Content is King, But Who are His Knights?
“Creativity doesn’t flourish in a process.”
What a lie.
I believed that lie for too long. That lie was my mantra in my early 20s. I was producing a daily, pre-recorded radio talkshow. Experts in the business for more years than I had been alive urged me to put 20 episodes “in the can” and get ahead. At 23, I kicked at the goads but strove to be a team player. Boy, am I glad.
I learned my lesson in nine grueling and sometimes painful months and emerged with a new mantra:
Process gives room for creativity to grow.
Have you ever stood next to a machine and felt static electricity, seen sparks fly, or felt the wind generated by the moving parts? These machines work as they are designed to operate, but give off excess energy. The same thing happens with a solid process.
When it comes to the content goals for your B2B company, your content calendar produces the most energy which can be spent in extra time to go deeper on a topic, extra bandwidth to create more graphics or supporting content, or the ability to take a deep breath and recover before moving forward.
This is where creativity flourishes. With time and sanity created by a process, you can come up with new ideas, spend more time on complicated tasks, experiment with things you once thought too time-consuming, risk failure, or find other ways to augment and improve.
Creating a content calendar for your B2B company is just one part of the entire machine/process you need. We address other considerations for content creation on our website, which you’ll want to check out:
Marketing Strategy: Content works best when it supports your overall strategy and is measured by KPIs. Most companies just want to create content, but without strategy, you’ll just throw pixels into the interwebs.
Marketing Automation: Today’s buyers are moving faster than ever. You need to place your content in front of your audience so they see it. Automation leverages your content well.
SEO and Paid Ads: A solid ad, carefully put before the right audience, can bring the right traffic to your site.
Define Your Philosophy Before You Create Content
Before you put actual ideas with actual dates on an actual calendar, pull back and look at the big picture. Establish your content calendar philosophy. It’s different from strategy; strategy is how you deploy what you create and for what purpose. Philosophy is how you create in the first place.
Your philosophy flows out of your corporate values and attributes. Your content should sound like you. Whether you’ve created a sound on purpose or not, you have a sound.
Answer the questions:
- How do we approach content?
- How does our target audience most want content?
The Four Anchors of Philosophy
As you define your philosophy, consider your company voice. Think of voice as you would a radio DJ. What type of radio DJ would you want talking about your company? Voice is about sound — and yes, written words have sound, too.
Voice is constant. It is the personality of your brand in text form (and translates to spoken word in videos, podcasts, webinars, Alexa skills, and public speaking opportunities).
Here are four examples:
You must first accept that while there are things that have happened in your life that you had no say in, you are 100 percent responsible for what you do with your life in the aftermath of those events. Always, every time, no excuses. (Gary John Bishop, Unfu*k Yourself)
Bishop’s voice is motivational, but doesn’t “sound” like a spin instructor or a drill sergeant.
In most nurturing procedures, there’s a point when a lead has shown enough engagement to be sent directly to a sales rep. With this option, all automated and mass marketing emails are stopped after a lead is handed off. This is the most strict of the three options, but it guarantees that no marketing emails will be sent while a sales rep is communicating with a lead. (Emily Morgan)
Education fills this voice.
There’s only one way to justify work that’s better than it needs to be: Because you cared enough. (Seth Godin)
Do you want to sound inspirational like Seth?
While voice is fixed, tone, on the other hand, changes depending on the mood and purpose of each piece. The tone of a piece on the latest cybersecurity breach in banking will sound different (urgent) than an article on how to install the latest module of your software (aspirational).
While tone changes, it shouldn’t swing from the sound of a three-ring circus to the sound of someone giving all of the side effects and risks of a new pharmaceutical. Set your range of tone or create a list of adjectives to describe the different tones as you write.
There are 10,000 topics you can write about related to your product and to your industry. Within the course of an hour, you and a team from your company could fill notebooks with ideas. How do you know what to write about? You must define the scope of what you will communicate about in the same way that you’ve limited your voice and tone.
When I joined Golden Spiral, I was directed to determine a core list of topics that we would discuss. I assembled a list of past topics, and with the help of a great team, began to hone them. We went from 30, to 18, and eventually to nine. We have limited our scope and grown our readership, in part, because we’re meeting needs. We outline how we overhauled our blog strategy as part of our content strategy in this article. Note that the latest figures show we’ve grown our daily blog readership by 181%.
