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A couple of weeks ago I had the chance to interview Elliott Brown, Content Manager at Visually. We had a great talk about what being the Content Manager at one of the hottest content marketing startups in the Valley looks like. Here’s the transcript of the interview. Enjoy!

Davide – Can you please tell us what your day to day is like at Visually?

Elliott – You could say that I wear a lot of hats throughout the day. I spend a large portion of the workday (about a quarter of it) making sure there’s alignment between different people within the organization. Without internal alignment, content efforts often aren’t very effective. Production and distribution efforts need to be in sync. Ultimately, the goal of content is helping your business grow. Every part of the organization needs to point in the same direction: the right direction. If everything moves together, we can push great content out there.

Another big part of the day is spent on producing content: writing and editing, and going back and forth with writers. At the beginning of each workday, I also like to take a few minutes to review performance and check out what other people are doing. This ensures that we do a better job next time around.

Davide – Do you ever find yourself lost in micromanagement?

Elliott – I believe that perfect is the enemy of good and that micromanagement can be a form of procrastination. You need to create standards: set a standard for excellence in your organization so people know what’s expected of them and they can rise to that level. You can teach by example. Ultimately, documenting how you want things done saves you a lot of time, avoiding micromanagement because things get done right the first time. A good style guide is invaluable.

Davide – You coordinate a lot of activities, who are your best allies in the pursuit of synergy?

Elliot – Synergy is key. I believe personal relationships with the people you work with are vital to achieve it. I’m a big advocate of fostering work relationships inside and outside the workplace. Being on friendly terms with colleagues (and going out to lunch, drinks or coffee) with them improves communication and makes it much easier to work together.

Tools that help you automate tasks and facilitate collaboration are also prized allies. And let’s not forget the importance of clearly defined and established processes: anyone in your organization should be able to figure things out in 2 or 3 clicks. Tools make things much more scalable.

Personally, I use these tools regularly:

  • Google Sites: to build your organization wiki, to document your strategy while keeping it easily accessible to your team members.
  • Asana: a productivity tool that tracks progress and sends alerts when changes occur (it allows for drafts and revisions).
  • Google Analytics: vital, given that analytics and optimization are key.

One other software I’d like to mention is Track Maven, social media performance tracker. It’s not in our tool stack yet, but I’m a big fan, since it allows you to understand what a good social performance should look like using your competitors’ results as a baseline. Different audiences have different engagement levels. For instance, if I use the hashtag “social media” in a tweet, it will get retweeted 10 times by random people, but if I tweet “#law” it might not get retweeted at all due to different audience behaviour (people that read about social media tend to be much more active on social media than people who read about law). This, makes benchmarking high performers in verticals other than yours misleading. Track Maven makes it easy to analyze your social results against your competitors’ ones, allowing you to understand what good performance look like within your vertical, and that’s what I find unique about it.

Davide – As we know, the first rule of content marketing is to never produce content just for the sake of it. Can you tell us what you use content marketing for at Visually?

Elliot – For us, content marketing is a big bet; it goes hand in hand with all the other marketing functions. In order to help content marketers, we have to excel in content marketing. We produce content for 3 reasons:

  1. To engage our existing and potential customers, to help them do their job better and to inspire people to create great content.
  2. To find people who need our help creating better content. If we show them how to do that, we believe that they’ll also come to us for help with visual content projects.
  3. To build our brand and increase authority and recognition.

Davide – What about your content KPIs, how do you know that you’re on the right track?

Elliot – The problem with having content marketing KPIs is that attribution is an issue. There are so many opportunities to interact with a customer, that it’s hard to say who or what gets the credit for the conversion. For example, someone visited your site 3 months ago after you published a blog post, came back a month later and signed up for your newsletter, and then returned through a paid ad and converted. How do you begin to attribute that? In a case like this, the paid ad usually gets the credit, but as we know, that’s not the whole story.

While content ROI is hard to measure, you can boil it down to whether you’re getting traffic to your site (on the acquisition side) and whether that traffic is converting. When it comes to retention and nurturing, the formula is similar: are our efforts to engage our existing customers successful? Are they interacting with us through newsletters? Is the average value for each customer going up over time? You may not be able to pinpoint the causation, but when you see these things happening together, you know that your program is working. A holistic approach involves focusing on campaign results as opposed to results by single content pieces.

Davide – What does your content team look like?

Elliot – Right now it’s made up of 2 staff members and 6 or 7 freelancers responsible for creating content. Once the team starts growing, I’d like to open up an editorial role.

We’re also planning to involve more people from other departments, as they know customers better. The sales team, for instance, sees different sides of the business and that’s why they can be very helpful with content production. The important thing to remember is to offer strong editorial guidance so everyone knows the brand and can produce valuable content with a minimal need for rewrites. It’s best to provide article topics and deadlines, and then let people choose how to work.

Davide – Let’s go back to alignment for a second. How do you make sure that everyone is aligned in writing about what the company needs, and at the same time let people write about what they like the most?

Elliot – First off, it’s crucial to have a strong content strategy in place. Ours describes the company’s goals and those of our users. We update it every 6 months based on what’s working and on what needs improvement. If, for example, we decide to go after potentially bigger clients (as opposed to working with startups), we’d need to change the approach. I also make sure the content strategy is accessible: I keep it in a Wiki site that I built using Google Sites. It also contains style guides and examples of the type of work we expect.

With regards to having everyone write about what they like the most, we kick things off at the beginning of the quarter by deciding the broader topics we want to talk about and then doing some keyword and competitive research, and talking to our audience to make sure we’re on the right track. Based on the results we generally come up with ideas and send a list of 50/100 topics to the writers asking them to pitch those that they prefer.

Feedback is a crucial part of aligning expectations with results: the more feedback you give to your writers, the more you help them improve, and the more they’ll meet your expectations. You need to let writers know if their pieces required an unusually large amount of editing. You should take the time to explain to them what you did and why you did it. This will help them learn what it is you’re looking for, improving performance and results.

Davide – With change happening so quickly in this industry, how do you stay updated?

Elliot – I’m subscribed to about 30 different newsletters, but at the end of the day, I probably receive most of my information on content marketing from other content marketers. The content they’re creating is what informs me the most. I find that the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) and MarketingProfs are very useful resources, as they cater to modern-day marketers. I also think it’s helpful to keep an eye out on what Marketing Sherpa (“research firm specialized in tracking what works in marketing”) and MOZ write about.

Enjoyed the interview? Who would you like to “hear” from next? Write it down in the comment section and we’ll make it happen 🙂 

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