In the last three-or-so years, I’ve written 329 Hootsuite blog posts. Needless to say, that’s a lot of content, and it all had to be high quality, shareable, and relevant to our social media-obsessed audience, while demonstrating our expertise within this industry.
Let me state the obvious: I missed the mark more times than I’d probably care to admit.
But between those misses came a few real successes—posts that created conversations, that were widely shared, that boosted our profile as thought leaders, that ranked at the top of important Google searches, and helped drive business for our company. From these successes, and probably more-so from the failures, I learned a lot about what it means to succeed as a blogger and content marketer.
Today is my last day at Hootsuite, so I figured it’s time to share those lessons and maybe help a few people to start building their own ‘success pile.’
Nothing is obvious
Depending on your business, and what you provide your customers, you might consider skipping the ‘basics’ when it comes to content. If you’re selling complex stock portfolio management software, you don’t need to teach people investing 101, right?
Never assume that your readers are on the same level. There will always be knowledge gaps between you—the expert on the subject matter—and the people turning to you for information. Even if you’re selling an advanced product, you want to be providing value to the beginners. Not only does this address any gaps that might exist, it broadens your potential audience—of readers and prospects. The beginners you’re ignoring may grow into your target market eventually.
Even if your readers know the basics, they might not know one word, one process, one function, or one key principle that could affect their understanding of the rest of your content. Don’t take anything for granted. Explain everything that isn’t general knowledge, and create content that caters to all levels of understanding and skill.
There’s always a new angle. Find it.
In over 300 blog posts working for a social media company, you can bet I explored the same topics over and over again. Tips for using Twitter! How to Create a Social Media Strategy! The Best Apps for Social Media Marketers! I feel like I’ve written each of these posts a handful of times.
It can be incredibly challenging to think of and write 20 blog posts on the same topic or theme. But when you’re blogging for a business, your scope will be necessarily limited. Your financial blog can’t randomly talk about restaurants or hockey trades. So how do you tackle the same themes without just recycling the same posts? The key is finding a new angle. And yes, there’s always a new angle.
Look at the theme and consider:
- How different roles or skill levels might explore the topic
- How different demographics might look at the topic
- The different qualifiers that might affect the theme
- Other ‘adjectives’ that can completely change the scope of the post
Not sure what I mean by that? Let’s look at the Best Apps for Social Media Marketers post concept I mentioned earlier. Considering different people or positions, this concept could be shifted to focus on social media marketing managers, rookie social media marketers, or even stressed social media marketers. Considering different demographics, you might write about the best apps for social media marketers in Latin America, for example. Looking at qualifiers, you could shift the post to focus on the best Android apps for social media marketers or the best free apps for social media marketers. Finally, taking a look at adjectives that might change the scope of the post, you might consider writing about the best productivity apps, the best analytics apps, or, if you want to spark some conversation, the worst apps for social media marketers.
Also, never decide not to write a post because “someone else has already done it.” If someone else has already done it, do it better. Do it in your own voice, with your own angle, and the people that have come to trust your brand will turn to you, not competitors, for that piece of content.
There’s always a new angle, and being able to find it is key to your success as a business blogger.
Some of the best ideas come from non-writers
Writers are often overloaded with weak, strange or just plain bad content suggestions from other people. Over time, this might start to wear you down, and make you skeptical of any pitch coming your way. Don’t let it. Some of the best ideas will come from unexpected places.
Above we talked about how there’s always a new angle. Your coworkers can provide you with that fresh perspective, and help you come up with fresh takes on the same old topics.
Other employees where you work are exposed to different facets of the business. The support team can provide insights on what your customers are dealing with, so you can create content to address it. Your sales team can show you what prospects feel is missing from your brand, so you can fill that gap with fresh blog posts. Your human resources team can show you where there are knowledge gaps among applicants—a strong indication of where there are knowledge gaps in the industry as a whole—and you can use content to fill it.
Don’t ever reject pitches out of hand. Encourage your entire team to contribute content ideas. This has paid off countless times for the Hootsuite blog, and it’s something everyone should be working to foster.
It’s all about the little things
Think about your own experiences reading content. What makes you stick around? What stands out in your mind, aside from the actual substance of a post. The little things we, as content creators, treat as secondary can actually make a huge difference for the reader. These things can mean the difference between a quick bounce and a sign up to your newsletter.
So what kinds of little things are we talking about?
- Great, compelling and shareable images
- Downloadable templates and assets
- Simple, well-written calls to action
- Anchor links to help navigate long posts
- Numbered lists and bullet points to break up walls of text and clarify points (see what I did there)
You should also consider where the majority of your traffic is coming from. If it’s largely from social networks, you should make your social share buttons prominent and easy to use, and potentially include some ‘click to Tweet’ buttons. If you get a lot of traffic from your email newsletter, make sure the sign-up field is prominent within your post. If there are specific websites or forums that your readers frequent, consider hyperlinking to those sites or even mentioning them in your copy. It will add an element of credibility and ‘relatability’ to that content among your readers.
We’re not suggesting you write your post focusing on these elements. Write the best post you can, and then go over it to see where you can tweak or improve on things to really up the ante for your readers. The little things can turn into big things when they help keep more readers engaged and coming back.
Never put out something you’re not proud of
Take this as my variation on the ‘quality over quantity’ principle. Social media has made it increasingly difficult to focus on quality, because the demand for content is immediate and incessant. You need to feed the fire to keep it going, and you’re in a constant battle with other sources for even the smallest amount of attention. This has lead a lot of bloggers to pump out quick content on popular topics as fast as possible—hitting all the bases.
We’ve tried that many times, and found that these quick posts just aren’t worth the effort for a number of reasons:
- The content life span is short. Usually when you hammer out a news piece in 30 minutes to try and latch onto the trend, the value of that piece ends when the conversation ends. On social media, that could be a matter of hours.
- The content won’t add anything of value to the story, so the big sources will always win out. Quick one-off posts are usually pretty cookie cutter. Rushing something out doesn’t usually give you the opportunity to approach it with a french angle or unique take. If you have nearly identical stories on your blog and in the New York Times, which one do you think is going to get more attention? Which one will get clicked on within a Twitter stream?
- You’re probably not creating content you would showcase to clients, or even put on your resume. When you look at a blog post you cranked out in 15 minutes, does it really represent the best you have to offer? Is it something you would print out and stick to the fridge? The sacrifices you make on quality will come to nag at you, as a writer and as a brand.
The alternative, of course, is investing the time and effort into more long-form content. You can’t pump it out in a few hours. You’re not going to be the first out of the gate. But long-form content can be promoted again and again throughout its lifecycle. It also often ranks more highly for SEO, giving it an extended lifespan. Long-form content is all about the value you provide, taking a subject and breaking it down in great detail, offering insights and advice along the way. That’s something you can be proud of, and something that will help separate you from the pack.
At Hootsuite, we shifted our focus to producing detailed, long-form content, and the results surprised even us. A detailed, well-researched and helpful piece will outperform a quick trends post every time, and this performance can stretch out over months, even years. This shift has allowed me to create content that will continue to provide Hootsuite with value long after I’m gone. That’s something I can be proud of.
Thank you for reading.