When your readers finish an article, what are they left with? Inspiration? Technical know-how? A new download? A kick of adrenaline? Don’t let your readers walk away without something. Don’t let them leave your article unchanged.
No need to get bogged down. Invest time more deeply into building actual content than laboring over the finer details of philosophy. A broad brushstroke gets the job done now and you will spend the next few years refining it.
Defining Standards and Enacting Quality Control
It’s still not time to start cranking out content. Imagine that your content is like water flowing through a water hose. You want as much of that water to get to your readers as possible. Grammar and punctuation mistakes, a bad user experience, poor keyword choice and usage put kinks in the hose. By running your content through editorial and quality assurance (QA) practices, you straighten the hose and increase both the amount and pressure of water that flows.
You need to have standards for editing, style, and SEO.
After my radio career, I spent many years in traditional book publishing. I learned two lessons that translate to the world of digital publishing. They sit in paradox with each other.
You must have multiple eyes (and brains) review every piece you publish.
In is inevitable: there will be mistakes in what you publish.
In a perfect environment, five individuals would review every item you publish.
- Writer - Assembles research, outlines, and executes against the outline with audience, goals, voice, and tone in mind.
- Substantive Editor - Takes a 30,000 foot look at the writing. Does it accomplish the goals, make sense, and prompt the desired response? Structure and intent are the major foci.
- Copy Editor - Ensures clarity. Does the piece say what it needs to say in the way it needs to be said? Do the points get through?
- Proof Editor - This is the microscopic pass. Do subjects and verbs agree? Is punctuation in the right spot? Does the formatting flow?
- Quality Assurance - In a digital application, does every link work and work appropriately? Are all keywords and blog formatting (H1, H2, etc.) correct and intact? Is all metadata accurate?
For most companies, having five individuals working on a piece of content would be a luxury. It’s not practical. Don’t think of these five editorial passes as five people, just different tasks in your process.
Many companies skip the substantive edit and allow copy editors to point out any major gaps. Often the proof edit and the QA are accomplished by the same person. What works for your company and your content team?
Not every editor or writer is cut out for every step of the editorial process. I’ve known many excellent substantive editors who would miss spelling and punctuation. They are different skill sets. Don’t be afraid to hire to fill any gaps on your team. Editing can be some of the least expensive but most profitable freelance dollars you spend.
Most companies like yours use the Associated Press style guide as the overarching document to describe how to use every jot, tittle, punctuation mark, and number. However, you will need to determine your style for your company. Create a style document for your company that covers two sections:
- Where you deviate from AP
- How to handle your products and services
For example, we deviate from AP in how we deploy the emdash. Since 95% of our content is on screen, using an emdash as you would in print—like this—doesn’t look as good on a screen. So, we use emdashes — like this — in our articles.
Related to our products and services, we have a service mark for our proprietary process called The Buyer MatrixSM. Our style guide outlines how, when, and when we don’t use SM on our site.
Your company will have anywhere from 30 – 100+ lines in your own style guide. Make sure it’s a living document because our online world is changing fast. When in doubt, check AP and your own style guide before publishing.
Remember, the desire is not for perfection but to make sure as much of your message gets through without distraction.
You want your content to be found in search and discovered online. You will need to make sure you are optimizing your articles and other forms of content for SEO. We go into great detail on how content and SEO work together in our Complete SEO Guide for Tech Marketing, but here are two highlights:
- Length - Research continues to show that until you are well established and ranking highly for a certain topic, your articles need to be 1,200 to 1,500 words or more. Don’t just pad your word count to get there. A well-written article, even if shorter, is still preferable.
- Keywords - Keywords and phrases matter. Leave time in your schedule for the writer to research how keywords rank for this topic, and for your SEO team to suggest or make changes needed to maximize placement in the article and effectiveness for search.
Putting Your Content to Work
When should your ideas be made public? You’ve defined your topics and your key messages. Before giving them dates, make a few more key decisions.
Media Fit and Message Length
Which messages best fit which media? Some messages will work across text, video, audio, and infographic. Some are best for one or another.
I worked for years as an acquisitions editor at a publisher. I had to cull through the slush pile and determine the few, choice ideas which needed to move forward into books and say no to the rest. One of my mentors in the business gave me a great measuring stick to use as I evaluated ideas. “Is the idea you’re reviewing worthy of an entire book or just a magazine article?”
