In 2015, Jon Landgraf, the Chairman of FX Networks, used the phrase “Peak TV” to refer to the concept that there is an overabundance of “good enough” TV content. He clarified his thinking by adding, "There's just too much competition, so much so that I think the good shows often get in the way of the audience finding the great ones."
That year, prior to today’s streaming environment, Landgraf estimated 400 scripted series would air. In 2021, FX estimates that the number was 559.
As a social impact leader, it’s important to understand that your organization is competing in the attention economy. All of these shows, traditional and social media channels, and content from other social impact organizations are all vying for your audience's attention.
As your supporters continue to be inundated by a firehose of content, day and night, in a culture of distraction and overwhelm, it’s time to hone your content strategy to break through the noise of your competition. You need a strategy for differentiating your content pieces from others in your space and elevating it from “good enough” to be one of “the great ones” that help you win in the attention economy.
Refine Your Content Strategy
We always suggest that you go back to the basics when working on a new communications strategy. That means revisiting your brand voice, theory of change, mission and vision, core messaging, and your target audiences.
Your content should be focused on three areas:
Educate — Inform your audience about the current status of your social impact focus area. Stay in your lane while providing context aligned with where you sit in the larger conversation.
Inspire — Let your audience know about the progress you’re making. It encourages them to continue to support your work.
Activate — Help your community take action. They care about what you do. Invite your supporters to engage by providing them with clear opportunities for action so they can help move your mission forward.
Although this may seem simple enough, we’ve seen many organizations' content plans stray from these fundamentals over time. If you’re trying to do more than these three things, you may be doing too much and suffering the consequences — producing a high volume of content, rather than posting high-quality content that helps you rise above the rabble.
Start with a Content Audit
Take some time to look back at the content you’ve produced across all of your communication channels. Which types of content is your community most interested in and engaged with? If some of your communication channels aren’t producing results, it’s time to look at cutting one or two so you can focus on producing better content for the remaining channels.
Look for topic area scope creep in your communications. Your content should be scrutinized to make sure that it falls within your area of expertise.
Here are a few key questions to ask to determine if your content is within your bailiwick:
Is the content educational?
Educational content helps supporters understand the depth of the issue you are working to overcome or the reason you produce a product and that product’s role in changing the world.
Educational content also brings your supporters along with you to understand your issues from the systemic level to the day-to-day nuances of what your organization is doing. With this knowledge, supporters are empowered to become better advocates and spokespeople for your mission.
Is the content inspirational?
Inspirational content helps your community to maintain hope that it’s possible to take the necessary strides to make change.
Inspirational content helps supporters understand that they are going on a journey with you, rather than just addressing the crisis of the day.
Is the content encouraging?
People want to feel like they’re part of the solution. When you provide them with ways to take action, you’re empowering them and letting them know that engaging with your organization is a two-way street — rewarding for them and for your organization.
Encouraging people to take action is a solid strategy for moving people up the engagement pyramid.
Find Your Content Sweet Spot
No one is going to complain if there is less content in their inbox. They’re also not going to complain if your content moves from average to awesome.
We’ve all become master sorters and curators of content. People don’t bother with content that doesn’t pertain to them or adds to the noise of their inboxes and feeds. You should be producing coveted content that people want to engage with and savor.
Your organization has a unique point of view about your area of focus. The content you put out should reflect that. Provide your audience with your expert opinions on your sector, relevant timely updates and opportunities for action, and stories of impact and progress. Share the trends or insights you’re seeing in your issue area. Provide information that argues for and supports your case for change.
One advantage you have in being deeply steeped in the work you do is that you can curate the best of the best - ideas, voices, information, research, etc. Part of producing excellent work is to take ownership of what you’re putting out on your channels.
Produce exclusive content. What content do you have access to that no one else does? Look to your board members and partner organizations. They likely have perspectives that can make your content unique. This may be timely updates on legislation or hard to access experts that you have a good relationship with. Take a close look at who in your organization is networked and bring that information forward as part of your content strategy.
You’re in a position to provide a platform for unique or unheard voices. A lot of content is produced by the same type of people with the same general approach. To stand out, think about who should have a voice in the work you do and bring those authentic voices to light.
Many organizations have a shortage of capacity to produce content. This is another reason for thinking outside the box and inviting in strong underrepresented voices. Less is more in this case.
Raise the Content Bar
Consider producing an in-depth series - batches of articles, videos, or podcasts that tackle a topic area in a serial format. These take more time to produce, but can make a bigger impact.
Avoid rushing them to hit arbitrary deadlines. Great content is worth waiting for. Set a realistic schedule and stick with it. Your audience wants to know when to tune in, but they’ll drop off if you blast their inbox with “good enough” content just because your editorial calendar is demanding an unsustainable production pace.
Whatever your strategy, take the time needed to create content that stands above others in terms of quality. Be the expert who has opinions and insights that people value. Do the research. Conduct the interview. Find the emotional hook. If that means a lighter pace of content that’s more valuable to your audience and keeps them engaged, then the trade-off is worth it.
Listen to Your Audience
Pay attention to your metrics on video viewership, podcast listens, email open rates, etc. Be willing to cut content that isn’t getting traction. It’s why streaming platforms like Netflix cancel shows after one season. You may like a new series, but if it’s not resonating with audiences, it has to go.
Give your audience a way to let you know what content they want and what resonates with them. A simple survey can help your audience get engaged and know that they are heard. Always release the results of your survey. Everyone wants to feel like they’re valued for more than their donations.
Reach Your Peak
As a society, we’re already beyond “Peak TV”. We’re in Peak Information Overload. Now’s the time for you, as a social impact leader, to up your game. Produce less “good enough” content. Instead, focus on producing great content that stands out in the attention economy, attracts supporters and advocates, and helps propel your organization’s mission.