MARKETING STRATEGY

How To Plan Your Blog Content (So You Always Know Exactly What To Write About)

How to plan your blog content - so you always know exactly what to write about. Includes a blog content planner workbook to help you create content that converts! Click through to download.

Most people I know fall into one of two categories when it comes to their blog content struggles – either they have too many ideas and can’t focus on a niche or they have a niche but struggle to consistently come up with ideas. Personally, I’ve been in both positions at one point or another, but as of a few months ago, I finally figured out my sweet spot. It only took like 6 years…

For the purposes of this post I’m going to assume that you’re a blogger / biz owner who wants to grow their audience and grow their sales. Which is probably most people – because blogging “just for fun” seems very 2009 to me. And now I feel old.

Understand your “why”

Your blog has a purpose. When you’re planning your content, it’s helpful to remember your “why” – what are you trying to accomplish through your blog? I blog to share my knowledge with my audience, to build trust with them, to humanize my brand, and to promote the products and services that I offer. I don’t blog about what I did over the weekend or what color nail polish I’m wearing (anymore) because I know that’s not something that my audience really cares about. When I plan my content I ONLY think about the topics that will educate, inspire, or entertain my audience in a way that relates to my purpose. 

Sometimes you need to go wide first

Everyone in the world is probably telling you to focus on a niche. BUT – I also think that sometimes you need to explore a lot of things to figure out what you really want to blog about. Same goes for your target audience – you NEED a target audience, but I actually don’t think it’s a bad thing if you work with a number of different types of people in different industries at first. You may even realize that you don’t actually want to work with the people you thought you wanted to work with!

In relation to your blog content, it may help to start with a brain dump of ALL THE THINGS you could write about in relation to your “why” – with a ton of ideas, you will probably see a few different categories emerge, and then you can narrow down your specific post topics from there. You could also skip the brain dump and start with a few select categories and only think about post ideas that fit into those specific categories – whatever works for you!

What do you know?

The awesome thing about knowing your purpose and knowing your target audience is that once you have these things in place, blogging is easier. If you know what they want to know, you always have something to share. How do you know what they want to know? If you already have clients / customers, think about the questions that they ask.  If you’re just starting out, stalk them do a little research wherever they hangout – search Facebook groups, observe twitter chats, creep on Instagram, etc. And chances are, YOU relate to your target audience in some way, so think about the things that you wish you had known 2 or 3 years ago!

I literally keep a running list in Evernote of FAQs – not only because one day I may actually create a FAQ page, but also because it helps me come up with blog post ideas. I currently have so many blog post ideas that I will probably never get around to using them all, but that’s not such a bad problem to have!  If someone in your target audience asks a question in a Facebook group or in a Periscope comment or in a one-on-one meeting, write it down! You’ll be surprised by how many ideas you will come up with just by LISTENING. 

Make the most of what you already have

If you’ve been blogging for a while, you should be paying attention to analytics. Your old blog posts can tell you what topics your audience is really interested in – I keep track of not only which posts get the most traffic, but also the posts that get the most engagement (comments, social shares, opt-ins) and the posts that result in the most revenue. Think about how you can expand on those popular posts to write new content. For example, 10 ways to grow your instagram following was my most popular post in 2015, so last week I posted 3 more instagram strategies. I also included a content upgrade for both of these posts with a checklist of the 8 things you should be doing for every instagram post, and as of today, that content upgrade is converting around 50% which is a nice bonus!

Your blog has a purpose. When you're planning your content, it's helpful to remember your “why” – what are you trying to accomplish through your blog?Click To Tweet

Create a schedule that works for you

If we rewind back to 2010, you’d see I was the type of blogger that went from posting 5 days a week to once every other month… I lost a lot of my audience and a lot of subscribers during that period because I was so inconsistent. Don’t be like the old me. If you can’t regularly publish a new post 5 days a week, don’t try. Pick one day, two days, three days… most people would agree that quality is more important than quantity when it comes to blogging these days, and personally, I’d rather see one really valuable post a week from someone than several “meh” posts. If you only have 10 hours a week to work on your blog and it takes you 5 hours to complete a post, basic math would tell you to do 2 posts per week… but that doesn’t account for all of the OTHER things that go into blogging – social media, networking, community building, photography/design, and editorial planning are only some of the other things that you may need to find time to do, so make sure you factor in time for all of your tasks!

