Any content marketer can recite the magic content mantra with their eyes closed: get the right content in front of the right people at the right time.
But what is the right content?
If you know your customer, you should know the right content. It answers their questions and solves their problems. They sleep like a baby because you eliminated the big problem that used to keep them counting sheep until the rooster crowed.
But how do you find out what keeps your audience in a state of constant panic? Check out this process to find out anything you want to know about your target audience:
Choose the places you’ll go to find questions.
There are three reliable places to go online for questions:
- “question” sites
- social media
Don’t forget these real world things to do to find out more:
- phone calls
- in-person meetings
Forums are often overlooked because they aren’t as sexy or cool, but many niches have several active forums with very engaged users.
To find one, do a Google search for forums in your niche (graphic design, entrepreneurship, etc). Sometimes communities spring up around a popular industry blog or site, so you will have to do a little digging.
Etsy is an awesome example. They have a very engaged community on their forums, and you can find answers to almost any related questions there.
When you get there, look for threads with lots of recent comments and several thousand members. Take note of questions that don’t seem to have a good answer.
Quora is devoted exclusively to questions and answers, while Reddit uses discussions. They both have a much simpler text-based interface than modern sites, and learning how to use them is a little different. Because of their size, you will have to search to find questions relevant to your audience.
Social media is a popular place to find out what people struggle with, but you may have to trudge through a bunch of off-color comments and pointless conversations (depending on where you look). The best places to find questions here include:
- closed or secret Facebook groups (you’ll need to join them to view the conversations)
- LinkedIn groups
- Twitter search
In addition to the online tactics mentioned above, don’t ever forget about your current or past customers. You’ve already solved their problems, and their insights will provide precious information on what motivated them to use you.
Instead of sending an email or link to a survey (which you can do), why not call them or meet in person to talk about how you’ve helped them in the past?
- facebook groups: find industry-specific closed groups with at least a few thousand members. Look at questions with the most interaction
- twitter: do an advanced search on Twitter for specific hashtags
- search for the most shared content on BuzzSumo and you’ll get an idea of what people think as well
- set up a stream in Hootsuite for Twitter mentions on a specific hashtag to keep track of what people are talking about
- use IFTTT or Zapier to create a list of content people are talking about
Research Pain Points and Compile Information
Now comes the fun part: research and record.
Once you’ve chosen the places you’ll look for information, you’ll need to spend some time looking for the questions your customers are asking.
A couple of best practices to make things easier:
- When searching on forums, make sure the thread started recently. Needs change over time, and what people were interested in a year ago may not matter now.
- If you don’t like the search feature on Quora, Reddit or social media groups, you can do an advanced search on Google. Type the command site.com:search term. Let’s say you wanted to look for something about content marketing on Spokal. In the search box on google, you would type “site:getspokal.com time management” and your results would only come from the website you asked for. (This doesn’t always work for forums.)
- When choosing a group on social, make sure it has a minimum of several thousand members and lots of activity. Some groups may be large but only contain links to content group members wrote. You can’t always see this until after you join.
- Quora and Reddit have an upvoting system, look for how popular the answer is and lots of upvotes.
- Do a Twitter search for information. Always look at recent tweets with lots of activity.
Now that you’ve found what people are looking for, you need to document it. Record your findings in a way that will make it easy for you to reference it when you need to.
BONUS: Don’t just record relevant information, but find a way to automate it!
Set up a stream in Hootsuite to keep track of the hashtags you searched for in Twitter.
Use automation like IFTTT and Zapier to list new information on a spreadsheet (like Quora questions) or send it to a special Slack channel so you can find out what’s changing (or not).
Create Content Around Pain Points
Now that you know what keeps people from moving forward, it’s time to use your content superpowers to become their hero.
Before you start crafting content, ask yourself two things from your research:
- What were the most frequently asked questions?
- What questions were never answered?
Once you determine what people really haven’t seen answers to and asked the most, you’re ready. This isn’t just about epic blog posts. Once you find an answer that really resonates, you’ll want to create bite-sized content and more long-form stuff:
- long answers for Quora (save your link until the end of your answer)
- slide decks
- online courses
- email marketing
It’s important to reuse, recycle and repurpose your content into as many different avenues as possible. Mega recruiting firm used this method and created 20 pieces of content for every one idea.
The list above contains 10 additional types of content. If you created two of each type for every idea, you’ll easily come up with 20 ideas to spread all over the internet and attract more attention.
Test Your Content and Adjust
Once you’ve created a gazillion pieces of content and plastered them all over the place, it’s time to measure your results.
Ask the following questions:
- Which type of content got the most shares?
- What got the most likes?
- Did people interact more with a certain type of content than others?
Your audience will gravitate to a particular type of content. Focus on creating more good stuff in the formats that work the best for your target. Abandon whatever isn’t worth your time.
Always have a metric in mind for what you consider success to be. If your content is to drive sales sooner than later, engagement (comments and likes) is not a great indicator of this. But sign-ups, free trials and opt-ins will tell you how salesworthy your audience is.
What about surveys?
Traditional market research methods involve filling out surveys online or by hand. If respondents are honest, these can collect valuable information about your target audience’s habits.
The problem with this is that you have to get an extremely large sample to respond in order for them to work. 100 responses doesn’t cut it.
Don’t think about asking people to fill out a SurveyMonkey survey either, since you have to pay after a certain number of responses.
If you do decide to go this route, try using Google Forms to collect your data instead.
Don’t be surprised if you get an extremely poor response. You have to create a stellar incentive for people to be motivated.
However, calling people and doing surveys over the phone might work better if you’ve already established a relationship with them.
Buying responses from companies like SurveyMonkey is an option if you have deep pockets.
Wrapping It Up
Finding out what your customers want to know isn’t quantum physics, and it doesn’t require psychic powers or a crystal ball, either.
All it takes is a little detective work, a sincere desire to help, and the boldness to put something out there and test it until you find what works. Just be careful not to stalk people too much or you’ll turn them off.
Go to where they like to vent, create something that takes their headaches away, and test it on every platform until you find the ones that work best for you. Don’t forget to do at least 20 pieces of content to maximize the effectiveness of every idea.
If you do get a chance to ask people what problems keep them stressed out, ask just enough questions to prevent your q&a session from seeming like an interrogation.
With a little persistence and a heap of consistency, you’ll be rescuing prospects from nightmare situations and presenting yourself as the solutions they’ve been looking for in no time.