Teaching Digital Rookies Content Marketing Best Practices

The digital marketing world is a massive echo chamber. This isn’t necessary a bad thing, though. After all, the reason it is such an echo chamber is because there is a bonded community of professionals constantly sharing and discussing the intricacies of this always-changing practice. And it’s great because that’s how we all grow—by sharing and learning from our shared experiences.

But what happens when a marketer leaves the agencies and industry forums and begins practicing content marketing in a place that is fairly new—maybe even foreign—to the concept?

Recently, I started a new gig. I work with a lot of smart people who are great at what they do—they just don’t fully understand the power and scope of content marketing as it exists today. Because of that, I find myself in a situation I’ve never encountered before: educating digital rookies about content marketing best practices and the standards that dictate them.

This situation isn’t an uncommon one. Whether working for an agency, as a contractor or an in-house team member, there is always the possibility of encountering colleagues who have no real understanding of content marketing; they only know they need it. What do you do then?

What follows are some problems I’ve stumbled across while bringing content marketing to those who have never practiced it before, as well as some of the lessons I’ve learned that have made a massive difference in not only keeping things on track but also keeping my own sanity.

The Problem: Failure to Fully Embrace Digital

Traditionalism is great. A lot of great things can come from upholding tradition. The digital space, however, is one place where this is not true.

This new gig of mine is with a traditional publisher. In other words, I work with a lot of people who have spent the past 20 or 30 years working in print. They’ve spent a lot of their career doing things a certain way, and sometimes that makes it difficult to change—which makes things even more difficult, as content marketing not only thrives on change but also functions solely because of it.

One of the biggest issues I’ve found when working with content marketing beginners is that they don’t want to embrace the very thing that they expect to make them money. For those who are new to the industry, things like guest posting, infographics, and expert round-ups can be extremely scary, to the point where they may want to outright dismiss their marketing potential. But as content marketers, we know the potential of these and other tactics, so it’s up to us to get more traditional minds to embrace them.

The Solution: Smack ‘em with the Facts

How do you do that? With success stories. Show them case studies from other sources. Show them data from your previous wins. Hell, show them previous failures. The more hard information you can show about what can and can’t provide some form of ROI, the more comfortable they will be sticking more than a toe into the fluid nature of content marketing.

The Problem: Hailing the Hearsay

There’s a bit of a gap between concept and execution for companies that haven’t spent a lot of time in content marketing, That gap is where data resides.

I’m not saying that data isn’t a concern for companies not embracing content marketing. In fact, I’m sure it’s quite the opposite, as it’s almost impossible for a successful business to thrive without benchmarking against industry numbers. However, in this day and age, it’s still not uncommon to find people committing the rookie mistake of creating content that doesn’t have the numbers to back up its merits.

In my experience, I find one sentence to be wholly symptomatic of this problem: “Our users primarily want to see/read X.” Often when this sentence is questioned, I’m returned with something vague and nebulous like, “We just know,” or “That’s what we hear when we talk to our readers.” Unfortunately for the person spitting this rhetoric, there’s almost always plenty of data proving him or her wrong.

Don’t misunderstand me, though—there’s lots of great information that can be pulled from surveying and talking to your primary users. But when it comes to validating the existence of any digital asset, nothing speaks stronger than analytics and hard numbers.

The Solution: Data to the Rescue

Forgoing the word on the street can be one of the toughest concepts to push to a business that hasn’t relied on web analytics in the past. In many cases, they may not realize that something like Google Analytics can be used to track so much more than just site visits.

With that in mind, one of the best ways to help them better embrace this data-driven approach is to show them the bounty of information web analytics has to offer. Something as simple as a quick tour of your analytics platform and how it can break numbers down into almost any sample set can go a long way in getting the powers that be thinking more about numbers than what they’ve “heard” in the past.

The Problem: Strong Drive, Dated Knowledge

This next road bump is probably best explained by an exchange I had with a colleague:

Colleague: (out of nowhere) We need the keywords.

Me: For what in particular?

Colleague: For the website. We’re a lumberjack* magazine, so we need to make sure we get “lumberjack magazine” in each article so it’s number one in Google!

Me: (facepalm)

*Changed to protect the innocent.

This turned into a longer, somewhat animated conversation where the colleague insisted that we, essentially, needed to keyword stuff every content piece we had on the site.

The Solution: Good Ol’ Fashioned Education

There are still a lot of people out there who think their digital success depends on the same practices that reigned 10 years ago, such as keyword stuffing. They just don’t know any better. As the experts, it’s our job to not only pinpoint and diagnose the issue that people have when it comes to content marketing best practices and concepts but also teach them how and why they will benefit from the work.

The best way to do this? Turn your colleagues on to the same sources you use for your own edification. Send over industry news and blog posts when it’s relevant. Bring a few people along with you to a seminar or workshop. Suck them in as deep as they’re willing to go in the echo chamber. The more they know about how this stuff works, the more they know about how you work and how they can work with you to make their digital presence more successful.

“Normal is an illusion. What’s normal for the spider is chaos for the fly.”

That’s a quote from Morticia Addams, matriarch of “The Addams Family”. I’m putting it here because I find it particularly insightful when it comes to explaining content marketing essentials to those who don’t understand them. It’s easy to forget that a lot of the concepts and practices of content marketing may be second nature to you, but they can be extremely unusual and even frightening to those with no background in the industry.

By keeping an open mind and practicing patience, though, you can turn a situation like this into a learning experience for both yourself and your colleagues—giving you the kind of insights you may never have realized by keeping within the echo chamber.

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