It’s been over two years since I started working here at Spiralytics. Incidentally, my contract officially began on April 1, 2013, and no, it wasn’t an April Fool’s joke. (I take April Fools seriously.) It was, in fact, one of the greatest things that's ever happened to my career.
Now, pardon me for the cheesy things I might say as this post progresses. You were warned.
Working at Spiralytics
I remember how it felt like, coming to work at Spiralytics. I came from an intense SEO background (8 years!), and I was at a point in my career where I wanted to pursue something more creative. No offense, SEO people.
I wanted to write, mostly. And being an SEO didn’t really give me enough opportunities to write as much as I wanted.
I must be incredibly lucky, or just really blessed, because it was in that crossroad that Jimmy Cassells found me, and gave me the opportunity to write to my heart's content.
I would be Spiralytics’ Inbound Marketing Manager, Jim said. And even though I was only hearing the term “Inbound Marketing” for the first time at the time, I was up for the challenge. I was the second employee Jim hired, and there was the 3 of us, sitting across each other in our office at Legaspi Village.
Taking advantage of the quiet (our team has grown, we're a little over 40 employees now), I learned about Inbound Marketing in the Philippines and read through Hubspot’s ebooks practically from cover to cover. I perused Copyblogger and juiced out Content Marketing Institute. I studied Quicksprout and Kissmetrics in the morning, Jeff Bulas and Heidi Cohen in the afternoon, Inbound.org and Hubspot throughout the day, Contently and Distilled at night. I started reading Moz and Seth Godin with fresh eyes and renewed excitement. Ann Handley and Belle Beth Cooper are my heroes.
To the world and on paper, my job was “Inbound Marketing”. But here in Manila where the term "Inbound Marketing" is still kind of foreign (which is my other way of saying "when I’m too lazy to explain what I do for a living"), I simply say my job is “Content Marketing”, which is basically what I do, too, anyway.
Or, if I want to make it sound artistic, I would say, “I’m a writer.” (Crickets.)
It’s been over two years, and I was having such a good time I didn’t notice time pass by. Here are some unexpected things I learned about Content Marketing in the past two years:
1. There’s more to Content Marketing than just writing content.
Before I took this job, all I wanted was to write, write, write. I wanted to be better at writing, and there was no stopping me. I imagined myself in front of my laptop, sitting somewhere with a cup of freshly brewed coffee and a nice view of the sky, pouring my heart out on a piece of writing.
One year later, I realized that creative writing takes only about 20% of my job. The other 80% of the time, I'm developing content strategies, creating reports, managing several editorial calendars, scouting for writers, interviewing applicants, managing blogs, thinking of blog topics, promoting to social media, stalking industry experts, replying to emails, Skype-ing with clients, reading other blogs, studying, learning.
I may have the word “manager” attached to my job title, which means a chunk of what I have to do are managerial tasks (of course, silly), but even our Writers and Content Strategists here don’t just write. They do a myriad of other tasks that’s beyond just writing. They research, they do competitive analyses, they find images to go with their articles (hey, that takes a LOT of time), they promote their content, they work with our graphic designer, and well, you get the idea.
Yep. Pretty much.
The old adage “build it and they will come” apparently doesn't apply to Content Marketing.
In this age and time where millions of blog posts are published each day, you have to be wise in creating content that’s worth sharing. If you want your voice to be heard, you don't stop at writing. You have to be bold enough to put your work out there, and be ready to be critiqued, appreciated, ignored, dismissed, shared. You have to build relationships with people in your niche. You have to interact with your readers and potential readers.
Otherwise, just write your thoughts on your diary, and lock them up where no one can see.
2. Content Marketing is a never-ending learning process.
An old saying goes,"to write well you have to read well." Everyday in this job requires a lot of reading and learning. Aside from the fact that reading broadens your vocabulary, reading also puts you on the same page with the experts. There’s always something new in this industry everyday, and you don’t want to miss out on the wealth of knowledge that your competition is feasting on.
