How to create authentic content that builds sales without feeling 'salesy' - you CAN connect with your social media audience AND increase sales at the same time!
Hi! I know (like me) many of our visitors are creating content, often on a daily basis, to try to build a following on social media and get more customers for your business.
I also know from our conversations on Instagram and via email that many of you are just setting up a new business, maybe coming out of a completely different industry or building a side hustle, and needing to learn lots of different skills (all at once!) to get your brand off the ground.
Starting a new business is possibly the hardest work you will ever do so I want to share some inside intel with you. I wish everyone had the opportunity to do what they love and build a flexible work-life, so I love to share my knowledge and demystify content creation. There are so many bullshit myths and social media 'success' stories out there.
I have worked in marketing and content creation my whole career (nearly twenty years now, gulp!) both in-house and freelance, and have been teaching content creation from start to finish for the last three years via workshops and online courses.
There are three things that come up over and over again with my students that you may be struggling with too –
- Finding a comfortable mix of being authentic while pushing for sales (which we all need to do)
- Knowing what to post to offer value & connect with your audience
- Thinking bigger than social media
So today I'm going to share some simple strategies that should help you create your content -
- offering value to your audience,
- while gently reminding them that you offer products/services they can buy
with the added bonus that you will naturally build organic SEO and become a trusted authority in your area as a by-product!
First off let's look at the content mix and my 4/5 rule to share authentically while still pushing for sales
We all know that content creation is about sharing your passion, showing behind-the-scenes and telling your story. People invest in people, especially at the small business end of the market.
We’re constantly reminded of this by every expert. This is what builds engaged audiences, nurtures brand loyalty and converts followers and web visitors into customers. A good product is no longer enough - authenticity and shared values are key.
But I want to remind you to sell yourself too, in a balanced proportion of your content.
My 5 rules of content creation are -
- It’s not about selling.
- It’s not about selling.
- It’s not about selling.
- It’s not about selling.
- It is about selling
Content should of course first and foremost be about offering value to your customers and audience. 80% or 4 out of 5 pieces of content should be centred around passion for what you do and providing inspiration and value for your customers.
HOWEVER! The 20% sales driven content is just as important as the 80% value driven content.
You are a business, you do need and deserve to make a living and you do have something good to offer. (Assuming you have a good product and integrity, which I seriously hope you do as that’s the foundation to succeeding in any business!)
Never forget Rule 5 – people need to be reminded that you sell and given calls to action or they simply won’t consider buying from you. They will just enjoy the story and ‘support’ you on social media.
Do the work, make valuable content, share your passion or expertise and then don’t be ashamed, actually be confident to plug yourself or your product 1/5 or 20% of the time, knowing that you are in an engaged and supportive environment because of the wrap-around 80% value you provide.
Once you have put your modesty to one side and committed to selling yourself authentically and with integrity, you have to work out what the 80% will be to ensure it offers value and tells your story while supporting the necessary 20% sales flags.
At Black Velvet Styling our 80% loosely revolves around our core values -
- Love of good, seasonal food
- Styling/photography/content creation experts
- Independent, family business
And it is split in different measures across our website, Instagram (and FB), Instagram stories (where we share more behind the scenes and family life) etc to tell the story and essence of our brand cohesively across our channels.
Our biggest content theme is our passion for homemade, seasonal food which of course we share with (most of) our audience.
Something that really helps me stay ahead with my recipe planning and food photography is having all the food dates and seasons laid out in front of me. I used to have this on a spreadsheet but then it's hidden in the depths of my computer - I NEED VISUAL, CAN'T-MISS-IT-WHEN-YOU-WALK-IN REMINDERS!
So I created a foodies wall planner to keep me looking ahead. It has all the UK calendar dates and over 50 global food celebrations, plus whats in season listed at the bottom of each month.
I am passionate about eating well and enjoying seasonal food as I know many of you are too.
But I'm not passionate about creating pieces of content to keep up with every international food awareness day, event or celebration (there's sooooo many now!).
And it wouldn't be authentic of me to try to do this even though I'm in the food photography industry. And to what avail anyway?
My content isn't purely about joining in with hashtags and showing topical food - its about us and our business, what we create and what we stand for. Our content mix serves us - it's not a slave to 'keeping up' with the latest fads.
I designed our 2021 foodies wall planner as a starting point for bringing seasonal food and events into your content creation.
Everybody eats (fact!) and almost everybody connects over food and has special memories entangled in it. It is a great bonding tool - with the advantage of being photogenic and appetising too!
I don’t by any means suggest you try to cover every event on the wall planner – the best way to use it would be to look ahead in chunks of say three months and see if there is anything coming up that would really work with your brand, excite your audience or just feel right to join in with.
Whether you work in food or not, the many annual food days and celebrations can be an easy feature to fit into your marketing plan and link in with current events - if its right for you.
I also regularly refer to seasonal food lists so I’ve included these on the bottom (UK based dates) of each month, then I can check what’s coming into season soon and plan a few of my favourite or the most photogenic produce into my recipes and marketing plan.
Using seasonal produce is an easy, incidental Instagram post for me - sometimes I'll work it into a recipe or blog post with styling tips, other times its just a good way to blend passion and purpose - my passion for good food and the purpose of launching a new product or promoting an existing one.
Back to you - these tips don't just apply to food photography or food/kitchen brands.
If you make candles for example your content mix might look something like this - 4 parts communicate your core values, 1 part ensures you give regular buying prompts and calls-to-action.
Now here's the trick!
Incidental content takes care of itself - behind the scenes, sharing customers posts (or UGC - user generate content), work process and news, inspiration etc, will come easily by way of simply working, having customers/clients and just being passionate about what you do.
So when planning and creating value-led content to post in the future its best to approach it with these things in mind -
- how are we offering value to our followers or visitors?
- What problem are we solving for them?
- How can we inspire them today?
- What values do we share?
Looking back at the BVS 80% list above, the themes that are developed into larger, planned pieces of content are food (often recipes or how to style), styling/content tips (like this post) and sometimes sustainability and craftsmanship (but that is well covered in our website pages and doesn't really offer much value to our visitors).
Here's how our Instagram content has spilt between sales and core values recently (bit less than 20% sales as we have had a styling challenge on this last two weeks). I've also split the core values into incidental posts and value-led posts - the recent #BVSinspired styling challenge has given us lots of great, passion-focused, value-led content to share.
A lot of content creation planning tools (I won't call them strategy tools, you know the ones like the 'one years worth of posts' downloads) can actually be replaced by reminders on your phone that prompt you to talk about the key themes and core values you want to make up your 80%.
For example, for incidental content I have daily reminders like -
- share a customers pic
- reminder to use our hashtag #bvsbackdrops
- talk about sustainability
- share some new design inspiration
- spotlight a bestseller
These are all quick and easy posts to share on social media if you have a bank of images. They're useful for regular posting to remind people about us and of what we're about and they are part of a bigger, overall strategy to promote our brand values, but they don't always connect much deeper than that.
Value-led content needs more work but benefits you and your customers so much more!
Three great starting points for creating value-led content
- Why do you do what you do?
- What are you excited about?
- How did you turn your passion into skill and then a business?
- What passions (and values) do you share with your ideal customers?
- What are your most frequently asked questions about your product or business?
- What challenges do your customers face and how can you solve them? What questions do they type into Google?
- What conversations would you like to have with your customers?
- Testimonials – happy customers telling your story for you
- Your business journey – share your achievements, inspire others
- Your customers successes – be a cheerleader for your industry and community
- What or who is inspiring you at the moment?
Starting from here instead of the latest hashtag bandwagon (which we’re all guilty of sometimes, myself included!) will help you develop a more authentic online presence and be genuinely understood by your audience. You will naturally begin to answer questions and offer solutions for your target market, increasing engagement and building stronger connections.
You may find that some of these topics require deeper explanation and more space than a short social media post can offer. The best, most authentic content ideas will often lend themselves to being developed into articles or blog posts on your website and that’s just what we want.
Taking this blog post as an example again - I couldn't offer this much value in an instagram caption but I can mention it on there and point people here to learn more.
Imagine if you had a blog post, with several great images or key bits of useful information that could all be shared in snippets via social media, pointing back to your blog and website where people can get to know you and buy from you.
That’s what you should be aiming to create (monthly if possible) – genuinely helpful, interesting content, on your website, where you sell, that offers up multiple smaller social media posts to release throughout the month between other easier or incidental content that promotes your core values (and makes up 80% of your communications!)
This will help you think bigger than social media and this is where creating value for your customers becomes valuable for you too.
Now you have something worth emailing your list about, maybe even worth advertising with to gain subscribers or sending to an industry magazine to see if they want to share it online or in print.
This is the true meaning and value of 'content': 'content' (or online marketing even) does not mean 'social media posts'.
Inspiring or informative blogs are not only the perfect way to build rapport and trust but are also highly effective in getting lots of keywords and quality text on your website.
When you prioritise offering valuable information to your customers and web visitors you will naturally also prioritise Google and SEO.
Do that well and you will have lots of quality content to share to social. And Google will love you for it. Win/win.
Well I'll leave it there as I have rather gone on! What I really want you to take away from this is -
- how easy it is to populate your social media when you know what core values make up the 80% (in fact I would go so far as to suggest you set reminders on your phone to post your 80% and forget about social media other than to engage, thank and support twice a day in little bites as it can be all consuming!)
- how important it is - for you and your customers - to plan and create regular, longer, value-led content
- how critical the 20% sales and call-to-actions are in GETTING SALES!
- and how much easier things are when you
- plan ahead
- remain authentic
- think holistically with an overall marketing strategy that blends passion and purpose across several channels
I hope you've enjoyed reading this and will take something away from it that helps you create and share your content confidently, feel free to ask any questions below!
PS. I'm sorry my online courses are offline at the mo as I am reformatting them - hope to be back up for the end of the year!
This is an excerpt from my online course - 'How to create authentic content that offers value, grows your audience and drives sales. An introduction to content creation for small businesses and makers.'
If you would like to buy our 2021 foodies wall planner it is available now and offered at checkout with 50% OFF when you spend over £50 in our store!
(It will automatically show you the offer when you have £50 worth of goods in your cart - only available at checkout!)