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7 Steps for Creating Minimum Viable Content

7 Steps for Creating Minimum Viable Content

Published: 
November 9, 2021
 by 
Matt Johnson
, Last updated: 
November 9, 2021

Minimum viable content and how to get more efficient at content marketing using lean startup principles.

Creating content is time-consuming. Drafting blogs, recording videos, editing podcasts - no matter the medium, constructing engaging content is hard work. What’s worse is that often we spend all this time perfecting our content, only for it to fall flat with our target audience.

But what if it didn’t have to be this way? What if we could create more content quicker? What if we could test subjects and ideas without having to spend all the time it takes to write an entire blog post or cut a video?

Well, I think I have a better way.

This article will give you a step-by-step guide for applying lean startup principles to content creation and marketing.

But first, a quick background on lean principles (skip this next section if you are already familiar).

Background of the Lean Startup and Minimum Viable Product

The concept behind lean startup and minimum viable content is testing your idea as quickly as possible, and iterating or moving on

The concept of being ‘lean’ in a business setting goes back to Toyota’s lean manufacturing process. This article will focus on Eric Ries’s adaptation of lean principles as applied to startups.

The lean startup methodology aims to shorten production cycles, quickly getting a product to users to validate whether a market exists. Most people will have heard of the minimum viable product (MVP) - this stems directly from the lean startup approach. Start with a hypothesis, build the smallest thing you can to test your hypothesis (your MVP), measure the results from your test, and finally learn and iterate.

The lean startup’s idea is not to spend a bunch of time building something people don’t want. Invalidate your hypotheses as quickly as possible so you can move on to the next thing. Or better yet, if it works, learn from it, iterate and continue following the build, measure, learn cycle.

Don’t Forget the Viable Part

When talking about MVPs, it’s essential to keep in mind the acronym’s viable part.

Imagine you have a hypothesis that people want a motor-driven vehicle to get from point A to B. You wouldn’t start by just creating a steering wheel and selling it to people who want to get around. You can’t get anywhere with just a steering wheel.

Instead, you might start with a skateboard. Skateboards are easy to build and can be used to go at least short distances. Next, you might create a bicycle. Slightly more complex but better at getting more people where they need to go. And you would continue iterating until you ultimately build an entire car.

Translating Lean Principles to Content Creation

How do we translate these lean principles and the concept of an MVP into a content strategy? Glad you asked.

We can follow this build, measure, learn cycle with content ideas. We can let the market tell us what content it needs. We can spend the least amount of time discovering whether a content idea is worth pursuing.

How It’s Done - in Seven Easy Steps

Now that we have a background, the fun begins. By the end of this section, you should have an easy-to-follow playbook for implementing lean principles and minimum viable content into your growth strategy. It’s relatively simple, and hopefully, you are doing a bit of it already.

Step 1 - Hang out where your target audience hangs out (plan)

Find the online forums, communities, and social media platforms where your target audience spends their time online.

Here you are looking for questions or problems you find your target audience asking or facing repeatedly. Most importantly, these are challenges you likely have insight into or can research to help solve.

Step 2 - Comment with your insights (build)

If you have insight on the question/problem you keep seeing, then share it. The nice thing is that you can probably write this pretty quickly.

If you don’t have insight but notice a commonly asked question, think about doing some quick research, and share a couple of sentences summarizing what you found.

Step 3 - Look at engagement (measure)

Keep an eye on your comments. Are they getting upvoted? Are people thanking you profusely for your insight? Is it clear you are helping people solve a problem? Great, you are on to something - you’ve built some minimum viable content.

Sometimes, though, your comments fall flat. Did no one respond? Was it ignored? Lack of engagement could be a sign that your insight wasn’t unique or novel. Or it could be that you delivered it in a way that didn’t resonate with the intended audience.

Step 4 - Diagnose (learn)

If your insight received strong engagement, clearly it resonated with your audience. Great! It looks like you are on to something. Spend a bit of time thinking about what specifically resonated with your audience. Start to think of ways to create more content around this subject.

If you don’t get a ton of engagement, ask why this might be the case? Was it your tone or the way you delivered the information? For example, did you just share a link and say ‘read this’ instead of summarizing in a couple of sentences? Or it could be that you didn’t answer the exact question the person was asking. If you think there might be some way of changing things around, try again in another comment.

Or, perhaps it’s just not an insight that’s going to resonate. And that’s ok, move on to the next idea. That’s why we are doing this exercise.

Step 5 - Move beyond your MVC

Now that you know your insight resonates and people like what you’re selling, this is when I would start spending more time building out your content. Whether it’s video, blogging, podcasts, or whatever your medium, you have some proof that your content works, so you can be more confident that spending the time making it is worthwhile.

