Here’s a secret that nobody knows: When you’re writing a blog post, you’re not actually writing it just for your blog.
Think about it: If you publish a blog post, hopefully you’re also posting about it on Facebook and Twitter, maybe pinning it to Pinterest or sharing it on LinkedIn or Google+. That’s sort of the bare minimum of content promotion. And chances are, you grab a sentence or two for the link description on those sites.
And maybe, if you’re smart, you’re using a plugin like Yoast to set the meta title and description for your post. So that’s at least two descriptions you’re writing.
And then, you’re probably sending that blog post content out as a newsletter, too. Are you rewriting the description or the lede or the introduction a third time for that?
And all this is not to mention images that need to all be a different size for every different social media outlet…
Hasn’t there got to be a simpler way?!?
Well, there is and there isn’t, and they’re both called adaptive content.
If you haven’t heard of adaptive content yet, you soon will. In The Language of Content Strategy, Charles Cooper said that adaptive content is:
“Content that is designed to adapt to the needs of the customer, not just cosmetically, but also in substance and capability.”
That can mean something as complicated as delivering content that’s been specifically chosen for a particular member of your audience — or as simple as delivering the perfect chunk of content to a particular audience, say on mobile or on social.
What it mostly means is creating content that meets your audience where they are.
What adaptive content ISN’T
Let me back up and tell you a little story.
In my previous life, I worked at a hyper-local print magazine. While I was there, the publisher tasked us to develop a new website for the magazine that would allow us to upload content to the web for people to access.
The print designer, the web developer, and I all sat down and tried to brainstorm how we wanted the website to look and work. The website ended up looking like a pretty typical blog, with articles and one image for each article — and we struggled from day one making it as cool looking or as useful as the “old school” print magazine.
Articles that had sidebars and recipes and things like that in the magazine had to become multiple “posts” on the website, taking away a lot of the useability. Articles that had multiple large, beautiful images or graphics had to be paired down to one, standard-sized image per post.
There was no way to casually read through an issue the way you would the print version; you had to choose a section or click on one of the promoted posts on the home page. And we had to manually decide which posts were most important for the home page — or we’d just end up with what was most recent.
In other words, it was pretty much a complete and total failure at providing a solid web-based experience of the print magazine.
Oh, and it wasn’t optimized for mobile, so looking at it on your phone or tablet was an exercise in futility.
What adaptive content can be
On the other hand, the best and most often cited example of adaptive content is from NPR. Several years ago, NPR decided to create its own content management system (like WordPress or Blogger) that would break down all of its content into discrete chunks. Those chunks — like titles and descriptions of different lengths, text files, audio files, images of different sizes, and so on — are all accessible through their API (code), which then allows them to populate all SORTS of applications and devices with the right content.
So, instead of shoehorning content into a mobile version that isn’t pretty or useful, or into an app that doesn’t really work, developers can pick and choose the exact pieces of content they want for each experience.
Karen McGrane describes it this way:
“…instead of them thinking about how they’re going to design their product and then retrofitting a work flow to support it, what they need to do is first think what is their editorial process and work flow going to be to get their content out, and then figure out what the product should look like. And […] this [is] adaptive content.”
Thinking in chunks.
So, back to my opening statement: when you create that blog post, you’re not really creating it just for your blog.
You’re creating it for any number of future uses — maybe some that haven’t even been invented yet.
If you’re not planning for content reuse, you’re planning for content disuse.
You have to stop thinking about your content as existing in one format — blog post, ebook, presentation, course — and start thinking of it as chunks of information that can be slotted into multiple formats.
But here’s the problem: Content management systems (like WordPress, Blogger, Squarespace, etc.) are not built for this.
Right now, I’m composing this blog post in the editor window in WordPress — because I find it’s no better or worse than any other word processing software, and because that’s exactly what it is right now. That’s the bad news about WordPress. The good news is that with plugins and code tweaks, you can make it do some of the other things you need it to do.
And I predict this is where a lot of new apps and plugins will be headed in the future, slurping information from WordPress and integrating it into their service. For example, I’ve been testing out a tool called Article Video Robot that can automatically create videos of your blog posts. The problem is that the video quality is pretty crappy at this point without a lot of input from the user — but the technology is there to be built upon.
Making adaptive content work for the micro business
The point of adaptive content is to meet your customers and potential customers where they are, and provide them with content in the format that fits them best.
This is something micro business owners absolutely can do — and without a huge investment in fancy technology.
But it requires a shift in thinking — from blog posts to content chunks. Because one blog post could be used dozens of different ways:
- Facebook updates
- Google+ updates
- Pins for Pinterest
- LinkedIn blogs
- SlideShare presentations
- podcasts (or talking points for someone else’s podcast)
- syndicated content
- email courses
(And that’s just what I could come up with off the top of my head.)
What we need is a system through which we can make this sort of repurposing of content as simple as possible for the micro business owner.
This is going to look different for every business, based on what your goals are, but if you begin with the end in mind, you can make the whole process easier for yourself.
Say, for example, you know that you want your VA to create quote images from your blog post every week. When you’re writing, you can highlight or make a note of the quotes you want to use — or write additional ones — and save them in a central location, like your editorial calendar.
Those same chunks could be used for Facebook and G+ updates. Those quote images could be pinned to Pinterest or uploaded to Instagram if you make them in the right size and format.
And if you SAVE all those bits in a centralized location, they can be used again and again for different purposes, adapting to what you need them to do.