We’re all publishers now, aren’t we? The barriers to enter the publishing game are low and Google’s given its public seal of approval to decent content (thanks Panda).

As someone passionate about content, this seems like a good thing, having content be more valued and recognised for the brand awareness, visibility and engagement it can bring.

But here’s the thing – just because we can all be publishers doesn’t mean we should be. How can you tell if you should jump into the game? And how can you ensure your content is right for your customers and your brand?

Here are five steps to help you figure out the right strategy.

1.       Know your customers

Get to know your customers, really know them. Don’t just guess their behaviour from web analytics. Understand what content they want, need or would be willing to consume from your brand.

If they don’t want anything beyond a killer e-commerce engine, and they don’t have any questions or other needs along the way that content can help them with, know you’ll need to create demand for content as well as the content itself, which is no small task.

So what’s the best way to get to know them? Just ask!

Create a questionnaire, send an email to user segments, establish a customer panel you can tap into periodically for their opinions, conduct annual focus groups. There are lots of ways to do this – and they don’t have to cost tons of money. Just be prepared to act on what you find.

2.       Establish your brand’s goals

So now you know what your customers want, turn to your internal business needs. Unless your brand is bold and okay with creating a bit of random controversy, start with what you know–your brand’s values, products and services.

Be true to these values, prioritising messages and themes accordingly. You can always branch out later should you see opportunities to do so.

Create a content mission statement that embodies these values and acts as a pillar for all content produced. The content owner can then ensure all content fits the mission.

3.       Decide what you’re willing to invest

Be honest—brutally honest—about what you’re willing and able to invest when creating and maintaining content, both from a budget and staffing perspective.

We’ve created a resource planning tool that calculates how much time is needed to create content. If planning content is new to you, here are the basics you must consider. Start by assigning someone to own the multi-channel calendar.

The content owner needs great interpersonal skills and decision-making authority (not the intern). He or she might be editorial in background, responsible for social media or even email marketing—ideally they’ll have some experience in each of these.

Then create a spreadsheet with a row for each content type and columns that include: planning time (with the necessary stakeholders), creation time (and associated cost), time for editing, review and approvals time, assuming both are needed. Once you assign a value to each of these, add up the time and cost for each row to give you an estimate.

4.       Build a multichannel plan

Plan for and consider all channels – not just your website. Chances are you’re communicating across many channels with your customers already (email, social media, maybe a blog) on top of your brand’s main website.

In addition to your branded channels, investigate other platforms where your customers gather already and put them into the mix as well. Your resourcing plan will help dictate the initial breadth and depth of your content efforts. Then set achievable and realistic KPIs relevant for each channel.

If you’re putting in the effort and creating customer-centric content, make it work hard for you across all channels even if you’re only responsible for one of them. This will ensure your messages are consistent and customers aren’t burdened with your company’s channel-focused internal structure as they connect via different brand touch points. Having a content strategy may even save you some money.

5.       Love the data

Lastly, make data a regular part of your day. Look at KPIs and trends for each channel, assess what’s working and what isn’t and look for new opportunities. Then adapt your content plan based on what you find.

Content planning isn’t just something that can be done once. It should exist as a living document that adapts as needs arise or opportunities surface. So get planning, stay true to your customers and expect the unexpected.