I was recently hired by BlueGlass as a writer (which, admittedly, is the most exciting thing to happen in my short post-collegiate career). My experience so far has been a wild ride into the world of content marketing. I get it—or at least I thought I did—in theory. If I write cool things, people will see, read, and share. If I was passionate about what I was writing about, other people would get just as fired up and passionate.
Of course, it’s not like that, at all. Content marketing is way more than some correctly placed words and data. It’s engagement. It does not end when you hit “send.”
With a background in fiction, dramatic writing, and journalism, this is more of a foreign concept than I’d like it to be. I don’t often get responses about what I’m writing, usually about how I’m writing it (the old, “this sentence doesn’t sound right,” or, “stop mixing up least and fewer”). Nor do I respond much to my writing.
Content marketing is a different beast. It not only starts a conversation, it remains in the dialogue. It evolves. The discussion can go anywhere—the comments section, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Reddit, even someone else’s blog.
Buffer’s Content Marketing Story
I spoke with Leo Widrich, a co-founder of Buffer. This app allows users to queue up links, shares, and thoughts and set a release time for their Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and App.net accounts.
It may seem a little counterintuitive at first, but when you think about how much you hate spammy people on Twitter, you might change your mind. (Seven tweets in under a minute? Several times a day, drowning out the other people on my feed? Unfollow.)
While Widrich and his co-founder, Joel Gascoigne, thought it was a great idea, they wanted to see if anyone else did. They had a small presence online, on Twitter @LeoWid and @joelgascoigne. In October 2010, they gave their followers a link to a page like this:
Which led them to a page like this:
As I was reading about the strategy on their blog, the wheels in my head were turning. Oh those sneaky devils. They were not only generating feedback, they were building an audience as well as interest in their product. They did some more tinkering with price options before beginning to build the app. A month later, they completed the app and got it up and running with subscription options.
But Twitter was only their starting point. “The first thing we did to get started with marketing Buffer was to get press around our launch. Unfortunately that failed miserably,” Widrich said. They tried writing their own blog to generate interest, but that didn’t pan out either. “Simply writing about yourself isn’t very appealing for anyone running a blog,” he said.
So they became guest bloggers. They wrote up solutions to various social media problems, like getting more Twitter followers or the best tools to time your Tweets. “We gradually expanded the amount of guest posts we wrote. We started out with one post a week and worked our way towards 2-4 posts a day,” said Widrich. And they moved from little-known spaces to bigger social media blogs, like Social Media Examiner, Problogger, and Mashable.
In my head, that sounds like the end of the story. They get notoriety in their sphere of interest; people learn about Buffer. The writing is done, published, and out there for the world to chatter about and pass along. Happy endings for everyone.
Or not. Widrich and Gascoigne do more than write: they follow the story of their work. When they release a post, they keep track of Tweets and Facebook shares, to know how far the content spreads. They also watch signups for Buffer. For Buffer, guest posts are a pretty good deal—Widrich said that for every guest post they get roughly 100 signups in the post’s lifetime, which totals to about $500 per guest post.
Driving Content With More Than Content
One of the first things to consider when writing content, Widrich said, is “Would anyone reading this piece of content potentially email it to a friend?” He also suggested a great slideshow called “The Content Marketing Manifesto” by Rand Fishkin.
We’ve talked about sharability and content that converts on our blog before. Talking to Widrich, I feel like the way I have been writing is somewhat validated. I’m not writing something to sell, I’m writing to excite, ignite, and inspire.
Of course, whenever you post something online you’ll get contradicting reactions, at the least. If you’re unfortunate, some people can take it the wrong way. Content flubs happen a lot. “The key…when you publish a piece of content that isn’t very popular is not to try and fix it, you probably won’t,” Widrich said. “Simply focusing on the next post can give you a much better outcome.”
Great advice, especially in light of some of the marketing fails that have happened recently.
“I think [content and reaction] are extremely interlinked… the one thing I’ve found is that you can easily create content that is sensation, which drives a lot of reaction, but isn’t very sticky,” said Widrich. I keep hearing “Content is king,” so I’m starting to give more merit to that statement.
Widrich’s most popular post only casually mentions Buffer; it’s a piece on what multitasking does to brains.
But beyond the writing is interaction. “I tend to spend most of the day when I actually publish a piece of content replying to comments. After a few days…I don’t jump in that often, because the conversation is most of the time already started and people start replying to each other,” said Widrich.
I asked Widrich how he would spend $1,000 on marketing and he said, “I would spend it on writing amazing content and hiring people to do so.”
Content and Sales
I know nothing about sales, just for the record. But I do know that I don’t like pushy advertisements. I like clever things that build a community and the brand. Like what Grey Poupon has been doing. Their recent social media marketing campaign is ingenious. It makes me enjoy the brand, because they’ll tweet things like: “Fellow members, we’ve plum run out of Yacht Shirts. Looks like you’ll have to borrow your great-uncle’s ascot for yachting season.”
A piece may come from a product, but starting with a product, I’m learning, is not our job. “I much prefer content that leads to the product. This way you can tell a story…Slowly introducing the problem that way is very powerful,” said Widrich.
And that’s what excites me most.
I don’t mean to be tangential or anything, but what Widrich said, in his interviews and the blogs that he has written, really resonates with me. I used to think that marketing was commercials, sidebar ads, and annoying clips that I skipped on YouTube.
Content marketing is an evolution. We don’t like to sit down for ads, we want to feed our minds with facts and conversation starters. I don’t mean to sound cliche, but our age is more than informational, it’s communicational (I didn’t think it was a word. It is). And marketing has evolved to fit that.