Whether you are in professional services, SaaS or manufacturing, at some point, you should consider creating educational content for your audience.
Inbound marketing is about providing relevant useful content, and there is no more useful content than that which helps someone to achieve results or save time.
So how do you go about creating educational content?
What to share
It's important to start, as with any content, with an understanding of your audience. Make sure you have defined buyer personas and are familiar with them.
Firstly, think about what issues they face – what are their problems, what do they struggle with, what do they need to know to make their working life easier? When doing this, think of it in general terms – not with a product or service in mind.
Secondly, it is also legitimate to think about buyer education here. What do you need them to know for them to specify, buy and use a product or service successfully and to minimise support issues? Because as well as making life easier for you, educating the buyer will make life simpler and easier for them too.
Look at what you know – are there industry techniques, tips, or insider knowledge you can pass on. You don't want to be giving away your trade secrets, but snippets of information based on your company's experience and expertise could prove very useful to your audience.
Another great source of educational content is to look for common misconceptions about processes, products or elements of the industry. Are there things which the casual buyer might perceive to be true, but are actually myths? Create some simple, non-patronising, content that explains why these commonly held beliefs are false.
And of course, one of the best sources of ideas for content is always your audience. Surveys and research can be invaluable in unearthing issues that can be addressed by educational content.
How to plan it
When planning your content – a single piece or a series – always design for your buyer personas. Bear in mind the skill levels required; do they have the necessary background or existing training to be able to use what you are telling them? If not, either go back a step and supply the background information or training in your content or look at another topic.
Break down your material into small chunks. Think about your audience. Almost everyone in business has very little time these days. If your content takes half an hour, or even twenty minutes to read – they are likely to struggle to find that much time in their day to complete it. But if you keep content to five or ten-minute segments, they are far more likely to fit that in – and may even find they work through several in one sitting.
Think of what you want a person to learn in each chunk – the learning points. Define these and make sure those points are stated at the beginning and summarised at the end.
At the end of each of these nuggets of knowledge, the audience should feel like they are making progress - like they have learned something. Think of small wins.
So don't try to pack too much into an educational article; it takes a lot of mental concentration and effort to learn something new – people have to be in the right frame of mind, and that learning state can only last for so long. If you find you have too many learning points in your piece, break it up into two or more pieces.
As far as is possible, get your audience to do. Get them to try out what they have learnt. Reinforcing learning by doing is a tried and trusted technique – indeed many people only learn by doing. Provide exercises or suggested tasks. Try and think of things that they can carry out in the real world.
Always strive to make the end result of completing a piece of educational content emotionally satisfying for the audience.
How to share it
There are an increasing number of potential channels on which to share educational content – from your website to YouTube.
Some of the ways you can publish your educational content include:
- Videos (On your website, YouTube and other social media)
- Live streaming video (on your website, Facebook, Twitter and other social media)
- Slide decks (on SlideShare)
- Screencasts (very useful for software)
- Blog posts
- Learning newsletters (by email)
Think about what you are trying to teach and pick a channel that works best for the subject matter. Does it need a visual demonstration? In which case, a channel that supports video may be best. Would step by step instructions be appropriate? Then maybe a slide deck would work well. Is it conceptual? Perhaps a written article is best. In each case, the channel must work to add something or make the learning points easier to communicate.
You should also consider the channels your target audience prefers – it's all very well creating a live session on Facebook, or streaming live to Twitter, but if your buyers are never on those platforms, it's a waste of time, no matter how useful they are.
With any educational content, always create a great intro that explains what is in it for them and motivates them to learn. A video is an excellent way to do this.
If you can, try and make content as interactive as possible – some formats are perfect for this; Facebook Live for example. And always ask for feedback and allow comments.
Find a way of measuring how successful the piece has been at educating your audience. Simple online questionnaires can help with the immediate evaluation of learning goals, but longer term, more business oriented measurements can be used, such as;
- Do you get fewer calls to support?
- Do your buyers specify the product more accurately?
- Do you get more sales of a complex product or service?
- Have the questions you get asked changed?
In the case of the last one – consider planning a set of educational pieces addressing these new questions.
It's of vital importance you test your material on ‘friendly' volunteers. It is very easy when you are an expert in a subject to become blind to what newcomers don't know, making false assumptions about their level of knowledge. It is also easy to miss out steps that might seem obvious to you, but are essential for anyone new to the topic.
Always bear in mind all the other general advice about creating content, such as writing motivational titles, taking care to be SEO friendly, and so on.
Finally, always include a Call To Action (CTA) at the end of any educational piece of content and link to other relevant educational content.
Inbound marketing is about providing relevant and genuinely useful content to your target audience. Creating educational content is an excellent way to nurture prospects and leads so that they can make more informed and ultimately easier buying decisions or to support existing customers – improving their productivity and saving their time.