Mapping Your Mix: Are You Providing The Right Mix of Content?

Odds are good that your organization is using multiple communications channels to reach people, from social media to direct mail and email to websites and blogs. Because each can attract a different audience, and may be better-suited for certain types and lengths of content, coordinating among them all can be difficult. You want to provide useful, interesting, mission-related information to use each channel successfully and meet the expectations of the people who follow you, but how do you keep each channel different enough to be interesting on its own without turning content-creation into a full-time job?

In a recent survey of NTEN: Change Journal readers, we learned that organizations are using an average of almost four different channels as part of their communications mix. Using each to its fullest potential takes work—it’s time-consuming to write a lot of new content for your blog, but it starts to feel redundant if you post the same information there as on your Facebook page or Twitter feed.

A little forethought can help you maintain the balance of information you’re posting, or feel you should be, and ultimately save time. To start sharing your content-related efforts among each of your channels requires strategic thinking in four areas: Creating, Curating, Promoting, and Community-Building. Let’s look at them one at a time.

Creating

Are you creating new, original, informational content for each channel you’re using? Chances are it’s a wasted effort. That kind of content may not be necessary for all your different communications. People frequently write news stories or opinion pieces for some channels, like their websites, email newsletters or blogs, while using others to share reposts, links or other means of “re-using” content. Original content is what many organization think about first when looking for high-quality ways to communicate with their constituents, but it’s certainly not the only way.

Curating

Increasingly, organizations are talking about “curating” content as another way to provide a lot of value in communications. For many, this means following news, blogs or other resources in your topic area and linking to particularly useful resources on your blog, in an eNews or on Twitter. Curating information created by other organizations and individuals is a useful way to bring other voices into your mix, but don’t forget you can also curate your own materials—for instance, you could use your mailed newsletter to summarize the best posts published to your own blog each month. 

Promoting

Promoting your own campaigns, events and fundraising appeals is an important part of your external communications. It can also be a substantial piece of channels like direct mail, which you may not be using very often. Don’t be shy about promoting your own cause—presumably, that’s why people are on your list to begin with. But since it’s never pleasant to correspond with someone who does nothing but continually ask you to do stuff, make sure you’re providing other value as well, either on the same channel or on different ones.

Community Building

The ability to engage your audience is one of the benefits of online communications. Inspiring them to respond to posts and to talk to each other and generally creating a sense of community for your cause can, and should, be an important part of your mix—particularly for social media channels. How do you go about this? Ask questions of readers, encourage them to post comments, and solicit their answers to questions posted by other readers. The extent to which you should devote efforts will vary among channels. You’re unlikely to create a lot of conversation through your direct mail program, for example, but it should be a focus for your Facebook page or blog strategy.

Finding the Balance

Those are the types of content-related efforts you should be making, but what’s the balance you should aim for? You will likely have a different mix on each channel. For instance, you might decide that the vast majority of information on your blog should be new stories and opinion pieces written specifically for the blog, but that the primary goal of your Facebook page is to build community and promote events and resources.

Consider what types of content will work best for each channel, and how much of each type your organization is likely to need. It’s useful to diagram out the mix for each channel. We like to use a pie chart, as it provides a tidy circle for each channel that you can then combine into additional diagrams. As an example, here’s a possible mix of types of content for a blog:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But that mix is likely to change for different channels. Here’s a different mix for a Facebook page:

Of course, the actual mix will depend on your organization and goals, but remember that different channels lend themselves better to different types of communications. For instance, direct mail and email are very important communications method for many organizations, but neither is a great way to build community. Instead, they’re both great places to share original content, to ask people to take action with promotions or appeals, or even to provide some curated resources or links as part of newsletter. 

In a recent issue of this journal, we surveyed readers about their own balance of content types across their different communications channels. We asked them to define what percentage of their resources were creation, curation, promotion, or community building for each channel, and received responses from 256 readers. What we found, interestingly, was that many reported using each channel primarily for a particular purpose—for example, 80 percent of what they do on a given channel is create new content, with only limited effort devoted to other uses.

The graph below illustrates this across each channel.  The percentage in each bar represents the number of people who are using these channels primarily (at least 60 percent of the time) for the given purpose.  The first bar shows that 46 percent of the respondents are using direct mail primarily to distribute created content, while 32 percent are using it primarily for promotions and appeals. The last number, defined as “Mix”, shows the number of people who weren’t doing any one thing at least 60 percent of the time, but rather had two or more channels with some priority in their communications mix.

Respondents told us their websites and blogs filled similar roles—67 percent were using websites and 61 percent were using blogs primarily for newly created content.  A much smaller percentage were using these channels primarily for promotion, curation or community building.

The most informal of the social media channels, Twitter and Facebook, often fill a very different role. More people were using these channels for curation than any other—the formats and “etiquette” of both channels are both well-suited to reposts and links—and more were focused on community building, a natural fit for social media. While some people still used them primarily to deliver original content, it’s not an optimal use for them, as neither is as good a means of delivering a lot of text or a series of images as email, websites or blogs. Respondents also tended to have more complex strategies for these channels, with close to half reporting that they did not use them primarily for any one content strategy but instead for a mix of content curation, promotion and community building.

Putting it to Work

So what does this mean for your organization, and how can you apply this information to your own work? Start by making a list of the channels you’re using, or would like to use, and think through the types of content you’re providing for each. Map them out in a chart, and consider whether your strategy makes sense.

Would a different channel better serve one of your content types to meet a particular goal? Is something not working that you can change for better results? For instance, if you’re creating all new content for every channel, but curating existing content will provide as much value, making a change can save you a lot of time.

Remember, there’s no absolute right answer—it’s a work in progress, so don’t be afraid to change things around if they’re not working. In the end, mapping them out can help you think them through by more clearly showing what you’re doing, help you to be more strategic about how each channel is contributing to your overall goals, and lead to better communications.
 

This article originally ran in the June issue of the NTEN:CHANGE journal. Click through to read loads of other interesting information about content curation and other topics of interest to nonprofits.