Archive for the ‘publishing’ Category
Content Publishing Is Hard
One of the hardest things about inbound marketing is coming up with content, particularly content you hope will rout into sales. The problem is, as Mitch Joel points out at Six Pixels of Separation, marketers want to publish about their goods. We’re like those two men selling fruit. We need to unload our product. The entire point of publishing content is to help us do this. But if all we do is egotistically tout our wares, we’ll bore our readership and they will never come back. Worse yet, we won’t make a sale.
There are a few ways to go about content marketing successfully. You could be like Hubspot, which publishes tips and research like a stripper takes off her clothes. Not all of it, just enough to get you to really want more. Or you could be like Joel, who writes more like a journalist, commenting on industry developments. Either way works; neither is easy. Other strategies are popping up all over.
But not everyone can publish the same stuff. Most of the rules of thumb are agreed upon by this point, and though there is still plenty of debate in our industry, there is not really enough for everyone – all the freelancers, contractors, consultants, and organizations – to each have a large audience. There will be some, like Hubspot, who get the audience, leaving smaller firms without.
Hiring Journalists Could be the Answer…
Joel suggests that companies should hire a journalist to publish for them, hopefully creating interesting content that doesn’t just laud the company’s goods or services. This is a pretty good idea, encouraging companies to focus more on the industry than their own profits.
If you look at Joel’s blog, that’s pretty much what he has done. His blog is called “Six Pixels of Separation by TwistImage,” TwistImage being his company. This is something like a sponsorship with the corporation providing hosting. This is probably why he is suggesting that companies that have difficulty cutting out the hard sell from their blog copy should hire a journalist and adopt this set up. He says, “Maybe the reason this Blog has some level of success is because it’s more like journalism than it is about what Twist Image offers and sells (I prefer to write relevant articles about this industry).” The only thing that challenges this rosy picture is that Joel actually is the President of TwistImage.
…But I Disagree
I would argue about what success means in this context. It seems Joel is taking success to be a large readership. To me a corporate blog is not about the industry, it’s about the corporation’s take on that industry, their perspective and point of view. When job seeking, this is one of the first places I go to see what the company is like. When looking at potential business partners or service providers for clients, the blogs help me judge possible synergies. The number of readers is irrelevant compared to the quality of the leads. Six Pixels of Separation is valuable to TwistImage precisely because it is written by Joel, the company President. The blog shows how he understands the industry, a valuable insight and selling point for possible clients.
If a company hires a journalist, they are really publishing a small magazine or sponsoring a blog. This is advertising, and like advertising, the goal is to get in front of as many people as possible. The company may be better off purchasing sponsorships in existing publications. In Joel’s version, the journalist is taken to be unbiased in order to establish industry street cred, but it’s easier to piggy-back off of someone who already has established credibility, potentially multiple someones. And it would probably be a bit cheaper, too.
We have fewer rights to do things with our digital purchases than our physical ones, even though digital is supposed to offer us more freedoms. If there was ever an argument not to buy digital goods, that one is probably it. Just because you handed over your hard earned cash or credit card debt does not mean you actually get to use the product or service you just bought as you see fit. Not by a long shot.
Your Login Details Are Not Yours to Share
Let’s suppose that you want to share your Netflix login with your friends and family. You’re thinking that you bought it, so it should be yours to share if you want. If you live in Tennessee, though, don’t.
Tennessee just passed a law that makes it illegal to share your Netflix login information. The law is meant to target people who sell logins in bulk, but it is worded in a way that if you shared your login with your dormitory floor, or even just your extended family, you could be in trouble to the tune of $2,500 plus jail time if you take $500 or less.
What this basically means is that your digital purchases are not yours. If you want to share movies, buy them on DVD. You do not have the same rights with digital goods as you do with physical ones.
Your Books Are Not Yours to Share
Books, the paper variety, have been one of the most shareable items in the world. Sharing books and other printed material has spread the ideas necessary for political and social improvement, such as Thomas Payne’s “Common Sense” prior to the American Revolution.
Yet, if you own a digital book, you do not have the right to pass it to a friend. Yes, there are systems such as the Nook’s LendMe feature which allows you to pass a book to a friend’s Nook for two weeks, but I honestly have a book on loan from, oh, two years ago (Sorry, Aunt Julie. I promise to return it, eventually).
Besides the Big Brother company watching over your activities, there is a platform war. Because the ebook sharing is based on Nook technology, not the universal epub, I can’t share any books with my father, who owns a Kindle. And he can’t use the Kindle version of this feature with me. This is not an attempt by the book sellers to mimic the freedoms we had with paper books. This is an attempt to get more readers to use their platforms by providing the benefits of the network. It’s more like the Betamax vs VHS wars than going back to visiting a friend’s library.
The worst thing is that these laws and gimmicks are highly unlikely to cut down on piracy. Rather than getting the movies through a semi-legitimate source, many who used to use a friend’s Netflix login are more likely to turn to pirate sources than buy their own accounts. And the inability to pass books on to friends with different platforms is more likely to limit people’s exposure to more material, and you can’t buy what you do not know about.
