“The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die.”Fredrich Neitzsche
While I certainly don’t agree with everything Nietzsche shared, his famous quote above captures nicely where digital marketing is right now.
As an industry, change is something we live with day in day out, but we're in a period of unprecedented shift. Google is moving to a model of rewarding relevance and value based on the semantic web while rendering manipulative techniques of old redundant.
As Wil Reynolds explained so eloquently as the central theme to his recent Mozcon presentation, it’s time to do #RCS or Real Company Stuff (the polite version). And content investment leads that charge, which means you’ll need to know how to make the most of creating it.
What follows are a few killer tips to help with that transition and help everyone “cast off” that skin, starting with this quick-fire list of actions you should be considering taking as you grow your content investment.
Create a list of regular ideas you can repeat as part of a series. Things like Quick Tips, Q&As, Know Your… Top 5/10s, etc.
As well as a list of ideas creates a list of the types of content that would work for your brand online – blog posts, videos, interactive infographics, etc.
Don't plan to simply repeat content type. Look to create "flow" by varying the type of content you create and publish. Think:
Visualize your content strategy as a piece of music. It must ebb and flow with big and small ideas to create interest.
Visualize your content flow. It's important to ensure you have the right level of activity across all channels. Do this in highcharts.com and using their Stacked Area Chart. Map hours spent on each piece of content you create across every channel you operate across. You’ll end up with something like this:
Buy a big selling B2C magazine you respect and reverse engineer its content plan. Work through it page by page and schematically map each feature against a flatplan piece by piece of content so you can understand how it flows. Replace their ideas with yours and you have a content plan!
Your 6-month content plan should take the form of an editorial calendar that also captures key industry events and the state of mind of your customers.
Live your life by a 6-month content plan. Make it the number one priority for your business for the first 6 months to drill into everyone how key the upkeep and delivery of it is.
Perform a SWOT Analysisbefore starting to create your content strategy to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors’ content. Look to exploit those weaknesses.
Include your site pages in your initial structural plan. It’s vitally important that every page is part of your plan. Not just the new ones and your blog. Ensure that every word matches your brand persona and oozes brand message.
Less is more when it comes to bigger ideas. Try to create big ideas you can brand and repeat and iterate annually to build value long term.
Don’t just think "on page" and Google as your route to market. Plan across platforms – social, website and off page.
Think about timings. We know how days of the week or hours of the day affect email open rate and social sharing and it’s the same with content publishing. Get it right to maximize reach.
When planning content, think about the three phases you want to work through as part of the wider strategic vision:
Engagement (create evangelists and improve reach).
Monetization (how you create revenue).
Think beyond simply publishing and marketing your content. Gamification models can really improve stickiness and the ROI of any content investment.
Know your audience. Use surveys for quantitative data and customer meets for qualitativeinfo so you know what tone to use when creating your content and what to write about to answer their questions and problems.
Develop personas for your brand. Segment your customer base into three or four personas and plan to create content for each one, as they will have differing needs.
The key to a successful content strategy is to amalgamate several separate plans into one cohesive uber-strategy. You should have a content plan for: every platform your business has a presence on, every persona you market to and also your off page content marketing plan for reach.
Think carefully about your content strategy for every channel, so they complement each other and don’t simply either repeat the same content or fight for eyeballs. Play to each platform’s strengths.
Create a content flow plan as part of your strategy creation process.
Get buy-in from all stakeholders. Where possible involve a brainstorm with agency and client in one room. You have a much better chance of success with it.
When creating copy think about every small detail. Font style and size matters, kerning matters, leading matters. Presentation and execution is as important as the idea. Make it beautiful to consume.
Spend at least 30 minutes working on the headline. It’s the most important aspect in terms of getting any content marketing effort traction. On average people spend 3 seconds deciding whether to read on and your headline is your "front cover teaser".
You cannot easily reinvent the wheel so look for news stories that give your idea a "new nose." Kate Middleton’s naked pix may be a great reason to write a "privacy and media law" advice piece, for instance.