Back to the point

Or perhaps I should say, back to your purpose – every blog post you write should have a clear call to action that directly relates to your purpose. Whether you are asking a question to encourage discussion or directing your blog readers to buy your product or you are telling them to CLICK TO DOWNLOAD THE FREE BLOG CONTENT PLANNER (as in, what I’m telling you to do now), you don’t want your audience to walk away without doing something.

A few helpful tools

To plan my blog content I (currently) use a combination of Trello to brainstorm post ideas, the WordPress Editorial Calendar plugin to plan / schedule posts, Asana for my specific tasks / project management, and Evernote to keep track of random post ideas as they come up in conversations. That sounds like a lot of tools for one end result, but it’s the system that works best for me (and all of those tools are free)! Before you get into ANY of that, you should have a solid blog content plan in place – by creating a plan, you will be able to better address the needs of your target audience, focus on creating content that converts, and streamline your blog workflow! I’ve put together workbook of blog planning exercises to help get you started which you can download for free below!

cu-blog-content-planner

3 strategies to quickly double your instagram (how we grew to 30,000 followers in 2 months)

Double Your Instagram - the exact strategies we used to grow from 15,000 to 30,000 followers in just 2 months plus a free checklist of the 8 things you should be doing for every instagram post!

About 2 months ago I shared 10 ways to grow your instagram following detailing the exact ways I grew my dog’s instagram account from 0 to 15,000 followers last year. It was my most popular post of 2015 (thanks to Pinterest!), so I’m sharing an update now that Mochi’s instagram following has doubled from 15,000 to 30,000 in just 2 months! Use these strategies to double your Instagram followers!

Let’s back up for a moment – in case your wondering, “why this post is about your dog?” As a digital marketing strategist, I consult AND manage a number of different Instagram accounts, but for privacy reasons it would be weird for me to give you a behind the scenes look at the growth of my clients’ accounts. So my dog’s account is like a “test account” where I can show you her exact statistics and share the strategies that I’ve used to grow her account. Also, she monetizes her account as a digital influencer and plans to utilize her Instagram account to sell her own products this year, so I’ll be sharing a look at exactly how that works in future posts. Seriously though, if MY DOG can earn an income from Instagram, you can too!

Don’t miss: 10 Ways to Grow Your Instagram Following

First of all, I’ll say it was definitely easier to grow from 15,000 to 30,000 than it was to grow from 0 to 15,000 – in part because I had mastered these 10 things, but also because I think when people see “popular” accounts they think, “Oh! If all these other people are following along, I should too!” I say this not to discourage anyone who is starting from 0, but rather to say, it DOES get easier! 

Planoly - best visual Instagram scheduling tool

3 strategies to quickly double your instagram

The TL;DR version is we incorporated seasonal content, were strategic about repost potential, and changed up the timing of some of our posts.

In November of 2015, I set a goal of growing from 15,000 to 25,000 by the end of the year. I didn’t really have any plans to change our Instagram strategy because I knew 25,000 was attainable given her growth rate at the time. But we hit the goal a few weeks ahead of schedule so I thought about what (intentionally or not) I had done differently during this period. She’s now averaging 2,000+ net new followers per week so we’re on track to hit 100,000 this year!  

How @mochiandthecity grew her instagram account to 30,000 followers

Incorporate seasonal content

Sharing seasonal content is not a new idea when it comes to blogging or marketing in general, but I didn’t really think it would have as much of an effect on Mochi’s instagram growth. It’s true though – people LOVE seasonal content! We shared a photo of her Halloween costume that got high engagement, so I wanted to be more intentional about sharing holiday photos in December – and I’m so glad I did because a few posts like this little Santa outfit was featured in the Huffington Post and this photo in front of our Christmas tree resulted in several hundred new followers. I am really selective of the sponsored content we share, but this ad we did for Walgreens was also particularly good for exposure as it was timely for the holiday season.

