Aligning for success: Forget #squadgoals, let’s talk about #contentgoals

If you spend any time on Instagram, you’ll be familiar with the hashtag “squadgoals.” The aspirational term encompasses what a group of friends wants to accomplish together, or underscores the successes of an existing friend group. Like a lot of social media, it’s a term used to show off just how cool the user is.

#contentgoals is the #squadgoals for brand marketers and corporate communicators ?

And, like a lot of social media, there’s a corollary for communicators. Let’s call them #contentgoals. These are the measurable outcomes that you aspire to accomplish with your content.

It’s not enough to check the box off your marketing to-do list and put content out there without considering your goals. It’s also not enough to just have the goals and not execute a strategy that can make them happen. Here’s one approach to make those #contentgoals a reality.

Define the content goal(s)

This is the most important piece of the process: defining the business objective of the content campaign. What is the desired impact on your business? This is usually singular, as the more defined you can be, the better. Common objectives include: sell more of a product, increase leads at a specific funnel phase, reduce cost-per-lead, raise awareness about a company, or enhance a brand’s position in the marketplace through thought leadership.

Your objectives define the entire approach, so never skip this step!

There’s no point in just creating content for content’s sake. Some campaigns will nest objectives within a broader context. For example, a campaign to enhance a brand’s positioning through content might break down further into a goal of placing more executives at conferences and to increase the quality of candidates applying to the company.

This is the best time to bring other folks into the discussion. Without the right people in the room, the objectives might not accurately reflect the organization’s goals.

It’s best to have the buy-in at the objective stage, and then move through the following stages with only targeted input. This prevents getting stuck in an endless roundabout of approvals.

Get inspired

Once you are aligned around objectives, now is the time to look externally. Keep an eye on industry blogs, mainstream tech news sites, analyst whitepapers, social media and other channels to identify brands using content in a way that achieves the same objectives. Just like all content is not created equally as far as quality, each content distribution channel/method is useful for specific objectives.

Observe the brands that seem to be achieving similar objectives and benchmark. Especially brands from outside your industry! There’s a wealth of best practices from companies that might not play directly in your space.

First, look to trade media for in-industry examples. Next, to find inspiration from outside of your industry, start with a search for terms like “content conversions,” “content conversion ideas,” etc.

Plan the work

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when it comes to creating content. Whether for a company blog or a product marketing campaign, the planning process is intimidating. The questions are broad and hard to nail down: What to say? How to say it? Which channels to say it on? How to measure success?

Sorry to say: There’s no shortcut here. You simply have to do the work up front! So start answering the essential questions, using the objectives defined earlier as the framework to avoid scope creep:

  1. Who are we talking to? This might seem obvious, especially for those that have smartly defined the audience for their primary company blog. However, each content campaign is going to have its own defined audience. There may be multiple audiences, and then content will offshoot to target each audience. Avoid targeting too many audiences, because then you might not finish the campaign due to over-complexity.
  2. Why are we talking to them? This question might be partially or totally answered during the defining objective phase. Regardless, it’s good to bring this reminder into the process here.
  3. What do we want to say to them? As marketers and communicators, messaging is our primary tool. Adjust you’re messaging according to your audiences, And be sure to focus on their needs, not your company’s. Those brands that only talk about themselves come across as selfish and aloof. No one wants to do business with those types of brands!
  4. What channels do we want to say it to them on? Hint: channels that your target audiences use! It’s best to go where your audience is. While we advocate for owned media channels like company blogs, it takes work to get people to come to you. Look to blend your own channels with third parties. Engage forever your audiences are and push them back to your own brand experience.
  5. Who is responsible for creating the content? This includes laying out the approval workflow, with expected timelines. Be realistic here! Everyone on the team should know their deadlines, and you (as the manager) should back in whatever extra time is needed for delays.
  6. How are we going to measure success? With 22% of American CMOs/CFOs thinking that digital marketing doesn’t tie its output to concrete results, try to move beyond vanity metrics to specifics. Vanity metrics, like pageviews or shares, don’t tell a complete picture. Even if it takes more time to integrate content into marketing automation and/or CRM software, it’s worth the time investment. If, for whatever reason, you can’t make those integrations, consider adding a CTA to the campaign. Even an email capture form is a valuable measure. You could also ask a question like, “After reading this content, are you more likely to consider our company?”

How you go about answering these questions is organization-specific. If you have a consensus culture, then be sure to involve all necessary decision makers upfront to avoid bottlenecks later. In this case, you might want to fold this step into the Identifying Objectives stage. This reduces the chance that the project gets stuck in the organizational mud.

If you are flying solo, don’t skip this step! It’s easy to feel as if there’s not enough time when you’re the only one doing everything. Try to take it down a notch, draft these answers, and then refer back to your answers periodically. This will help if you get stuck at any point during the process.

Work the plan

Finally, execute! But don’t get caught up in the excitement and forget the plan! It happens often: we get so caught up in doing the things that we forget why we are doing them in the first place.

Set some time on the calendar to refer back to the plan. This allows you to adjust the plan mid-way if you need to. The frequency should depend on the length of the plan: longer-term projects need more regular check-ins while projects with shorter timeframes likely won’t need as many.

The final phase, after you’ve created the content distributed, is to the analyze performance against your plan. We’re not going to go too deep into this here — that’s a perfect topic for another article.

Real talk: This is without a doubt the hardest part. After spending enthusiasm on planning, and effort on execution, it can be easy to get lost in analysis.

Work towards a “good enough” plan and leave fuel in the tank to cross the finish line! Once you have managed the complete process, you will feel proud and driven to do it again. And ideally, you will be armed with the metrics that help you make the case for continued investment in content across your organization.

‘Freelance isn’t free’: 4 behaviors that mitigate company risk in the gig economy

Companies are increasingly turning to freelancers for tasks that were previously done in-house. This shift has been encouraged by employees branching out on their own to take their deep domain expertise to the open market.

Many employees discover that they are able to earn more money with their skills out at a market rate. One massive tradeoff with this arrangement is that these employees lose traditional employment protections, such as health insurance, disability insurance, retirement contributions, and other benefits.

Another significant trade-off is the security of a bi-weekly paycheck. Freelancers are put at an enormous risk, as it’s not always assured that company will pay for services rendered.

For companies that hire freelancers, it’s important to understand that these relationships should be taken as seriously as any other vendor.

The Freelancers Union estimates that a whopping eight out of 10 freelancers struggle to either get paid on time or at all. The organization, which represents hundreds of thousands of freelancers, has recently launched an initiative called #FreelanceIsntFree. The objective is to remind companies the freelancers deserve to be paid for work performed, as reliably as internal employees are.

This issue of non-payment has recently received more attention than ever, as the city of New York became the first city to implement stringent protections of freelancers. These rules include the right to timely payments, protection from retaliation, and up to $25,000 in fines for repeat violators. Even if you do not employ freelancers based in New York City, it’s enlightening to read the full rules. They signpost a potential path for many other jurisdictions.

As groups like the Freelancers Union continue to amass massive support, these types of freelancer protections are sure to expand far beyond the city of New York. So, in order to prepare your company for emerging regulations about how freelancers are managed, here are four ways that you can mitigate risk in the gig economy.

#1: Insist on contracts

A right to a written contract is the backbone of the New York City regulations. While that sounds obvious, not all freelancers have a contract with clients. Sometimes a project is too to fast-moving to stop and do a contract, and sometimes freelancers feel like a contract is over-kill. There’s also some reluctance to require contracts, as many companies have robust legal departments that prevent many freelancer contracts from being approved.

So insist on a contract without dense legalese. Focus instead on the parameters of the project and the expected milestones. Clarity keeps projects on track.

And just because something is listed as a milestone on the contract doesn’t mean that it can’t be adjusted in the future. The point is simply to get everybody aligned around the timeline. This eliminates any future discussions that the project scope was not clear. It prevents scope creep, which can dramatically increase the cost of the project for your company.

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#2: Mark milestones

The majority of professional freelancers pride themselves on being professionals in their fields. This means that they understand the importance of milestones for tracking progress. As mentioned above, these rough milestones should be baked into any contract.

As the engagement unfolds, these milestones should be marked as completed. Progress should be tracked, and any adjustments to future milestones made immediately.

Milestones are also an important litmus test to ensure that you’re only working with the highest quality freelancers. If you find that a potential freelancer is hesitant to commit to milestones, it’s probably best to move on. You don’t want to end up in a situation where you either have to fight about money owed or decide milestones on-the-fly.

Clarity upfront saves time down the line. After all, if using a freelancer takes many more hours of your time to manage, then it’s really not worth it in the end!

#3: Communicate!

Some of this advice could also be made for freelancers, of course. So, even though you are the client and the freelancer is the service provider, don’t let your freelancer define your relationship.

Take an active role in communication, and be sure to implement the right workflows to keep the communication flow consistent and effective. By taking ownership of communication, you also show the freelancer that this is important to you as the client.

If your team has a communication tool like Slack, consider inviting the freelancer as a guest to be sure they’re up to speed on anything pertinent to their work.

