We're all looking for ways to improve our writing. For us content marketers, this means creating content that speaks to our target buyers, and ideally generates leads.
The key problem: we only have a limited amount of information about our customers and prospects. Knowing how to really speak to them can be a struggle.
But it doesn't have to be - in this post, I'm going to show you how to learn more about your customers, get new ideas from them, and even involve them in the content process. The result should be a content strategy that appeals to your buyers throughout their journey with you.
But before we proceed, we'd better get something straight.
What is social listening?
Also known as "social media monitoring," this is the practice of actively tracking social posts and comments.
For this to be done well, two things are important:
- It needs to be precise
- It must be in real time
Why precise? If you can't narrow down your listening to locate results you can actually use, you may as well not track social media at all. There are too many conversations online, and you'll end up ignoring them all.
Think about all those Google Alerts you've set up in the past. Chances are, you quickly gave up on them because they weren't really relevant, and there were just too many notifications.
And social listening needs to be immediate if you want your content to break through. If you're not listening in real time, you'll always be too late to have a real impact.
Get to know your audience better
Content creators know how important this is. You spend significant time building detailed personas to help visualize who you're writing for - and while these are incredibly valuable, the information is often based on your "best guess," or what your sales team has told you.
Instead, get to know your readers by seeing what they say online.
Look at the questions they ask, the topics they discuss, and what they seem to value. Combine this with information from more traditional methods like interviewing customers and talking to your sales team to build buyer personas and nail down the audience for your content.
And remember, you're trying to build a complete content strategy. It's not just about generating leads and handing them off to the next person - the better you understand your prospects and customers, the easier it is to create content that speaks to them throughout the buyer's journey.
Get to know your customers better, and it'll be easier to write content that speaks to them.
See what industry influencers talk about
If you want to produce the best content, it pays to learn from the best. And even if you already think you know all the most important influencers in your field, it doesn't hurt to watch out for new ones.
And naturally, when you find interesting influencers that suit your brand, you'll be able to reach out and forge a relationship. When they share your content with your audience, you increase your reach and get your message out even further.
So this guidance comes in two stages - first, find influencers that you can learn from, and improve your own content.
Second, reach out and try to work with those influencers. By monitoring conversations around your industry, both of these are easy to achieve.
Find user-generated content
Track your brand online, and you'll see people talking about you. That's the whole point - and when you find positive reviews and happy comments on social media, these become content quick wins.
SEVENFRIDAY sources photos of its watches directly from Instagram, then uses these on its webstore, which is cheaper and more authentic than catalog shots.
Instagram comments and Twitter posts can easily be incorporated into blog posts, and they help to lend credibility to your products. We all know that kind words from a customer are far more likely to be persuasive than your own recommendations. Buyers trust other buyers' opinions, since they're not paid to give them.
Even better, some of these happy customers may be influencers in their own right. Also known as brand advocates, these power users can add both credibility to your brand and help to increase awareness. When they can genuinely tell their large audience how much they love your product, that's gold.
At my company, Mention, we monitor a few key marketing terms in order to track the kinds of challenges that people face.
For example, monitoring our own industry shows us that everyone’s talking about influencer marketing - publishers are writing about it and readers are sharing it. So at Mention, we’re now talking about influencer marketing, too.
We look for growing trends in the marketing space (Google Trends is another good tool for this), then identify specific issues that people have. Which brings me to my next point...
Solve the right problems
The best content marketing provides advice and thought leadership. To do this well, you first need to know the problems people have, and then offer content solves them.
As per the example above, media monitoring lets you track specific phrases and see what people are saying. But even better, you can track negative words like "problem," "struggle," and "difficult," alongside your core offering.
For example, a ride-share company (pick your favorite) might look for people using these words along with "taxi," "driving," or "commute." They'll find people complaining about how much they hate taxis, and the specific reasons they give. They can then build a content program around how their service doesn't have the same issues.
Janet Choi from Customer.io does the same for keywords related to their business: "email marketing" and "lifecycle emails." They saw an increase in conversations about spam filters (something relevant to email providers), and were able to create specific content to answer that need.
Hopefully, your business exists to help others solve at least one particular issue. The more you can learn about your customers' problems, the better you can achieve this goal.
Examine your competitors
You’re not just competing with other brands for paying customers. You’re also competing with them for views, shares, rankings, and backlinks.
Your content can’t just be good, it also needs to be better than theirs. Media monitoring helps you understand what they’re producing, and how it’s performing.
Your monitoring tool will show you their highest performing content, and where it's most successful. That could mean social media platforms you're not using, content types you've ignored, or subjects you haven't written about.
You'll also be able to watch out for their big misses. When they take a gamble, you'll be able to watch as it falls short.
Competitors - by definition - attract the same buyers as your business. So this is another way to improve and refocus your content to grow even quicker.
Start paying more attention to social
Of course you or someone you work with already tracks the company Twitter and Facebook accounts. Of course you find and respond to comments quickly, and sometimes you start open conversations with your audience.
But social media can be so much more. There's a wealth of thoughts, opinions, and unsolved problems sent out into the world every single day. Whether they're about you, your competitors, or even wider issues in the business world, these nuggets can help you create and deliver content that speaks perfectly to your customers.
It doesn't take much effort, and it'll go a long way towards building a more targeted and appealing content strategy.