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Planning for change while changing your planning

When considering your content strategy, some deep-lying values remain unaltered – even during periods of great change, writes CPL’s senior content strategist Martin Bewick. And below, watch the webinar on this topic that he presented last month with our business development director Lucy Oakshott.

When the world changes suddenly, it’s often necessary to rethink your planning. And yet a changing world also makes it difficult to plan ahead. This is the same whatever drivers of change you face.

Over the past year at CPL, we have helped a range of professional membership bodies respond to fast-changing circumstances and expectations. To meet altered demands for information and advice from their members, they have often needed to overhaul their content strategies at great speed. 

Some have created and shared more content with members at a greater frequency. Some have explored new channels and platforms for content – from video and podcasts to community message boards and online knowledge hubs. Others have renegotiated the balance between print and digital – sometimes even tearing down content paywalls. The need to communicate relevant information clearly has even seen some adopt consumer campaign tactics to capture attention and maximise audience engagement. 

But despite the speed of change, in terms of content strategy some deep-lying values have remained unaltered. It’s a feature of change that my colleague Lucy Oakshott and I set out to highlight at last month’s MemberWise Membership OnTrack event. (You can watch the session below.)

In times of crisis, and wIth working lives, events’ calendars and content planning all disrupted, these evergreen truths can help us plot a course through continued disruption. In particular, we looked at three insights into human behaviour that can help us navigate through 2021 and beyond. They focus on relationships, balance and control.
 

  1. Build relationships for professional resilience

The Covid-19 pandemic has reduced the ability to meet people face to face. This has produced a shift in where people seek to make professional connections and build or maintain those relationships. How, therefore, do organisations ensure their members benefit from a sense of community and togetherness, sharing experience and advice, and offering feedback and support?

Where organisations have succeeded through the current pandemic, they have often taken a 360-degree view of their content options and fully assessed the ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘when’ and ‘how’ of their owned, earned and paid communications channels. They have considered which are the best forums and channels to engage members, developed an ongoing conversation with them, and worked to produce useful and relevant content that will truly make a positive difference. In doing so, they can help members discover a renewed sense of togetherness across their professional sector, and remain resilient in changing times.
 

  1. Find the right balance to engage audiences 

When standard working patterns are disrupted, it is vital to deliver the right information at the right time. That may mean assessing the quantity and frequency of the content you create and publish, and exploring the distinction between ‘lean in’ and ‘lean back’ content. In other words, ask which content is needed immediately and regularly, and which adds value but can be read at leisure. 

Organisations may also want to consider using different content formats and channels. For example, where previously there might have been reticence about consuming content via video or podcasts (which are all seeing an upsurge), their members might be more willing to try them in these changed circumstances. Getting the balance right across content channels is a key strategic question. Members may have already ‘made the leap’ to new channels. Can you follow them? 

And remember, ‘content is still king’ – however, and wherever, it is consumed.
 

  1. Deliver control to help professional development

Over the past year, there has been a surge in interest in personal development. 

No, that doesn’t just mean searching recipes for banana bread or online exercise classes. During the first UK lockdown, Google searches for the term ‘online courses’ increased by 300 per cent year on year. Why? Perhaps because when you are surrounded by uncertainty, you seek out the things that you can actually control – and one of those things is you.

Feeling in control improves your sense of wellbeing and can increase your productivity. In uncertain times, offering information that helps members stay in control is a top priority. The need for professional development, therefore, might increase during a crisis. Members will want to share experience and information, or have a platform for asking questions in a friendly, peer-supportive environment. They will seek out insight and practical advice, and expect relevant information that is useful on a day-to-day basis, as well as considered evaluations of what will happen when the period of crisis is over. 

 

Change is always uneven

These underlying truths of human behaviour have remained relatively untouched by the rippling pace of change caused by the current pandemic. They remind us that change is uneven – it flows at different speeds in different places, as well as over time. 

The year 2020, for example, saw an acceleration in trends that had been occurring for a number of years – working from home, virtual conferencing, digital transformation, podcasts and webinars. Similarly, strategic and tactical decisions about the use of content channels, data, consistency of voice and paywalls were some of the key takeouts from The Content Connection – the report CPL created with Ashridge Communications in pre-pandemic 2019. 

All these issues remain relevant today. Why? Because underpinning them all are questions about how you build relationships, discover balance and deliver control. Yes, change is uneven, but these truths are a constant. 

Martin Bewick – CPL Content Marketing Strategy
Martin Bewick
is content strategist
at CPL

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