What Creating 300 Blog Posts Taught Us About Content Marketing

By David Mizne

Today we celebrate a huge milestone… this is our 300th Blog Post (cue celebratory trumpets, virtual balloons, and superfluous exclamation marks)!!!

We’ve come a long way since our first blog post was published in April of 2013. Below, I share what we learned on the path to 300 and the 8 lessons you can apply to your own content marketing strategy.

1) Give ‘Em What They Want

The first step is knowing who your target audience is and what they want to read. Over the last year, our CEO David Hassell interviewed many new and veteran customers. He was able to pinpoint six main themes – the common pain points that led them to choose 15Five as a solution. For the most part, these are what we blog about.

I strongly suggest this strategy, especially for you early-stagers. Nothing quite says ‘I appreciate you’ to a customer like a call from the founder. If you don’t have the time, you can create a simple Qualaroo survey. All you really need to ask is whether a particular post resonated. Compile the data and create more content based on the winning themes.

2) Interviews Are Awesome

This is one of my most fascinating endeavors as content manager. I essentially get to have one-on-ones with entrepreneurs, leading innovators, executive coaches, venture capitalists, software developers, and futurists. Here’s a taste of the top interviews we have published over the years:

The vast majority of these interviews occurred because the interviewees were already customer advocates or advisors. (And it doesn’t hurt when your CEO is The Most Connected Man You Don’t Know In Silicon Valley.)

But some of these relationships were created out of thin air. People reach out because they are aligned with our vision and want to share theirs on the blog. Or I might reach out first and highlight how 15Five’s ethos is congruent with theirs. I also prove the partnership worthy by showing past interviews and sharing our numbers (twitter followers, blog subscribers, and unique blog visitors).

Don’t know anyone of note? Go listen to people speak live about topics that will interest your readers. Introduce yourself after the talk, share contact information, and see if they do interviews or will let you republish their work on your blog.

As you can imagine, interviewing well known thought leaders is a valuable practice. In addition to having exclusive access to their expertise in the form of a personal conversation, many have loyal followings. So they might be willing to share the interview via their social channels, which aids your distribution efforts considerably.

3) Curations – Break In Case of Emergency

Got writer’s block? No problem. Choose a topic that is relevant to your audience and google it. Write synopses of the most recent, highest quality articles you can find, and link to them and their authors in the post. Don’t forget to tweet or email the authors and publications you mention. They are likely to share the post with their communities.

Our most popular post of the year was a curation: 7 Fascinating Employee Engagement Trends for 2016We broke that piece down by lessons learned instead of by article byline. To see a popular post broken down by article, click here.

4) Contextualize Product Changes

If you work at a SaaS company, you are probably iterating and updating the product regularly. A great place to share new features and upgrades is on your blog. Of course then you risk alienating the segment of your readership that is only interested in thought leadership, not your product plugs. Here’s my technique for keeping (most) readers happy:

When we launched our new iPhone app, we embedded that announcement in a post entitled, How To Manage Your Remote Team From (Almost) Anywhere. We set the context and then discussed three steps for managers to achieve success with their remote teams. We provided useful advice even for those who don’t use our product.

5) Content Upgrades & eBooks

2016 has been the best year ever for our blog. I can’t share exact numbers but for you hockey fans out there, here’s what our subscriber growth looks like:

MailchimpWe achieved this mainly by creating additional content. For example, in the Employee Engagement Trends post mentioned above, we link to a PDF containing three additional trends:

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 5.08.28 PMWhen readers clicked through they received this popup:

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 5.06.35 PM

We have also created various eBooks including our most recent one, The Great eBook of Employee Questions. We always publish entire chapters in the form of blog posts, and include banners like the one below. That sends readers to a landing page where they can enter their email and receive a PDF of the book.

Submitting an email address is a small price to pay for access to amazingly valuable content. Speaking of which, our resources page is now live for those of you who want access to great podcasts, webinars, interviews, and infographics. 

6) Be Yourself!

People are swayed by evidence, but we make decisions based on our emotional responses. The same is true of what we read, what we share, and which blogs we subscribe to. I suggest that you write from the heart every so often. Not only is it cathartic, but people love reading personal stories. 

