3,500 people. 50 countries. Hundreds of breakout sessions. My experience at Content Marketing World 2015 (CMWorld 2015) was a whirlwind of activity, conversations, and lessons, and it’s hard to distill all that into bite-sized pieces. But I think it’s an important part of processing everything I experienced, so I’m going to give it a shot!
Are you making content, or are you making a difference?
One of my favorite points came from keynote speaker Jay Baer, who asked us: “Are you making content, or are you making a difference?” Jay asked us to consider a little thought experiment he likes to refer to as “The Mom Test.”
Basically, it boils down to this: On the one hand, your mother loves you unconditionally and will generally be proud of anything you do. But on the other hand, she’s probably one of the few people who feels comfortable being unabashedly critical of you. Jay shared a few anecdotes of his awkward dance moves and hamfisted attempt to fix his broken bicycle. His mom straight-up told him that he wasn’t good at those things. But when he was asked to deliver a eulogy for his brother, his mom saw how speaking and sharing his words with others was “his thing.”
Jay urged us to consider whether we are creating content just to check an item off a list or whether we are actually putting something into the world that will be beneficial to others. And this is the concept of “The Mom Test” as applied to content marketing.
Ask yourself what you can stop doing rather than what you should start doing
This came up during several of the sessions that I attended. Many content marketers fall prey to “shiny object syndrome,” geeking out over the latest trend, whether it’s a new(ish) format like podcasting or a novel social media platform (I heard a lot about Blab this year).
But instead of spreading our efforts and attention to an ever-fractured group of pursuits, perhaps we should just focus on doing one or two things and doing them exceedingly well.
Of course this sounds simple enough, but it can be a real challenge, especially in the fast-paced, trend-chasing world we’re living in.
Creativity requires time and space
This idea came courtesy of keynote speaker John Cleese, who provided us with several examples of the characteristics of creative thinkers. People who are genuinely creative make play a significant part of their practice, and they delay making decisions as long as possible.
Cleese gave the example of art school students who were asked to compose a still life. Some students snatched their items from the table and started sketching or painting right away, while others examined their objects for a long time before making their selection. They also seemed to not just look at their subject matter, but to perceive it through all their senses. This lengthy appraisal process eventually led to work that was significantly better and more creative than work from the students who made the snap judgment.
He also recommended a book called Hare Brain Tortoise Mind by Guy Claxton. This book contains further examples of how slow, deliberate thinking facilitates creativity, whereas quick decision-making and analytical thinking is better suited for other types of output.
One of my favorite concepts from Cleese’s talk was the idea of a “tortoise enclosure.” It can be a challenge to do your best slow, deliberate thinking when you’re in an open-plan office, for example. So it’s ideal to have a quiet place where you can go and just be. Allowing yourself a little time in a place like this can do wonders for your creativity. It sounds just dreamy to me!
Customers don’t care about how many followers, likes, etc. you have
This idea came courtesy of keynote speaker Kristina Halvorson. It’s easy to get caught up in these types of numbers, because they’re easy to measure. But when it comes down to whether our content is being truly effective, they have absolutely no bearing on it.
Anyone who is creating content needs to think about how they are helping their customers (or potential customers). A few questions that can help guide you are:
- What does my customer/potential customer need to do?
- How can I help?
- How can I be transparent about how things work in my company?
- How can I prioritize my customers over metrics?
So there you have it—just a few of the big ideas that stuck with me during CMWorld 2015. It’s funny because all of these concepts were already familiar to me before I attended the conference. But there’s something about hearing them in a new context, with new examples that makes them seem revelatory and significant.
Did you also attend CMWorld 2015? If so, I’d love to hear some of your key lessons and takeaways.
In my last post, I talked about the first step of starting your Editorial Calendar/Plan of Awesomeness/Anti-Procrastination Toolkit. Did you miss that post? No prob. You can find it here.
Quick recap in case you don’t feel like clicking on that link: start by thinking of general templates or themes that can be used over and over again with different topics or subject matter.
