3 Questions That Will Simplify Your Content Marketing
I can remember sitting in a digital marketing conference workshop just a couple of years ago. The topic was optimizing performance and we began a discussion about how to simplify your content marketing. The facilitator kicked us off by saying: “So you all are doing content marketing in your organization. How is that going for you?” The response was sort of a collective groan.
The general sentiment was that content marketing can be a ton of work. More so, it’s hard to prove value to the business. Multiple people used the analogy of feeling like a hamster on a wheel. Leaving that workshop, I started to look at what content we were offering those feeling like content marketing had become a slog.
What I found was that there is quite a bit of material out there on:
These are all valuable topics, however, they can seem overwhelming to those that are struggling under the weight of too much to do.
When trying to simplify your content strategy, here are three simple questions to ask:
- What is one thing we can change tomorrow?
- Are there pieces of content we have already created that more of our audience should see?
- Could we be clearer in what we ask our audience to do after reading our content?
What is one thing we can change tomorrow?
Often we get paralyzed with inaction when staring down the face of a large project. Launching a new content project is no different. An essential truth of project management is that planning is an essential activity, but plans are obsolete as soon as they are finished. You will never be able to keep up with all of the changes in your business and the digital marketing industry while expecting your plans to remain unchanged. Your team needs to be prepared to adapt to change and look for incremental ways to measure value delivered to your business partners.
A question I often like to ask teams that know they need to make a change to their strategy is: “what is one thing we can change tomorrow?” This forces them to prioritize and make a choice. Once they make one small change, be it a copy change on a key web page, or the call to action in a customer email nurture, they will realize that they have the power to make bigger changes over time.
Are there pieces of content we have already created that more of our audience should see?
When someone joins your audience today, there is a strong possibility that everything you produced up until now will be new to them. To that end, your team can extract value from existing blog posts that explain a core issue for your business or on boarding emails that explained how to make the most of your product. You do not need a fancy marketing automation platform to obtain these gains, either (although they can sometimes help); having a simple report of your web pages and emails with the most consistent performance over time can help here.
Note that this phenomenon also plays out in the social media space. Those who have mastered communicating on Twitter will tell you that it’s a game of repetition. Because people tend to check their feeds consistently at the same time each day, you may miss them if you are not broadcasting your posts at numerous intervals. Tools such as the wonderful MeetEdgar help take the work out of posting your content at a schedule custom to your audience.
Could we be clearer in what we ask our audience to do after reading our content?
Do your blog posts get quite a few views but fail to keep people engaged on your website? How about your emails? Do you drop in a boatload of sections chocked full of links and then wonder why your emails with high open rates just don’t convert?
It is possible you are either, not clearly presenting your audience with a call to action (CTA), or doing it in a very ineffective way. You should always have a CTA in your content, even if you just want to drive the reader to another important article that you think they will find relevant.
Keep your CTA’s short and to the point. Use simple and clear language, present them boldly and let your reader see the benefit.
There are lots of great resources on the web for optimizing your calls-to-action. Here is one of my favorites about Designing Great CTA Buttons by Andy Crestodina at Orbit Media Studios.
Prioritize to optimize
For years I was coaching software teams on how to adopt agile software development practices. We used to tell our clients: you need to slow down before you can speed up. Similarly, I think that if we want to avoid becoming hamsters on wheels of our own design, we need to think about doing less content, better.
I hope that these suggestions can help you find some small wins to harvest right away. Our teams can often use that little bit of confidence before they move on to bigger goals.
Keep on doing great work.
I am a digital marketer that likes to help others be better marketers. In order to do that well, it means that I’ve got to sometimes just skip that blog post or presentation idea and “do the work“. That’s where I’ve been.
About two months ago, I joined ICF, an organization with amazing talent, ambition and some very unique client opportunities. My charter is to develop and lead our brand’s digital marketing strategy. Its an exciting mission because of the complex domains that the company engages in. Renewable energy, digital government, healthcare modernization. We’ve got awesome challenges ahead of us. Content strategy challenges, marketing and communications challenges, and the mission to build out our team to take us into the future.
