Good content is the oxygen of content marketing. You may get a short term burst of attention with low-value content, but the goal of content marketing is to grow an audience organically. This requires a long-term strategy, because trust takes time.
Content marketing, if done properly, is a great instrument for building trust. It allows you to connect with people regularly so you can show them why they can—and should—trust you. Sure, you can do that in other ways, too. But think of content marketing as a way to start the relationship. It’s a way to introduce yourself and your work to someone—on their terms, not yours.
This is incredibly powerful, because the reader feels in control. And she is. It’s a privilege to be invited into her world—to earn some of her attention. To help her solve a problem or be more efficient or inspire her to do great things. It’s a gift to be able to have an impact.
However, you’re not likely to effect a change in just one “touch.” Even the best writers will have trouble doing that. Why?
Books were the predominate cultural element for over 500 years—it was simply the best way to transfer ideas. Of course, that’s all changed now. Books are still a great way to convey information, but the Shift to Digital favors disaggregation—and it affords you a whole other set of options beyond long-form works. The benefit of short-form content (blogs, social media, etc.) is that you are able to have more frequent interactions with your readers.
A fully-realized content strategy is going to have multiple facets. There’s a romantic notion of what a writer should be—a brilliant artist, writing alone by lamplight, with throngs of avid readers waiting outside for her to emerge with her next masterpiece. This notion is poisonous. It stains everything we do as writers.
What we really do as writers is connect. That’s all there to it, when you strip everything away. No connection, no art. Stop thinking only in terms of books and other pieces of long-form content, then. Unless you are producing multiple books per year, it’s not frequent enough contact with your audience. Even if you are, you could be doing better.
It’s harder to get the permission of attention with long-form content. The threshold is simply higher. Start with short-form content, then. Start inviting them into your world. Anyone will give you 450 words worth of their attention. Once. If it’s really good, maybe twice. Then three times. Build trust, little by little.
Soon enough you’ll have enough permission to as for more time—to read your book. When it’s really working? You won’t even have to ask.
The Basic Elements of Content Marketing
Once you have the “oxygen” of good content, you’ll need these three fundamental drivers as you set out on your content marketing journey.
Consistency: The foundation of trust.
When you are planning your content strategy, start with the notion that you are going to consistently deliver. As soon as you start publishing materials, you are making a promise to your audience—no matter how big that audience is. Treat it like a promise. Carve out the time needed to deliver your content at regular intervals. If each piece is useful to them, they will come to expect it from you. When you reach that point, congratulate yourself. You’ve created a need.
Persistence: The engine of consistency.
This is more than just being consistent. It actually requires more than one strategy. Start with a set of hypotheses, based on what you know about your audience. Prepare to be proven wrong, though. If you’re just starting out, you don’t know enough about your audience—even if you think you do. The only way to learn is interact with them. Don’t stick to the same strategy just because it’s what you know. Be persistent in learning, adjusting, and trying new things. Eventually, you will learn enough to be really in tune with your audience.
Patience: The patron of persistence.
Your results are going to go through ups and downs, especially at first. It’s going to feel like no one’s listening and no one cares what you have to say. And even the gains you experience will sometimes be so small that they’re barely worth celebrating. You’ll be tempted to stop. After all, what’s the point if no one’s listening? If it helps, here’s how I think about it. You are producing useful content, right? If it’s what I call “durable” content, then it’s going to continue to be useful. It doesn’t expire the day you post it. You’re building a rich content library that you can make use of in other ways—for years to come. This is why it’s especially important to work from a content plan.
Writing is hard work. Believe me, I understand that. As much as I produce, it’s always a challenge. It’s a slow process for me, and I always feel like it takes more time than it should. But it’s a critical piece of my overall strategy, so it’s worth it to me. You’ll have to decide whether or not it’s worth it to you. If you need an audience—and most writers do—it’s the only way to build rich relationships.
Someday, maybe you’ll have those throngs of fans. But it’s always going to start with the trust of a few.
Next week, I’ll pull back the curtain to show you some actual data from my own strategy. The Content Marketing Curve will show you why patience is required—and why it’s worth it. After that, I’ll show you the basics of How to Build an Audience on Twitter.
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