Rebecca Lieb is an analyst at the Altimeter Group where she covers digital advertising and marketing. She is the author of Content Marketing – How to Use Content to Market Online and in Social Media and consults on content strategy for a variety of brands and professional trade organizations. Recently I caught up with Rebecca and she answered some of the top questions that arise from businesses that are either currently implementing or plan to start a content marketing strategy.
What are your best tips for businesses that are struggling to find content?
Rebecca Lieb: For one thing, businesses have to start thinking like publishers in order to not only define content, but also to effectively use content. It’s very daunting to wake up every day and find a blank page to fill, blank air time or blank podcast time, which is why “real” publications have editorial calendars. And while the New York Times doesn’t know what breaking news will be on page one on Friday, they do know it’s Friday so they’re going to have a weekend arts preview and a movie section and a theater section and perhaps an interview with somebody opening a new play on Broadway.
There’s a degree of predictability in content that’s not only very helpful to the business or the publisher who’s publishing that content, but also to the audience. The regularity of these types of features keeps people coming back. This is why newspapers have evergreen content like horoscopes and comics, they know that readers will develop habits and pick up content for that reason. So in order to constantly create new sources of content you need a plan, you need an editorial calendar.
The second phase of this is for brands to think of how to recycle and repurpose content. Not everybody likes the same content in the same channels. Somebody might be very happy to listen to this interview as a podcast while other people just want to read the text. So why not make it available in both formats on two different channels? Or if you have a live event, you can chop that event up into content that will take you down the road for weeks or months in the form of videos, infographics, or blog entries.
During your session at ad:tech you mentioned that content is like leftover turkey?
Lieb: I love using the turkey analogy. People really get that. You start out with the turkey at Thanksgiving and that’s the main event, and then everybody knows that after Thanksgiving you’re eating turkey sandwiches, you have turkey on your salad, and maybe a little turkey hash. Journalists very quickly learn how to treat their stories and their sources like that turkey. That’s not meant to sound derogatory, but you need to understand what your content assets are and how and when to use them.
Do you think there can be a diminishing return on content? Is there such a thing as too much content?
Lieb: There’s always a sweet spot and finding that is going to involve experimentation. Obviously content has to have a modicum of quality to it, otherwise it’s just more noise rather than signal. It has to be useable. If it’s not useable, then it’s not worthwhile. I have been working with a brand that had, for example, a great deal of text content around items that they were selling on their website. But that content wasn’t accompanied by pictures which would have been worth their metaphorical thousand words in this context. That’s a bad content user experience. So it’s very important to not just have content, which could be raw XML text, but to have content in the right format, attractively packaged and attractively produced. This isn’t advertising which is going to interrupt you and you get whatever they’re making you experience for 15 or 30 seconds. This is stuff you want people to tune into, and in order to get them to tune in you have to make it attractive.
In your book, Content Marketing you talk about how to do a Content Audit. How important do you think that is to the overall content marketing strategy?
Lieb: A content audit is very important because it not only assesses what you have, if you do it correctly it assesses how well it’s working and how it’s working on a number of levels. So you not only look at what content do I have, but also is it professionally produced, is it spelled correctly, is it consistent in style? What content is attracting people? You look at your web analytics, and say “oh they like this”, “they don’t like that”, or “they can’t find something else”. It evaluates how fresh and topical your content is. A lot of organizations have outdated content on their site, so a content audit can lead to a content strategy of what to do with stuff that’s getting old or stale. Do you take it away? Do you bury it in an archive? You know that’s not a one size fits all answer, but you do have to ask those questions. And a content audit can also be extraordinarily useful for workflow. Who creates it? Who approves it? Who posts it? Are we doing this right? Are there more steps that we need or can we streamline the process?
How do you measure the quality and the success of your content?
Lieb: How you measure the quality and success depends on what your goals are. So I’m throwing it back to you with that classic marketing answer which applies to any marketing related question: it depends. But what you have to do is develop a set of metrics around your content that are tied to KPIs: Key Performance Indicators. So is your content meant to raise awareness of your product or service? To sell your product or service? To increase lead generation? To lessen calls to the customer service department? I can’t tell you what your goals are, but once you tell me what those goals are I can help you create ways to benchmark your content in order to determine if it’s meeting those goals.
