a story-driven content strategy

Church… We need to rethink our content strategies!

Watching the Church function in digital over the course of 2020 was painful. That’s not the case across the board, but for the most part, the Church just didn’t do really well in digital. I’m not saying that there wasn’t high-quality content produced, or that the creative wasn’t great. There are plenty of churches and ministries creating some excellent work. What I’m saying is that most of the content strategies I watched over the course of 2020 and into this year could use some serious re-evaluation.

Church, we need to rethink our content strategies! If you’re asking yourself, “how do I create a content strategy for my ministry?” then you’ve come to the right place.

Today, we’re going to be talking about content strategies. Specifically, I’m going to be sharing a story-driven content strategy that we think will be more effective for your ministry than whatever you’re doing right now.

Now, if you’re ministry’s current content strategy is primarily centered around the story’s of transformation taking place in your ministry, then this article isn’t for you. Statistically speaking that’s probably not the case, and if that is the case, I really do want to hear from you! But, if your current content strategy isn’t working very well, or if you don’t have one, this article is for you. But, first…

What is a content strategy?

Before we get too far into this article, I want to provide a quick definition of what a content strategy is and maybe more importantly share how we encourage ministries to approach their content strategies with slight nuance. A content strategy is a marketing plan designed to reach a desired audience organically by providing value. The goal is to build trust and awareness with your desired audience around your ministry brand. The goal is ATTENTION! You want your audience to view your brand as an expert.

Content can show up in various forms across an almost infinite range of channels and platforms. Videos, images, memes, white papers, articles, podcasts, webinars and so much more. Content really can take shape in a long list of formats and mediums, but the important thing to remember is content should provide some level of value for the audience. We like to encourage ministries to break down content into three categories: Informational, educational, and inspirational content.

Informational content is going to be defined as your ministry updates and announcements. The promotional material around your next event would fall into this category. Most ministries do a great job with this category because it’s the easiest content to create.

Educational content is content you provide your audience with so that they can learn something new. People love to learn, and more importantly, people love to share their knowledge with their friends and family. Educational content is much more powerful than informational. Most good content strategies fall into this category. You might’ve seen fundraising consultancy companies offering free guides, workbooks, or webinars. An annual report from your ministry might include geographical information or statistical data on your cause. Churches oftentimes do a great job of creating educational content with articles and blog posts answering questions about the Bible or topical articles and podcasts on how Christians should think about such and such cultural or societal issues. These are all great examples of educational content. Tesla is one of the best education-centered brands in the world. They’ve done an incredible job educating their audience. Next time you meet someone who owns a Tesla, ask them to tell you about their car and be ready to listen to them talk about that car for the next 30 minutes. Educational content is a powerful tool in creating brand loyalty and trust. If you’re not already creating educational content, start. But, the last category is even better.

Inspirational content is story-driven content. Inspirational content is easily the most powerful tool we have for building brand loyalty and advocacy. Very few ministries do this kind of content well. In fact, I would argue that I still have yet to find a ministry that has taken full advantage of this kind of content. Simon Sinek and Scott Harrison have two of my favorite quotes in regards to story. Scott Harrison (Founder of Charity Water) says, “our hearts don’t respond to data and statistics. Stories have the power to make us feel.” Simon Sinek (Author of Start with Why) says, “There are only two ways to influence human behavior: Inspiration and Manipulation.” These quotes have significant ramifications for your content strategies. So much of the ministry marketing world focuses on informational and educational content, with the former taking the overwhelming majority. There are very few ministries that are creating inspirational story content.

Now, there are reason’s for this lopsided approach. Creating inspiring storytelling content is difficult. It’s the only type of content that requires a relationship. In order to story-tell well, without exploiting the person whose story is being told (a course on storytelling ethics coming soon), we have to have a relationship with that person. Creating inspirational story-driven content takes more time. But, if you can do it right and if you can do it well, the implications are really exciting.

Why is a content strategy important?

We’ve kind of touched on this already, but building a content strategy is important because it’s a powerful marketing tool for your ministry. You want and need people to care about your cause. It’s important and worth investment. In order to get your message out to new audiences though, you have to communicate where their attention already is. A well-executed content strategy can help you communicate well in the places where people spend their time.

Remember, you’re trying to create value for your audience. The more value you bring to your audience, the more they’ll trust you. The more you emotionally engage with your audience, the more they’ll be connected with your brand at a heart level. This is why not only a content strategy is important, but why a story-driven content strategy is crucial.

In the current culture we’re living in, we can’t expect people to trust our organizations upon first introduction. We’re only a few years removed from the broadcast era. People are tired of constantly getting ambushed with ads. They don’t trust most marketing communications. Engaging with people at a heart level will help your ministry break through the noise and build trust around your brand. A content strategy is crucial in today’s marketing landscape. It’s necessary and important to communicate where people spend their time.

If you want to create awareness around your ministry brand, if you want to build trust, if you want to grab attention, a content strategy is a powerful way of executing those goals.

