We look at five simple steps that charities can take to create an effective and impactful digital content strategy from scratch
You’ve probably heard the phrase “content is king” thrown around by marketing types in your organisation. But what is content? And why, exactly, is it king?
In simple terms, content is any form of storytelling that is aligned with your organisation’s goals. It can come in various forms, on various platforms, across various types of media.
Charities have long been content-led organisations. Barnardos was running content as early as the 1800s. It is very likely that you are already a content creator. You might compose Tweets, write blogs, design posters, edit videos, or send out newsletters. That’s all content.
Creating content is easy. But creating quality content is hard. In order to create entertaining, informative, and educational content, charities need to build and maintain an effective digital content strategy. That might seem like a pretty daunting task. But we are here to help.
Here is our five-step guide to building an effective digital content strategy from scratch.
Setting goals starts with defining what you hope to achieve.
What message do you wish to convey? What is your mission? What do you want people to know?
Your goals need to work alongside you mission. They need to motivate you and your team. They also need to be quantifiable, so you can judge their effectiveness in practice.
A good place to start is to ensure your goals meet the five-point SMART criteria.
Here’s how that breaks down:
We will take a look at each point individually to help you establish valuable goals.
Ensure your goals are specific by asking the following questions:
These questions can help you define the strategy, without reference to numbers. It is simply the act of fine-tuning, ensuring your digital content strategy conforms to specific goals.
Your specific goals should be measurable. You should decide on precisely what you hope to achieve by asking yourself some further questions:
If you’re aiming to drive visitors to your site, then how many? If your aim is to increase donations, how much? If your content is designed to drive event sign-ups, then how many are you aiming for and by when?
Your goals may be qualitative rather than quantitative. Perhaps you simply want to have more meaningful interactions with your audience, or maybe your aim is to make your audience laugh.
This makes your goals more difficult to measure. You can broadly judge by sentiment, taking stock of audience reaction. You can also use more innovative measurements, such as the length of customer interaction or likes on social media, to assess qualitative goals.
How realistic are your goals? Do you think you can achieve them within the chose timeframe?
You will want to aim high, but not so high that you lose motivation.
Here are some questions to consider:
Understanding your present metrics will help you to define your goals. So do some investigating. Work out your starting position, examine your existing resources, look at comparable charities, and set achievable goals based on that information.
Do not obsess too much over budget. Through the Media Trust, you can access a bank of skilled volunteers to help with many aspects of promoting your charity, including digital content creation, video, digital marketing strategy, public relations, and communications.
There’s also a resource hub with tips and step-by-step guides by media experts.
Keeping things relevant is important, particularly because you need to stay motivated.
Again, it’s important to ask yourself some questions:
Making your digital content strategy relevant ensures that you are not wasting time and resources. It also ensures that your digital content strategy is on trend, meaning that you can fine-tune for maximum impact.
Setting timeframes for your digital content strategy will allow you to action plan, which is particularly important when setting content goals. Ask yourself:
Set yourself a series of ongoing actions, based on the above timeframes, that will get you to where you want to be. It’s a simple task that will help you on a day-to-day basis.
Once you’ve defined your goals, you will need to understand the best ways to get through to your audience.
Successful content will mine the middle ground between what your organisation cares about and what your audience cares about.
The importance of data
Charities are lucky, in that we often enjoy a close relationship with our supporters. We know quite a lot about them.
This is data. Every single thing you know about your supporters is a data point. That means that charities can build their digital content strategy based on what they actually know, not what they assume.
Charities will need to gather this data in order to build their digital content strategy. Perhaps you have CRM records, donor records, or maybe you’ve conducted surveys. It could be as simple as something that all of your supporters have in common.
Prostate Cancer UK, for example, put out lots of content that targets men over 40. That immediately sets them down a different digital content strategy path than charities who specifically targeted other demographics.
People are often happy to give information when engaging with brands. Don’t be afraid to directly ask for information that can help you provide them with a better experience.
Building a persona
Once you’ve worked out your target audience, you can build a ‘marketing persona’ based on that audience.
A marketing persona is essentially a proxy for your target audience – a fictional individual who holds the same core interests, priorities, and concerns as your target audience.
Creating a persona allows charities to form a special connection with their audience. It also ensures that the charity is giving their audience content that is most relevant to them.