Influencer outreach is essential for a successful content strategy. What are your recommendations for people who are just starting their influencer outreach? How do you reach an influencer may be considered inaccessible?
Lieb: Not a lot of people are inaccessible on the web, but what they are is inundated. You know there’s a lot of noise, we all get a lot of email, we all get a lot of messages and a classic mistake that’s made when people try to reach influencers is by getting in touch saying “Hi, I really admire you. Now can you do this thing for me?” And that’s not something that any of us would be likely to do in real life, you know, walk up to a famous singer, Alicia Keys, and say “I really like your singing. Could you sing at my kid’s birthday party please?” yet people do this online all the time. What you really have to do first is establish a relationship with that influencer. Perhaps give them something of value or something that’s helpful. Offer information in a way that’s not “I’d really like you to retweet this”, but “I thought you might find this interesting”. Take a risk, stick your neck out there and create some dialogue and you might be pleasantly surprised. And this has been a rule in media relations for many years, so why it should be different in reaching other types of influencers, I don’t know. You just can’t walk up to people and say “give me something” when they don’t know who you are, why they should, or what’s in it for them.
Who are the top content marketing influencers to follow? Who would you recommend adding to your RSS readers? Aside from yourself of course!
Lieb: Robert Rose who just coauthored an excellent book on content marketing with Joe Pulizzi. Joe founded The Content Marketing Institute and their feed is invaluable and probably the leading publication. For content strategy, there’s Kristina Halvorson who wrote the book on the topic. I’m a great admirer of Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman who published early books on content marketing before mine even. Also, Lee Odden is a terrific blogger on this and Sally Falkow is very good in the public relations range. If you search Twitter, there are some very good Twitter lists of the leading content marketing influencers. I would suggest following those people and determining who’s right for you and who’s really speaking to your content marketing needs.
How do you spend your time in the social world? How do you optimize the energy and effort you put forth in a daily routine?
Lieb: I’m not sure it’s always optimal; I always feel like I’m running to catch up. But I think that if you’re working hard, you probably should. I have Twitter open on Tweetdeck on my desktop 24/7, I am a very avid user of Facebook, I don’t use Google Plus as well as I should, but like many people, I’m getting overwhelmed with how many social channels are out there. I try to balance my personal blogging with the fact that I write regularly for four different publications and write the occasional book. So, like a lot of content marketers, I’m challenged to A: come up with ideas sometimes or B: sometimes I have many ideas but not the time, the energy or the resources to execute them. So I realize that many people look at people who are influential or well known in the space and they think “they make it look easy and it’s not easy for me so I can’t do it”. Really, the secret… it’s not easy for anybody! You just have to dig in and do it!
The most buzzed about platform at the moment is Pinterest. What are your thoughts on their recent surge in popularity and do you think it’s going to be around for a while?
Lieb: I think Pinterest will be around for a while. One thing that’s very interesting is the surge in popularity on Pinterest came out at the time I published my most recent report on content marketing in March. We asked 56 marketers what content channels are increasing and diminishing in importance for them and what’s going to matter in 3 years. Overwhelmingly, every visual channel is hockey sticking up, starting with video but also infographics, images, and photos. At the same time text channels, particularly long warm text channels are diminishing so I think people want these quick informational hits. Again, a picture is worth 1000 words and people are busy, time starved, and time challenged and Pinterest is really helping to address that need. Also, the fact that Pinterest is so seamlessly hooked into APIs like Facebook, creates more awareness and accessibility. I think Pinterest will eventually expand to be something that isn’t quite as deeply associated with women as it is right now. You know if you look at other visual programs like Instagram, it isn’t viewed as a women only image social site although it does pretty much the same thing Pinterest does.
What are you focused on for the rest of this year? What can we expect?
Lieb: The next thing I’m going to be working on in 2012 is a project with my colleague Jeremiah Owyang. We’re going to be looking at what we feel is the consumer trend of not differentiating between paid, earned, and owned media. It’s very much about social media and it’s very much about content marketing. We’re seeing owned media become paid media on Facebook, we’re seeing instances of earned media, such as customer reviews, become paid media through new ad units that turn customer reviews into actual ads. We think it matters less to consumers what channels these various forms of media are in and we think marketers are going to be very challenged to balance their messaging between these three buckets.