Strategy & Tactics For Online Publishing Success

by Dan Blank on September 26, 2008

There are so many publishers and brands with great ideas on how to engage readers on the web and build a viable online business. With new tools at their disposal, there is nothing but opportunity. But with new media and Web 2.0, there is always the risk of:

Pursuing tactics, without an overall strategy.

For instance, getting into Twitter or social networking, or SEO, or videos or podcasting, without taking a step back and understanding how this fits into a larger editorial strategy… and more importantly… into the lives of readers and customers. The big question should always be:

How does this strategy or tactic solve a problem for readers and customers.

Everything a brand does online should have a strategy. Let’s take blogs as an example. There are many differing opinions as to what a blog is, and the value it can bring. I have seen how blogs that are done well, not only bring more people to a website, but result in more INVOLVEMENT with the brand. Blogs and bloggers can quickly become brands in themselves, which can be leveraged in for variety of new product offerings and research opportunities.

I see all too many blogs that are filled with “just good enough” content, and updated so infrequently, that it is difficult to even define them as a blog. In the end, they are left with sparse content areas that are filled with editorial backwash – news and commentary that the brand – and their readers – consider secondary. That is not the purpose of a blog, and will not strengthen anyone’s editorial strategy, business, or the lives of their readers and customers.

Situations like this seem to be the case of pursuing tactics without a strategy.

A common problem people face when launching a blog strategy is finding people to update the blog multiple times a week. Often, they may have to resort to launching a blog that doesn’t focus on the topic most essential to their readers, but instead, on a topic that they could find an author for. This type of situation needs to be reversed.

Once you have a set strategy for a blog, then the tactics give much greater payoff. For example, I have spoken to dozens of bloggers who struggle with keeping their blogs updated.

So let’s just say you have a blog, and you know the topic is important, but the author can’t find the time to update it more than once a week. With an update frequency that low, you will likely miss ALL the benefits that a blog should give you. Here are some tactics to solve this issue:

  • Set a goal of updating the blog from once a week, to twice a week.
  • Create an update schedule, say Mondays and Wednesdays.
  • Each day should have a different type of blog post, one that is easy to create, and one that is a bit harder.
  • For the hard one, that should be their main topic of the week. Perhaps it is a tip, or is instructional, or explores an issue that plagues their audience. They can fill this bucket with a monthly brainstorming meeting with an editor… listing out potential topics and subtopics.
  • For the shorter blog post, have them describe, link to, and comment on one big news item of the week. Likely, 10 noteworthy things happen each week, they just have to pick one.
  • Schedule writing sessions at a time when they are most creative. Perhaps they can write 3 posts at a time on Sunday morning, when there head is clear.

If this helps, then there is another layer of tactics to try out:

  • Create a very loose editorial calendar.
    This should outline key topics that keep their industry up at night. This can be as simple as a single list, or as complex as a magazine’s editorial calendar.
  • Collect as much research and metrics as possible.
    Every conversation with spur ideas for topics.
  • A single staff member should assist as editor for the blog.
    Largely, this person would act more as a sounding-board and motivator than true editor, but it prevents a blogger from feeling lonely and isolated.

  • Measure performance.
    Look at the metrics to see what topics and blog entries were most popular. Use this data to create follow up entries, and identify new ideas.

The key point is that these tactics will bring much less success if the overall strategy for the blog is not sound – if the blog was not meeting a critical need with readers and customers. And these tactics should make this whole process more manageable. No blogger should ever have to wake up panicked about what they will be writing about.

And I think our old friend says it best:

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”
— Sun Tzu (Chinese General, circa 500 BC)

With publishing in such a time of transition, with resources being pulled in so many directions, brands need to choose very carefully where they put their efforts. 100 tactics that don’t link up to a solid strategy will leave a staff, and their customers, confused. A single strategy with only 10 tactics to implement, may give everyone a solid path to the future.

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