In my first post of the year, I confessed my blogging sins and provided some insights around what caused me to blog less the past few years, and what I learned from the process. This posts was the first step in my journey to blog more in 2016.
If you read my post, you know I put some of the blame on not having a clearly-defined editorial strategy. If you’re going to blog, I believe it’s worth taking the time to create an editorial strategy. Doing this will help you maintain focus over time, but also help you to be more successful in your blogging efforts.
About This Two-Part Series
Inspired by my recent reflection and subsequent thinking about where I want to go from here with Journalistics, I’ve written a two-part post on how to create an editorial strategy for your blog. My hope is these posts will help you clarify the strategy for your blog, as well as provide me with a timely excuse to do the same for Journalistics.
In this age of content marketing we’re living in, it seems like every organization is blogging in hopes of capturing some inbound marketing magic (you can thank HubSpot for that). Whether you’re publishing on behalf of an organization or for personal reasons, I suspect many of you don’t have a written strategy for your blog. In survey after survey about content marketing, it’s pretty consistent that 40-60% of organizations don’t have a written content strategy.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of HubSpot – and content marketing, brand journalism, inbound marketing, demand generation and marketing automation. Whatever category your work falls into, these programs are successful because they work. But you will be far more successful on the other side of completing this strategy exercise. If you fall into the group that works off of a written editorial strategy already, these posts will probably tell you what you already know – in which case, I hope you’ll add your thoughts to help our less-fortunate readers.
Over the course of these two posts, I’ll explore this topic in depth, and also providing you with a process you can follow to create your editorial strategy from start to finish.
In this first part, I’m providing some suggestions for existing blogs that either will be creating an editorial strategy for the first time, or rather want to revise their strategy to better reflect their focus in 2016. If you’re just starting out, or you plan to launch a blog later this year, you should skip ahead to Part Two (which I’ll be publishing tomorrow), which will provide the step-by-step process for creating your editorial strategy for the first time.
And with that, let’s jump into “How to Create an Editorial Strategy: Part One”:
Look Back Before Looking Ahead
If you’ve been blogging for a while, you are in a better spot than somebody just starting to blog for their first time. For starters, you probably have an audience already, and know a thing or two about the posts your readers are most interested in so far. As such, you have some data to review as background for formulating your editorial strategy.
From my standpoint, there are two important questions to ask when reviewing your performance to date on your blog:
- Which posts have your readers enjoyed most?
- Which posts have your readers enjoyed least?
For the most-popular posts, how did your readers find these posts? Did they discover them as the result of a Google Search? Did they click through on a link in your email or RSS feed (in other words, they are a subscriber)? Did they simply stop by your blog using your URL (direct traffic – or somebody that knows about you already)?
What action did those readers take after reading your blog? Did they share the post via social media? Did they leave a comment? Was the comment positive, neutral or negative? I’ll assume it wasn’t negative if it was one of your most-popular posts. Did they offer a suggestion or recommendation to make the post better or to help add additional relevant information for readers? Did they link back to your post from their blog? These are all important factors to consider when evaluating the types of content your existing readers enjoy most.
I called out “existing” readers above, because I think it’s important to call out that reviewing historical reader activity isn’t necessarily the formula for defining your editorial strategy moving forward – unless you’re sure your current audience is the audience you’re trying to reach, engage and grow on a regular basis. It’s helpful to know what readers have liked so far, but you may want to focus on content more-aligned to the audiences you’re trying to reach (if this group isn’t already your core audience).
On the posts your readers have enjoyed least, you’re looking for your worst posts. Which posts received the most negative comments? The lowest traffic? The least amount of sharing? These posts represent the types of things you might not want to write about again. This may be exactly the type of content you’ll want to post to reach a different audience – but if your existing audience is your target, consider dropping these types of posts in the future.
As a final note on this set, is there anything you can do to improve the quality of these posts to make them work? Did people not engage with the posts because the headline was confusing or they might have misunderstood the topic? Was the post coherent and well-written, or could a revision improve the quality? Are there additional facts or information you could provide to make the post stronger? Are there any modifications you can make to better fit what readers are searching for on Google and other search engines? Consider these points, along with the feedback you generated from your readers to inform your decisions about future content planning (more on this in Part Two).
Look At Where You Started
Beyond looking at how your content has performed over time, take a look at where you started with the blog. Your early posts are probably the best indicator for what your original strategy for the blog was – whether this was your intention or not. A key point to this exercise is homing in on what your passion or motivation was for starting the blog in the first place. This may help to guide the development of your Vision or Mission in Part Two of this post.
Some Journalistics History
As an example for how looking back at your origins can help inform your strategy moving forward, I’m going to share my Journalistics story – what led me to start the blog in the first place, and what my original intent was when we launched back in 2009. I think this is good background for helping you to understand how looking back at your history can help you home in on where you want to focus moving forward. If you feel like you know this story already, by all means, skip to the next section (it’s a pretty extensive overview).
