There’s a certain connection you feel with other people who do the same kind of work that you do. They just get it. They understand the ups and downs and, most important, they’ve learned many of the same lessons as you.
That's partly why marketing through content is so successful at transforming an audience of similar people into a community built around passion, pain points, and the shared experience of education and entertainment.
Among content marketers, specifically, there are certain things we can all relate to:
- The anxious feeling of publishing for the 1st time.
- The feeling of relief when you hit publish for the 100th time.
- Freaking out over typos.
- Deadlines. All the time.
But content marketing is still a new focus — Joe Pulizzi only started using the term in 2001, and marketers everywhere "doing the content thing" are all probably learning many of the same lessons in their careers.
I figured I'd relate some of these lessons to you with the help of some memes, because one of the first things you probably learned as a content person was...
Not just blog posts — everything is content, including memes
Every content marketer quickly learns that the real competition in content marketing isn't other content in your niche. It’s the 9gags and addictive subreddits full of the things people seek out for escape — the GIFs and the memes of the Internet. Oh, especially the memes since everyone knows how to create one.
It’s easy to make the meme your enemy (ene-meme?). But creating good content, by definition, means creating media that people want to consume — sometimes media they already consume. So we make the meme, the quiz, and the listicle our friend and ally. We get to know them and understand how they work (and don’t work). After all, as Ann Handley says...
“Everything the light touches is content.”
"Kanye West” content is a turn-off for audiences
"Kanye West" content is self-absorbed and interruptive. Sure, there might be something to like about it, but it tries too hard to get you to appreciate how great it is.
It’s not that some of your content shouldn’t try to sell (there’s no one-size-fits-all strategy), but most content marketers learn not to show their audience something completely irrelevant, like Kanye West hopping on stage when they expect to see Taylor Swift.
If you’re teaching, don’t sell. If you’re inspiring, don’t pitch. If you’re selling, then sell (by teaching and inspiring, if you can). There’s a time and place for every message and you need to figure out what angle you want to work based on who you're speaking to and what stage of the buyer journey they're at, while using your call-to-action to push them further down the path to purchase.
Don’t go in without a plan — written in pencil
On the surface, content marketing just looks like creating, publishing and sharing. But once you start doing it, you realize it’s a tactical long-term strategy and a decent investment if you want to make it work.
Content strategy involves writing out and updating your buyer personas, marketing goals, the brand you want to project, the channels you’ll use to distribute, and everything you need to consider to define and ensure the success of your long-term commitment to content.
Every content marketer learns that content strategy is an evolving entity; there’s a lot of trial and error and room for improvement in this practice, after all.
And, of course, sometimes you need to carpe diem in content marketing (read: scramble to pick up the pieces), when a great opportunity presents itself or when one of your writers misses a deadline.
Share count is an inflated indicator of engagement
While most readers equate social shares with success, as content marketers we grow pretty skeptical towards those numbers over time.
After spending months keeping an ear on your audience (and an eye on your performance metrics), you realize one thing: there are a lot of bots on social media that auto-engage with your content.
On top of that, according to a study conducted by Chartbeat, it's been shown that there's "effectively no correlation between social shares and people actually reading". We've become accustomed to sharing content without fully consuming it, if at all.
Buffer is even retiring its suggestions feature in an effort to encourage more authentic social sharing.
Performance improves when you make content scannable
At one point or another, you realize that school never really taught you how to write — or rather, how to “get read”. After all, you were writing for an audience of one teacher who, to be frank, was getting paid to read your writing.
The Internet, on the other hand, is a cutthroat place, as any content creator knows, and you need to not just push the envelope in terms of quality, but also make it easy to consume.
Bullet points, small paragraphs, strategic formatting, images, embeds — as a content marketer you know there's a lot of ways to entice people to stick around a little longer.
Gating content is sometimes a necessary evil
You've probably heard and weighed in on "The Gate Debate" in content marketing. There are those who advocate for and against, but the answer, as always, is "it depends". But as a content marketer whose goal, beyond engagement, is to generate leads for your demand generation programs, gating content is often something you need to do.
The goal here is to create something so undeniably valuable that people are, as Jay Baer puts it, "willing to pay for it". And that it takes a lot of research and effort to deliver that kind of value.
Personalization is more than being on a CONTACT.FIRSTNAME basis
One of the reasons we create content is to speak to certain segments of our audience — different decision-makers in the buying process. Content is now a key component of demand generation programs. To take advantage of that, personalization in marketing no longer stops at "Hi FIRSTNAME".
Content is used to understand and identify specific audience segments and then engage them over time with the right content.
When we take a step back to see the bigger picture of content, beyond its role in lead generation and engagement, we start to see how it plays a part in demand generation, lead qualification, and sales enablement, and production becomes a whole lot more strategic.
Pleasure and pain depends on process — both yours and your team's
Considering the demand to produce, distribute and measure content, build landing pages, write copy, and come up with good ideas on a deadline, content marketers learn what it's like to be spread thin.
In this role where we repeat the same routine to execute new ideas, we're always looking for ways to make more time.
Process is a combination of the people, workflows and tools involved in execution.
Having the right people and good chemistry, knowing who’s doing what and how the production process unfolds, and whether you have the right tools to enable your team to do it all quickly makes all the difference in not just your quality of work but your peace of mind.
The perfect process becomes the holy grail for content marketing. What can you and your team be doing better to make everyone's lives easier?
Distribution. Distribution. DIS-TRIB-UTION
There's a harsh lesson soon learned in the world of publishing: Even mediocrity, when distributed well, will produce better results than greatness that nobody sees.
Distribution is important in content marketing. Every person who reads your content and shares it is extending its organic reach — and it all adds up!
Once they've been publishing for a while, every content marketer becomes familiar the cumulative effects of good distribution.
Distribution brings in traffic, which creates engagement opportunities, which generates social proof, which boosts distribution even further. But you need to get the ball rolling by building your subscriber base and social media presence.
It's not just the contents; how you package it matters too
Your blog or resource center or wherever you're keeping your content is really the thing that unlocks the potential of everything you publish. You can bring in an audience of a million through excellent distribution, but it does you no good if they bounce or neglect to take further action after consuming your content.
Countless opportunities created by great content will simply leak through the cracks of a crappy content experience.
Your content experience can be optimized by:
- Making it look good on every device.
- Providing a prominent, contextual call to action.
- Implementing easy-to-use social sharing buttons.
- Building a strategic menu structure that lets you sort content according to your target audience's interests.
- Having a search function that enables intentional discovery.
- Boosting consumption with recommended reads at the content-level.
The Content Marketer's future
Like I said, content marketing is a relatively new focus.
On the creative side, we'll become writers, podcasters, video producers and more in the future as we grow into professional engagers of audiences: a hybrid of teacher and journalist and entertainer.
On the technical side, new tools and tactics are being developed to improve the way we turn all this content into revenue.
We're constantly learning how to do it better, borrowing many strategies and even people from media companies in order to figure out how to weaponize this thing that everyone can't seem to get enough of: content.