Providing Value to Your Community Through Content Creation

This post comes from Senior Strategist Jennifer Snyder who has spent much of her professional life figuring out how content and the Internet play nicely together.

Over the years, content creation has taken on many forms for business. Blogging, newsletters, podcasting, social engagement, and print publications are all part of the equation. Truthfully, we’re often asked if creating content is still a worthwhile use of our time for brands.

In a word? Yes.

Now, we don’t see all content as worthy of making its way into the wild. It sounds harsh, we know. There’s simply too much information out there that falls under the category of noise, rather than substance. However, great content is crucial as you consider providing additional value to your readers, customers, or clients.

Here are a few helpful tips for reshaping the way you bring content into your business practices:

Understand Your Audience

People are busy. We commute, we work, we live our lives, we sleep (hopefully), and then we get up and do it all over again! Therefore, finding the appropriate type of content to produce is important.

Before launching a blog to produce five days a week, ask yourself whether or not your audience members really have time to sit and read through five blog posts. Some segments might, while others may prefer to consume information or entertainment in another format. Some audience segments may only have time while they commute or walk the dog. If that’s the case, podcasting could be a more appropriate vehicle for some of your content. Others may primarily interact with your social content. Don’t leave those folks hanging! Think through how you might provide value to people through your social channels—whether you’re sharing helpful information, connecting people to one another, or having a conversation.

Understanding how your audience wants to hear from you is the best first step for providing valuable content.

Photo: Death to the Stock Photo

Photo: Death to the Stock Photo

Choose Carefully and Plan Accordingly

We’ve all heard the phrase “less is more” and, when it comes to great content, the same idea applies. Industry trends used to dictate that businesses create content every single day of the week. That is not necessarily the case anymore.

If you’re capable of creating content regularly that your audience simply cannot live without, good for you! You’re ahead of the curve. However, if one blog post, newsletter, or podcast episode is all you can handle right now, that’s completely acceptable.

The key to setting yourself up for success is to make sure you choose the right amount of content you can produce or have produced well, and endeavor to create the most valuable content possible for those you serve.

Share the Content People Want

This sounds so obvious, but answer us this: how often have you clicked through to read a newsletter or listen to a podcast only to find it held little to no value for you? It’s a bummer, right?
 
Now imagine people feeling that way about your content. Ouch.

Not to worry! The solution is fairly simple. If your audience wants to know more about what’s going on behind the scenes, give them a glimpse. There’s no need to overshare, but allowing your loyal clients, customers, or readers to peek behind the curtain goes a long way to building a level of trust. Perhaps you frequently receive requests to cover topics you don’t currently cover. Once you have a loyal audience base, you may find this happens quite often! If the requests fit into your brand or you can extend your brand to fulfill those requests, give the new topics a chance.

No matter what you decide, giving your audience a little more of what they ask for is never a bad idea, as long as it can be executed well.


Sharing great content with your readers, customers, or clients doesn’t have to be painful and it certainly doesn’t have to overwhelm you or your team. Your audience will appreciate the intention and time you’ve put into the content they love and will, likely, reward you appropriately—with their business!
 
P.S. Have you hit maximum capacity in the content creation department? It happens. Let us know how we might be able to help!

Troubleshooting Missing Timestamps in iTunes

This post comes from Senior Producer Mindy, who edits podcasts and troubleshoots technology.

Most of the posts you’ll find on the Winning Edits blog focus on writing, publishing, and editorial strategy (and sometimes dog farts), but this one is a little bit different. In addition to producing and editing content, one of my jobs at Winning Edits is Content Administrator, which is a fancy way of saying that I make sure everything published on our clients’ websites looks right.

Recently I had the opportunity to solve a confounding problem with a podcast—and because massive amounts of Google searches didn’t turn up a viable solution, I wanted to record the fix here in case you ever encounter this with your own podcast.

Hey iTunes, Where’d My Timestamp Go?

When you publish a new podcast episode in your feed, iTunes pulls a variety of information—often called “tags”—from the MP3’s metadata. One of those tags is duration, which tells iTunes how long the podcast is.

The duration tag on a recent episode of Non’s podcast, Joy Sandwich. This episode is 1 hour, 10 minutes, and 0 seconds long.

