In the past 12 months – Pilar Barrio tells us- we have been bombarded by hundreds, if not thousands of articles, about content marketing. Unless I’m becoming paranoid, I do see them everywhere… when I open my Twitter feed, when I visit any industry blog or magazine… Anyway, what is all about and does it really matter?

First of all, she continues, content has been king since the beginning of time. Especially since the birth of the called social web. I started my career doing precisely that: creating and distributing videos across the Internet with the aim of getting people sharing them. Back then, we hadn’t rationalised the scientific bit of what we were doing. Perhaps because we didn’t have a clue and were just ‘experimenting’ (which is what scientists do right?) or maybe we were just really busy doing what we had to do, and it worked.

So now that we know this is not new, does it really work? Do I need to spend any time or effort paying attention to content? Yes and yes! The question is how to spend your time and how to make it effective.

Humans are impatient species. And those who happen to be marketers, communicators or creators fit in that box more than any other person in the planet. So we just want to get it done, launch it and see it fly. However, the most important step to good effective content comes much earlier and it’s something many tend to ignore. Here they’re 5 simple steps to content success:

1- Listen into your audience conversations.

Fine, I’m not saying you start another Murdochgate here and go crazy hacking the phones of your customers. No, there is an easier (and ethical) way of doing this. You can use free or paid for tools such as Socialmention or Viralheat to do so. Identify which key topics your audience are talking about within your sector and surrounding areas of interest.

Don’t limit your research to your brand and competitors. People don’t just talk about brands online. For example, if you sell coach tickets, analyse conversations about traveling within the routes you cover, about their motivations to go to those places, about what they do when they get there, about what they tend to be worried about before, during and after their journey.

It’s about finding out what creates engagement for the audience on social media. Then, quantify the number of conversations per topic and use them as a guide to start building your content calendars.

2 – Draw a picture of your typical ‘fan’.

This is about finding out and understanding what other things they like on social media, what other products, brands, sectors they tend to follow on Twitter, like on Facebook and what content they share already. It’s sometimes tricky to find out and you may need to gather the data manually on a spreadsheet to analyse it.

3 – Capture the zeitgeist.

Zeitgeist is a German word that means something along the lines of ‘spirit of the time’ and in this context, I’m referring to ‘trends now’. What is driving conversation and engagement right now on twitter? What type of content formats are being shared everywhere? Here, you need your observation skills (e.g. I recently found that many of my Facebook and Pinterest contacts were sharing ‘motivational’ images and ecards). Pinterest can be great for that, as well as twitter’s trending topics.

4 – Matching games.

Now the fun starts. You’ve spent some time doing your research, you know your audience better and are ready to create your content calendar. So all you need is to apply a ‘brand filter’ (are the topics relevant to my brand personality?) first and then a ‘messaging filter’ (‘can I convey my brand messages using these themes as a container’?) and voila!

5 – Choose your format. 

Finally, your zeitgeist research should have guided you to choose the best formats in which deliver your messages. Is it a ‘how to’ video? Is it ‘an ecard’? Is it a ‘poll with an image’? Whatever you end up creating, read it out loud and think ‘Would I click, share or like that post if it wasn’t my business’? If the answer is no, then you know what to do.

There are, of course, loads of best practices to take into account when creating content for different social platforms and we know that a visual statement is essential on places like Facebook or Pinterest, however it’s all about keeping your eyes (and ears) open and learn from the world around you. Good luck!

It’s your turn now! Any doubt that came across when following these steps? Something else to add to this post? Leave us a comment! We’ll be very glad to hearing from you!

In the meantime, follow our contributor Pilar Barrio’s website or Twitter account. Fancy knowing the latest trends and info about social media? Come and follow us on Twitter or Google+, or find new pictures and infographics on Pinterest. Why not to join our interesting conversations with other specialists on our fanpage and our LinkedIn Group. We’ll be waiting for you!