Content is a forest. Don’t just count the trees.

One piece of content strategy is knowing why, when, how (and if) you need to post your content in multiple places. That seems like a lot of extra work. A version of this topic about this popped up last week in a Slack community for nonprofit/NGO folks with which I’m involved. Someone posted this question:

Does anyone have any useful insight for blogging? I’m specifically looking at posting to our native website and cross-posting to other sites – Medium, Linkedin, WordPress, etc. Obviously each has their own strengths but it feels like overkill to post to all.

I love this. Where to put content, when, why, and what it should look like come up in every comms and digital program – regardless of whether or not there’s a clear content strategy. Every organization sorts this out. And the good ones ask the question over and over again. Talking through it presents a great opportunity to dig into about content strategy, staffing, planning, editorial style, marketing and more.

Isn’t putting our content in more than one place just extra work?

Pushing content into multiple channels is probably already happening. Your blog posts, articles, reports, and action alerts are all finding their way into social media posts.

A blog post you write today probably also has an accompanying Facebook post with a headline, text and photo optimized for Facebook engagement. It has a 200 or so character tweet and photo. Maybe it also has a one minute video – an interview with a staff member about the story that can go on YouTube or Instagram.

Doing this much is almost taken for granted. You want to raise awareness of the post, drive clicks to your site and so you create little versions of the story that entice people to click through to find out more.

Measure the forest, not just the trees.

Most of us focus on one featured piece of content – usually a blog post or other page on a website. We’re constantly planting new trees in our content forest. We care for each tree – at least for a day or two – by telling everyone “hey, go look at the tree.” We measure page views and Facebook likes, Instagram followers and retweets.

We’re often answering the “should I also put our content over there” using a cost-benefit equation that can’t be defined. Of course, we’re going to create the main post or piece of content. We have to do that. (You have to have at least one tree, right?)

How do we know if a tree on the website, on Medium, or on LinkedIn is worth it?

What if we could measure the value of the forest instead of each tree? We know a healthy forest needs different kinds of trees. Some live. Some don’t.

Some trees serve as home for squirrels and birds. Others produce twigs eaten by deer. Some create shade the keeps things cool and others drop leaves that replenish the forest floor.

Each person interacting with a story or piece of content (a tree) is getting something special from it. We just don’t have great ways of measuring individual value. But if someone important to us gets all their value from a Facebook tree then we better make sure that all the content they need is on Facebook. Other people might be email newsletter and Facebook consumers. Others get their nutrition from Medium. And maybe a little ego-soothing LinkedIn first thing in the morning.

A thriving forest is alive, evolving and growing. So is your content.

There’s no one way to care for a healthy forest. And what works today may not be worth doing a year from now. Know how people engage with content. Don’t just optimize the website for stickiness or assume you can create great Facebook posts that get people to go read the full article. Consider the people who spend most of their time in Facebook and make sure they get what you need them to get while there. If you can show that your people are on Medium then don’t look that as extra work, look at it as necessary and do it well.

Review your approach regularly. Don’t be afraid to shift gears, test, put more time into one part of the forest for a while.

Measuring the forest.

Figure out how to measure for the forest, not the individual trees. Don’t rely on page views, clicks, opens and raw audience size. That’s all great stuff. Do measure it. But don’t base your decisions about how to spend your time on it.

Here’s an idea: ask people qualitative questions about your content and it’s impact on their work, conversations with family or friends, their ability to take meaningful action. Ask them in January. Then ask those same people again in May and October. Do they recall content? Do they remember where they found it? Did they take an action or make a donation as a result? Did they change their own economic or political behavior? Did they send it to someone? How and why?

Many of these actions don’t happen at grandiose scales. The numbers may not wow you but tangible measures of action, empathy and engagement can be the difference between content that’s distributed and content that has impact. And that’s a helpful number to pin down when trying to define the difference between content strategy and content production.