Content marketing is about creating accessible content catering to your audience with the end goal of funneling in leads.
There’s one great way of figuring out what your audience wants, and it involves an underrated tool: listening.
Listen to subject-matter experts. Listen to your product teams. Listen to your sales team. Listen to as many people as you can in your company.
This isn’t the type of listening you’d do in a second-year English literature course while sitting in the back of the lecture hall.
This involves active listening. The type of listening that demands your participation and follow ups.
As a former journalist, I can attest that journalism schools teach you this skill. But it’s a skill anyone can learn. Here are a few ways you can begin to actively listen.
Enjoy The Silence
Ever notice how many of us want to fill those voids of silence in conversation with more talking? It’s because long pauses of silence can get uncomfortable.
Yet it’s in these long pauses you can get great bits of information from those you interview. If you jump in to kill the silence, it could make the conversation less illuminating. And if you’re interviewing someone for a story, that means the story may miss valuable insights.
Next time you’re stuck in a spell of silence during a conversation, don’t be so keen on jumping in to talk.
Think Like A Journalist
When reporters are taught to speak to sources, they ask open-ended questions. These are questions that get the reporter to participate in active listening. The questions are: Who? What? Where? Why? When? How?
Get used to asking these questions. They create responses that you can delve farther into with your interviewees. It’s important to avoid asking questions that lead to ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers, which don’t really add much to your story. Nor do they utilize your active listening skills.
There Are No Dumb Questions
I noticed a dramatic shift between the culture of journalism school and business school. When I was completing my undergrad in journalism, I was taught there are no dumb questions.
Teaching this to budding reporters allows them to ask questions without inhibition. This helps you get to the bottom of a story.
Meanwhile, when I was completing my MBA, I noticed that business school students were more prone to asking questions that seemed tailored. There was a hesitancy around asking questions that might make you look like you don’t know what you’re talking about.
As content marketers, however, we should think more like journalists, and not worry about asking questions that we don’t have the answers to no matter how dumb they sound.
This is especially important as many content marketers work in technical spaces where language is often weighed down by complex terms and jargon.
Most may pretend they understand the jargon, but you, dear content marketer, aren’t one to pretend.
It’s important to remember that if you don’t know the answer to a question, chances are members of your audience won’t either. And by asking questions that comes across as dumb, you’ll find yourself participating in active listening as you listen to your source’s response to a question they’re rarely asked. You might even get more colourful quotes for your story.
Most importantly, you’ll be creating content that adds value for your listeners and readers. All thanks to your wonderful questions and listening skills.
If you’re a marketer working with content, you know how important a content calendar is to your work.
A content calendar is the backbone to your content marketing strategy.
It holds it all together.
Without it, you’re stuck with a soup of story ideas floating around in an abyss of Google Docs and Drives in the dark recesses of your company’s cloud. And that isn’t helpful to you, or to your quarterly targets.
But the value of the content calendar stems from the story ideas housed within it.
And while newsrooms are great at pumping out story ideas, it’s slightly more challenging in the corporate space. In the corporate world, some see content on the periphery to a company’s mandate, which couldn’t be farther from the truth.
And while this can pose a challenge, so can generating story ideas.
But don’t fear. There are a few things you can do to get your colleagues interested in content and also to get those great story ideas on your content calendar.
The Value Of A Byline
Content marketing doesn’t just help a company’s bottom line. It helps the experts who put their names out there. In today’s online, remote world, published work with your byline does wonders for your brand.
It’s a way for you to showcase your knowledge. It can help you land speaking opportunities at conferences. It can help you grow within a company. It showcases authority in an industry and that can do great things for your career.
Once your colleagues discover the value of being thought leaders, they’ll find more reasons to share their expertise, whether in audio, video or written formats.
Have A Ghostwriter On Hand
There might be some subject matter experts within your company who aren’t keen on writing. Maybe they’re not bloggers. Or just never got into writing. This is why it’s important to have a ghostwriter in your company.
Better yet, hire a content marketer who can ghost write articles on behalf of experts in the company.
This allows experts in your company to share their knowledge without the worry of having to write. A simple half-hour Zoom interview with an expert within the company is all a ghost writer would need to start writing an article on behalf of an expert.
