We’re looking at how organizations undervalue the first, and often only, thing people coming to them experience – their content. The articles, stories, blog posts, photos, videos, emails, and social posts are all opportunities for connection, not just attention. Here’s why that is and how to think strategically about content for connection.
Every website visit is an opportunity for real connection.
If we start from that point then we want to assume that people are coming to us for a reason. We are answering a question, solving a problem, or providing a service. We assume this person will return (or is coming back to us).
We want to know who this person is so we can ask them to join us or support us. And we also want to better meet their needs.
Our content is the terrain on which people discover and interact with us: blog posts, resources, news articles, case studies, action alerts, social media posts, photos, emails and even podcasts and videos.
Content strategy is has two key parts. First is understanding how to meet people’s needs with your content by making sure people can find and use content. Most content strategy work really focuses on things like search optimization. Too often it ends there.
The second piece of content strategy is relationship and community building. When you know about the person using your content you can meet their needs over time and help them help you by joining, donating, contributing, purchasing, volunteering or any of the other actions people can take.
What if we built for connection first?
Most organizations know how many people visit their site and which pages get the most visits (I bet you two of the top three include the home page, about page, and the careers or team bios page).
Meanwhile, groups spend time and money creating content with few tools for knowing who is reading and using it, the value it provides, and what people are really able to do when it comes to supporting, acting on and engaging with groups.
It’s inexplicable. And there’s a better way.
We can rethink web design, content and even emails and social media to optimize for direct connection. This would mean that we expect every visitor to tell us who they are and, at least implicitly, show us what they’re doing with our content, how they’re using it and what they can do to support its creation and our work.
I don’t actually expect every organization to get contact info for every visitor or be able to track every visitor with personally identifiable data.
But if we want to create content that’s useful to people then we need to know who people are and what they really think. And if we want people to support our group for the long haul then they need the best content, experience and relationship we can provide.
Data is not insight
Today’s organizations don’t have a clear idea who is using, visiting, reading or viewing any of the content on their sites, emails or socials. Most organizations have subscribers (an email address and maybe a name and physical address) or donors (email, name, address). And they have visitors who, unless they graduate to one of the above, are little more than electronic ghosts. Bits of aggregated data.
But wait, we have Google Analytics installed. We know which search terms people use to find our site. We know how many times a form is submitted. And we can see who clicks links in email, comes to our site and
True. But most site analytics are vague and general. They tell you how many people come to a page and, if you’re tracking an ad or email campaign, how they got there.
You don’t know who’s there. You don’t know why they’re there (though perhaps you can guess). And you certainly don’t know what they thought or if they’ll be back. A report saying that visits go up or down offers a data point. But it’s not necessarily actionable.
Content strategy vs the void
Organizations often have an engagement process that looks like:
- Many visitors to one or more websites and/or social media accounts.
- People click and read or view a second page or click from social to web.
- Someone fills out a form (subscribe, action, volunteer, event RSVP, survey). It’s only at this point we discover who the visitor is and we still don’t know if/when they revisit our content.
- A visitor becomes a supporter by donating or becoming a member.
- A person who attends an online event or training.
- Someone you meet at an in-person event.
- And the smallest group: sustaining donors, members and/or activists.
A lot of people hit the top of the list once, twice or multiple times. Most never advance past that point. And many that do move on won’t be able to tell us if or how the content is useful to them.
We build content with low expectations if we assume that a nameless visit and click is OK for 95% or more of visits.
We don’t have to approach content – be it web, social, email or audio/video – with the the presumption that “views” are what matter while actions and donations are a separate channel or group of people.
Make connection normal (if not required)
Here’s another look at that engagement process with direct connection as the goal:
Visitors => Frequent visitors => Multi-page visitors => subscribers or registered users => members (and/or donors and/or volunteers)
A connection emphasis could start by optimizing for form completion. Subscribing to an email newsletter is often the only form option.
Donating is another option. Organizations and consultants understandably test and optimize donation forms.
But there are countless other possibilities to present people with forms or even register as site users (a vastly stronger option for long term engagement).
The trick is in creating content that people need and value. And providing a user experience that makes forms simple.
About requiring connection
What if we valued our content enough to require payment for it? For most organizations this is a preposterous thought experiment. “We serve the community. Why would we limit access?” Fact is, most organizations have premium content for high level donors, board members, or task oriented folks like volunteers. We see those people as valuable so we create valuable content for them (and often only for them).
The point is not to restrict content to members or registered users or to set up paywall types of experiences. These are tools in the toolbox, of course.
What does matter, however, is the connection powerful content creates between people and organizations. Too often we invest a lot of time and money in content with little clear strategy. And less clarity about its relationship to revenue, membership or programmatic results.
Great content brings people in and keeps them there. It connects people. Invest in content strategy, not just content, and create systems for measuring the value of that content to your visitors and your organization.