Danger Ahead: When Content Distribution Is On Auto-Pilot
Andy Crestodina is the co-founder of Orbit Media and one of the best teachers we know when it comes to search engine optimization, email marketing, and social media. In this interview, he speaks plainly about why great content creators don’t always come out ahead, and the dangers of putting your content distribution strategies on autopilot.
CCO: Three years ago, the content marketing mantra was something like, ‘If you build it, they will come.’ Yet more and more, I see marketers paying a lot of attention to what comes after creation. What matters more?
Crestodina: Quality is a deal breaker. Low-quality content can’t be helped by any effort. No amount of promotion will help a bad piece of content get more traffic, engage more visitors, or attain higher ROI. Quality is a necessary baseline.
But there is not necessarily a correlation between high-quality content and traffic. An OK piece of content that is promoted brilliantly will outperform brilliant content with just OK promotion. There is no doubt in my mind about that. The winners are those who are great promoters. Great creators are not necessarily going to come out on top.
It’s common – especially for bloggers – to publish something, share it on Twitter and Facebook, and then move on to the next piece of content. They spend 80% of their time on content and 20% of their time marketing it.
They’re slaves to the publishing calendar. To get better results, they speed up the publishing schedule but do not change their tactics for promotion. Endlessly sharing via social media and emailing to a list are not nearly as powerful as a plan to get large-scale sharing or a plan to aggressively grow your list.
The winners in content marketing are those who are good at influencer marketing, list growth, and keyword research/usage. Those are the most important tactics for the three main traffic channels: social, email, and search.
With the explosion of visual content in the last year, it’s getting harder than ever for brands to get noticed and persuade their target audiences to take action. One way to rise above the noise is to consistently integrate your brand into your visuals, through a consistent, well-thought-out template of color, typography, and design.
What’s driving this explosion in visual content? A growing number of bloggers and businesses are recognizing its awesome power to communicate in powerful ways that words alone cannot. At the same time, apps and tools have matured to the point where nearly anyone can create and distribute attractive-looking images and infographics tailored for a variety of social media channels.
There’s only one problem: A lot of it looks the same and doesn’t communicate or persuade very well. Just as buying a canvas, paint, and brushes doesn’t make you a Picasso, nor does using tools like Canva and PicMonkey transform you into a kick-ass graphic designer. I’m not criticizing these tools; I’m just saying that a brand is more than a logo or a specific font. It’s an expression of your customers’ experience. Accordingly, it deserves careful thought and planning.
Just as visitors to your website make decisions about your company based upon its visual appeal, usability, and the quality of the content it contains, the same thing happens in microcosm with every piece of visual content you publish. Well-crafted visuals can help you build trust, differentiate your company, and grow your business. Conversely, poorly-conceived visual content can damage your audience’s perceptions of your brand.
Audiences have access to a flood of content, so what piques their interest? Content that is cohesive, visually engaging and consistent… demonstrates credibility. It shows that your brand is invested in providing value through communication, that you are considerate of your audience’s time and needs. If the content you create is segmented, siloed or scattershot, with no thought to design or presentation, it will be much harder to nurture that audience relationship.
The attention span of your audience is diminishing
The explosion of visual content means that your audience members are skimming more than ever; they only take a few seconds to view an image and determine whether they should investigate the content it’s promoting or just move on. That’s why consistent branding of visual images is becoming critically important. Ideally, your audience ought to be able to view an image and immediately recognize it as representing your brand. Only a small number of thought leaders and brands are doing this effectively today.
What does this mean to you as a content marketer? Your brand will need to address this issue if you want to rise above the growing maelstrom of mediocre infographics, image quotes, and stock photos to effectively communicate with your target audiences.
5 experts reveal what works and what doesn’t
Recently, I’ve come across a few thought leaders who I think are doing an excellent job of consistently branding themselves:
Paul Biedermann, creative director and owner of re:DESIGN, a boutique agency specializing in strategic design, brand identity, and visual content marketing
Rebekah Radice, a social media strategist, consultant, trainer, and author of How to Use Social Media to Virtually Crush the Competition
Lisa Loeffler, publicity and promotions manager for social media guru Jay Baer and his popular Convince & Convert blog
Stephanie Diamond, author of The Visual Marketing Revolution: 26 Rules to Help Social Media Marketers Connect the Dots, and numerous other books
I asked them to share some details on what they’re doing and why. Following are our conversations:
How important is it for bloggers and thought leaders to develop a distinctive visual brand?
My panelists were universal in their assessment that developing a unique visual brand is essential to getting and keeping the attention of your audience online. In essence, it becomes a visual signature that your audience will ultimately seek out, as it serves as a symbol of a resource they trust.