That said, I needed to keep my expectations tempered because there was a big project already waiting for me: as I joined, our new brand identity and website were nearing deadline for launch. The company wouldn’t need a strategist on day one: it needed to make sure we delivered.
Fast forward two months. We shipped the new site.
It’s far from done (news flash: websites never are). That said, it’s been a good reminder of the positives about actually finishing things.
- Finishing is good for a team. It reinforces their belief in their own capabilities.
- Finishing lets stakeholders know you’ll deliver in the future.
- Finishing gives you time to think about building the next great thing.
I’m thrilled to be part of a team building something great again. Now and again, I’ll be taking a break to tell the stories here.
Being a digital marketing professional, I know how hard it is to find the best content on social media when there is so much noise. A question I am frequently asked is: what content curation tools can help me find and share the best content? What I’ve done in this article is provide a guide to the smartest content curation tools available.
So Many Tools, So Little Time
The content marketing revolution has resulted in so much content being generated and promoted that it hard to find the best material. This problem doesn’t only plague professional marketers; it has spread to almost every field and topic, making it even more confusing if you are not a social media expert.
In the last few years, there have been a number of solutions that have popped up to help readers find the best content being published within their networks. Not everyone has the time to keep up with all of these. I have organized them into a few groups to better offer perspective on which are best for you.
Different Models for Social Content Curation
These four types of curation are what I feel broadly represent the offerings on the market today. I define these as Tribal, Algorithmic, Outsourced and Self Service/Team Based.
For each of the types, I’ll give a brief overview of its characteristics and call out a few sample tools in that category. I’ll also describe what I feel are the key characteristics suited for this category along with pros and cons of this approach.
Tribal curation typically happens through affinity groups. These are collections of people that share something in common: profession, industry, location, etc. The barriers to enter these groups can vary, but they typically are self-organized and enforced by members peer review. The format is most often that of a souped-up discussion forum where people can post new topics and discussion happens in threads around that topic.
Quibb, the members only sharing network for professionals. Content here focuses on the intersection of technology and business culture. There is an application process for membership, and an editorial team that helps promote content worth reading.
BeBee – Professional networking through personal interests. BeBee plays on the idea of social communities as places where knowledge workers “swarm”. It allows experts to organize small hubs called hives, centered around content sharing.
LinkedIn Groups – Focused forums created around areas of career skill, academic or professional membership. Web-based and backed by email notification, LinkedIn Groups are powerful and credible resources. Trust is high because providing identity is the cost of participation.
NextDoor – A personal favorite of mine, NextDoor has become a way to communicate with your neighbors in your immediate residential area and also surrounding neighborhoods. Because members have to verify residence through mail, you again have an exclusivity element. Content types include some you would suspect like local businesses and home services, but are not limited to anything.
Who it’s good for: People who trust in group identity and preferences. Happy to digest what the community surfaces. Confident that the community will weed out bad content. These can be great solutions for folks comfortable in their role/career but looking to be kept up to speed on new developments.
Mechanisms to let you see content by freshness and popularity.
Allow you to see many different formats of content.
Once you find a group that matches your sensibility, you are likely to hang around for a while.
There tends to be a fair amount of posturing in groups like this, and you can see certain archetypes play out such as oversharing, dominating discussions and see promotion.
Finding the right group for you can take time, as it involves staying a while with each and trying them on before you know if you like the experience.
Reading through group posts and deciphering opinion just to find out what content to read can be exhausting.
With a little help from your friends (and artificial intelligence), you too can find some of the best things out there. Algorithmic solutions are powering many of the services you are using today.
Facebook Newsfeed, Instagram – The service that needs no introduction. Consider that Facebook is trying to be the be-all, end-all destination for your entertainment and information needs. Similar to how Google owned search (It just works), Facebook wants to make your newsfeed be intelligent enough to fold in recommendations and smart-sorting, so that it satisfies your curiosities. While algorithms can be effective in making the system easier to use, the criticism that many experts have is that the content tends to get too homogenous over time and you miss out on a great deal of important content. Ditto Instagram.
