Content Strategy 1998 Style

Content Strategy 1998 Style

Martin Cox

Content strategy can be difficult, confusing, overwhelming. Every business needs it as a key plank of its digital strategy.

There’s everything from novels to listicles to help. But I must admit, sometimes it seems so hard that I’ve become a hater. I know that content is marketing and it is bloody important, but it just seems so complex that I prefer to bury my head in the sand and leave it up to other people to promote my business and my clients’ businesses.

With some reflection, I realised this wasn’t always the case. I used to be an avid (and reasonably successful) blogger, before blogging was even really called blogging.

So I wind back to 1998. I built an online community through a football fan site. A big community.

Just to be clear, none of these things were invented in 1998:

  • Social media
  • Smartphones
  • SEO
  • Google (founded in September 1998)

These were the days of Yahoo, GeoCities and Pretty Fly (For A White Guy).

So how was an online community even possible?

There was no strategy to what I was doing. I was a 15 year old kid, doing something I was passionate about and it led to some great outcomes:

  • Site was contracted to an international network of sport sites and I got paid for doing it (nearly unheard of back in those days)
  • I got into a communications degree at University despite mediocre grades
  • It led to a number of jobs in the industry I wanted to work in

Strategic, maybe not. But were there sound principles that still apply to content marketing today? Yes.

Here’s a few…

Be passionate about what you’re creating

This shouldn’t need explaining. My only note here is more in regards to the flip side of the statement: don’t create content for stuff you don’t care about. Ideally you’re passionate and knowledgeable about the projects you are working on. You can get away with ticking just one of these boxes. But if you’re pretending to write/discuss/Instagram/Snapchat/podcast something you wouldn’t want to consume, don’t bother.

Frequency

New content every day. In 1998, people would turn to my fan site because it would have new content at least once a day. By simply doing this I was beating all the opposition in one key metric that mattered to the consumer. That’s not as easy to do today, because it seems everyone is posting every day. But there’s a simple equation that you should always keep in mind:

Frequency + Knowledge = Relevance.

You need people talking about your content

Back in 1998 there were pretty much no social networks to drive traffic to my site. But when I opened a discussion forum on the site, it gave the site a life of its own. All of a sudden hundreds of users were logging on to talk every day. They were not only viewing content on the site, but generating their own content and driving an agenda. It was the perfect business model in so many ways, as I owned the social platform that was generating all the traffic to my site.

Social media platforms have eroded this and destroyed this business model. So what can we learn from the good old days? Two questions you can ask yourself about your content strategy:

  • How can I move conversations onto my own platforms?
  • Am I using so many social platforms that the conversations about my content are becoming diluted?

Trial and error

Writing articles about a football team every day, without any access to any real talent, meant I created some truly crap content. But it also forced me to be creative. And, it meant I had plenty of analytics data (even though Google Analytics hadn’t been invented yet — in fact Google itself was founded in 1998) to tell me what people liked.

And believe it or not, short, trashy content almost always rated higher than comprehensive analysis pieces. One of my contributors once went to watch the team train and took photos of all the players’ tattoos. I didn’t want to publish that on my site, but I didn’t have the heart to tell the contributor that I wouldn’t publish their photos. That photo gallery became the most read article on my site. Sometimes, you’ve got to give the people what they want!

Share and be generous

As a 15 year old, I didn’t make business-based decisions (although in retrospect maybe I was a bit more savvy back then than I give myself credit for). But what I did well back then is:

  • Surrounded myself with the right people
  • Networked with other similar sites
  • Shared content and insights
  • Was just generally a good person

Following those simple actions resulted in good outcomes.

In fact, if there is a moral to this story, it’s to focus on simple actions in everything you do. And don’t spread yourself too thin and try to be everything to everyone.

The digital world may have a lot more layers today than it did 20 years ago, but that doesn’t need to make life harder. We just need to be a bit smarter in choosing the layers where we immerse ourselves.

Were you creating digital content 20 years ago? I’d love to hear other similar reflections!