"Every company is a media company."
Andrew Heyward, the former president of CBS News, and Dan Scheinman of Cisco, are widely credited with advancing that idea, but the practice of turning your company into a media company (see: content marketing) didn't really catch fire until the last couple years.
Now, the idea of creating and sharing useful or entertaining content in order to attract and engage with current and potential customers is being widely adopted, especially by web-based startups. But how do you successfully plan and execute on a content marketing strategy? Here's a look at how startups like SeatGeek and KISSmetrics are building on the content marketing strategies that companies Mint and OKCupid leveraged to build their brands.
- Dig into your data: While not every company has the same intriguing data that entertainment and sports ticket search engine SeatGeek has, its director of communications Will Flaherty says "that shouldn't stop you from digging into your data." Every company that is using Google Analytics has an opportunity to slice data in geographical, platform, or demographic ways to tell an interesting story, he notes. What does he mean? While SeatGeek can use this data to tell stories (SeatGeek blog) about what university's fans were buying the most Final Four tickets (it was the fans of soon to be crowned NCAA champion Kentucky, by the way), even the most boring company (perception-wise) could find unique patterns in Google Analytics, such as a major difference between mobile and online traffic on its site that could interest potential customers and even the media. OKCupid was a pioneer in this regard, leveraging its early reputation as the "Google of Online Dating" to serve as the editorial motivation for its OKTrends blog. The blog leveraged observations, mathematics, and statistics from hundreds of millions of OKCupid user interactions to explore the data side of online dating with provocative posts on sex and relationships. In doing so, it was a major builder of the OKCupid brand and assisted the company in bringing its user base to over 7 million. Unfortunately, while it was named by TIME as one of the best blogs of 2011 and had more than 1 million monthly readers at its peak, it went quiet in April of last year after its acquisition by IAC's Match.com—but not before netting its founders $50 million.
- Find your niche: Mint owed much of its early success prior to its $170 million acquisition by Intuit to its content strategy of being the definitive resource for personal finance issues. It was a competitive market at the time, and Mint put a stake in the ground with its MintLife blog. Mint didn't rush to use the data of its users, but instead focused on the topics that those potentially interested in using its product would be most interested in—i.e. managing personal finances. Blog posts with tips on how to save money in a variety of ways were regularly featured, along with investment, retirement, and meeting financial goals' advice. KISSmetrics is succeeding with its content marketing strategy in a similar way. The web analytics solution provider built its blog with the focus on being a resource and thought leader for entrepreneurs and web marketers. The focus has paid off, with KISSmetrics surpassing 1 million unique readers a month in less than 10 months. Short, straightforward tips, lists, and link-heavy content has made it a go-to resource for anyone in the space.
- Let your culture shine through, without being a salesman: OKCupid knew it wasn't eHarmony or Match.com at the time of its launch, and that went into the planning of its content strategy for its blog. As a young startup that was taking aim at a younger demographic of online daters that were more interested in flipping through photos of cute potential dates rather than finding their soulmate, it leveraged their data for more provocative posts. They weren't directly selling a more provocative service, but potential users could easily make their own interpretation that OKCupid was a younger, more edgy service than Match.com. SeatGeek is following a similar strategy. As a ticket search engine, the company gets paid when someone clicks through their site to an affiliate site to buy a ticket. However, that doesn't mean that the company focuses on selling you tickets with the content on their blog. Instead they share with their potential customers the hottest-ticket acts that are coming up so they're able to find out through the company even if they don't log onto the site planning to use the search engine. The desired effect in generating potential leads is the same, but the strategy for getting there is slightly more subtle.
- Determine what's engaging for your fans vs. what's interesting to the media: SeatGeek's Flaherty noted in an interview that the startup, which has over $2 million in funding, has found that its informative blog posts with information for upcoming concerts and events see the most engagement with users and potential users. However, feature stories that the company can create with sports-related media outlets like Deadspin with custom data from its ticket engine can have the biggest impact in terms of building brand recognition. Although many startups believe they can simply post stuff to their blogs and then spoon it out to journalists and bloggers, media members are always much more interested in access exclusive data sets, which they can build unique stories around. That's why having a strategy for engaging with your potential customers on the blog as part of a larger communications strategy, which also includes traditional public and media relations, is essential.
- Make content sharable: Mint was a pioneer on the Internet in using infographics successfully. Although infographics may not rate as high with SEO analytics traditionally associated with content marketing strategies, they're much more likely to be shared socially. Similarly, KISSmetrics' blog leverages highly visual content and posts that are well designed with rich text. In fact, they've even created a special section on their website/blog to house all of their infographics. SeatGeek has also leveraged infographics to tell visual stories through its blog and with the media. Of course, both sites also make it easy to share content through leading social sharing sites, including: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, StumbleUpon, Tumblr, Google+, AddThis, and even Pinterest. In fact, KISSmetrics actually prompts its website to proactively ask you if you want to tweet an infographic that you've been hovering over for some time. Finally, it can also pay off to time your content for the best potential sharing periods. Social sharing service AddThis found that the peak time for sharing content is 9:30 a.m. ET. In addition, people are more likely to share content on Wednesdays, and 75% of clicks on shared content will come within the first day that item is shared.
[Image: Flickr user Silvia Di.Natale]