Zzzzz… Has your audience stopped listening?
Do you spend most of your time wishing for the days of old, where your audience waited with baited breath to hear what would come out of your camp next? Are you sad to see engagement with your content slowly dwindling, like a B-list movie stars’ career?
Then you probably want to get your mojo back. Desperately.
Here’s how you get it.
Ask: “What Went Wrong?”
To reinvigorate your once-captive audience, you need to know why you lost them in the first place, lest the mistakes of the past repeat themselves. It’s time to stare into the coffee rings on your desk and ask the question you’ve been too scared to say out loud: “Why did we lose them?”.
This might make a nice soundtrack while you read this section:
You may be tempted to rattle off a completely unhelpful answer like, “Our content got boring.” Don’t. That doesn’t actually mean anything, and will lead you to do stupid things like throw a three-ring content circus with whatever topics sound the most exciting. Yuck.
You need to know what made your content boring. In my experience, it’s any one (or several) of the following:
1. The audience no longer relates
We consume content that is relevant to our needs and interests; content that answers our questions to give us what we came looking for – whether education, entertainment or to be taken on a journey with a story we care about. If your audience is bored, perhaps it’s because you stopped talking about the things they care about and started talking about what you thought they should care about (or yourself).
The fix: It’s time to revisit two things: Your content ideation process, and your personas.
Your content ideation process shouldn’t be ad hoc, chucking up “cool ideas” in a meeting room. The result is a list of topics you only hope people care about. Use tools like Reddit, Quora, forums, surveys and Yahoo! Answers to see what’s being talked about. Ask your sales team what the most common questions they’re being asked are. Or, my favourite – take a client for a beer and pick their brain about the things they like (lateral ideas can be the best kind).
Your personas may need to be revisited if your offering has changed or your personas have undergone a serious shift in thinking/need-states. This is less often the case, but still worth considering if you haven’t updated your research in awhile.
2. The Content is No Longer Relevant
Similar to the last point, but different. Tastes and perspectives evolve across time; technology improves, politics shift, best practices change. If your audience no longer tunes in to hear what you have to say, it might be relevant to an interest they once had (or maybe still do), but the times have changed and there are newer, more interesting ways to talk about it.
The fix: Just like the above, it’s time to go to where people are talking about the kinds of things you offer to see where public opinion rests and whether or not you’re still current.
An analysis of how successful competitors are engaging their audiences can yield results too; just be careful not to blindly copycat. Take note of thecontent format (video, written word, podcast), tone, voice and subject matter of the content their customers have engaged the most with.
3. You’re Making too Much Noise
Ever think that maybe your audience just got tired of trying to keep up with the reams of content you were publishing? It’s possible that in attempts to produce “enough” content, you produced so much that the great stuff got buried in the “OK” stuff, and your audience just got tired of going hunting for it. It’s also possible you beat your audience over the head with your content, over-sharing to the point that they no longer cared how good your content was, they just wanted you to shut up.
The fix: Shut up. Okay, not really, but it’s time to re-evaluate your publishing schedule and social media activity. Consider scaling back to place emphasis on fewer, stronger pieces published on a regular schedule, and devote more time to promoting this small body of work.
This is the polar opposite of making too much noise. Did you simply stop publishing or drastically reduce your output? It’s not that more content is better, but if you’ve become sporadic or inconsistent with your publishing schedule, your audience may not know when to expect your next piece (or if you’re even still alive).
The fix: Create a documented and deadlined editorial calendar (being careful not to rush that whole “strategy” part). Ignore outside metrics that say you should be publishing daily (or multiple times a day) and instead choose a schedule you know your business can stick to and manage.
Does your content suffer from a lack of consistency in voice and tone? Have you started throwing out uncharacteristically solemn/funny content? Are you suddenly talking about topics nobody expected you to be talking about? As soon as you start getting schizophrenic on people, they begin to wonder if they should stay tuned in. A wandering focus or lack of internal process are two of the biggest causes for content inconsistency – something you can change with a healthy dose of documentation.
The fix: Documentation and enforcement of a style guide. You need to have a reference document for everyone who will be creating your content to draw from. You need someone in charge of QA who has a deep understanding of your branding and the goals you’re trying to accomplish. Don’t just write a style guide, send it and forget it – enforce it through editing and revisions until everyone has learned what works.
