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Fighting for quality news media in the digital age.

Ten ways to make editorial content stand out from the mass of information published online every day

By Tony Johnston

Google founder Eric Schmidt told us that every two days we now create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003.

An amazing statistic, but in many ways, an obvious result from a world where everyone is a content producer; a writer, a photographer and a videographer.

And one where every organisation is a publisher; whether it is labelled content marketing, native advertising or just web content.

Many non-media companies are hiring journalists; others are training their existing staff to think and act like journalists.

Here are ten pointers compiled from our trainers – at Engage Media Training – which are crucial to getting the best value from your content.

1)    Have a content plan

What are you aiming to do by producing content? Any content marketing plan needs to address your reasons for creating the material in the first place. What are the risks involved and what does good look like? What are the goals and how does it fit in with your other marketing activity?

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2) Understand who your readers are

Describe your specific audience types; preferably by drawing up personas so you appreciate their content needs and how to engage with them. What are their interests, what would they be looking for you to provide them with and how can you add value to their world? Traditional publishers invest heavily in understanding their audience behaviours. New content producers should too.

3) Engagement is what counts…or is it?

This might be true depending on the type of content you are producing. Measuring    success is important though whatever type it is. A piece of content might be trying to generate sales leads; in which case, you may track email sign-ups and contact form returns. Another piece might be trying to raise trust in your brand which would call for a different type of KPI monitoring. They key is to measure its impact because if it doesn’t have any, what’s the point of producing it?

4)    Be as original as possible

If you cannot think of something entirely new, at least put a new spin on old ideas.      Good news editors know how to come up with a creative angle on stories that might have been done many times before. It’s a skill that can be learned and a very valuable one too.

5)    Tell stories

It is an ancient art but one that is crucial to adopt in your content strategy. Tell those stories effectively and you will have a piece of content that will engage the reader and which they might share with others. Put out boring and soulless material no one cares about and it will disappear into that black hole which contains a large chunk of that day’s 2.5 quintillion bytes of data. Learning how to tell stories effectively is a key skill which we have always taught journalists. Now others are learning too.

 6)     Understand what platforms work best

Putting your content on your own website may be effective, but how do you drive traffic to your site and broaden the reach of your stories? How does native advertising differ from content marketing and when might it be worth investing in buying into someone else’s audience? BI Intelligence tells us at by 2021 native advertising will make up 74 per cent of all total US display advertising and with 200 million people now regularly using ad blockers, it isn’t difficult to see why.

7)       Do social media brilliantly

Social media is a key way of getting your content noticed so it makes sense to have a social media strategy to sit alongside your content plan. One of the best ways to improve it is to look at who does it well and copy from their behaviours. What sort of social media content they produce is being shared? Why is it attracting this level of engagement? Developing a social strategy is one of our most popular courses and can be very helpful in improving the impact of your social activity.

8)    Quality writing does matter

You might have the best content ideas but if you write it badly no one will bother with it. Teaching journalists to write has always been one of the underpinning elements of any NCTJ training course. Today everyone can write the perfect 20 – 25-word intro, know about the inverted pyramid and when to break that structure and understand why quotes matter in a story. But it is a skill that must be learnt.

9)    Don’t forget the basics

On a similar theme, even if your content is written well, if it is littered with poor grammar and punctuation and your proof-reading skills let you down, the impact of your content is diminished and the damage to your brand and reputation can be severe. Doing a training course in these areas can improve your skills.

10)    It’s no longer just journalists that need to worry about the law

Anyone producing content is as much at risk of breaking publishing laws as journalists have always been so it is crucial you understand the dangers. Libel can be extremely costly, even if you think you are right in what you say. Even a single Tweet can put you at risk if you say the wrong thing.

Tony Johnston is Managing Director of Engage Media Training Ltd. It specialises in providing courses in journalism skills, content production and media training, based in London.

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