The duration tag on a recent episode of Non’s podcast, Joy Sandwich. This episode is 1 hour, 10 minutes, and 0 seconds long.

For a reason that we could not uncover, the duration tag suddenly stopped populating in our client’s podcast RSS feed, which means iTunes looked like this:

Empty time duration in iTunes

Empty time duration in iTunes

A missing timestamp is annoying for your listeners—a lot of podcast listeners choose episodes that will last the length of their commute, their workout, their bath, etc. Here’s how we fixed this problem.

Adding a Duration Tag Manually with PowerPress

This podcast’s feed is set up using the Blubrry PowerPress plugin, which is a popular WordPress plugin that allows the podcaster to set up a custom podcast feed through their website. PowerPress is designed to manually detect the episode duration, but you can override that. 

First, open up your podcast’s post, and then scroll down to PowerPress’s Podcast Episode box. If you’ve already published your post, check the box next to Modify existing podcast episode to expand the box.

Enter your file length in Duration → Specify

Enter your file length in Duration → Specify

It’s easy to overlook, but in the Podcast Episode box, there’s a section called Duration. Enter your file’s audio length (in hours, minutes, and seconds) in the specified section.

Finding this information is easy on a Mac; look in your Finder window. Set your Finder view to Columns (image below, blue circle), and duration will be displayed when you click on your MP3.

Duration is displayed underneath your MP3's image

Duration is displayed underneath your MP3's image

If you aren’t a Mac user or you don’t see the duration listed in Finder, open your MP3 in a podcast player like Quicktime or iTunes or Windows Media Player. MP3 file length is always displayed in these players.

After you enter the file information into the PowerPress Podcast Episode box, be sure to update your post.

A note for non-PowerPress users: You’re much less likely to run into this problem if you use your feed directly from your podcast provider (like Buzzsprout or Libsyn). If you do use your feed directly and you find your duration tag empty, reach out to their customer support for help.

Happy podcasting!


Follow our stories and book-nerdy goodness on Twitter @WinningEdits.

Why the Librarian Is Your Story's Best Friend

This post comes from Senior Producer Mindy, whose favorite college job was shelving pamphlets in the University of Minnesota's Government Publications Library.

A few weeks ago I had the absolute joy of attending the session Write Your Own Hamilton: Finding Your Story in Libraries at NerdCon Stories, a conference dedicated to the art of storytelling in all its forms. Research is my forte, but I have spent so much time hunting for facts behind a computer that I'd forgotten about the magical wizards known as librarians. I love watching professionals work at their craft, and as they answered audience questions, I was truly in awe of the presenters, Jennifer Burek Pierce (The University of Iowa), Becky Canovan (University of Dubuque), and Colleen Theisen (The University of Iowa).

Professional librarians are a valuable resource to writers—both non-fiction and fiction alike. Here are my key takeaways for using libraries to write stronger stories. Nearly all of the resources I recommend below came from Jennifer, Becky, and Colleen.

1. Librarians want to help you!

If I learned nothing else, it was this: Librarians are excited to help you. They have spent years learning how to dig for information and make sense of what they uncover—when you ask for help, you're giving them an exciting puzzle to solve.

No matter what writing problem you're struggling with—finding a clever plot point, painting your story's setting, or finding facts to support your argument—a librarian can get you pointed in the right direction.

2. Great research may involve multiple libraries.

All of the presenters stressed this point: Just ask your question. If you can't visit in person, call or email. It's okay if your question is not perfectly formed and it's okay if you start with the wrong library. We will help you find the next step in your research path.

One of the session's attendees asked about researching sexual assault in Victorian England. Where should she begin, when this was not a crime that was widely reported in that era? Within a matter of moments, the presenters had a list of suggestions: The women themselves may have been prosecuted, look for police records; the women may have been hospitalized or institutionalized as hysterical, look for medical records; women who became pregnant as a result of their assaults may have been sent to homes for unwed mothers. With each suggestion, they listed the name of a library in England that could assist.

Librarians know other librarians and are happy to refer you to their colleagues. When you ask your question, it's perfectly acceptable to ask, "Is there a better or different place I should look?" or "Who is the best person to ask for help with this?" You don't have to start with a university or a special collection library (more on those in a moment). It's okay to walk into your public library and ask the librarian "Can you help me figure out where to start?" They will be thrilled you've asked.