“It’s critical to have a distinct voice in today’s business world — it forms the very foundation of your brand and your blog. Creating an effective brand image through good design and a consistent visual strategy is critical to getting that voice seen and heard,” says Paul Biedermann.
“Creating a distinctive brand is incredibly important. It defines your unique identifiers and acts as an instant connector,” explains Rebekah Radice.
“It’s critically important for bloggers and influencers to develop a distinctive brand, and few do it well. The reason for this is not a new problem. It takes an understanding of what your brand really represents and how to translate that into a meaningful design,” adds Stephanie Diamond.
What kind of a difference has strong, distinctive branding made for your business?
These early adopters believe that creating, refining, and consistently presenting their brand as a core part of their content marketing strategy helps them rise above the tidal wave of noise online.
“Focusing more on Convince & Convert’s social media visual strategy and creating more assets to accompany our content this year has made an appreciable impact in click-through rates to our website and engagement within social channels. We have seen a sharp increase in the amount of likes, shares, and engagement across channels, especially Google+,” Lisa Loeffler says.
“Creating a distinct visual brand has made a world of difference for the Content Marketing Institute as a whole. When CMI was first launched, we worked through our visual branding in phases. It was something like a trial and error process to see what worked and what didn’t,” Joe Kalinowski reveals. “That process and solution has worked perfectly now that we have three different brands (Content Marketing Institute, Chief Content Officer magazine, and Content Marketing World) that all have to be distinct in their own right, yet must be connected as a whole. We feel that the visual branding is a huge key to that connectivity.”
Content Marketing Institute’s logos are connected, yet distinct.
“Strategic design, branding and visual content is what I do, so having my own distinctive visual brand is a must,” Biedermann explains. “It is also one of the best examples I can provide for the impact it can have: People recognize my business and my blog — they associate me with my business name, understand what I do, trust me and think of me when they need my services — and I’d say that’s about as much as you could hope for!”
Clearly, effective branded visual content does more than put your logo or company name in front of your target audience on a regular basis. Over time, it begins to stand for something in the mind space of your current and prospective customers. That increases the odds that, when they’re ready to invest in the type of product or service your company offers, your brand will be top of mind.
Why don’t more bloggers adopt this kind of approach? I see more and more visual content, but so much of it looks the same. There’s nothing distinctive about it.
Several panelists point out that the growing availability of DIY tools has accelerated the explosion of visual content; but they feel most of it is mediocre and does nothing to strengthen the brands of its creators. In many cases, development of a visual to support content is only a last-minute afterthought. In that case, “fast” DIY tools enable bloggers to quickly churn out an image that may be unique, but is often unconnected to their brand.
The same goes for stock photos, which have become a quick, easy source of visual pablum. They add a visual element to the content they support, to be sure, but don’t connect it in any way to the brand itself. In other words, if the image was taken out of context of the blog post it’s supporting, no one would know it was meant to represent your brand.
“I think the reason that bloggers and influencers avoid adopting the idea of creating a consistent and distinctive visual brand is because it does take a lot of work and a lot of trial and error,” CMI’s Kalinowski says. “It is so much easier to surf a stock site and match up the first stock photo that is vaguely relatable to your blog topic rather than taking the time to find the perfect image and working with it to ‘make it your own’ by enhancing it (cropping it, adjusting colors, etc). Dragging and dropping from the ‘free tool’ programs is a heck of a lot easier than doing all of that work yourself.
“One additional reason that the visual side of a blog may be sidestepped is simply because the visuals aren’t thought about until after the fact, almost like the finish line of a race,” Kalinowski adds. “Some may feel that the image is less important than the actual words of the blog. As a result, less effort is put into the image or visual look than the actual writing and ideation of the article.”
“I think there are a couple of reasons. The first one is lack of time,” Rebekah Radice explains. “Small businesses owners and entrepreneurs claim they ‘don’t have the time’ to create branded images. Unfortunately, just throwing together images or worse yet — using stock photos — sends the wrong message to prospective clients. The second excuse I hear is a lack of money. However, I would argue that you can create a branded persona without spending big bucks. There’s no way to create differentiation if you’re not willing to invest in this key business-defining element.”
“Visual content is going wild, but that doesn’t mean it’s good. In fact, it’s only made it more difficult to cut through the noise. That’s why serious businesses and bloggers need to up their game to have any hope of breaking through. Cookie cutter solutions and DIY will only take you so far,” Biedermann warns.
Stephanie Diamond concurs: “Most of the people who are responsible for creating visual content are not prepared and would be the first to say so. Embracing simplicity and spreading a clear message isn’t easy. The tools are much easier than they used to be, but you still need to know how to create beautiful work. Volume doesn’t equal value,” she points out.
