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Doubling Down on Content: Q&A with Mitch Wainer Mina Benothman

During a recent session on doubling down on your content marketing strategy, DigitalOcean founder and Clubhouse CMO Mitch Wainer, discussed ways founders can reimagine how they target content work and spend less, while strengthening market position with content. If you’ve already watched his talk, read on to learn more as he responds to some questions from the audience.

What tools do you use for multi-touch tracking analytics?

I actually laid out the full attribution model and formula that we used at a previous Heavybit talk. If you look through that presentation at one point, I do a deep dive into the model. So that hopefully would help answer a lot of your questions. Google Analytics has actually rolled out their own attribution tracking since then so I would also take a look at that. They’ve definitely evolved it and advanced it quite a bit. You might be able to use that as an alternative and it’s free.

If your audience is mostly developers, are there any privacy challenges to data-driven attribution?

I know with GDPR, it’s just hard to place cookies these days. There is going to be an unexpected drop-off of traffic and of tracking that you’re just not going to be able to track. It’s just world we live in, unfortunately. But Segment does a pretty good job of tracking a lot of it. At Clubhouse, we actually use the GDPR opt-in through Segment which has been helpful for us. The drop off of data not being tracked is smaller than the overall pie.

So maybe there’s 20% of the traffic that you’re not able to track, but 80% you are. That 80% is going to help guide your strategy. It’s going to help point you in the right direction. As long as those opt-in widgets exists for GDPR purposes, I think we’ll be okay. The future is obviously going to continue to evolve and change. Tracking might get harder and harder, but as long as you still have the majority of your audience that you’re able to track and help guide your strategy, you’ll be in good shape.

Where do you find talented writers?

Are you looking for talented writers to hire internally or to outsource to? It depends on your industry. For the software engineering community, there’s conferences and events. Write the Docs is one. There’s different online communities of writers that you can tap into, like Medium. If you find a writer on Medium who’s producing some high quality content and is looking to freelance, that’s a good opportunity to take. Depending on your scale and where you’re at in terms of overall traffic to your site and social profiles, you might be able to create a program like I mentioned, and start to draw in some inbound interest as well, to review some applications and to get some people in the door.

Active community members are already producing tons of free content. Does starting a contributor program that compensates writers cannibalize that organic content?

Let me throw it back to you. Are you seeing any traction or success from those articles that your community writes for free today? If not, then I would maybe start there and see if the free content is actually working for you and driving some good demand and inbound interest to the business. If it’s working well, then that’s an opportunity to double down on it and invest in developer advocates and start to engage more with your community to write that content. That could be a great strategy to invest in.

Tracking is a key component to an effective content strategy and you definitely want to know your numbers around what’s working and what sources and channels are performing the best. Those are important questions to answer.

2-5 blog posts a week seems too ambitious for a company currently doing 0. Is there value in doing just 1 post a week?

You have to start somewhere. Every article gets you closer to that 200-300 mark, which is when you’ll start to really see what’s working. One article per week would hopefully become two articles per week or two pieces of content per week. Just remember, not every piece of content has to be long-form content. You could take a quick video or record an audio file. Don’t overthink it, just post it. A lot of marketers, we overthink things and we hesitate too much. We try to be as thoughtful as possible for everything that we produce, but in many ways, it holds us back when we should actually be a bit more aggressive in pushing things out. Don’t overthink it because eventually you’ll get into the groove of things and start to write better quality content.

If you’re an early-stage company without the budget for writers, what are some creative ways to produce content?

That’s a great question. I have some useful tactics that we’ve used at both my past companies. We’ve done co-hosted webinars, which are pretty easy to set up. If you have a good relationship with one of your customers, you can bring one of the VPs or CTOs on and have them answer questions about a specific topic for your audience or your customers. Remember, your first content should be about helping your audience solve common challenges and pain points. You want to stick to that lens for everything that you create, whether it’s a webinar or an AMA. It’s about bringing together the best minds and to get people to help people become more educated and to help improve their careers.