3. Your vocabulary matters.

When you are conducting research online, a few terms will help you narrow down your results.

  • If you are researching an historical topic, search for a special collection library (abbreviated spec. coll.). These libraries have a deep understanding of the topic and will likely have books and artifacts you can't find elsewhere.
  • Search for your topic + libguides. Libguides are a collection of resources that a librarian has compiled on a particular topic. Here's a libguide from Princeton University on electricity.
  • Finding aids tell you what the library has in its archive, often used with old or delicate materials that are not in open circulation. Think of it like a list on the outside of a file box. If you're looking for something specific, try searching your library's list of finding aids. Here's the University of Iowa's finding aid for a collection of photographs curated by Frederick Kent.
  • When conducting research, work to understand your topic's literary warrant, or the language used at the time and in the place. What we call a "car" today was once a "horseless carriage." To take the presenters' example, that which I as a Midwesterner call "pop," my Californian colleagues call "soda."

4. There's more to libraries than books.

When I think about libraries, I primarily think of books. Many libraries also house collections of maps, photographs, and audio/visual resources. All of these can help you create a sense of character, place, and context for your story. Here are a few places to start.

  • Are you trying to name a character? Look to government resources like the Social Security Administration name index or local historical societies for cemetery and obituary indices. High school and college yearbooks are another great place to look; consult the library in the school of your interest.
  • The Allen County Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana is an amazing resource for genealogy research.
  • Local historical societies are a wealth of information on local history, culture, and customs.
  • Trying to build a sense of place? Look up the Sanborn Fire Insurance maps for your area. They are color-coded by building material and even show the layout of a building's rooms. The New York City directories have been digitized back to 1801.
  • Look at old newspapers, not only for stories that ran, but also for the advertisements. Duke University Libraries has a searchable collection. Ads show you the problems people were focused on, and a product you know well today may have had an entirely different use when your story takes place. Did you know that Listerine was once sold as a dandruff remedy?
  • For a good time, just start exploring huge repositories of information like HathiTrust, the Internet Archive, and the Smithsonian.

And remember: When in doubt, go to the library.
 

When Life Gives You Lemons, Go Forth and Write

This post comes from Producer and Editor Non, whose feet get farted on by dogs all day long.

Life, as you know, is replete with obstacles, bumps in the road, difficulties, challenges. Sometimes these challenges take the form of personal anguish or heartache, or sometimes the Labrador who is sleeping at our feet just farted and the thing you’re writing is ruined because you can’t escape the terror of Dog Fart.

At Winning Edits, we like to work with animals at our feet (even if that means suffering from Dog Fart).

At Winning Edits, we like to work with animals at our feet (even if that means suffering from Dog Fart).

Truth is, these bumps in the road could come from any place, including your dog’s butt.

It's up to us how we face these moments in our lives. It’s up to us how we learn from them. It’s up to us to find new perspectives on difficult situations, seeing things half-full when maybe it’s really just only a quarter full.

The challenges I want to focus on today in this post are the ones that strike us when we’re trying to create. You know the kind. Sitting down at your desk, writing your book and then, boom, nothing. All of a sudden you’re stuck, can’t write anything, affected by externalities or internal musings that overpower your writer’s voice.

What do you do in these situations? Do you fight through it, throw up your hands, take a walk to try to reacquaint with your inspiration?


Whatever you do, it’s important to remember that whatever you decide is okay, because it’s unique to you. You know what’s best for you. You know what type of writing environment you like best. You know what to engage with when you’re feeling uninspired.

You got this.

That book you’re working on. You can do it. You have it in you.

And hey, when you’re done, we can help with editing, book strategy, cover design, or just be that someone to talk to about dog farts.

Go forth and write!

Why Brands Need an Editorial Strategy (And How We Created One for SmartPassiveIncome.com)

This post comes from Managing Editor Janna, whose geekiness over strategy is unparalleled (and really rather embarrassing). :D

In the online content world the term “editorial calendar” gets thrown around a lot. But do you even know what that term means or where it comes from? Does it matter? 

