Before you can create compelling, high-converting, come-back-for-more content, you’ll need to understand all there is to know about the role of a content creator.
The truth is that content creation is not everyone’s cup of tea — it’s not just about throwing together a pretty quote on a background in Canva and then posting it on Instagram.
In fact, content creation, as an activity, an art form and a professional pursuit, is a niche that requires a mixture of right-brained and left-brained activities — in other words, you’ll need to be organized and creative, analytical and associative, disciplined and diverse.
Once you know what makes a successful content creator, you’ll be able to follow the trail down to the principles of successful content creation and the kinds of content you can use to your advantage.
But why does content matter so much? And what separates the merely ‘good’ content from the ‘great’?
Content creation hooks into every other aspect of the Internet, search and data. If you think about it, the Internet exists as a massive catalog of content.
Content is what we consume on social media. Content is what we tag, save, consume, share and interact with.
The beauty of content is that businesses and brands have finally found the ‘ROI’ to using it as a strategy. According to CMI:
- Content marketing has lower upfront costs and deeper long-term benefits than paid search
- Content marketing generates over three times as many leads as outbound marketing and costs 62% less
Successful content is the key to doing everything from powering ‘next best action’ marketing to creating those all-important ‘micro-moments’ of decisions that lead a potential customer from casual browser to consistent audience member to the loyal purchaser.
You know what they say — behind every piece of viral content is…no, not luck, but, rather, a strategic content creator. And here are the five habits every strategic content creator employs on a regular basis.
Habits of a Successful Content Creator
These habits are the ‘secret sauce’, if you will, of creating content that does way more than just get viewed or liked. It gets shared, circulated and sparks offline conversations.
And it all begins with how a content creator approaches the work they do.
Through each of these five habits, we’ll give you five actionable and highly-functional steps you can take to start creating your own successful content in the way that professional content creators do already.
1) Read widely and deeply
It may seem like it’s a good idea to get deep into your own niche and industry — and, to a certain extent, that’s true. But why not go for breadth and depth, where you can?
Content creators understand that the creative process takes time and ideas are not confined to only one space. They’ll indulge multiple spheres of information and use the cross-pollination of ideas to help them look at a piece of content in a whole new way.
After all, content creation is, at its core, a form of micro-storytelling. With each new piece of content — be it a graphic, a short video, or an extensive, thoroughly researched blog post — the subject matter is not the only matter at hand. What also counts is how you decide to frame that story and approach it.
And to do that, you’ll need diverse knowledge from seemingly conflicting industries. Working in the cryptocurrency space as a content creator, for example, requires an understanding of the concepts of blockchain.
But since blockchain is an emerging field, supplemental reading on millennial spending habits, or having a conceptual understanding of the principles of online learning, for example, could help a content creator make blockchain more accessible to audiences or use a neat parallel from a diverse discipline as a jumping off point.
Reading both widely and deeply allows your brain to form new neural pathways and connections that look for patterns and similarities between ‘niches’ or ‘industries’ that might not, on the surface, look like they’re connected.
This is how you can impose a fresh view on a new topic.
YouTubers Jesse and Kong, masterminds of multiple million-dollar YouTube channels and founders of the YouTube training school ‘JumpCut’, call this the ‘Remix Strategy’: Creating viral, share-worthy content by putting a fresh spin or ‘remixing’ the contents from a new frame of reference.
Step 1: Create a feed system
Whether you’re relying on an RSS feed or an app like Feedly, you want to create a reliable stream of two or three sources you can hit up for diverse news and trending articles.
You can also organize and order the content on social networks like Facebook by subscribing to ‘Pages’ run by publications such as the New Yorker, Medium, The Atlantic or even BuzzFeed. When you log on in the morning, you’ll be able to scroll through the news of the day.
Step 2: Block-off official reading time in your schedule
A content creator is intentional with their time — and this includes time set aside for reading. If you have to get up an hour early, do it. If you need to get into the office earlier than your colleagues, do so. This should be time roped-off, as though it’s a meeting: non-negotiable and recurring.
