Most small business owners have heard the term “content marketing.” Some of them actually know what it is, and an even smaller number know how to put content marketing to work for them, generating leads that convert into customers—and repeat customers—over time.
In a nutshell, content marketing is any marketing that hinges on the creation and sharing of free content to acquire and retain customers. Special reports, white papers, case studies, business blogs, podcasts and SlideShare decks are all good examples. The whole idea is that, by taking the time and effort to educate prospects, they will come to know, like and trust you enough to do business.
Sometimes, depending on the quality and relevancy of your content, they may choose to do business right away. Other times, it may take a while. But that’s okay because, when they opted-in to get your free information, they gave you permission to follow up with them on an ongoing basis.
You’ll follow up by sending them more free content that’s sprinkled with non-intrusive invitations to check out the products or services you offer that are relevant to their needs, as expressed through their content selections.
Content marketing may seem like a no brainer—and it is because it works—but it’s not as simple as pulling eyeballs to catchy headlines, hoping to lure people in and magically convert them.
Learn From the Past
Nobody knows this better than Upworthy, the content aggregator whose infamously over-the-top, bait-and-switch headlines polluted the internet for the sole purpose of drawing curiosity clicks before slamming readers with cheap, disposable content.
Once touted as the fastest growing media entity in history, pulling 90 million page views in November 2013, the company’s audience shriveled to only 20 million visitors a month when Facebook changed its algorithm in an effort to champion quality content, rather than clickbait crap.
Small businesses that are interested in marketing themselves through content can learn a lot from Upworthy’s rise and fall.
Look to the Future
Today, Upworthy is reinventing itself through an editorial overhaul that calls for the dumping of curated clickbait (repurposed, aggregated content with awful headlines, such as “This Kid Just Died. What He Left Behind Is Wondtacular.”). Their new order of the day is to produce original content informed by copious amounts of data.
As Business2Community reported: “As we all know and Upworthy realized—the hard way, I might add—consistently creating compelling content is hard, but worthwhile, work. There is no shortcut to a lasting, loyal audience—hacking, curation and luck will always fall short—because content marketing is not a game, a passing fad, a cheap-and-easy trick to capture eyeballs.
“Not surprisingly, Upworthy’s new approach to content creation mirrors the content marketing strategies of the most successful brands: invest in crafting your own content (content you own), tell powerful stories in your unique voice—stories that educate, entertain and resonate with a well-defined target audience—and good things will happen.”
The new rules for Upworthy—which any small business owner who’s considering content marketing should take to heart—break down like this:
Grow your own original content. Curation (plucking and publishing the best of other people’s content for the purpose of educating or informing your audience) should be a part of your overall content mix. However, there’s no getting around the fact that you must offer your audience unique content that they find compelling—and it has to come from you.
Create—and stick with—your own succinct content marketing mission statement. Think of this as the map you’ll consult as you’re making your way through the content jungle. It should provide a clear understanding of where you want to end up, and everyone on your team should get a copy. Not having one will leave you stranded.
Data is not the storyteller’s nemesis. In the past, creative professionals, such as writers and designers, were considered a breed apart from other business people. Although that bias still lingers, today’s content marketing teams require a merger of creatives and tacticians, such as data heads, optimizers and seasoned digital marketers. As Business2Community explains, “…the best content marketing harmonizes the talents and skills of both camps—unlocking valuable, and actionable, insight from data to inform and improve high-quality storytelling.” The sooner you get the creatives and tacticians on your content marketing team working together, the sooner your business will benefit from the results.
Don’t measure everything, measure the right things. The sad fact is that most content marketers are measuring the wrong data points. For example, rather than measuring page views and unique visitors, focus on an attention-shifted metric, such as Upworthy’s attention minutes. The company measures Total Attention On Site for a sense of how good a job they’re doing at drawing attention to important topics. They also measure Total Attention per Piece, which reflects both how many people watched something on Upworthy and how much of it they watched. By taking this approach, the company knows that pieces with higher total attention should be actively promoted.
Content marketing isn’t rocket science, but getting it right requires equal measures of insight, planning and high-quality content. Learn from Upworthy’s mistakes and follow their lead to a profitable future.