Remote workers are often out of the loop on things the managers think they know. While it might come across as too eager, over-communicating at least delivers visibility and transparency. Under-communicating facilitates inaccurate conclusions to be made and rumors to flow freely.

#4: Pay on time

Hope doesn’t pay the bills! Your company benefits greatly from the cost savings associated with employing freelancers versus employees — this cost-savings is one of the key reasons why the freelance economy is thriving. Remember that these freelancers are not only absorbing common expenses as a cost of doing business, but they’re also responsible for paying the portion of payroll taxes usually paid by the employer.

So, do your part in fostering the freelance economy and pay your freelancers on time and as agreed per the contract. If milestones are slipping, and you feel that this merits a pay decrease, discuss this in advance of an invoice due date.

Regardless of how you approach payments, there’s one core truth when working with freelancers: Clients that pay on time consistently go to the front of the line. When there are active clients to pay on time, it’s hard to prioritize work for clients that are often late with their payments. Know the psychology and set yourself up for success!

7 transformative strategies for blog bliss: How to give your company blog the foundation it deserves

For those who manage a company blog, there’s a certain level of despair that comes with trying to figure out what to say how to say it to say it and where to publish. The “content crush” — or the feeling that you must always be publishing content out — causes even the most stalwart brand marketer to publish content that’s not really up to snuff.

It could simply be bowing to the pressure from business unit to publish an article that’s boring. Or perhaps it’s ghostwriting a byline from an executive who is hard to work with, and so you publish something that you don’t think is right for the blog’s target audience. Or maybe it’s the “curse of the blinking cursor” staring back at you, reflecting the fact that you’re just not quite sure what to write about!

Whatever the situation, it’s a painful and frustrating one that’s all-too-familiar for those who manage company blogs.

We decided to compile our seven essential strategies for that elusive blog bliss: A blog that delivers strong editorial content with the brand’s voice, building an audience of prospects and engaged fans. From sales and enablement to internal communications to public relations, a healthy blog equals a healthy brand. Here’s a quick check-up for your company’s blog.

#1: Think like a journalist

JournalistAre always paying attention. The most annoying things about being one! The best journalists are always looking around for connections between things that others may not see, or finding interesting stories that might be unaddressed. Journalists are also really good at asking probing questions to get into the meat of the story. It’s this curiosity That separates an editorial approach from a commercial approach to content.

When it comes to B2B blogs, it’s especially important to focus on the why: Why is this important to the reader? How can this knowledge be applied in their everyday professional lives?

So be curious, persevere, and never forget the reader. Self-obsessed content has its place — but it most certainly isn’t (often) on the company blog!

#2: The strategy IS content

Now that you have the correct mindset, let’s pivot to strategy. Oftentimes, Brand marketers want to rush into the company blog just because they have a fear of missing out. However, without a strategy, execution is set up to fail. But one thing people forget is the actual content. In this rush to get it done, the content often becomes an afterthought. Either the content is terrible Because too much time was spent on strategy, or there was no strategy at all. At any point along the spectrum between these two endpoints, a content marketing initiative focus on the company blog is more likely to fail.

So even if you don’t have time to create a robust content marketing strategy, consider a basic framework that explains why you’re doing it (objectives), who you’re talking to (audience) and what you’re going to talk about (topic pillars). This ensures that the strategy IS the content.

Content for content’s sake never works — it’s a waste of time and resources, and rarely delivers enough return on investment to merit continuing.

Avoid ‘the set up to fail syndrome’ and be sure to leave plenty of time and resources in your plan to actually create a compelling content that builds audiences and creates a fantastic company blog.

#3: Plan ahead

You’d be shocked at how few brand marketers plan ahead. From business pressures to competing priorities for time and resources, Sometimes it seems like fine by the seat-of-the-pants is the best way to go. This is most definitely not the case for content. While it’s possible for an experienced journalist to turn around great quality content in a short window, there’s almost no point in trying without an understanding of why the content is being created or who it’s being targeted to.

When it comes to your company blog, an editorial content calendar is the way to go. Not only does it get you organized, but it offers a quick view of your content marketing program for any potential stakeholders.

And if you use the right tool to manage your calendar, it works as a collaboration tool to ensure that you have the most relevant perspectives from around the company included in your content.

#4: Be consistent

Select a publishing cadence and stick to it. This is by far the thing most brand marketers get wrong. They start off with a cadence that is too ambitious or unrealistic. And once they set an expectation for a certain number of articles each week, the audience can be disappointed or internal stakeholders can be demotivated. Momentum is a precious and delicate thing, and it’s important to not start out of the gate too strong.

Consistent brands are worth 20% more than those that aren’t consistent.