Here at Winning Edits, we answer these questions with a resounding YES! The best and most successful content creators online develop a plan and they stick to that plan. An “editorial calendar” is merely a tool that helps content creators execute a well-crafted, strategic six-to-twelve-month plan. 

When we talk about long-term planning, people often balk at the idea of having their editorial calendars planned out for six months or a year. But we barely know what we are doing next week, they say, how are we supposed to know what to do in a month or two, let alone in a year from now? 

That is exactly what strategy is all about: you have to plan to plan. If you plan your editorial content three months at a time, then you only need to do it once a quarter. So put an appointment on your calendar four times for 2017: Once in January, once in April, once in July, and once in October, and you will already be one step closer toward rocking your very own editorial calendar. 

Why Strategic Planning Matters

In the online world you may not think that planning so far in advance is necessary. After all, you can write a blog post tonight and publish it tomorrow, right? While this is true, planing gives you three key advantages.

  1. Higher quality. When you plan ahead, you can give yourself plenty of time to develop more robust content, whether that be a blog post, podcast episode, or web TV episode. You can research, draft, revise, edit, finalize, and get your content queued up to publish in advance of its publish date. All those steps require time, and the only way you have time to thoroughly complete those different phases of production is if you plan for it.
  2. Regular consistency. If you are in the practice of throwing together blog posts the night before you publish them, what happens (heaven forbid) when one night you don’t have any ideas for what to write about? Do you skip that post? Maybe skipping a post once in a while isn’t that detrimental. But advance strategic planning ensures that you always know what you’re going to write about when you sit down to work on that next blog post.
  3. Channel alignment. Perhaps the most vital for content creators with multiple publishing channels, channel alignment is the more advanced phase of strategic planning. When you have multiple channels such as a blog and podcast, or blog, podcast, and web TV series, planning allows you to think strategically about how the different forms of content can complement each other. For example, let’s say you’re a food blogger who would like to get into podcasting or web TV. Your web TV show can become the place where you do cooking demos, and you direct people back to your blog where they can find the full recipe that you’re talking about in the video. Now that we are talking about producing two different types of content that support each other, one video that needs to point to a specific blog post, the planning becomes even more essential to ensure that both are ready to go on time.

Content that is higher quality, more consistent, and aligned across channels is content that will attract an engaged audience, and will keep them coming back for more because they know what to expect from you. And, trust us, your audience will notice. 

The Luxury of Banking Content 

Strategic planning also allows you to do something called “banking content,” something I discussed on CoSchedule’s new podcast, Actionable Content Marketing. Imagine what it would be like if, at the beginning of a month, all your content for the month was prepped and ready to go, in the queue scheduled for its publish date—all your content for the month is in the bank. 

What would this do for you and your brand? You’d be able to focus more on marketing and promotions. You’d be able to think about content ideas for two or three months down the road. You’d be able to give your attention to other important aspects of your business, all because you are not scrambling at the last minute to get a blog post up or a podcast episode released. 

Perhaps more importantly, banking content allows you to have more flexibility with your editorial plan. Let’s say you have four blog posts queued up and ready to go for the month: one post scheduled for every Wednesday. The post for the second Wednesday of the month is announcing the release of a new product that you’re planning to launch. Except, as it happens sometimes with launches, the product isn’t going to be ready in time to announce it on that second Wednesday. No problem. You’ve got plenty of wiggle room. You can push that announcement post out to the third or fourth Wednesday and move the other posts up—because they are all ready to go, it doesn’t matter when they publish. 

Imagine what that scenario would be like if on the Monday of the week you were supposed to announce the launch of your product, and the launch had to get pushed back a week or two, but you didn’t have the rest of your blog posts queued up and ready to go because you didn’t plan ahead. There you would be, not only stressed about the launch getting pushed back, but now you’d also be scrambling to get a post ready in two days to replace the launch announcement post that had to get pushed back. No fun!

Just as you need a strategy for chess, you need a strategy for your editorial efforts!

Just as you need a strategy for chess, you need a strategy for your editorial efforts!