Later-stage companies with the marketing budget, put money into things like billboards. Is it effective? When is the right time to consider spending more on promotion and distribution?

Going back to the tracking phase of your content strategy– it’s important to understand what topics and themes are working well to drive conversions all the way down to the bottom of your funnel. You definitely want to promote those out via paid campaigns. Those are your most effective tutorials or pieces of content so I would only put some ad dollars behind the ones that are guaranteed to work for your business. Make sure that you’re targeting the right audience through those channels.

Developer audiences aren’t really eager to engage with a tweet that’s clearly been promoted. Try to put promotion on a tweet that’s already organically working. It should hardly make a dent in the marketing budget. Even on YouTube, there are opportunities to do paid tutorial content or featured videos. One of the things that we do when we’re looking at folks who are contributing to our blog is, we consider their own individual social reach, or the social reach of the companies that they work for. It’s not a full-blown influencer strategy, but we definitely consider that.

Not every contributor is going provide the same value. What do you prioritize?

That’s a great question. You really want to help funnel their focus on topics and categories of content that work for your business. It should very closely tie to your content strategy. They shouldn’t be writing whatever they want to write about or create. You should understand before you even accept that submission or send the payment out, that they’re writing the content that is going to drive the most impact and value for your business.

In many cases, we’ll go back and forth with the writers that we accept into these programs and ask them for their areas of expertise. If it aligns with our content strategy, then great. They want to write an article that talks about Python? Python is a very successful, tutorial topic for us. We get a lot of new customer attraction from that category. So, we’ll have them write a new Python article. You definitely want to work with them closely to help guide the topic.

Distributing content besides just typical organic search is challenging. Any tips on backlinking?

If you try to post on Reddit or Hacker News, you can easily get flagged for self-plugging. News aggregators are tough to navigate but you can get lucky sometimes. It’s worth trying depending on how big the news is or how big the piece of content is. I would leverage your community as much as possible to advocate for your business, to retweet, to promote the content, to share it out to their audience. If there’s an interesting piece of content, encourage all your employees to write about it or to share it as well. Another good kind of content lens to think through is, how can you get your employees excited about the content that you’re creating so that they would share it organically to their network. What we’ve done in the past is write profile pieces on people to get them excited.

Should you spend the same amount of time and energy contributing to other sites? Is it an effective strategy?

I think it’s a great idea, especially if it’s for a key partner opportunity. Let’s say, you’re trying to partner up with a company that’s going to be complimentary to you and help drive new business. You can write a guest post or a helpful tutorial for them to educate their audience on how to do XYZ. That’s a really smart play to strengthen a relationship with a key partner. In DigitalOcean’s case, we wrote some content for HashiCorp, pretty early on. That worked really well in driving traffic our way. But it’s not where you want to spend the majority of your time. If you are going to dedicate, a small portion of your time, it should really be for those key partners.

In terms of aggregator sites and communities like Dzone or devops.com, if you have the budget to hire a PR agency, they can help funnel a lot of those opportunities your way. They always ask for guest content and contributor content to place. If you have someone that is dedicated to that internally, that could be a great tactic.

What are the expectations around data sharing with contributors? And permissions around ownership?

At DigitalOcean, we had a number-of-views ticker on every piece of content so it would be there, right in front of them. What was cool was, we actually built a true community platform where everyone had their own profile, with the articles they’ve written. The most popular articles by view count were prioritized at the top. We even had “hearts.” So you could see which posts were being favorited the most and that would count towards your social profile on the site. We invested a lot in building out our community platform application on DigitalOcean. At Clubhouse, that hasn’t popped up yet. I think, once they get paid, they don’t really care to be honest about stats on performance of the article. If it’s done well though, we’ll reach back out and tell them.

In terms of ownership, you can have a quick legalized agreement or contract, that states the expectations of the program, that you’re looking to create. At both companies, we’ve had a short form contract that contributors have filled out and accepted. Once we pay for the content, we have the exclusive rights. But it does say, if they want to share the content on their networks, they can. Republishing on another blog is going to start to dilute your SEO so definitely advise against allowing folks to republish the content on their own site.

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