Marketing on social media requires understanding content development from beginning to end. This includes knowing what you wish to gain from each piece of content. Whether it’s sales or brand awareness, you’re looking for audience engagement.

So, what is content development? It’s more than creating posts for social media. The content development process requires research. Who are you trying to reach? What do they want? What do they need? And what are your competitors doing? You want your content to be relevant and timely. It should have more value for your audience than your competitors’ content. This is all critical in getting your target audience to engage with your brand.

But what more does content development mean?

This article will explain the steps necessary for content development. We’ll also discuss content development strategy, essential for developing engaging content.

Table of Contents

What does content development mean?

Content development requires research, ideation, production, publishing and promotion of content. This content must align with your goals. Reaching those goals means knowing your audience. When you create content that educates your audience and provides solutions, this will prompt them to engage with you. That is the ultimate goal of content marketing.

A graphic defining content development.

Creating content that keeps your brand in your audience’ minds serves strategic goals.

Screenshot of a Tweet from PVD Plumbing & Repipe sharing a blog post on how to fix a broken toilet.

This plumbing company shared a blog post about ways to fix a toilet on Twitter. They’re aware their audience prefers an at-home solution before calling in professionals. Not only are they addressing a common pain point, but they’re offering a solution and building trust with their audience.

But the backbone of a good social media content strategy is content development.

Start with a content development strategy

A content marketing strategy is essential to the content development process.

A good content development strategy consists of several elements. These include setting goals for your content and knowing your target audience, creating a content calendar to track your posts, and measuring your results.

Your strategy is a living thing. It will continue to evolve as you implement it and measure results.

Set clear goals

What are you trying to accomplish with your content marketing? Do you want to increase your sales, brand awareness or conversions? Your goals will determine the type of content you post. They will also help you when it comes time to measure your results. You will know which metrics to track, such as clicks versus followers or shares and reach.

Understand and appeal to your target audience

Who do you want to reach? Who is your target audience? To understand them better, create a buyer persona. This detailed description of your ideal customer will help you tailor your content to those most likely to consume it. Collect information on demographics, daily activities, pain points, aspirations and buying habits. Also look at which social media they’re using. The more detailed you make the persona, the better you will craft your content. You may want more than one buyer persona depending on your brand’s needs.

Optimize your content to appeal to your audience as well. Is your audience using specific keywords when referring to a product, pain point or your brand? Use these terms in your content to optimize its reach for search engines and readers alike.

Use a content calendar

A content calendar will allow you to see all your planned posts at a glance. When creating a content calendar, you should be able to organize what you’re posting and on which platforms. This is where a social media management tool can streamline this process.

A tool like Sprout Social which features a publishing calendar allows you to organize your social posts across all platforms and profiles. Our ViralPost® feature compiles data from your followers past interactions with your account, letting you know the ideal time to post for the most reach.

Sprout Social Publishing Calendar with a new post draft showcasing optimal send times

Measure results

You’ve clarified your goals and identified your audience. And you’ve optimized your content and organized your posts with a content calendar. Now you are ready to measure your results.

Track metrics corresponding with your goals to determine how well your ideas performed. The results will help you identify which ideas can be improved, discarded or expanded on. Using Sprout’s social media analytics tools will not only speed up the process of finding your most successful and engaging posts, but it will organize it into meaningful, easily digestible reports that you can share with your team.

Having worked through your content strategy development you can move on to ideation.

Research during the content ideation stage

Content ideation in the marketing industry is the process of producing or sourcing topics to be used in future marketing content. The topics are meant to be relevant to your company in the hopes of being part of your content marketing strategy.

Here are some ways to work on your content ideation. Remember that in all instances of ideation, you need to have a place where your ideas are collected.

Identify content gaps

Take a comprehensive, eagle-eye-point-of-view look at all of your content. Do you see anything that could be covered more or is missing? Are there any products or services that you offer that don’t have a lot of content? Finding the gaps in your existing content is an easy way to find new ideas to develop content.

Address customer pain points

Somewhere along the product development process, there was a point where your company checked if the product would solve your current or target customers’ issues. Most companies don’t create a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist. The first part of this is knowing what pain points you solve for new customers. Come up with ideas that describe how you address their pain points and why yours is the best solution out there.

And then for existing customers, determine what their current pain points are. This does not have to be related to your product, but it does have to be relevant for your customers. In thinking about your current customer’s lifestyle and interests, what kind of content can you create that addresses a problem they’re dealing with? Again this goes back to engagement. When your audience sees your brand providing solutions, they are more likely to spend more time with, come back to, save and share your content.

Screenshot of a blog post from Beautyblender about eco-friendly makeup sponges.

Beautyblender was created out of a need for an affordable, easy and portable way to seamlessly blend foundation and makeup together. So, one content idea for new customers could be demonstrating the sponge’s ease of use compared to other products on the market. A content idea based on pain points or current customer concerns could be this blog post on sustainable makeup sponges. It’s related to their products so customers can learn how to this product differentiates them from other eco-friendly makeup sponges.

Another way of sourcing pain points is to just ask. Through social media, your newsletter or focus groups, ask what problems are at the top of your customers’ minds right now. This is also a good time to make use of those Instagram Story question stickers.