Strategically, having one or several marketing personas for potential donors and supporters can make it easier for charities to gauge how donors will react to marketing campaigns. You can tailor the persona as new data and metrics arrive, ensuring that the persona evolves as the needs and concerns of your target audience change.
Once you’ve set the goals, defined your audience, and built a persona, then you can focus on delivery. To deliver quality content you must first understand the resources that you have at your disposal.
More likely than not, you will have some collateral lying around. Perhaps this will take the form of video, audio recordings, press releases, blog posts, or flyers. Try starting with what you already have and see if you can shape it into something new. This will save time and resources and will allow you to get to grips with editing techniques.
Community-led content is popular and relatively easy to deliver. We can use our communities to involve others in our network, which often leads to highly-engaging content. Whole content platforms survive and thrive off the concept of user-generated content.
Charities may find that they already benefit from this when it comes to social media. It might be worth expanding the concept into supporter blogs and vlogs, service user testimonials, event photos, or any other reasonable form that might work.
One of the most cost-effective ways of maximising a limited budget is using social media. This allows you to engage with real-life supporters and demonstrate authenticity. And you can use one of the various social media management platforms to ensure the content remains cost-effective, efficient, and on trend.
Woodgreen animal charity made the most of its followers’ content by asking for their own stories of pet adoption and including them in a personalised Instagram story with their pet’s name.
In a similar vein, animal charity Blue Cross played partnered with TikTok and asked supporters to share videos of pets, with the platform pledging £1 for every video uploaded.
Engaging with real-life supporters will help you to find your voice. Allow the people in your organisation to shine through, as their passion and enthusiasm for your work is the most valuable resource you have.
Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. If you get ahead of the curve you can enjoy increased visibility on an emerging channel. Various platforms, such as Snap Chat and TikTok, are under-utilised by charities and might be the perfect medium to properly engage your audience.
Consider the types of content your charity uses and the types you should be using, based on the data gathered from your audience.
The main types are:
Some larger organisations can justify the creation of every type of content in their digital content strategy. Smaller charities may only have the resources to dedicate to one or two.
The type of content will be dictated by the channels that your audience use. If you decide that the right channel primarily focusses on podcasting, then the content type will be audio. If you decide that the right channel is YouTube, then the format will be video.
Start by looking at what you’ve created in the past and what you have the potential to create. Does this match the main channels that your audience use? If so, then you’re good to go. If not, then some investment (either of resources, time, or both) will be necessary.
For example, a charity specialising in professional matters within a given industry may find LinkedIn to be an effective channel, but may not have a great deal of success with content on a platform like TikTok. On the other hand, a youth charity could see effective engagement on TikTok and find that LinkedIn isn’t particularly relevant to them.
If you’re unsure about the right channels, start by eliminating the wrong ones. The more you know about your audience, the more you can rule out. Some brief research into the channels that different demographics use would be particularly helpful at this point.
Once you’ve gathered enough data to start content marketing, you’re going to want to track the kind of response you’re seeing using metrics. In time, you may find that your audience is not responding to the channels or content formats that you expected. This is the kind of valuable lesson that only a data-driven organisation learns.
Don’t be afraid to fail. There will be experiments that don’t work out. You will create pieces of content that aren’t marketed correctly or simply don’t resonate with your audience. You will get negative feedback.
All of these experiences are valuable. You will learn from them. Each one will move you closer to where you need to be – closer to finding the right digital content strategy to connect your message and your audience.
Start small. For example, if you decide that video content is the way forward, do not immediately invest half your budget in high-end recording equipment. You can do a lot with a phone and some relatively inexpensive video editing software. Track engagement, gather data, and use it to prove return on investment before spending too much.
Get to know your audience. Find out what they respond to and what they don’t. The data-gathering exercises described earlier are not a one-time thing – they are ongoing. Every piece of information that you learn about your audience will allow you to tailor content more specifically to their interests. This will lead to higher rates of engagement.
An effective digital content strategy is a moving target. It is always evolving. And your approach should be no different. You will have to move with trends, notice patterns in the data, and adjust accordingly.
Hopefully some of the above will help. Hopefully it will give you the tools to build an effective and evolving digital content strategy that will meet your organisation’s goals.