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Experimentation Is How You Win
And you have to be okay with failure.
I’ve been working in online content strategy my entire career. Virtually every full-time job I’ve ever had has been related to online content strategy, and I have had the opportunity to do a lot of consulting over the years in this space with churches, Christian non-profits, authors, and other kinds of clients.
While I write often about the ways that our relationship with social media and the internet can warp our understanding of who we are and how we worship, I have spent my whole professional life trying to use the internet for good—to point people to the gospel for the first time or remind those who believe the gospel of its riches. I am so grateful to be able to do this kind of work. When the Lord called me to ministry in college, I wasn’t sure what kind of shape that calling would take, but this route never crossed my mind.
I realized recently that a single common theme has been coming up over and over again recently, and I thought it would maybe be helpful if I shared a bit about it because I think that, while it applies directly to online content strategy, it is broadly applicable to much of life. I realized recently that a single common theme has been coming up over and over again recently, and I thought it would maybe be helpful if I shared a bit about it because I think that, while it applies directly to online content strategy, it is broadly applicable to much of life. I’ll let you make connections to broader life as you see fit, but I’ll focus on how experimentation and learning to embrace failure is essential for effective content strategy.
Two Considerations As You Experiment
Broadly speaking, failure feels so scary. I get it. But the reality is that, in most situations, we aren’t making decisions between certain success and certain failure so much as we are groping around in the darkness of uncertainty in search of some feeling of affirmation that we’re doing okay. This applies to online content strategy as much as it does just about anything else.
When I first start coaching someone on how to improve their own online content strategy or the content strategy of their organization, the most common question I am asked is this, “What kind of content should I focus on making?” Sometimes, this answer to this question is clear, but honestly that’s more the exception than the rule. It’s complicated. But let me explain as best I can by differentiating between these two components: 1) content and 2) medium.
First: Your Content Bullseye
Are you an author trying to publish a book about Christians’ responsibility to care for the weak and vulnerable? Then your online content strategy needs to be full of content that revolves around those themes. It wouldn’t make any sense for you to start a Christian fitness blog or a personal finance podcast if you’re trying to write a book about the Christian responsibility to care for vulnerable people. Your target audience would have a hard time keeping track of who you are and what you’re writing about.
At the same time, if you just love to write and you’re unsure of what it is you what to write about both on the internet and in a book one day, you shouldn’t pigeon-hole yourself into a certain kind of content too early. Maybe you like writing about the NBA, board games, and Christian fellowship, but you aren’t sure if there is a particular topic that is your favorite. That’s fine! Just start writing about everything that interests you, pay attention to how your audience responds, keep track of your own interests, and see if a particular topic seems to resonate in your own heart and with an audience.
Figure out what your niche is, and hammer it with content until you’re among the leading experts in it. That could take years, but if you enjoy doing it, that’s just years of creative and intellectual fulfillment.
Second: Your Ideal Medium
So many authors or other creators hyperfixate on their content that they don’t always consider which medium is best for them to use in the distribution of that content. Let’s say you want to create content for Christian parents who have adopted children. You aren’t sure if you should write a blog, start a YouTube channel, or launch a podcast. What should you do?
The first assessment you need to make is of your own resources, skillset, and gifting. Are you a good writer? Or is writing painful for you, and you know it’s hard for you to write well? This will help you know if a blog is feasible.
Are you a good speaker? Do you have a nice camera? What about a good microphone? If you prefer speaking over writing and you have the requisite equipment, launching a YouTube channel or podcast for Christian adoptive parents may be a better idea than launching a blog for them.
In an ideal world, someone who wants to create content as a Christian adoptive parent to serve Christian adoptive parents would start a blog and use the written blog content to fuel video and podcast content. Because the creator does not know how his or her audience will prefer to consume content, it would be best to create content in all three of the major forms of media and see if the audience responds to one over the other. Upon analyzing that data, the creator can know how to best spend his or her time and resources.
Experiment, Fail, Learn, Improve
If you want to create content on the internet, perhaps even as a career at some point, you need to get comfortable with experimentation and failure. Because it’s through experimentation and failure that you learn and improve.
All the content we create online needs to be viewed like an experiment in a laboratory. There is very little we can be totally sure of when it comes to creating content online. Of course there are best practices, and at any given time there are trends to consider, but the best way to serve people with the gifts you have been given and grow an audience as an online content creator is to experiment, track what worked and didn’t work, and adjust your strategy accordingly.
Of course, the key to all of this is the following: you have to actually create content.
I have consulted close to a hundred individuals and organizations in the last decade, and by far the biggest obstacle for my clients who want to create more online content is simply the execution of whatever strategy I help them devise. Unfortunately, a lot of people are more in love with the idea of being a content creator than they are with the hard, never-ending work that comes with online content creation.
Experiment. Fail. Learn. Improve. It’s how you win.
By the way, if you think you or your organization could use some help in this space, I do consulting. Just respond to this email or reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.