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The Content Corner: Branches—Stick to the Vine

Apr 18, 2016

A branch that does not stick to its source of nutrition will wither away and die. Just ask anyone who has received a bouquet of beautiful flowers about how long they really last. In the same way, as communicators we must stay connected to our audience, or we risk the chance of fading away into insignificance.

Rows of vines at a Napa Valley vineyard in spring

First-time visitors are great, but return visitors are your loyal following. In the argument of whether to target your current audience or seek to grow more, why not stick your focus on equipping your current audience with ways and incentives to share your content? By drawing them in with excellent content, design, and follow-up methods, you can turn your blog readers into action takers.

This is a fact that cannot be overstated, regardless of platform (blog, social media, etc.). As we look to build our audience, we must consider several factors to keep the current audience engaged and interested in why they began paying attention to us in the first place.

  1. Develop a plan: Determining your target audience is goal number one in building and keeping an interested and engaged audience. Whether jumping into a brand new venture, or cleaning up someone else’s [content] mess, it’s never too late to make this plan.

  2. Be genuine: You [your agency] are who you are. What’s the value in jumping onto every trending hashtag, just for a few potential views? (An honest question each agency should ask themselves, I realize there could—and should—be two sides to this). Content these days takes the form of many shapes. As government communicators, the type of content you share is closely related to what you are offering as an agency—the types of services you provide. In other words, you educate people so that they know, like, and trust you enough to hear your message and take action.

  3. Be a risk taker: With the above in mind, we still want to be spontaneous. The Internet can often just sound like LOUD NOISES … with everyone mindlessly scrolling through their social feeds. Don’t be afraid to say the message you wanted to say a different way. The National Weather Service (NWS) did a great job of this (with pun intended) as did the Department of Energy (DOE). To spur greater public dialogue about the future of solar energy, DOE “remixed their content,” displaying their projects on an interactive map as part of the SunShot Initiative.

  4. Have a short memory: Getting stuck on the first mistake can deter future successes. Keep looking ahead, and remember to stick to the plan you’ve laid out for connecting with your audience (with tweaks here and there based on your results). (Football reference below, at the risk of turning off many readers—good NFL cornerbacks are said to have short memories so they can move on after a bad play—like this guy).

  5. Stay focused: As Haley Van Dyck from the U.S. Digital Service said at a recent TEDTalk: “We care about making government work better, because it’s the only one we’ve got.” Every piece of content we create should be working towards this goal, improving services for our audience. At first glance, visitors may not be 100% on board with your content. However, they might come back if they are offered something in return.

  6. Be inclusive: We all get frustrated when we experience slow load times or don’t find the content we expect when clicking on a link. But what if you have vision impairment and you click on a link from your favorite social media channel, only to find that the landing page is full of images that are not readable by screen readers? Staying 508 compliant will create an accessible user experience.

Implementing a few of these tips should help as you seek to draw and keep your audience. What interesting things has your agency done to foster an environment that keeps your audience?

A close-up on Japanese cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C.

In a future post, I’ll discuss some strategies to keep content alive, so like the aforementioned branches and our beloved D.C.-area Cherry Blossoms, it doesn’t just wither and die.

I’m no expert at this stuff; I simply want to provide my perspective. Us content creators at FirstNet are considering the same things, and trial and error is a huge part of that. Thanks for reading and I look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas.

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.