Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how fast media changes. Over the last five years specifically, technology has changed the way we consume and access content — whether it’s an article, video, or other interactive element or graphic. This evolution of media, the internet and gadgets like smartphones and tablets have made content more accessible and dynamic than ever before. As a writer, editor and content strategist, it’s been such a fun time to work in media. It’s my job to understand and get creative within these ever-changing mediums for a variety of audiences.
Anyway, this led me to write about the intersection of content and marketing. I wrote a blog post for social media company TINT, called, “Content Marketing: Don’t Sell Your Brand, Tell Your Story.” While researching this piece, I had the opportunity to reflect on what I’ve learned during my career in digital media and think about the talented people I worked with over the years. I decided to tap their knowledge of content marketing for my post. And, their responses to my interviews were so great, I had to publish them.
First up, we have Rachel Globus, who is a Sr. Social Media Strategist at E.W. Scripps Co. She is a unique source because she’s worked in print, digital and social, and she takes a very academic approach to learning everything she can about each medium and then she creates practical applications of what she’s learned to engage readers, while also optimizing the content she develops and produces. She’s pretty much a rock star, but I’ll let her speak for herself below.
Q&A With Rachel Globus
Christa Fletcher: How has online content changed over the course of your career?
Rachel Globus: When I think about how content has changed, the term “web extra” comes to mind. That’s what we used to call content that would go on the website because it wasn’t good enough for the magazine, back when I was the editor of a national trade. The term encapsulates an entire worldview of online content: inferior, inconsequential, extraneous.
Now—to users’ great benefit—content producers develop it natively for the online experience, which means that the best content goes online first, produced for online formats, and with interactive elements. These days, when I get the Sunday New York Times, it’s a rehash of all the best articles I’ve already read over the week. The new “web extra” is the “[insert legacy medium here] extra”!
Another major change is in the meaning of the word content. Nobody used to use the word “content”—you created articles or stories. I’ve always had a great distaste for the word because it implies a false equivalency to all written text. A Facebook post is equivalent to a New Yorker profile is equivalent to a Wikipedia entry: It’s all content. I think it reflected a lack of true understanding of content on the part of engineers and ultimately online entrepreneurs and businesses. On the other hand, it reflects a democratization of content creation that has enriched all of us. Now, as users have gotten more discerning, all content providers have had to step up their game, and that’s a good thing.
Lastly, discovery mechanisms have completely changed along with the dominant mediums. You used to package content to grab eyes on covers and front pages. Then, producers moved to accommodate the search-driven content discovery model, so we wrote for Google. Next, we developed content and wrote for social discovery, which drives us both to cover different topics and package them in a different way. Now, we’re on the cusp of a sea change as users age out of Facebook and Twitter caps out its userbase. What we’ve learned is to be agile—the trick isn’t to be good at optimizing to drive readership via the platform du jour, it’s to be good at optimizing.
Fletcher: Have these changes affected how you write content? Or how you market it to readers? If so, how?
Globus: Absolutely! If you’re not writing with an eye out how your audience will discover your content, and the environment they will experience it in, you’re not in the game.
In terms of marketing content, it’s still all about optimizing for social discovery. Where I currently work in the TV industry, they used to reach the most people through on-air commercials for key content pieces. Now, it’s not uncommon for more people to see one Facebook post than some of our newscasts, so we produce mini-packages for social platforms that are specifically designed to drive engagement and reach on social media. Facebook is still a marketing juggernaut for publishers. No other platform has anywhere near the reach.
Fletcher: Has social media changed how you write content?
Globus: Social media changes how we produce content in two key ways. First, it changes the topics we cover. Second, it changes how we package it.
When I was at eHow.com, I analyzed tens of thousands of pieces of content to determine what resonated on social media, in order to inform content development. For example, we typically planned to produce food basics for eHow Food, such as “How to Cook a Turkey.” When I looked at the social data, I found that content associated with relaxation and partying, especially drinks and desserts, performed better socially (e.g. How to Make No-Bake Chocolate Oreo Ball Cookies), so we built that into our content strategy.
In terms of writing, people now use content to identify themselves in their digital life, the way they use clothes and accessories in real life. So give them a way to talk about themselves by talking about you. For example, five years ago this slideshow we did would have been called “10 gorgeous photos of San Diego.” Now it’s “10 holiday photos that could only happen in San Diego,” which I specifically wrote to allow our audience to humble-brag about their city! Buzzfeed has taken this type of content to a true art form.
Fletcher: Has technology changed your writing style?
Globus: You have to understand the environment you’re writing for. I once had an editor tell me to start each paragraph with an unusual word, to grab readers’ eyes as they’re scanning down the magazine page. Interestingly, I think the old swimsuit rule (make your story long enough to cover the subject, and short enough to be interesting) applies now more than ever—it’s just that, as with swimsuits, the hemline keeps rising.
Fletcher: What do you think about content marketing? Has the shift from brands as publishers been positive or negative for digital publishing?
Globus: Since I’m a marketer who comes from content, I’m a huge believer in the power of content as marketing. I think the industry needs to get better at tracking how all touch points in the sales funnel lead to purchase, so we get away from a last-click attribution-only model.
Brand publishing is a positive for all content producers. More competition pushes us to be better.
Fletcher: Are there examples of brands who publish content you enjoy? Hate?
Globus: LOVE: Mic, Vox, Verge, Buzzfeed. Note that first three in particular all have great user experiences. Publishers forget that your digital presence is the club you’re inviting your audience to. If it doesn’t have a cool vibe, they’re going to leave.
Fletcher: What are some best practices you’d share with a writer or marketer who wants to get eyes on good his/her content?
Globus: Don’t just take what you do and push it out on a channel. Create content that is authentic to that channel. The prototypical example I’ve seen working in the news business is the TV station that posts every car crash to their Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/etc. account. If you can’t create content that makes sense for that channel, the channel doesn’t have your target audience.
Bake the discovery mechanism into the content development process. I.e., if you’re not thinking about how your piece of content is going to look and feel on Facebook or how you could play it out on Instagram, as you’re developing it, it’s going to fall flat.
Build your own list. Social media isn’t an audience—it’s a means to reach and convert an audience.
Test and learn. Respond to what your audience wants.
Don’t forget story.