There’s an overwhelming tendency for content creators to look at a specific piece of content – say, an interview with a thought leader, or the launch of a new product offering – and ask: “How can I drive more traffic to this? Who’s the perfect audience for it?”

The problem with this approach? It’s like writing a speech, then going around to different events to see if anyone wants to hear you talk. It’s a recipe for generic content that fails to inspire or engage actual human beings, who have specific needs and interests that deserve special attention.

The creators of most compelling content take a different approach. First, they start with a super well-defined vision of the targeted audience member. Then they gather their biggest questions… and, one by one, they answer them!

An example from the world of cycling

 The best podcaster I know is a guy whose entire business revolves around the people who want to listen to him talk about riding bicycles. He’s good at it, and has attracted a large, growing audience around the globe.

 I asked him once which piece of content performs the best. Turns out, it’s a really short, 4-minute video that explains why certain bicycle seats hurt and which ones are a better option.  The title of the video is simply: “What can I do about saddle pain?” He made it early on with a budget camera. The background isn’t pretty, the sound isn’t amazing, and the resolution is terrible.

 So why is it his best performing piece of content? Because he answered the first question that budding cyclists tend to ask when they’re getting serious about riding. He answers clearly and succinctly. And now, for people just starting out, he’s an authority.

 How did he learn exactly what his audience wants? Well, he used to run his own bike shop. He had the same conversations over and over again with customers – he knew exactly what someone needed to hear depending upon where they were in their cycling journey (whether they were just starting out, ready to upgrade their bike, experienced and looking to fix some performance flaws, etc.). All of these conversations became the format for his online content.


How to gather questions from your ideal audience member(s)

 You, too, may have years of experience working side-by-side with key stakeholders. In this case, it’s useful to turn your intuitive understanding into a formal document that explicitly spells out their key questions, so that you can start addressing them systematically.

If you don’t yet have a deep sense of what your stakeholders care about most, fortunately there are many ways to find out! Here are a few of the most powerful:

  1.  Ask your colleagues. If you’re relatively new to your organization, or don’t talk too often with certain audience members, chances are that multiple co-workers would be delighted to share what’s top-of-mind for their stakeholders (think Membership Managers, Social Media Coordinators, Policy Directors, etc.). In particular, don’t underestimate the expertise of colleagues at the very top (if you’re creating content for big donors and decision-makers) or the bottom (who are often on the front lines with constituents on a daily basis, and thus have a depth of understanding that’s incredibly useful).
  2. Leverage the power of digital analytics. Tools like Google Analytics offer priceless insights on the needs and preferences of your audiences. Alas, these insights are often hidden in plain sight – most social sector organizations aren’t yet making strategic use of this data to inform content decisions. Have you already identified key search terms, scanned for patterns among your most popular content, and mined your social and newsletter data for drivers of user engagement? If so, you’re off to a great start! We love turning analytics into actionable intelligence for content creators, so if you’re interested in discussing how to further optimize your analytics game, let’s connect.
  3. Talk to your audience face-to-face. There’s no replacement for connecting with people one-on-one (or in small groups) to hear their stories, and learn the emotions and hidden needs that lie behind their questions. Think about your organization’s upcoming meetings and conferences – how you can find some time to gather a handful key stakeholders and learn what’s top of mind for them? If nothing is on the immediate horizon, tools like Skype or Google Hangout are perfect for connecting with stakeholders where they live and work.
  4. Conduct user surveys. Admittedly, there are a number of reasons why we’re not the biggest fans of surveys as a primary vehicle for user feedback. Still, they can give you helpful insights, and are particularly beneficial when used in concert with other methods.


Launch the conversations that your audience craves

Now that you have a laundry list of questions, it’s time to start answering them. We recommend focusing first on questions that are most relevant for stakeholders who aren’t yet aware of your organization. All of these should be answered in a place where passers-by can find them most easily; this might be a starting page on your website, or a series of short YouTube videos that are SEO optimized.

 Other questions will come from people who already have some relationship with your organization. Podcasts can be a great way to engage these stakeholders with longer, in-depth answers. They can be as simple as recorded conversations with big names that your team works with.

 If you have questions from engaged stakeholders – perhaps about the process of becoming a donor, volunteer or business partner – webinars are often useful in painting a vivid picture of what their experience will be like when taking action. Just be mindful of where your audiences are in their user journeys. You probably don’t want to invite someone who just walked in the door, and has never heard of you, to sit through an hour-long presentation!

When you start thinking of your content as part of an ongoing conversation with specific members of your audience, your strategy for creating impactful content comes together quickly. With questions at the heart of your content strategy, you’ll find it far easier to find and engage new supporters, and to convert existing stakeholders into champions for your organization.