Content Strategy Boundaries: What to give away?

Great Wall of China

Are you ready to start blogging but nervous about giving away too much content?

Great wallAs I talk with folks who are ready to take the leap into blogging and social networking for business, the issue of offering great content for free comes up again and again. Many business owners express concern that they will actually be putting themselves out of business (or at the very least reducing demand for their services) if they provide valuable content on a regular basis.

Not anymore. Changing marketplace conditions have flipped this old-school approach upside down. These days, people expect to feel informed.

Spend some time thinking about how you make decisions with the Web. When all the businesses in the search results are unknown, most people I know take a few minutes to check out and compare several websites before making their next move.

What’s your criteria for evaluating another business’s website? I bet you appreciate it when they provide useful information in addition to important sales information—I know I do. I think much more highly of a company that wants to educate its customers by giving back in the form of a strong blog or other free content that is clearly beneficial to customers and clients.

When I visit a purely “salesy” site that is all about separating me from my money, it’s a definite turn off even if I’m confident in the quality and value of their products or services. The Web has changed the marketplace and as a shopper I have different expectations about getting useful free content—I admit it.

And if I admit that the marketplace of 2011 has conditioned me to favor companies that offer valuable information, I can’t ignore the dynamic in my own business. What about you?

Setting Your Content Strategy Boundaries

First, accept the inevitable. Expectations have changed and garnering attention in the marketplace often requires that you give away timely and relevant content.

Second, think carefully about where you want to draw the line. Successful content creation is all about adding value to larger marketplace discussions. When business owners are thinking about jumping in, I always encourage them to take the time to think through their own boundaries and use them as a starting point for their content strategy.

Third, never forget that when someone finds your business by searching online, it’s very likely that a number of your competitors will show up in the organic results too. You can also count on targeted ads from your competitors being visible as well, so make differentiating yourself a priority.

Forth, do your homework. Learn some content strategy basics and pay attention to what your competitors are doing well and doing poorly on the Web.

Questions to get you thinking about your own boundaries

Who are your audiences on the Web?

What do they want or need from you?

What are they experiencing on your competitor’s websites?

What can you share that adds value for your site visitors or your network?

If you still feel resistant—be sure to figure out what you’re really afraid of and what you can do about it. Afraid of:

  • Adding work to your hectic schedule? Understandable, but probably inevitable.
  • Giving away trade secrets? Just don’t. You’re in charge of what you share.
  • Undercutting your sales? Then share information in ways that showcase your knowledge.
  • The competition? Help your clients and customers learn enough to make an informed decision—then take advantage of the trust it builds and encourage them to choose you!

Tips for creating content strategy boundaries

Talk about the parts of your process or approach that aren’t proprietary. Clients and customers like a peek behind the curtain and transparency promotes confidence in your company and product.

Share lessons learned. Your business experience comes with tough lessons and hard-earned insights, so let people know what you’ve learned. What we learn from an experience reveals a lot about our character and companies are not that different.

Pose questions. Whether customers or your own industry make up your target audience, recognize that people like to have their say. When you pose insightful questions and respond to comments with equal thought, people will pay attention.

Address common challenges. The way your company meets common challenges can inspire confidence, show off innovative thinking, and set you apart from the competition.

Think gems over jewelry. Important insights are like gems—full blown, finely crafted solutions are more like jewelry. Shared insights are valuable and you don’t have to give away all your solutions unless or until it suits you. Remember that you’re in charge. And remember too that your content sharing efforts should support your business goals.

Keep your content digestible. People have notoriously short attention spans on the Web, so make the effort to change up the format of your content and add video or audio once and a while when it would appeal to your audience.

Go easy on the details. Feel free to share concepts and key bits of information rather than overwhelming your audience with a ton of details—you’ll still look knowledgeable and they’ll have a clear take-away.

When in doubt, ask yourself, “Does this information replace my services or show people why they need me?” Then act accordingly.