by Courtney Eckerle
Content creation is used for social media marketing by 67% of large companies, 73% of medium companies and 71% of small companies, according to the 2011 Social Marketing Benchmark Report
. Large numbers for a tactic where monetary value is difficult to gauge, perfection is a holy grail-esque myth and many are still searching for a consistently successful process. Read on to discover how top content creators realize the potential of content as an optimized, essential asset.
The first, and biggest, mistake you can make when producing content is "not to get started," warned Michael Aagaard, Online Copywriter, ContentVerve.
He added, "If you wait until everything is 100% perfect, you will probably never get through the planning stage. It’s important to get the basic setup and then just start generating content."
Consider step one the starting pistol. Ready, set …
Step #1. Evaluate where you are, or where you want to be
Joe Chernov, Vice President of Marketing, Kinvey, and former Vice President of Content Marketing, Eloqua, outlined three types of content production he has observed. Evaluate where your organization is or which would most realistically fit for your business model.
- An executive sponsor obligates a certain number of people in product management and Marketing to create content. People are measured on the content they create, and they have a quota.
- There is a corporate culture of content creators. "It’s bottom up, and supported top down," Chernov said. These companies hire digital natives and consider content creation as a core requirement in the hiring process. Chernov provided HubSpot as a prime example of this.
- The last type is content as a service bureau. A content team essentially takes orders from different marketing functions, identifies content gaps, and is responsible for filling them. They act somewhat with autonomy, but basically act as an agency within a brand. Chernov considers this type as most in sync with Eloqua’s style.
Step #2. Master the backdoor brag
One of the biggest mistakes marketers make in creating effective content marketing is that they, well, market.
"It’s sort of the baby picture syndrome," Chernov said. "Everyone thinks they have the greatest kid in the world, and they fall in love with their own company and their own product. They want content to make other people fall in love … and in doing so, they turn people off."
Chernov likened this to how people unsubscribe from Facebook friends who exclusively update to boast about their lives.
"You would unfriend that person, and that’s a human being. Imagine how much easier it is to unfriend a brand when they only talk about how great they are," he concluded.
Blatant bragging is the quickest way to turn off readers before they can find any real value in your content that would convert them into buyers. Marketers commonly struggle when attempting to calibrate content as both a sales vehicle and as a service, Chernov said.
The pressure to "make the numbers" can be daunting, but Chernov is adamant that, "content as a service is a better way to ultimately sell than content as a sales medium … your content should be in service of your audience, which is inclusive of your buyer, but not limited to your buyer."
Step #3. Turn problems into solutions
With bragging about your (undoubtedly amazing) company or product out the creative window, the goal is then to set up a content system that helps your audience. Share your knowledge and expertise unselfishly, and quickly provide real solutions so you can facilitate a dialogue and begin building a relationship.
"You are going to help them by sharing your knowledge and answering their questions. Help your audience, establish yourself as an industry thought leader, and then you can start making money," Aagaard said.
To make this a more concrete action, he frequently passes on a piece of advice learned from Marcus Sheridan of TheSalesLion.com: Take the top 50 questions your clients ask, and turn those into 50 blog posts. Helping the consumer with those issues "is really what [content] is all about."""
Step #4. Tap into your in-house resources for interesting content
Obtaining a hired gun journalist to quickly crank out content on a topic they are not well versed in is what Aagaard calls "probably the worst strategy of all" in solving those problems. When it comes to building up a readership that you can lead to conversion, your greatest asset is your own knowledge and expertise.
"A really, really great way of getting people involved is by showing what you do -- show it, don’t sell it, as the saying goes. You really need to show that you are an expert. You really need to show that you can help people."
Aagaard says with his own content, he prefers to keep a policy of being "very generous with my knowledge."
With regard to resources, large and small organizations are going to differ, but a content team for either should be aware of where some of the strengths and weaknesses of their organization size. "Content is a meritocracy," as Chernov describes it, and an arena where any marketer can be the victor.
A big company also means big assets -- budget, for one.
"Big companies have an advantage: They have more resources -- both capital and human. You can get the best designers, you can get the best writers … the size gives you the opportunity to be consistently great. It’s up to you to seize that opportunity," said Chernov.
He added that the biggest advantage for larger companies is the sheer number of people, both working for them and already following their brand. People create more opportunities to "release information trapped behind company walls. [There are] just more experts to tap into. Big companies have a following, they already have a built-in network of people, and that’s a luxury."
Another advantage to a larger organization is the research resources.
"It is easier to set up a publishing bank and stick to a high volume of publishing," Chernov said.
"By virtue of the fact that big companies are global, they have more of an opportunity, ironically, to make really interesting local content because they have more local points of presence."
Smaller organizations have a couple of advantages to counteract a lot of this -- the character and personal touch Aagaard sees naturally woven into smaller operators’ content. They also have the ability to stay more recent and comment quickly on topics and issues that crop up unexpectedly.
