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10 Content Marketing Truth Bombs Shared With the #CMWorld Community in 2021

Dropping verbal bombs in a livestream usually isn’t a good thing.

But the experts on Ask the #CMWorld Community livestreams this past year dropped some amazing ones, talking about everything from analytics to video storytelling, SEO, and more. Here are the top 10 takeaways shared by our generous guests that we didn’t want you to miss.

The Ask the #CMWorld Community livestreams dropped at least 10 amazing #ContentMarketing truth bombs in 2021, says @AmandaSubler via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

(If you have time, check out the weekly episodes from 2021 here and tune in on your favorite social media platform every Monday at Noon EST.)

1. Let employees be their authentic selves on social (with some guardrails)

Erika Heald, consultant with Erika Heald Consulting, joined us for the social media in the workplace episode. We asked is it possible for employees to be their authentic selves on social media and follow your company social media guidelines?

She says, “I think the key is to hold some lunch-and-learns or some other kinds of conversations with those employees to let them know … we’re not trying to control what you say on social. We do want you to be yourselves, but give some guidelines about here’s how we should behave.

Your employees have the potential to be your most authentic advocates on #SocialMedia, says @sferika via @AmandaSubler @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

“So for instance, people can get really heated (on social) … give (employees) coaching on if somebody says something terrible about the brand, don’t engage with that person, flag it to corporate comms. Or give them some of those kinds of coping mechanisms around when you are tempted to say something that isn’t very nice, walk away from the computer for a minute or two, and then come back and ask yourself (if) would you actually say that to someone’s face. So just kind of giving some of that support and coaching.”

2. Know which numbers your job depends on

Chris Penn, co-founder and chief data strategist with Trust Insights, joined us to chat for the content marketing analytics 101 episode. We asked what is the biggest mistake he sees marketers make when it comes to gauging the performance of their content efforts?

Chris’ answer? “Not knowing the difference between a metric and a KPI by far.”  As Chris explains, a KPI (key performance indicator) is a number that, if it goes in the wrong direction, you could get fired. Everyone is going to have a different KPI they should be measuring. The key is to think about what number will you get a bonus for or what number will get you fired or dinged on a performance review.

A KPI is a number that, if it goes in the wrong direction, you could get fired, says @cspenn via @AmandaSubler @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

If you don’t know what that number is, then you need to ask your boss. And as Chris points out, “If your boss doesn’t know what that number is, you need to update your LinkedIn profile because you and your boss are in a lot of trouble.”

3. A content council solves many collaboration and coordination problems

Andi Robinson, global digital content leader for Corteva Agriscience, joined us to chat about how to get buy-in for your content marketing operations. She built a content marketing team from the ground up and talks about how one of the best things she did was create a “content council” within the organization.

Create a #content council to advise, support, and advocate for successful content operations, says @hijinxmarketing via @AmandaSubler @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Andi shares, “One of the first things I knew I needed to do was to form a team that could help me bring messages, bring best practices, and advocate for content marketing throughout the organization.” Andi works in Indianapolis but works with about 50 marketing teams around the world. She needed to enlist everyone to advocate on behalf of not only content marketing but content best practices. Andi also needed local teams to bring their ideas and information to the broader marketing team within the organization.

“One of the big things that we do as a content council when we meet is to talk about who’s doing what, if we could share best practices, and if somebody has questions about something that they’re doing that other team members can answer. So, it really is a collaborative team that comes together as part of that content council.”

4. Guest posting still works to generate potential new business

Michelle Garett, PR consultant with Garrett Public Relations, chatted with us about how freelancers in the content marketing space can set themselves up for success. We asked what are good places to generate leads and find work opportunities in your business?

“I’ve had a lot of success with social media. Twitter is my primary platform, but of course, a lot of people like LinkedIn. I also think having a blog and regularly, consistently blogging (helps), and then also contributed articles and guest posting. That’s been a very successful way for me to also reach new people that might not otherwise be familiar with my blog.

