Last year, I finished up the master's in creative writing I had started on a part-time basis while working full-time as a content marketer. For the duration of my graduate career, I spent my nights chipping away at short stories, nonfiction essays, and various memoir excerpts and my days blogging and tweeting and collaborating with my colleagues on our company's content and social media strategies.
In many ways, the writing I was doing outside the office offered a clear correlation to the writing I was doing at work. In both cases, I was brainstorming creative ideas to tell a story in a fun and engaging way for my readers. But, when it came to the company work I was doing, the content creation process involved more than just thinking up catchy topics to write about; in fact, it involved not just content creation, but content marketing.
"Content marketing," as Joe Pulizzi defines it, "must work to enhance or change a behavior. If it doesn't, it's just content."
But what is it, exactly, that differentiates plain and simple content creation from strategic content execution? Here are three ways to know whether you're creating a piece of content that will lead to actual results (i.e., "likes," shares, comments, and ultimately leads and conversions) or simply taking up space on your company blog or website.
If you've done your homework, you already know who your target audience is and what type of content they're craving. That's step one. Step two involves developing consistent themes for your content to make sure you're delivering material to your audience when and where they want to consume it. Content development (idea generation, copywriting, promotion, etc.) should be organized according to a well-defined editorial calendar that clearly communicates both deliverable deadlines and overall contributions to monthly, quarterly, and annual goals.
For one of my company's larger clients, we're developing daily themes for our blog posts (e.g., list-type posts, image galleries, and fun fact compilations) based on ongoing research about the type of content that does best on certain days of the week. Doing so allows us to establish a give-and-take with our readers, ultimately letting them know we're aware of the type of content they're looking to read and delivering it to them on the days they want to consume it. Some of the ways in which to execute this process include:
- Using Google Insights to identify trends in our client's industry
- Meeting weekly as a team to discuss upcoming blog posts, keyword targets, and how each team member will contribute to the weekly goals
- Creating an editorial calendar outlining when each deliverable is due and how each initiative contributes to our overall goals
"Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience -- with the objective of driving profitable customer action." This is according to Content Marketing Institute (CMI), which, in the same post, outlines the difference between "content marketing" and "content interruption" (i.e., spam). The key phrase in the above definition is "relevant and valuable" -- in other words, content that neglects to factor in the preferences of the reader is nothing more than what CMI defines as "informational garbage."
So how can you make sure your content is relevant to your readers? Do your research.
- Google Analytics. Spend some time digging through Google Analytics for posts with the highest number of page views as well as the top referring sites for your content so you'll know what to post -- and where.
- Know your market. Copyblogger recommends gathering market data by joining the community you're trying to serve, whether that means fostering dialogue through Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, blogs, forums, or other online groups.
Got a piece of content you think is up to snuff? Then by all means get it out to the masses! By researching in advance where your audience is most likely to be consuming your content, you'll know where, when, and how to promote it via social media. But don't stop there; think of your content as an orange (or bag of oranges) you're squeezing into a glass of fresh orange juice. In other words, make sure you're squeezing every last drop of your content into the finished product -- a well-trafficked post that leads to actual results for your company.
For the same client for whom my company's content team is developing daily blog themes, we're also collaborating with our social media colleagues to determine the appropriate channels for content promotion. Since a good portion of our target audience works long hours outdoors during the week, we promote posts on Facebook and Twitter on a particular weekday and, on the weekends, promote them again when our readers are likely to be inside in front of their computers. By sharing or tweeting our blogs on Saturday or Sunday, we can be sure we're targeting readers who may not otherwise have seen them during the week.
"The biggest mistake I've made as a content creator is not getting more use out of content I've built," says Lisa Barone in a recent blog about building your content marketing promotion strategy. After having invested so much time and energy into the content creation process, make sure you're giving due consideration to your content marketing strategy. "Your content marketing job isn't finished when you hit publish," writes Barone, "it's just begun."
When it comes to content creation and content execution, there's a clear line in the sand about what differentiates one from another. A sound content marketing approach will include themes tailored specifically to your audience, relevancy for your readers, and a promotion strategy that maximizes your content creation efforts. From there, the rest is up to you to continually measure the results of your content marketing efforts and tweak your strategy accordingly.
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"Hand drawing Content flow chart" image via Shutterstock.