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The Architecture of Effective Content

What you say is important, but how you arrange it and make it useful to your audience is what really counts.Engaging content is an impressive, effective way to strut what you know. While it is important where you post your content, it may be more important to consider how you organize it.

Blogs, white papers, case studies, webinars and books are established venues for thought leadership. But you won't necessarily connect with your intended audience unless you package your ideas in a way that attracts and sustains attention and delivers useful information of value.

In all likelihood, your audience isn't all alike. Some people will want the top-line details of what you have to say. Others will want more detail. Some may want the whole magilla. The architecture of your presentation should simulate an onion. The more you peel, the more layers you find.

Effective website design capitalizes on layered information, but there is no reason it cannot be incorporated into all thought leadership content.

The most readable blogs are shorter and to the point, but they can add depth and detail, without extending the length, by inserting charts, infographs and links. In addition to providing the motivated viewer with more information, charts and infographs offer visual variety and lengthen the time someone looks over your blog.

White papers are usually 10 pages or longer, which can be a lot to read for the casual viewer. The key here is providing a quick synopsis up front of what's in the white paper. Liberal use of subheads will break up the copy and make the content easier to digest. A good way to add emphasis to points are pull-out quotes or small vignettes that illustrate your point, which can be positioned to the side of the main content, much like a newspaper sidebar. A bibliography and links can fill out the white paper's potential to deliver a large-scale pop.

The advent of e-books creates an opportunity for a multi-media, updatable content platform. Unlike a traditional print book, an e-book can tell a story using words, photography, podcasts and video.

Case studies don't have to be dry, self-aggrandizing commercials. They could be in the form of a SlideShare presentation that resembles a TV commercial, with a quick explanation of the problem, what you did the solve the problem and a testimonial by the customer or client you helped. You can always back up the movie version with a more traditional case study narrative, which provides specifics on your research techniques and communications strategies.

Webinars have become commonplace because they allow people from a wide geographical area to attend while sitting at their desk or in a coffee shop. Too often, webinars take the form of college class lectures, with an invisible talking head. Other than questions emailed to someone who filters through them, there is typically little interaction. Instead of telling webinar participants what you know, a novel approach might to use one or more examples and show them how you work, encouraging group engagement as you proceed. This way, your attendees go from listening to the master to watching the master work her magic.

Original content is a persuasive tool. But how you say it is as important as what you say. You can achieve the optimal result if you think in advance of how to arrange your content to appeal to all of your viewers. The arrangement you choose should reflect what your viewers want to know, not just what you want to say.

Original Content is King

When you share content from other sources, you are sharing other people's thought leadership, not your own. The antidote: write about what you know.

For talent-strapped organizations, content curation has come to mean surfing the Web, finding relevant material and reposting it on your blog or website. There is nothing wrong with seeing what others are saying. But it doesn't say much about you if you just parrot what others write.

Original content is the best — and perhaps only — way to demonstrate your thought leadership. Original content is based on your experiences and reflects your point of view. It is your expression, not a counterfeit.

Borrowing a theme or imitating an approach is as old as, well, Shakespeare, who plucked his plots from ancient texts. But what you do with what you borrow is what counts. No one would say Shakespeare plagiarized Plutarch even though he borrowed some of his words.

Your thought leadership goal should be to project your unique experience or value propos

Digital Game-Changers

Make your issue-focused websites and online newsrooms snack rooms for viewers who can munch on chunks of information designed to win hearts, quell fears and redirect a public conversation.Websites, microsites and online newsrooms have become ubiquitous, but not always as useful as they could be in helping to manage a tough issue.

Here are six ideas to make your digital platforms matter — with more relevant, engaging and persuasive content: 

Make your site a "linkable asset"

That requires developing content of interest to your target audience. Dense backgrounders or self-serving fluff won't pull viewers or keep them engaged very long. But solid, credible information will — especially if displayed in visually accessible ways with charts, videos and well-packaged text. Providing valuable information, which is updated regularly, will convince people to bookmark your site and return. It even may lead to your site being linked to other sites, expanding your viewership and outreach.

Give viewers "information snacks"

Giving viewers good content doesn't mean trying to tell them everything you know about a subject. The concept of less is better than more prevails. Design your information as if people were eating snacks instead of a 7-course feast. Yes, provide details —in layers that the most interested and devoted readers will click to find without bogging down the more casual, quick readers. Here is a great example of snack-size information in a CNN post about a host of developments in the Boston bombing case.

Content, Engagement Key Tools in Crisis

Content and engagement are often overlooked assets in responding to a crisis.Digital media can play a pivotal role in any crisis response, but its role is enhanced if a website is more than an electronic brochure and social media a megaphone for marketing messages.

A website with meaty content is a better vehicle for responding in a crisis because it offers context and a point of view. Your crisis response can follow in the tracks of your ongoing narrative and reflect the values you have espoused. It gives readers a compass, not just a platform.

Likewise, engaging social media affords your crisis response a familiar voice. This can avert stiff, legalistic-sounding apologies, which sound formulaic and inauthentic.

When Nike faced sharp criticism for its offshore manufacturing contracts, the Beaverton-based sports apparel company converted its online business presence into a forum to describe what it was doing to improve the lives of foreign workers. This was a more meaningful and tangible response than a program tucked away in a corporate social responsibility brochure. It certainly had more positive impact than ignoring the criticism.

Temporary Special-Purpose Websites a Great Tool

Sometimes its best to bring in the specialty team.

Public information outreach efforts, such as those necessary to explain community development or public finance issues, often must stand alone, away from the crowd, when competing for mindshare. But, for example, a government agency’s or a nonprofit’s website may not be robust enough to handle a powerful storytelling video, or may be too cluttered for visitors to easily find information.

Temporary, and not so temporary, single-issue websites are a great way for organizations to manage a hot-button issue. An organization’s existing multi-purpose site may not be flexible to enough fit immediate needs – despite the best of intentions of the PR team and the IT department.