@PrisUs says guest #blogging is a successful way for her to reach people who might not be familiar with her blog via @AmandaSubler @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

“Or it just helps me reach other audiences and a lot of publications are looking for guest posts … For example, I like manufacturing, so I’m always looking for and I’ve been on some podcasts about manufacturing. I have guest posted for Thomasnet, which is a big player in that industry … That’s probably a lot easier in some industries than others. I think health care probably has a lot of outlets that might be interested in guest posts and things.”

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT: Guest Blogging: A Step-by-Step Guide

5. Technology should help, not drive your strategy

Content strategist Buddy Scalera talked about the importance of marketers understanding the technology in their marketing stack, and why it’s not necessarily a good thing to chase the newest, fanciest marketing tools out there.

As he says, “You need to really first start with what are your end goals. What do you want to accomplish? … You need to also begin by understanding the persona of your target audience. That will drive the technology that you need.”

When you understand the persona of your target audience, that will drive the technology that you need, says @BuddyScalera via @AmandaSubler @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Buddy explains: “(A)s we exploded on the internet with all the social platforms, we began to create our campaigns around the technology. We would say, “OK, we’re going to create something for TikTok. Maybe that was a great idea. Maybe it wasn’t, but often you will see people lead with the platform or the technology, and then try to shoehorn their content into it.

“I’ve been to plenty of different meetings where they were talking about … how will this work with Google Glass? And now these days, well, how will this work with blockchain. And they’re trying to figure out a way to make the technology work for their marketing. Whereas if their marketing is working and their content is right, that’s the first question. What does your audience need to hear and want to hear from you?”

6. Improvisation may turn out to be your most important skill

Kathy Klotz-Guest, founder of Keeping it Human is a big proponent of improvisation and giving teams room to play and create. We asked her how improv plays into building innovative marketing teams.

“(Y)ou’ve probably never thought of it that way, (but) your team is an improv group. And I’ll tell you why – you have to realign, you have to work together, co-create, things change. You have to pivot every day. So you’re already an improviser and your team is having to improvise. Everybody had to during COVID. That’s a high-stakes example, but sometimes the stakes are lower, and we have to switch, and we have to adjust. You’re already an improv team. My theory is, if you’re going to be an improv team, why not be an intentionally purposeful, good team, not a sucky team.”

Kathy says, “One of the most fundamental concepts is how do we create psychological safety. The reason improvisers on a stage are able to do that is because we have a concept called ‘I got your back.’  There’s no right. There’s no wrong. Imagine in our teams, if we judge each other’s ideas less and said … what’s viable about all these ideas and how can I build on what they said rather than how can I … find 20 reasons why it won’t work. How can I find reasons why it will work? That’s psychological safety.”

Treat your team like an improv group. Imagine if we look for what's viable in team members' #content ideas instead of finding 20 reasons why it won't work, says @kathyklotzguest via @AmandaSubler @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

7. Find the unique angle before you start original research

Michele Linn, co-founder and head of strategy with Mantis Research, joined us to chat about the benefits of having custom research as part of your marketing mix. She explained that getting started isn’t about coming up with questions.

“So many marketers are like, ‘This is going to be fun. Let’s start writing questions.’ What I would say is back up and put together a really simple strategy. Understand what is that thing that you want your research to do? Do you want it to build email subscribers? Do you want it to be a thing for your thought leadership program? Do you want it to be a place where you can make a lot of other content? What’s that thing you want it to do?

Before you start writing questions, back up and put together a really simple strategy. What do you want your #research to do, asks @MicheleLinn via @AmandaSubler @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

“Also, figure out who it is that you want your research to most impact so that you can make sure that you’re really providing those insights that are super interesting to that audience. And then I really think it’s important that you understand what research (already) exists in this space … I was talking to someone last week and they say, you know, we want to do a report on video in content marketing. But if you type in video stats, there’s so many reports that already exist. You need to make sure that you have your own specific angle out there before you even start writing the questions.”