Let me just add a word or two about that initial step. When you’re first going through your ideas, it’s helpful if you can be as unfiltered as possible. Don’t get too caught up in the idea of what may or may not actually be feasible with your time and resources. Think of all the possibilities and try to withhold judgment.
Then, once you have your list of ideas, you can begin to give them weight. Which ones are the easiest for you to write or create most easily? Which ones will have the most immediate benefit to your audience? Put those at the top of your list.
When I first started the AfterCollege Blog, I was lucky that I had a little bit of time to come up with a backlog of content before I actually started publishing. If you have the opportunity to do this, I’d highly recommend it. There are a few reasons for this approach:
1. You’ll feel less pressure once you start publishing if you already know what your next few posts are going to be (and already have that content ready).
2. It takes a while to find your stride with writing/editing/planning. How much time does it take you to bang out a first draft? Do you like to edit right away or leave some time between writing and editing? Will you ask someone else to look over your post before it’s published? You can use this initial content-creation period as the time to figure out how this all works for you.
3. Once you start writing, you’ll discover that certain posts are easier for you than others. In my case, I was doing a lot of interviews and posts that required another person to contribute in some way.
This was important because it lent my blog authority, but it was also really frustrating, because it meant that I couldn’t complete certain posts until I heard back from the other contributor.
Once I realized this was the case, I figured out that there were two basic types of posts: those I could write myself, and those that relied on someone else.
This helped me to create another list of “independent” content so that I could always create this type of post when I was waiting on someone else. It took some of the pressure off of the waiting period and helped me plan my strategy for the following months.
Keep in mind that your month or so (or whichever length of buffer feels comfortable to you) of content is not set in stone. You can always make last-minute additions and switcheroos if a timely topic comes up that you’d like to write about.
One final thought about editorial calendar planning. When I was first coming up with the ideas for the AfterCollege Blog, I assumed that people would be reading the content in a linear fashion, since that’s how I was writing it. But unless you already have a sizable mailing list (which is unlikely if you are just getting started), people are going to be coming to your posts in all sorts of random ways.
Sometimes people will find your blog through a Google search, sometimes it’ll be through a social media link, and sometimes it’ll be from a link in someone else’s blog or website. In the majority of those cases, they won’t end up on your top page—they’ll be arriving at a specific post.
This means two things—one is that you don’t need to agonize over publishing your posts in a certain order and the other is that each blog post really should stand alone. Sure, you can link to previous posts, but don’t assume that your readers will have read them. Think about what would happen if someone ended up on a specific post through a Google search or social media link, and throw them a frickin’ bone when it comes to making your content clear and easy to follow.
Do you feel better equipped to go through the initial content planning stages of your blog now? Have any remaining questions? Let me know in the comments!
We’ve all been there: Staring in front of an empty screen, trying to figure out what we want to say. Some may call it “writer’s block,” some may call it “Writer’s Evasion,” like Ann Handley who explains in this hilarious interview on Copyblogger, “I believe in Writer’s Difficulty and Writer’s Procrastination and Writer’s I Wonder If There’s Any Donuts Left I Should Go Check.”
I currently oversee two blogs at work, where we publish seven posts a week. If left to my own devices, I would probably spend at least 70% of my time freaking out about not having enough content.
But there’s a funny thing about that. If you spend approximately 42 minutes out of every hour fretting about how much content you have, that leaves you with very little time to actually create the content.
I’ve found that one of the best ways to get over this conundrum is to have a plan. In my case, I refer to it as the “Editorial Calendar,” though I suppose you could refer to it as “The Plan of Awesomeness” or the “Anti-Procrastination Toolkit” or whatever else gets you fired up.
This is how it works: I started by coming up with a list of all the possible ways I could write about my topic. (This was not an exhaustive list, since I would still be in the list-making stage if that were the case!) Rather than come up with specific topics, I thought more about broader categories.
It can be tempting to get caught up thinking about very specific posts you’d like to write, and there’s nothing wrong with making a list of those as well. But in the early stages, it helps to think in these broad categories.
