From time to time I’ll be speaking to someone I’ve never met before, and the “What do you?” question comes up. I’ve always struggled to answer. If I tell the person I’m a journalist, then invariably the next question is, “What publication do you work for?” Simply telling people I work in marketing could mean a variety of things depending on how familiar the person is with that industry. Well, though I haven’t thought up a more concise way to sum up my career, I now at least have an article I can point them to that discusses it at length. MediaShift asked me to write a first-person essay on how I leveraged my journalism skills for a career in content marketing. Here is the end result:
Earlier this month, I completed a 1,500 word feature story on why the scholarly publisher PLOS is teaming up with Reddit on an ongoing science interview series. I had put a good deal of work into the piece, interviewing editors at PLOS, scientists who had been published in its journals, and moderators at Reddit. If I had written this article a year ago I would have simply published it to my blog and then devoted all my energy toward directing my social media followers to the piece. If I was lucky, a tweet of mine would float across the screen of someone influential on Twitter who had thousands of followers, and his or her retweet would direct a flood of readers to the article. But just as often as not, my article wouldn’t attract much notice and it’d lay stagnant on my blog, boasting only a handful of tweets and likes.
But my philosophy on web publishing has changed drastically in recent months, so in addition to publishing the story to my blog, I also uploaded it to LinkedIn’s publishing platform and to Medium. The version on my blog did rack up a few influential shares, including a retweet from Gawker founder Nick Denton, but it ultimately attracted only about 100 views, which by itself would have rendered the piece a failure.
But on LinkedIn and Medium, the results were much more encouraging. A few hours after I uploaded it, an editor at LinkedIn plugged my piece into its Pulse channel on education, which currently boasts hundreds of thousands of followers. Within moments, my LinkedIn app on my phone began pinging me with updates as the story racked up comments and likes. Overall, it generated 106 likes, five comments, and 1,075 views.
While most the activity on LinkedIn occurred within the first 24 hours after posting, Medium was more of a slow burn. For the first day the article slowly collected recommends (Medium’s internal share function), and then began picking up traction on the second day after I submitted it to the influential Thoughts on Journalism publication. Ultimately, the article attracted 12 recommends, but because Medium is an influencer platform, it led to shares from outside networks. Of the 1,500 views of my article, 500 came from Facebook, 400 from email, and nearly 300 from Twitter.
All together, the piece attracted over 2,600 views, and that was before it went on to be reprinted by MediaShift and the Daily Dot. If you work at a major publication like BuzzFeed or the New York Times, 2,600 views might not seem like a lot, but for an independent writer who has no institutional backing, it’s a respectable audience (some of my articles on Medium have gone as high as 5,000 views and one article of mine on LinkedIn received over 50,000).
Increasingly, I’m seeing more and more writers follow this strategy — continuing to publish posts to their own websites but then crossposting to LinkedIn, Medium, or both. For years, we’ve been warned away from such tactics. You may have heard the term “digital sharecropping,” which Copyblogger once called “the most dangerous threat to your content marketing strategy.” Put simply, digital sharecropping is when you place too many resources into growing your following on outside platforms you don’t completely own rather than focusing on your own website, of which you have complete control. And this makes some sense; in a world in which Facebook regularly changes its algorithm and Twitter can revoke API access, placing all your eggs in another company’s basket exposes you to a certain amount of risk.
But at the same time, anyone who has had any experience in publishing knows how difficult it is to drive traffic to a standalone website, especially if that website isn’t updated 20 times a day. The harsh reality is that only a tiny fraction of your social media followers will click on a link to an outside website, and most prefer to interact and consume content that’s native to the platform they’re browsing. So if you’re only publishing, at most, a few articles per week and don’t have an enormous social following, chances are your content is getting lost in the noise.
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The opportunity that platforms like LinkedIn and Medium offer is they have an already existing audience and they allow you to amass a following that will increase your content’s likelihood of discovery. Millions of people visit the home pages of LinkedIn and Medium each day, and their publishing tools provide you the opportunity to place your content in front of those readers and generate real engagement when they click into your article.
