Publishers and authors do not need an army of geeks in order to create and execute effective content marketing campaigns. That said, content marketing does require a few things in order to be effective. I’ve laid them all out here so that you can see—before starting out—what you’ll need to arrange or line up to be effective.
Content marketing requires resources. Obviously, the scale of your efforts will depend on the size of your budget. And—whether tiny or huge—campaigns can still show impressive return on investment.
I don’t expect publishers and other content-producers to magically open up space in already-tight budgets to welcome in a full-blown content marketing strategy. Therefore, I recommend viewing content marketing as a shift in marketing strategy—not as the addition of a new marketing strategy on top of existing marketing strategies. Resources will need to be pulled from other marketing efforts in order to make room for this new effort. View this as an opportunity to review the effectiveness of dusty campaigns and to reallocate the resources of those that are falling short.
Content marketing is a long-term strategy. It is not something content-producers should take up lightly or with unreasonable expectations. You will not have 100,000 Twitter followers in two weeks. You will not double your sales in a month. What you will do is spend a year of your working life building a community of people interested in (and excited about) your topics, making contacts with other folks working in your niche, building your mailing lists, and working with your authors or contributors. And, at the end of that year, you will have constructed a powerful content-promotion platform and network through which you can quickly and effectively let your most-likely customers know exactly what you’re producing.
It’s a lot of hard work, and you will experience setbacks. But the community you will have established on the other side will be more valuable to you than the sum of its parts.
Content marketing needs content…and so we begin there. Content (fortunately and unfortunately) is distributed in myriad forms and file types. Your particular stock of content may be bound up in paperback on the shelves in your warehouse, tucked away in your issue archives, on VHS tapes in a closet, or as PDF files on your company server. No matter what form your content is in now, chances are that it will require some conversion in order to be suitable for the web. Now is the time to begin that process.
If the files you’re working with have been created within the last ten years, then the conversion task may not be too onerous. For example, if you’ve got a stockpile of PDFs, you can begin cutting and pasting content into your web site—or wherever you choose—today. If your older content is in film or plates, you will have a larger job ahead of you and will likely be better off hiring a conversion house to digitize the content.
If the task seems too large to tackle, consider hiring a digital asset management firm to assess your situation and make some recommendations. While certainly not the cheapest option, it could streamline the process quite a bit.
The bottom line here is that once the content marketing campaigns are up and running, it is important that your community managers—or whoever it is running your digital front-line—have quick and easy access to files and content they can use online. The conversations in which they’ll be participating move fast, and quick access to your valuable content—while it is still relevant to the conversation—is important.
Even though the technical barriers of entry are falling like dominoes these days, it can still require some know-how on the part of you and our staff to wrestle content into the place it needs to be. Point-and-click content management systems like WordPress, Drupal, Shopify, and others do make it easy to style and post content online. Anything beyond that, however, still requires some programming chops. (We, here at zeen101, prefer and recommend WordPress.)
I recommend having at least one talented web programmer on your team or on your speed-dial. You don’t want your creativity to be limited by the tools you’re using. A good web developer should be able to understand your ideas, see the value of the strategies, and build the tools you’ll need to make them fun and effective online.
Expect to pay anywhere between $150/hour to $350/hour for a talented subcontracting development team.
The Internet never sleeps. Your content will be traveling across the ‘net at 2:30pm as well as at 2:30am—which is how it should be. Luckily for you and your team, you do not need to be available to chat 24 hours a day. Participating in these social networks communities, with bloggers, and on your own site is a full-time day job. You will need to find someone to fill this role. It may, of course, be you—or it could be a highly-paid Director of Digital Marketing—or it could be a summer intern working for school credit. I’ve seen it succeed (and fail) in all these cases.
The most important factors in your on-going social interactions are expertise, consistency, and enthusiasm. If you’re able to find a summer intern with these three attributes, more power to you—hire and pay that person well. If you operate in such a technical topic that these three things are hard to come by in one person, then you will need to put together a team. Your audience will be looking to the person or team running these interactions for friendly expertise. It is important that you figure out a way to meet (or exceed) expectations.
A sound strategy is one of the most commonly over-looked requirements of content marketing—and in web marketing, for that matter. Haphazardly plopping content from your books, magazines, writers, or imagination onto Facebook or Twitter or your site will not produce the results you desire. You must first accept that you will need a larger strategy guiding your efforts online, and then you need to build one.
What does success look like to you? Going-through-the-motions of content marketing and hoping to see some numbers increase somewhere is not a good way to approach the strategy. Nor, as you might expect, is it a good way to convince your funders that the strategy is working. Due to the fact that this is a long-term sales strategy with several secondary goals, I recommend setting up three goal types: sales, community growth, and conversions.
Tracking the numbers from these three goal types will give you good indicators to use when assessing whether or not your community is growing, active, and driving sales.
The best indicator of whether or not your efforts are working is whether or not your sales are increasing. Begin, of course, tracking sales numbers on day one, but don’t expect to see significant gains until you’ve been under way for at least six months.
As you increase your outpouring of content and time spent interacting with people online, you should see a steady rise in the number of people following you on Twitter, liking you on Facebook, subscribing to your email newsletter, subscribing to your RSS feed, commenting on your blog, and so on. Chart these numbers every week. Set goals for community growth and design campaigns accordingly.
A “conversion” is defined as any advantageous action taken by a community member—whether directly profitable (a sale) or promotional (a tweet, sharing on Facebook, reposting on a blog, etc.) A conversion could also be a subscription to your newsletter, a visit to your web site, or even the opening of an email. Define your top five most-desirable conversions—given your goals and your audience—and track those week to week.
The Blind Spots
We’ve seen two factors take down content marketing campaigns more often than any others. It will help you to prepare for them ahead of time, if you can.
The Patience of Your Boss
First of all, the executive team overseeing this new strategic shift will need to understand that this is a long-term strategy with very little hope for any return on investment for a significant period of time—especially when you include all the time and money spent planning the team, converting the content, and formulating the general strategy for your audience. These all take time. It is important that your higher-ups understand the commitment and are on-board for the long haul.
Likewise, it is also important that the executive team understand the potential benefits of this strategy. A content marketing campaign is not suited to producing quick flashes of increased sales—as buying up advertisement space is. Content marketing is suited to building a solid marketing foundation with increasing payoffs as it grows.
The Enthusiasm of Your Team
Finally, it is important to try to maintain the enthusiasm of your content marketing team. Content marketing can be fun—but it isn’t fun every day. The folks manning your email, Twitter, and Facebook accounts will have days on which they get pummeled with negative feedback from your audience. If the company slips up or makes news or releases a bad product, your front line will hear about it first. And, if you’re working in any sort of niche that’s political or incendiary—to anyone!—your front line will get pummeled more regularly by zealots of all kinds. Customer service is part of the strategy…unfortunately. Open communication is a double-edged sword, and it can be frustrating. It does no one any good to have a surly team member spouting off angrily on Twitter—even though it’s quite understandable given the frustrations of the position.
Content marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. Get your people and resources prepared before you settle in for the long campaign.