Flipboard – The original magazine reader for tablets, this software curates the links shared by your contacts on Facebook and Twitter into topical news “sections” that you can flip through.
Prismatic (RIP) – Shuttered in the last year, Prismatic was one of my personal favorite solutions for some time as it combined elements of a the Flipboard style solution with machine learning so that it got smarter over time.
Nuzzel.com – Another personal favorite that was quite unique for a while, Nuzzel became smart about understanding your reading preferences based upon your Facebook and Twitter connections and what you engaged with in their application. They also built in some nice newsletter features so that you could use their platform to build your own audience that enjoyed the stories you share. I would love to see this one keep going, but I suspect that other products like Facebook are incorporating more of their ideas.
Who it’s good for: People who follow large numbers of content creators and sharers. Individuals in fast moving industries. Those who do not have a great deal of time to focus on what to read.
Smart filtering based on topics.
Automatic curation based on popularity.
Some solutions learn your preferences over time.
Algorithms are a black box – You don’t know exactly how they work and are subject to their decisions.
Algorithms are based upon things shared by people in your network already. Since networks tend to foster group-think, these can reinforce you seeing items popular within the group but not necessarily new.
This category is where I consider that you as reader are deferring all control to a particular publication, host or expert to offer you their choice content picks. I find this to be one of the best ways to get introduced to new and interesting content, but its the one that puts you least in control.
I consider the main tools in this space to be email newsletters. The email newsletter has been a long staple of web culture, but it has seen a huge resurgence in recent years. I subscribe to several, including, Nextdraft (one of my favorites). Of course, I also have created my own newsletter, which you should subscribe to.
Who it’s good for: People that enjoy being taken on a journey through a new topic by an expert focused on that field. Those who relish in discovery of new content. Lazy people who want a predictable number of new items dropped in their inbox every week. Individuals looking to get slowly introduced to a new field of interest/study.
Delivered directly to your inbox.
Curation is done for you.
New content almost guaranteed.
You are subject to the perspectives and passions of your host.
Depending upon the outlet, there is not always a way to offer meaningful feedback on what content you like or not.
Self-Service and Team Curation
This category represents the needs of individuals with an ongoing need for content to fuel their work and creativity. Often they demand a level of control over their tools that drives a more “self-service” working model. In other cases, they team with similar power-users that quickly digest, curate and repackage what they read for others in the group. Tools in this category offer a different level of functionality for a more demanding user, but with some tradeoffs.
Feedly.com – Feedly came to fame as the product that picked up where the late Google Reader left off. A place to curate RSS feeds from websites you love, Feedly has become a very popular service for curating collections of sites and feeds for your audience. In the past, one of my teams used Feedly Shared Collections to curate a large collection of our employee blogs; you can see the video describing our use case at their website.
Pocket and Instapaper are two insanely popular “read later” services that also allow curators to share their wares with an audience. I’ve actually enjoyed both services over the years and use a service called IFTTT (If This Then That) to keep them in sync.
Paper.li – An amazing service that allows you to create a web-based newspaper with a publishing staff of one, Paper.li has built a steady following. By allowing editors to create papers based upon the sources they follow already, Paper.li automates much of the acquisition of new content. Editors can also set their distribution preferences up once and the paper will automatically publish and promote itself at intervals. For power users, it can be integrated into your website with ease. Another great aspect of Paper.li is that it can scale to teams as well.
For an example of Paper.li in action, check out my daily Digital Marketer’s Toolbox.
Anders Pink – A very new product on the scene, Anders Pink (AP) is brought to you by the team that created Buzzsumo, only it provides more utility for any sort of team of knowledge workers. Organized around the concept of “briefings”, AP allows curators to build automated content feeds around extremely focused areas using keywords, influencers, websites and RSS feeds; it also allows them to filter out what they don’t want in the result set. You can subscribe to existing public briefings or create your own, for free!
