A good deal of our content is inspired by our experiences consulting with clients and the challenges they face growing their brands and getting their message out. I'm sorry to say that, while many of our clients have also suffered through similar issues to those I'm listing in this article, these examples come from our own experience. We're a social media consultancy, and we've made all of these mistakes.
The positive of this is that having made these mistakes, we've also learned how to address them, and we (usually) don't make them again. In this article I'm going to share three common mistakes social media managers and teams make, and small changes you can implement in your process to will help fix them.
1. Publishing or curating content when fatigued
The social media universe doesn't sleep. Many times brands have audiences that span multiple time zones, and many times those audiences are hungry for content. So you create content to publish, and you curate to make sure content is going out on your channels at different times. This is a fact of life for social media managers, and for many this is an end of day task that often gets pushed farther into the evening when other issues and deliverables take priority.
Publishing content when fatigued can cause problems that range from embarrassing to severe. When you're tired, you might do any of the following:
- Fail to attribute content
- Attribute a curated article to the wrong person
- Include a bad or incorrect link in a post
- Say something that's inaccurate about a topic or article
- Say something that's offensive
Improper attribution is generally a small thing, as many of us understand mistakes happen, but, you still need to take time to correct it. Including a bad link is more problematic, as you may never hear about it. You may just wonder, two weeks later, why your latest blog post has only gotten a third of your average hits. If you're lucky, someone will tell you a link is bad, but more often, people just move on.
If you say something inaccurate, you may have to correct yourself. If you say something offensive, the problems could be much bigger. It's easier than you might think for well intentioned people to be offensive. If you're publishing a post about new recipes and think the title "10 Killer Holiday Recipes" works, and you accompany that post with a picture of a firearm, that may be perfectly fine. If you've been working to finish a project, haven't seen the news, and are too fatigued to care, that headline and image may cause real problems if, for example, a shooting has been in the news.
How to fix it
Don't publish or curate content when you're tired, it really is that simple. Block out time on the days you publish or curate, time during normal work hours, and make that a hard stop for other tasks. We curate at the end of the day at 4:00 PM. Our social media managers can do it earlier if they like, but they need to be done by 5:00 PM. Adding that requirement at least helps to guarantee your social media managers will be awake, focused and won't make a silly mistake.
Another thing that can help address the problem is to have a few days worth of content queued up. This means you don't have to curate every day, giving you some flexibility in this task. If there's a project that needs extra hours, then you can skip content publishing and curation for a day. We usually keep two days of content in our queue. Some content managers push back. They say, "Wait, that'll make our content days old and stale." First, good content is still good content a few days later. Do you ever consume content that is over a day old? Second, having content queued up doesn't keep you from adding new content to the mix, you can still go out every day and publish new content. You can move content around in your queue so that time sensitive posts go out sooner rather than later. We recommend that, and we do it ourselves. We keep our queue full, but we curate daily and add time sensitive content to the top of the queue. And guess what, we still have a couple of days of content in the queue and that flexibility if we need it. You should too.
2. Not accepting your content creation limitations
Let's get this out of the way - the first rule of producing content is to produce high quality content. Always prioritize quality over quantity. Your content quality should be comparably high when compared to other material produced in your sector, especially by your competitors - that's how you stand out, how you establish thought leadership, grow fans, and start building relationships.
With that said, there is a limit to the amount of quality content your organization can produce over any given period. That's a fact. It's often a challenge for content managers to figure out, plan, and justify their content production and schedule, there are always a number initiatives that compete for content development time. Organizations usually have general brand awareness content, and may also have thought leadership content. In addition, ongoing campaigns will also require content. Those campaigns can be numerous, and may be related or unrelated. You might be launching new products. You may have industry or corporate news to share. You may have seasonal promotions.
One of the best ways to get this all under control is to use an editorial calendar. You can do this on paper, or use a tool - we use DivvyHQ
and recommend it for larger organizations and teams. We also recommend CoSchedule
for smaller organizations and teams.
An editorial calendar can help in a number of ways. It
can help you visualize your content process, and show you when things are stacking up. It can help you keep content tasks organized so that your content development is sane, and, yes, even fun. Interestingly, you'll note that this paragraph isn't listed as a fix because we've found that implementing an editorial calendar doesn't, in many cases, fix this issue. That's because many content managers use editorial calendars to visualize what they want to achieve
, rather than identifying what they can achieve
. Sometimes adopting an editorial calendar can make things worse because, now that the content manager has a handle on things, they feel they can do more. FYI, understanding how the machine works inside and out does not
increase the machine's output.
