Does your team desperately need a content strategy? Here’s how we built one from scratch.

I was recently writing a letter of recommendation for a former colleague. While doing so, I started to reflect on how we built a content strategy for a rapidly growing brand with an equally quickly growing marketing team.

When I joined the team, marketing was made up of product marketing, digital marketing, email marketing, acquisition marketing, and separate advertising and brand departments. I was hired to build out a social media strategy and hire a team that could implement it. I ultimately ended up being responsible for social media and our entire content strategy.

When I started with the team all of the external marketing communications were driven by the individual marketing teams’ goals and campaign timelines. As a result, the expectation was that the digital team would respond to the request and push out whatever content was provided. It was clear if we wanted an actual social strategy, we needed reshape the way the team worked.

This was the organizational structure with a centralized digital and social team. The marketing partners made requests to publish content based on their individual objectives, making it hard for us tell a cohesive story and plan ahead in order to properly allocate resources.

Here’s the thing: If you want to find out if your marketing efforts add up to a cohesive story look at your brand’s social channels. You can (kind of) get away with a bunch of unrelated product updates and messages in email, since they are individual pieces of content. On the other hand, you will quickly notice if a team is not unified when everything comes together on social media — Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.

If we wanted to reach our social media goals, we could not be the team that just manages a calendar of everyone’s requests. We needed an overarching content strategy to help us determine what we would talk about, when and where.

So, how do you evolve a process that “works” and implement a unified content strategy that aligns with the broader business goals and objectives?

Start with Social Listening
We started by answering some basic questions. What does our audience talk about? Specifically, what phrases, events, people are they talking about?

To figure this out, we conducted a two-month audit of what was being said on social within our industry, what content was resonating and then analyzed our findings. By listening to our customers, we saved time, money and avoided generic 3rd party research.

Of course, not everything they talked about made sense for our brand, but it gave us a deeper understanding of what our audience cares about and some creative ways to make the things we needed to talk about relevant.

Define What Needs to be Accomplished
After gathering customer insights through social listening, next we turned to internal customer insights. I needed to know what business goals we needed to support.

Following the audit, I interviewed my marketing partners at the company. This allowed me to pull together a high-level overview of what we were trying to accomplish and get buy in on a content strategy that would both break through the noise and meet our business goals.

Build Channel Specific Strategies
Once we defined the goals, we developed 7 content buckets based on the client needs that would become the framework for our entire content strategy. All of our content should align to one of these buckets while ensuring it iscontextual and relevant for different channels.

Having one overarching strategy would mean missed opportunities to differentiate our brand and inevitably lead to disagreements down the road when someone insisted their campaign needed to be published on every channel, despite how little sense it made. Instead, each channel had a different goal, tactics, tone of voice and content focuses based on what made the most sense.

For example, we used Twitter primarily for conversation. We had an active and growing following there, so instead of pushing out a bunch of links to drive traffic, we chose to focus on engagement to demonstrate our support of the industry and deepen our relationship with clients and prospects.

Align on Everything as Much as Possible
Communicate, communicate, communicate. You need to have a clear message for what you’re putting out In order for this to be successful you need the team to align as much as possible. To do that we focused on training.

Each marketing department went through training where we walked them through the findings from our analysis, best practices, and the overarching content strategy. By taking the time to walk through the research and answer questions we started to build trust with our internal partners. Also, I didn’t have the authority to require these changes, I needed the team to see the value in having a unified content strategy.

The content strategy became an umbrella for the messaging across our digital channels. Having an overarching story allowed us to highlight the products and services we offered to support our larger objectives, and provided us with a line of sight into about 90% of the upcoming work so we could properly allocate resources and budget.

Establish Monthly Content Planning Sessions
Once we had buy in, we could get to work planning and implementing our new strategy. Our content process was simple:

  1. Monthly Brief + Brainstorm: upcoming initiatives, campaigns, goals, events, themes, etc.
  • Not only was gathering ideas via social listening a part of how we developed the initial content strategy, it also became part of the monthly planning process, as well timely opportunities we could not only respond to on social but share with the sales team as they reached out to prospects and clients.

2. Monthly Seasonal Network-Specialized Content Plan: Team plans out month with big-picture/timely/trending/cultural/full-circle themes; content needs

  • As a follow up to the brainstorm we scheduled a smaller working session to prioritize and refine all of the idea. The output was a high-level monthly calendar that would be shared to the entire marketing team, PR and our customer service teams so they knew what we’d be communicating.

3. Bi-weekly content review: Every other week the content would be reviewed, approved and scheduled

  • My team partnered with the individual marketing departments and subject matter expertise to write the content and create visuals. This meant any blog post, social posts or campaign content that needed to be created. After it was approved it made its way to the detailed content calendar. This calendar was accessible by anyone who wanted to see it.

4. Check-in content + previous month data: Analyze and repeat

  • We monitored everything in real-time and conducted a larger, monthly analysis of content across all of our channels. We found any more than that and the team couldn’t respond fast enough, except for social media where you must be nimble enough to respond immediately.

Measure Metrics that Matters
Lastly, once we established a strategy, alignment, and a process, we needed to take a deeper look at how we measured success. I wish I could say we did this immediately. To be honest, it took time to get right.

Ultimately, we ended up creating a really disciplined form of goal-based reporting. This meant we only reported on metrics related the goal to eliminate any success theater. For example, if a LinkedIn post’s goal was driving traffic, we would measure success based on click through rates. If this same post happened to get amazing engagement, but no one went to the landing page or signed up then that post was not successful because we did not accomplish the original goal.

In addition, any ah-ha moments or surprise insights would be included in a separate section of the report to capture learnings. Separating out these findings when reporting allowed us to dive deeper into what was actually driving results.

I hope our approach provide you some inspiration! If you’re a fellow Content Strategist, what did you find most helpful or surprising when you started out? I’d love to hear your tips or answer your questions in the comments.

Founder and CEO of Nutshell. On a mission to help expecting parents maximize their parental leave. Bringing empathetic financial expertise to new parents.