When we launched Content Ping, we had three basic goals:
- To drive brand recognition for the blog as a leader in the emerging content merchandising niche.
- To convey our thought leadership to our clients.
- To use our B2B blog as a tool to build a foundation of subject-matter experts within our company.
As my previous post described, we failed miserably in our first goal of branding the site. Embarrassingly so. Enough said.
For the latter two goals, the results have been mixed, though securely on the success side of the equation. I’m excited for this new iteration of our blog. Our epic marketing failures have given us plenty to learn from, and the few but significant successes have given us a great foundation to build upon as we enter into the next chapter of our company’s evolution.
Question: If Nobody Reads Your Thought-Leadership Writing, Do Your Thoughts Mean Anything?
For the first eighteen months of the B2B blog formerly known as Content Ping, we operated beneath Amazon.com’s Master Service Agreement (MSA), a binding agreement that grew increasingly oppressive as our business evolved.
We were effectively a white label for Amazon’s content needs, and as our clients’ needs evolved, the Amazon MSA actively held us back from any significant growth.
Our biggest challenge was the no-publicity clause prohibited us from publishing our primary expertise on our blog or our basic value proposition on our business website. We could communicate our Amazon knowledge and services verbally to our clients, but our keyboards transferred nary a pixel of that knowledge to the blog or any other public setting.
However, we continued to report on content trends and news beyond Amazon. As our other services began to grow, the blog became an important inside sales tool, helping our account managers and sales team to advise clients and close several significant deals.
There is no question that while we may have failed in conveying our thought leadership outside of our immediate clientele base, the two years and 600 posts we invested into the blog provided us with a vital sales resource and a strong foundation on which to grow.
One benefit of content marketing in general, and blogging in particular, that I don’t see written about much is the knowledge gain that occurs when you ask your subject-matter experts—the staff members who are producing your product or providing your service—to be your content producers. Having your staff produce the content instills a foundation of knowledge no amount of passive reading can create.
It’s a myth that the act of writing is about conveying one’s knowledge of a particular subject. We don’t write in order to teach; we write in order to learn. Writing is an objectified form of thinking; it helps clarify and solidify our thoughts on subject.
Admittedly, by many measurements writing may not be the quickest or most efficient way to learn about a subject, but in my book it’s the surest way to instill that subject-knowledge for the long term.
In the blog’s first year, we scheduled our project leads—the people who manage our accounts—to provide daily news roundups and regularly contribute feature posts. They were the ones selling our value proposition to our clients, so we felt that if they produced content for the blog they would deepen their knowledge of the industry and thus sell our value better.
There is no question that we succeeded at this goal. Our entire staff became more competent with the complex issues of syndication, search algorithms, Google updates, the particulars of retail channels, the value of original content, SEO, and so on.
The downside of this strategy is that because most of our project leads, despite their above-average writing abilities, had never been professional journalists, the time commitment on content production began to cut into their account management duties, especially as our business grew.
So if we were to continue to maintain a regular publication schedule (while also continuing to maintain and grow our client relationships), we had to come up with Plan B.
The Journalist-Informant Collaboration Model
In a recent conversation in the content strategy group on LinkedIn, content strategist Sim D’Hertefelt best put to words what our Plan B was. We created a journalist-informant collaboration model: we identified within our staff dedicated digital storytellers (staff writers and editors with journalism experience). These people would play the roles of journalists and would reach out to experts—our account managers, executives, and outside industry thought-leaders (the subject-matter experts)—who would in turn play the roles of the informants.
As visual designer and content specialist Chris Raymond put it in the same thread, “it is far easier for a journalist to learn domain knowledge than a scientist [account manager] to learn to tell stories…”
This model sped up the content creation process, reduced our overall resource commitment to content creation, and kept our account managers and other staff on task to service their clients. By maintaining informant status, our subject-matter experts could continue to actively grow their knowledge base and contribute to the content process.
The Future of content26’s B2B Blog
While the ultimate measure of the blog’s success will be our conversion rate—how much the increased traffic to the blog will translate to increased business—our goals with the new iteration of the blog are much broader than that.
In the spirit of the classic thought experiment, if a tree falls in the forest, we are now ever more focused on recording the noise and sharing it widely, as well as getting people into the forest to hear it. In addition to our established journalist-informant model of content creation, we have three routes to that goal:
- Social media: Our expanded use of social media, particularly LinkedIn and Twitter, will be aimed at amplifying our thought leadership in the growing niche of content merchandising.
- Brainstorming: As I mentioned earlier, the act of writing is as much about understanding one’s thought process as expressing it. We will use these posts to “think aloud” on the subjects we’ve become experts in, such as content production and distribution, as well as subjects we’re still very much in the learning stage of, such as organizational and leadership development.
- Data sharing: Our new mantra at content26 is “Data. Debate. Decide. Repeat.” We’ll use these posts to share the data about our work that we uncover, in the hopes that you, our readers, can help us understand it. Without data, and without a debate that many people can take part in, a good decision-making process is not possible.
But as I said, the best measure of our success at this point in our company’s growth will be conversion. The formula for our blog conversion is pretty straightforward:
- Produce timely content that helps our clients
- Convey our thought leadership within our niche
- Extend our marketing reach throughout our niche
- Convert the inbound leads our content generates
As far as I can tell, this is as simple (and as challenging) as it gets. If I am missing something, or if you hear one of our trees fall and want to better understand what it means, connect with me here or on Twitter (@mwhitec26). I’m all ears.