The Curious Case for Content

By Grace Eyre on 11 04 2012

You're Not a Publisher, So Why Care About Content?

I get it. Blogging isn't your business. You don't want to pay people fiddle around on Facebook. If you have a Twitter account, you just want it to be the kind of place where you make announcements or occasionally remind people that you exist. Content marketing is much more than that. It's a dedication to producing and sharing quality content (written, multimedia, informative, editorial) in a consistent and thoughtful manner. It's holding up your end of the conversation.

I mention this because most of our clients at Mutually Human provide either services or digital products. They either use custom applications to help them perform their service, or the custom application is the product they offer to others. In both cases, a solid content strategy for their service or product can build on the success of the application we've designed and developed for them.

Content marketing is not the same as traditional marketing or advertising. As Tim O'Reilly put it in his SXSW talk, "by creating content that serves an audience rather than the creator, one can build enormous respect and eventually capture value from loyalty. By not publishing advertisements under the guise of editorial content, marketers will better serve their audiences and themselves."

Tim<br />

However, even if you're philosophically on-board with the idea of content marketing, you bristle at the idea of spending money (hard-won venture capital, hard-earned revenue), and time on a project that is tangential to the main purpose of your business.

In this article, State of the Content Industry, Patrick Burke makes a powerful case for the rising relevance of content marketing. He quotes Katrina Wong from Socialbakers,

"Companies and individuals cannot underestimate the value of quality content," Wong says. "The most successful companies… are those that are able to relate their product, message or personnel to more pertinent industry trends."

And from media mogul Barry Diller: "Unless you are adapting every day to what is possible, you really will be wiped away."

"Why does content matter so much?" you wonder, perhaps noting that most people who espouse the value of content are themselves, content marketers. "Why, specifically?" you ask.

Allow me to elucidate.

Part 1: Why

Reason #1: You Shall be Favored by the Google

Chris Horton wrote an excellent article distilling some key points from Google's Search Engine Optimization Guide. In short, Google loves fresh content. If it's new, consistent, and original, their search engines will find, interpret and rank you favorably. It's Google's push to get away from spamming and content farms. They know what makes the Internet good, and as a brand or business, so should you.

Horton excerpts Google's guide:

New content will not only keep your existing visitor base coming back, but also bring in new visitors.
Creating compelling and useful content will likely influence your website more than any of the other factors discussed here.
*Organic or word-of-mouth buzz is what helps build your site's reputation with both users and Google, and it rarely comes without quality content

It's hard to argue with that. I would recommend reading the entire article to learn more about Google's relationship with your content.

Reason #2: You are Part of an Ecosystem

"I sell styrofoam cups," you say. "What does that have to do with anything else?"

Well, first, maybe you should switch to those biodegradable cups made of cornstarch, and then blog about environmental sustainability. Get with the program, man.

But second, you should know that your business is always more than it is. Content marketing will force you to understand how you relate to larger industry trends, and where you stand within the context of your community and current events. You can't continue producing fluff, or talking only about yourself forever. Your audience will lose interest. You need to relate.

In Create More Value Than You Capture, Tim O'Reilly argues that sustained growth over changing market conditions begins with continually creating greater value for the "ecosystem". That is, it is important to make a positive functional or intellectual impact that outweighs (if these two things could be measured against each other), the hard revenue you pull in as a company. Creating and sharing content, for free, is one of the most direct and effective ways to do this.

Simon Sinek

For another really excellent breakdown of this idea, I highly recommend Simon Sinek TED Talk, Start With Why.

Reason #3: The New Consumer

The Harvard Business Review published an article on the consumer cycle called "Branding in the Digital Age: You're Spending Your Money in all the Wrong Places" by David C. Edelman. In it, Edelman emphasizes that today's consumers have an extended evaluation phase when considering a product, especially a large purchase. He says "consumers seek input from peers, reviewers, retailers, and the brand and its competitors. ... Their outreach to marketers and other sources of information is much more likely to shape their ensuing choices than the marketers' push to persuade them."

In the traditional model, an ad would be run with the hope that it had enough appeal to catch a consumer. Under ideal circumstances, the consumer would make the leap by contacting the vendor or coming in to the store.

These days, you can't expect your consumers to make the same leap. Maybe this works if you're selling something very simple, like SweetTarts. The purpose of a SweetTarts ad is to make enough of an impression on your brain that, the next time you're in a grocery store, you'll feel compelled to pick some up.