When planning a post start with the structure. Plan headline and each section, then start with the first paragraph of each section to sum up what they are there to do and what value they bring. That kind of structure helps people progress through to the conclusion.
Always remember to answer what where how and why with every piece of content you create if its intention is to educate. Every type of content should answer at least two of those irrespective of what the aim of it may be.
Rel=Author is key as part of the growth of AuthorRank. Create persona writers for your brand and build their authority over time.
Set up goal and funnel tracking as part of any major content creation process and track users through to action. Just ensure that time frames are set in a realistic manner. Too many times this is measured over weeks or a couple of months when it should be a 6-12 month investment that will continue to deliver engaged and targeted visitors for many month to come.
Don’t simply measure outreach by the links earned. Look at referral traffic and brand visibility value also as part of the measurement process. Guest posting is about much more than links.
Many of the key social metrics should be included in any content marketing measurement campaign. Sentiment and engagement are key things to keep track of.
Set up Google Alerts with a snippet from any major piece of content you create so you are alerted as soon as anyone copies it. Great content will be copied and the reaction should be simply to ask for a credit link. Build the relationship while the power is in your hands!
Don’t expect every major piece of content to "fly." A one in three hit should be considered great but the value from that one will be enormous.
In business, storytelling is all the rage. Without a compelling story, we are told, our product, idea, or personal brand, is dead on arrival. In his book,Tell to Win, Peter Guber joins writers like Annette Simmons and Stephen Denning in evangelizing for the power of story in human affairs generally, and business in particular. Guber argues that humans simply aren’t moved to action by “data dumps,” dense PowerPoint slides, or spreadsheets packed with figures. People are moved by emotion. The best way to emotionally connect other people to our agenda begins with “Once upon a time…”
Plausible enough. But claims for the power of business storytelling are usually supported only with more story. Guber, for example, backs up his bold claims with accounts of how he, or one of his famous friends, told a good story and achieved a triumph of persuasion. But anecdotes don’t make a science. Is “telling to win” just the latest fashion in a business world that is continually swept with new fads and new gurus pitching the newest can’t-miss secret to success? Or does it represent a real and deep insight into communications strategy?
I think it’s a real insight. I’m a literary scholar who uses science to try to understand the vast, witchy power of story in human life. Guber and his allies have arrived through experience at the same conclusions science has reached through experiment.
Until recently we’ve only been able to speculate about story’s persuasive effects. But over the last several decades psychology has begun a serious study of how story affects the human mind. Results repeatedly show that our attitudes, fears, hopes, and values are strongly influenced by story. In fact, fiction seems to be more effective at changing beliefs than writing that is specifically designed to persuade through argument and evidence.
What is going on here? Why are we putty in a storyteller’s hands? The psychologists Melanie Green and Tim Brock argue that entering fictional worlds “radically alters the way information is processed.” Green and Brock’s studies shows that the more absorbed readers are in a story, the more the story changes them. Highly absorbed readers also detected significantly fewer “false notes” in stories--inaccuracies, missteps--than less transported readers. Importantly, it is not just that highly absorbed readers detected the false notes and didn’t care about them (as when we watch a pleasurably idiotic action film). They were unable to detect the false notes in the first place.
And, in this, there is an important lesson about the molding power of story. When we read dry, factual arguments, we read with our dukes up. We are critical and skeptical. But when we are absorbed in a story we drop our intellectual guard. We are moved emotionally and this seems to leave us defenseless.
This is exactly Guber’s point. The central metaphor of Tell to Win is the Trojan Horse. You know the back story: After a decade of gory stalemate at Troy, the ancient Greeks decided they would never take Troy by force, so they would take it by guile. They pretended to sail home, leaving behind a massive wooden horse, ostensibly as an offering to the gods. The happy Trojans dragged the gift inside the city walls. But the horse was full of Greek warriors, who emerged in the night to kill, burn, and rape.