Feel free to check out AP briefings I created for myself that I’ve since made public:
Who it’s good for
Individuals and teams who have very deep areas of focus and an ongoing need to monitor areas of content publication. Consider product marketing teams, investment groups or research teams as prime examples here.
Customization of criteria for what is collected
A range of capabilities from automated to manual collection and curation
Ability to add value to existing content for an audience around your specific focus area.
Time intensive – requires ongoing investment in monitoring, curation
Hands-on – Although there is quite a bit of automation capability, the curator needs to have an intimate understanding of how these tools work.
The Best Tool for Your Job
Choosing the solution that is right for you requires that you spend a bit of time considering how specific your needs are and what kind of effort you want to put in.
Deciding what toolset will fit your needs will mean considering what is the balance of process automation, editor attention, content freshness and editorial control.
I have attempted to provide a few suggestions for different roles, but don’t just take my word alone. I encourage you to experiment with a few of these tools in order to find the best solution for you and your team.
Is there another tool that you like for your curation needs that I haven’t mentioned? Share it in the comments!
Note: I originally wrote this post on Tuesday following the holiday weekend. I planned on holding it a couple of days, and then Wednesday of this week the world witnessed horrible violence on Facebook Live. I opted to keep the post as written and added some additional thoughts below based on the happenings this week.
Are we sitting on the edge of a new model for how people use Facebook to communicate with each other? We are seeing a perfect storm of conditions for a rapid rollout of Facebook Live to our friends and family. One that is more popular than TV and moving faster than we are prepared for it.
Still here? Bear with me for a minute while I explain.
Facebook Live Just Went Mainstream and You Didn’t Realize
I counted no fewer than 5 friends last weekend publishing stories using Facebook Live. The topics were ordinary fun things like playing with the kids and 4th of July parties. You know, the stuff that most people use Facebook to talk about anymore. Now, these individuals were not “content creators” nor were they journalists.
Before this, I probably knew of one person that was not a journalist or a marketer that was using the platform to communicate with friends. The majority were people who made their living on Facebook, journalism organizations like the New York Times and Buzzfeed and brands broadcasting live events.
This is a signal that Facebook has found the right combination of usability, marketing and encouragement for users to try Facebook Live.
It is safe to say we may start seeing more user generated content, in the form of Facebook Live videos. This will come from people we know. This reminds me of that Thanksgiving a few years ago (2011-2012) where everyone’s grandmother (literally) was on the platform.
OK, But How Do We Know That People Want To Watch It?
This new research by Buzzsumo looked at 25m Facebook posts published by the top 10,000 publishers over the last year. Their research shows Facebook video content clearly outperforming all other formats in terms of shares by audience. It also shows a steady increase in video output from a powerhouse lineup of entertainment brands including: Jimmy Fallon, Buzzfeed’s Tasty, HBO’s Game of Thrones and a host of global football teams.
I suspect many of us would agree after reading this study that there are several reasons, beyond subject matter, that make video so engaging on Facebook.
For one, they’ve skewed the platform to show more videos. In their quest to overtake Youtube as the home for video on the web, Facebook has made no secret of the fact that it has given higher ranking to posts containing paid and organic videos on its platform.
Second, Facebook has also said that viewers spend 3x as much time watching Live videos than pre-recorded ones. It now ranks those in the news feed accordingly so that you have access to the freshest content.
Third, unlike Snapchat, Facebook already crosses generational boundaries, is easy to use and already is based around your friend list. The problem with many of the other video applications on the market is that you need to build an audience and then convince your friends to join. No longer the case with Facebook; audience already installed.
Reality As Entertainment
For the better part of my adult life, our culture has become fascinated with broadcast reality. The Real World. The Apprentice. American Idol. In fact we forget most of the winners; It’s the spectacle along the way that people remember. I suppose my biggest fear is that we create an environment where the tools are not just used for socializing and communicating with friends, but for grandstanding or ridicule.