Assuming you are probably not going to go dress up as Santa for instagram photos (or if you are, that’s cool too), there are still a lot of ways you can incorporate seasonal content into your Instagram posts. If you are a blogger or small business owner, seasonal content could be anything like… the best boots to wear in the winter / a Valentine’s Day gift guide / DIY Easter decorations / ten recipes for 4th of July BBQs / tips for making the most of your summer vacation / the ultimate to fall nail polish / holiday essentials for the busy entrepreneur. Kind of a random list there, but you get it. Seasonal content is shareable content because its relevant and relatable!

Many accounts repost photos from their community, so take a look at some of the popular accounts to see the types of photos they tend to repost, and use their hashtags strategically. Click To Tweet

Be strategic about repost potential

One thing that I did do strategically was that in November I made a list of hashtags to use that would increase Mochi‘s exposure. I looked for accounts that reposted dog photos and specifically made lists of 1) niche pet accounts with over 100,000 followers and 2) dog-friendly brands with over 50,000 followers. I took a look at their feeds to determine the types of photos that seemed to get reposted more often (for example, outdoor photos vs. indoor, close up vs. wide angle, funny vs. heartwarming) and then strategically posted these types of photos with relevant hashtags.

One example is West Elm (650,000+ followers) – a dog-friendly brand that often posts photos of furry pals on their main instagram account as well as their smaller city specific accounts. We happen to have a lot of West Elm furniture, so I use their hashtag #mywestelm on any photos of Mochi that we post that include West Elm furniture. Since most of our photos are taken in our apartment, this was an obvious choice, and it paid off because on Cyber Monday West Elm reposted this photo of Mochi and a couple of the store accounts like West Elm LA and West Elm St. Louis have also reposted her photos which is pretty cool.

Another example is Dogs and Pals (300,000+ followers) – this niche dog community reposts select photos with their hashtag and I noticed that whoever curates their account seems to like photos that are close up vs. far away and photos of dogs looking cozy in bed seem to be featured often. Most of our photos of Mochi are close up + cuddly, so I started using their hashtag more intentionally, and sure enough about 4 weeks ago they reposted this photo.

No matter who your audience is, there are probably accounts in your niche with larger followings. Many accounts repost photos from their community, so take a look at some of the popular accounts to see the types of photos they tend to repost, and use their hashtags strategically. You can check out a few great posts on hashtags for creatives / bloggers / entrepreneurs, here, here and here

@mochiandthecity best times to post on instagram analytics

Don’t Be Afraid to Change Things Up 

The last thing that we did during this period to double Mochi’s instagram following was somewhat accidental. Mochi was posting twice a day on a pretty regular schedule – I look at her analytics in Iconosquare regularly, and had identified the times with the highest engagement, so I pretty much stuck to them. During December we were traveling for the holidays and with everything going on plus a time difference, I posted at a few random times and thought – oh well, if her engagement is low, I won’t be upset. It turns out the opposite happened and a few of those random times led to some of her highest engagement ever PLUS brought in a stream of new followers. You’ll see on the chart above a large dot on Sunday around 4pm when we posted this photo and around 11pm when we posted this photo.

These are not times on her “typical” schedule, but to be honest, I had stuck to the same schedule for the past 3-4 months. In that period, she gained almost 20,000 new followers, so of course her “best” times to post may have changed! I am going to make more of an effort to experiment with timing moving forward as her audience grows.

So those are the 3 “new” strategies I used to double Mochi’s instagram following from 15,000 to 30,000 in two months – but as I mentioned, I also continued to do these 10 things. I’ve enjoyed documenting her progress, so perhaps I’ll share another update later this year when she hits bigger milestones like 50,000 or 100,000. It’s still a little crazy to me that SO MANY people follow her (I mean, she’s super cute, but she’s not exactly providing life changing content to the world), though it’s also cool to see her grow as a brand – she currently earns a small but consistent income, and has BIG plans for 2016!

P.S. You should probably be following Mochi already. And if you haven’t been planning your Instagram feed in advance (so you KNOW it’s going to look good!) – click the link below to try my favorite Instagram scheduling tool!

Planoly - best visual Instagram scheduling tool

How to Pitch Bloggers For Collaborations

How to Pitch Bloggers For Collaborations - what you need to know as a small biz owner before you reach out to bloggers. Plus a free cheat sheet with 15 collaboration ideas!

In case you missed it, a couple of weeks ago I shared tips on how to find bloggers / influencers to collaborate with and now I’m following up with the second part of the series – how to actually connect and pitch bloggers for collaborations!