How did you come up with the motif for your business and your visual social media posts to promote it?
Brand identity is a unique animal. It’s not just about placing your blog’s URL at the bottom of each image. It incorporates a distinctive visual style, color, typography and instantly-recognizable elements.
“My branding is carried through all of my online engagement, which includes the images on my blogs. They’re all different, yet they present a cohesive, recognizable brand identity. When my posts are shared by others, those images carry through and further spread my brand,”Biedermann explains. Each of his pieces of visual content includes a ghosted “re:DESIGN” logo in the corner.
Image from the re:Design blog
Radice’s visual content is immediately recognizable by the stylized art of a smiling woman with large eyes. The second you see one of these images in your feed, it’s immediately recognizable as her content. Here’s how she came up with this unique and distinctive style:
Rebekah Radice’s visual style
“The look and feel of my blog is in total alignment with my personality. I’m a huge fan of the color orange. It’s vibrant, fun, and eye-catching. Once I determined color scheme, I spent quite a bit of time deciding what graphics would complement my design and extend that look beyond my website and blog. It’s not easy to find your look, but it’s well worth the time and effort. Nailing down my color palette, fonts, and graphic design now makes graphic creation for each new blog post effortless.”
For CMI, orange is founder Joe Pulizzi’s favorite color. Whenever he does a speaking engagement, he wears an orange vest or sweater. Over time, this color has become a core part of the company’s unmistakable brand. Kalinowski explains how this look developed:
“We set our brand standards early on for a consistent look. Fonts, (obviously) our orange, and logo usage is pretty consistent across the board. I also benefit from the fact that a lot of our social posts can be created from a template, so when we see a “series” of posts on the horizon, we take the time to create a nice look for the first post and then follow that theme throughout the remainder of the series.”
Convince and Convert also relies on the color orange as a central part of its brand. It’s one of those colors that tends to “pop” off of the screen and commands attention. Lisa Loeffler explains how she and the C&C team developed and use its distinctive brand:
“Our visual social media posts are predominantly created in bright oranges, which mirrors Convince & Convert’s visual brand identity. We include our website URL in our images, as well as our blog or podcast logo to instill visual continuity and familiarity for our followers.
“We work closely with our graphic designers to create customized graphics to highlight our weekly Social Pros podcast. We have a handful of designs to keep the rotation visually fresh. We switch them out each week and include the show’s guest, company and show title.”
Jay Baer’s Convince & Convert content
How do you handle producing artwork for each blog post and social media image? Do you do them yourself, or do you have someone helping you with that?
Our group of visual content marketing experts were split on this question. Several bloggers create their own visual content, simply because it’s a competency they have. Others rely on a designer. And at least one of them has developed a middle ground, enabling non-designers to create images by following a clearly-defined style guide that keeps their creations consistent with the brand.
“I do them myself because it happens to be my specialty and area of expertise. I think others can do them too, but I would strongly encourage engaging with a professional to at least establish an effective foundation that is on-brand and can be carried through,” Biedermann recommends.
Convince and Convert utilizes a hybrid approach: “We work with a visual designer to help create some graphics or provide visual branding guidance. We also utilize Canva to create visual graphics to accompany our blog posts and social media posts and build the visuals ourselves,” says Loeffler.
“I am very spoiled because our marketing director has a very keen sense of what she likes to see when it comes to a visual to accompany her social posts,” Kalinowski says about his experience at CMI. “I create the majority of the visuals that accompany the social stuff, unless it’s a photo or image that is directly related to the topic. As for the blog posts, we have actually just started implementing a new strategy that seems to be working extremely well for us and we are very pleased with the outcome so far. First, we have our editorial content manager supply us with general topics for upcoming blog posts. We have recently brought on a visual media manager who works with me to find great imagery for us regarding those topics. We find relatable images and enhance them a bit to give them a consistent ‘CMI look’ across the board.
“We have also set up a blog visual library online and post the enhanced photos under each topic that our ECM supplied and from there she can pull the images directly for the blog post. I also work directly with our ECM when it comes to specific visuals that she may need to be created,” he adds.
In contrast to CMI’s collaborative approach, Radice creates her visual content on her own: “I do all of them myself. I’m a self-taught Photoshop user and a huge fan of Canva. Depending on what I’m creating, either one of those tools will help me produce exactly what I envision. I have a very clear idea with each post the message I’m trying to convey. I create the graphic around that idea,” she explains.
Yet, Stephanie Diamond feels strongly that bloggers and brands shouldn’t try to develop a visual brand on their own. She feels that investing in a competent graphic designer will pay off in the long run and will enhance your brand:
“I would recommend that businesses pay for design work. If they have a very small budget they should work with freelancers who can create guidelines for them. It doesn’t have to cost a fortune and it’s money well spent, if it’s done well. Obviously you need quality content or you won’t attract an audience. But if you have good content and poor design, it may be harder to get people’s attention,” she warns.
Invest in a competent graphic designer and spend time helping him or her understand the essence of your brand. It will save you money in the long run.
Developing a visual brand is an iterative process. Test different elements, and keep track of what your audience responds to. Do more of that.
Create a style guide that details do’s and don’ts for your company’s visual brand, so other members of your team can create images that reinforce it, not damage or detract from it.
Visuals should be an integral part of your content planning, not an afterthought. Get your graphic designer involved early on in the content creation process; this will increase the odds that you’ll end up with visual elements that support your content and make a positive impact with your target audiences.
By all means, experiment with free and low-cost visual content creation tools, but establish your brand’s visual content guidelines first, and then stick to them.
Author: Chuck Frey
Chuck Frey is the founder and author of the The Mind Mapping Software Blog, the world’s leading website covering visual mapping. He also blogs about creativity, productivity and personal development strategies on his personal blog. He has extensive experience in public relations, online marketing, content development and marketing, innovation strategies and creative problem solving techniques. He is an avid photographer.
Corporate blogs, podcasts, forums – custom publishing or social media? Well, probably both. One thing is for sure, technology is continuing to blur the line between marketing disciplines.
Caught Christopher Kenton’s Marketonomy blog today on Generating Leads with Social Media. Here are some important takeaways.
1. Every market is now a community.
“What you used to call a market, or a market segment, is now a networked customer community. Attitudes are no longer driven by your carefully crafted message… The internet makes it easy for people to connect and share information, and they know there’s a lot more value in learning about products from others like themselves than from marketing
2. Invoke behavior change through the use of content. Successful content communities are developed from listening to and researching your buyer base.
“…markets are increasingly driven by content, conversation and community. Instead of flooding the market with pick-up lines, you need to listen, engage and catalyze your customer community. If you do it well, if you have something of real value and interest for your market community, they’ll spread your message for you.”
3. Engagement is crucial.
“…get engaged as an interested participant, not as a product shill. As a useful analogy, think of your market as a dinner party. Imagine your attitude toward someone who butted into a conversation, talked about how great he was for a few minutes, and then walked away to barge into the next conversation. Unfortunately, that’s the impression many
marketers are making today as they trawl blogs, dropping self-serving comments and then disappearing. Communities are much more welcoming to people who have something interesting to say, are authentic, and take a genuine interest in the people around them.”
A key to your content marketing activities as it pertains to social media is to integrate valuable and relevant content into these communities. Yes, all these programs have underlying marketing objectives, but think of yourself first as an active member of the community with something important to say, not something to sell.
This is not easy. Historical custom publishing programs are completely controlled. That has always been one of the major benefits. Now, marketers are posting their content on the web and allowing customers and prospects to comment. Yikes! Very scary. Today marketers are being thrown into actually constructing content together with their customers on forums, corporate blogs, or wiki sites.
At this point, I feel it’s okay to take it slow, but this is where we are headed and what buyers expect out of their brands. Cutting edge brands should be there now. All brands should be planning if they don’t have one in place. Your focus right now on gaining buyer intelligence and creating relevant, anti-sales content will make all the difference when you launch new community-building efforts.
I’ve been on hundreds of calls with marketers regarding the creation of a custom magazine or content-based Web site. In each of those cases, there was always someone in the organization who championed the effort. For whatever real reason (and there were many), this person thought a content marketing initiative was important for the business to consider.
At some point on each of these calls we came to measurement. Marketers would frequently ask how we could help them measure a custom magazine. To that, we began to dive into their marketing communications strategy. Frankly, what we learned was never pretty.
Rarely, if ever, did the marketing team have a solid idea of how the custom magazine fit into their overall marketing strategy. Strategically important questions, such as:
What do you want the reader to do?
What ultimate behavior are you looking to invoke from the custom publication after they read it?
These questions are very strategic in nature and would require a bit of thinking to figure them out. The messages that we construct as part of the custom publication would have to reflect that thinking.
Without a clear purpose to the custom publishing project, true measurement is virtually impossible. Without an understanding of where the custom publication fits within the overall marketing communications strategy, how would the business know it is working? What was it working to do?
This always left us as custom publishers in a pickle. If we did our homework correctly, we wanted the business. But if we proceeded with the project without really extracting the purpose of the publication, we positioned ourselves as short-timers. Measurements then tend to be based upon an emotional connection to the publication, qualitative feedback from key customers or management, or price – none of which can be tied back to larger marketing objectives.