Afterword: Everything Changed This Week
Facebook has done quite a bit for friends and families, giving them a way to share moments of love and grief when far apart. On Wednesday of this week, we were reminded that it can also quickly broadcast the news of tragedy faster than any other medium. A young man in Minnesota lost his life at the hands of police over what seems to have been a traffic stop gone horribly wrong. The girlfriend of the young man, captured the aftermath of the event on Facebook Live and its now been seen millions of times around the world.
This post started off as an essay on why I thought we were about to see a new way of communicating with friends and family with the introduction of live video formats like Facebook Live. I stand by that, and I think we are indeed going to see this style of communication start to become more prevalent. For that reason, I think it is important to remember that live video can also be a tool to educate masses and inflame tensions, as well as entertain.
For those interested in exploring this topic further:
- Can Facebook Live Take On TV?
- How Facebook Live Became Our New Global Distress Signal
- Live On Facebook, Its Something Like TV But Not Exactly TV
- Zuckerberg Really Wants You To Stream Live Video On Facebook
The full audio of the show is included below for your listening pleasure:
Melissa and team have asked me to come back and talk to their audience about more digital topics, so let us know what you want to hear more about in the comments.
I hope everyone enjoyed a safe and relaxing 4th of July weekend. We had a great time visiting with friends and family and getting recharged. This is not so much a full post; I’m just sharing a few thoughts and a handful of links to interesting reads and bits of news from the last few days.
Independence Day Weekend
My boys and I watched the fireworks in our neighbors’ yard on Saturday night from their bedroom window. What amazed them most was not the fireworks themselves, but the thick plumes of smoke that rose up and wafted through the tall forest that surrounds our home. Later that evening, as I took the trash out to the curb, I could smell the heavy smell of gunpowder mixed with rain. It’s a smell that you get perhaps once a year, but it takes you back to the last time as soon as you notice it. I still think that smell might be the most powerful sense of all.
Last night we were home before any fireworks began, but a proper barrage started as they lay in their beds getting ready for sleep. They thought it was a thunderstorm, and Jen and I were happy to let them think as much in order to get some rest.
Afterwords from The Future of Podcasting is You
If like me, you’re into podcasts and where the medium is going, you may be interested in this new development from the folks at Podbean. Their new advertising program allows brands to get placements on Podbean hosted shows that are read by the show hosts themselves. Select shows offered this before, but this is a nice benefit for a network.
I was featured on a fun live interview last week with the team at Carpool Talk Show. Stay tuned for the replay link.
Reminders of Unspeakable Acts
Legendary author and holocaust survivor Elie Weisel, passed away this weekend at the age of 87. What amazes me is that he actually wrote 57 books; something which seems to be glossed over given his most famous recounts his experience in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Check out these powerful recaps of his life from the New Yorker and New York Times and get a sense of what is lost now that one of the few remaining witnesses passes away.
In a bizarre twist today, the leader of the KKK, David Duke responded to (and seemingly condoned) an antisemitic tweet from Donald Trump.
I’m listening to one of my favorite all-time albums, the HELP charity album for the war in Bosnia. It’s a fantastic collection of music, pulled together to support aid for a particularly dark time in recent history. This article from the Guardian recaps the history of the project fairly well, 15 years on.
Thoughts on the Microsoft-LinkedIn acquisition
Last week the world was surprised with Microsoft’s announcement that it would acquire the company for a price well above its recent share price. This was met with a mix of reactions and articles proclaiming to know the future plans of Microsoft for the social network.
I admittedly was very excited, for two reasons:
Microsoft is cool again! It has been on a spree buying some incredible technology products and retaining those brands in its portfolio (for the most part).
LinkedIn has a tremendous number of assets, but I think it was starting to suffer in financial performance because had lost site of its own north star.
Is it live, or is it dead?
