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Content Strategy

Creating influential content

Robert Perry • 3 minutes

Effective content creation relies on having actionable insights from user research.

But then, I would say that – I’m a user researcher.

One of the most important elements of user research is knowing what people pay attention to. Knowing what our audience cares about can make a huge difference to how we plan, create, and manage our content.

Building a picture of who and what might influence our audience helps us to understand their concerns in even more depth – and if we can do this in a way that’s backed up by data, that’s even better. That’s why, as part of the work I’ve been doing for our clients over the past couple of years, I’ve been looking at how to incorporate social media influence into content strategy.

Asking about influence

Using social media influence to help with content creation involves a bit of work, but it’s worth it. And it can be fun, if you like data and cool maps.

The key first step is understanding how networks and influence work in online communities, and how information can spread, whether it’s positive or negative. Learning about the way you are perceived by different communities can help you decide what elements to focus on in your content strategy.

This online influence is difficult to measure. How do decide what behaviour is “influential” in your community? How you know what is relevant to you and your audience? Where might people be finding this influential content? There are so many areas in which we might want to determine our own influence and that of others:

  • Media coverage
  • Niche online communities
  • Our reputation with customers
  • How people compare us to competitors

…the list could be endless.

There’s a lot of information available about using influencer marketing to reach a wider audience – especially for sales or traffic targets – but finding out who those influencers might be for your audience is a trickier prospect.

Mapping the conversation

Once we generate these maps, we use them to examine how online discussions of our chosen topics are developing. We are able to identify important users who influence the direction of a conversation, people who bridge different communities, or clusters of users communicating with each other on related topics.

Unsurprisingly, different topics produce quite varied maps – they can be very detailed or reasonably simple, depending on the timescale covered and the popularity of the topic in question.

Here’s an example of one of the detailed maps – you can see how much is going on in different communities, identify the larger influencers, and spot the more distant clusters that might not be as relevant to the online community you’re targeting.

Taking it forward

From these maps we define a series of different influencer categories that are relevant to our audience, and use these to inform our content development.

These categories are based on the behaviour and activities of the important influencers identified in the analysis of the maps. Each project will have a different range of influencers, but we do see similar categories cropping up across projects.

The kind of categories we find include things such as:

  • Broadcasters – accounts that don’t engage online, but simply post their own content to a wide audience
  • Educators – accounts with large followings, but who also have a desire to share information they find helpful
  • Activists – people with smaller follower bases, who are highly passionate and deeply involved in their chosen topics online
  • Experts – recognised and respected commentators in their fields, who can offer a voice of experience to a discussion

There are many more different types, depending on what kind of topic and discussions we look at. We find that different influencer types use content in specific ways – some focus on providing factual, informative content, where others like to provoke an emotional response. This information helps us think about how best to create our own content to appeal to these influencers’ audiences.

Each category we identify will be appropriate for different content aims and objectives. One or more of the categories could be an important aid in producing effective content. Which categories these are needs to be established early on, and the content planned accordingly.

If content is about raising awareness among the general public for a specific short-term goal, it should be written for accounts with large followings which will encourage wider sharing, such as Broadcasters and Educators. On the other hand, if the objective is to build a sustainable audience around a specific topic, we might want to have Activists and Experts in mind.

Sometimes the online influencers we find might be content creators in their own right – a vlogger, an academic researcher, or a journalist. This offers a perfect opportunity to collaborate with – and learn from – someone who really resonates with our audience.

Knowing which type of influencer – and in turn, their audience – might respond to a piece of content helps us decide how best to develop it.

During content planning, this knowledge of audience influencers can be used to:

  • Generate topics for content
  • Plan content to target specific sub-communities
  • Create “archive or maintain” criteria for a content audit
  • Incorporate relevant emotion into content

We can add our understanding of these influencers to our wider audience knowledge, and we’ll have thoroughly robust research base for our content strategy.

If you want to hear more about the concept of influence mapping and how it should inform content strategy, I’ll be talking about just that at ContentEd 2018 in London this June – and GatherContent will be there supporting us.

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About the Author

Robert Perry

Head of Research, Pickle Jar Communications

Robert is Head of Research at UK-based content strategy consultancy Pickle Jar Communications. He primarily works on behalf of clients in the education and charity sectors, where he is responsible for all aspects of information-gathering, audience research, user testing, and general data geekery. He’s worked on projects for King’s College London, UCL, Goldsmith’s, and the Open University. He can sometimes be found talking about research, user experience, and content measurement at conferences in the UK and elsewhere.

Before joining Pickle Jar, Robert worked on content creation and digital communications in the aviation industry. You can find him on Twitter @Pez_Sez.

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