More than this, however, it’s the question: Who owns these digital goods? Not you. Even though digital opens the opportunities for more freedom with your purchases and information, you actually have fewer rights with digital products than physical ones. You just paid a one-time only renting fee to use them.
What Does Successful Content Look Like?
It is rather tempting to start pumping out content on the web. It’s way too easy to press send. Who hasn’t made that Tweet they later wished they hadn’t? Raise your hand. You know you’ve done it.
But just because it is easy to publish content doesn’t mean that content can’t be a useful tool if handled correctly. I’ve already discussed the elements of a successful content strategy, so this time I’ll discuss what that word “success” means in terms of content.
Content Can Have Different Kinds of Goals
As Kristina Halvorson says in her book Content Strategy for the Web, the first thing you should think of when going about measuring success is what your goals were in the first place. There are two types of goals: those of the business and those of the audience. What is your website’s goal? What is your company’s goal? If this is a personal project, what is your goal in engaging in this activity? What is your audience’s goal in consuming this content?
Once you know your goals, you can decide how to measure them.
The Metrics to Use with Content
When you go about measuring the content, there are a few categories of metrics. They are:
- Reach This can be measured using page views, shares, traffic volume, and the number of new visitors.
- Acquisition Measure this by looking at how often new visitors return to your website, how many pages they viewed, and how long they stayed on the page.
- Conversion The trick here is to measure all activities that lead to a goal in a conversion funnel. This could be looking at how many people click on an ad versus how many sign up for more information versus how many eventually did what you were asking them to do, for instance purchase.
- Retention: Look for how many visitors return to your site and how often, how many customers are returning versus coming for the first time, and how often they view content that is geared towards retained customers.
Always relate your metric to your gaol. For instance, if a user is on your site to buy something, then the metric to watch is conversion. If they are on the website looking for customer service, then the metric is retention.
Don’t Take Snapshots. Shoot Video.
It is important to realize that content has a life-cycle. How is your content behaving in regards to these metrics over time? This is an important part to monitoring your content. If something is broken, you’ll find it this way. If an environmental factor is affecting how people react to your messages, this is how you’ll know. And by tracking how your older content is doing, you can even write better content in the future.
If you work with content online, you need a strategy. A content strategy is straight forward, but not easy, so here are 5 tips to help.
What the Hell is a Content Strategy?
Too often, marketers and the rest of humanity stick content online half-hazard, and, frankly, this doesn’t encourage sales or get people to sign up to your newsletter. It frustrates them. It makes it hard to find what they want, and people are not patient. They will leave your sight quickly. This is what a good content strategy avoids.
The Key Elements of a Content Strategy
There are a few elements that must be in your strategy. Kristina Halvorson goes into great depth about them in her book Content Strategy for the Web. Here’s my distilled understanding:
- 1. Less Is More
Some SEO “experts” suggest loading your website down with content. Please ignore them. Too much content will confuse you and your audience.
Keep in mind that content has two purposes to fulfill: either a business objective or customer service. If your content is just cool, fun, or pretty, axe it. It will drain your resources when it comes time to update everything.
- 2. Know What You’ve Got
This part is tough but necessary. You don’t want to reinvent the wheel, so know what you already have on your website and use that – or get rid of it if it isn’t doing anything.
The only way to know what you have is to look. Don’t estimate. Truly know, in detail, what kind of content is currently living on your website. In general there are two types of audits. The quantitative audit is a list of content you have online and how it’s all related. It tells you who published what, who is responsible for what, and what the content contains. A qualitative audit is more judgmental. You have to read the content and decide how well it is achieving its goals, what those goals are, and if it needs any work. You really have to do both types of audits, but a quantitative audit is probably the place to start.
- 3. Shut Up and Listen
There are several people involved in content creation. If certain individuals in that group balk at taking up an idea, it dies. You have to know who those people are.
Just as with any group of people, everyone has their roles. There are people who request content. Know why they want the content, what they want it to do, and when they need the content by. Then there are people who source the information that goes into content. These are what Halvorson calls “providers.” You have to know how they go about sourcing content and how they judge what they find. There are also creators who, well, create the content using what providers have given them. Really listen to these folks. Know how long they need to finish a project and what kinds of materials they need to do a good job. Reviewers are the people who fact-check content. Closely related are approvers, who give that coveted stamp of approval. The key thing to know about these groups is what they are looking for. How do they judge the work they see? And finally there are the publishers. They are responsible for making sure that content goes live. They have a technical position, so a content strategist must know how they need the materials (pdf, Word doc, or email text?) in order to make work go quickly.
- 4. Give Someone a Crown
With this stable of participants to pull from, the content strategist must know whom to crown king. Someone needs to own the content, be the editor-in-chief. This is actually much harder than it seems, since usually no one wants that responsibility; they have to manage that rag-tag bunch I just described.
But no matter what you think, you are in the content publishing biz, and so you should mimic how the traditional publishers work. Crown someone King. Maybe it’s you. Maybe it’s the project manager. This is a key part to developing a workflow, a how-to process for your content. If you don’t have this, you’ll have a lovely list of goals and ideas, and no one to do them. You need to make a project road map for how to manage the content you are making.