LinkedIn is dead, or dying. At least that’s what many of my friends and colleagues were saying over the last 12 months. Now we know that’s an exaggeration, of course, but they were basing their opinion on some very visible actions the company has been taking.
If you’ve been a power user of LinkedIn for some time, you will have taken note of one or more of these:
The diversion of power user features from the core service into paid plans like Sales Navigator and Job Seeker.
The creation of very different, CRM-style experiences of the premium services.
An increasingly non-transparent set of paid advertising options.
Corralling an impressive set of content marketing resources (read: Pulse, Slideshare and Lynda.com) but failing to promote any joined up vision for how they co-exist.
My long-standing love affair with LinkedIn
I started early. I think that I was really intrigued with the idea of having a place for professional networking that was inherently social. I initially earned quite a bit of harassment from my colleagues who didn’t seem to understand the value in those early years. They eventually came around, seeing the power that an extended network could bring to sales, marketing and recruiting efforts.
Even when I was on and off with my Twitter use, and restricting my Facebook visibility to close friends, my LinkedIn profile was always a place that I shared things of interest to me professionally. My network has become a massive asset for recruiting new team members, for job searches and for business deals. We use it for persona research, testing and amplifying content. It’s become an essential part of business life.
That said, perhaps that’s why the acquisition makes so much sense. Microsoft’s products are by and large synonymous with and (for some) essential parts of business.
Exciting opportunities all around
Depending upon where you sit, you are bound to see lots of very interesting potential opportunities coming out of the Microsoft-LinkedIn deal. A few folks were quick to point out that Microsoft products take a few of the top 10 Lynda.com course slots.
The Return of Author Rank
Google’s introduction of Author Rank in its search engine was a pretty big deal and many website owners were miffed when it went away. That said, LinkedIn, via Pulse, does provide a great way to attribute and “score” authority without relying on an obscure social network profile. Because it will be Microsoft owned, this presents an opportunity for Bing to have a very unique point of differentiation from Google search.
Within the B2B technology space, there are a large number of data providers that provide data enrichment services for businesses to augment their customer and recruiting databases. LinkedIn now has the most well groomed data set of company, industry and individual contact information (including job history) on the planet. This could be a Dun and Bradstreet sized opportunity.
Let’s not forget, LinkedIn has a wide range of established ad products that include display, retargeting, email and more. Granted their high price points and complex sales model have made them slower in growth than their Google and Facebook counterparts, however, Microsoft has an opportunity to change all of that. The web enabled Windows desktop is now potentially the most coveted destination for B2B buyers to buy their ad impressions.
Experts on Demand
Just having a little fun, let’s suppose that Microsoft really started to look at how to combine its new services in exciting new ways. What about asking Cortana, Microsoft’s voice enabled personal assistant, to find you an expert on content marketing strategies in the life sciences space, having LinkedIn locate the expert, book the meeting in your calendar and Skype ring them up for a video conference when its time to chat.
Now that’s the future of work. It would also seem to be a fun time to work at LinkedIn and Microsoft.
Looking forward to see what happens.
Note: This post was a play on the title of a book by the late, great Ed Yourdon, “The Rise and Resurrection of the American Programmer“. I was a big fan of his books, most of which were on my Dad’s bookshelf, when I started my I/T career. Ed became a pretty great photographer in his later years and sadly passed away in January of this year.
As you know, I have a strong interest in the future of search. This is particularly true of new software developments that help people find what they are looking for. I recently had an opportunity to write a piece for the TrackMaven Marketing Blog on natural language processing (NLP) and its impact on search engine optimization (SEO).
The premise of the article is that natural language processing has come to change the way the web works in a fundamental way: shifting discovery of content from an explicit keyword based search to discovery based on context and intent.
I argue that NLP will change life for the SEO professional in some significant ways, from the strategies they develop to the tactics they recommend you implement on your site. If you have strong opinions on the topic, I hope you will leave a comment for me here or reach out to me on Twitter.
I encourage you to read the entire article over at the TrackMaven Marketing Blog: