Inbound Marketing revolves around providing quality content at the right time at the right place to your prospects, customers and promoters. But in order to do this you need a plan – a Content Plan ensures that you know what you’re going to say, when you’re going to say it, and who is going to hear it.
Here is how to create a great Content Plan in 5 Steps.
Step 1 – Plan
Of course you need to plan your Content Plan! Don’t laugh, but in a HubSpot survey, a staggering 56% of survey respondents said they were doing content marketing without a plan. A “plan” means different things to different people. Maybe you “plan on creating your plan after you do X, Y and Z”. Or you plan your content but you’re missing some key components such as the promotion channels. Either way, in order to create a great Content Plan the first thing you need to do is to write it all down.
Excel or Google Sheets is usually a great way to organize your plan – but the key is to use a tool that will keep things organized and can be easily shared with your team. You can also use Inbound Marketing tools like HubSpot or another Content Marketing platform.
The key components of a Content Plan include:
1) Buyer Personas Align your content around your Buyer Personas. If you haven’t already done so, before you start creating a Content Plan go back and develop your Buyer Personas. Without good Buyer Personas it will be impossible to create an effective Content Plan.
2) Buyer Journey Target your content to a specific part of your Persona’s Buyer’s Journey. Your content needs to be able to speak to your Personas in the language they need to hear, based on where they are in their Buyer Journey.
3) Content Goals What are your goals for each piece of content? Is it to draw in new “strangers”/visitors? Convert a Lead into a Qualified Lead? Each piece of content should have a specific purpose.
4) Content Promotion How will the content be promoted? Writing great content is the “easy” part. Making sure your content is promoted and shared in the correct channels will ensure that you reach your goals.
5) Topics What topics are most important to your Buyer Personas? What tone should you take? Can you mix it up with serious and fun posts? What should the ratio of fun-to-serious be?
6) Contributors: Who will be writing a specific piece of content? Sales? Marketing? The CEO?
7) Format: Don’t forget to track what format the content should take. Is it an eBook? White paper? Infographic? Tracking this in your content plan will help you see where your gaps are – do you not have enough technical specs? Do you need to add some easy-to-digest infographics?
8) Available Creative Elements: Do you have stock photos at the ready? Is there a White Paper that could be referenced when creating an Infographic? Make sure you include whatever reference materials and creative assets you have on hand, especially if more than one person is going to be using your Content Plan.
9) Timelines: Perhaps the most important piece of your plan is the dreaded deadline. Inbound Marketing requires a constant stream of relevant, timely and educational content. If there is a contributor that keeps blowing you off, talk to them and find out why. If they’re just too busy or they feel uncomfortable writing, find someone else that has time and would love to write some great content. If you REALLY need the content to come from a specific person, find a ghostwriter and then get the other person to sign off on what the ghostwriter wrote.
Step 2 – Create
Now that you have your topics and contributors lined up, it’s time to start creating that content! Remember when you’re creating content – or you have other members creating content – it’s important to keep a consistent voice for your company/brand.
You should also make sure that you have a consistent look and feel for any imagery you create – infographics, videos, memes – you need to make sure that you create clear instructions for your content team to follow so that when content is created it’s consistent with your brand’s/company’s image.
For example, if you’re an Accounting firm, you want to make sure that you instill trust and confidence in your brand. That doesn’t mean you can’t be funny from time to time, but you should always keep your Buyer Personas in mind. Just because you’re feeling goofy on a Friday doesn’t mean you post a meme of someone doing a keg stand – it probably wouldn’t go over well with current and prospective clients. But a series of jokes about Accountants that show your clients that you don’t take yourselves TOO seriously – that might be perfectly fine (again, consult your Buyer Personas first).
Here is a great list of Types of Content (thanks Hubspot!)
Step 3 – Distribute
Whew! All of the content is written and posted to your site – all done. Not so fast. Sure you have great content, but great content does nothing when it’s simply posted to your site. The most important step in a Content Plan is DISTRIBUTION.
Distribution involves a proactive approach to getting your content out to the people that need it – and the people that will promote it the best.
Here are some great ways to distribute your content.
1) Social Media – Of course it’s important to distribute your content through the correct targeted social media accounts. When you post, make sure you post in a way that is best suited for the social media platform you’re using. For example, don’t use hashtags on Facebook, but make sure you DEFINITELY use hashtags on Twitter.
2) Influencers – Reach out to Influencers and ask them to help promote some of your content. Ideally you should develop a relationship in advance with Influencers that are likely to also speak to your various Buyer Personas. Approaching an Influencer in advance of publication of new content and asking for their opinion is a great way to engage them.
3) Employees – Often overlooked, using your employees to promote your content is another great way to distribute your content. Discouraging your employees from talking about what’s going on at work – new products, fun team building, new office space, new employees – is not the best way to encourage buy-in for holistic Inbound Marketing. But it’s always smart to set parameters when it comes to what your employees can share online – have clearly written instructions so that everyone is on the same page. But after you give them the basic guidelines, let them share as they wish (with some reminders along the way like “Hey, this would be great to share with your personal networks!”).
4) Promoters – Promoters are existing or former Customers that LOVE you and LOVE to talk about how great you are. Sure, you can tell people how great you are, but it’s much more powerful to have someone else do it for you. If you have some content to share with your Promoters, just reach out, say hi, and send them the content. You don’t need to ask them to share – they LOVE you, they’ll share without asking! (Note: This over-sharing isn’t guaranteed, but you shouldn’t badger and beg your Promoters to share your content. If you write relevant content that is educational and makes people look smart or funny or in-the-know for sharing it, they will share it.)
Step 4 – Analyze
Analysis is so key to successful Inbound Marketing that it’s kind of a given that you’re analyzing everything every step of the way.
Is content being shared by the right people?
What social media channels are responding to what content types?
What types of content are bringing in the best Qualified Leads?
What types of content are bringing in the leads that result in a Sale?
Where are your content gaps?
Tracking all of this (and more) will help you refine your Content Plan. Your Content Plan should be a living document – this is not something you set at the beginning of the year and then let it go until you plan for the next year. Depending upon the size of your organization you may want to revisit your Content Plan at LEAST monthly, and ideally every two weeks or so. Social media shares usually happen quickly (although you may occasionally see a bump if an Influencer picks up some of your content well into its cycle) so you need to keep an eye on metrics constantly so that you can respond as needed.
Step 5 – Repeat
Find something that’s working? Do MORE of it! That’s what Step 4 is for – letting you know what is resonating with your Buyer Personas. Once you know what’s working you can get a better picture of how you should modify your Content Plan going forward.
Do you have any tips for creating a great Content Plan? Want to admit you were burned by not having a Content Plan and you vow to never do anything without one again? Share them in the comments below.