To give you some concrete examples, when I was starting the AfterCollege Blog, I thought of all the types of posts that would be helpful to student and recent grad job-seekers, and came up with things like the “Résumé Teardown,” which is where a hiring manager critiques a real job-seeker’s résumé, or the “A Day on the Job,” where we interview someone about what they do on a daily basis at work.
These types of posts serve as templates that we can use again and and again but with different topics. So for example, we have résumé teardowns for sales, front-end development, PR positions, etc. And we do the same with “A Day on the Job,” “The Hiring Manager’s Perspective,” and many of our other categories.
In my next post, I’ll talk about organizing and maintaining your Editorial Calendar/Plan of Awesomeness/Anti-Procrastination Toolkit.
Until then, happy writing!
Things I knew about Cleveland before Content Marketing World:
- Liz Lemon loves it.
- Cleveland’s main export is crippling depression. (And every other “fact” that’s shared in this “hastily made tourism video” and this one.)
Things I know about Cleveland after attending Content Marketing World:
- It’s very warm in September (when you’re not in a heavily air-conditioned conference center all day.)
- The Rock And Roll Hall of Fame is awesome.
- Umm… see above?
So, yeah, the time I spent in Cleveland didn’t taught me too much about this city. But, on the plus side, my time at Content Marketing World has helped me learn a few things about content marketing and conference-going in general.
Here are my observations:
- Personal connections matter
I observed this through my own experiences and the point was hammered home in Mark Schaefer‘s presentation on making Twitter your content marketing’s best friend. (In case you missed it, Mark talked at length about how Twitter is best used as a method for being authentically helpful and building real relationships.)
I’m new to the world of conferences (this is only the third that I’ve ever attended), and naturally shy, so I’m still trying to figure out the best way of making connections.
I’m slowly discovering that it’s helpful to have at least a few people you’d like to meet at a conference ahead of time. It makes it a little less intimidating if you set some specific goals.
Because I’m new to this, I set the bar pretty low—I had two San Francisco-based content marketers I wanted to meet (Is it silly that we had to wait until we were across the country to meet in person? Maybe a little, but hey, it worked…) and a few presenters I wanted to speak to at least briefly.
This helped take some of the scariness out of those empty blocks of networking times.
… but social media can help you be more social
I had contact information for one San Francisco content marketer, but only a Twitter handle for the other. So when we made plans to meet up, Twitter helped me get in touch and make sure everyone knew where to be and when.
It was also fun to see how everyone tweeted about our little meet up before and afterwards. So social media helped us connect, then meet in person, and then affirm that connection afterwards. I can also see us staying in touch via Twitter until the next content marketing event draws us to a new, exotic destination.
One of the speakers I was hoping to connect with was Ann Handley. I saw her present at the Copyblogger Authority Intensive back in May and started reading her latest book, Everybody Writes, so I was hoping to meet her briefly and get her autograph. (Yes, I’m a big nerd that way. Deal with it.)
Because I follow Ann on Twitter, I saw that she was handing out goodies at Content Marketing World, so I tweeted to let her know that I was hoping to get her autograph. She replied and we exchanged a few tweets, so when I actually met her in person, she kind of knew who I was! Social media helped me feel more comfortable being social in person.
If you’re shy like me, social media can be a great way of overcoming that initial hurdle and establishing some common ground with strangers so they don’t seem so… strange.
- Don’t rely on the internet (always have a back-up)
Oh, boy, I’m going to do my best not to turn this into a rant. Let’s just say that the internet connection both at my hotel and in the conference center was… less than ideal.
There were numerous occasions where I just couldn’t get my phone or my laptop to connect to the internet, which meant that I couldn’t access email, Twitter, or Google docs.
I’m still trying to figure out my optimal note-taking and simultaneous social-sharing strategy, but I find that it’s easier to be more thorough with everything when I’m on my computer. And while I love Google docs when the internet is flowing smoothly, they make me want to pull my hair out any time I get that “Reconnecting” box (you know, the one that’s the color of a wan banana). I also kept getting a “Twitter has failed” message on my phone, which was painfully accurate.
Thank goodness for my local version of Evernote on my desktop, which pretty much saved the day. Every. Single. Time.
What am I trying to say here? Always have a back-up.
- It’s a big, bad world out there, and I only understand a sliver of it
I’ve been working as a content marketer for a year and a half, so this is a field that is still relatively new to me.
Some of the sessions felt a little too large for me—either the speakers had bigger budgets, more buzzwords, or heftier teams to handle all the tasks and initiatives they discussed.
Copyblogger‘s Brian Clark and Jerod Morris used the analogy of TV/film and expounded on the importance of having a producer, a director, and talent to lead your content marketing team. This was both inspiring and intimidating.
Other presenters talked about their comprehensive, all-encompassing content and social strategies or the projects they’ve accomplished with tens of thousands of dollars (or more).
And others just baffled me with terminology and concepts I’d never heard of before.
But I’ll take a cue here from Jerod and his concept of “Primility” (pride + humility). At this stage in my career, the whole point of attending these conferences is to learn, so I absolutely should find myself experiencing moments where I feel out of my depth. That’s why I’m there—to expand my mind (or melt my face, as Jason Miller so colorfully put it).
I’m happy I had the opportunity to see so many talented presenters (and watch adorable kitten videos—thank you, Shafqat Islam for introducing me to BuzzFeed and Friskies’ Dear Kitten). And I feel both humbled and inspired by all the sessions I attended and people I spoke with.
Were you at Content Marketing World? What were some of the lessons that stood out to you?
Or, do you have any tips on how to make the most of your time at a conference? Drop me a line in the comments!
Back when I was getting ready to go to college, finding a job was admittedly not a huge thought weighing on my mind.
But at some point I did sit down with my dad and ask for his opinion about whether it made sense to go to the small liberal arts college I had my mind set on, or whether I should attempt to do something more “marketable” (though I’m sure at that stage I had no idea what that word even meant).
In his infinite wisdom, my dad said, “Melissa, most of the jobs that will exist when you graduate haven’t even been invented yet. So forget about training for a specific job.”
Now, my first real job after college was teaching English in Japan, which was not exactly a new profession, but flash forward a few more years, and, like always, my father was right.
My current job title is “Content Marketing Manager,” which I get a big kick out of, since when I started I had never even heard of content marketing before.
So what exactly is content marketing? And how did I get a job doing something I didn’t know anything about?
Let’s start with the definition: The basic idea of content marketing is that you create blog posts, infographics, videos, and other types of “content” to help educate potential customers. You share information with them freely to establish yourself (or the organization you represent) as an authority figure, educate them about the problem they’re experiencing, and present your goods or services as a possible solution.
And how did I manage to get a job in this field I’d never even heard of?
Well, it just so happens that I actually already knew a lot about creating content from my years working as a writer and editor.
It turns out that all those blog posts, articles, podcasts, and other things I’d been doing in my previous jobs were examples of “content.” And the journalistic training I’d received in interviewing, fact-checking, and proofreading helped to ensure that the content I created lived up to a certain standard.
I was also really lucky that the person who created my position and hired me (Teresa Torres) already understood that, so even though the job title was “Content Marketing Specialist,” she spelled out very clearly that it was a full-time writing position and used writing samples as the main way she evaluated candidates.
This is not to say that I already knew everything about content marketing—far from it! There’s always more to learn about analytics, headline writing, SEO, social media, and tons of other related topics. And I’m grateful to companies like Copyblogger for leading the way—not only do they write about content marketing in an educational and entertaining manner, but their entire business is built on content marketing, so they provide an excellent example to aspire to.
There are a few takeaways from this post:
- Don’t assume that you’re not suitable for a job just because you’ve never heard of it!
- If you’re the one hiring someone, be open-minded about the hiring process. Think about which skills the person will already need to possess, and which ones they can learn on the job.
- Father (or at least my father) really does know best.
Thanks for reading! Have you been hired for a job you’d never heard of? Want to talk to me about content marketing? Feel free to reach out!
I originally published this post on LinkedIn. You can find it here: “How I landed a content marketing job (without knowing what it meant).”