8. Brand voice should reflect company culture and audience norms

Digital strategist Vassilena Valchanova joined us to share advice on defining your brand voice and who within the organization should be involved.

“(It) is a marketing-led initiative and marketing gets to do the brunt of the work, but it’s not something that is done only solely by the marketing team. You need to involve a lot of different people. There are a few different stages in defining a brand voice. And the first one … is the initial research.”

The first stage in defining your brand voice is conducting the initial research, says @vasvalch via @AmandaSubler @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Vassilena explains: “Check out your existing communication and see how your brand is already communicating and what you can keep from this communication style. This can be (done by) going through existing blog content or social media content or wherever your brand’s presence is. It can even go through internal company research. So how people are communicating in a more organic matter all throughout your organization.

“This can be a great source of inspiration because what usually happens is that the brand voice needs to reflect the company culture. And if your team is super informal and friendly in internal comms, but your brand needs to be very serious and conservative looking on the outside … it makes it much harder to sustain in the long run.

“And then there’s also your general audience research. So how do the people you are targeting, how do they communicate on their own in different online communities like LinkedIn groups or Facebook groups and so on? How do they talk amongst themselves or the jargon they use? What’s the language style? What we’re trying to do here is to understand our audience and make sure that we fit in, in the best way possible.”

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT: 5 Steps to Find Your Brand Voice

9. The best SEO optimization starts before writing

Chris Craft, chief content officer with NEOLuxe Marketing, talked about how to make sure your content is organically optimized to perform before you write.

“Say you have a new content initiative you want to do. Typically, it starts with some brainstorming … You just sit at the table, hashing out ideas, and that’s healthy because you can start to build a general cloud of content ideas, whether those are specific topics or themes … Then you get a little bit more specific by doing a content matrix process where you take some of those themes and potential topics, and you organize it according to your target audiences.

Make sure your #content is organically optimized to perform before you write, says @CraftWrites via @AmandaSubler @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

“And then you take those themes or topics and turn them into what we call head terms. And those are just general phrases that you can potentially search for within a search engine, but they’re very, very high level, right? … (Y)ou’ll take those head terms and you’ll plug it into your favorite keyword research tool … and you turn those head terms of general keywords into long-tail keywords. Then you’ll take those long-tail keywords and apply them to the organized topics, themes, and clusters that you developed in your content matrix exercise. And then from there, you have all that you need. You could take those keywords that are matched up with those, themes and topics, and turn that into a content calendar.”

10. Give your audience a peek behind the curtain

Tony Gnau, founder and chief storyteller at T60 Productions, shared why he thinks pulling back the curtain on your product or service operations is a great video marketing strategy.

“When we are producing videos, it’s always about trying to produce something that is genuine and authentic. Behind-the-scenes videos are all about authenticity and welcoming people into the business. Really dig into what your business or organization does. Do something on your operations, how you operate as a business or organization however that may be. If you have an actual product, show people how you produce it. Actually, take them behind the scenes at the manufacturing facility.

Pulling back the curtain on your product or service operations is a great #video marketing strategy, says Tony Gnau of @T60Productions via @AmandaSubler @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

“It gets tricky when you are a service provider. But even if you are producing a video demonstrating an accounting service, you can take them into the office and show them the professional environment in which you’re conducting your business. You introduce them to the people who they will be doing business with. Those are still valuable behind-the-scenes videos. They are valuable because a lot of people don’t do them. They chicken out. It’s still valuable because your competitors aren’t doing those videos.”

Want more?

So many guests shared great insights throughout 2021, check out more from the 2021 playlist. You can watch all the episodes of Ask the #CMWorld Community or Ask the CMI Team here. If you have any suggestions for topics or guests for 2022, please let us know in the comments or fill out this short form.

Ask the #CMWorld Community is on hiatus for the holidays. Set up a calendar reminder to join us at 12 p.m. EST Mondays (starting January 10, 2022) to catch a new set of truth bombs from experts in the #CMWorld community. Catch us live or on a replay on CMI’s YouTube channel.

 Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute