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.
Both events will take place over September 8–11, 2015, and both have an impressive lineup of speakers, presenters, and fun events.
When I realized that both events would take place over the same few days, I decided to put it out there in the Twittersphere to see if anyone else could help me make my decision.
As I expected, the folks at HubSpot responded almost immediately. (They tend to know what they’re doing on social media.)
I have to admit that they tempted me with the offer of both Amy Schumer and the cake.
But of course the folks at CMI didn’t leave me hanging, either.
Also, note the fact that the folks at HubSpot favorited this tweet. Very sweet of them!
In a very tiny nutshell, this is how I distinguished between the two events:
Content Marketing World
- Held in Cleveland
- I attended last year, so I know what to expect (both a plus and minus)
- Content focused
- The Content Inc. Industry Lab is focused on startups and small businesses, so a great fit for me
- Held in Boston
- I’ve never been, so I don’t know exactly what to expect (both a plus and minus)
- Not just content focused, and in fact not even just marketing focused—includes sessions on sales, design, and other topics
- Some sessions are very HubSpot focused, and I was not using HubSpot at the time
- Seems to be a really fun, cool event (yes, I totally bought into their marketing materials)
Ultimately, I decided to attend Content Marketing World, even though no one promised me cake if I decided to do so. However, just a few days ago, look what showed up in my Twitter feed:
So that confirms it—I must’ve chosen well… right?
Have you attended Content Marketing World and/or Inbound? How would you characterize each one? If you had to choose only one to attend, which one would you choose?
And finally, what’s your favorite flavor of cake? I’m partial to funfetti myself.
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!
Short answer? Yes.
For the slightly longer answer, read on.
Confession time: I’m not sure if I’m exactly the type of reader that Ann had in mind when she wrote this book. As best as I can tell, she wrote the book mainly for people who:
- have a strong aversion to writing, but need to write in their professional lives
- are what she affectionately terms “adult-onset” writers (in other words, people who were scarred by negative experiences and swore off writing for a decade or so)
- lack confidence in their writing abilities and need a friendly guide to coach them through some of the basics
I, on the other hand:
- have been obsessed with writing for as long as I can remember (My earliest masterpiece was some text I dictated to a preschool teacher to accompany one of my drawings. “This is a monster. He scared a ghost. The ghost scared the monster. Last night I saw a Dracula and three debils [sic].” Chilling commentary on the post-modern condition or a factual narrative of Halloween? You decide.)
- have loved every English teacher I’ve ever had (perhaps with the exception of Mr. Page, a cranky old Englishman who wanted us to write down everything he said verbatim. “It took me years to compile all this information and you’re not writing it down! TAKE NOTES!” But even he had a certain charm…)
- have devoted the majority of my career to writing and pretty much spend a good chunk of every workday writing and editing
And yet, I’m not too proud to say that I still have a lot to learn. Especially since I’m relatively new to this whole content marketing gig and at work I often get asked to write or edit things like marketing emails or landing pages (which were decidedly not on Mr. Page’s AP English syllabus).
Everybody Writes appeals to me because Ann strikes a perfect balance between informative, entertaining, and straight up hilarious.
In one of my favorite passages, she alters a quote from Mean Girls to make a point about high school-mandated writing styles:
“What you learned in high school might’ve once been a helpful guidepost. But it’s time to let go. As Janis says in the movie Mean Girls: ‘That’s the thing with five-paragraph essays. You think everybody is in love with them when actually everybody HATES them!’
Actually, Janis was talking about the school’s mean girls—The Plastics. Not essays. But same dif.”
Whether she’s offering tips on the difference between “bring” and “take,” a cool app that’ll prevent you from opening Facebook while you’re trying to draft your latest blog post, or just making a Tina Fey reference (because… why not?), Ann’s writing is clear and helpful. And friggin’ hilarious.
In Everybody Writes, Ann talks about having “pathological empathy” for your readers. Basically, you always want to think about what benefits they’ll get from reading whatever you’re writing. What’s in it for them? I love this concept. Because even though writing can feel like a very egotistical pursuit, if you leave it at that, most people won’t bother to read it.
So, in the interest of anyone who happens to be reading this, I’ll stop telling you why you should read Everybody Writes and just let you get on with it!
P.S. Do you have a long, boring commute? Do you get amped up about listening to audio books while going for a run? Or maybe you feel nostalgic for your childhood days when your parents would read to you? Whatever the case, there’s good news! Everybody Writes is now also available as an audio book on audible.com. Check out a little snippet of it here.