It’s almost laughable that the custom publication, which has been around since the dawn of time and formalized in the late 1800′s, is still a struggle to measure by both marketers and custom publishers.
The solution seems easy – define the purpose; define the objective. If you can define the purpose, you can most likely find a way to measure it. Unfortunately, it’s never that simple. Most marketers still have only a basic understanding of the content marketing process. Most custom publishers are more concerned with landing the job now and worry about the consequences later. Frankly, in today’s technological age, both are unacceptable.
To marketers – if you can’t determine the true purpose for your content project, don’t do it. To publishers – challenge your partners to determine that purpose. Get it on paper and put it in the Agreement that you both sign. It both saddens and amazes me about the number of custom projects that are out there that have NO measurement at all to them. The solution is evident, and both sides must take responsibility to make it happen. Now that’s what I call a partnership.
Over the last week, I’ve talked to four business-to-business media executives, including two CEOs. I asked each of them the same question, “How easy or difficult would it be to add $1 million in revenue to a magazine brand over a year’s time?” Almost as if rehearsed, they all said the same thing: “Like pulling teeth…”
Driving revenues (beyond low single-digit percentages) is extremely difficult for publishers in today’s environment. Marketers continue to spend more and more time, resources, and budgets on their own content efforts. This is becoming crystal clear to publishers. Even with eMedia growing substantially, it’s challenging for media companies to add large chunks of revenue through eMedia products and services alone.
I believe publishers have accepted custom media, custom publishing, content marketing (whatever term you like) as one of the best, if not the best way, to grow revenues over the next three to five years. Successful ones will get on board…before it’s too late.
At American Business Media’s Spring Meeting last week, I had a discussion with the CEO of a large business-to-business media company. I specifically asked how his company was preparing, or dealing with, their own customers launching media efforts that could be considered competitive. I gave him an example of one of his 12x print advertisers launching a content web portal and a print magazine in their space covering the same industry topics.
The answer not only surprised me, it floored me. He basically stated that in his experience with these types of corporate media, custom publishing initiatives were second-rate content at best. He also discussed how he is more than happy to partner with these companies to promote their white papers on his websites and other properties. Other than that, these custom media initiatives were nothing to be bothered with.
Now…this is one of the most progressive (I thought) CEOs in the business. If this is the general mentality among these business leaders, then marketers have a bigger opportunity than I initially thought.
To be fair, though, he’s probably right about the quality of the content. He probably has only run into examples of content marketing samples that were only sub-par. Marketers have been waking up to this fact for years though, so this has been changing for quite a while.
Wake up now
If media companies don’t see content marketing as a significant threat to their long-term financial viability now, they are going to be in BIG trouble. Today’s publishers need to offer these types of marketing services for their customers, or face watching this large revenue stream go somewhere else.
All in all, I came away from this conference thinking that most publishers are dismissing the importance and impact of content marketing. It’s going to really get interesting.
Content marketing, what it’s for, and how it works, is becoming part of the business psyche. But, as this recent blog on how to survive the disillusionment of content marketing points out, one could argue that content marketers are almost becoming a victim of their own successes.
The biggest challenge in content creation
Previously, the biggest challenge was to create engaging content. Now the biggest challenge — at least, according to 29 percent of B2B marketers surveyed in recent CMI research — is simply creating enough content to satisfy business needs. There are certainly ways of addressing this challenge, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that more content creation is the same as better content creation. However, even if you take the “less is more” approach to content marketing, you’ll likely still be plagued with requests.
Here are some tips on how to say no to content creation requests, in order to keep the quality bar high.
Meeting the demand: urgent vs. important
Developing a content calendar that has the flexibility to include some unexpected activities that add value and are in keeping with the business goals and objectives is a smart way to set your content strategy in motion. But what happens when you receive desperate or last minute requests to create content that doesn’t fit in your content plan? What is the difference between important content and urgently needed content?
This old phrase comes to mind: “Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.”
This is where you need to learn the art of saying no to content requests that simply don’t fit within your overall business objectives, that aren’t clear enough in their intention, or that are simply requested too late in your publication cycle for you to be able to do a good job with them. Here are some tricks you can use to minimize the false-urgent request — and optimize your processes to accommodate the truly urgent ones.
It’s essential for your organization to have a content marketing mission statement — and for everyone who submits requests to know what this is. For instance, CMI’s mission is to advance the practice of content marketing. If you receive content requests that do not support your mission, it may not be worth your effort and time.