Where smaller operators have this natural personality, Aagaard sees many blogs of larger companies that suffer from "a little more robotic approach."
For large companies, a probable cause for this challenge is "death by committee," according to Chernov. Smaller operations don’t suffer from this simply because they do not have the manpower, and in this aspect, fewer people involved in content before it is published is a benefit.
"Inspiration dies at committee. Committee is the middle of the bell curve. Committee is safe. Committee ensures your content isn’t going to have any egregious errors in it, and it will ensure that it is good enough. But it will also ensure that [content] isn’t inspired," Chernov said.
Step #5. Lay out a content schedule
Once content goals and ideas are laid out, an organized content schedule to execute them is vital. To get momentum in achieving the results you want to see, content must be produced on a regular basis on which readers can rely.
Intentions to produce consistent content can fall to the wayside during everyday business life. Aagaard recommends setting up a content schedule with these parameters:
- Looks three to six months ahead
- Has a complete list of topics, dates and authors
- Starts out publishing once a week
- Allows for topic flexibility for an unforeseen issue or event
The last bullet point can cause an issue for larger organizations because they are "just too slow." Chernov went on to say, "Recency is the new relevancy. It’s extraordinarily difficult for big organizations to move quickly enough to always be recent."
Aagaard agreed that a smaller organization has it easier in this respect when producing content. "There is a lot less bureaucracy involved to make these kinds of decisions and to keep going on the content strategy. That makes it a lot easier to plan and execute."
Small or large, both Chernov and Aagaard agreed that one person needs to be in charge of filtering all content to ensure it maintains a consistent voice and personality.
Aagaard advises that you should generate content internally, but with the realization that not everyone on your staff will be comfortable writing and producing content concepts.
"It can be helpful to get an experienced blogger to help get it started. Or just get someone internally who is excited about it, someone who is used to writing, and have them moderate what comes through the different resources in your organization."
Step #6. Carefully choose platforms to promote content
Keep it basic to start off, Aagaard advises, and stay on your main channels, such as email. Use these platforms to promote content initially, before jumping in an outlet without knowing if it will be a good use of time and resource.
Let other platforms evolve over time by utilizing forums and other hangouts (e.g., LinkedIn groups) where your audience is active, and involve them in a dialogue to understand where you are best going to reach them.
Although it is important to be aware of trends and all the possible ways to promote your content, it is not always necessary -- or wise -- to jump at the latest big trend. Aagaard gives the example of Pinterest, a social photo sharing website, and Twitter.
"[Pinterest] is big right now … but if what you are selling doesn’t have a strong visual aspect, it probably won’t be a success. There are billions of users on Twitter, but if the target audience doesn’t use Twitter, it is just going to be a waste of time."
Step #7. Constantly evaluate
Chernov likened marketing to skiing," "It’s the art of losing and regaining your balance in rapid succession."
If your content is not seeing the desired results, ask the following questions:
- How often have you recalibrated?
- How often are you tweaking your content strategy?
Every piece of content should benefit from the one before it, Chernov said.
He added, "It’s really a constant fine-tuning. If you create an infographic and nobody cares, it’s your job to find out if no one cares about infographics in your space, or if you just produced a shabby infographic."
Another area for evaluation is repurposing content already in your possession. Creating original content every time is exhausting -- both for your staff and readers.
"I never wake up in the morning and say, ‘I wish there was more content out there.’ Companies are obsessed with quantity," Chernov said.
Repurposing can serve as a way to readdress or update popular posts, or get to talking points you may have previously missed. In fact, "repurposing and reformatting existing content" was reported as the most effective tactic in developing marketing content, with 64% of surveyed marketers, according to MarketingSherpa’s 2011 B2B Marketing Benchmark Report
It will be especially helpful to make repurposing content part of the discussion before even producing the original work.
"We [at Eloqua] have a short staff here. One of the criteria against which we evaluate content in our queue is, if this piece of content is successful, can we serialize it," said Chernov.
He specifically lists a blog tree infographic Eloqua produced, detailing the interrelationship among various blogs. The team had a series planned for the content if it proved successful. The series went on to feature a marketing blog tree, a new growth tree and a UK edition.
Chernov advised marketers to focus on content popular enough to "double down on."
He concluded, "Pick an idea, and if it has legs, it is something to update or refresh and remix over time."
Related ResourcesDownload the free excerpt
for the 2011 Social Marketing Benchmark Report
For more content advice from Michael Aagaard -- Marketing Basics: 7 B2B content marketing tacticsContent Marketing: 3 tips for how to get startedLong Live the Blog Tree
(via Eloqua)Overall Content Marketing Strategy Leads to 2,000% Lift in Blog Traffic, 40% Boost in RevenueHow to Sell the Way Your Customers Want to Buy – An interview with Kristin Zhivago
(via Content Verve)The Boston Globe: An inside look at launching a paid content site5 Companies With Inbound Marketing Strategies That Work