You have to learn from what works and what doesn't. And here’s an even greater challenge: What works last month may not anymore work this month. Therefore you have to stay updated, and to keep learning and learning.
3. Content is still king.
Whether it’s an ad copy, or a product description, or a blog post.. a marketing strategy rises and falls on how effective the content is. Which makes Content Marketing pretty important, don't you think? :)
Come on, let’s not get into a debate with this one.
4. Content Marketing is frustrating.
I kid you not, I am more often than not frustrated with Content Marketing, sometimes too frustrated that I've come to terms with the idea that there is no surefire step-by-step way to do it, or a secret recipe to success. You can apply the rules all you want, but at the end of the day you'll find yourself still clueless about what really works. You fail more often than you expect. You have to study niches that are beyond you, and topics that make your nose bleed. Posts won't get viral all the time, and comparing your social count to Buzzfeed and Upworthy is not exactly encouraging either.
But there are days when you find that something you did actually worked: a post goes viral, a website with Domain Authority of 70+ links back to one of your articles, or an industry expert re-tweets or comments on your post.
And that, is just. Plain. Awesome.
I guess what I'm trying to say is, frustrating as the process may be at times, the big and small successes along the way are definitely worth the setbacks, failures and disappointments you have to face to get there.
5. Content Marketing is a community effort.
Content Marketing is not a “department”, it’s the collective effort of the entire company in delivering its message to its target audience. Sure, someone has to man the blog, someone has to strategize and write, someone has to supervise promoting the content.
But “Content Marketing is only as effective as the internal community that supports it, and that community is bigger than just the marketing department,” says Rick Allen of Content Marketing Institute.
I have no idea where my sanity would have gone if I didn't have the entire Spiralytics team on board this Content Marketing wagon. To do Content Marketing effectively, you have to be surrounded by people who understand why it has to be done and how to do it. And, as a company providing Content Marketing for other businesses, it’s even more essential that your clients understand the process and coordinate with you accordingly.
6. Content Marketing is all about telling stories.
Whether it's telling the story of your brand, your business, yourself, what you do for others. Last month I blogged about how content creators are starting to acknowledge the importance of authenticity and being personal when it comes to publishing content. The web has been saturated with many great content, and while it's a good thing that marketers are starting to get it, it also sets the stage for more expectations and bigger competition.
Lately, the question on how to make your content stand out and reach a more engaged audience has drawn out a simple answer—start telling stories. Real stories, inspiring stories, compelling stories, personal stories.
Which brings us to the last point.
7. Content Marketing has a bigger purpose than you think.
When I read this article written by Ann Handley in 2013, I copied the following paragraphs and pasted it on a digital sticky note that until now is pinned to my computer’s desktop. These words keep me going. Emphases mine:
"Here's a paradox about content marketing: Your story is not about you; it's what you do for others.
You, too, can identify your bigger story, with or without a social cause overlay. Ask yourself: How does your product or service live in the world? How does it help people? Shoulder their burdens? Ease their pain? Your story is always about the people who use the thing you sell, not about the thing itself. Cast your customer as the hero—not you or your product."
Tell that bigger story relentlessly and unwaveringly: It should be the steel-infused backbone of whatever content or social media presence you ultimately create. Make sure every person creating content on your behalf is looking through your story lens, metaphorically speaking: Is this telling our bigger story? Is this content steeped in our larger mission?
Incidentally, focusing on your bigger story also helps you strongly communicate what makes you truly unique. (B-school types might call this, depending on the situation, your "value proposition," "positioning," or "unique selling proposition"). And, of course, clearly communicating what makes you unique helps position you for long-term success.”
Reading that makes me feel almost.. heroic. Maybe even a little proud that there's more to what we do than just write content and drive website traffic.
It’s a nice little remainder for us in this business, to keep moving forward, to learn from our successes and even from past mistakes, and to never tire weaving words together to bring our message right where it’s needed.
I don't know about you, but that makes me feel like throwing a little party.