The Rules of Engagement: 9 Principles of Smart Content Marketing

rules of content marketingYou’ve heard the same terms we have in recent years: Content marketing, branded content, custom publishing, or – the least favorite one I heard recently – corporate content creation. Ugh.

OK, so the semantics are less than inspired – no big surprise there. But the opportunity all those terms point at is indeed a big one.  In the age of ubiquitous digital media, companies from kitchen-table startups to Fortune 500s are making a huge shift — from advertorial to editorial, from spectator to player, by discovering the power and potential of original content.  Where would Groupon be without the creative chops of its writers?

As ill-defined as content marketing might be at this nascent stage, defining success in this new discipline is no simple task either. But there are some guiding principles we think everyone should agree on. Here are a few we believe in at Orginal9.

Good content deserves a good purpose

Content programs need strategic objectives like anything else, whether it’s lead generation, brand exposure, SEO, or some other goal that content might serve more effectively than other channels or tactics.  Want to launch a new company blog?  First, ask why. Then plot a blog strategy that suits the goal.

Authenticity matters

Even the subtlest forms of self-promotion are like repellent to readers whose trust you’re trying hard to win.  Smart brand publishers let their expert contributors find – and tell – stories as they see fit; and encourage lots of outside linking and attribution of source material.

Content isn’t a campaign – it’s a long-term conversation with readers that requires constant sustaining

One blog post per week doesn’t make a blog, just extra work for the folks you ask to write the posts.  Successful content sites, apps, blogs, and other properties are long-term value propositions – and grow through constant publishing, promotion, syndication, sharing, planning, assigning, and partnering.  Get after it.

One blog post doesn’t fit all

Brand publishers have many of the same tools as media companies to produce a multitude of content types that best suit the medium and content itself.  The standard-issue blog post is still a great workhorse, but smart publishers can mix in slide shows, infographics and cartoons, video, and other spinoffs to draw new readers and keep the existing ones coming back for more.

Build it, and no one comes unless you give them a reason

Brands can create award-winning blogs, videos and other content types, but without an authentic social promotion strategy that gets that content percolating in places where their audiences hang online, all that great content gets lonely very fast. And probably doesn’t win any awards.

Successful content marketing doesn’t want to be 100% centrally managed

The efforts of managers, editors, and others back at Content Marketing HQ have limits on the social Web.  For starters, passing content through layers of reviews and edits bogs down production and almost always yields a muddled final product while slowing down post frequency. But there’s an even more important reason to respect and trust the individual content creators – your subject matter experts, bloggers, and artists. Their enthusiastic involvement in social promotion often drives the most valuable kinds of traffic.

It’s not all about you

There’s always a place for promotional content and company news. But being a successful publisher – and now, content marketer — means delivering content that genuinely serves your readers’ needs, not your brand’s. In return, you gain their trust and their attention. That’s a great deal.

It’s not all about SEO

Making content discoverable to Google is often as important as the substance of the content itself – whether it’s a piece of service journalism, a data-driven infographic, or something else.  Content producers need to incorporate basic SEO 101 into their daily routines.  At the same time, getting too religious about the latest page-rank formulas and other requirements can work against the most powerful variables of quality content – narrative, voice, credibility, trust, humor – and turn a creative process robotic.

It’s not all about the Web

Great content should meet business audiences wherever they want or need to see it, and on the platform they use the most  – whether it’s behind the old desktop screen at the office, on a tablet app out in the field, or email on a smartphone.

 

 

Jeffrey Davis

Jeffrey has spent the last 15 years covering technology’s overhaul of business and media — as a founding editor of Business 2.0 magazine, executive editor of CBS Interactive’s BNET, and now as editorial director at Original9, helping brands tap into the power of great content.

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