Engage your customers with content – 6 tips for small businesses
used with permission from Microsoft US Small and Midsize Business Blog
A few years ago, a startup called Groove that makes helpdesk software found itself just months from running out of money. The founders did something unusual for businesspeople in that situation: They devoted themselves to rethinking their content marketing strategy. Then they took the radical step of telling the story of their company on their blog with complete transparency, including revealing their actual numbers. The result of this daring move? They now have more than 6,000 customers and annual recurring revenue of $10 million.
Interested? That’s because you’ve been hooked by a story.
- Use the power of storytelling. Narrative is fundamental to the way the human mind works. It’s how we construct meaning and make sense of the world—just think of the power of myths in shaping societies and belief systems. We tell ourselves stories about our own lives to discover who we are. Tests of blogs with identical content—where one is straight bullet points and the other first sets up the real meat of the matter with a story—show that people spend more time on the narrative version and engage more strongly with it. So tell your customers a story.
- Keep it real—and personal. This may feel risky, but if you can tell a true story about your company or yourself that resonates with your customers’ needs, they will sense the honesty and be engaged by that. They will respect the risk and authenticity. Did your company suffer a setback or even a near-death experience in its early days that would echo some of your customers’ concerns? Did you start up a previous company that failed and use lessons from that to start your current business? If that story is relevant to your customers’ own problems, tell it honestly and it will engage them.
- Keep it distinctive. Admittedly, this is easier said than done, but it’s key. Exactly how you do this depends both on the nature of your business and your own imagination, but you need a unique angle to differentiate your content from everyone else’s. For example, Groove found a compelling angle by linking their narrative with radical transparency. Ask yourself: Why should someone read my blog rather than one of thousands of others? What’s the hook?
- Create an editorial calendar. This will keep you on track, making sure you publish regularly in the channels you want to fill. It will also put you ahead of the game—you’d be surprised how many major corporations lack a unified, enterprise-wide editorial calendar. And if you’ve followed the advice above and crowdsourced suggestions, it will be increasingly easy as the topics and ideas pile up. A calendar can be as simple as a list of ideas for a weekly blog, or it can be more elaborate, detailing a plan for subsidiary tweets or seasonal Facebook posts. The important thing is to stay on track, appearing regularly in all the right channels, so you can cultivate a loyal audience.
- Deploy your content across multiple channels. This is just common sense—but essential. If you post a blog, tweet out a link to it. If you post photos on Instagram, tweet those out too. Post a link on your company’s Facebook page. Focus primarily on where your customers are, whether it be LinkedIn, Pinterest or Reddit. But it takes very little effort to spread the message across many channels—and you may be surprised to find new customers somewhere unexpected.
- Use your own—or your employees’—adventures, quests and causes. Not all your content needs to revolve directly around your business, products or services. Are you or one of your employees planning an adventure of some sort? White water kayaking? Climbing a mountain? A motorcycle trip through South America? Is someone planning to bike across the country to raise money for a charitable cause? Video updates and blogs documenting the trip can provide a stream of engaging content.