I’m going to let you in on a little secret about the future of online marketing. It comes straight from Fred Wilson, a venture capitalist who’s invested in Etsy, Twitter, Tumblr and Zynga (ahh yes, I now know who to thank for Farmville).
It’s this: driving traffic to your site to have conversations with customers and potential customers. In other words, the future is conversational or content marketing.
What is Content Marketing?
Content marketing is giving away something valuable in order to build a relationship with your ideal audience that leads to trust, loyalty and sales.
The concept isn’t new. For nearly 100 years, traditional media has given away content to audiences on television and radio in exchange for advertising revenue.
Facebook and YouTube also give away their product but they rely on you and me to produce the content to support their ads.
Blogs -- This is the easiest way to get started with content marketing. Thanks to blogging platforms like WordPress and Tumblr, you can have your blog up and running (for close to free) in 30 minutes.
Video -- If you want to entertain or teach (or both), start a YouTube channel and put your webcam or iPhone to work on the #2 Search Engine in the world. Chances are, your competitors are not using video so this is a great opportunity to stand out in the crowd.
Podcasts -- Here’s your chance to star in your own radio show and interview your industry heroes or espouse your knowledge on a topic you know a lot about. The beauty of podcasts is in how portable they are. People listen to them in the office, on the commute or in the gym.
The One-Page Content Marketing Plan
As a small business or entrepreneur with limited time and resources, you don’t need an exhaustive guide on content marketing.
What you do need is a simple plan that propels you toward action.
I’ve created a tool called the One-Page Content Marketing Plan to help you craft your strategy. You can download the template at the end of this post. No email opt-in required.
But first, follow these six steps to create your plan:
1. Define your people.
Be as specific as you can in answering these questions:
- Who are you trying to reach with your ideas?
- What does your ideal audience look like?
- Where do they hang out online and what are they talking about there? Are you a part of those communities?
2. Determine your objectives.
Choose two to start (remember: simple). Here are some examples:
- Do you want to generate interest in your products or services?
- Provide support for customers?
- Build a community around your cause?
- Establish yourself as an authority in your field?
3. Set your goals.
Choose two goals that answer this question: What will success look like 6-12 months from now? (That’s about how long it takes to start seeing results from your efforts).
Here are some examples:
- Do you want to land a book deal with a major publisher?
- Publish your own e-book?
- Land a certain number of clients?
- Start an online course for your ideal audience?
- Get a promotion or new job in your field?
- Raise money for an important cause?
4. Determine the types of content you’ll produce.
It’s important to take two things into account here:
a) What your talents are -- focus on your strengths since you’ll be doing this yourself.
b) What your ideal audience wants and needs from you -- talk to people about questions they have and find a way to answer them. If they have nagging problems, solve them.
Once you’ve figured those things out, you’ll have a clearer picture of the kinds of content you should start creating.
- Tutorials -- Teach people something new with easy-to-understand, step-by-step instructions (they’re searching Google and YouTube for this information every day). My Tumblr and Picmonkey tutorials are by far the most viewed articles on the Uncommon.ly site.
- Guides -- A guide doesn’t have to be a 40 page ebook. But it should provide big value to your audience by teaching them a new skill or showing them how to be more successful in their business.
- Interviews -- People love to learn from industry leaders about their work process & routines, their secrets to success or how they overcame setbacks. To differentiate yourself, develop your own interview style and structure your interviews around a common theme. Lifehacker’s How I Work and Copyblogger’s Writer Files are great examples of this.
- Infographics -- Infographics creatively visualize facts and figures and are highly shareable online. Visually, Piktochart and Infogram offer free templates for creating infographics.
- Curated Content -- Most of your what you produce should be original but curated content can provide a great resource for your audience and drive big traffic to your site. Laura Roeder’s post outlining her company’s must-have business tools is a perfect example of this (it’s been shared 650+ times!).
Three BONUS tips on producing content:
- Focus on content that maintains its relevancy and usefulness over time, referred to as evergreen content.
- Educate, Enlighten or Entertain with your content. If you can combine two or more, you’ll maximize your success.
- Start by establishing your blog. It’s the easiest way to gain experience and connect with your audience. As you grow, you can add podcasts or video if your audience wants (or asks) to consume information that way.
5. Commit to a publishing schedule.
The quality of your content is more important than the quantity you produce. Consistency is key though in building an audience through content marketing so commit to a schedule -- even if it’s once a week or twice a month -- and stick to it. As you develop the habit of publishing on a deadline, you can increase the amount of content you deliver.
6. Craft your promotion strategy.
One of the biggest challenges you face online when creating great content is figuring out how to effectively promote it. After all, it doesn't matter how good that content is without an audience to consume it and share it with the world.
This doesn't happen overnight but there are some battle-tested strategies for gaining the attention your content needs to spread online.
Here are a few:
Establish an email list with a provider like Mailchimp (free for up to 2,000 subscribers) and make it easy for people to subscribe to your list.
- Put a sign up form at the top of your blog.
- Put a sign up form at the bottom of each blog post.
- Use a feature box (built-in if you run the Thesis theme) or include your sign up form in a header text widget.OptinAgent offers some great, cost-effective templates.
- Create a Facebook tab with a signup form (Mailchimp).
- Share a link to your sign up form on social media.
Write original emails to your audience (instead of broadcasting your blog posts) with links to your published content online. Write as though you were sending a personal, informal email to a friend.
Franciso Rosales of SocialMouths shared how this strategy helped boost his email subscribers by 500% in one week alone.
Social media isn’t a magic bullet but it can be a great way to drive traffic to your content online. Decide which social media channels you’ll use to promote your content. You don’t have to be on all of them (including Facebook). Focus on where your audience actively participates.
Remember -- don’t be a self-promotional spammer on social media.
Here’s a quick guide for sharing your content on social media the day you publish:
- Facebook -- 2x (can test photo with link vs. link with copy)
- Twitter -- 2x (can test different headlines)
- Google+ -- 1x
- Pinterest -- 2x (test different images and copy with link)
- Tumblr -- 2x (test different images and links)
- LinkedIn -- 1x
Build Relationships, Not Links
Producing great content is hard work. When you're just getting started without an audience, it can be tempting to email influential people in your niche, asking them to promote your work. This isn't content marketing, it's spam.
Mark Schaefer makes this analogy:
"Deluging bloggers with desperate attempts at content placement is not content marketing...If you’re engaging in this practice, you’re having about the same impact as a carnival worker shouting on a crowded midway hoping that somebody will look your way and toss you a link."
Instead, Mark says, focus on creating great content that's RITE -- Relevant, Interesting, Timely and Entertaining. Over time, that content will attract a vigorous audience organically. That's what you want to do.
By the way, there is a right way to interact with influential people online in a way that builds trust and authenticity.
Spend time every day reading, listening and watching content they produce and leave thoughtful, valuable insight in the comments. It is hands down the best way to get on their radar and establish yourself as an authority interested in serving their audience.
Focus on building relationships, not links.
Here's what to do next
It’s never been easier to get started producing content online but competition is stiff. You need a strategy for standing out in a sea of sameness and attracting attention to your site.
Use the One-Page Content Marketing Plan to get started. Here’s the free download (no email opt-in required):
Why no email opt-in? Because I want to help as many small businesses and entrepreneurs as I can with this plan. So forward this email, share it with your friends online, or write about it on your blog.