If I was your mentor, you could hear me rant about content marketing

Updated Oct 12 2015
I'm not bossy, I'm the boss cup from Etsy.
I'm not bossy, I'm the boss cup from Etsy.

I’m mentoring a young woman named Devon this summer (have you seen her posts?), and once a week we have a phone conversation where I ramble incoherently about one of these topics:

  • Blogging history and possible future
  • Sourcing post ideas from stats and data
  • Title-writing
  • Taxonomy: tags and categories
  • Writing sponsored content
  • Community management & public relations & comment moderation
  • Content marketing
  • Monetizing blogs
  • Brand & Voice Development
  • Social media marketing

Yesterday was the day for content marketing, and HOO BOY did Devon ever get an ear-full.

"Publishing a post is the easy part!" I practically shouted. "How do you market that content? How do you make sure it gets seen? THAT'S the hard part."

Then I dived into history: “When I started blogging in 2000, I had a bookmarks folder of blogs that I checked daily to see if they’d been updated. I would go to each website one by one and see if it had been updated! It was so quaint! Then in the early 2000s, it was all about RSS feeds — do you know what an RSS feed is?”

“Is it something about online security –” she started.

“NO!” I interrupted. “It TOTALLY IS NOT, and I love that you have no idea what it is. That’s exactly I’d figured, because NO ONE USES RSS ANY MORE."

Then I explained that it's remarkable that no one uses it because RSS was such a great idea that it’s essentially what everyone’s using now… but through the filters of Facebook’s algorithms.

Devon brought up the differences between print and digital content marketing, and I was like “HA! Editors at magazines are basically just slapping clickbait on a picture of a half-naked woman, putting it on a cover, and then paying the distribution department to get it out at newsstands and hoping it’s catchy enough to grab eyes as they physically walk by…"

"…20th century content marketing!" I practically barked.

I told her about how people are so accustomed to have content spoon-fed to them now that they post comments on Facebook that say things like "Can you re-share that wedding with the purple haired goth halloween bride? It's my favorite." If they typed those exact words into Google, they would find the post themselves, but leaving the walled garden even to Google something is too hard, so they just type into a box on Facebook. It benefits us (because if we reshare it, chances are solid that more than that one person will click the link), but it's truly remarkable to see how accustomed everyone's gotten to being fed content instead of going out to find it.

Then we talked about attention economies, and contemporary social media and search engine content marketing, and figuring out if it's worth paying to market your content via Facebook Boosts or Pinterest's Promoted Pins. Then I sent her a link to this article, and told her to read it so that we could discuss later.

I’m not the greatest mentor, honestly (I should be doing more listening and less talking), but there's just so much knowledge to share! I get too excited!

  1. Few things delight, entertain, and inform me as much as your struggle to not go gently into that good 21st century light, Ariel.

    You're so freakin' smart and I adore your ramblings.

  2. The day I realized that tumblr was 80% an RSS interface to "blogs" hosted on tumblr my head kind of exploded.

    I'm old and still use an old school RSS reader, though. (Feedly for the win). Then again, I don't use facebook…

    • I also use an RSS feed still… I actually e-mailed Ariel to ask for recommendations after Google homepage shut down. That made me so sad!

      • See, I'd agree that it's not the same… but I think it's better. If Google had made Reader more like Feedly, or updated it AT ALL between 2005 and 2012, it might not have been shut down!

  3. I will never understand why people prefer fb to an RSS feed. I like all my information organized in the way I like, to be digested by me in the time frame I choose. Also! No ads!

    • No ads… except the native advertising/sponsored posts we do, from which there is NO ESCAPING MWAHAHAHA.

      • I used to feel guilty for withholding my "views" from websites that I genuinely like and want to support. But you absolved me of that guilt by saying it was basically a fair trade for my loyalty.

  4. As a content marketing professional and longtime Offbeat Bride follower, my worlds just collided and my head is exploding as a result.

    Have you played around with sites like StumbleUpon, Outbrain, or Taboola? Any traction?

    • We've used Outbrain since 2011 (http://offbeatempire.com/2011/07/outbrain) but only as an internal click driver and revenue source. I decided a couple months ago to try experimenting with it as a paid traffic generator, and was unimpressed. I don't have the budget to buy clicks for $.10 each.

      I nosed around Taboola and found the quality of content to be very, very low.

      StumbleUpon used to drive a fair amount of organic traffic, but has fallen off the map over the last couple years — is it still a contender?!

