It was great to see the importance of content put centre stage at the recent Social Media in Recruitment Conference. Andy Headworth wrote a good post on it.

So how do you begin to find out what your audience (customers, potential customers, competitors, supply chain, employees) wants to look at, read, watch, listen to, play etc?

Start with these three steps:

1 Look

Find out what the people you are trying to reach are looking at, responding to and sharing. This will not amount to an enormous piece of desk research but it will require you to take some time finding and following people on Twitter, following companies on Linkedin, liking companies on Facebook.

Make sure you find where they hangout online, and do not disregard ‘old’ technology such as forums. Mumsnet, for example, is a thriving community for mums – and it is a forum.

Set up free monitoring tools such as anĀ  RSS feed reader ( I use Google reader) to monitor latest posts, news and discussions as well as Google alerts to inform you of latest updates from competitors/relevant professional bodies, industry influencers.

Remember also to see who your/what employees are discussing. Look at data from emails/intranet and other communications channels.

This work will become a resource for you – you will have Twitter lists and feeds of new content that you can share.

And make sure you take a good look at the content your competitors are producing and learn from it.

2 Listen

Using some of the tools mentioned above, monitor what is said. You can get feeds of comments on blogs so keep an eye on these to see what sparks discussion. Use Twitter search to measure Twitter sentiment – in the advanced search you will see this option . . .

You will never stop listening – how else will you be providing/responding to what your audience needs? Make sure you are looking when your audience are active. If they go online in the evening then make sure you do.

3 Ask

You will already have lists of customers, potential customers, the supply chain and employees so ask them what they read, watch etc to stay up to date with industry developments, those of the company and competitors.

This is the best place to start. Reaching out will show you want to deliver relevant information and by reaching out you may well find people who will contribute. Again, using a survey tool such as SurveyMonkey is cheap and quick.

These may look like basic steps but they are critical to starting to understand what makes engaging content in your industry sector/niche. Remember, these are the steps any commercial publisher would research indepth before launching a product and you can do them at low cost.