By Kevin Lund published September 22, 2017

How to Keep Your Content Marketing Strategy From Getting Hijacked

keep-content-from-getting-hijacked

You finally get the C-suite on board with implementing a content marketing program. Not just starting a blog or Twitter account, but developing a strategy and using a real plan – one that understands your audience, how to meet their needs, and where to find them.

Fast forward … You started. You sweated. You launched. Your audience took notice and took action. Your strategy is working (for the moment) and your client/boss is happy. But before you put on your party hat, beware the trouble that may lie ahead.

What can go wrong?

A lot. When a fledgling strategy nobody initially cared about suddenly brings eyeballs and customers to your company, internal dynamics can change. There may be heightened interest in content marketing, a desire to expand the approach to other areas of the organization, or even impatience to see wins stack up faster.

When a #contentmarketing strategy brings customers to your company, internal dynamics can change. @KLundT3 Click To Tweet

My agency sees these “hijackings” crop up in two big ways. First, when you prove internally that content marketing works, others inside the organization may view the approach as the cure to what ails them – and want to piggyback on what you’re doing. While it’s a good sign when others want to join you, it’s often done without thinking through an integrated strategy and process. Just as common, marketers are over-eager to prove content marketing is working, and so content teams use data recklessly – bending it and stretching it to suit their needs rather than making it serve the greater good of improving the content and strategy.

Let’s walk through each example and show you how to avoid (or rectify) the problems.

Dealing with hangers-on

When your content marketing strategy gains traction, other members of your organization are going to take notice and want to be a part of it; however, when they come from other divisions, they often arrive with their own agendas, protocols, and even allegiances. It’s natural they care more about their own initiatives than yours, but competing priorities can lead to the creation of silos that are at odds with one another. And that’s when the trouble starts.

The trouble starts when your #contentmarketing strategy gains traction & other members want in. @KLundT3 Click To Tweet

What are the symptoms of tacked-on content efforts? Frustration and bottlenecks to be sure, but even worse, a carelessly hitched-up program can undermine your hard-earned success. I’ve seen cases in which a strong and effective content marketing strategy is deemed unsuccessful because an add-on division’s programs sank the entire effort.

Think of your content marketing program as if you are running the kitchen at McDonald’s. In its early years, McDonald’s figured out how to scale its growth and serve everyone quickly, efficiently, and (arguably) deliciously. No hamburger-craving patron was left waiting longer than a couple of minutes. Using an assembly-line model born out of best practices in manufacturing at the time, the placement of every stove, fridge, and fryer was thought through. Each step in the kitchen was carefully choreographed, shaving seconds or minutes from each customer’s order time.

So too with content marketing: A well-defined strategy and content marketing plan offer clear goals and instructions to execute. When somebody in your organization is excited by what you are doing with content marketing – and asks to join you in some way – they are like the proverbial extra (and unwelcome) cook in the kitchen. Each time you add a component or program to your mix, it’s critical to make it a cohesive part of your existing operation and strategy so that the whole functions effectively.

First, take a step back and remember that a content marketing strategy typically doesn’t belong to one person or one division. Nor is it a static document. Embrace the positive attention your strategy is attracting and look for ways to align your work with others who want to participate, and provide guidance to the new group graciously.

Align your #contentmarketing work w/ others who want to participate and provide guidance, says @KLundT3. Click To Tweet

Educate

Have an onboarding process to educate new faces and teams on everything from the high-level strategy of the initiative to editorial requirements, including tone of voice. This can be a regular training session (keep it short – under an hour) each time a new contributing group wants to plug into your strategy.

Workshop

If you discover through open conversation and transparency that your content marketing strategy needs to shift, that’s OK. Strategies are supposed to evolve – and it’s important to advocate for change if change is required.

Though you may be amenable to change, don’t let “change” be synonymous with “doormat.” Be sure those around you arrive at a consensus on the strategy with you. Also, enforce a “commander’s intent” on how things will get done. When a content marketing strategy is clearly understood and agreed on by all, everyone is accountable for knowing what to do and how to do it. This should reduce the risk of silos going rogue and undermining the strategy.

When a #contentmarketing strategy is understood & agreed upon, everyone is accountable, says @KLundT3. Click To Tweet

Adapt

As you meet and brainstorm with all the stakeholders involved, determine whether you will: (1) stick to the old strategy and train new stakeholders, (2) tweak it and get everyone on the same page, or (3) overhaul major components of the strategy and retrain everyone on the new strategy. This might be as far-reaching as redesigning the content marketing strategy to account for new audiences or as modest as revising the editorial strategy to include new digital channels.

Whichever option you choose, it’s critical to leave your ego at the door. Make the determination and discuss how best to move forward as a united front.

Data in service of the wrong master

Data is the lifeblood of a successful, long-term content marketing strategy. But there’s a right way to collect data, and there’s a wrong way. And since your young initiative needs all the help it can get, it’s worth being vigilant in this area – as it may be tempting to use data to defend at all costs, rather than improve your efforts.

To understand the role data plays, it’s important to look at the strategy collaboratively and holistically instead of one piece at a time by one person or one team in the organization. I can’t give you the single best way to analyze the data (there’s no such thing), but be wary of these bad practices.

Don’t look at data one content piece at a time. Look at content data holistically, advises @KLundT3. Click To Tweet

Prodding the data.

When data is used to validate an opinion, it’s anti-collaborative and can lead to biased decision-making. How to spot the problem? The data comes from only one source and is likely being measured by one person. It’s measured without proper context, and/or it’s prone to errors or omissions. Each of these should raise suspicion that the person doing the analyzing is working in his or her own self interests.

Data without context.

Carpenters live by the rule, “measure twice, cut once.” This is true of content marketing strategy as well. Many companies measure once and cut without regard. No pause. The thinking is, “the data says X, so we need to do Y.” The problem is that hidden variables may be driving the results. Without collaborative interpretation of the data – such as allowing other members of the team, including yourself or your subject-matter experts – to challenge the insights, false assumptions are often made.

Premature data.

Too often marketers make assumptions before the strategy can take hold and have an impact – which leads to poor decision-making. The pressure on marketers is huge to show results, but try to set realistic expectations among stakeholders about how long it will take to see content marketing bear fruit. In most cases data can be reasonably analyzed in six to 12 months, depending on the strategy and content channel. Before that time has elapsed, use your data-analysis skills to make tweaks or identify early trouble spots.

Marketers make assumptions before the strategy can take hold, which leads to poor decision-making. @KLundT3 Click To Tweet

Insufficient data.

If you have 100,000 people visiting your blog, but three of them complain the font size of the type is too small, your font size is probably fine. You will never please everyone. (And when you increase your font size, someone else will complain it’s too big.) Making changes based on small subsets of inconclusive data can lead you astray quickly and distract you from your true priorities.

Fully understanding what’s being measured requires multiple data sets, collaboration, and the ability to challenge assumptions. That way the data properly reflects what is truly going on so the correct assumptions are validated and you can take appropriate action.

Lose the battle and win the war

As you may have guessed, there’s no magic bullet to prevent your content marketing strategy from being hijacked. Ensure that in the early months you maintain transparency and open lines of communications with everyone who plays a role in the execution of the strategy; you’ll build consensus and form allies. And take time to understand the goals of the organization without your own agenda getting in the way. It’s when everyone feels heard and egos are left at the door that you’ll be in a better position to lead a productive discussion about where you would like to take the strategy next.

A version of this article originally appeared in the August issue of Chief Content OfficerSign up to receive your free subscription to our bimonthly, print magazine.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Kevin Lund

Kevin Lund is President and Founder of T3 Custom, a financial content strategy and publishing firm, specializing in bridging the marketing needs of businesses with the information needs of their customers. T3 Custom is a leader in the content revolution taking place, and Kevin is passionate about helping companies use conversation —written or verbal—as a means for driving behavior. You can follow him on Twitter @KLundT3.

Other posts by Kevin Lund

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