6. Lack of Promotion
If you’re still producing at the same quality level, for the same audience, with the same voice, then lack of promotion could be your culprit. If you’ve cut back on your targeted promotional efforts (different than “making noise”), then perhaps it’s not your content’s fault – perhaps your audience simply isn’t finding the great things you’re creating any more.
The fix: Invest just as much attention into developing a content promotion strategy as you do creating your content. Take time to compile a list of allies, advocates, influencers and hubs where you can reach out to spread the word. Keep owned media promotion consistent (for example, keep a scheduled e-mail newsletter update and don’t drop it).
poll the audience
You can analyze this yourself, but if at all possible, ask members of your audience why they stopped paying attention. Be personal, direct and interested – this is not the kind of question you try to pump out a mass-response e-mail for.
The insights you gain from looking outside of yourself will be well worth the investment.
Ask: What Went Right?
Done beating yourself up? Good. Now it’s time to relive your glory days – the golden era when you had the audience’s ear. When you were having… the time of your life.
Take stock of all of the content you created, both onsite and off. First, define meaningful KPIs for determining engagement for the various content types. These will vary between types of content and the intended business goals of that content.
- Page views/Unique page views
- Shares/Likes/+1s (you might also consider WHO shared them and which pieces reached the ears of the most influential people)
- Time on Site
- Subscriptions (or subscriptions driven)
- Video views
With your KPIs defined, you’re armed to create a weighted “score sheet” to see where your previous pieces found success.
You can quickly compile a list of URLs using Screaming Frog and export them to excel for any content published on your own site. You can use BuzzSumo to analyze the popularity of recent posts, and look back on Topsy to see a bit of social media history. And, obviously, analytics will be a huge tool here.
Go beyond the numbers and probe into WHY certain pieces of content did better than others, asking questions like:
- Who did this reach, and how?
- Was there a key influencer or hub responsible for sparking major interaction?
- Does this piece better answer a customer’s questions than other work?
- Was this piece better laid out or formatted?
And so on. You want to look for common factors across your successful pieces. Categorizing and labelling these factors in Excel is a good place to start.
You’ll also want to establish a timeline as to when things started going south, then look back on your organization to see what changes were made around that time. Did you switch content creators? Amp up? Slow down? These are questions only you can answer.
Next, categorize the different pieces of content by where they fall in the customer’s buying cycle:
- Top-of-funnel: Pieces intended to create awareness/spark new leads
- Mid-funnel: Pieces designed to nurture leads and help them towards a purchase decision
- Bottom-of-funnel: Pieces designed to close the deal, or reinforce a positive experience/new purchase after the original one.
This is going to give you a birds’ eye view of potential holes in your content where your engaged audience is finding there’s nothing to help them in their time of need.
Improve Content & Plug Gaps
With the information you’ve compiled, you should have a roadmap toward recapturing your lost market. By asking “What went wrong?”, you can identify the source(s) of disengagement. By asking “What have we done right?”, you can pull from past successes and recreate them.
And by mapping out your content, you should be able to see clear and obvious gaps in your content where people are trickling out of the funnel because there’s nothing to keep them inside of it. Combining all that information, you can create content to plug up that gap with something you know will be a success.
Don’t Just React!
Though a lost audience is a high-stress situation, the worst thing you can do is reactively start trying to pull any and all of the levers to see if they will do anything. Remember that once you’ve earned the audience’s attention again, you want to be able to keep it over the long-term; not just for a few fleeting minutes.
That doesn’t happen by blasting out content and praying for uptake.
You need a plan.
Knowing what you do now, it’s time to revisit your strategy and communicate it to your internal teams to get them all on board. That may mean updates to documentation or a few “Stand-up” meetings to discuss the issue and your proposed solution.
It’s time to confirm your personas are as on-target as they used to be (or fixing them so they’re more on target than they were).
You need accountability; you need to put people in charge of making sure the audience is staying tuned in and alerting the troops the minute they start seeing engagement trends they don’t like. Monitoring on an ongoing basis is time consuming, but can help you avoid looking up months from now and going “Dang, we’re here again.”
You can get your mojo back (yeah, baby!)
Don’t give up! A lost audience isn’t lost to you forever. Take your time to do the analysis and build a plan for recovery, and you’ll be shakin’ and shimmyin’ on top of the world all over again.