One of my favorite posts was Confessions of A Fully Supported Employee, which I syndicated to TalentCultureI changed the title and content to meet their guidelines, and as a result broadened the reach of our content and our company.

I explained how with a great deal of intention and very little effort, managers can support employees. This heavily influences employee performance, engagement, and loyalty. What was great was how I could authentically and vulnerably share about past nightmare jobs, in contrast to my present experience:

I wasn’t always this excited about the company I worked for. Like you, I have had my share of lousy jobs.

While I am currently a content manager, I am also technically a lawyer. I am not licensed to practice law but if I wanted to feed my ego, I could put the illustrious “J.D.” after my name on my business card.

At one time, grand visions of a legal career floated in my head. I saw myself in a three piece pin-stripe suit pacing before the jury. In my reverie, I pause to check my pocketwatch and hurl question after question at a witness in my southern accent (I don’t have a southern accent, but in this dream I am channeling Atticus Finsch – sue me).

I make the witness quiver with fear, exposing their lies with my rock-solid cross examination. A hushed awe fills the courtroom as I proclaim, “no further questions, your honor.”

7) LOL

If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh. Otherwise they'll kill you.

Ironically, I have never even seen a photo of Oscar smiling, let alone laughing. But I’ll take his word for it.

We often share advice about how not to manage and why. Our target readers are managers and executives, some of whom do the very things we advise against. With humor, you can present advice in a way that is digestible and sharable. People love to laugh at their own foibles.

A great example of this was, Reinventing The Wheel: How To Stop Using These 10 Horrible Business Buzzwords

“She’s a total rockstar!”

I suppose you mean this person is creative or inspiring. If she were a real rock star then she would show up late to meetings, drink excessively at the office, and regularly give you the finger. Is this kind of behavior conducive to a high-performing, professional environment?

When leaders highlight the specific strengths of employees, instead of using euphemisms for success, those people feel seen and appreciated. They are encouraged to be more productive and engaged, and others on the team will also be aware of how they themselves can contribute more value to the business.

I received feedback that the post was hilarious, but it wasn’t just about the laughs. Embedded within were lessons about how buzzwords destroy creativity, create disconnection, and a host of other non-desired outcomes.

8) It’s not the size of the post…

It’s the motion of the notion (how fluidly you communicate ideas).

There’s a heated debate amongst us content marketers around the perfect length of a piece. Some say around 1k words (a 4-5 minute read), others offer data to suggest that long form posts (over 2k words) work best. Longer posts like this one are sometimes necessary to address a topic comprehensively.

But Seth Godin, whose name is synonymous with ‘digital marketing’, often posts no more than several sentences at a time on his blog. I’m not suggesting doing that unless you have his notoriety and influence. (For insights into how to grow your following, read Seth’s book Tribes).

A diverse audience is reading your posts. Some prefer shorter ones, others prefer longer ones. That will also vary based on how much time people have on a specific day.

What matters most is that what you are sharing resonates with people. Over 2 million posts are published every day, and based on my experience most of them are probably crap. By being authentic, making people laugh, and writing about the topics that your audience finds valuable, you are certain to rise above the din.

A personal note

I am fortunate to be working in my Zone of Genius, writing creatively and authentically about the issues and topics that are relevant in this transforming business landscape. I deeply appreciate everyone on the 15Five Team for all of their hard work, support, and the wide berth granted me to explore my creativity. I want to thank the Onboardly Team for expertly creating our blog and informing our content marketing strategy back in 2013, and for their continued support of 15Five.

I also want to thank Lauren Anderson who formerly managed our marketing efforts during that critical early period for our burgeoning startup. Thank you for your dedication, fervor, and mentorship. Lauren founded Moonshot last year, a creative agency that bridges strategy and storytelling to build a brand’s impact and legacy.

David is Content Manager at 15Five, a lightweight weekly check-in that delivers a full suite of integrated tools – including continuous employee feedback, OKRs, pulse surveys, and peer recognition. David interviews thought leaders & writes on trends in employee performance management. Follow him @davidmizne.

Image Credits: Danor Shtruzman, GIPHY, izquotes

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