“THERE IS INTRINSIC VALUE IN CONNECTING SOMEONE TO THE STORY OF A TRANSFORMED LIFE.”

If providing value is the goal of any good content strategy, then I believe inspirational storytelling is the best way a ministry can offer value consistently. How can we provide value to donors or potential donors on a consistent basis without some sort of financial ask? We just learned that storytelling engages with people emotionally. We’ve already discussed how inspirational storytelling is the best kind of content for your content strategy, but why? I believe it’s because there is intrinsic value in connecting someone to the story of a transformed life.

People are inspired and moved when they hear how God is working in someone’s life. If you can tie that life transformation to a ministry brand, without being manipulative, the ramifications are exciting. I truly believe the potential to create brand loyalty and advocacy is endless.

God is serious about story. Scripture calls us to share our testimony. Our testimony, our story, is the thing that pushes back the darkness. It’s the thing that no one can argue with because it’s our experience with God. God is glorified when we tell of His great work. The Church is edified when she hears how God is moving. Your ministry can build brand and create a movement when you share the stories of how God is working through your ministry.

Story is powerful. So how can you use it to your advantage in your content strategy?

“THIS STRATEGY WILL HELP YOU CREATE A MONTH’S WORTH OF DAILY STORY-DRIVEN CONTENT FROM A SINGLE BENEFICIARY’S STORY.”

How do I create a content strategy for my ministry?

If you were to perform a Google search asking the question, “how do I create a content strategy for my ministry?”, you’d get 68 million results. I’m not kidding. Go insert this question into Google and see for yourself. There is clearly a lot of content on the subject. I’m even asking myself, “why am I writing this article?” I think the answer to the latter question is the Church (para-church included) has done a poor job with digital content strategies. And those ministries that do have good content strategies are only focusing on the informational or educational content when there is so much untapped potential through storytelling.

God is at work globally in powerful ways. Those stories can inspire action and mobilize the Church. I’ve yet to find a ministry that is capitalizing consistently on story-driven content. A handful of ministries do a decent job of storytelling, but I have yet to find a ministry that is storytelling well CONSISTENTLY. So, to answer the question, “why am I writing this article?” I want to give you a plan for your storytelling that can fill your ministry’s annual content strategy with consistent storytelling content without breaking the bank or overwhelming your communications team. This strategy will help you create a month’s worth of daily story-driven content from a single beneficiary’s story.

Replicate the formula and you can fill your annual content strategy with daily story-driven content from 12 beneficiary’s stories. Let’s get started.

Where is your audience?

Ok, I said I wasn’t going to talk about this, but I think it’s too important to ignore. It’s important to note though that I’m a firm believer in being who you are as a brand and attracting an audience that shares the same beliefs. The reason why step 1 is centered around your audience is that I want you to focus your content strategy on a select few social and digital platforms.

There are a thousand and one options and your ministry can’t be effective on all of them unless you’ve got a large team completely dedicated to social sharing and engagement. Since that’s not the case in 99% of the ministry sector, we’re going to recommend focusing on a select group of platforms.

Ask yourself, where does your audience spend their time? Where do you think they spend their time? Better yet, ask the audience you already have where they spend their time. What platforms or channels do they consume entertainment on and engage with socially? If your ministry is focused on youth sports, you’re probably going to be spending your time on Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok (this is written in April 2021, so that could change next week).

If you’re a leadership training ministry primarily reaching pastors, you might want to spend your time on LinkedIn, Facebook, and podcasts. A good understanding of your audience is crucial, but ultimately you want to choose a small selection of social platforms and focus your attention and content strategy on those platforms you choose.

Once you get in the rhythm of creating content on a regular basis and engaging with your audience on your platforms of choice, then you can start adding new platforms. It’s better to be consistent and engaging on one platform than to post randomly and inconsistently on 4 or 5 platforms.

The Framework Overview

Outlined in the image above is a quick overview of the process. This model is taken from Gary Vaynerchuk’s content pyramid model outlined in his 86 page presentation deck, “The GaryVee Content Strategy.” IJM also followed this model to a T when they rolled out “Esther’s Story,” in late 2019. Follow the links to see some of IJM’s pillar content from that story. Part 1 and Part 2.

The model is a reverse pyramid. At the top, you have your pillar content. This is going to show up as a video, podcast, or podcast series, or a digital event or summit. Your pillar content should be longer-form content. Sticking with the IJM example, IJM created a 2-part video (each film lasting 3-4 minutes), and a 5-part podcast series. These pieces of content served as IJM’s pillar content.

Once you’ve got your pillar content, you’re going to repurpose that content into micro-content. Micro-content is small pieces of content pulled from your longer-form pillar content. It may be articles, memes, images with quotes, or your favorite clips or highlights from your films. You can get creative, but at the end of the day, you’re not creating anything new. You’re simply pulling small bits of content from your pillar content.

Once you’ve got your pillar content and micro-content created you’re going to start distributing that content across your social platforms of choice. Don’t worry about building a rollout schedule, we’ve already done that work for you. Download our FREE Story Content Map.