Guber tells us that stories can also function as Trojan Horses. The audience accepts the story because, for a human, a good story always seems like a gift. But the story is actually just a delivery system for the teller’s agenda. A story is a trick for sneaking a message into the fortified citadel of the human mind.
Guber’s book is relentlessly optimistic about the power of story to persuade. But as the bloody metaphor of the Trojan Horse suggests, story is a tool that can be used for good or ill. Like fire, it can be used to warm a city or to burn it down. Guber understands this, but he emphasizes story’s ability to bring on change for the better. His book is about people who tell good stories to overcome resistance, usually for laudable reasons. But, approached from a slightly different angle, Tell to Win is a book is about highly capable, experienced professionals suckering for story over and over (and over) again.
So there are two big lessons to take from Guber’s book and from the new science of storytelling. First, storytelling is a uniquely powerful form of persuasive jujitsu. Second, in a world full of black belt storytellers, we had all better start training our defenses. Master storytellers want us drunk on emotion so we will lose track of rational considerations, relax our skepticism, and yield to their agenda. Yes, we need to tell to win, but it’s just as important to learn to see the tell coming--and to steel ourselves against it.
The new gospel of business storytelling offers a challenge to common views of human nature. When we call ourselves Homo sapiens, we are arguing that it is human sapience--wisdom, intelligence--that really sets our species apart. And when we think we can best persuade with dispassionate presentation of costs and benefits, we are implicitly endorsing this view. But we are beasts of emotion more than logic. We are creatures of story, and the process of changing one mind or the whole world must begin with “Once upon a time.”
Jonathan Gottschall teaches English at Washington and Jefferson College and is the author The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. His work has been featured in the New York Times Magazine, Scientific American, and the Chronicle of Higher Education, among others.
While most in the industry think that copy can change the world, it’s quickly becoming apparent that you need to think of each individual post as a self-contained piece of marketing with copy, art, and targeting.
Facebook, while their stock hasn’t been showing it, has been consistently making improvements to the way brands can use their network to reach customers and advocates. But, with more functionality in posting come more things to think about when making that post.
This quick guide was created to help you remember the most-important aspects in making a successful post.
This is where, traditionally, a team spends most of their time – in the copy. With Facebook’s advanced targeting, you’re able to create different messages for different audiences, which make copywriting actually easier rather than harder.
You have the chance to craft a super-specific and targeted bit of copy that truly speaks to your intended audience, rather than a watered-down, please-them-all bit of copy that may or may not even cause someone to pause in their news feed long enough to get to the meat.
Pro tip: Asking questions is great, but don’t just ask a question to get an answer. Have an answer in mind and ask a question that not only leads there, but goes further. Also, be sure to bring other pages into the conversation when you can by tagging them in your post.
It’s been said many times over that a picture is worth a thousand words. Nowhere is this more apparent than in today’s social media landscape with Instagram still gaining and gaining and Pinterest taking the visual desires of many and turning them in to clicks.
Images are quickly becoming an important part of brand marketing strategy – and rightfully so. For the first time, the industry is seeing budget set aside for the creation of imagery especially for social media.
Pro tip: Aim for images with a 403 px by 403 px dimension. That way you can pin that post if needed. The largest size of a picture that Facebook will display in a slideshow is 960 px by 720 px.
Since Facebook rolled out their advanced post targeting a few weeks ago (to pages with more than 5,000 Likes), brands have had the chance to provide a richer experience to their fans than ever before.
By giving brands the chance to target super-specific messaging, Facebook has cut down on that age-old nemesis of advertisers everywhere – noise. Also, they’ve provided a way for brands to more effectively manage their EdgeRank by making sure that users only see content that is hyper-relevant to their interests.
Facebook now allows you to target page posts by:
Location: Country, State, City
We aren't aware of any of the large publishing/CMS tools that have the ability to tap into Facebook’s advanced targeting features, but look for this soon.