Step 3: Use Twitter to search for conversations
Reading widely and deeply is also about understanding individuals’ and audiences’ reactions and comments to news within your niche and outside of it. Use Twitter’s hashtag function to search for relevant conversations so that your content can assume a particular view or perspective.
Step 4: Use long-tail search words to find related articles
Use a Chrome extension like ‘Keywords Everywhere’ to help suggest terms for new searches that are related to the search terms you’re using.
This not only helps you understand what individuals are searching for (and, by extension, how you can index and align your content based on these terms) but, as well, can help you stumble upon related content.
Step 5: Keep a ‘reading’ journal (digital or analog)
Reading is not a passive activity — for you to actually gain any benefit from these above practices, you want to ideate, summarise or review the articles you’ve read or content you’ve consumed.
The best way to do this is to keep a ‘reading’ or ‘commenting’ journal. It can be as simple as a GoogleDoc, where you paste a link and then write down a paragraph or so on what the piece is about and your thoughts about it. Or it can be an analog journal where you ideate and create a few concept maps based on what you’ve read so far.
2) Write as a practice — no matter what form of content
When Sean Wes set out to diversify his hand lettering business and use podcasting to essentially build what he envisioned as a multi-channel ‘network’ known as ‘SeanWesTV’, he had no idea that what he’d be spending so much time actually doing…was writing.
In fact, one of his podcast episodes (number 303) is titled, ‘No Really, It All Starts with Writing’.
He found that building a writing habit was key to his success as a content creator across forms. This, coming from a graphic designer and hand-letterer who, ostensibly, thinks in doodles.
But to get from where he was — just a handful of lettering clients, doing logos (which was, granted, quite profitable, but didn’t really advance his efforts to create a community around business) — to running a seven-figure business with five full-time employees, Sean found that writing formed the reliable structure for every piece of content he created.
And as he continued to preach the virtues of writing, Sean was so convinced that writing formed the basis for all other mediums — that he ended up creating a ’30 Days to Better Writing’ mini-course specifically designed not only to improve the quality of writing but also to help users build their writing habit.
Writing is a go-to tool and a way to think: successful content creators will need it to begin any endeavor, so it’s best to write frequently and consistently to build that writing muscle.
Step 1: Set a writing goal for the year
It’s impossible to follow-through with anything without an actual, specific and tangible goal. Having a writing goal for the year helps keep you motivated because anything you write can contribute to the forward progress of that goal. This keeps you motivated and, more often than not, you’ll end up overshooting your writing goal.
Step 2: Identify your optimal ‘writing’ hours
As part of a practice of writing, you ideally want to set aside a particular time that you can write each day. You’ll also want to spend a week or two actually vetting when your energy levels are highest.
Remember that writing is a creative and brain-intensive activity. While physical muscles can often be put to use again after a period of rest, the brain has a cap on focus. Begin to write when you have the most energy — early morning is best.
Step 3: Brainstorm the various mediums you want to work in
Remember that writing forms the basis for all other content types. Case studies? These begin with writing. E-books? They rely on writing — especially useful, high-quality ones. Videos on YouTube? They need a script first unless you plan to ramble on and dilute the quality of your video.
Step 4: Create a ‘calendar’ of content related to writing
Once you’ve brainstormed the mediums you want to focus on — or even the platforms you want to write for, such as your own blog, Medium, and YouTube, for example — you’ll want to create a ‘calendar’ of writing.
For example, let’s say it’s August and you’re planning for September. You’ve decided that you want to create four videos in September, releasing one video a week. In August, then, you’ll chunk out the days you’ll spend writing or scripting these videos, which will then allow you to organize production days.
Et voila! Suddenly, you have a reliable stream of content that started with a consistent writing practice.
Step 5: Make your writing more accessible and simple
You may need to use a writing coach or an experienced editor for this. Try to find one that has a background in journalism because journalists often rely on short, pithy and readable sentences to get the point across.