Introducing the content request form
To help prioritize your content requests, consider developing a content request form that you share across all departments that might be asking you for content. Often requestors only have a vague idea of what their needs are when they ask for content to be created. The request form helps them drill down to their most essential needs — which will help you identify possible ways to incorporate them into your existing content plan, or to minimize the revision process so that you can free up time in your schedule to produce additional content. Moreover, the improved communication facilitated by the form helps you produce content that is more targeted, more appropriate, and better able to deliver the kind of results its requestor expects. Marketers also would be wise to use the form themselves, to help flesh out and prioritize their own ideas for content creation.
It’s essential for your organization to have a content marketing mission statement — and for everyone who submits requests to know what this is. For instance, CMI’s mission is to advance the practice of content marketing. If you receive content requests that do not support your mission, it may not be worth your effort and time.
Keep your content request form short — one page at the most, if possible. Here are some questions you should include:
What is your idea/need?: Keep it brief, and give the content idea/need a catchy title as soon as possible. It’s likely that your content piece will be known by this name, moving forward — at least internally — regardless of what the final title actually is.
What research have you already done on this topic?: Ask requestors to list three sources of research they have already done. Doing this provides two main benefits: First, requestors may already have sources in mind that they would not otherwise have thought to share; and second, it reminds the requestor that the writing process involves research too, which makes for better content.
How long do you think it will take to produce?: Often, requestors misunderstand the process and the amount of work involved in creating content. Asking this question provides an opportunity to educate requestors, and starts the negotiation process so both sides can come to an agreement on the expected deadline.
How many leads do you expect this piece will produce?: This is particularly helpful for requests that come from sales. Not all content should be expected to generate leads — especially if it’s educational content that sits at the top of the funnel. But if your requestor does have an answer in mind, so much the better to set the right expectations.
How much will the content cost to produce?: When calculating the content’s production costs, make sure the requestor is including budget expectations for design and layout costs, as well as printing costs (if applicable) and the writer’s time.
Which core business objectives does this fit with?: While it’s great to have content that is fun, or interesting, or engaging, it should also align with business objectives — particularly if the content is being expected to meet key performance indicators (KPIs).
Where does it fit within the sales funnel?: Content designed to be used at different stages of the sales funnel should be promoted in different ways. Moreover, the key messages and the level of product (or service) information will differ. It helps to know up front what purpose the content is meant to serve.
What will the impact be if it’s not produced?: What will happen if you cannot fulfill the request? Will the world end, will it critically affect a campaign, or will their boss just be unimpressed? This question helps establish whether a given request is for need-to-have content, or would simply be nice-to-have.
How will you commit to sharing this content with a wider audience?: A piece of content is only valuable if it is consumed and shared. This question lets requestors know that they will be encouraged to spread the word about the content across their own social networks — after all, hopefully they’ll be proud of the final piece and will want to share it, as well.
How to get the most value from the content creation form
Work with requestors when they fill out a form for the first time. Help them understand what is involved in creating the content, and identify where it should and can be used. For example, they may want to create a white paper when the content would actually be more appropriate for a blog. Explaining the whys and hows in advance not only helps educate your colleagues, but it also helps them understand the value of your expertise and role in the organization.
Use it as a reference doc. That way, everyone knows what to expect of the final content. It keeps you all on the same page, literally.
Prioritize, but don’t dismiss urgent requests — if they provide value
When it comes to “urgent” requests from other parts of the business that demand content resources, the key is to keep ego and emotion out of it. At the end of the day, content creation is a business function that should help get clear, trustworthy, and valuable messages out to customers and prospects. Don’t dismiss a request just because you’re having a tiff with that employee, or your business groups have differing objectives.
Sometimes there’s value in pulling a content rabbit out of a hat to meet an urgent need — not only does it make you a valuable content creation resource, it also builds cross-functional relationships. And, you never know, it might even result in that huge sale that keeps your content team in work — and in demand — for another year, while boosting your reputation: a win-win situation.
Gina Balarin is a Content Manager at Concur. With more than 11 years’ experience writing for businesses and telling people’s stories through marketing, she is predominantly a lover of words. When she isn’t reading a book or sitting behind a keyboard touch-typing at 89wpm, you can find her in the green hills of Oxfordshire, England. Follow Gina on Twitter @GBalarin.
What content creator hasn’t hit “submit” without taking that extra couple of minutes to check over what is about to publish? While it’s understandable (particularly when you are under the gun with a looming deadline), luck often dictates that the one time you don’t stop to give your piece the once-over will be the time it contains a glaring error.
To make sure your published content is always at its error-free best, keep this 13-point checklist on hand at all times. (And for tips on how to promote your content after you publish, check out Brody Dorland’s 12 Things to Do After You Write Your Blog Post.)
