If you have a blog, you’ll know what I mean — some of the most interesting, thought-provoking material on your site often comes from reader questions in the comments.
Sometimes it’s the questions themselves. And sometimes it’s the response it generates — from your community and within your own thinking. (That’s why blogs are one of the earliest and most powerful forms of social media.)
I get tremendous value from our reader questions, so I thought I’d respond in detail to a few comments from recent Copyblogger posts for an “Ask the Content Marketer” column here on Copyblogger.
If you find this useful, we may start to include it as a regular feature on the blog. So be sure and let us know.
Enough intro, let’s get to the questions:
Is there a content formula?
On March 19, Vicky asked:
In our content planning and forcasting, we have been wondering if there is a “magic formula” for the amount of posts you should write in the different categories? We saw a 70%-20%-10% article, but again no specific evidence that this is a good strategy to go with when plannng out content. Just wondering if you have suggestions for the % of cornerstone content vs. the hmmm content vs. newsjacking? We understand there is no magic number, but there are recipes for success!
Sonia Simone: You always want to keep in mind that every combination of topic, audience, and marketer is unique. So a “formula” that works brilliantly for one business will fall flat with another … even given the same topic, product type, and audience.
Cornerstone content — the type of useful content that solves reader problems and lays out the essential groundwork for your topic — should be in place from the beginnning. That’s why it’s your cornerstone — everything else rests on that foundational knowledge.
You’ll want to look back at it over time and make sure it stays pertinent and valuable. And most sites should keep publishing cornerstone content regularly. (If you can start the piece with the words How To, it’s probably cornerstone content.)
Remember: cornerstone content is not Wikipedia! It should still be interesting and engaging. “Useful” is not the same thing as “Boring.” For lots of content marketers, this will form the bulk of your content.
What we called “Hmmm content” is where you’ll break out of the box even further. You may get your readers to think about their identities in the context of your topic, like we did with my original post on the idea of a Third Tribe. You may use an analogy that finds new audience members, like this post on Firefly and creativity did. Or you might just do something completely out of left field.
“Hmmm” content shakes things up a little. It can uncover new intersections, new audiences, and new directions for you.
Newsjacking is something you’ll do as the occasion rises. You can’t plan for it, you can only be ready when the opportunity comes up. When your social media outposts are buzzing about a particular topic, you have a chance to jump in and get into the conversation, like I did with my post on whether Facebook was still viable for content marketers.
True newsjacking is as much art as science. Be sure to read (and truly absorb) David Meerman Scott’s book Newsjacking if you want to make the best use of the technique.
One final thought on newsjacking that shouldn’t be necessary to say, but it is: Don’t newsjack tragedies. If someone dies, don’t insert yourself into the story.
How can I get to know my audience?
On March 27, Darin L. Hammond said,
It sure is tough getting to know an audience for me, when most of my clients and readers I never meet. Any ideas or secrets on knowing the unseen?
Sonia Simone: Really understanding your audience is key to any type of marketing. If you don’t know what’s bugging them, what’s scaring them, and what delights them, you can’t create content that speaks to those problems, fears, and desires.
Your own blog comments should always be your first stop — that’s where you’ll get a direct reaction to what you say and how you say it. But if your traffic isn’t high enough to give you lots of comments yet, there are lots of other venues to do some audience recon.
The social web is the best market research tool ever invented … as long as you can cultivate a little patience. You’ll want to venture out of your own circle of friends and acquaintances. Join groups, Google+ communities, forums, and other online spots where people congregate.
Remember, you’re listening for:
And if you happen to find a reader or client who’s nearby, or if you’re traveling to another city, do anything you can to sit down for a coffee (or a beer) with a member of your audience. There’s something about face to face interaction that brings out all kinds of subtle and interesting points that can be tricky to get online.
Is authenticity the key to online marketing success?
Rob Schneider noted:
I get where you’re all coming from and agree to a point, but I think the secret to long term success is authenticity. I can always tell (or think I can, anyway — which is all that really counts) when a writer is trying to sound authoritative when they’re not or is mimicking another writer’s style. Ultimately, the best writing advice I’ve ever gotten was from Charles Bukowski’s poem, So You Want to be a Writer. Here are the first few lines:
if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything
don’t do it
Sonia Simone: First things first: I believe authenticity is important online, especially now. The more time people spend online, the better they tend to get at sniffing out clones and con artists. And it just makes good business sense — the one element of your business no one can steal is … you.
But there’s one thing I think matters even more: usefulness.
We all have our favorite online train wreck — that individual who’s so transparent you’re a little worried they’re going to crack into pieces. And if what you have to sell is a hilarious and sharply written memoir, that can work beautifully.
But 99% of us will never hope to be as magnificently insane as Jenny Larson. Or as successfully twisted as Louis C.K. or Ricky Gervais. That means we need something else than for you to be yourself. We also need you to be useful.
So yes, be authentic in the sense that you’re not a weak copy of someone more remarkable. That’s just never going to work.
But be authentically useful. Give me someone who can solve a mundane but annoying problem over a brilliant but fragile “authentic” persona any day.
How about you?
Interested in seeing more Q&A posts like this? Got a content or online marketing question of your own you’d like us to consider for a future column?
Let us know in the comments below. We always love hearing what’s on your mind.