      • My company played with StumbleUpon to do something like this for one of our clients: http://www.blindfiveyearold.com/stumbleupon-remarketing — but it never approached the results we got on Facebook.
        We've played with Outbrain and Taboola as well, but never figured out a way for it to make sense. I thought maybe you'd have some sage advice or amazing hack to try…. But I guess we'll just keep on with our boosted posts. 🙂 

        • Interesting! StumbleUpon was a decent source of organic traffic for a while, but hasn't driven much for a couple years:

          I think it sorta got replaced my Pinterest, but I've seen a sag in Pinterest referrals too, which I think reflects people getting burned out on Pinterest perfect weddings:

          • Very interesting. And I love how open you are with your analytics. 🙂 Were you paying for StumbleUpon or was all of the traffic organic? Have you experimented with Promoted Pins? 

          • Stumbleupon was all organic… And funny you should ask about Pinterest.
            We're doing our first promoted pin today!

          • Ah, good luck. I've been hesitant to invest in PP, since I'm really not crazy about Pinterest's analytics platform… but maybe if *someone* reports back good things, I'll take a second look.

  5. OH MY GODDDDDDDDDD I miss RSS feeds as a major feature of The Web so much. You can tell because I capslocked and keysmashed and italicized all in one sentence.

    • I have found that tons of websites still have RSS feeds, since CMSes like WordPress often set them up automatically. I use feedly, and it has one of those little browser extensions so there is an icon that appears in the URL bar if it sees an RSS feed on a site and I can just click it to subscribe. I'd never be able to manage my webcomic habit without it.

      • I do this too! Even if RSS isn't promoted anywhere any more, it's built into CMSs and is easy to sniff out…

    • Oh absolutely, and I am one of those people! I'm not saying we don't exist, or that we aren't enthusiastic (because lord knows I am on my Feedly all day every day hallelujah amen)… but the cold hard reality is that even very smart college students like my mentee have never heard of RSS because it simply failed to pick up steam. Google Reader was killed off for a reason.

      Like many shifts on the web, it doesn't matter if I like it or agree with it or think it's right or wrong — the reality is that RSS is not a content marketing platform that works. That just is what is.

  6. Ah, how I miss these rants! And working with online courses means I have similar ones but equally with wishing we had RSS type feeds to push reminders to students, or frustrations when students forget they have to play in our walled garden. 🙂

  7. I have been a content marketer for …. a billion or so years (4? 5?) and I would still love to listen in on your mentor calls.

    Be careful with promoted pins. I felt that the promoted pin was actually cannibalizing my organic traffic to the same "viral" pin. It's possible I was looking at the analytics all wrong, but I saw no actual increase in traffic.

    • Yeah, I have my spent for Promoted Pins set at $10. I'm dubious I'll see much of anything happen, but wanted to give it a shot out of curiosity…
      sorta like I did with Outbrain.

      As someone who's spent 15 years doing marketing, I have trouble feeling like throwing money at something is more effective than throwing MY TIME at something… generally, my time is a better investment.

  8. I'm old-school and still use my RSS reader on a multiple-times-a-day basis. It makes me sad that more people don't use it or even know about it. It's such a great idea. I wonder where it went wrong…

    • There are lots of theories, but I think it boils down to an issue of branding and not being social enough: http://techcrunch.com/2013/03/13/google-readers-death-is-proof-that-rss-always-suffered-from-lack-of-consumer-appeal/

      As the author says at the end of that post "Thanks to Twitter, Flipboard and Facebook, I have more content than I can shake a stick at. I don’t want to read every single thing that WIRED writes, I want to read the things that people I know think are awesome."

      • One of the problems is admittedly the sites that publish dozens of articles a day, filling up my reader and forcing me to unsubscribe from them. (Lots of news sites fall into this category, as do big aggregators like Buzzfeed and Wired.)

        Responding to that last paragraph, though, it's funny that people boast about how they found content on Reddit before it was posted anywhere else, but hardly think to go to RSS feeds to find content before it's posted anywhere else. The world is strange that way.

      • That's interesting. One reason I've so preferred Feedly over FB *is* the anonymity. As in, I don't want my mom and people I went to high school with to know every blog I read (which is in the neighborhood of 100.)

  9. I totally use the RSS Feeds that is built into Outlook. If I want/need to take a break at work, I just pop open my Feeds. Once of my biggest pet peeves is when I find a blog that I like, then they don't have a RSS link. I basically quit reading them… I'm going to have to look into Feedly as a tool to find them.

  10. Agree on Stumbleupon. Once upon a time a very good source for traffic, now a place just full of spam and where traffic never seems to originate from. I think I probably see a referral from Stumbleupon to one of my sites maybe a couple of times a month. Really, not worth any time spent on it 🙂

  11. OMG. I seriously want to talk to you about this over coffee. Because I feel like I may be able to get nerdy about this, too – and no one ever gets it.

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