysis) the journalist quotes a series of informed people to give differing views. In content marketing you might not be offering alternate views, necessarily, but you can still strengthen whatever case you’re making by quoting an expert.
It doesn’t have to be a noted academic — that expert could well be your client or someone from your own company who knows what they’re talking about.
RELATED: Using experts to create great blogs
How can we explain this in the simplest way possible?
There’s an old rule in journalism that a 12-year-old should be able to understand whatever you write. Keep it simple, stupid, as the old saying goes.
Whether you’re trying to communicate really technical information or not, always find the easiest and clearest way to say it (without patronising your audience, obviously).
Sometimes it can take a while to work out how to say things simply. It’s worth doing. If you can’t say it simply, chances are you don’t understand it yourself.
[tweet] Sometimes it can take a while to work out how to say things simply. It’s worth doing. If you can’t say it simply, chances are you don’t understand it yourself. [/tweet]
Does it sound like we’re selling something?
It could well be the case that you are actually trying to sell something, but does your content idea sound like you’re trying to sell something?
If it does, you’re going to lose your audience really quickly. And you might lose them for good.
If your idea sounds like you’re trying to sell something, work harder to find a better idea. Palming off a sales pitch as content marketing isn’t just lazy, it’s going to have completely the opposite effect to the one you intended.
[tweet] If your idea sounds like you’re trying to sell something, work harder to find a better idea. Palming off a sales pitch as #contentmarketing isn’t just lazy, it’s going to have completely the opposite effect to the one you intended. [/tweet]
Can we tighten this up?
Be succinct. How long does your content really need to be to impart the message?
That doesn’t mean all videos should be 30 seconds and all blog posts should be 350 words; it means no piece of content should be longer than it needs to be.
You can have a 5-minute tutorial video that is crammed with great information or a 2000-word article that has the reader hanging off every word. These are still succinct as long as every word is there for a reason.
Write long and then edit. Then edit again.
If you’re looking for a content marketing agency with a team of journalists and broadcasters who can bring a level of media professionalism to your content marketing strategy or your brand newsroom, get in touch.