iMedia Connection

How to create a stellar content marketing program

While content marketing is not a new concept, it's one that's more important than ever for companies looking to build relationships and drive deeper engagement with customers. However, while content creation tools and social media have simplified the process, they've also changed the landscape. By virtue of Google's recent Panda algorithm update, search engines are rewarding sites that generate new content and punishing those that don't. As such, companies need to embrace their new role as publishers and act accordingly.

IMN recently surveyed marketing professionals across different industries to get a clear picture of how they viewed content marketing programs, and subsequently, measured its effectiveness. While the vast majority of respondents understand the value of a content marketing program, have a solid grasp on what the goals of the program should be, and are engaged in content marketing efforts, many are having serious challenges in executing a content marketing program at a very basic level. Internal resource constraints, finding and sourcing relevant content, making sure content passes regulatory compliance, and hiring good content writers were the primary challenges respondents faced when implementing a content marketing strategy.

How to create a stellar content marketing program

There are many tools marketers can use to overcome the aforementioned challenges, but the first step is to determine the drivers of the program.

Content marketing program drivers

Customer and prospect engagement and awareness are two of the top goals for content marketing programs. Combined, these two responses represented the top goal of 51 percent of survey respondents. Customer loyalty, increased leads, increased revenue, and thought leadership are also program drivers. While 82 percent of respondents were either directly or indirectly involved in their content marketing strategy, 29 percent did not feel they had a solid understanding of what content marketing could accomplish in terms of customer engagement.

To achieve any of these program goals, organizations need to map the type of content to the goal. For example, if customer and prospect engagement is a top goal, thinking about the top five questions a prospect might ask and mapping the content to those areas would be a sound strategy.

Managing a content marketing program effectively

Without having a calendar in place, producing a frequent and endless supply of content can seem like a daunting task. Once the program driver has been determined, as well as the content "theme," an editorial calendar or schedule should be developed  that includes the topics that will be written about, who will be responsible for writing about them, and when they will be published. This can be created for a three-month period and broken down into weeks with seasonality taken into account.

This tool will help to determine the type of resources that will need to be put in place to execute against the calendar. Are there ample internal resources or will a third party content provider need to be put into place? Only 32 percent of respondents to our survey had a calendar in place. Setting up a calendar and assigning deadlines and reasonable expectations is key to the overall success of a content marketing program.

Optimizing content across channels

In addition to charting out a calendar, a strategy should be put in place for leveraging content across channels -- blogs, social media, email newsletters, websites, etc. -- as each channel offers different strengths in engaging customers. While blogs still retain the top position in customer acquisition in 2012, Facebook and Twitter are both significantly increasing in their ability to help businesses acquire customers. Newsletters provide an opportunity to track customer and prospect engagement with content, while blogs are a critical component to retaining customers and prospects that visit a website as a compliment to SEO efforts. Of the respondents, 52 percent did not have a separate content marketing strategy for each channel, which can hinder the effectiveness of their content marketing program.

On Facebook, for example, it is more likely that you will engage fans and followers with images, rather than video, text, or links. After uploading content, posts can be marked with a "feature star" that highlights a post by making it larger and more visible on a Facebook timeline and can direct traffic back to the blog page on a website.

Twitter, on the other hand, is a better platform for publishing short text from a blog post or other piece of collateral and then re-directing to it with a shortened link that can be used to track traffic. Hash tags, which arrange content by topic on Twitter, should also be used to help people searching on particular subjects to find your content.

Measuring success

Once content has been produced with some regularity and shared across channels, success parameters should be put in place to measure the effectiveness of a program. Daily actions and goals should be stated and tracked against directly on the editorial calendar itself to ensure that the program is staying on track.

In the digital world, measurement is real-time and actionable. Google analytics is a free tool that provides insight about website performance and how content is driving traffic to a website. Twitter and Facebook both provide insights on followers and fans including where they live and the content that interests them.

A comprehensive newsletter program will provide metrics on delivery statistics, open rates, when content items were read and by whom, and the return path readers took to a website. Knowing what content was read will help tailor future offers to specific customers and prospects, as well as newsletter content for future campaigns.

While it takes time to build a community, following these key best practices will help get a program off the ground, or help you maximize the effort you're expending in your existing content marketing activities. By staying focused and keeping a critical eye on what your customers and prospects are interested in, you can establish and cultivate a successful and rewarding content marketing program.

Craig Fitzgerald  is editorial director of IMN.

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