Connect with other departments

For fresh ideas, go no further than your own company. The customer service and sales departments often talk to customers and are excellent sources for new ideas to develop content.

Here are some ways to set this up:

  • Schedule one-on-one recurring meetings with department heads or select department representatives to generate new ideas.
  • Schedule a recurring meeting with all the department representatives at one time to collect ideas.
  • Design a form or email address that collects ideas. Let all the relevant people know that it’s there and periodically check for ideas.

Other departments connect with your customers in a different part of the buyer journey and can offer valuable insight on what people are facing. The information can flow both ways too, as the marketing team shouldn’t be operating in a silo.

Use social listening

Another way of sourcing content ideas is to use social listening. In paying attention to your competitors, industry trends and brand sentiment, you’re able to find plenty of sparks that will generate new ideas.

A screenshot of the Conversation Overview in Sprout Social. The image demonstrates the metrics of select keywords and hashtags.

Utilizing a listening tool like the feature that Sprout offers helps you sort through the noise. Maybe you want to see which product type your customers are talking about the most on Twitter. In the above example, social listening produces data for each product to show which is the most popular at that moment.

Have team brainstorming sessions

Sometimes more minds are better than one, and that’s certainly the case when it comes to brainstorming content ideas. Schedule recurring brainstorming sessions or one-off meetings when you’re running low on ideas.

Brainstorming sessions should still have some loose guidelines. While it’s true that no idea is a bad idea, you also don’t want irrelevant ideas. At the beginning of the session, identify the scribe who will be jotting down the ideas, the length of the brainstorming session, any starting questions and how to contribute. Maybe you’re brainstorming around only a few topics. Announcing the questions at the beginning will hopefully weed out the irrelevant ideas. As for contributing, you don’t want people talking over each other. Use raised hands or a round-robin discussion.

Brainstorm during the content development stage

Now that you have generated lots of ideas, it’s time to go through them and identify the ones that will work best for your marketing team. This step toward your content development goals, or production, is when you filter through your ideas to determine which are relevant and flesh out those that are. It’s okay to discard or table ideas that aren’t currently relevant. Some ideas never make it past the development stage for a myriad of reasons. Just like the ideation stage, content development can be a recurring meeting or one-off meetings.

There are many ways to develop your content ideas. Here are just a few.

Identify a campaign or theme

Can you create a marketing campaign around some ideas? Chances are that your ideas can be tied together in some way or other to produce a series. Some examples of these include employee features and scheduled Instagram takeovers.

Is there a topical trend that you’re seeing? You can become part of the conversation with posts relevant to your brand. This is a great way to engage with your audience. Or, you can create the trend yourself.

Sprout Social uses data to tell a story to its audience of social media professionals. Content creators are becoming a big part of the social media story that we surveyed marketers’ to identify their goals when working with creators. This visualization underscores the larger story of the brand and creator relationship, further driving discussion on the topic.

Hyperfocus on a topic

It can be tough to rank high in search results on a common topic. Instead of a generalist approach, go for a specialist one. It might not have as many people searching for it but those who do are more likely to engage in the topic.

Sweetgreen serves healthy meals and is all about local sourcing and sustainability. For this video, the company could’ve chosen to talk about the general category of bread. But instead, they’ve chosen to hyperfocus on the rosemary focaccia that they serve in their LA stores.

Evaluate for relevancy and execution

One of the key parts of content development is sorting through the ideas. Some companies use a scoring system while others prefer to informally go through them. Unlike a brainstorming session, this part is done by those who have a part in the content creation and promotion process.

For each idea, talk through what the content would look like, what it would take to achieve it, any additional budget or time constraints and its tie to your company. Using your marketing funnel and personas, match up where the idea would rest. Perhaps one idea is great, but you already have too much content within the awareness stage. In this instance, you would keep the idea but not continue with its execution yet.

Image of an inbound marketing funnel and their related goals: starting with awareness at the top to reach new consumers and ends with advocacy at the bottom and inspiring evangelism at the bottom.

Execute with content scheduling and promotion

Some content types are locked in by holidays or other dates. In these instances, ideas are sourced and developed with the date in mind. Using a social media calendar can help you keep track of important dates, so they can guide you in your ideation and development stage.

Dates might also limit what content you want to focus on. In the fourth quarter, retail marketing ramps up for the holiday season, and a lot of content is focused around that area. This is obviously not the time to talk about the best summer outfits.

Content creation takes time and part of this content process should take that into account. You may have the best ideas surrounding a holiday but they won’t happen if you don’t plan for how much time it’ll take you to execute and promote them.


So what is content development? It is the research and creation of ideas to develop content that will engage your target audience in a way that will meet your strategic goals. To understand more about what consumers are looking for in a brand, visit our most recent Sprout Social Index™. Once you create content that moves you toward your goals, the next step in the content development process is to publish and promote it. Sprout’s social media publishing features, including Optimal Send Times, Content Library, Content Suggestions and Shared Content Calendar make it easy and save you valuable time.

Content development is the process of sourcing ideas, creating content and measuring results. It is this ongoing process that allows you to hone your social marketing to what works best for your brand.