How to fix it
First, accept that there is a limit to the amount of quality content you can produce over a given time. This is called the REALITY principle. REALITY doesn't stand for anything, it's a word that represents a fact-based assessment of some aspect of your life. In this case, content development capacity.
Use your previous content publication schedule as a guide - past performance is a great predictor of future behavior. Looking at the content you've successfully created and published over time tells you your content development capacity. Plan your future content production schedule to match your past output. That puts your content engine at capacity. If you wish to increase output, you'll need to add resources.
How do you handle new initiatives and competing priorities? You have to make hard choices. Make it clear to all stakeholders the amount of content your team can produce without adding more capacity so that everyone understands the limits - that may be a hard discussion, but it's a better discussion than the, "Why wasn't my content published when it was supposed to be, and when will it be done?" alternative.
If you need to increase content production, get help. You may be able to find internal resources that can increase your capacity - for example, experts in your company who can author blog posts. Also consider outsourcing - outsourcing content production can give your team the boost it needs to get through converging deadlines. Think through your outsourcing. Consider outsourcing those tasks that take your team the most time to do. For example, many clients find it advantageous to outsource graphic or video creation, social media contests or ad creation and management. Those tasks are difficult and require special knowledge and skills. It may take a lot of time to do those types of tasks internally, but outsourcing them might be cost effective because a consultancy will have more experience in those areas. If you do outsource, your team will have more time to do other things, further increasing your content capacity.
3. Not pulling the plug on bad content
Another issue with content plans and editorial calendars is that sometimes bad ideas get added into the mix, and stay on the plan. No one
intentionally puts a bad idea into the plan, but it can happen. Also, some ideas might be good initially, but turn bad over time. There are lots of ways this can happen, especially if you have longer running campaigns. Here are some example scenarios:
- "Catch all" content ideas: Let's say your new product has three new, big features and a number of little improvements. You schedule four pieces of content - one to cover each big feature, and one to cover all the little improvements. There's a good chance that fourth piece of content is going to be too broad, and a little boring as it doesn't have a single big concept that the audience can grab onto. It shouldn't be its own piece of content. These smaller features should be listed somewhere in the other three content pieces.
- Dissected content topics: A piece of content may start out with four key points in the outline, but one or two of those key points may be so good that they are turned into their own pieces of content, and that might leave the original piece too weak to publish. Some of it will rehash the other content, while the rest isn't strong enough to stand on its own.
- Content requests you're not passionate about: Content managers get a lot of requests for content from both internal and external sources. A product manager might request a post on a new product feature, for example, a member of your online community might ask for use cases for a product or service. But not all content ideas are worth pursuing. Each content request should be reviewed to see if the content that will come from it is really going to be value, relevant, and compelling.
All of these situations can lead to bad content being produced and there are two problems with bad content. First, it isn't compelling to your audience, and won't generate the buzz or traffic that good content does. Second, it wastes time and effort that could have been used to create better content.
How to fix it
Everything can't be a winner, but making some adjustments to your content development process can help keep bad content from getting into the content plan in the first place:
- Set clear goals for content. Ask some standard questions as soon as a content idea is proposed and document the answers in order to validate that that idea is valid and relevant at each review point in the content production process. The questions to ask are:
- What is the content supposed to achieve?
- What aspect of our brand / product / service is it making people aware of?
- What thought leadership are we demonstrating?
- What business goal is it helping accomplish?
- Create content that is part of a series at the same time. I you're planning a series of content around a topic or product, after setting goals for each piece and the series overall, treat the series as a single piece of content with regards to your process. Have the first drafts created at the same time, have them reviewed together, revised together, copy edited together, and so on. This will help prevent content dissection. It'll also help content authors and reviewers stay in touch with the original goals set out for the content. Goals and messages won't "drift" in long pauses between finishing the first piece of content and starting the next.
- Always consider what type of content will best address requests, and which team is best suited to generate the content. A product manager may love the blog posts your team produces, and may request that you blog about her new product features. Those features, however, might not be well suited to a blog post because there isn't a compelling theme to hold them together. That's okay, but consider other content types to solve the problem - whereas a blog post won't work, an infographic might be great. In another example, if a community member is requesting case studies, you should consider the best way to engage the community with those case studies. Perhaps a blog post isn't the best choice, whereas a video series, or Twitter chat lead by experts at your company who can walk through a range of product usage scenarios might be very engaging.
Producing quality content takes a lot of thought, time, and effort. There are a number of things that can go wrong, and there are always competing priorities. As a content manager, a thoughtful, well understood, reality based approach that takes content goals, content development times, content types, and available resources into account will help you avoid some common content mistakes.
Over to you
If you have stories to share about content mistakes you've made, or steps you've added your content process to solve problems, let me know in the comments.