Guided by a recent workshop led by Fiona Walford, Head of Creative Development at Google, Hardie Grant Media (HGM) has created its own guide to content fundamentals.
The workshop was primarily focused on creating content for YouTube, but what we found interesting (and perhaps unsurprising!) was that the fundamentals for creating good content are the same across all mediums. Video, long-form articles, social media, podcasts – all this content sings when it's informed by the same hymnbook.
So here's ours: HGM's top 10 content fundamentals. We live and breathe by these rules, and encourage all content producers to do the same.
Hardie Grant Media's Top 10 Content Fundamentals
Content that stands out is always original. How do we make it original? Uncover new angles to topics that have been covered before, such as interviewing a new subject, or covering it in a way that's arresting or provocative. While it may seem difficult to find new ways to approach a topic as widely covered as parenting, we achieved it with the award-winning Navigating Parenthood podcast we produced for not-for-profit health fund HCF.
In season 2, we talk to teens about sex and consent, grief, depression and suicide in a very candid way. We placed mental health and wellbeing at the forefront of all the discussions, ensuring Australian parents and their children have the freedom to raise their concerns with advice from experts, and positive takeaways to action in their own lives.
Although it's impossible to predict which articles or videos will 'go viral' (sorry, we wish we knew!) it's always important to produce content with shareability in mind.
This could mean creating content that's topical – tied to an upcoming date, such as the 'Everyday Fancy: What to Drink When You're Not Drinking' series we worked on for Dan Murphy's this Dry July.
It could also be content that provokes an emotional response in your audience – people are much more likely to share content that's controversial or funny. We want to make sure our audience always has a reason to share our content.
Ensuring we publish and distribute on the right channels and in the right context (including posting at the right time of day, and understanding whether we expect it to #trend or be evergreen) will make our content more discoverable, capturing as many eyes and ears as possible.
For HGM's first digital edition of ANZIIF's The Journal, we knew many of ANZIIF's members would be receiving their magazines via an email on their phones for the first time. To make this experience positive, we took some of the best stories from the magazine and built them into mobile-optimised 'stories' that members could read on-the-go.
It's also important to make sure anything digital is SEO optimised by using keyword research in tools like SEMrush, including links to other pages on the site and external sites to encourage exploration, and tagging images with captions and alt text.
Content that's accessible means content that's enjoyable without context (or context has been provided); is in an appropriate format (e.g. video, article, social media series) for the story or topic; and that's at the right complexity level for your audience (if it's an article, it must be written in a style that's readable, e.g. subheadings, bulleted lists); and provides valuable information to your audience.
It can also mean making sure your content is inclusive – for example, if your audience is vision impaired, ensuring you print using a larger font, such as the large-print PDF version of Flourish magazine that we create for Australian Unity. Remember that no matter how well written or produced your content is, if it's inaccessible to your audience, it's worthless.
Whether we're writing 3,000 words or 300 words, or creating a 15-second Instagram story or a 15-minute YouTube video, our goal is to ensure it's engaging enough to keep our audience reading, watching or listening right to the end.
How? Apply a conversational tone or make it interactive – can we involve our audience somehow?
Creating content that adheres to a consistent look, feel and tone is another, as is creating content that's perfectly targeted for its intended audience.
The March 2020 issue of the currently-on-hold Virgin Australia magazine features this article on geeking out in Shibuya, Tokyo, and it engages the readers with its conversational tone. It's both niche and broadly appealing, and perfectly suited to an audience who loves to travel.
Passion and authenticity are contagious, and audiences will notice whether it's there or not.
This punchy blog post we put together for Rawson Homes was all about showcasing their new design studio, but by incorporating advice from brand spokespeople in the form of a short, sharp checklist, we made the content genuinely useful for their existing and new customers.
7. On brand
It's important to create content that reflects the brands values and mission statement, employs the right language and tone for its core audience, and aligns the messages to be in step with the brand's goals – are we recommending people use the public health system when the client is a private health insurer?
Does the imagery align with the client's visual look and feel and does the content fit well inside one of the brand's content pillars. This insightful article on concept cars that we produced for Mercedes-Benz slides nicely underneath its 'innovation' content pillar.
A call to action (CTA) doesn't need to be a one-liner that sits at the end of the feature to encourage the next step. It could be embedded inside the article in a more subtle way. It's also worth asking whether it's the right CTA for the content and the context?
Does it encourage lead generation, or help the consumer follow the next logical step in their purchase journey? Or, in the case of the member mags we produce for Zoos Victoria, Zoo News and Zooper Kids, does it encourage readers to visit an exhibition in person, or jump online to check out the Animals at Home live streams?
If the content is part of a series, how easy is it to make more of? How often will it be rolled out? How will it fit with the budget?
Because of COVID-related restrictions, we had to pivot the content we create for The Star from print to digital, which resulted in a social media series called The Star At Home. By asking the chefs to film their own content, which we then edited and produced, we were able to roll out regular content despite restrictions.
10. Best in class
Does the content represent best practice? Will it surprise and delight your audience? Is the grammar and punctuation correct? Is there a multichannel approach to the content piece? Is the image visually rich? Is the content as good as it can be?
A project we're proud of is this one we produced for Wine Victoria last year – you can read all about it here
Keeping these content fundamentals front-of-mind is one of the easiest and most effective ways to set us up for success. If you're not practising the same (or similar), it's not too late to start.
Anna Webster, editor