1. Align your content with specific sub-goals.
While your marketing efforts should all support your overall business objectives, each piece of content should meet specific sub-goals that flow into higher-level achievements. For example, if your business goal is to increase sales, your content marketing goal would be to create content to show how to style clothes or, more specifically, create a Pin board and a Tumblr to show how to combine women’s summer separates. Target’s Tumblr is a great example.
2. Target specific elements of your audience.
Each article or piece of content doesn’t need to apply to your entire market. But it does need to speak to a relevant segment of that audience, as described in your marketing persona andsocial media persona, depending on where your content will be distributed.
3. Optimize for one or two keyword search phrases.
Each article should be focused on a couple of keywords from your overall list to support its findability.
4. Link to additional content, both on and off of your site.
To further support your SEO goals, include links to other content you’ve created, such as product information (where applicable), as well as to relevant content and/or resources on third-party sites. Don’t forget to associate these links with specific keywords within your content.
5. Ensure your headline is as magnetic as possible.
Killer headlines do the heavy lifting for content, since many potential readers decide whether or not to read your content based on how well your headline draws them in from your site, newsletters, or social media. Where possible, incorporate one of your target keywords near the beginning of the title, since this will help your optimization efforts.
6. Integrate corporate branding.
Every piece of content you produce is an opportunity to extend the reach of your organization’s brand and reinforce your professional expertise. This will help your 360-degree brand shine through the various elements of your content, particularly in social media. In content marketing and social media, your brand is no longer just a logo. It’s how your brand looks, talks, and acts. A great example of this is Ford’s Facebook timeline photograph.
7. Communicate in a voice that’s consistent with your other content.
In today’s social media world, your content must speak in a human voice to a human audience. The objective is for your content to have a consistent voice regardless of who’s doing the writing.
8. Include an image (preferably a photograph).
Visual content does a great job of helping your content grab readers. If possible, use images that include human faces to maximize the impact, and avoid using bland stock photography. And don’t forget to check that the images you choose are copyright-cleared for commercial use. (Note: Flickr allows you to sort on this dimension.)
9. Format content to facilitate readability.
Make content easy to read and scan so your target audience can consume it on the go via any device (think smartphones or other devices, such as tablets). This means using bullet points and bolding to help guide the reader. Also, keep your content left-aligned.
10. Skip the foul language.
No one wants to listen to a potty mouth. So unless your brand identity includes using adult language (such as Redhead Writing), eliminate the profanity. Instead craft content that grabs readers’ attention. If you can’t find the right words, consider another form of content, like photographs.
11. Review your copy for grammatical and spelling mistakes.
While many word processors have spell checkers, they don’t catch everything — such as when you made the wrong choice of whether to use “they’re,” “there” or “their.” To this end, it’s useful to have a copy editor to check your content and ensure that it’s consistent with grammar and style rules for whatever content outlet you are using.
12. Incorporate a call to action.
Each piece of content should encourage readers to take a specific action — such as visiting your site, subscribing to your newsletter, etc. Assess whether your article explicitly directs consumers to take the next step.
13. Engage readers.
This is particularly important when you want to encourage readers to comment on your content. To expand the conversation, include a question for readers to address and social sharing buttons to make it easy for them to do so. Remember, the goal isn’t to stump your readers but rather to get others involved in your content-related conversation — even if only a small percentage of your audience is likely to respond.
When it comes to content creation in today’s connected social media world, writing requires more than great, compelling content. It needs that extra attention to details.
What other tips would you recommend to other content creators to increase the effectiveness of their writing process and why?
BTW, if you haven’t signed up for Content Marketing World yet, please consider joining me at my Content Marketing 101 Workshop, which will help you get your 2013 content marketing plans on track.
Author: Heidi Cohen
Heidi Cohen is an actionable marketing expert. As president of Riverside Marketing Strategies, Heidi works with online media companies and e-tailers to increase profitability with innovative marketing programs based on solid analytics. During the course of 20 years, Heidi has obtained deep experience in direct and digital marketing across a broad array of products including soft goods, financial services, entertainment, media entities and crafts-oriented goods. Heidi shares her actionable marketing insights on her blog. Find Heidi Cohen online at Twitter @heidicohen, LinkedIn and Facebook.
It looks like a few people found some value in my post from last year, “12 Things to Do After You’ve Written a New Blog Post.” Well, one or two new things have been launched on the “interwebs” since March of 2011, so I thought it might be time for an update. And hey, I thought I’d throw a printable (and PIN-able) infographic version of the original post into the mix while I’m at it.
My previous post talked about establishing RSS connections with various social media sites so that your blog content automatically posts to your profiles. Some of that still holds true. I’m not really a fan of auto-posting to Twitter or Facebook, but there are a few automatic connections that I do recommend. One is for your personal LinkedIn profile. If you haven’t yet plugged your blog feed into your profile, watch this video and get it done. Forward this to your coworkers as well — everyone in your company should be syndicating your blog content on their LinkedIn profiles via the WordPress or BlogLink applications.
