With a growing number of social media platforms and seemingly endless digital content, the pressure to create strong content is higher than ever. But the faster you move, the easier it is to stumble. Over the last 8 years running Column Five, we’ve experienced our own road blocks from time to time—especially at the content creation stage.
Whether it was in ideation or production, these blunders have resulted in major headaches. But they also us how to create better content. In the hopes that you’ll learn from our mistakes, here are five things to avoid next time you dive into content creation.
1) Ideating Without Focusing On Audience Needs
In our agency’s early days, we would sometimes dive into ideation and focus too much on what we wanted to write about, how we want to be viewed as “thought leaders,” and how these things related to what we were trying to sell.
After some hard knocks, we realized we needed a clearer understanding of who our customers were so that we could generate ideas that would resonate with them. To do this, we created customer “personas” to represent our targets, identifying everything from their age and occupation to favorite podcasts and biggest life regret. (Here’s how to create your own personas in under 60 minutes.)
This intensive exercise helped us understand how our target audience members think and what makes them tick. Now, every time we come up with an idea, we ask ourselves whether or not it will resonate with one or more of our personas.
We also check in with our clients regularly to find out what they’re interested in. We’ve discovered that this is, without a doubt, the best way to come up with content ideas that will provide our readers with value.
Tip: To learn more about your audience, conduct customer surveys, have regular conversations with customers and sales teams who have a direct line to customer problems, comb through in-house data, or shoot off a quick email to ask what’s on a customer’s mind.
2) Not Connecting Content Ideas With Objectives
Personas were incredibly helpful to guide our brainstorms. But when we focused only on persona-specific ideas, we forgot that those ideas needed to serve our own goals, too. For example, we once reached a million views on a fun data visualization on Reddit overnight. People loved it, but it did nothing to convert because it didn’t relate to our goals.
Now, if we can’t reasonably tie an idea to our goals (or if an idea seems disconnected from other topics we’ve addressed), we ditch it.
Tip: In addition to creating customer personas, identify the pain points your customers face and how you can position yourself as the solution. Vet every idea accordingly. Write out the idea, who it’s for, how the idea addresses a pain point, and what action you want them to take after engaging with the content.
3) Worrying About Format Later
It took us a lot of work to build personas, and once we felt we checked every box (customer, pain point, solution), we wanted to unleash our creativity to bring our great idea to light. We would approve an idea, and the format was an afterthought. Even worse, we would sometimes immediately decide on a specific format without questioning if it was the right one.
We’d rush to turn a cool data set into an infographic, when an interactive, video, or written article might have been the best choice. This lack of oversight became painfully clear when we created a great GIF series that a major publisher loved and wanted to promote—but its publishing platform couldn’t support.
Tip: Remember that medium is just as important as the message. Once you have vetted your ideas according to strategy, explore which medium would be most effective. Consider the story you’re telling, audience behavior, distribution platforms, and publisher and influencer preferences before you make your choice.
4) Not Doing Substantial Research
Our agency has a strong background in data visualization, so we are often knee-deep in research. Our clients bring their own findings to us, too.
Many times, when we found a great study or data set that helped support a client’s content objectives, we would hit the ground running, then smack into a wall when an updated report, more relevant source, or trending topic came to light halfway through.
By not doing our due diligence up front, we wasted time and energy trying to shift gears halfway through.
Tip: Before you decide to move forward with an idea, build in a proper discovery phase. Research how a topic has been covered, what data is available, which “information gaps” are present (such as angles that haven’t been covered), and identify how you can contribute a new perspective.
5) Having A Weak Production Infrastructure
When you have a truly great idea that aligns with your goals, it’s really exciting. With so much creative adrenaline, we’d get the green light and go full steam ahead. When hiccups came, which they inevitably did, they had a domino effect; other projects would get put on the backburner, preventing us from creating a consistent stream of content.
Through much trial and error, we have refined our processes to allow us to produce content and maintain flexibility. We are also constantly exploring and experimenting with technologies and organization systems that help improve every stage of the content creation process, from collaborative brainstorms to delivering design feedback.
Tip: While your production processes shouldn’t be so regimented that you have no opportunity to experiment or fail, making sure every part of your team is on board and has the resources to make things happen is key. Planning well, adopting realistic timelines, and streamlining your process are the best ways to ensure you can follow through on your plans.
With any creative endeavor, you are bound to make mistakes. But look at any speed bumps as opportunities to grow and improve. If you’re resilient when it comes to learning how to create content well, the payoff will be worth it.
This post originally appeared on Forbes.
If you need help with your content efforts, we’re always happy to chat. To learn more about creating better content, check out our team’s top tips to make you a better content marketer and take a look at our best fixes for your biggest content marketing problems.