Three Ways to Expand Your Content Marketing Horizons

Signs are growing that more traditional content marketing approaches still have plenty of room to gain steam. But that doesn’t mean your digital content strategy couldn’t benefit from experimentation.

It can get annoying to listen to the increasing drama around modern social media platforms, but a recent policy change by Facebook got me thinking about the ways that the fundamentals still matter.

Last week, Facebook announced that it was going to start looking for a new metric in deciding which stories it would give an algorithmic bump on its platform. Rather than simply looking at engagement, likes, shares, and clicks—the metrics generally associated with the information Facebook surfaces—the company would instead implement something called the “click gap,” which focuses on domain authority. To put it another way, if a Facebook-trending site isn’t getting links from anywhere reputable, that’s strong evidence that the site is trying to game the system.

“This can be a sign that the domain is succeeding on News Feed in a way that doesn’t reflect the authority they’ve built outside it and is producing low-quality content,” wrote Facebook employees Guy Rosen, the firm’s vice president of integrity, and Tessa Lyons, the site’s head of News Feed Integrity, in a blog post.

What’s weird about this approach is how much of a throwback it is: It’s actually very similar in function to Google’s well-known system for figuring out what looks best online, something it calls PageRank—a name in reference to its creator, Larry Page, rather than the web pages that it ranks.

This shift by Facebook can be interpreted as a method of silencing critics; but on the other hand, it’s a sign that, after years of ignoring the value of traditional online mechanics, the social network is learning to appreciate that the “social graph” isn’t everything.

(But let’s hope this doesn’t mean that we’re going to keep getting emails asking for backlinks on old pieces.)

Which brings me to the art of content marketing. While it’s been around a while, content marketing remains increasingly important for organizations looking to move the needle with prospective audiences. Strategies are evolving, and it’s time to refresh your thinking about these old strategies, because they still matter.

Here are a few fresh ways to look at the old workhorse of content marketing:

Write articles intended for the end of a long (or short!) journey. When it comes to search engines, users often spend a lot of time looking for a specific result. If they can’t find that result, they’re going to keep looking. Google notices this—and rewards sites that fulfill the answer to that question. (Hence why Wikipedia is really popular!) And by creating resources that scratch this itch, you’ve created signals that signify a good resource worth looking at. In a recent TechCrunch piece, Julian Shapiro of the growth marketing firm Bell Curve put the approach into a two-part formula that works like this: “Go sufficiently in-depth to cover all the subtopics they could be looking for. Link to related posts that may cover the tangential topics they seek.”

Create content specifically targeted toward a specific source. The content marketing firm Animalz is known for having some of the most forward-thinking approaches to content marketing, and (perhaps naturally, given its business model) it does a great job of sharing some of the best thinking in articles on its website. One such strategy it explained on its website recently is to purpose-build content around individual platforms. As Ryan Law explains on the company’s blog, often the best pieces can see tactical success if tailor-made for one specific kind of outlet—whether that’s a search engine, a social network like Twitter, or an aggregator like Reddit or Hacker News. That means building content with those networks in mind. “Instead of treating distribution as the final step in the process, we should treat it as the very first,” Law states. “We start the content creation process with a single distribution channel in mind. We reverse-engineer it, and uncover the common characteristics that cause content to perform well. We build those hallmarks into the fabric of our idea.”

Build a story around your existing data. Every association has data—data about its members, data about its industry, and data about where things are going. But the problem is, that data on its own is static unless it’s conveyed in a way that really highlights its power. A great example of a company that does this well on a yearly basis is Spotify, which has turned the “year in review” post into an art form—customizing it for each of its subscribers, and creating a zeitgeist-y moment that people remember and wait for. “Everyone loves a good story, especially when it’s about them. And a personalized data story is even better,” Taylor Holland wrote of the phenomenon on Skyword’s Content Standard blog last month. So how do you make this translate into something that works for your organization? A key element, writes Holland, is to think about things in terms of beginning, middle, and end—which she notes is “like data visualization, but with a clear purpose, a compelling narrative, and an open ending which encourages audiences to think critically and form their own conclusions.”

There are plenty of ways to tackle the content marketing model, but for associations, it simply makes sense to reset their expectations every once in a while, to shift gears with the broader market.

But at the same time, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that the basics still matter: High-quality storytelling that gets linked in a lot of places should be your goal.

Everything else is just a tactic in service of that goal.

(Yuri_Arcurs/E+/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a senior editor for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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