Click on image for a full-size view.
1. RSS-to-Email: One of the new (but not really new) things I wanted to mention was RSS-to-Email syndication. Depending on your email marketing or RSS management platform, you may now have the ability to set up RSS-to-Email campaigns for your blog content. If you’re using Mailchimp (my fave), there’s an easy process for setting this up. Create a new blog subscriber list so you’re not spamming your current list, configure a mobile-friendly email template, and create your campaign to send automatically when you launch a new blog post. Add the subscription form to your blog so you can continue to build your subscriber list.
2. Google Currents: Currents is Google’s answer to the popular iPad app, Flipboard. It’s all about media consumption on any type of mobile device, and Currents makes it simple to create your own real-time digital magazine by syndicating any content feeds that you connect. You can go to theGoogle Currents page, name your edition, and plug in your RSS feed, your YouTube channel, your Fickr stream, your Google+ updates, and a host of other accounts. You can then customize your look with brand elements and color schemes. It took me all of 15 minutes to get “The Divvy Daily” up and running.
Much like Google+, the future adoption and consumption of Currents is still unknown. But tablets are a big part of our future, so you might want to get on this train now.
Status updates: Social sites you need to consider
3. Google+: Google continues to build upon its new social network, and it’s hard to deny the SEO value of sharing your content via this platform. One unique point about Google+ is that there are no character limitations, so you are free to include a lot more content within your status updates than you can on platforms such as Twitter. I’d recommend that you create thoughtful, engaging, keyword-optimized teasers with links back to your blog or website.
4. Pinterest: By now, there’s no need for me to add to the 5,000 other “how to use Pinterest” articles out there that were likely posted in the last few days. If you have developed an original graphic or photo for your content, pin it for some extra link juice!
5. Twitter: We’ll assume you’re already posting to Twitter, but I’d like to take this further and remind you to think about using specific hashtags that relate to the topic(s) covered in your blog post. Adding a hashtag to a blog post is a great way to extend the reach of your content beyond your followers. A good chunk of the Twitterati follows and monitors certain hashtags that they care about, so a post that shows up in that hashtag stream has a good chance of being seen and retweeted. For example, when you add #cmi to a tweet, your post is probably going to get viewed by a few hundred more eyeballs than it would otherwise, due to the number of people that are monitoring the Content Marketing Institute Twitter stream.
You probably already know the popular hashtags related to your industry, products/services, or subject matter, but if you don’t, you can head over to http://hashtags.org/ and do some searching to find out which hashtags are the most popular.
6. Bookmarking with Reddit: In my previous post, I talked about how social bookmarking has been on the decline for some time, but the bookmarking site, Reddit, is not messing around these days. The recent story of Caine’s Arcade that blew up all over the world was largely due to the power and reach of the Reddit community.
But, you can’t just show up on Reddit and expect to get any love. I’d recommend finding established users in your network and asking them to bookmark/promote your content. Be careful not to overstay your welcome though, and your “stuff” better be good.
Seek and assist
7. Twitter tips: I’m anxiously awaiting the release of a new service (in private beta at the moment) called NeedTagger, which scans your content and finds people on Twitter discussing the needs that your content can meet, right now. Using its Engagement panel, you review the incoming tweets/comments and meet users’ needs by sharing helpful content. In return, they click on your shared links, driving high quality traffic to your website. NeedTagger tracks the clicks and shares that you generate for each link you share, so you can measure how well your content and messaging perform in social media. Yeah, giddyup.
Just do it
I’ll offer the same words of advice that I gave in my original post: The first time is the hardest. Setting up accounts and getting to know the interface and functions of the various social sites and applications may make your brain hurt. But it will get easier. I usually dedicate an hour to blog post promotion after each launch.
And finally, all this new stuff can be tracked, including Google Currents, which plugs in directly to your existing Google Analytics account.
Your turn: What did I miss? What else are you doing to promote your content?
This year’s Playbook consists of 42 different content marketing tactics, all ranked in popularity by the CMI community. The top 10 include:
Microblogging (i.e., Twitter)
New for 2011
This year’s Playbook includes five brand new tactics added from the community, including:
Online Survey Research Project
Multimedia Content Platform
How about Case Studies?
In addition to the 42 tactics, we’ve included over 50 different case study examples to help point you in the right direction, with links to the sample projects, from the likes of IBM, Kelly Services, OpenView Venture Partners, DeLoitte and more (as well as our own from the Content Marketing Institute).