If you associate the term “blog” with some ’90s era hacker, like Keanu Reeves’s character Neo in The Matrix, it might be time to reboot and reconsider. Blogging is no longer just for authority-questioning individuals—it’s become a legitimate form of communication for all types of people, and now for companies as well.
I’ve been blogging for about a year and a half on behalf of my current employer, AfterCollege (I manage the student-facing AfterCollege Blog and the university recruiting focused Employer Blog), and I’d like to share a few of the benefits I’ve observed so far.
Let’s start with the basics. What exactly is blogging?
To put it very simply, blogging is writing articles that are published online (rather than in a print publication). Blog posts are usually arranged in reverse chronological order, so the most recent content is at the top of the page and you scroll down or back to see posts that were written earlier.
Blogs cover everything you can imagine (and probably more). Nail art? Yep. Expat life in Paris, Paraguay, and everywhere in between? Absolutely. Hula hooping? You bet.
Some blogs are purely passion projects and don’t lead to any sort of money-making, while some are used by small business owners and “solopreneurs” to help get their message out to a wider audience.
And nowadays, most companies have realized that blogging is an excellent way to build brand recognition and a key component of their content marketing strategy. (For more on content marketing, check out my previous post.)
Do your eyes glaze over any time you hear someone use the phrase SEO (search engine optimization)? I won’t go into too many of the gory details here, but let’s suffice it to say that you want to be the answer to the questions people are asking when they use a search engine, and one of the best ways to make that happen is to create a regular stream of fresh, useful content.
HubSpot published the results of a ContentPlus report claiming that company sites with blogs have 434% more indexed pages than sites without them. Indexed pages lead to higher search engine rankings—and to more traffic to your site.
Google recently did away with the cute little photos they were publishing next to an author’s name when they showed up in search results, but Google still gives preference to people who have established Google authorship. If you regularly update your blog with high-quality, useful content by writers with Google authorship, you’ll be ahead of the game when it comes to coming out on top of search results.
But if all that sounds like a lot of mumbo jumbo, here are a few anecdotes to illustrate the power of starting a blog for your business.
- Blogging helps you find quality applicants for open positions
AfterCollege helps students and recent grads discover entry-level jobs and internships through the Explore feature on our website (students tell us their school, major, and graduation date, and we generate a list of positions, companies, and industries that we think would be a good fit). We’re a pretty small company, but we do occasionally hire people to join our own team. When we were looking to hire interns this summer, we naturally posted openings on our own site.
Something interesting happened when I interviewed one candidate who had applied for the Editorial & Social Media Internship position. It turned out that this candidate, a recent graduate who had received a few offers but hesitated to accept any of them, had not found the position on our site initially. The candidate had done a quick Google search for “alternative things to do after college” and found the AfterCollege Blog (and the post advertising our open positions). The time the candidate had spent reading the AfterCollege Blog meant that this applicant was already familiar with our company, our mission, and our values, so it was easy to tell from our conversation that this person would be a good fit at our organization.
- Blogging helps you establish yourself as a thought leader
Having a company blog also gives us the opportunity to share our knowledge and establish ourselves as thought leaders. This might seem like something that’s a little hard to prove (and it is), but occasionally it pays off in a major way. When our CEO was at a conference a few months ago, he met another thought leader in our industry, who knew all about us because of our blog and the content that we’ve been creating and sharing. I’ve also reached out to people to request interviews and been pleasantly surprised when they are already familiar with AfterCollege because they have read our blog.
- Blogging puts you in direct contact with your customers/clients
One of my favorite features on the AfterCollege Blog is the “I Got a Job!” series. Any time a student gets a job through our service, we get in touch to ask them if they’d like to be interviewed about their experience. It’s so much fun to hear the success stories and see how our service really does help students and recent grads with the job search.
Some students and recent grads have stumbled upon our blog, left a comment that sparked a conversation, and ended up writing guest posts for us. It’s rewarding to see your content resonate with your audience and to open up a dialogue in that way.
It’s not all sunshine and roses—sometimes people leave us negative comments, explaining their frustrations with certain features or functions of our site. But those are helpful, too. We use criticism as an opportunity to evaluate if there are changes we can make to improve our users’ experience.
We can even take those questions and frustrations and turn them into content for the blog. So for example when one student complained about the functionality of our Explore feature, we realized that we could write a blog post that explained how to get the best possible results. Or on the employer side, many organizations struggle to write job listings, so we wrote a post that offered some tips and best practices.
These are just a handful of the benefits I’ve observed since launching the two AfterCollege blogs, but I’d love to hear your thoughts. How has blogging helped your organization? Let me know in the comments!
I originally published this post on LinkedIn. Find the original post here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/article/20140830150100-29684472-why-start-a-company-blog
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).”