Taking your digital content strategy offline
When developing a digital content strategy for your education or research organisation, you could easily be forgiven to focus your attention just on the content that you are going to publish online.
However, when developing content strategies for our clients, we aim to also consider the offline tactics that really help to bring a content strategy to life. This isn’t an afterthought. We see this as a core part of the work that we do.
In this post I consider how to think about, plan for and implement sharable content experiences.
What is a “sharable content experience”?
A sharable content experience is something that you either create (“stage”) or that happens in real life (at an event, for example) that your audiences will want to talk about or share online through their own accounts.
Is this anything new?
No, not at all. Cast your mind back to childhood days at the seaside. Remember those boards with pictures of people with the faces cut out that you’d stick your head through and your grandpa would take a photo? Yep, those. This isn’t anything new, but what we’re talking about here is planning for this in a strategic way to enhance your online (and offline) reputation and generate advocacy about your school, college or university through your audience’s real life experiences.
So we’re talking about event hash tags then?
Well… yes, but no. Having an event hash tag is probably the most basic component of what we’re talking about here. However, having an event hash tag alone is not enough. The hash tag doesn’t compel people to talk about you or your event online, it’s merely a vehicle for helping to connect those conversations. What we’re talking about here is creating experiences that make people want to start those conversations in the first place.
So, how do we create an experience worth sharing then?
To really nail this, you first need to think about the psychology of how and why your audiences share content with others. What motivates them to share a particular photo, video, experience or otherwise with their social networks, and not share others?
However consciously we do this, every time we make the decision to share something online, we are crafting our digital identity. The content we choose to share is a reflection of the person that we want others to believe us to be. Every tweet, retweet, pic, status update and comment we make helps us to build that persona. The current obsession with online personality quizzes and what I think of as “empathy articles” (“Which Game of Thrones character are you?” “How many of these significant works of art can you name?”, “Twenty signs that you work in a tech start-up”, etc) are an extension of this, showing people how cool/clever/cultured/funny/etc. we are seemingly verified through the impartiality of a test (ha!) or a third party view.
The secret, therefore, to creating effective sharable content experiences is to understand how your audiences want others to perceive them, and create experiences that give them the content that creates the persona they wish to be.
How will we know?
This is where your audience research needs to be tip top. People are unlikely to share the reality of this with you in a survey or a focus group. 9 times out of 10, they probably aren’t even aware of what they’re doing or why they shared a particular experience or piece of content.
That person who only ever uses Swarm to check in at airport lounges (yes, I am that person), are they really going to fess up in a focus group that for them location-based apps are purely a mechanism for trying to show people that they’re an exciting and well-travelled jet-setter? That person who just shared that they got 20 out of 20 in the art history quiz, are they really going to declare that they want the world to see them as oh-so-cultured? Probably not.
So, really getting to know your audiences by observing their behaviour online, listening to what they actually say, seeing what they actually share, knowing how they actually talk, is really the only way to fully build up the knowledge you need here. Otherwise, it’s all just guess work.
Go on then, give us some ideas…
We’re brimming with ideas for sharable content experiences at Pickle Jar, and mostly I’m going to be selfish and save those ideas for our clients. But here are some areas that you could get creative with to plan for your sharable content experiences:
1. Something they can wear…
This pair of slippers were provided for me in a hotel room. It’s a great example of taking something vaguely mundane and making something “sharable” out of it. The missing trick for the hotel in this case is not putting their logo somewhere on them.
This is a tactic that we’ve picked up for some of our clients to good success. First, the simple (and very cheap!) silicone wrist bands for a Newcastle University visit day with Geordie phrases on them (prospects loved them and we clocked plenty of Instagram pics of them being shared):
More recently, to help promote our work in creating the Imperial Success Guide for Imperial College London, these “Genius Recharging” eye masks were created. It’s worth bearing in mind with these, that an eye mask that just said “Imperial Success Guide” probably wouldn’t have gathered much interest at all. But add something a little witty or different to it – in this case an explicit statement about the wearer – and it becomes much more interesting and “sharable”:
2. Get creative with food…
So, why do Starbucks spell your names wrong on those cups? To begin with, perhaps an innocent mistake. Then, perhaps even out of boredom and disdain for particular customers (who knows?).
Or maybe, just maybe, because they know that you’re going to take a photo of that cup and – bam – loads of free marketing for Starbucks crawling all over social media (note: there are entire Tumblr accounts out there dedicated to sharing Starbucks name misspellings out there – go Starbucks marketing team, it may not be your idea but take a bow!). It’s not dissimilar to the Coca-Cola bottles with your names on either. With those, they’re playing the empathy game by enabling you to see yourself (i.e. your name) through their product – “oh wow, this is for me, this is about me” *shares pic on Facebook*.
A simple example, but I loved this one from a UCAS digital comms conference that I delivered a keynote at a few years ago. The social media themed cupcakes were available during the break, and guess what we all did with them (before devouring them of course)? Yep, Instagram:
3. Create some posing stations
A pull up display stand with your university’s crest on it is not going to cut it here. You need to get creative. But there’s a lot to be said for creating dedicated spaces designed for people to pose for a selfie (or “otherie” – hee, see what I did there?). Something cool, something unusual. One of my favourite examples spotted at SXSW last year was outside the exhibitors hall where they had installed a large Game of Thrones themed – well – throne. Perfect for hopping in and having your pic taken. The queues were massive.
Here’s one spotted in my local cinema in the build up to the launch of Monsters University. Ready, designed perfectly to stand in and pose with a life-sized Sully (I would):
4. Participation Art
This is somewhat an extension of the posing station idea, but I wouldn’t want to dismiss the awesomeness of what’s being achieved here by lowering it to the description of “posing station”. But how about creating some live participation art that your guests become part of? Take a look here at Kelsey Montague’s street art. I want my photo taken with this…
5. The outstanding
There’s a whole other category of sub-categories here that I’m just calling “the outstanding” because what we’re seeing here are examples of things that are just that little bit “wow”. Alternatively they’re just a little bit “they really made an effort there”. And those things that go just that little bit further are likely to gain attention, pics and shares.
Amongst this category I would include things like the Fenwicks’ department store Christmas window display that attracts hoards of people for the big reveal in the lead up to Christmas every year.
— North News (@northnews) November 7, 2014
Or even the utterly daft, like the giant asparagus I spotted in a college art department a few years ago:
We could go on… the placement of a celebrity, inciting a faux “banned” activity (imaging what would happen if you put up a giant sign saying “no selfie zone” – yep, you guess it, selfies galore all over the Internet), and so on. Hopefully, however, I’ve teased you with a few ideas to get your own creativity going.
If you ever want help with this, drop us a line at Pickle Jar and we’ll be happy to help. So many ideas that we could share…