There’s another argument typically made against digital sharecropping: that it hurts your SEO. The thinking goes that if you post the same content across multiple sites, Google will penalize your personal website and only index the content that you crossposted on more authoritative sites. This argument was recently boosted when Google changed its algorithm to punish aggressive guest posting.
But it turns out many of these concerns were overblown. Google engineers have repeatedly said the search engine only aims to punish spammy guest posting that exists to build backlinks. Blogger Ryan Battles recently conducted an experiment in which he consistently crossposted his content to both LinkedIn and Medium and found that all versions of the article continued to be indexed.
Of course, if your create content in order to sell advertising against it, publishing to Medium and LinkedIn will do nothing to generate new revenue and may even decrease traffic to the website where you’re selling said advertising. But the vast majority of people who create content on the internet do so either to elevate their own personal brands or to market a product or service. For those content producers, the goal is to expand their audience, regardless of where that audience consumes the content. If you fit into this latter category, then by ignoring Medium and LinkedIn you’re potentially turning away thousands of readers for each article you write. You should go to where the readers are, not assume they’ll come flocking to you.
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Look at the email inbox of any reporter and you’re likely to see a graveyard of bad pitches from public relations specialists, the detritus that comes as a result of a low barrier to entry and a fundamental misunderstanding of the very people they’re pitching. Having spoken to other journalists about this phenomena, I know I’m not the only one who, upon opening such pitches, feels a small sliver of pity for these robotrons and their overpaying clients before I send their neutered, lifeless copy to the trash bin.
Perhaps I’m naive, but I feel like there are few industries other than PR where there’s such a concentration at the bottom, a nine to one ratio of bad to good. Most of this poor quality, I think, comes from outright laziness, an unwillingness to put in the actual research to understand the journalists these flacks are pitching before they hit the send button.
Many don’t even take a moment to check to see what you actually cover. Instead, most of them subscribe to massive databases that collect reporter contact information and sort them by broad categories like tech, energy, or finance. Though I often write about tech, an even cursory look at my article output would reveal that I don’t ever write about new product launches, and yet I receive dozens of pitches each week from flacks representing products I would never cover.
The very worst flacks decide to place you on mailing list you never asked to be subscribed to and blast out every press release they produce. Over the past 10 days I’ve received three emails from the same marketer trying to get me to write about a device that cracks coconuts. Coconuts!
Of course for most journalists, these pitches are little more than a minor annoyance (though god forbid your phone number gets circulated on these PR databases. Then you start getting phone calls asking if you received their press releases). The real victims are the clients. Unlike most other industries that create concrete deliverables — an advertising agency, for instance, actually produces a finished ad and places it — the only deliverables in PR are when they secure media placements. This makes it extremely difficult for potential clients to vet the firm prior to hiring them, meaning these clients must rely on the firm’s claims as to what relationships and success it’s had in pitching stories.
And hiring a PR firm is expensive. For any account you’re hiring at least one senior executive and a low-level minion who will do the brunt of the work. For a small firm you need to pay a minimum of $10,000 to even make it worth their time, and for a larger firm they won’t even pick up the phone for less than $30,000.
Even when they do get placements it’s not a terribly efficient use of a client’s money. Oftentimes, a media placement means that a company executive gets interviewed and quoted for a sentence or two in the middle of an article. Sure, it strokes the client’s ego to be quoted, but how much brand penetration are you getting when you contribute 10 words to a 1,000-word article, and were those 10 words worth $10,000?
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This is why we’ve seen a growing shift toward content marketing. Rather than clamoring for journalists to cover you, you can actually compete with those journalists as an informational resource. Instead of getting a brief mention in a long article, you’ve authored the entire piece of content yourself and it’ll appear alongside your branding. There are much more concrete deliverables and measurements associated with content marketing. You not only have a completed piece of content, but it’s much easier to measure its impact in terms of traffic driven and lead conversion.
