If COVID-19 has blindsided your business, you've probably been asking questions like these: How should we talk to our prospects and customers? What should we say? Should we ditch our editorial plans or stay the course? Is content promotion still acceptable or is it a definite no-no?

Up until this point, you've probably also had to come up with some pretty quick answers just to get out a timely response.

But continuing to pump out content in reactive mode will only get you so far. It's time to think longer term because experts are predicting a global recession and nobody knows how long it will take for the economy to recover.

To help your business through the crisis, you need a more proactive plan. In fact, now is the ideal time to put a content strategy together (or revise your existing one) to align with this new pandemic reality.

Though you might think you can't possibly add another task to your to-do list, this is something you can't ignore. At the best of times, the most successful content marketers have a documented content marketing strategy in place. So, at the worst of times, it's more important than ever to make it a top priority.

Five Steps to Creating a Content Strategy in a Crisis

Developing a proper content strategy won't happen in a day, but you can get one done in a week or two as long as you set your mind to it.

Here's how to break down the process into manageable steps for you and your team:

1. Get a handle on changing business objectives

You can't help your business through the pandemic if you don't know how the goals have changed—or will change. Talk to the appropriate people in your organization to find out how the corporate strategy will shift and what, if any, new targets have been set.

That way, when you create or update your content strategy, you'll ensure you're focused on activities that will support the existing business state. You'll also know how to select KPIs and metrics that make sense for tracking your progress (which you'll want to do more frequently as the environment continues to remain in flux).

2. Check in with your audience to assess their needs

Everyone has been affected by COVID-19 in some way. But deciding singlehandedly what prospects and customers need at this time is a mistake you don't want to make.

Instead of playing guessing games, gather facts to understand customers' changing challenges and priorities. It's only by digging that you'll uncover valuable tidbits to help you craft the best response. Here are a few ways to go about doing that.

Interview prospects and clients

The best way to understand your audience is to actually talk to them. Schedule audio or video calls to discuss what it's like to be in their position. Ask questions, such as the following, to obtain a clear picture of their current situation:

  • How is COVID-19 is impacting your business?
  • What are your biggest challenges, and why?
  • What changes are you making in your organization to respond?
  • How are you shifting your priorities?
  • What types of information or tools would help you through this challenging time?

Conduct social listening

Spend some time snooping on the social media platforms your audience frequents to learn what they're saying about your brand and competitors. You can do this manually or with a tool like Sprout Social.

Social listening will provide you with unfiltered sentiment toward products, services, and communication approaches in the market. As you examine the posts, also pay attention to common problems or pain points that are surfacing within the industries you target.

Talk to your customer team

Meet with sales and customer success reps to understand your clients' mindset. Do they want to put off or discontinue working with you, or are they ramping up their engagements? Are they interested in using your products or services differently? What common questions are surfacing about particular topics?

The information you get back from this qualitative research will be invaluable in crafting a content strategy that will be successful—even during this trying time.

3. Examine industry and data trends

As the saying goes, change is the only constant. And, arguably, things are changing faster than ever in the current environment. Take some time to observe the happenings in your industry:

  • What issues are concerning key influencers?
  • What hot topics are making headlines?
  • How are businesses responding?
  • What are the expected problems or outcomes that will result from the pandemic?

Also, do your own digital analysis. Conduct keyword research with tools like SEMrush and Ahrefs to identify relevant terms that are increasing or decreasing in popularity. Examine your website data. What content are prospects clicking or downloading now versus previously? Gathering that information will update your existing intel on audience interests and behavior.

4. Analyze your findings and create your strategy statement

Now that you've done your homework, analyze and synthesize your findings.

By reviewing all the information you've gathered, you'll be able to uncover common themes and content opportunities that will best meet your business objectives as well as your audience needs. You'll also be able to put together a statement that will clearly sum up your strategy and keep everyone focused on the same goal.

I love the approach developed by content strategist Meaghan Casey. She recommends answering four questions in your strategy statement to make it easy to communicate and remember:

  1. What content should we produce, procure, curate, and share?
  2. Who, specifically, is that content for?
  3. Why do those audiences need or expect that content from us?
  4. What outcomes does providing this content help us achieve?

5. Brainstorm content that aligns with your strategy

Notice how content execution has been omitted up until this point? That's because you can't think about the content you're going to produce until you've gone through the steps outlined above.

A great way to generate content ideas is to brainstorm with internal stakeholders from various departments. You can easily do this virtually using tools like Google Jamboard and Mural.

No matter what platform you choose, ensure participants have the required context and parameters prior to the meeting to offer relevant contributions. That means you should communicate the strategy statement as well as any other pertinent information. For example, your strategy may focus on a specific content format, such as video. It may also include a specific content mix, such as 40% timely and 60% evergreen content; or 20% entertainment pieces, 50% problem-solving content, and 30% industry news.

This article by Siege Media offers some great guidelines that will get you thinking about the types of content you may want to incorporate into your content strategy during this time.

Plan to Succeed

What worked for your business before COVID-19 won't work for you now. So, take the time to create a new content strategy (or update your existing one) to align with the people you serve.

When you know how to plan your content marketing efforts, you'll have the focus you need to help your business survive, and maybe even thrive, during this crisis.

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image of Richele Black

Richele Black is an SEO-focused content strategist and consultant. She helps marketing leaders plan and create findable content that drives traffic and leads.

LinkedIn: Richele Black

Twitter: @richeleblack