What I Wish My Younger Content Professional Self Knew

Shelby Hill is Associate Director of Editorial Services at Skyword.

This industry of ours is so new that it might just be able to drink legally. Seriously, Wikipedia -- yes, I used it as a source, and my college professors just rolled their eyes -- claims the phrase “content marketing” was first used in 1996.

Although the practice of using content to market a business goes back much further than the ‘90s (check out this cool infographic), content marketing as we know it is always changing and growing. There’s so much a seasoned content professional has learned in just a few years; and with a decade under your belt, you’re practically an expert.

So whether you’re just starting out in this field, or you’ve been around the block a time or two, take a look at what 10 accomplished industry pros (and I) have to say:

On Career

Get over your imposter syndrome. Everyone – from that senior executive to those so-called gurus – is still figuring this whole ‘content’ thing out because the space is evolving so incredibly fast. So, be more confident, take more risks, trust your gut, and know that the creative ideas you were terrified to share in a meeting or present to a big client are actually the ones that will be most successful for the company and rewarding for yourself.
— Katelyn Holbrook, Co-Executive Director of Boston Content and SVP of Version 2.0 Communications
Be less concerned with money and promotion, and more concerned with becoming an expert in your field. Don’t learn enough just to get by, get promoted, or earn a raise…Become an expert in your craft. Soak in every learning opportunity like a sponge. Knowledge is power. The money will follow.
— Kate Westervelt, Director of Content Strategy at Purple Carrot
Be curious. Ask questions and don’t limit yourself to what you think is required of you based on your job description. Also, don’t be afraid to challenge or push back on the way something’s always been done…Challenge yourself to get out of that ‘day to day’ mindset and consider how your contribution is impacting not only your team or department, but the organization as a whole, and what small adjustments could have a major impact.
— Mary Austin Williams, Editor-in-Chief of the Boston Content blog and Managing Editor at CommunityCo
I wish my younger content professional self knew the importance of measurement. Content is one of the hardest budget lines to measure ROI. By learning that struggle early and finding clever ways to justify the spend to management, you’ll have more success (and more money).
— Jessica Marble, Marketing Manager at Care@Work, a division of Care.com
Never stop networking; never quit your side hustle; never stop take your finger off the pulse of the industry. It’s easy to get tunnel vision in a single job and forget the bigger picture: your career. But by doing those three things you’ll become a better content professional for your current company and for your future. It’s a win-win.
— Shelby Hill, Associate Director of Editorial Services at Skyword and contributor to the Boston Content blog
When starting out in this industry, the easiest way to wrap my head around ‘content’ was to think of it like a personal relationship. You don’t meet someone you like and immediately ask them to be your BFF, which is what some advertisers tend to do. You get to know each other and eventually connect on a deeper level. That’s what relevant and interesting content can do for a brand and its audience. You might not see results right away, but in the end, you’ve nurtured a loyal customer and that’s sometimes even more valuable than the immediate sell.
— Megan Birch, Content Strategist at Small Army

On Writing

Good storytelling will always win out…Storytelling is what connects us: brands to people; people to products; people to, well, more people. The thing I wish I understood earlier on was that the way in which we tell stories will evolve rapidly, and the earlier on I accepted that truth, the faster I could get around to learning the new and evolving tools of the trade. I would have jumped feet-first into learning Photoshop, video editing, social monitoring tools, and SEO tools. Roll with the tide and learn the new tools of the trade.
— Kate Westervelt, Director of Content Strategy at Purple Carrot
You can’t schedule inspiration in 30- or 60-minute intervals. Often enough, brainstorming meetings just fall flat, leading to clichés or topic traps…Instead, always be open and seeking out new blog ideas in your daily activities, and just let creativity find you.
— Julia Dunlea, Senior Manager of Media and Analyst Relations at Applause
The hardest part about being a writer is removing your own words, editing yourself. As a young journalist, I got hung up on length: The longer the story must mean the better the story. It took a while, but over time I came to realize the opposite: The shorter the story, the better the story. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for the 3,000-word narrative. But it does mean if a story can be told in 1,200 words, it can often be told better in 700 words. And if a story can be told in 700 words, it might be amazing in 300 words. Never has this been more true than today, when holding a reader’s attention is harder than ever. Shorter stories with more visuals — photos, video, graphics — can be 10 times more powerful than longer stories. But you have to be willing to sacrifice words and reporting, and that’s never easy.
— Doug Most, Head of BG BrandLab Studio at The Boston Globe
When I was in my 20s, a writer friend wrote a poem about me called “Foreclosure.” She got it published. That’s poetic irony, because the poem was about how I used to get paralyzed by my internal editor whenever I wrote…If I could send a message to younger self it would be this: Lighten up on the super ego, kid. We’re all winging it out here. Even those of us who’ve been doing it for decades. But you get better with every word you write. And you’ll never write anything wonderful, if you never write anything at all.
— Darcy Jacobsen, Co-Founder of The Wednesday Group
You don’t need to win a content marketing award with every blog post! When I first started writing blogs professionally, there were times I would just stare at a blank Google Doc for hours, trying to think of the perfect opening line as if my career depended on it. Now, I just start writing, build the foundation, and then worry about the finishing touches that bring it to life.
— Chris Kiertz, Marketing Manager at Salsify

