Content world-building 101

Our approach to evaluating and growing a creator's ecosystem

Hi, everyone! Are you going to Austin for SXSW next week? Two things: 1) Terry Black’s barbecue is better than Franklin (I said what I said) and 2) our head of partnerships, Colin, is also going and would love to jam with anyone interested in talking all things creator. Hit him up!

—Kinsey, cofounder & head of editorial at Smooth Media

How to Build a Holistic View of Your Content Ecosystem

Unnamed laborer hard at work at the content factory

While we may not have been the first to coin it, we’ve certainly become power users of the term “content ecosystem” here at Smooth. For us, a content ecosystem is a holistic picture of the content a creator is producing—the world they’re building for their audience through their content.

Today, we’re sharing our advice for knowledge creators looking to take stock of their content ecosystem and identify how they can get on a path toward a scalable, sustainable media business.

We think there are three core chapters, each of which gets you closer to a robust and valuable content ecosystem:

  1. Evaluate

  2. Brainstorm

  3. Execute

Evaluate. Even when it can seem obvious, go through the exercise of understanding your full content ecosystem as it exists today—what content you’re producing on which media, whom you’re serving, and what value you’re bringing them.

Some key questions we ask to kickstart these conversations → 

  1. What is the mission of your brand and content? How do you deliver on it? What is the one-liner version of your mission?

  2. Who is your audience right now? Who do you want your audience to be in a year?

  3. What is the value prop of the content you’re currently publishing? What does the audience get out of consuming it? How does your content stand out from other similar content online?

  4. What are the different content products in your mix (i.e. long-form YouTube videos, weekly newsletters, etc.)? What value proposition does each product serve? How do they each level up to your broader mission?

  5. How would you describe the voice, tone, and personality of your content?

That’s what we’ve affectionately come to know as the “content carveout.” Next? 

Brainstorm. Once you have a deeper understanding of your brand and audience, it’s time to dive into the process of taking your content supersonic—how can you get to the next level with new content products that serve your audience and benefit your media business? The content carveout gave you a 360-degree look at your content ecosystem, and this portion is about figuring out how and where to expand.

It’s all about creativity, exploration, and big ideas here. Because there are a million different ways for creativity to manifest!

That can present a challenge, though…the urge to do it all, or Bridgit Mendler disease. Our advice? Be methodical about your expansion—only consider content products that can truly round out your offerings.

For example: Plenty of creators (and every business major you went to college with) have probably at some point thought, “Should I start a podcast?” The answer might be yes, but before you commit, we’d encourage some self-examination →

  • Does this podcast idea offer my audience something they’re unable to get in any of my other content?

  • Is this podcast different from other podcasts in my niche? Is it remarkable enough to stand out in a crowded field? Am I doing something new here?

  • Is starting a podcast the simplest way to reach my broader content goals, or is it an unnecessarily heavy lift that could be replaced by something more streamlined than launching a new product?

Start with the value, not the medium. “I want to deliver this necessary value to my audience and I’ll figure out the best way to communicate it with them.” > “I need to start a podcast because everyone has a podcast.”

Asking big questions like those will help you keep your brainstorm productive and valuable. The itch to try it all will always be there, but really thoughtful brainstorms can keep you from scratching it too hard. Because don’t we know it’s true…

Some other brainstorm guidelines we swear by?

  • There are no bad ideas.

  • But the best ideas are those that 1) serve the audience and 2) fulfill the mission and value prop you identified in the carveout portion.

  • Brainstorming isn’t about creating a whole new business or totally redefining your content—it’s about thinking creatively and critically to find ideas that will allow you to double down on what’s working, fill gaps for your audience, and create a product mix that’s sustainable for you.

Once the brainstorm has produced a great idea, we love to iterate a couple times to stress test the product. For example: If we’re working with a knowledge creator on a newsletter at Smooth, this is the point at which I’d present a proposed skeleton of said newsletter—a rundown of each recurring element in the newsletter with an explanation of its purpose and examples of curation.

All of the elements in that skeleton newsletter should serve the greater purpose of the creator’s content—with their audience front of mind.

This part of the process is especially collaborative. Our job is to architect something that the knowledge creator loves, so we iterate as many times as we need to in order to tick all of their boxes. We also whip up example newsletters, fully curated, written, and designed, to show the creator what their newsletter will look like as a finished product.

And once we’re all happy with what we’ve got?

Execute. Create the processes necessary to publish and manage your content in perpetuity. This will vary from creator to creator, but at Smooth we typically include tasks like…

  • Hiring freelancers to pitch and write newsletter V1s

  • Scheduling regular check-ins with the creator for QA (and also for fun)

  • Setting goals for the content

  • Establishing workflows that help Smooth understand the creator’s future content (so we can talk about it in the newsletter 💅)

We’ve been lucky to have gone through this process with dozens of creators in the last two years. It’s my favorite part of this job—to hear knowledge creators talk about the care they’ve taken to build a world for their audience, and to be able to play a small part in expanding that world.

So? That’s how the sausage gets made here at Smooth. Want to learn more about how we build content machines…or see my super secret templates for each part of this process? Smash that reply button and let us know.

  • Two great Smoothie headlines: Hannah Williams of Salary Transparent Street launched a new series called The Break Room. And Kat Norton of Miss Excel launched a new sister company called Miss Optimize. We love it!

  • Pique Action released a list of climate creators to watch. Some really great names in this roundup!

  • Tech and culture reporter/sometimes creator Taylor Lorenz is launching a podcast with Vox Media.

  • Popular Science is relaunching its YouTube channel with two education creators at the helm.

Thanks for reading! No more thoughts in the old noggin today, just billionaire hedge fund manager Ray Dalio definitely not on dr*gs grid-posting about why Taylor Swift should be president. What a world!

See you next week!