Five themes, four tactics, one resource and one great example for creating engaging online content for Hollyhock’s 2011 presenters.
Theme: Know Why
Why? It could be the most important question you ever ask when you think about your online content and your work. It’s my favourite question, and a great one to ask when think about any content that you might be creating to promote your work. Stop briefly and ask it of yourself as you’re about to begin creating online content. I look at it as a meditation of sorts. Something that helps me focus as I immerse myself in the creative process. Why?…
Here’s my why. Some of you are reading this because you happened upon this site. Most of you are reading this because you’re a presenter at Hollyhock this year and we’re sharing time together on a conference call that Hollyhock has arrange to help you make the most of your time at the centre. Hollyhock is a special place, and I have been the recipient of many of its gifts; this is how I am giving back. That is my why. I want your work to shine, so your experience at Hollyhock shines, so that Hollyhock continues to thrive and give its gifts, even If I may not benefit directly from them.
I’m also putting this post together so that you’ll have an outline of what we covered in our presenter conference call. It’s a chance for me to put into practice some of things I’ll be asking of each of you who are participating in the conference call to do.
But here’s what I would offer should be your big why for creating engaging content…
You want to create connections and relationships, not just content. Content becomes the bridge. It is the way for your audience to share in your insights, it is the way to start connections and relationships and an excellent way to maintain them. If you think about the challenge of creating content in this way, that you’re working to build connections and relationships, it can help ease you into the creative challenge. You’re doing it with purpose, and it is a high purpose. It raises the bar for you, but it is a more faithful guide than simply thinking I must create ‘X’ blog post, ‘Y’ newsletter and post ‘Z’ social network status update to get people to take some kind of action.
Theme: Know Who
Who do you want to build those connections and relationships with? The answer for each of us might be different at different times, but it helps to have a picture of the who, they are. It might help to visualize who you’re creating the content for, the people themselves or a persona of the people. A persona that represents a generalized version who the different audiences for whom you’re creating content are. Giving your audience a persona may help you stay focused on the purpose and intent of what you are doing.
Theme: It’s the Story, Not the Content
It’s worth repeating something we all intuitively know. Stories are what connect us all. Stories are what connect us with each other and keep us in relation. Stories are the fabric of our culture and the best content, is content that understands story. Content can, and often needs to be, infused with information, but it is the stories that we resonate with. We we take action because of the story, we make changes, we get inspired. When you know why and for whom you’re creating content, the how is the story. Whatever medium you might be working within at any given moment, embrace your inner storyteller. We all have one, give yours license to go to work. It will serve you well.
Stories are wonderful, but they can also take the participant astray if they are not focused on their intention. The best stories are ones that relate someway to your audience, that they see themselves in the story. Bring the quality and tenor of your work to the content of your stories. Try as much as possible to think about how your content and story benefits the reader, the listener, and the watcher.
Theme: Think About Your Content as an Eco-system
One of the best parts about engaging online content is the number of ways it can be repurposed, adapted and recreated depending on how, and where you are using it. Building a library of different content that be used on your site, then adapted for a newsletter, then adapted for social networks, then adapted for a contribution to another web site or periodical. This is value of creating content you believe in and that connects with your audience.
Thinking about your content as an eco-system allows you to be creative about insights from work, that become a thought leadership piece, that become a newsletter, than might become a short-video or a pod-cast or screen-cast. Think of your own site as the home and container for all of this content, as each piece is added it lives on your site and you disseminate it from your site. Remix and reuse elements in each area to get the most value and exposure.
Theme: Experiment and Reach Your Audience with a Mix
An ideal strategy is one that mixes content in different media. As individuals we often find natural ways of staying connected with thinkers, leaders and teachers in different ways. Some of us might be subscribed to a newsletter, some of us loathe email. Some of us follow content via RSS, some of us will never know what RSS is. Some of us are active in Facebook, others on Twitter. The point is that we engage in different ways at different times.
Content creators understand that the best way to reach people is with an overall mix that uses the investment and time spent on creating great content in multiple places. Once this post is done for example, it will go out via newsletter, Facebook, Twitter. I’ll likely repost elements of it in other posts. I’ll likely link to it in other writing in the future. I’ll send the link as a reference in email in a conversation. In short, it will get remixed and distributed in many other types of formats and places at different times. The goal of which is to reach people where they are and how they want to be engaged. I’m creating content in a mix of different formats, sometimes with remixing existing content, sometimes with creating entirely medium specific content. I’m experimenting to find what works well for me, and what also connects with audiences.
Let’s talk about some specific tactics:
Tactics: Streaming Video
Online video is one of the most engaging types of content there is. It’s easy to see why. We can get a visceral experience of what we’re interested in. We hear voice, see body language, we can connect with the teacher. It’s powerful. Video content is the fastest growing form of content online. It’s highly shareable, and great videos travel around the Internet creating interest in those who have created them. Having video matters if you want to connect and build relationships. Historically it has been difficult to produce. Now it’s easier than ever.
Tactics: Audio Podcasts
Audio is another type of highly engaging content that is somewhat easier to create than video, but shares many of the some possibilities for creating connections with users.
Here’s a good guide on creating podcasts from How Stuff Works.
Have someone take photos of your speaking engagements and your work. Don’t be shy. People want to see you in the context of how you’re working. They want to see people and human connection. Have a ready and consistent supply of different images that show you in your natural working state are one of the best ways to draw a connection with your audience to what you might be writing about and communicating.
Obviously, great writing is one the central components of any content story. Getting better at writing is a personal challenge of mine. I’m working at it always. Writing online presents some unique challenges. Every medium has a different culture and expectation from the user. Your challenge is to find a way to connect the why, with the who, your story and the particular medium in an engaging way. Here are some thoughts on what writing well means and where I’ve found inspiration and a great resource for writing magical content from Copy Blogger.
Resource: Remember Everything
Online content is different. At its best, it’s a combination of visual and written assets that work together to tell a story. Most of us have a way of capturing our thoughts as we prepare to write and create content. I’m not suggesting you change something that is working for you, if it is working for you. But I’d like to recommend one of the best tools I know of for capturing the pieces of your online stories, be they photos, videos, links, voice recordings; really anything that you want to capture and make searchable and use at some later date to create content for your work.
The software I’d recommend is called Evernote. It works on all platforms, MAC, PC and more importantly Blackberry or iPhones. It’s a great tool for capturing all of these creative online elements. Use it anyway that you feel like it might work for you. I use it to capture all my thoughts as I’m working on writing or thinking about writing. I take notes and inspirations on my iPhone, sync it with my desktop, make edits, adjust and tune it, sit with it for a while, add some ideas, take some out. It’s the platform of choice for the creative process of content creation.
Understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. Remind yourself of that as you enter move through your day. Ideas for creating valuable and interesting content will emerge. Be prepared to capture it and record it.
Resource: One Great Example
Some people are great examples of how to do this well. I’m sure you have your own examples. Some are doing video really well, but not writing or vice versa. One of the best examples that I’ve found lately, from someone who doesn’t have the kind of resources like an Eckhart Tolle or Deepak Chopra is Dr. Laura Markham from Aha Parenting.
Dr. Laura Markham understands the potency of why she’s creating content, who she is making it for and how the mix of content captures the imagine and all the various ways her audience wants to engage with her. She produces exceptional content for newsletters, her website, for video, radio and this all translates into material for speaking engagements, coaching, eBook sales and teleseminars. It’s a great model to watch and understand how she makes it all work together.