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What SNL taught me about content strategy

Justin Watkins

March 2016

What can a sketch show teach us about content marketing and strategy? A lot. Besides what the kids are doing these days.

snl tumblring

Here are some of my favorite lessons from decades of SNL – all of which happen to have a convenient content strategy parallel.

Have a Schedule

seth meyers snl internet history

Weekly shows at SNL mean that creators have no choice but to keep creating. They can’t show up on Saturday and say “sorry, we got busy!” or wait until Friday to get everything ready. The schedule creates a sense of urgency and intention that is high-intensity but pays off.

Be Open

bee gees dancing

At the heart of all SNL sketches is improvisation. When you have to create something new every week, it’s important to be open to possibilities and take to heart one of the key principles of improv: saying yes. When you’re part of an improv sketch, you have to engage with your fellow actors and move the scene along.

Learn What Works – Fast

spartan cheer

Saying “yes” means that sometimes things work incredibly well, and sometimes they don’t work at all. We’ve all cringed while watching a sketch completely flop. But the great thing about that? The show goes on. The creator learns a little from it. There’s no hiding your precious idea behind a curtain – you have to send it out into the world and see if it sticks. If it doesn’t, you’re already on to the next. If something kinda performs, you can take the parts that worked and apply them elsewhere. In content creation, we have to take some risks – some work, some don’t – but they all teach us something.

Don’t Overproduce

debbie

On SNL, the pace sets the tone for production values: things aren’t polished, and sometimes they do go wrong. When actors break, people get to see the personality behind the character. People don’t want something that’s highly polished when they interact with your content, either – they want to know there are relatable humans behind the work.

Craft a Repeatable Format

stefon

Everyone dreams of creating their Debbie Downer, Stefon, Ladies’ Man or Wayne Campbell. When you hit on a delivery vehicle that works, you can adjust the content within it and riff on it for weeks (or years). The easy comparison here is a listicle – everyone loves lists and even though complaints about them are universal, we’re still reading them. But a great format can be anything: a video style, interview format, a campaign. If you create something that allows you to generate new, high-quality content with limited effort, you have a hit.
So what’s your cast working on this week?