When I started Journalistics in 2009, I was still actively involved in media relations as a core component of my job heading up marketing for a startup technology company. At the time, there wasn’t a day that went by without some blogger blowing up about the problem of PR spam (off-topic pitches), to the point where PR blacklists were published to help journalists filter out the noise, or high-profile journalists publicly shamed PR professionals who violated the unwritten rules of media relations.
Some might call me old-fashioned when it comes to media relations. I believe the most important skill a media relations professional can have – after being able to write well – is the ability to research and identify the right journalists to pitch a story to. In other words, media relations isn’t knowing how to mass email a generic pitch to as many journalists as possible, hoping for a 0.05% response rate.
It’s about being able to use your brain to answer the question, “Who would be most-interested in this news and want to write about it?” And taking things a step further, “And what additional information could I provide to help the journalist write a more objective, balanced and informative story for readers?” But I digress, that isn’t the purpose of this post – but you get a sense of what motivated me to start the blog in the first place.
The best publicists in the business do their homework to get to know the outlets and journalists they are pitching. They read the stories journalists are writing, and they have a firm understanding of the interests, needs, preferences and pet peeves of every journalist they interact with. They don’t send email blasts – in other words, they don’t “spray and pray” or “smile and dial”. It’s a quality over quantity game – and the person that does their homework will win the game every time.
While I was passionate about sharing my thoughts on media relations – in hopes of converting some of those “PR spammers” into media relations professionals, the journalist in me didn’t think it was fair that PR agencies had so many tools at their disposal to essentially spam journalists, while the journalists had to resort to homegrown defense systems in order to stop the interruption and get their work done.
This led me to want to create a product that would help journalists find great sources for the stories they were working on, while providing filters and related tools to sift through all the off-topic pitches to find the good stuff. While the product ultimately failed, it’s relevant for the editorial strategy conversation, because one of my goals for Journalistics early on was to continue to build an audience of journalists and public relations professionals who might be open to using the product (simply put, if there were an editorial strategy in place at the time, this would have been one of the goals).
This was the foundation that led Journalistics’ editorial strategy from 2009-2011. While I didn’t realize it at the time, we did have a strategy – it just wasn’t defined or shared explicitly with readers. I wrote many different posts that addressed various aspects of the topics I touched on above. This was the stuff people tuned in to read, and the posts that made Journalistics popular with the public relations and journalist crowds early on. Over time, I started to write about these topics less – and didn’t realize we were transitioning from one strategy to the next.
When Your Strategy Changes
I didn’t consciously change our strategy for Journalistics, but it happened over the course of each new blog post from 2012 through today. Again, if I had defined our editorial strategy in the beginning, this shift would have been more obvious, and I would have probably provided our readers with an update before now.
Why did my focus change? My work changed – and therefore, the inputs that were driving my thoughts and inspiring my ideas for blog topics. I worked in various roles over the past couple of years. At time I was more focused on managing demand generation programs or search engine marketing campaigns. At other times, I was managing all marketing operations for startup technology ventures. And yet in other roles, I was leading digital strategy and campaign execution on the agency side of the house for large, global brands.
How is this relevant? In each role, I was focusing my efforts in areas much different than the traditional PR and journalism topics I was writing about for Journalistics in the beginning. While the topics were still relevant for anyone working in communications roles, the content and context shifted significantly.
It all felt natural for me, as I continued to write about things that were on my mind related to the work I was doing at the time. Taking a step back and looking at things from 10,000 feet, it’s easy to see that the editorial focus had shifted, and readers didn’t necessarily know what was going on.
Hitting the Reset Button
If your strategy for your blog has changed, it’s time to revisit and revise. As I enter the eighth year with Journalistics, I have much different ideas around what I want to write about – and how I plan to provide value for our readers moving forward. If I don’t share these thoughts with you, you’ll be left to figure it out on your own – or you’ll be lost – and I certainly don’t want that.
I have clear ideas around the vision, mission and purpose for the blog moving forward. I’m using that clarity to define some goals, and to translate the overall strategy into specific ideas for regular topics I plan to write about (which I’ll manage via an editorial calendar). This is the result of the process I map out in Part Two of this post.
The big lesson here is that I achieved my original goals for Journalistics – whether the strategy was clearly defined or not. At the same time, I am confident I would have been more successful with all that effort had I first developed a strategy and planned my work accordingly to achieve those goals.
There’s nothing we can do to change the past, but the future is fair game for anything. To this point, Part Two of this post provides a step-by-step process for developing the over-arching strategy for your blog, along with the executional components for putting that strategy into practice. I’m following the same guidance and advice I’m sharing through these two posts, and I look forward to going through this process together.
Thanks for reading “How to Create Your Editorial Strategy: Part One.” Before I get into Part Two of the post, let me know if you have any thoughts or suggestions related to developing or revising your strategy for an existing blog.
(Image Credit: “the number 1” by Timothy Krause / Flickr Creative Commons)