Know Who You Are Pitching

There’s no good excuse to reach out to someone and NOT address then by their name. Like their actual name. It’s INSANE how often bloggers get emails that are like “Hi Wonderfelle World blogger” or just “Dear blog editor” or even “Dear Wonderfelle” <– No. My name is Elle and like most bloggers it’s clearly noted on my homepage, about page and on my social media accounts. Take the time to find the blogger’s actual name and PLEASE spell it right. This is not Starbucks, this is your marketing outreach, and if you want people to actually read your email and respond, you need to address them properly!

Do Your Homework

Many bloggers have a page or section on their blog with information regarding how they collaborate with brands. If they don’t, you can take a look around their site to see – do they have ads? Do they do sponsored posts? Do they list products as c/o or gifted? Legally they are supposed to mention when products are gifted or blog posts are sponsored (paid) so these details within their blog posts will give you a clue as to whether they are already working with brands.

Before you reach out to a blogger, it’s a good idea to engage with them a bit first. Like and comment on a couple of their Instagram photos or reply to some of their tweets or leave a comment on their blog. Assuming you’re not representing a huge company or well known PR firm (otherwise you’re probably not reading this post!), you’ll want bloggers to recognize your brand/name so they are more likely to read and respond to your email when you reach out!

Optimize Your Outreach 

After you’ve done your homework, you have my permission to reach out ;) Unless they specify otherwise, I recommend contacting bloggers directly by email. I don’t typically suggest reaching out via direct message on social media because not everyone checks their messages (especially if your message gets filtered which happens on instagram / FB when they are not already following you). Also, you will want to include relevant links in your pitch and make it easy to for them to keep track of your message, both of which are easier to do in email vs. a direct message. Beyond that, email is just more professional – and there’s a reason why many bloggers have their email listed in their social bios or on their website – they want you to use it!

When it comes to your email, don’t forget – your subject matters! Keep it short but include your brand name and a short phrase that will entice them to open the email. Examples could be “Collaboration with XYZ Brand” or “Invitation to partner with XYZ Brand” or “Feature in XYZ Publication” – make the point of your email clear from the start.

There's no good excuse to reach out to someone and NOT address then by their name. Like their actual name. Click To Tweet

Make The Pitch

Obviously your pitch will be different depending on what your goals are, but your email should include a few key elements:
Salutation: use their real name
Introduction: 1 sentence that explains who you are / who you represent
Personal connection: a sentence or two that demonstrates you’ve actually read their blog and have done your research to determine why you think they are a good fit to partner with
Get to the point: tell them the reason for your email (gifted product? sponsored post? advertising?)
What’s in it for them: a successful collaboration will be beneficial for both parties – make sure you are making it clear what the benefits are for the blogger
Include the details: mention if your proposed collaboration has a timeline or any special requirements and link to any relevant pages on your website or blog so it is easy for them to find any specific information
Signature: include links to your website / social media accounts

You Should Also Know

Just because bloggers accept gifted items, that doesn’t mean they accept them all. Some bloggers may choose to approve items before they agree to receive them (and hand over their address), and just because you gift a blogger that doesn’t necessarily mean they will feature/review your product (unless you are paying for a sponsored post).

Speaking of sponsored posts, it’s not a bad idea to have a contract for these. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but having a 1 page document that outlines the terms of the sponsored post (required deliverables, due date, compensation) ensures that everyone is one the same page and expectations are clear.

If you want to collaborate with a blogger / influencer but you don’t have something specific in mind, ask for their media kit. This will detail their relevant blog / social statistics as well as the ways in which they typically work with brands. If you have ideas for collaboration opportunities beyond what is stated in their media kit, don’t be afraid to ask! Most bloggers are open to mutually beneficial collaborations even if they aren’t specified in their media kits.

Finally, the more “popular” a blogger is, the more emails she/he probably gets – so you may not get a reply right away (or ever). Bloggers are busy so you may need to send a follow-up message, but I would give them about a week to respond before contacting them again – you don’t want to be obnoxious! If you don’t hear back after that, I would move on for now (you can potentially reach out again in a few months if you want) – there are plenty of bloggers out there, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t hear back from everyone!