They’ll be ruthless with your ‘prose’, crossing out large sections of text. ‘Killing your darlings’, it’s called, and you’ll be glad you did.
3) Create but also curate
You want to be lean and strategic with your content creation efforts. You want to see what’s working before you produce more of that content and see what didn’t do so well so you can come up with new ideas.
But how do you fill your feed in the meantime?
Content creators understand that being online means content is ephemeral — audiences tend to skim through posts, scroll quickly through feeds, double-tap and move on.
For better or worse, digital content doesn’t have as much ‘staying power’ in the mind as physical content. Part of the issue is the sheer noise online. The other is the way our primitive, pre-digital brains process physical stimuli over more intangible media.
That’s not to say that visual and immersive experiences and media don’t leave impressions or make a memorable mark. That’s really the only reason why advertising, for example, is so effective.
But while you’re figuring out what content is working and what deserves a re-think, you’ll want to keep your feed or stream of content — on platforms like your own website’s blog section, YouTube, Facebook, etc. — well-stocked with consistent content.
The content creator can benefit not only from deciding on and sticking to a consistent posting schedule but pulling in news, ideas and content from others within their niche. They could even head to related industries and niches and share the link, video, or graphics with their own followers while giving their own take on the content.
This does two things: Firstly, it generates goodwill between content creators and brands or businesses within the same niche and, secondly, it also positions the content creator or ‘curates’ this content as an expert within the niche.
Useful information, a divergent opinion or a share-worthy trend can be the perfect jumping-off point for a content creator to add value to their audience networks by sharing — both, their own point of view and the content themselves.
Curated content, then, does two things: functionally, it helps you fill up your feed and, connectively, helps create relationships between you and your audience.
Step 1: Research your niche
Begin the formation of this habit (and, honestly, it’s more of a ‘tactic’) by researching and finding five to ten related brands and businesses with a steady flow of their own original content. These can be directly operating in your own space, or those who have related businesses.
For example, if you’re working within the brand design space, you may share another brand designer’s post on the fundamentals of design or use a food blogger’s website to critique and suggest improvements on the design for your audience.
Step 2: Identify what your audience craves more of
Ideas are useless without feedback. Set up a tracking or analytical system that allows you to get real-time feedback on how audiences are interacting with your curated content and which forms (or figures within the space) are the most popular.
Step 3: Build an actual editorial calendar for curated content
It’s the first rule of thumb for any content creator: editorial calendars. Taken from magazine publishing, the editorial calendar for digital content works in the same way: It articulates the posting schedule and content that will be
Plan to do precisely this but for your curated content. This will also allow you to repurpose or repost content that you had from months ago. Remember that digital attention spans are shorter, so your audiences are less likely to notice when you’re repurposing previously posted content.
Having an editorial calendar can help you figure out when the last instance of a posting was and when a reasonable amount of time has passed for you to post once again.
Step 4: Value add
Curating content works best when you use it to add value. Do so by adding your own take on things, asking a question of your audience network, and then actively engaging with the conversation that picks up.
Step 5: Track the kinds of curated content that worked
Once again, you’ll want to set up a time to either check-in on the metrics of your curated content or use an analytics suite to track their performance.
4) Book those conferences
Conferences offer a unique opportunity for content creators to reconnect with their own work, with the work of their peers, to refresh their perspective and to form new collaborations with others in their sphere.
Especially for content creators who operate solo, this can be a useful way to find more projects to work on, contribute their skills to diverse productions and gain insight into other parts of the creative process.
And while it sounds like a four-day goal event for creatives, conferences are a form of work. To make the most of out it — and actually gain an advantage from attending one — content creators will need to make a habit of being organized and strategic with their connections.
Step 1: Zero in on your conferences
So many conferences, so little time. There has been a veritable explosion of conferences in the past five years. From Nathan Barry’s Craft + Commerce to the quickly-closing-down ‘World Domination Summit’, to Brennan Dunn’s ‘DYF Conference’, usually held in some swanky location in Europe, the creative sphere is absolutely exploding with conferences.