Thumbnail image courtesy of Unsplash.



Content Comes Home: What We Learned from #CMWorld 2017

Katelyn Holbrook is Senior Vice President at Version 2.0 Communications. Follow her on Twitter, @KatelynEHenry.


There are two things we know well at Boston Content: a good time and good content.

So when Content Marketing World, the world’s biggest content marketing event, hit Cleveland last week, it was no surprise that the Boston Content community was well represented among the 4,000 marketers, writers, designers, SEO experts, producers and executives, among others, in attendance.

Though the star-studded lineup of speakers included actor-turned-producer/writer/creator Joseph Gordon-Levitt, GE CMO Linda Boff and Boston Content’s own founding father Jay Acunzo, we looked to the members of our community — the people who may work around the corner from you and struggle with the same issues — to give us the their key takeaway from the event.

Here’s what we learned:

  • "The good news is that content marketing is really hot. The bad news is that everyone is doing it. Amid all the advice about SEO, catchy titles, social media promotion, and attribution, too many people are missing what it really takes to stand out: an original point of view, and actual knowledge of the topic. What I learned from CM World is that it's not enough to write what you know -- you need to do the work to make sure what you know, and what you write, is based on unique experiences." – Josh Bernoff, Author, "Writing Without Bullshit” (@jbernoff)

  • “It’s no longer a question of whether to do content marketing, it is now about how to do it better. Establishing a platform to measure the performance of content through data and analytics is the next challenge. Whether it’s driving revenue, building brand awareness or creating customer loyalty, the ability to define and measure success will solidify the role of content marketing in any organization.” – Jessica Rose, Marketing Communications Manager, Lionbridge Technologies, Inc. (@Jalee27)   

  • "I'm coming back from Content Marketing World with a renewed motivation to build our editorial strategy not around what has worked for other brands but around makes our brand and our publication unique. I was really taken by both Jay Acunzo and Caroline Nuttall's sessions — they both spoke about our reflexive tendency to accept so-called "best practices" and crowd into the same real estate with our content without questioning why we're doing it. There's so much more room to be creative with our content, and when the barriers to entry are low, we have space to experiment and see what engages our audience. Why are we trying to occupy the same crowded spaces as our competitors when there's a whole world of original content to explore?" – Rachel Haberman, Content Marketing Manager, Skyword and Managing Editor, The Content Standard (@RachelHHaberman)

  • “My biggest takeaway is video, Video, VIDEO! I realized that I should just do more video and not worry about it being perfect. I also realized that webinars can be considered videos and are only second to direct sales engagement and that I should be doing more of them. And that one's YouTube channel should be optimized for SEO with more relevant and frequent videos. – Charu Gupta, Director, Content Strategy & Marketing at In Crowd, Inc. (@charugupta)

  • “The biggest thing I took away from content marketing world was that people are still talking about millennials as a huge shift in the workforce. Sure, millennials want immediate feedback, career flexibility, and care about social issues, but who doesn’t? It’s not a separate generation that is changing how we work, it’s everyone’s expectations shifting with the advancement of technology. Whatever thinking you are applying to this generation you should apply to all your employees.” – Mike Wood, Social Marketing Manager, Globoforce (@mikewoodtweets)

  • Content Marketing World introduced me to different metrics I can use at each stage of my buyer’s journey to prove Content ROI. The ‘ROI question’ is a tough one to answer, but if you outline engagement metrics that make sense for your audience at each stage of their journey – then the picture starts to become clearer. – Jess Marble, Marketing Manager, Care@Work by Care.com (@Jess_Marble)

Did you attend Content Marketing World this year? Let us know your favorite takeaway in the comments below!