- 5. Don’t Let It Become a Zombie
Perhaps one of the biggest lessons Halvorson teaches in her book is that content doesn’t go away. Once published, it doesn’t disappear. It does die, however, and turn into what could possibly be called a content zombie- a monster of old content that keeps attacking but no longer lives.
Keep content zombies at bay by monitoring your content once it is published. Is it up-to-date? Is it accurate? Or is it a zombie, misleading your customers and damaging your reputation? Monitor your content with any one of the numerous analytics programs, such as Google Analytics. Ask questions about how people are using your content. See how people are sharing your content on social networks. Most importantly, make sure it is updated.
Not Easy But Worth It
Content is a big beast. Like an elephant. As with the proverbial blind men, there are definitely different ways of seeing this creature. But if you are going to tame the beast, you have to see it from all angles.
Know how much content you need to produce. Be aware of what type of content you have and what it is supposed to do. Be on top of the people element – who is involved in the content. Get a good grip on how the content is produced. And finally know what it is doing after you’ve released it on the web.
If you can do these things, you’re content strategy will have good legs to stand on. Maybe even elephant legs.
What if all content were free?
With all the discussion going on about pricing in my Digital Publishing course at Hult International Business School, I had to ask this question. There are people, like Cory Doctorow, who maintain that content should be free. He publishes his books for free online using the Creative Commons license. I actually agree with him since I think that piracy in terms of entertainment materials is just too rampant to fight, and who would want to? Often the pirates are the publisher’s biggest fans, and fighting fans is just weird.
But I can’t lump all publishing together. Entertainment is one thing while business, news, and other more factual writings are distinctly separate. When this information is provided for free, does it maintain an intrinsic value or gain the value of its price – nothing?
John Jantsch from Duct Tape Marketing has outlined 5 pitfalls of free content for a business. Hartley Brody with the Inbound Marketing pros over at Hubspot posted a reply defending free content. This exchange made me ask some very important questions about the value of free content:
How Much Value Do People Get from Free Content?
Jantsch points out that show-up rates for free events are around 25-30%, much lower than would be expected to a paid-event. I can’t speak for everybody, but I can say why I don’t show up to free events I RSVP for: I just can’t be bothered or something else comes up. That something else has more value in my eyes than a free event, and nothing happens to me if I don’t show up. No lost revenue without a gain, for instance. And if I do show up, how much attention will I pay? Will I be more likely to skip out if I hear a friend is having a party nearby?
Brody’s reply to this issue was to say that the event holders (or newsletter senders or whatever flavor of content you produce) should include a coupon or other incentive for people to do what they said they would, such as show up or read, but this isn’t always possible. Newspapers can’t necessarily give out coupons when all their content is free, for instance. And this coupon must be pretty valuable to outweigh my laziness before an event. After all, it’s a gain, not a loss, and humans react more strongly to potential losses than potential gains. They will trudge through snow when sick to attend an event if it means they would have “wasted” their money if they don’t go, regardless that the cost is sunk. This is hard to duplicate with a coupon.
This lack of effort to attend or gain the benefits of free content versus paid means that when someone has actually paid for content, they will actually get more value out of it. If I have paid for a NY Times online subscription, you betcha I’ll be reading most of those articles! When I pay for a single magazine, I go through each page not to miss anything, even when most of it is uninteresting. I feel I have wasted money when I don’t. Do I read all my RSS feeds with such zeal? Nope. I lose nothing by doing so, even though my feeds routinely pump out great information.
How Can We Judge the Value of Free Content?
Jantsch also raised the point about “eroded value.” In his words, “How good can something that’s free really be?” He was more worried about the lack of differentiation between quality content and slapped-together “pitch fests.” When all the prices are the same, telling the two apart is hard. This probably contributes to the lack of effort people will put into attending a free event. Without prior experience, it’s hard to tell if the event is really worth going to.
Brody counters by suggesting that publishers need to build a reputation for quality and then show that reputation off by displaying how many other people have signed up for your content. This still doesn’t display how much the content is worth, however, since it doesn’t answer how many of those newsletter recipients are actually reading the e-mails or have just forgotten to opt-out. With the Internet being so huge, it isn’t that hard to get a large following. Just look at some of the “gurus” on Twitter.
A higher price signals the higher value. The retail industry has known this for ages. They have known that if you want your store to be considered high end, make the scarves expensive. Even though they are really rather cheap to produce, the price gives the items caché and the brand, value.
Prices Might Help
Pricing your content will help you avoid these pitfalls. If you charge for your events, people are more likely to show and truly listen to what you have to say. The price can be used as a way to judge value, too, so the more expensive – to a point – the more valuable.
Now, like Jantsch, I am not suggesting hiding behind a paywall. For instance, displaying ads for expensive items would associate your free content with the value of the displayed merchandise. You can encourage event attendance by having people pay with digital currency received through a game experience. Perhaps a more common and direct system, however, is the freemium system. A newspaper could have its more general reporting up for free and its in-depth coverage behind a small paywall. Longer reports and such could be paid for one at a time. eConsultancy does something like this with their varied level freemium memberships.