Meanwhile, the state of PR pitching only continues to get worse. It used to be that, at the very least, the product being pitched to you actually existed. But now with the rise of crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo our inboxes are flooded with pitches for half-baked ideas and products that aren’t on the market and may never be. Whatever abuse my email inbox has received in recent years, the worst is still to come.
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It’s commonly accepted at this point that every company and organization should have an official blog, and that every working professional should be engaging in thought leadership in the form of blogging and social media engagement. The problem is that many of these blogs aren’t updated regularly and they’re not high in quality. That’s not the fault of the employees who work there; they have their own busy work schedules and have very limited experience creating web content that their customers and target demographics will want to read. At the same time, there’s wide recognition that these organizations should be on social media, but often there’s little strategy applied to social platforms other than occasionally posting content to a Facebook or Twitter page.
As a longtime journalist who’s written for national publications ranging from US News & World Report to The Atlantic to Scientific American to New York Magazine, I’ve spent my entire career creating and marketing content so millions of people would want to read and share it. As an assistant managing editor at US News & World Report, I built up the magazine’s social media presence, resulting in a 146% increase in Twitter followers and 590% increase in Facebook fans (Facebook traffic for the News division increased by 286% and Twitter traffic increased by 326%.). Our Tumblr followership increased by 53,000 followers during my tenure and our Google+ following by nearly 300,000. I’ve also worked with Fortune 500 brands to develop their digital content and social media strategies, as well as conducting PR campaigns that resulted in mentions at the world’s largest blogs and news outlets.
I can use these journalism and social media marketing skills to develop content for you and your brand and ensure it reaches the influencers and customers within your industry. Please review my offered services below and don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.
Blog Management/Content Marketing/Thought Leadership
As a journalist and marketer, I’ve helped develop engaging content ranging from static infographics to 5,000 word articles. I can leverage these skills to:
- Manage company blogs: I will conduct a detailed audit and research into your industry to find what kind of content it finds most engaging and then produce that kind of content for your blog. This might involve writing the content myself or recruiting and managing already-established niche bloggers or journalists. I will also work closely with your website’s developers to optimize the blog to maximize the shareability of content via design. Very slight tweaks in how your content is presented can increase the number of shares or the chances that someone will subscribe to one of your social channels.
- Thought leadership: It’s now necessary for many professional executives to regularly engage in online thought leadership, whether it’s writing regular columns for major outlets like Forbes or blog posts for LinkedIn and the company website. Many of these executives, however, are too busy and inexperienced in writing content for a public audience. I can work closely with these executives to glean their professional insights and convert them into ghost-written articles they can publish under their own bylines.
Social Media and Email Marketing
Creating compelling content is only half the battle. You also have to find ways to deliver that content to the social media streams of your customers and industry leaders, i.e. the people you want to influence. My services can include:
- Social media intelligence: Sometimes you can handle the management of social media accounts internally, you just need someone to identify where your target demographics are online and the best practices for reaching them. I can perform a detailed audit, examining your marketing goals and determining which communities you should focus on and the best methods for engaging their users. This will involve identifying the key influencers within your industry (which in some cases might be your competitors) and leveraging search tools to analyze their followers and topic focus. I can then create a detailed plan for how to reach these users and place your brand in the conversation.
- Social media management: This is a more hands-on approach where I play a role in managing your day-to-day social media presence and incorporating it into your larger content strategy.
- Social media advertising: Though it’s possible to grow organically on social media, it’s often a slow process, so spending some money toward targeted social media advertising can boost your reach and influence much more efficiently than standard display or print advertising.
Public Speaking/In-Person Staff Training
Perhaps you want your entire staff trained on social media management and best practices. Or you’re organizing an event where you need someone to speak on marketing, content, or digital media. I can prepare a presentation and talk in advance that’s tailored to your needs.
I have relationships with and have successfully pitched journalists and bloggers at many of the largest media outlets in the world. I can work with you to develop a media relations strategy and create news and content that journalists will want to cover. I can also perform advanced targeting to identify the journalists most likely to be interested in your story, rather than simply relying on PR software that merely categorizes journalists by broad subject matter beats.
Feel free to contact me if you’d like to learn more.