In this first monthly book review I talk about Content Inc., a book about marketing in an age where digital content is king. Despite being a business book I show how its lessons can be used by research communicators looking to develop a large and engaged audience around their specialist field.
The world is awash with digital content and the public keeps consuming it at a staggering rate.
Wherever there’s a hobby, a problem to be solved, a fetish or a knowledge niche you can find a YouTube channel, podcast, blog or e-newsletter that's been designed to target just that community.
Content Inc., written by marketing expert Joe Pulizzi, was not devised with research communication in mind. It is a business book with business goals - to help businesses and entrepreneurs develop a marketing strategy based on the production of highly valuable digital content in order to build a large, committed audience, which can then be monetised.
So, what's it got to do with research communication?
Even though the aims of Content Inc. are purely commercial many of its lessons are highly relevant to anybody who wants to get ahead in the world of research communication, whether financial profit is their goal or not.
The same tactics that Pulizzi encourages businesses to employ in order to build a profitable audience can be used by research communicators to grow a community of people who are engaged with a particular issue.
So, what is a Content Inc. strategy?
Here are some of the key steps:
First you need to find your ‘Sweet Spot’ - this refers to the content area that your comms strategy will be based around. Pulizzi describes it as the ‘intersection of an area of knowledge and a passion area.'
Once you’ve chosen your sweet spot you’ll need to work out the “tilt” or differentiation factor to find an area of little to no competition. This is essential, as you don't want to waste your time churning out the same stuff that others are already doing.
Building the Base - this is done by consistently generating valuable content through one key channel (blog, podcast, YouTube etc.) Pulizzi only suggests diversifying from that one channel once the base has been solidly built, in order to avoid spreading yourself too thin.
Harvesting Audience - this is all about converting one time readers/listeners/watchers to ongoing subscribers. Web traffic, Pulizzi notes, is a meaningless metric. The number one metric in building an audience is the subscriber.
Diversification - once you’ve got a loyal and growing audience you can diversify from your main content stream. Pulizzi likens it to an octopus with each arm being a different content channel. The arms collectively wrap your readers in and make them come back for more.
The final step is monetization, which might not be relevant to research communicators, whose ultimate goal is often non-commercial, but the way in which Pulizzi suggests content marketers can make money from their audiences includes services like consulting, events and workshops, which might well be an ambition of research communicators, paid or otherwise.
The author breaks down each of these phases in subsequent chapters, guiding the reader through the process, using plenty of case studies to demonstrate the power of content marketing strategies. He also gives advice on how to come up with ideas, choose the right platform, and collaborate with other content marketers to reach new audiences.
With the digital revolution continuing apace the appetite for valuable content is only likely to grow, and if you want to make your voice heard you'll need a solid strategy for content creation. This book can help you.
Peter Barker runs Orinoco Communications, a digital communications company specialising in the communication of research in science, the social sciences and the humanities.