You might have something to say. Does it take you 1,500 words to develop the idea or can you deliver it in 280 characters in a tweet? Is the idea an entire hour-long webinar or is it a three-minute video nugget.
Producing quality content takes effort. How much can you produce in a given week? Month? If you don’t know, you can set yourself up for failure. Yes, you’ll get faster the more content you produce, but for now, determine how long you need to create a blog post, infographic, or short video. Include your editing time and quality checks.
Based on the time investment you can make for creating content, spread your content out accordingly. For example, it is better to have one excellent and well-written blog post every other week than four mediocre ones a month.
You want to support your content through social media and your email newsletter. Build time into your cadence for how you promote your new material and those pieces of content that are performing well.
Getting Down to Brass Tacks
You’ve laid your foundation. You’ve determined how much time and effort you can invest to make it happen. Now comes the hard part. Delivering.
Here are the five Ls of regular calendar maintenance.
Don’t feel pressured to publish today. Begin work now but set a launch date of at least two weeks in the future. Now is the time to get content created and in the pipeline, not rush to make it live.
2. Low-Tech First
Gather those who will be working on content together and build your calendar together as a team. Remind everyone of the cadence of your messages and the volume possible, then use Post-It notes build a calendar on a blank wall. Move the ideas around as you need to. By putting ideas on the wall, you’ll quickly get a feel for what is too much or too frequent. You’ll also see the holes where you need content.
3. Log It
Once you’ve nailed the first four to six weeks on the wall, put it in an actual calendar. The formats listed below are viable and in use by a variety of companies and content creators. The key: commit to one for at least six months. Don’t make your calendar management a full-blown task. Allow it to support you work in actually creating content. If you need more bells and whistles, add those down the line.
Create a Calendar Profile
The simplest way to keep track is a simple calendar — it can even be on paper if you want it to be.
Or step up a bit. Your content could have its own calendar in iCal, Google, or Outlook. Each item is an event. Color code them by type (blog, video, social, etc.) and invite those working on the pieces to them.
Use a Program Like CoSchedule
CoSchedule’s software package is powerful and can do many things. It started as a way to schedule content and associated deadlines and assign them to multiple people to accomplish the work. CoSchedule allows you to see many different views from lists, to weekly, to monthly, etc. You can isolate single topics to see how frequently those messages are hitting. Their integrated analytics can be helpful to track how content is performing.
Fly with AirTable
AirTable is like no spreadsheet program you’ve met before. Topics, categories, and calendars are easy to create and sort. We manage all our clients' content calendars through AirTable. Our blog calendar is integrated with AirTable.
If you want to push content and pull reports, AirTable integrates with many automation tools. It can be as simple as a collaborative spreadsheet or as powerful as a content engine.
Investigate Your CRM
If you’re using a program like HubSpot to manage contacts and content, look into the schedule tools you have available to you.
4. Leave Room for Schedule Changes
Murphy’s Law applies to content creation, too. Leave room for things to go wrong. Three recent examples.
- A SaaS company wants to have at least three experts comment on a topic. The writer reaches out to several, but results are slow coming in despite pleasant persistence. Do you delay the article or more forward with what you have? If you’ve left room and have contingencies in place, you can re-arrange if necessary.
- A Fintech company returns from a trade show with overwhelming success. Do you announce the success now or put the stories and social posts in queue according to plan? Sometimes its okay to crash your own system with breaking news.
- The flu is sweeping through your city. The next article in line is being written by a team member who is down for the count. If you’ve got lead time and multiple content pieces in queue, you can substitute a later article on the calendar for one that is delayed.
Listen to the Results
Track your efforts every week. What KPIs are you monitoring? Which forms of content are working best? Keep your content team plugged in to the feedback.
Listen to Your Audience
What resonates most? What receives comments? What is getting shared? What content do you actually hear about in the wild? Make sure to also be aware of the opposite. What produces crickets?
Listen to Your Team
Is your cadence too aggressive? Do team members have more capacity? Increase or decrease your content offerings accordingly.
The First Thing to Do After Reading this Article
Create an efficiency and effectiveness report. Look at all content developed in the last three months. What worked? What didn’t? Were you consistent or haphazard in your release schedule? This snapshot will help you decide how to lead your content team to a more rigorous and effective calendar.