7 Tips for Conducting Your Next Interview

Boston-based Chuck Leddy has been crafting engaging content since 1995, as a journalist and B2B brand storyteller. He's written for B2B brands such as General Electric, ADP, Office Depot, Cintas, the National Center for the Middle Market, and many more. He's also been published in print publications such as the Boston Globe, Forbes, the Washington Post, and San Francisco Chronicle. His website and blog are at www.ChuckLeddy.com.

Writers need a lot of skills, from the ability to write a good sentence, to marketing chops needed to find good paying clients, and much more. Among the most important tools in the freelancer's toolbox is the ability to interview people to inform the content you create. I interview a lot of business book authors, subject-matter experts, and business leaders/owners for my clients, and have gotten pretty good at it over these last two decades. I thought I'd share some of the things I do to make interviews easier.

1. Make arrangements for interviews. In this age of digital and social media, it's never been easier to reach out to people and ask for their time. If your client hasn't already gotten the interviewee's contact information and "buy in" to be interviewed, then you'll need to write a brief email explaining why you wish to interview the subject, your focus, who you're writing it for, how much time you'll need, etc. Then offer the person 2-to-3 good time slots for a possible interview, or ask them to offer the time slots to you. Expect some back-and-forth before you finalize the time.

2. Prepare. Once you've negotiated a time to talk, whether in person or by phone (I've even conducted a few interviews by email, which can work well), you'll need to be prepared for the conversation. Research the person's background and history. Most interviewees have a website or LinkedIn page, in my experience. Once you've learned more about the subject -- by the way, what did we ever do before Google search? -- it's time to start crafting your questions. I usually assume 2 minutes for each question, as long as they're good questions, so a 15-minute phone interview might cover 7 questions.

I highly recommend emailing your questions to the interviewee at least a day in advance of the interview. This not only serves as a timely reminder for the interviewee, but makes the person more comfortable, too.

During the actual interview, if you're not getting enough information in the answer, you may need to follow-up by re-phrasing or paraphrasing the original question. More on the importance of listening and following up later.

3. Test out your recording equipment/technology. You'll want to make sure your equipment is working, so test it with a friend/family member before the interview. Let the subject know you'll be recording the interview. In some states, you must do this anyway. I've recently been using a recording application on my iPhone 4 called "Tape a Call," which works really well and costs me about $9 annually. For face-to-face interviews, you can use a hand-held digital recorder or a voice recording app. Many of the apps cost you nothing and work quite well.

4. Relax and break the ice. You will be nervous before the interview. I like to do a few minutes of deep breathing or listen to music beforehand, which helps calm my nerves. The more natural you sound, the better. It's a good idea to try to break the ice with some small talk. Good topics might be the weather where they are, places to visit in their city, or something about sports. Try to transmit a feeling of comfort, because it will help open the flow of communication.

5. Listen and listen some more. This is perhaps the best advice anyone can offer you. Ask your question and then listen carefully, without interrupting, to the answer. It's OK to say things like "yeah" or "hmm" to prompt them to keep talking, but do not interrupt the general flow of their answer. Interviewees with experience have a little trick they use when they've reached the end of their answer. They actually stop. So when you hear them stop talking, you can either ask a follow-up question ("What did you mean when you said ABC?") to dig deeper or simply move on to your next question. Interviewing is largely about listening. You are serving your readers, so get full answers that add value. Put a line through your question once it's been answered.

6. Transcribe. Now comes the boring part. You'll need to take the audio you've recorded and put it into words. I recommend using an online transcription service. I've used iScribed (www.iscribed.com) for the last year, with good results and at an affordable price. Editing the "raw" transcript is dull, but important work.

You'll need to edit out repetitions, grammatical miscues, and other words that don't add value but may distract readers. Editing a transcript is a skill developed with experience. Never alter the interviewee's meaning or intent, but do edit for clarity.

7. Complete the final steps. If the interviewee has asked to see the finished article/post before it gets published, send it to them with a deadline. I'll give interviewees maybe 48 hours. I tell them that if I don't hear back from them with modification requests by XYZ, I'll run with it "as is." It's also a good idea to send the article, a link to it that is, after the interview has been published. In the olden days, I used to ask my editor to send a free copy of the magazine to an interviewee. Interviewees appreciate seeing themselves in print.