It’s always good to have thought leaders know how to muster up an article, but it doesn’t have to be a necessity.
Often, C-Suite and upper management rarely have time to write. This is why a ghostwriter becomes a great value add in a company that is using content marketing to grow.
Recognize That Content Is A Necessity For Businesses Today
It’s probably a good idea to create a culture of content in your company. This is especially important today, with content marketing being a key lead generator for businesses.
Once senior management see the value of content marketing in helping with growth, you’ll find your colleagues more open to the idea of writing up a blog post, or joining in on the company podcast as guest experts.
That happens, however, when the higher ups in a company recognize the importance of content marketing.
For Generating Story Ideas, Think Like A Journalist
Now back to that content calendar. A challenge facing content marketers is how to populate the quarterly calendar with story ideas with some semblance of cadence.
As a former journalist, I would recommend thinking like a journalist or an assignment editor.
Journalists often work on beats. If a journalist is on the workplace safety beat, she’ll know everything there is to know about that space.
As a content marketer working in the healthcare space, I usually start off my day by reading the latest news on HealthTech and healthcare.
I’ve subscribed to magazines and newsletters that keep me aware of my industry. This is one great way of generating timely story ideas.
As a relatively new hire in my current role, I’m also speaking to an array of people from across the company.
I’m joining as many company Slack groups. I’m even showing up for team meetings outside of the marketing department.
This is a great way to understand the expertise housed within your company. And it’s also a great way to generate story ideas for the next several months.
Also, if you get a chance, speak directly to company customers. They’ll offer great insights that can turn into great podcast episodes or blog posts.
Finally, even in this virtual world, there are lots of online conferences taking place. Try to sign up for as many as you can. Doing so can do wonders in helping you create great story ideas.
As a former journalist, I was trained to avoid jargon at all costs when telling a story.
Jargon creates unnecessary confusion.
It makes stories inaccessible to large audiences.
And it makes readers zone out.
What’s the point of writing that thousand-word how-to guide when readers can’t get past the first line?
Yet in the corporate world, jargon has taken over like a garden infested with aphids.
You’ll recognize the corporate speak. It’s the words no one really likes but everyone pretends to like.
You know the ones—‘deliverables’, ‘competitive advantage’, and my least favourite (and probably the most dehumanizing) ‘human capital’.
That last one makes me shudder.
It’s the kind of stuff that management consultants spew to sound fancy (no hate on consultants, you all are wonderful and hardworking geniuses).
Even I’ve fallen victim to the corporate speak.
I’ve been spouting ‘thought leadership’ ever since I picked up that term in a strategy course. Hell, I even use it in one of my LinkedIn job descriptions.
But I digress.
In the realm of content marketing, when you’re creating content, you want your audience to stick around.
How can you do that?
One of the best ways is to write, or talk, in a conversational tone. Think about how often you use the term ‘deliverables’ in conversation. Not much, I hope.
Writing conversationally is easier said than done. The easier the writing sounds, the harder it is to write. Usually.
Still, it’s a skill every content marketer should have. And anyone can learn. Start reading magazines like The New Yorker. Or newspapers like the Toronto Star.
The world of journalism offers us content marketers a way to tell stories that are easily understood, no matter who our audience is.
I often hear the argument that in the tech or subscription-as-a-service space, audiences can handle complex acronyms or jargon.
I’m sure many understand the jargon. But that doesn’t mean the content is enjoyable to read. And when it’s not enjoyable, most people will jump onto something that’s more interesting.
And between TikTok and BuzzFeed, there’s lots out there that’s more interesting.
If you want another reason to avoid jargon, CBS reported in 2011 that people who use business jargon are often seen as liars. This is based on a study out of New York University.
"When you want to seem believable and trustworthy, concrete language is the way to go,” CBS reported, noting these two sentences. Give them a read.
1. Hamburg is the European record holder concerning the number of bridges.
2. In Hamburg, one can count the highest number of bridges in Europe.
“These sentences mean entirely the same thing but when asked to rate their truthfulness, people judge the second more highly,” according to CBS.
Jargon doesn’t make you sound authoritative. It makes you sound less trustworthy, at least according to this study.
So, think twice the next time you start off that story with an ego-boosting acronym.
You’re not doing anyone any favours.
I help companies grow by telling their stories.