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Posted: June 23, 2010

Seven rules to build your internet presence

You need an effective content strategy

Scott Esmond

People love a good anecdote. From hieroglyphics to song lyrics to a favorite novel, the well-crafted story is arguably the most effective means of communication to motivate change and pass along history. If an individual can tell a good tale, they have the ability to command the attention of others. Same goes for a business.

However, the modern expression of this ancient art is far more complicated than the days of pen and paper. The present digital age means individuals can Tweet, Skype, blog, Facebook and IM at any moment of the day from almost any platform. In a marketplace filled with competing and often confusing messages from companies and products, one of the only remaining ways to truly stand out is through one cohesive voice.

At Red Door Interactive we've found that a cohesive content strategy is an effective tool to facilitate and simplify storytelling on the web. It's the delivery of fresh and relevant information to a specific group so they can be actionable. In today's world, content covers everything from a press release to video to a website; essentially anything you can produce that's consumed. The practice, previously reserved for web designers and usability testers, is fairly novel and gaining momentum among marketers and mainstream business because it's just that efficient and targeted.

With effective content strategies, companies large and small can be rewarded with increased customer loyalty, increased brand equity and a perception of leadership in their market. So when launching a content strategy for your online presence, make sure that you follow these seven steps to make sure your story is both heard and appreciated.

Do a content audit of the business. Every company has a voice - whether they work at it or not -and managing it starts from the inside. Identify what type of content is available and what should be updated. Look beyond just your website and include any off-site content (user reviews, organic search listings, social profiles and posts) as well as marketing, sales and PR content. Begin gathering opinions from your own staff, then reach out to the public to reveal any discrepancies between perception and reality. It can be a daunting task, but agencies like ours can help guide you through the process.

Designate a content strategy leader. Put one central person in charge of managing the process. This individual is responsible for keeping the content up-to-date, managing editorial calendars and delegating tasks. It's essential that a skilled, trusted employee is the point person for company information every day. If your leader is not already an expert, some good learning sources include Junta42.com and copyblogger.com.

Be timely and relevant. I recently heard a great quote that sums up the importance of timeliness; "Good content capitalizes on an opportunity in the life of the content's consumer." Such information is fed by what's going on with a company's brand, what's going on with the media and what's relevant to the customer. Try and gain information from the audience, ask them directly what type of content they want, and then follow through and provide what's applicable to their lifestyle. Much like a relationship, it's important not to just talk about the company all the time.

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Assign contributors. Once the state of environment, audience, and content has been identified, it's time to write. This is when companies task their most talented and creative staff to help deliver the consumer what they want. Ask that good storyteller to be the voice of the brand.

Make it easy for customers to share. The quickest way companies can allow their customers to share content is putting links to Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Foursquare and other social media channels on their own website. Consider content your most important design element. It's imperative for companies to pay attention to content placement and ensure its consumable, not hidden or lost to a lot of scrolling. Also identify the piece as yours, for example, a title card with your company name before a video gets set to go viral on the web.

Study, Study, Study. When it comes to content strategy, businesses should spend a good portion of time in the virtual "library." Now companies can see where visitors went before and after coming to their website and referral URLs, where people share your content. This information is readily available through Google Analytics, Facebook metrics for fan pages, and social media monitoring tools including (from free to far from free) SocialMention, PeopleBrowsr, Radian 6, and TNS Cymfony. It's also fairly easy to set up on-site surveys.

Let go of the fear. Conversations about the company's content are going to happen regardless. That's why it's helpful to provide consumers a conversational platform and engage them on your space. Should they be more active on review sites like Yelp, you should still engage and learn. Leading review sites also provide statistics that can help inform your strategy.

There are certainly a handful of companies that are grasping the concept of content strategy. REI incorporated an "expert advice" section for customers interested in rock climbing and provides them with a list of important items to pack for their trips. Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty has done an exceptional job reaching out to teen girls, presenting content that's relevant and not simply trying to sell their products.

Lastly, Vail Resorts mobilized their loyal skiers and riders to produce user generated content in their Snow Squad competition to become part of next year's on mountain social media team. The takeaway is effective content strategy leads to effective storytelling in the digital age.
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Scott Esmond is the Director of Business Development at Red Door Interactive, an Internet Presence Management firm with offices in Denver and San Diego that helps organizations profit from their Web initiatives. Clients include PETCO, Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp, California Avocado Commission, Rubio's Fresh Mexican Grill and Cricket Communications. Connect with him at sesmond@reddoor.biz.

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