Step 1: Document a Beneficiary Story

We’ve walked through an overview of the model, now let’s dive into the details. Step 1 of this content strategy process is documenting your pillar content. Again, for most of the ministry sector, I’m going to recommend documenting a beneficiary’s story. Or, if you’re a church I would recommend a congregants testimony. Remember back to earlier in this article, I said that documenting a story rather than creating something new is going to make your life a whole lot easier.

God is at work in your ministry transforming lives on a regular basis. There’s no need to come up with new, creative content when God is doing that work for you. Find the story’s of transformation taking place in your ministry and document them in video form. In this example, we’re also going to create a podcast series out of that same story.

Pillar content can also be keynotes, interviews, digital events, or speaking engagements. How many of your ministries had digital events this year? Document those events and use that as your pillar content. How many of you speak at churches on a regular basis sharing your ministry? Record those speaking engagements and use that as pillar content. These are all great ways of creating pillar content.

Step 2: Re-Purpose and Create Micro-Content

Once you’ve got your pillar content, again a video and podcast series in this example, you’re going to create micro-content. Micro-content is repurposed pieces of content pulled from your pillar content. You’re not creating anything new. You’re simply pulling highlights, clips, images, quotes, and excerpts from your pillar content. For the example, we’ve provided in our content map and Story-Driven Content Strategy course, we were able to pull 60+ example pieces of micro content from a single beneficiary story.

That’s obviously more content than most of you will need, but we wanted to prove a point. The amount of content you can potentially create using this framework is staggering, and most of the micro-content examples we provide are simple promotional pieces.

Once you’ve got your micro-content created, follow the content map we’ve provided above as a guide for your rollout plan. We’ve used the social platforms that we use for our ministry, so you’ll want to make the channel and platform adjustments necessary for your ministry. We would recommend having all of your pillar content and micro-content created and ready before you start the rollout process. It will make your life more difficult if you’re creating micro-content as you go.

Once you start implementing this strategy on a monthly basis, you’re going to be creating next month’s content while the content for the month you’re in is rolling out. So, getting all of your content created and ready beforehand is going to make your life a whole lot easier.

Step 3: Distribute Pillar and Micro-Content

Now that you’ve got your content created and ready, you’re ready to distribute your content. Plug your content into our story content map and you’ll have a plan to follow for the month for your distribution. This makes things a whole lot easier on your team, and if you can schedule your posts from a social media scheduling app, that can create even greater efficiency with your team. I went ahead and did a Google search for you and found this helpful article if you want to find the best scheduling app for your ministry. The 12 Best Social Media Scheduling Tools for 2021.

The goal of your distribution strategy is to saturate the digital landscape with the story you’re trying to tell. Historically, ministries create a 3-5 minute film and post it to YouTube. Then they’ll link to that film on all of their social platforms once, and hope the thing goes viral. That may happen, but you’re probably more likely to get struck by lightning, and you’re likely not going to get struck by lightning twice.

This plan helps create consistency across an extended period of time. Remember, our goal is attention. Posting once and hoping it lands in front of the right people doesn’t help build and hold attention.

Step 4: Listen To and Engage with Your Audience

Once all of your content has been distributed, it’s time to listen to your audience and engage. This is where social media really shines. People are always going to engage with characters and their stories better than organizational value propositions and corporate manifestos.

“PEOPLE ARE ALWAYS GOING TO CONNECT WITH CHARACTERS AND THEIR STORIES BETTER THAN ORGANIZATIONAL VALUE PROPOSITIONS AND CORPORATE MANIFESTOS.”

This is your chance for your ministry to be a character, a real personality because when you respond on social as your brand, it takes on your personality… because you are a real person responding. This is what makes social media and the marketing landscape we’re living in different from the broadcast era that came before it. You have an opportunity to talk with your audience, to engage with the people consuming your content. You have an opportunity to speak with people who have shared beliefs about your cause.

But, in order to engage with people where their attention already is, we have to create content of value and distribute it in the places where their attention already is, and we have to do it regularly and consistently. Listen to the people commenting on your content. Engage with them and they’ll start to see your brand as a real character they can connect with because you are.

Summary

I hope this was helpful. We go into a little more detail in our Story-Driven Content Strategy course, and we’ve got some additional steps that will take this strategy even further in that course. But, if you do nothing else but follow this strategy, you’ll have more content than you’ll know what to do with. From a single beneficiary story, you can create daily story-driven content for an entire month. With 12 stories you can create daily content for an entire year. If you follow our content map perfectly you could create an entire year’s worth of content from 6 stories.

The goal of this article, the content map, and the Story-Driven Content Strategy course is to give you a game plan and strategy to start building brand awareness, loyalty and advocacy. We want to help you grab attention. There are incredible opportunities for the Church in the digital space. We’re confident that if you follow this plan it’ll make a significant difference in your ministry, but you have to be consistent. Until you’ve followed this plan for a period of years, I don’t want to hear that it didn’t work. BE CONSISTENT!

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