Editorial Strategy in Action for SmartPassiveIncome.com

Here at Winning Edits, we manage editorial strategy for clients like Pat Flynn of SmartPassiveIncome.com (SPI) and I stepped in as the team’s managing editor in the summer of 2015. SPI is a site with several publishing channels: blog, two podcasts, and a web TV series. We are publishing some form of content daily, and our weekly frequency looks like this:

When I came onboard as the team’s managing editor in the summer of 2015, the podcasts were being produced one week in advance, blog posts were being written a few days before publishing and were not published consistently, and the team did not handle production on the TV episodes. 

Right away I knew that the goal for managing this much content was to get it banked a minimum of one month in advance of the publish date. That meant in August we started producing content for October, so that come October 1 all of the blog posts, podcast episodes, and TV episodes were queued up and ready to go. To give you a general idea of how that works, Pat writes blog post drafts and records podcast episodes two months in advance (in August he’s writing and recording for October), so that the team is in production on all of that content one month in advance (in September, we are producing all of October’s content). 

The first thing I did to implement this strategy was look at the last three months of the year: October, November, December. The team had recently wrapped up a huge audience survey which revealed the top three topics that people wanted more information on: email marketing, affiliate marketing, and information products. So we decided to focus on each of these topics for one month. 

  • October = Email Marketing
  • November = Affiliate Marketing
  • December = Information Products 

With monthly focuses in place, it becomes much easier to determine specific blog post and podcast topics. Here’s a snapshot of what October’s plan looked like, with the month’s focus on email marketing: 

The Results of Strategic Editorial Planning

Quality, consistency, and alignment are all well and good, but what do these things actually do for you? For Pat and SPI, we saw immediate results in October 2015, which was the first month of publishing content from our strategic editorial plan. Pat wrote about these results in his October 2015 Income Report, and here’s part of what he said: 

“I’m happy to say that October was a smashing success. Every week in October, a blog post, podcast episode and episode of SPI TV was published, in addition to the five AskPat episodes that come out each week—all without a hitch. Beyond that, most of the content for the rest of the year has already been written or recorded, most are edited, and just ready to fire away when the time is right. As a result of this, October saw a record month of traffic, and page-views, each increasing at a rate of about 15 percent.”

Not only did site traffic increase, but also Pat’s email subscribers in October 2015 increased by 34 percent from the previous month. And, on top of those amazing numbers, Pat’s audience noticed and commented on the consistency and quality of his content, more than once. 

Our team has since continued to manage and implement strategic editorial planning for SPI and other clients. We maintain our strategic plans a minimum of six months in advance, and even sometimes have a full twelve months planned out. We begin by outlining six to twelve monthly focuses, and then every three months we outline weekly blog post and podcast episodes within those monthly themes. Breaking down the strategic planning into these more manageable steps keeps the planning from getting too overwhelming. Don’t worry—you never have to sit down and come up with fifty-two blog posts in one planning session!

Tools for Strategic Editorial Planning

If you’re wondering how you even get started with setting up your strategic editorial plan, don’t fret! You can get started quickly and easily with a simple spreadsheet set up with a column for each one of your publishing channels, and rows for each week of the month. A basic three-month template would look something like this:

We recommend managing a spreadsheet like this using Google Sheets, which allows for easy sharing and collaboration with team members.

Here at Winning Edits, we also use a tool called CoSchedule, which we love and highly recommend for brands with multiple publishing and social media channels. We use the spreadsheet for planning, and we use CoSchedule for production, where we keep track of deadlines and production tasks like editing, image creation, and QA. It’s a robust tool that integrates a calendar with task management, which makes it easy to assign tasks to different team members and give each task a unique deadline that is dynamically related to the publish date of the post.

So, Why Does Your Brand Need an Editorial Strategy?

Well, that's simple. For all of the above stated reasons! Building an editorial strategy, complete with editorial calendar and extensive planning, will benefit your brand immensely. It's not only easier on you, but it's better for your audience too. Win-win!

And, remember, brands don't just include companies. Brands also apply to you, the author. As an author, you are a brand. How you present yourself online, with blogging, podcasting, etc., will serve to support your brand, and ultimately enhance your book promotion and marketing efforts. 

What are you waiting for? Get started on that editorial strategy! :D Oh, and if you need help, we can joyfully assist. Just let us know!


Your turn, readers! Have you created an editorial strategy before? How did it help your brand? Share your story in the comments below!