-Techipedia, Lucy Hunt

Make a sound assessment of the resources available to you — including your own time — and set a conservative publishing schedule at first. Start understanding how your audience is responding and growing, then you can adjust accordingly.

Especially if you are the one vetting and managing freelancers, as well as brainstorming new topics, there will be a lot more to do than you expect. The last thing you want to do is stress yourself out so much that you end up abandoning the project!

#5: Be visual

If you’re anything like us, these sorts of ‘best practices’ articles become exhausting. It really just seems like more things to add to the to-do list! And yes, that is the case. That’s what we try to stay as organized as possible — with this point (‘be visual’), We recommend taking the time to think about what visuals accompany your blog articles.

First, you want to have a captivating featured image that fuels are authentic and not stock. There’re many resources out there, like Unsplash, that offer high-quality photographs for free. Ideally, you have access to a stock photo bank that would allow you to go deeper into imagery And avoid some of the tired tropes the role so used to seeing. If you’re on a budget, then go ahead and search for high-quality images online. Just be sure to source only images that are Creative Commons approved for commercial use.

Remember that the featured image is especially important because it is the image that shows up on social when someone shares your article.

Beyond the featured image, consider what other graphics and imagery can be used to support your perspectives. Most people are visual, and many readers skim through articles.

By providing visual anchors, you allow skimmers time to digest and understand your key points — even without reading the full article. This could be as simple as peppering your article with images, or as complicated as creating an infographic that covers the material you’ve written about. We like to use Canva for our graphic design needs.

These images also serve another purpose: They can extend the life of your article as individual social media posts. Once you’ve published your article a few times on social media, then you post the individual graphics as well. This can extend the life of your article from a few weeks to a few months — or more.

#6: Practice 4-1-1

The beauty of content marketing is that it not only gives you a great brand-building opportunity but offers a wellspring of things to share on social media. The content gives you an opportunity to contribute to the conversation on social media without seeming like a leech or a lurker. And you can never go wrong providing value to potential prospects, current customers, and employees.

In addition to posting your own content, we recommend that you follow the 411 rule. The best conversationalists ask questions rather than talk about themselves. The same is true about social media.

Brands that only post content about their own achievements are far less interesting to audiences. Most people would rather read compelling content that teaches them something or offers insights they otherwise wouldn’t get.

So when you’re planning your social postings schedule, definitely include your company blog’s articles. But also share links from third-party sources that are of interest to identify target audiences; This is called content curation. Out of every six posts, only one should be directly promotional. The others are a blend of your own original content and content written by others.

We recommend this weighting of original content because we believe that the most successful marketers brand through their blog. There are plenty of professional journalists and publishers that curate analysis and news, so it can be much harder to break through the noise and provide value through curation. You have the most control over your own original content, and that’s why we recommend the 4-1-1 ratio.

Even so, there are a variety of rules suggested by experts (we really love this breakdown from CoSchedule about the various approaches to social media and content curation). It’s about finding the blend that works best for your brand and the audience you’re targeting. Doing a quick audit of your competitors and others that are in your niche is a great place to start.

#7: Go live

This final tip is perhaps one of the easiest temperament. Thanks to the technologist site YouTube, Facebook/Instagram, and Twitter, it’s now possible to broadcast live video to your audience from anywhere in the world.

The beauty of this format is the lower production values are expected. In fact, slick broadcasts are distrusted by users. So rather than stress out about having high production values, focus on delivering compelling live video to your audiences.

The increased engagement was the number one reason why respondents continue to invest in my video, according to the 2018 BrandLive live streaming benchmark survey. Live streaming has now moved far beyond just social media, and has become an entire content channel on its own.

It could be as simple as interviewing a customer for LinkedIn, or as complicated as doing a team interview that showcases a remote sales team. There are many situations, such as trade shows or company events, that are well-suited to live video. Test a few, learn from the results, and integrate those learnings back into your live videos.

Each of these live videos not only offers direct engagement with whoever joins live but also offers an article opportunity down the line. You can write about the context of the video, pull out some relevant quotes, and then embed the video in the article.

This is called ‘content atomization’ and it is the backbone of any successful and efficient content marketing strategy for a company blog. As far as results, the BrandLive cohort saw a return on investment in the following categories, each of which provides ripple effects for a brand’s perception, revenues, and employee engagement.

 

In conclusion

Yes, there’s lots to do. We sympathize! Thankfully, it’s never been easier to create quality content and support that content with interesting graphics and intelligent perspectives.

Technologies are affordable and blogging is much easier than it used to be. Keep it up, because your brand will be stronger and more profitable than ever if you do!