Content marketers need a channel map to be successful. Here’s how to get started.

Creating content that your audiences love is only one part of the puzzle

Content marketers tend to focus on how to produce unique, engaging and useful content. But there’s another part of your strategy that needs to be aligned with your content-creation efforts. Because if it’s not, it can drag down all that work you’re putting into your content. 

That part is your channel strategy. Defining the channels that matter to your brand — and how you’ll support them and measure ROI from them — is critical to your overall operation. 

That’s why every content marketer should focus on building and maintaining a channel map to guide their efforts. Here’s how to get started: 

Start with audience data, not your existing channel list. The first step is to investigate your audience without bias — where are they actually spending their time? Your channel map should be built from a strong foundation of audience knowledge and service backed by strong data — not from a laundry list of channels that you feel compelled to be in simply because they exist.  (Side note: You’ll want to make sure you have content series that speak to your audience’s needs in each channel too). 

Next, take an assessment of your existing channels. Activity in a channel takes time and energy. And having a channel just to have one — especially one that can’t be supported due to resource constraints — might lead to a poor brand experience. You’ll want to develop a comprehensive list of your existing supported channels so you can get a good sense of where your team’s time is being spent. Here’s a starting list of possibilities: 

  • Specific social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, etc.) 
  • Direct-to-audience communication (sales emails, marketing emails, marketing newsletters, direct-mail lists)
  • Search engines 
  • Site referrers 
  • Partnerships/barters 
  • Paid media 
  • Internal communications channels (intranets, company newsletters)
  • The list goes on and on – but this is a good starting point for your investigation

For each channel, list resource demands and its current value in reaching your target audiences. 

  • What effort is your team currently making to support the channel? 
  • What current value (ROI) are you seeing from the channel? Be specific about real ROI for your business, not vanity metrics. Reach to an audience of non-buyers or prospects is a distraction.

Next, match the data you found with your current channel list. Your goal is to understand each channel’s potential value and assess where it makes the most sense to focus. This will likely result in cutting the list of channels you support, and that’s okay. Most marketing teams have too many channels to support well. If your analysis returns a mismatch of where your audience is spending its time and where your team is spending its time,  that’s the best indication to rethink your channel map. If you can focus on fewer channels and better grow your audience within them, you’ll gain the momentum to build into additional channels in the future. 

Strategically choose the next channel — just one! — to experiment in. If your analysis found channels with high audience penetration — and you have the resources to support it — consider running a single pilot in a new channel after you’ve pared down your list. 

Turn the list into an operational document. Once you have a firm strategy in place for the year that details the channels you’ll support (including the type of content, voice/tone and cadence), you need to operationalize the channel map. Why? To remind your team where you’re focusing — and where you’re not. And for those who have larger channel maps (common for big brands), having a list of all the possible channels for promotion helps support campaign plans, cross-promotional efforts and content planning. Make sure everyone on your team has a copy of the channel map, and that you’re actively updating it (and celebrating) as you hit channel-growth milestones. 

Finally, remember that individual channel strategies don’t exist in a vacuum. The best marketers are focused on knowing their audiences, delivering content that uniquely resonates with them and strategically growing a variety of channels to support ROI efforts. But, importantly,  they also are experts at cross-promotion, leveraging one established channel to prop up a new one, and obsessively watching their growth and ROI on each. 

At any given time, this channel map can help you understand and communicate why you’re active in a specific channel, what kind of content works in that channel, and how your overall channel strategy is driving toward outcomes that matter to your business. R

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