How can you build a content publishing capability at your company? It's not that hard. In fact, there's a model out there that's already been getting the job done for a couple hundred years.
I can't take credit for that insight. That belongs to a woman named Tami Dennis I had the pleasure of working with recently at a Major Medical Institution whose name I (and other consultants) am contractually prohibited from mentioning.
She and I have both moved on to more amiable situations since then. But at the time, Tami was in charge of the content generation team at this institution, and hailed from a background in journalism, especially a long stint at the Los Angeles Times.
So to her, creating interesting communications content wasn't any kind of a stretch: You find a worthy topic and do a good job of covering it for your audience.
In a place like that hospital, finding good story hooks wasn't hard. It might seem a lot more difficult for a B2B startup or SMB to find topics to leverage.
But it's not. Most of us are already doing it every working day.
Look for content in everything
Whether they've got a byline on the front page of the Wall Street Journal or they're working on a weekly in Podunk, USA, journalists are always thinking about the news value of what they're reporting. But often they have to dig for it: What makes it "news" isn't always obvious.
You can, too. You might not think so, but nearly every business generates content-worthy material every day. Because nearly every business is solving problems and meeting needs for customers.
It's the perspective and curiosity we apply to it that makes a prosaic topic into great content.
So rather than posting "content" that's really only a press release about the day-as-dust fact you're now carrying Widget XYZ, offer up some of your own POV and insights about why Widget XYZ works well, or a step-by-step case study about how a customer saw success thanks to it.
It's about adopting a newshawk mentality and seeing through your audience's eyes. They're not only prospects and buyers, but readers and infotainment consumers, too.
Once you get in the groove of looking for story hooks and angles about your business, you'll be surprised how easy it gets to come up with stuff you're eager to share. That enthusiasm shines through to your audience, too.
Build a Water Cooler Content Calendar
Here's another approach to consider if you're intimidated by the idea of ginning up stories that'll engage prospects and customers.
Think of what goes on around the water cooler in your own office. At least on those days when the new kid in accounting didn't rake in the football pool, or there's a snap OSHA inspection.
Whether it's at the water cooler, in hallway conversations, actual meetings or cubicle sitdowns, people are talking about problems, challenges, solutions and insights almost every single day at your business. Those can be a pretty solid start for building a content calendar of interest to your audience.
So keep your ear to the ground, and listen to what your team, stakeholders and customers are talking about. Let that generate story ideas. You can even create a "suggestion box" for them to share topics they'd like to see, or share.
If you're solving an issue or meeting a need for one customer, you're potentially solving it for everyone.
So tell everyone.
Start a newsroom!
This brings me around to Tami Dennis' insight about how to structure a competent content marketing or communications department: Run it like a newsroom.
Whether they were the ink-stained wretches of the London broadsheets or the telegenic talking heads of today, newshawks are constantly on the prowl for content, and there's a mechanism for gathering and disseminating that content that's tried-and-true.
Its moving parts?
- The commitment to content: Understand that good content is the make-or-break lifeblood of modern B2B (and even B2C) marketing, so commit to creating and publishing it -- and making it well-written and well-designed, taking SEO and scannability into account, among other factors that define the difference between effective content and filler that just...fills, rather than thrills.
- Man a listening post: Newsrooms are always watching 'the wires,' keeping tuned to news services, while also developing their own network of sources and leads. In marketing, you've got to know what's going on with your competition, and follow the industry developments you can offer an opinion about. So keep your eyes and ears open -- or appoint a member of your marketing or communications team to keep everybody updated on a regular basis!
- Build a calendar: See above! Forward planning is crucial. Even a newspaper or a CNN is looking ahead to key events and dates, just as you should be building content that helps you take advantage of seasonality, or traditional sales spikes, or product developments.
- Install a workflow: Have a set process for creating, approving and publishing content. If you haven't got an up-to-date content management system (CMS) or web content management (WCM) platform in place, start shopping!
- Hire content pros: Whether you bring them in-house or go to a vendor, use the best available talent, because they'll pay off with the best possible ROI. Hint: Find people who impress you with their real curiosity and drive to uncover the details, because they'll deliver superior content. People with a journalism background are a great place to source that kind of focus.
- It's an investment, not an expense: By building a capable content marketing capability, you're investing in your reputation, your lead generation efforts -- and even in your audience, by giving them insight and information they'll find usable and valuable. They, in turn, will invest in you, in ways that'll fall to your bottom line. And that shouldn't be news to anyone.