January 19, 2022
Blogging isn’t dead, but it isn’t the only way to do content marketing. Here's how you can do better by scaling lean with decentralized content marketing.
Blogging isn’t dead, but it isn’t the only way to do content marketing.
In fact, I talked to my old boss, Peep Laja, a while back about this. He lamented that he had spent weeks to months crafting an amazing blog post about brand positioning. It rang in a few thousand pageviews, similar to a Tweet or LinkedIn post that takes him minutes to write.
Granted, there may be differences in the intent of how people are viewing content in each of those mediums.
But still, it made me think: as a small business owner, where’s my leverage?
Look, I own a content agency. I’m not here to tell you not to invest in content marketing.
But here’s the reality of the game: it’s easier to make content marketing work if you’re already big.
This is especially true if you’re hoping to distribute your content via search engines (we’ll call that search-driven content).
In any ROI equation, we have to look at two factors: the cost and the returns.
Every business owner or leader wants their acquisition channels to be ROI positive. Challenges with content marketing attribution aside, you can’t keep investing in a channel if it doesn’t have greater returns than your costs.
The returns of content, while sometimes hard to measure using common analytics tools, come in the form of leads, purchases, retention, and really, revenue.
The cost of creating content mainly comes in the form of tools and talent. You need software to write, promote, edit, optimize, and publish your content. You need people to write, promote, edit, optimize, and publish it.
How expensive these things are actually changes based on three things:
Listicles and roundup posts are “cheaper” content because they’re formulaic and easier to produce, meaning the barrier to production is low and pretty much anyone can produce an article of sufficient quality.
It’s more “expensive” to conduct an original research study or write absurdly long form thought pieces. You’d need a good writer, a researcher, an outreach specialist, a sample population to study, and a lot of time.
Ultimately, early stage companies need to invest *more* in content production in order to stand out, differentiate, and rank in search.
That is, unless you have low competition.
How many competitors you have and how sophisticated their own content programs are often determines the cost of content because it determines the type of content you need to create to stand out.
If there are few competitors and the barrier to entry is low, businesses will likely do the minimum to meet that bar (i.e. they’ll write listicles) until another business produces higher quality content and raises the bar.
But if you’re in a competitive space, “cheap” content doesn’t work (until your website authority reaches a sufficient threshold)
Finally, your own website authority - in relation to that of your organic competitors - determines your ability to rank content in search engines.
So there’s a direct correlation between the maturity of your site and the ease of ranking. Which means there’s an inverse correlation between cost of content and maturity.
Content gets cheaper - which means the ROI is higher - as you scale.
This fact, along with the general fact that there is increasing competition and writers’ rates are going up, may be why content CAC is rising faster than other channels.
In any case, I believe content is a long game, and you most likely still want to play it.
You just have to play a different game as you’re scaling.
That’s where I came upon the idea of decentralized content.
Decentralized content marketing leverages employees across several channels to create a ‘surround sound’ effect with your thought leadership
It removes the common bottlenecks brought on by the above factors (rising competition, cost of production, etc.) by decoupling you from thinking only of your blog when you think about content marketing.
Simultaneously, it leverages the repetition effect - when someone sees a message several times, they’re more likely to remember it and take action upon it.
So what does decentralized content marketing actually look like?
It’s hard to answer, because the answer depends on what channels your customers are in and how effectively you can reach them.
For most, this looks like:
It’s more so in opposition to the siloed and centralized approach where you only look at your blog as the center of your content marketing (and then social as just ‘arms’ by which to distribute blog posts).
To be clear: decentralized content marketing isn’t just social media marketing. It uses social media, sometimes, as distribution avenues. But at heart, it’s a strategic shift in how content marketing is governed, planned, and executed at a company.
This is the part of the process that most resembles traditional blog-centric content marketing.
You’re going to need a big old list of ideas.
You can gather this the exact same way you would gather ideas for your blog (though I’d try not to index too heavily on search keywords):
The thing with this step that is different from your blog topic backlog: these ideas are hypotheses. Experiments.
In a content roadmap report, you’re assuming you’ll spend hundreds of dollars on a blog post.
In this play, you need only to spend a few minutes writing a tweet or 30 minutes recording a podcast on the ideas. The barrier to entry, cost-wise, is much less.
So let it rip. Come up with 100s of ideas, knowing not all of them will be awesome.
Even though this strategy is one of decentralization, you still need to sound like somewhat of a cohesive brand.
I can’t be on Twitter smack talking about something that my co-founder David is praising the next day. Weird dissonance there.
You may also want to construct some simple voice and tone guidelines.
