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October 24, 2013

How to plan for a ‘slow content’ strategy: four old-school essentials

A few weeks ago we released a white paper called The Frequency Trap. It explored the value of focusing on quality material rather than regular activity, and argued that changes to the search landscape and digital reading habits could make this the ideal approach for under-resourced travel bloggers.

As many commenters have pointed out on Twitter and Tnooz, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. But if you were swayed by the analysis in TFT, these four building blocks can help you stay organised and focused while you put its ideas into action.

1: A calendar

What: An overview of seasonal and scheduled events.

Why: To prompt ideas and encourage forward content planning. Not everything you write will – or should – come from the calendar, but it keeps you focused on what is happening in your market and the wider world. Which events will your audience definitely want to read about?  Which can you use to generate an original, unexpected angle? Keep them in sight and you can start working on quality, timely pieces well in advance.

How:

  • Start with a skeleton of big repeat items. For a generalist travel blogger, they might focus on booking periods for seasonal trip types, industry get-togethers and notable non-travel dates – festivals, sports championships and so on.
  • Colour-coding can help. For instance, highlight travel industry dates in one colour and sports and entertainment dates in another.
  • Return to your calendar around once a week to make edits and add smaller one-off events, and to remind yourself of what’s coming up.
  • Regularly note down some post ideas related to upcoming events (see 4).

 

2. A timetable

What: A weekly or monthly posting framework.

Why: Structure makes a big psychological difference. Daily posting might have its drawbacks for under-resourced bloggers, but it keeps you on your toes and gives you a feeling of progress. When you slow down production, those motivational factors can disappear – so make sure you have something solid to work towards.

This is also the place to decide what post lengths you want to aim at. We noted this week that Quartz sees most social success with very short and very long articles. It now eschews 500-800 word ones altogether.

How:

  • Compile a list of your most valuable posts. Base it on several indicators: social shares, page authority, comments.
  • Analyse it. What is the distribution of word length? How much effort did each post require? Try to put time values on them.
  • Break the list down into two or three post profiles with average time values against them. For instance: micro-posts of under 300 words, taking an hour to produce.
  • Based on those cues, create a timetable that you’re confident you can sustain. It might be something like two or three micro-posts a week, with a big, high-value one every fortnight.

3. A library

What: A (controlled) firehose of inspiration.

Why: Varied reading encourages varied writing. Some of the best travel bloggers – Pam Mandel of A Nerd’s Eye View or Jodi Ettenberg of Legal Nomads, for example – exhibit deep, wide-ranging curiosity both in their posts and on Twitter.

Outside of travel, A List Apart – our poster child for slow content in the TFT paper – famously published John Alsopp’s ‘A Dao of Web Design‘, an early exploration of Responsive Design principles inspired by daoist philosophy. A little cross-pollination can go a long way.

As well as helping you develop angles, varied reading will give you plenty of sources to link to, boosting the usefulness and authority of your content. (Just make sure the sources are good ones…)

How:

  • Make two lists of interests: sub-categories within your blog’s niche, and interests outside the niche. (Optional: a third list of areas you think might have commercial value.)
  • Compare your lists to the RSS feeds and social media profiles you follow. Which subjects are under-represented? Fill the gaps.
  • Make sure your Twitter lists, G+ circles and RSS folders reflect the lists you made. Think of it as an efficient kitchen: well-stocked and sensibly arranged.
  • Now aggregate by subject area. For instance: create Hootsuite tabs for particular destinations or trip categories, with columns for relevant Twitter lists, G+ circles and searches.

4. An archive

What: A system for grouping and annotating sources and ideas.

Why: For a short, off-the-cuff piece you might work with a couple of relevant articles open in browser tabs. Try doing that when it comes to developing an in-depth piece and you’ll quickly come unstuck.

As well as juggling multiple sources for the piece you’re working on, you should also have ideas in ‘storage’ – some of your notes and sources might be lying around for months before they come together into a post.

A good archive allows you to easily add new material, link it to saved items and quickly see how it all fits into the bigger picture.

How:

  • Install a note-taking app. Look for integration with browsers, RSS readers and social media, and synchronisation across devices – you want to be able to save clippings as well as just make notes, and do it from anywhere.
  • Create a taxonomy. My Evernote contains folders for particular projects as well as for subject areas. Within those I tag and annotate material to link and develop themes.
  • Carry a paper notebook. For some this is preference, but there are practical reasons too: batteries run out on the road, and not every bit of inspiration comes in a digital-friendly format.
  • Consolidate regularly. Transcribe written notes into your digital archive, sift through active folders and review annotations. Slowly but surely, you’ll see your ideas start to come together.

 

Nathan Midgley (@nathanmesq)

Snail image: Jürgen Schoner. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0.

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