The best part is, you’ve already done a lot of the work. Your comment can more quickly turn into a blog post because the ideas are there. Copy and paste that comment into a new document, and start expanding on the points you made.

Step 6 - Keep sharing

Now that you know this content is valuable to your target audience, you can distribute that content to other communities and channels. Create a new forum post with your insights. Comment on other people’s threads with highlights and links to your blog or video for more information. Put it into a tweet thread, share the blog and your insights regularly on LinkedIn.

Before you post in communities, here are some tips for making the most of community marketing and avoiding becoming a spammer.

Don’t just link to your website’s content and say, ‘hey, read this thing I wrote on X.’

Instead, when you post it in forums, highlight the key points, make the post itself useful for readers, and at the end, include a link for people if they want more info. You might worry this means losing out on eyeballs on your website - and it probably does in a short time. But over time, people will get sick of you just posting links, and they’ll ignore your posts. Better to build goodwill and be a good community member first. 

Include a summary in the content.

I like to include a summary section with bullets of the key ideas of my blog post. Summarizing makes it easier for readers to get to the point. Then later, when I am sharing in other communities or on social media, it’s an easy reference for what I can include in my post.

Don’t share all at once across other forums.

Stagger out when you share a piece of content across these communities. Often there will be much overlap, and people will get annoyed seeing the same post from you across multiple communities.

Share different points in different communities.

Tailor how you share the content to each community. Some communities might be more interested in specific insights from your post than others. Focus on those. Or, there might be different norms for how people tend to post in those communities. Try to follow those.

Here are several other dos and don’ts for marketing in communities.

Step 7 - Keep scaling up the content

If you have a piece of content that continues to resonate with your audience, consider scaling it up a bit more. Perhaps you can create an accompanying directory of resources to go along with a blog article. Or you could record a video summarizing the points. Or maybe it could be a webinar you run or turn into an ebook. Better yet, the content could become a feature in your product!

Double down on the things that are working, and cut out the things that aren’t.

An Example: How do I Launch on Product Hunt?

Our target audience at Taskable is generally other founders or startup employees. So, I would spend time in places like Indie Hackers or founder-focused Slack groups.

I kept seeing people ask how to launch on Product Hunt.

I’d launched on Product Hunt before and did pretty well. Each time I came across this question about launching on Product Hunt, I would share a tip or two. Over time I found myself continually copying and pasting a response I had in one forum into a comment in another forum. Finally, it dawned on me that this should be a blog post!

I wrote it up quickly, starting with all the tips I had shared in Indie Hackers, Startup School, and This Week In Startups Slack.

I then began sharing the post in other forums, focusing on some specific tips in the blog. For example, ‘here’s how you get more engagement from Twitter for your launch.’ I would also continue posting a few tips in response to questions and then subtly link to my blog post at the end for more information.

My posts became so well received that I kept building on the blog. I added an Airtable directory of tools and resources for launching on Product Hunt. I created a step-by-step checklist for launching, hoping to make it super simple for anyone to follow.

Ultimately, we created a feature in Taskable that lets users import checklists into their Taskable account, primarily because of traction from the Product Hunt launch checklist. Importing lists became a popular feature and gave us a platform for a bunch more content.

Alternative ways of validating

Another trick I’ve found for discovering content ideas is creating content around solutions to your problems. For example, we applied to several accelerators. Each accelerator had an online application form to complete. However, you couldn’t share your application with others for feedback or even save it. Instead, I kept copying and pasting the form into a Google doc to answer it at my own pace and then shared the Google doc for feedback. Then I’d paste the final text into the online form.

I would spend as much time copying the form questions into Google Docs as answering the questions. Finally, while filling out a Techstars application, I made a copy of the Google doc with just the form questions. I made it public and shared it with someone I knew at Techstars in case it was helpful for other startups applying there. Before I knew it, he shared it around the Techstars community, and a few people started tweeting it out. There was interest in the Google Docs application form.

So, I created a whole directory of accelerator application forms and insights on applying and when the deadlines are.

Summary

Being lean goes well beyond building a new product or service. Marketing teams can be lean, and you can use the lean principles to develop content.

The steps to applying lean principles to content creation:

  1. Hang out in communities where your users are
  2. Discover what questions they have or problems they’d like to solve
  3. Share your insights on how to solve those problems
  4. See if your insights resonate with the community
  5. If so, turn it into a more comprehensive piece of content - blog, video, podcast, whatever your medium
  6. Keep sharing your content in other forums and places where your audience hangs out
  7. Scale up the content if it turns out to be popular

The fundamental goal here is to spend the least amount of time on a content idea before deciding whether it’s worth putting more resources into it. Just remember to make sure you’re providing your audience with the skateboard and not just a steering wheel before you give up on an idea.

November 9, 2021
by
Matt Johnson

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