Larger products , subscriptions, or information-based services don't lend themselves to the same casual in-store browsing. In this case, the customer or client will need to feel sufficiently educated about you before they even contact you. That's where your web content comes in handy. You produce information so that your potential customer, client, investor, or vendor can do the research on you. They want to understand your voice, your credibility, and your working style. Trust me, if they like what they see, free content will never drive them away. If you have presented yourself well, and your service aligns with their needs, it will only pull them in.

That said, as you consider how your business does content, here are some things you should know.

Part 2: How

Point #1: Traditional Marketing Over Social Media is Still Traditional Marketing

There's a reason why I focus on content and not social media. There's a reason why I'm a "Content Specialist" and not a "Social Media Specialist/Expert/Guru/Manager/Whatever". That's because social media is only a platform. Social media is a mechanism (albeit a very good one), for conveying information.

I follow this man on Twitter, who shall remain unnamed. He is a Hollywood consultant for actors and independent filmmakers. He's a business guy who apparently knows how to break people into the industry. I've been following him on Twitter for three of four years now, and he still tweets. He tweets at least once a day. I know nothing else about him, because I've never clicked on any of his links. I've never clicked on any of his links because he keeps saying the same thing over and over again. It's always something to the tune of "Want to break into the industry but don't know how? Click here to get started!" About once a month, he DMs me with the exact same message.

Don't think that because you have a Facebook and a Twitter, that you have moved beyond traditional advertising. That sort of mechanical, one-note symphony of electronic text-bytes is still traditional advertising.

If you want to participate in content marketing, you have to understand what constitutes a dialogue. It doesn't matter who you are or what your business is, you are still a human being. So talk like one.

Point #2: Resist the Urge to Withhold

You've got to resist the urge to think that if you give one solid headline about your product, put a few images on your site, and then leave some contact information, that that's going to be enough. There is a lot of bombast on the Internet. People are skeptical. They aren't going to waste their time calling you unless they feel safer about your credentials. Maybe some will, but plenty won't. You don't want to leave those potential leads out in the cold.

This is especially true for client who might be thinking of engaging you as a vendor on a larger project. If you work business-to-business, credentials and thought leadership are essential.

If you have a product that is new and unique, then it's going to require an explanation. Visitors have no frame of reference, so they need to know how your innovative idea actually works. Don't leave that part hanging, either.

If you believe that your product is obvious in its immediate value, then proceed as usual. Perhaps you're right. For goodness sakes, though, don't hold back on content marketing because you see it as a loss of time and revenue. Don't hold back because you feel uncomfortable parting with your valuable knowledge. Reading an article online is never going to be as valuable as hiring the person behind it. Remember, unless you are specifically a publisher, you aren't selling that content. That content is selling you.

Next Steps and Resources

First, start with your website. Ask yourself what a potential client or customer needs to see when they visit. Fill out the skeletal pages. There are several resources available for helping you take stock of your site's content, including Kristina Halvorson's Content Strategy for the Web.

Kristina Halvorson

Your website is your home base. You need to have your home in order before you start inviting people over.

Second, plan and execute a blog. If you don't like blogs specifically, then plan and execute some sort of content schedule for providing fresh, original goods on your site. This is the stuff that you Tweet and push to Facebook and any relevant forums. Without it, you become a repetitive, sad, hollow little robot.

I recommend this free download from The Content Strategist. Remember, that once you promote your content and imply a regular schedule, you are essentially making a promise to your readers. Don't let them down.

If it makes you feel more comfortable, work on producing regular blog posts before you start promoting them heavily. This will help you get an idea of the time commitment, your capacity to provide such content, and your range of topics, before you get the public involved. Eventually, though, you are going to need to figure out a system for planning, creating, and promoting content.

Why do you need a blog if you already have a site?

In this writer's opinion, there are a few important distinctions between a blog and static site content that are worth considering:

  1. Blogs respond to current events. Blog articles can be your way of talking back to developments within the industry, as they happen.

  2. Blog articles are a bit less formal. Because the expectations are different, blogs are a good opportunity for speaking in your own voice.

  3. Blog articles do not generally comprise the core information about your company. Your site should tell the view everything they need, sans blog. They exist to bring people to the rest of your site and to conversations about broader topics. Speaking of,

  4. The blog is your opportunity to get a bit more theoretical. Here at Mutually Human, we sometimes post technical articles. However, we believe in making quality software that improves people's lives. Many of our blog posts revolve around this philosophy as well.

That's the rundown. I truly believe that content marketing is a positive development in the world of marketing and advertising, and it underscores the role of companies as true agents in their communities. I have several other suggestions for resources, depending on the need. If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to leave a comment, tweet @mutuallyhuman or email me at grace at mutually human dot com.