Pro tip: Create targeting profiles for your target audiences and refine them often to make sure you’re delivering targeted, specific material to your audiences. Create multivariate testing with multiple copy/image combinations for different targets in order to test effectiveness.
Along with targeting, timing of posts is the second-most important thing you can do from a creation and distribution standpoint when thinking about Facebook posts. There are many views on when and how often you should post, and that’s another topic for another time, but there are definitely ways you can test and refine your posting cadence – as well as decide when to post to which targets.
One tool, Prosodic, uses a clock view to show when your fans are most active in regards to your posted content. One thing we’d like to see here is the ability to potentially splice data by targeting criteria.
Pro tip: Don’t just think about what times of day to post, think about wider events like planned press conferences, major sporting events, and other cultural events when you’re laying out your timeline. You don’t want a great post to be overlooked because of something you knew was coming. Also, scheduling posts in advance gives you a chance to move them around if breaking news fills the newsfeed.
Facebook marketing is still what it has always been about – making a connection through interesting content. While that hasn’t changed, the way we go about making those connections has and will continue to evolve, creating the need for an educated and quick-to-learn team tasked with creating, delivering, and refining content for this channel.
Last month I attended SES in San Francisco and saw some great presentations, as always covering the ever-changing world of search. Having recently launched a content marketing agency, the session that stood out to me the most was the convergence of search, social and content marketing – with some great presentations from Chris Winfield and Arnie Kuenn.
Search, Social & Content Has Merged into a Single Process
These days, if all you focus on is SEO, you’re probably not actually that good at it. That’s because you’re missing the point that you need to acquire high-quality, natural links, create a social buzz/awareness, reach a targeted audience, and convert those into customers/leads.
The Best Teams are Integrated & Work Together
You’ll often find the best in-house teams and agencies will have a mix of all of these skills – SEO, social, PPC, CRO, etc.
Even in content marketing, you have to break down the silos. When we started delivering content marketing projects, our approach was to break projects into three key deliverables:
Content Auditing and Strategy
Blogger Outreach and Social Promotion
In theory this works very well and means you can tackle each key section of a project with a specialist in each area. But we quickly realized we were making a mistake in efficiencies of managing the process and getting the best results.
The single biggest lesson we’ve learned, is that it’s not quite as simple as that. These are all very important parts of any content marketing project, but they need to work together much more closely.
Otherwise, once you’ve done your content strategy and developed your content and you’re ready to move onto outreach as the last step, what happens if no one really likes your content or idea in the first place?
So we’ve found that if we all work together on a project from day one, we can make sure that we can ensure the blogger outreach specialists and content developers are just as involved in the early stages as the content strategists. Making everything a much smoother process all-round, removing the margin for error further down the line when it comes to promotion and outreach.
So what skills do you need in a content marketing team?
1. Content Auditing & Strategy
There's a range of different types of skill sets you need in order to get the best results. This is likely to include all of the following:
Content audit: Reviewing your existing content, what types of content do you have, what topics do they cover and what goals do they achieve. You should apply your new checklist here to see if your content is still good enough to remain active. Being just as selective here as if it was newly created - it's a great time for a clean-up!
Competitor and marketplace analysis: Now you have a full audit on what content you have available, what are your competitors doing? Find out what the hot topics are within your market or industry and make sure to cover everything your customers are interested in.
Brainstorming content ideas: What gaps do you have in your content? What are you missing that your users and customers want to see? What do you have that they want to see more of? How can you mix up your content into different types/channels (e.g., in-depth articles, videos, infographics, social media audiences, etc.).
Research tools: You need to research your plan of attack, so make sure you've got all the tools that can help you on the way. Google AdWords is obviously a good start for keyword research, but don't just leave it there - use UberSuggest for a wider range of suggestions, Google Trends for seasonality, the SEOgadget content strategy tool for more topical ideas and sites like TweetMeme to keep an eye on what is popular on social media to trigger new ideas for content people are interested in sharing.