OK, that's all I have to share today on interviewing people. Let me know your thoughts, if you feel like sharing.

A version of this post originally appeared on the author’s website.

Thumbnail image courtesy of Unsplash.


Will AI Change the Face of Content Marketing?

Kyle Austin is the Founder & Managing Partner at BMV.

For many, artificial intelligence (AI) may elicit a slightly creepy connotation, especially with some recent developments. Fear of computers taking over swept the internet the last few weeks after one of Facebook’s AI engines created its own language that humans can’t understand. This unnerving discovery has begged one question: Will artificial intelligence technology replace the need for human brain power?

The question is being asked within marketing departments as well. In July, our neighborhood content marketing giant HubSpot added fuel to the debate when it acquired Kemvi, a startup that is using AI to help sales and marketing teams. Its technology and algorithms sort through content in real time to understand what pieces of content should be placed in front of the right leads.

Is this acquisition emblematic of what’s in store for content marketing’s future in the age of AI? Let’s take a look at some ways that content marketing could change by using computers to perceive real-time marketing environments — and take actions on their own:

Algorithms Automating Bottom of the Funnel Content

From Apple’s Siri to Amazon’s Alexa, one major breakthrough in AI has been its ability to understand speech and execute commands accordingly. This ability of machines to take over once manual processes is a true AI innovation.

The most manual aspect of content marketing today is content generation, and robots may be close to holding their own bylines. According to Gartner, 20% of business content will be generated by machines by next year. Content such as press releases, legal documents and white papers are examples of automated content contenders. However, it doesn’t end there: AI is now writing breaking news summaries on the Jeff Bezos-owned Washington Post’s website, along with award-worthy Japanese novels.

However, as Slate notes on the latter “accomplishment,” this is more of an illustration of the limitations of robot writing. Computers are much better than humans at organizing things in successful ways: They can analyze and organize copy they are fed and then compare with previous great works to create a finished story that is well-received.

When it comes to actually brainstorming and seeding the initial creative ideas, however, they’re not as great. What does this mean for marketers when it comes to content production? AI technology should be a huge asset in the future when it comes to leveraging and reusing existing content (in slightly new ways) to ensure it drives more leads.

As this type of middle and bottom of the funnel content is automated, marketers should be freed up to develop the next truly great piece of creative content for their brands.

Real-Time Robot Conversations

The Washington Post’s use of AI for editorial is a great illustration of AI’s potential for creating dynamic, branded content that can change in real time to hit the right folks with the right message at the right time.

The evolution of content’s use — from funneling leads to deeper level content to producing real-time, top-level content is nicely illustrated locally by Drift. The company, which was founded by former HubSpot executive David Cancel, connects your business with the best inbound leads in real time — almost like a virtual AI content assistant for your website.

If HubSpot was content marketing 1.0, Drift may be an example of content marketing 2.0 when it comes to converting inbound marketing leads to sales. As marketing continues the decade-long transition from business-pushed, one-way messaging to open dialogue between the seller and the buyer, AI technology will take us to the next level.

Real-time conversation will be supported on both ends of the sale, and content marketing will slowly morph into a blend of customer service that is able to pull information from instant customer feedback or questions to deliver real-time responses and results.

Bots Know Benchmarks

Another problem with content marketing today is the gray area: We struggle to understand how many leads content is driving, its direct impact on SEO, and how to measure the impact of increased brand awareness at the top of the funnel. AI could be a boost in this department.

Some of the human struggles with content marketing measurement stem from not having access to the right data. However, there is also the problem of having too much data (clicks, shares, average time spent on content) and not being able to glean what it all means. Unlike humans who often get overwhelmed with too much data, AI algorithms get smarter with more data.

As data is fed into AI algorithms, future content marketing stacks will be able to alert marketers of meaningful actions that may have been glossed over in the past. As robots spot these outlying content engagements or actions, marketers will be able to adjust their strategy as well as their expectations. Furthermore, content marketing campaigns will be able to be structured in a way to meet overarching businesses’ KPIs and personalized sales structures.

Therefore, while it’s still unlikely that AI will result in robots taking over the world anytime soon — despite the recent headlines — the latest technology craze should benefit content marketers and overall sales efficiency in the long term.  

Thumbnail image courtesy of Unsplash.