You’ll notice that all the Morning Brew people are active on Twitter, and they actually all Tweet somewhat similarly.
A simple style guide suffices. Lean more towards what you’re *not* going to publish or sound like. Avoid vague guidelines like, “professional, yet informal,” which means nothing.
This is the step where some workflow tools can help you out. We use Notion to consolidate all of this stuff (and to write our tweet drafts). You can also work off of content operations software like GatherContent or CoSchedule, depending on the complexity of your operations.
Figure out which channels are worth investing in. This can also be a hypothesis - perhaps you want to test a channel with high potential that you don’t know will work yet. I, for instance, think I could make TikTok work if I put the time in.
For now, however, I focus on Twitter, LinkedIn, podcasting, and blogging.
Why? Because I already have a following in both social networks, and I know that business buyers are on LinkedIn. I know, too, that I’m great in written format, as are my co-founders and team.
As for podcasting, it’s incredibly easy for me to get on a microphone and talk for 35 minutes. Everything after that is automated or outsourced, from editing to hosting to promotion.
Finally, we sell to content marketers, and they like to read blogs (even if they discover you on a podcast or social).
In the future, we may expand. But when you’re starting out, you want to completely saturate fewer channels as opposed to spreading yourself too thinly across many.
Again, you want to create a repetition effect, where someone sees you and your 10 teammates saying the same stuff on their feed over and over again.
This is the hardest piece. How do you incentivize someone to essentially take up a second job as a thought leader?
Here’s my opinion: do it for them first.
It takes a lot of confidence, faith, and energy to start writing content. Whether that’s on a blog, Twitter, LinkedIn, or YouTube videos, just getting started is the hardest part.
However, there’s a dopamine rush when you can get likes, comments, and engagement.
So in full transparency, I’ll tell you that I’ve ghost written a lot of tweets for my co-founders to get them onboarded into the decentralized content marketing program. In even greater transparency, I’ll tell you that I use AI copywriting tools like Jarvis to help me write faster.
Outside of that, it helps to have regular content creation workshops (dedicate time on the calendar to this) and training sessions. Pay for courses on this stuff. Give all the resources, interviews, and support people need to keep a constant stream of content flowing.
Part of the magic of decentralized content is that you can learn and iterate much faster than with search-driven content. Your process should resemble that of product building or experimentation. I like the Build Measure Learn framework:
The way I like to do this is by testing messages on the lowest effort channel and pulling the best performing messages to other channels that require more cost or time.
While I mentioned focus matters in picking your channel(s), you’ll want to repurpose your content as much as possible. This, along with the repetition from multiple team members, is where the leverage comes from.
But spend as little effort and money as possible repurposing what you’ve done to expand to different channels.
For example, if you’re recording a podcast interview, you might as well turn your Zoom camera on and post it to YouTube. Then hire a firm to take that transcript and turn it into a blog post. Then take that blog post and chip off 3-5 tweets, LinkedIn posts, and Quora answers.
Bam: 6 different channels from a 35 minute podcast recording.
The underrated piece of this strategy is how rapidly you can get feedback on what resonates and what doesn’t, especially if you’re using social media analytics tools like Iconosquare.
What KPIs do you want to look for in decentralized content?
In my opinion:
An underrated aspect to the decentralized content game: you can test ideas rapidly and double down on what works.
For example, I said the phrase “content is gardening, not hunting,” in like six podcast episodes. Guests always remarked that they liked that phrase, so I tweeted it:
Got a ton of engagement, so I posted a longer version on LinkedIn:
That did super well, so now I’m writing a blog post about it and planning a podcast fully on that topic.
One simple idea, a single sentence, expanded into many different content forms.
That’s leverage. That’s how small teams can compete.
You’re going to love this: large companies shouldn’t do this.
Well, most large companies. Why? Because in every organization of a sufficient scale, there’s more risk in decentralization than reward. There’s also more cost, paradoxically: having many rounds of approval, governance, and quality control is actually really difficult.
In this case, publication only from approved centralized channels is great: you’ve already got a huge surface area for promotion and a built in audience.
That, in essence, is why this is the “unfair advantage” of scrappy scaling companies. Through doing this, you can also build an email list, drive backlinks, and build authority, which, over the long term, will actually allow you to compete with the big players on their own terms.
This is also probably best, at least currently, for B2B SaaS, services, and high ticket retailers. Anyone in the business of selling trust and expertise can benefit from this. In the case of low ticket ecommerce, you’re likely better off investing in broader reach and higher scale channels. Decentralized content is best at reaching fewer but more important and targeted people.
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