“Content creator” is one of those phrases like “artist” or “writer” that a person either identifies with or doesn’t.
You create content each time you update your social media profiles, but not every person who has a Twitter or Facebook account will necessarily think of themself as a “content creator.”
The best way to know for sure if you’re a capital-C content creator is with a simple question:
Are you making a consistent, practiced effort to get better at using original digital content to achieve a goal?
If the answer is “yes,” welcome to the club. You are indeed a content creator, and we have some tips to share with you to help you become an even better one.
But first, a clear definition: What is a content creator?
A content creator is any person who creates original content for digital media with a particular end goal in mind (usually, but not necessarily, commercial). A content creator might create written content such as blog posts, news articles, press releases, content for social media and PDF documents, as well as visual media like videos, graphics, illustrations and software.
What’s the point of content creation?
You tell me.
That’s to say, every content creator might have a different end goal in mind. Generally, professional content creation ties back to a commercial gain. Even a news outlet like CNN.com relies on the performance of its content to help sell ads that fund their work.
In digital marketing specifically, content creation must tie back to commercial goals. The purpose of content marketing in business, after all, is to use content to generate and nurture leads or to build awareness of a mission or cause (if, for instance, you’re a non-profit).
Don’t get me wrong. The best content creators I know value craft, creativity and expression above all else — and all of them engage in creative endeavors in their personal lives. But they also know that, if presented with a choice between creating content they subjectively think is great, versus what they suspect will achieve the greatest commercial value, they have to go with the latter. It’s what’s right for their clients, or for their company.
That’s not always easy for a creative. But it’s essential to being a great content creator.
Which brings us to the reason you’re here:
Invaluable tips for content creators, from content creators
And specifically, our own in-house writers, designers, social media strategists and videographers:
Tip 1: “Keep reading.”
– Matt “well begun is half done” Demarco, Editorial
“I try to at least glance through emails from the mailing lists I’m subscribed to,” Matt explained. “It keeps your instincts for tone and phrasing sharp while also making you immediately aware of any new studies making the rounds in your content area. I also try to read something I’m interested in outside of work for an hour every morning before I hit the home office.”
A content writer who doesn’t read is like a chef who doesn’t eat.
Before you can create content you think other people would enjoy, you need to figure out what type of content you enjoy, and why it tickles your fancy.
Matt is also what we call an outliner, hence his bonus tip: Create outlines.
Structure and ideas precede phrasing 100% of the time.
“Structure and ideas precede phrasing 100% of the time,” Matt said. “Outlines help me pull myself through the piece instead of getting distracted or having to take prolonged breaks just to remember what I was trying to say.”
Tip 2: “Get inspired by other brands.”
– Jess Caroll, Social Media
Noticing an early trend here?
Whether we’re talking about writing, graphic design or social media, the better halves of your best ideas almost always come from outside your own head.
It’s the combination of external inspiration and critical thinking that will help you create something unique but also highly relevant to your target audience.
Once you’ve found your inspiration, do as Jess does:
“Be authentic, know your brand and don’t be afraid to try something different.”
Tip 3: “Don’t overthink it.”
Jessica Barker, Editorial
Content creators spend a lot of time chasing perfection. Anything we sign our names to, and even the stuff we don’t, is something we brought into existence, and we want it to be worth whatever iota of space it occupies in the universe.
But at the end of the day, content creation is less about you and more about what your audience needs.
A resource that’s helpful, informative and free of errors will be more valuable to your audience than one you’ve painstakingly engineered to be ‘perfect.’
“A resource that’s helpful, informative and free of errors will be more valuable to your audience than one you’ve painstakingly engineered to be ‘perfect.’ ”
I’d say that advice is perfect.
Tip 4: “Start things earlier than is strictly necessary!”
Tony “one-third of Aqua Hamster” Basile, Editorial
Tony has written the equivalent of “In Search of Lost Time” (all 7 volumes) about product labeling. Just product labeling. This doesn’t count the dozens of other verticals he’s covered in his time.
The secret to his prolific ways:
- Time management: “It’s so tempting for me to slice my day up into portions of the EXACT right length, but it’s much better to start as early as possible and be pleasantly surprised when I’m done ahead of schedule.”
- Self-confidence: “Entering projects with a good mindset is important, and so is reminding myself that I am fully capable of writing such an article.”
This advice is key when working on a challenging piece of content. Every content creator will eventually come up against a project that forces them outside their area of expertise.
“If something is new, unfamiliar or complex, that makes it harder, but a little preparation time and diagramming of the work to come helps a lot in that kind of case,” Tony advised. “It’s not wise to leave too little wiggle room in a daily schedule.”
Tip 5: “Walk away from the project and come back to it after it has marinated.”
AJ Muffet, Video
Time is a valuable commodity in the content creation process, but sometimes, so is space. This is especially true for high-value projects that will be widely distributed, like say, a video production.
Rather than dive right into a project upon a debrief, seasoned videographer AJ Muffet lets a few concepts stew in the noggin.
“When a new project or client comes in I like to spend time in their spaces (website, blogs, previous content), as well as their competitors before starting in on any concepts,” he said. “From here I like to walk away from the project and come back to it after it has marinated for a bit. Then I jump into the ideation phase.”
His process for editing footage is the same:
“I like to listen to all the raw footage, walk away, then start my editing. It’s amazing how some distance can create a story arc you didn’t see when you were shooting, or first reviewing the footage.”
To be fair, you might not always have that luxury. Even AJ has crunch times. To help deal with that grind, it’s crucial to cultivate restorative habits outside of your daily work.
“I think outside work habits can create a more focused daily work routine,” AJ said. “Since working remotely, I think this is more important than ever. We don’t have those defined start/stops to the day anymore bookended by a commute into the office and home.”
TL;DR: Love them as you may, sometimes you need some space between you and your brain children.
Tip 6: “Keep collecting your work that was successful.”
Caroline “infographics are my specialty” Brill, Design
Improvement is a journey without end for a highly successful content creator like Caroline Brill. You might even call it a single-player game of one-upmanship.
And the only way to know if you’re winning is to have clear benchmarks.
“It really helps to keep collecting your work that was successful in one easy access spot so when you are starting something new you can reference that,” Caroline advised.
The side benefit of keeping tabs on your progress as a creative? You have a little personal source of inspiration nestled away.
“If you make a really good vector of something, save it one spot with the rest of them so you can use it for something else. You might even get ideas from your own work.”
Tip 7: “Build on what’s already published.”
Mike O’Neill – Editorial
To quote Mike quoting Sir Isacc Newton at some point in his life, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”
It’s dangerous to “trust your gut,” especially when creating content for clients, or when working on a commercially valuable asset. You may be a genius who can create the best, most original, accurate piece of content on a topic that’s relatively new to you.
But those odds aren’t in your favor. By some estimates, 80 million blogs are published per day. Chances are, someone has created a blog post that covers some of the same ground as the one you’re working on. A responsible content marketer digs up that content so they can build on it and ultimately makes something better.
“Ground yourself in the research and client guidance first, then get feedback early on before moving forward at scale,” Mike said.
Sound advice from a seasoned marketer and talented digital content creator.
Have advice of your own? Share it!
Seriously. There’s no such thing as too much good advice.
Whether you fancy yourself a true-blue content creator, a content strategist who occasionally creates or just a connoisseur of engaging content, we want to hear from you.
Share your top content creation tips in the comments in the section below!