How to Research Content Topics for Social Media
David Ogilvy, known as “the father of advertising”, once said, “Even a blind pig can sometimes find truffles, but it helps to know that they grow in oak forests.” Well, conducting some research can give you a map of the social media’s “oak forests” before you start rooting for topics to write about or videos to make.
So, how do you conduct the kind of research that will help you find truffles far more frequently than a blind pig? Start with your business objectives? Your marketing goals?
Nope! In fact, you need to take yourself out of it entirely. Instead, start by conducting research on your customers’ objectives and your competitors’ goals.
Understanding customer intent and doing some competitive analysis are the keys to winning more hearts, minds, and business. Marketers who know the lay of the land are much better at creating and distributing relevant and valuable content than ones who have brainstormed ideas for imaginary personas (emphasis on imaginary).
Keyword research is an inexpensive way to conduct market research.
One of the more frugal ways to conduct market research is keyword research. There are a number of free or fairly affordable tools that enable you to conduct keyword research. Even if you don’t plan to create any pay-per-click ads, these terms and phrases can help you analyze which topics to write about or which videos to make.
One free keyword research tool that’s especially useful for drafting a social media marketing plan or creating a content marketing editorial calendar is the Google AdWords Keyword Planner. You can use the Keyword Planner for a couple specific things.
Research keywords. You can search for keywords based on terms that are relevant to your product or service, website, or landing page.
Get historical statistics and traffic forecasts. Statistics like search volume help you decide which keywords might be fruitful topics to create content for. Forecasts like predicted clicks and estimated conversions can give you an idea of the value of organic clicks—and, more importantly, how much you might want to pay to get them.
It’s important to keep in mind that while the Keyword Planner can provide you with some great keyword ideas and traffic forecasts, the actual performance of the content that you create depends on many other factors. (Including but not limited to if your content is, you know, actually good.) But, at least it gives you a map of the oak forests.
Another free tool is Google Trends. There, you can compare up to five groups of terms at one time and up to 25 terms in each group, defining your search words as terms or topics depending on your needs. You can also explore result by region, time period, and category. In addition, you can get a peek into what people are searching for on YouTube, too.
When you search for a term in Google Trends, you see top searches, which are terms that are most frequently searched with the term you entered in the same search session, within the chosen category, country, or region. You’ll also see related searches at the bottom of a page of results.
But often the most useful result is rising searches, which are terms that were searched for with the term you entered and had the most significant growth in volume. In short, these are what are currently hot. For each rising search term, you’ll see a percentage of the term’s growth compared to the previous time period. If you see “Breakout” instead of a percentage, it means that the search term grew by more than 5,000%. You might want to see if you can do something with those.
Finally, there’s SpyFu SEO Recon Files Reports. One of the most costly and time-consuming steps in search engine optimization is creating a content plan. You can eliminate that burden using the prioritized content guides in an SEO Recon Files report.
For example, the report tells you not only the amount of keywords that your website has in top search results and the number of unique pages that rank organically, but also the total organic clicks your website should be getting per month and the value of this organic search traffic if you had to buy all those clicks via Google AdWords.
The report also identifies your top 100 biggest opportunities and estimates how many additional clicks per month (and what it would cost in equivalent PPC dollars) if you could land the number one spot for your biggest opportunities. Once again, the actual ranking of the content that you create depends on a variety of factors, and no one can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google. But SpyFu shows you the most valuable trees in the oak forest.
Analyze what content performs best for any topic or competitor
There are three other tools that can help you conduct competitive analysis before drafting a social media marketing plan or creating a content marketing editorial calendar. One is BuzzSumo, which provides the data and evidence for content research and planning. The tool helps you to do several things.
- Identify the content that resonates with your audience. You can discover the most shared content in the last 12 months or the last 24 hours.
- Focus on the right networks. You can review the average shares on each network for your topic area. Does the topic get more traction on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, or Reddit?
- Conduct detailed content research. You can get answers to content-related questions. Does long form content resonate with your audience? What associated topics get shared? What headlines work best?
- Discover the most shared content formats. You can see which content formats are resonating with your audience, filtered by content type such as videos or infographics.
- Spot the most shared domains. You can find the most shared domains for your topic area and identify suitable outreach sites. Check their content and see how yours compares.
- Find influencers. You can identify the influencers who have most sway on your target audience or networks, helping you develop a list to reach out to as part of your influencer marketing strategy.
Another tool is Tubular Intelligence, which provides independent analytics for the entire social video ecosystem. Tubular Intelligence allows you to benchmark your videos against competitors and your category. You can use their data to find opportunities and drive content strategy. They’ve tracked 4 billion videos, 10 million creators, and 400 million viewers across YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram over the past 3 years.
For example, Tubular Intelligence identified the NBA teams scoring the most online video views. Not surprisingly, the Golden State Warriors were the leading team on Facebook, while the Cleveland LeBrons Cavaliers were the leading team on Instagram. Surprisingly, the less-than-great Sacramento Kings were the leading team on YouTube. But crushing them all was the NBA itself. The league ranked #1 on all three social video platforms, demonstrating the importance of having a multi-platform strategy.
Compare your social media performance with industry standards. Find out which posts are the best at engaging your followers. Discover which types of content perform the best, whether videos, links, pictures, or text. Uncover the best (and worst) topics and keywords for successful posts. See the best time(s) to post. Check your social media stats against your competitors’ or against average results. Analyze the effectiveness of your posting density compared to competitors.
For example, Barneys uses two types of photos to present their clothes and accessories on Pinterest: a simple photo of a product with a white background or an artistic photo with a beautiful model and a pretty background, demonstrating a real-life usage of a product.
Comparing the effectiveness of these methods, you can see that, on average, their artistic, real-life photos get 43% more repins and 34% more likes per pin than their simple photos.
Make better decisions with market research
There’s one last tool to consider: Google Surveys. This allows you to easily create online surveys in order to make more informed decisions about what content to create and which videos to make.
You can ask up to 10 questions at a time and select from a variety of question formats, like multiple choice and star rating. You can choose whether you’d like your survey to run on Google’s network of online publishers or through their mobile app.
B2C marketers can filter participants based on demographics, like age, gender, and location. B2B marketers can ask a preliminary “screening” question, like, “Are you a small business owner?” with non-binary answers such as “Yes, I own a small business,” “No, but I manage a small business,” “Not yet, but I’m planning to start one,” or, “What’s a business?” Basically, you can make sure you get answers from your target audience, not just random folks.
Your questions appear across a network of news, reference, and entertainment sites and within Google’s mobile app. People answer your questions in exchange for access to premium content or credits to Google Play.
Google Surveys quickly analyzes your survey data and delivers it in easy-to-navigate graphs, demographic segmentations, and cross-tabs so you can easily see insights that can help you find truffles faster and far more frequently than a blind pig.
Do your homework
Conducting research doesn’t sound as fun as conducting a brainstorming session. But, according to Time, David Ogilvy became “the most sought-after wizard in the advertising business” by launching campaigns that leveraged the “miracles of research” instead of “the slippery surface of irrelevant brilliance.” His classic book Ogilvy on Advertising says, “Advertising people who ignore research are as dangerous as generals who ignore decodes of enemy signals.”
Ogilvy provided this advice back in 1983—35 years ago. The media landscape has changed dramatically since then, but it’s even more right in 2018, now that research tools make it easy for anyone to get a map of the oak forests before creating content.