Find the ones that interest you, with a line-up of speakers and workshops where you feel you’ll get the most out of. Plan for no more than three or four conferences in a year.
Step 2: Co-ordinate with a buddy
If you can, head to a conference with a buddy. This is not so you can avoid the awkward, darty-eyed sweep across a room full of strangers thing you might do at traditional networking events.
Co-ordinating with a buddy during a conference means that two heads are better than one. You can divide and conquer, in other words. You’ll be able to create a schedule where you both get to attend interesting workshops, events, or talks and then meet up after these to trade notes, cards and strategies.
Step 3: Create a contact database
With the cards and connections you gather and create, take the time, each evening, to create a contact database. Using Evernote, Airtable or even Streak for Gmail can help you create a pipeline of possible contacts.
These contacts could become your valuable collaborators or referral points.
Step 4: Follow up
To do the above, however, you’ll want to follow up. Take the time to send a personalized email to each contact you thought was right up your alley. Start building a relationship and connect over social media from time to time.
Step 5: Live-stream
And, finally, the conference is a potent piece of ‘content’ itself. It’s the perfect content opportunity to broadcast to your social media networks using Facebook 360 view, a Facebook Live Q&A session, or an Instagram story.
5) Stay hungry…stay curious — the secret to content development
The four habits above will help you understand what it takes to create stellar content and how to go about being a content creator.
But what about the ‘how’? Content development is an ongoing activity that calls on specific tools. This is the place where you understand where creative content lives, how to harness it and put it to use for your content strategy.
The previous four habits feed into one another — for example, reading widely and deeply is closely connected to writing as a practice. And once you do that, you’ll automatically be hooked into your industry and will want to connect with other content creators through conferences as a venue.
You want to have one finger on the pulse — but you also want to have enough reflective and conceptual time. This is content development.
The secret to content development is to be able to bring in a mix of tools and a variety of sources for insights into what audiences are looking for next. Content creators understand that content is only relevant and useful if it fulfils a need, resonates with an audience or finds an outlet.
So how do you go about developing successful content? You’ll have to make content development a habit.
Step 1: Use tools
In your ongoing, cyclical development of successful content, start with a source for ideas. Three specific tools can help you in this regard:
- BlogAbout: this content idea generator is essentially a brainstorming tool. It shows you common headline formats, and you get to pop in general ideas within the blanks of the headline, based on what your target audience might enjoy.
- Buzzsumo: Use BuzzSumo as a search engine, helping you to see what is already working. Take what’s working and add your own spin to it.
- Blog Post Headline Analyzer: Run by CoSchedule, this handy tool helps you analyze headlines and then provides feedback on your word choice, keyword frequency, and search volume. You can use this to come up with combinations of stronger headlines.
Step 2: Specialize in one or two content types (to start)
The sky is the limit when it comes to the number of content types you could work in. Especially if you have a great idea, it might be tempting to re-work it across several formats.
For example, a blog post that did exceptionally well might also operate as an infographic, case study, YouTube video, and a SlideShare.
But, in the beginning, you want to pick just one or two mediums to cross-purpose content for. This will help you become an expert in the niche and build an actual following on the platform, before populating content elsewhere.
Step 3: Using social networks, product reviews, and customer surveys
Use these three sources like an evergreen goldmine of feedback, ideas and already-successful content. Customer surveys, in particular, are the most effective form of sourcing for content development. These given content creators unique insight into a customer’s pain points, expectations, and experiences — which is a crucial foundation for an opportunity.
Amazon product reviews are also a great resource to mine for ideas on what customers or audiences are looking for, what resonates with them and what they’d like to see more of.
The five habits in this post help you see five specific vantage points from which you’ll want to approach content creation. The role of a content creator is to be able to harness the inherently creative elements from the world around him or her and then parse these into effective ways of ideating, developing, creating and sharing content.
Each time you start a content creation project, take the time to review each of these habits and see if you’ve executed on them. You may not hit all five habits at once, all the time, but it’s an excellent mountain to set your eyes on.