Build an editorial calendar: Once you've done all of the above, you are well set towards getting started with enacting your content strategy. For this the most important step is to form a seasonal editorial calendar based around your customer's interests and goals. That way you've got a clear plan of what content you're going to create and when you're going to do it. Setting deadlines on this makes it much easier for everyone involved – it gets the writers/designers on track with what they need to produce and gives the community manager and social media marketers a clear idea on when it is going to be delivered, so that they can plan their publishing schedule and promotion around this.
Community management: Finally, once you have all of this in place, you need to make sure you have structure in your content strategy. Content marketing isn't about just promoting a one-off infographic, you need a clear 6-12 month plan which you can build into your editorial calendar. So taking seasonality, events into account, put someone in charge of owning your content – that way they can schedule publishing, manage blog/forum/social media comments, edit content and accept or reject content based on your checklist and brand guidelines.
2. Content Development
Writers and Bloggers: Behind every good content strategy is a great writer and in SEO especially, authorship is being incredibly important. Google is now trusting the author of the content as highly as it does the actual content and the site that it is written on. So if authorship is becoming a measure of trust, it's important that you have great writers.
What is a great writer? In this sense, it's not someone who is grammatically flawless - that can't be a bad thing - but here were talking about writing which can generate a buzz. Writers who know how to target and engage with audiences, spark discussion or even controversy. And more importantly, stand out as knowledgeable by building a reputation with their niche. If you are considered a thought leader on the topic of African Safaris, for example, I want you writing on my African Safari website!
So in this sense, we look to hire great writers who can specialise within a niche. If you can write the best content on the web within your industry, there’s a great chance you'll win. Plus you'll save a huge amount of money compared to the paid advertising alternative method of getting there. So my advice would be to hire the best writer you can within your industry or sector and get them fully involved within your content strategy.
Creative designers and video producers: The exact same for writers applies to creative designers and video producers. I would definitely recommend mixing up the type of content you create for your readers. Some people prefer in-depth articles, while others will prefer videos or infographics, for example.
So try to keep it interesting for your audience – and be creative. Don’t be afraid to attempt ideas that might fail, as long as it doesn’t risk your brand, and at worst you’ve just learnt a new type of content that your audience doesn’t like.
But if you keep pushing to be creative and on top of your game, you’re more likely than not to see some great results – so definitely mix it up!
3. Blogger Outreach & Social Media Specialists
Blogger Outreach: Surprisingly this is often the stage that can be overlooked. In an age where all brands are now facing to the fact that they have to become a publisher in order to compete online - they still don't quite get the importance of promotion.
Content is king, as they say - and you're not going to get very far at all with average, or even good, content. But even if your website has the best content in the world - if nobody sees it, who really cares? Google certainly doesn't. Their algorithm rewards content which not only is very good - but it's also trusted by generating authoritative links, social media shares and online buzz.
So the blogger outreach role is vital. You need to give your content a push in order to make sure it's maximizing potential. That means building an audience, partnering with industry leaders to promote each other, connecting with key influencers both online and off to build valuable relationships - and making sure that you've done everything possible that when you've got a great piece of content that you want to promote, you've got an email list full of key contacts that can be ready to help you out. As long as you remember it goes both ways.
Social media promotion: Social media will certainly pay a key role here too – which is why we look to ensure we can play a key role in building social profiles with our clients, ensuring they are active within the community and building an audience with key influencers.
But don’t just leave it at brand profiles – get your team and writers involved too. You’re likely to have much better results if you can build personal relationships with key influencers. Especially if you’re a big brand, you have a great advantage here – you have lots of people you can leverage!
The Whole Must be Greater Than the Sum of All Parts
The game is continually evolving – this is type of skillsets I’ve found to be most important in our content marketing campaigns to date. But test what works with your audience, everyone is different and those who can be creative and push the boundaries by doing something new are normally those who stand out and are rewarded as a result.
And make sure you’re working together as a team to get the best results – you can have the best content strategy, content development or blogger outreach/social promotion techniques out there, but the important thing is making sure that the whole is great than the sum of all parts.