Shannon is Mention’s Content & PR Manager, where she crafts words, creates strategies, and recruits loyal advocates. She’s based in New York. Get in touch with her at @ShannnonB.
Like many other content marketers, we’ve learned from those who are really good at what they do. We’ve developed the processes, strategies, and tactics that work best for us (so far) by “borrowing” tips, tricks, and tools from content marketing pros. We’ve then tweaked these elements for our own business goals to establish an approach that works for us. Of course, and I think the pros would agree, this approach is (and should be) always evolving.
We know that content strategies can be a big, scary, elusive concept to someone just getting started, so we’ve asked a handful of content marketers who inspire us to provide their tips — things they wish they knew when they first got started — to form a content marketing field guide.
Here’s what they had to say:
Content strategies don’t mean write about the same trending topics everyone else is writing about. It means educating your prospects, audience, and customers the best you can.
The devil is in the details. A lot of content strategies are really for the search audience. They’re looking for answers. Give it to them.
How can you be the only authority in your topic niche? That’s a great question to ask yourself before you set out on a content strategy campaign.
Early on, we were scared to do much guest posting because we wanted to save our “best” content for our own blog. As it turns out, this was stupid and irrational. Guest blogging is the single best way to expose your content to huge new audiences that haven’t seen it before.
When you’re starting, it may seem like you’ll “run out” of good content strategies, but as you blog and hear from your readers about what they want to learn, you’ll have more killer content ideas than you’ll know what to do with.
If you’re following a few basic rules, content marketing works. But you have to trust the system, and not get discouraged when one or two posts don’t do as well as you’d hoped they would. Nobody hits a home run on every swing, and as long as you’re creating remarkable content on a regular basis and promoting it in the right ways, the shares, traffic, subscribers and leads will come.
The posts that go “viral” aren’t always the ones you’d expect, either. Just be patient and don’t let up.
The first thing to think about when getting started on a content strategy is the customer. Who is she? And what does she need from you to make her better, smarter, happier?
Research has been the key to making the most of our content. And anxiety. Great content is built from relentless research. Great content is also built from a fear that you are creating something weak, shallow, or unoriginal, which drives me to never be satisfied.
Our most successful piece of content to date is a toss up between our 11 essential ingredients of a blog post project, or our native advertising series. The 11 essential ingredients amounted to an infographic that has become one of our most popular pieces of content this year. We were also able to leverage it into a 11-part podcast series on blogs posts.
The native ad series, on the other hand, was a success from a standpoint of all the pieces that came together into one — from running a large survey for data collection to securing interviews throughout to pad the content.
In terms of distribution, don’t be afraid to ask. Email subscribers and call to actions to “please share” has worked well for us.
The most important lesson I have learned and the one piece of advice I’d like to impart is: Zig when everyone zags.
Jason Miller @ LinkedIn
Content marketing is not a numbers game; it’s a game of relevance. I learned very quickly that it’s not more content the marketing world needs, it’s more relevant content. Try not to over-complicate your strategy in the beginning by doing too many things at once. Focus on quality over quantity and start at the core of what content marketing is all about: being helpful. The best content you can possibly create when getting started is by simply answering the questions of your target audience, and be the best answer across a multitude of formats. Then optimize that content to give it the best chance of being found.
Organic is good, paid is better. Some folks would like to believe that organic posts on social networks are all they need to spark engagement and get their message heard. But a successful promotional strategy must include paid placements as well. Relying only on organic strategies to drive results is analogous to hanging out with the same high school group your entire life. To grow, you have to expand beyond your immediately familiar community and break through to those coveted second and third-degree connections. Paying to promote your own good content with social media advertising is essential for expanding the reach of your messaging.
Don’t be an expert in only one thing. Content fuels demand generation, social media, and even PR to some extent, so learning as much as you can about these functions and how to work effectively with each of them will likely determine your success moving forward. You don’t have to be an expert in any one of these roles, but you do need to understand how content marketing works across these multiple disciplines. If you are a one-dimensional marketer—you’re easily disposable.
Write more rather than less. The biggest key to success early on is simply writing a lot and learning to publish without fear. This can be a big psychological hurdle to overcome. Also, practice makes perfect. You will improve your skills with regular practice.
Write to someone, not everyone. I have always found it helpful to write to a specific person (figuratively speaking), or at least imagine a specific person who is reading the content. It can really help “frame” things as you write and keep you focused on providing value.
Content marketing should be visual too. I think a lot of early marketers get heavily focused on the content itself and SEO value. This is great, but visual content is huge, especially when it comes to social sharing. Make sure you get this figured out for your content.
The first step to creating content is saying “what are people struggling with?,” then embarking on helping with the struggle.
Our two most successful campaigns across every metric we care about so far have been the Content Marketing Hiring campaign and the Processes & Workflows campaign. What made both of these campaigns so great for us is a perfect storm of timing, need, and quality content. Both campaigns began with us saying “people seem to want to know to do x & y badly, but also seem to have no idea how to start.” Our entire team then stepped up to make sure the content was amazing and that it reached the right people.
Without a doubt I believe in reusing existing content and ideas. If you operate under the assumption that every idea you have is actually many ideas, you end up finding all sorts of ways to extend the life of the original idea. This concept is how one eBook can produce 269 pieces of content, and how a single answer to question I was once asked ended up as five native blog posts, two guest posts, a podcast interview, an infographic, and a video.
The most important lesson I’ve learned is to be open in all ways. You never know where inspiration will come from. When Twitter announced the addition of GIFs in June, I initially didn’t see it as a very significant topic. And well, two months later, the resulting post is our second most socially shared post EVER. I didn’t see that coming, but obviously I’m glad I wrote it.
For good measure, here are the most important lessons I have learned in my content marketing journey:
Your community is going to be your biggest content inspiration. Get involved, join LinkedIn and Facebook groups and forums. Answer questions, more importantly, ask questions. Get to know the needs and interests of your audience.
Focus on relationships. The relationships you build for guest blogging and syndication are also the people who will challenge you to be a better writer and communicator. They’re the people who you will share best practices and learn from. Help each other, it goes a long way.
Also, distribute, distribute, distribute. Bring your content beyond just forums and social channels. Hand deliver it to the people who you think will find it valuable.
Give yourself a break. A break from each piece of content, and a break in general. Every piece of content will become better with a fresh pair of eyes on it. And you’ll allow yourself to become a better writer if you don’t burn yourself out on it.
Do you have any tips for people just getting started in content marketing? Or are you a beginner with a question that hasn’t been answered in this post? Leave them in the comments and I’ll find a pro to answer them for you!
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