The Content Corner: Supporting Your Content

Jul 27, 2015
Magnifying glass over the word content in white text.

This column revolves mostly around content creation and strategy, but an overlooked part of the content lifecycle is helping people find your content. Your content is made to be seen and without planning for promotion, it may never be found. The methods available to you may vary (wildly) at your agency, so remember your mileage may vary.

So Many Options

Within the U.S. Courts, a plan is indispenable just to navigate the myriad communication options available, both “print” and digital (I use print in quotes because generally these days a print layout will only be presented in PDF form.

These print options typically include a wide number of newsletters that are circulated on a monthly or bi-monthly or quarterly or whenever-we-get-around-to-it basis. Based on experience, newsletter audiences can be narrowly defined not only by agency or office, but also by areas of expertise such as human resources. If your content is of specific interest to an audience, ask around and see if they have a newsletter and how often it actually gets delivered.

Deadlines and Word Limits
Calendar on tablet computer

Delivery is important, but many communications have their own editorial calendar and schedule (and many times it may be a complete mystery to the entire agency). It may take preparation on your part or a quick turnaround of an article or blurb to meet another publication’s deadline.

Most also have a word limit due to space and layouts. These word counts can be a blessing or a curse, depending on whether they require more or less writing. For example, you already have a 250 word summary ready, but the publication you want to be featured in requires any submission to be at least 500 words. Who is going to double the size of that summary, and how soon can it be done? Any time you are dealing with time and space limits, talk to whoever is in charge of editorial and get these deadlines into your plan as quickly as possible.

Time and Space

Any agency with workers distributed across the country also has to consider both time and space when promoting certain location-specific events. The content you generate needs to take this into consideration especially if you are asking for registration (Web or in-person). You may need to plan for the creation of additional content that is customized for various audiences, such as promoting different aspects of a single piece of content to different constituencies. This takes additional time to identify all the various audiences and then determine how to craft content that might resonate.

For a recent Knowledge Seminar, we needed to create two complete sets of content based upon whether the audience was located in Washington, D.C., or throughout the rest of the country. One set of content focused on encouraging staff to attend the event live, while the other encouraged signing up for a live stream of the event. Two sets of Web pages, two emails, two distinct call-to-action requests were needed for one event. We also had to balance concerns about having the live stream option cannibalize our live audience (bodies in chairs are still an important indicator of a program’s success).

In time, we may be able to leverage APIs and geolocation (as the USDA and other agencies have with mobile apps) to help limit the content creation overhead. But for now, this is another aspect of the planning involved when promoting location-specific content events.

Timing Could Be Everything

Advanced planning is also a great way to respond to and address any particular promotion of your content that might need to be done “out of cycle.” Most government agencies have specific routines and schedules for communications. In my experience, several communication channels also involve a lengthy approval process that can at times seem akin to a Japanese game show. I try and leave myself 3 -4 weeks of slack, especially dealing with communications that will require director-level approval. Sometimes even more time is required, depending on travel schedules or other communications that are already in the queue.

Crowd scene at beach and boardwalk

One of the most important things to do is reach out to those in your agency who will know and control the timing of these communications so you can plan it into your schedule. Commonly, these functions are handled by your public affairs office. If you don’t already have a good working relationship with your public affairs office, I strongly suggest you cultivate one. As someone who works outside my public affairs office but on similar projects, having that strong rapport is frequently critical to the success of our content promotion efforts.

I also prefer to increase the messaging and promotion depending on whether the content is time-sensitive, such as for an event or a trending topic. While being careful to not go beyond the bounds of good email etiquette, gentle reminder emails or the promotion of complementary content can actually be appreciated by the audience and enhance their experience.

Help Them Help You

One of the more effective things you can do to support the content you post is to help people that have found your content find more of the same in the future. That is a really complicated way to describe email subscriptions, but email remains a very effective communication tool.

As with many other agencies, we leverage email by adding subscription boxes or links within our content. The hope is that the user liked what they came to read so much that they want to get more of it in the future.

The second part of this method involves making communication to these interested subscribers a regular part of your content production process as well. But don’t violate what I think of as the pact you agree to when they sign up:

  • Don’t give them things they don’t want
  • Don’t email them too much
  • Keep the content close to the original content and what they expect

Don’t Forget Social Media

Since the early days of Web pages and content, it was very clear that the “build it and they will come” strategy never worked. You have to use the various tools available at your agency, and beyond, to help as many people as possible find your content.

These tools also include social media, especially when considering external or public content. DigitalGov has great resources on social media promotion and using it to increase awareness of your content. The success of an NIH healthy aging Twitter chat is a great example of leveraging the power of social media to promote a topic and your relevant content.

Just as with developing an editorial calendar and using content pillars{.markup–anchor.markup–p-anchor}, you should also have a plan in place to support new content, especially if it is event-driven or time-sensitive.You’ve just finished reading the latest article from our Monday column, The Content Corner. This column focuses on helping solve the main content issues facing federal digital professionals, including producing enough content and making that content engaging.