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How to Build a Self-Sustaining Content Marketing Engine

By Eric Siu

How to Build a Self-Sustaining Content Marketing Engine

This article was originally published on Growth Everywhere.

More content than ever is being produced today as more businesses are understanding the need to operate as a media company.

And that’s fair. The results from content marketing cannot be denied:

Analytics

So the question is this: how do you create a self-sustaining content marketing engine? An engine that can operate efficiently with all the moving parts flowing as one?

I’ve gone through this exercise a few times (and failed in the process).

In this post, I’m going to give you a template to build your own content marketing engine. Every business is different, so take what makes the most sense and integrate it into your company.

1. The Team

If you’re going to create a content marketing engine, you’re going to need help. One person can’t do it all alone.

Here’s an example of how a team might be set up for a small company:

  • Editor
  • Designer
  • Social Media Specialist/Individual Outreach
  • Paid Advertising Specialist
  • Writers

Let’s talk about these roles for a little bit:

Editor

The editor is responsible for making sure your content is up to par, gets scheduled, and follows your content process. In a sense, they can be seen as the executor of your content machine. For larger companies, you might have a Content Marketing Manager, Director of Content Strategy, VP of Content or Chief Content Officer.

Where to find good editors:

  • Inbound.org and Growthhackers.com – These are communities where marketers go to post the latest marketing news. They also have job boards that you can post your jobs on.
  • Problogger.net – Problogger has a job board where you can hire writers or editors. The quality of the talent here is higher because Problogger is seen as a strong resource for learning how to blog properly.
  • Craigslist – Don’t scoff at Craigslist. Some of the best talent I’ve found has come from Craigslist. It’s all about having a strong hiring funnel to start.
  • Referrals – Always a strong place to start if you’re in need of help.

Designer

The designer helps make the imagery of your content look nice. Keep in mind that how your images and graphics look reflects upon your brand and that content with great imagery gets more engagement

Where to find good designers:

  • Behance and Dribbble – Both sites are directories that show off the portfolios of individual designers. I personally prefer Dribbble.
  • Visual.ly – If you’re looking for infographic designers, Visual.ly is the spot to go to.
  • Referrals – Always a strong place to start if you’re in need of help.

Social Media Specialist/Individual Outreach

The social media specialist will listen to and engage with your audience. They’re also responsible for curating content that your audience might be interested in. If you’re wondering what your self promotion to outside content ratio should be, I suggest going with 1:4. This means that for every self promotional share, you should have four curated shares.

Individual outreach involves reaching out to:

  • People who were mentioned in a content piece
  • People who have shared something similar and who might be interested in sharing your piece
  • People you know

It’s tedious work finding the right contact information and then e-mailing people, following up, and repeating this over and over. In an ideal world, this would be a role in itself. Probably somebody more junior.

If you are part of a smaller team, I suggest training this person in individual outreach and paid content promotion. Smaller team members need to wear lots of hats and these responsibilities fit this individual best.

Where to find great social media specialists:

  • Facebook Group: Social Media Jobs – Believe it or not, this is a KILLER group on Facebook where social media specialists are looking for gigs all the time. I have found some incredible talent here.
  • Inbound.org and Growthhackers.com – These are communities where marketers go to post the latest marketing news. They also have job boards that you can post your jobs on.
  • Problogger.net – Problogger has a job board where you can hire writers or editors. The quality of the talent here is higher because Problogger is seen as a strong resource for learning how to blog properly.
  • Craigslist – Don’t scoff at Craigslist. Some of the best talent I’ve found has come from Craigslist. It’s all about having a strong hiring funnel to start.
  • Referrals – Always a strong place to start if you’re in need of help.

Paid Advertising Specialist

The paid advertising specialist will help promote content on paid channels such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Gmail, LinkedIn and more. Promoting content through paid advertising is a growing trend and I think it’s the way of the future.

For example, right now we are paying for cold traffic to come to our blog posts and we’re collecting e-mails for $2.88 per e-mail. That’s a GREAT deal for us.

Where to find great paid advertising specialists:

  • LinkedIn – Look for specialists that are working at current agencies. They’re ALWAYS looking for extra side work.
  • Inbound.org and Growthhackers.com – These are communities where marketers go to post the latest marketing news. They also have job boards that you can post your jobs on.
  • Referrals – Always a strong place to start if you’re in need of help.

For a more in-depth look at how a content marketing team should be organized, take a look at this post by Content Marketing Institute.

Here’s what their ideal workflow looks like:

Workflow

2. Ideation

Resources:

Draw up a mind map of your workflow in MindMeister.

The next step is coming up with fresh ideas for your audience.

Here are a few good ways to get started:

Swipe Files

Swiped.co contains many marketing swipe files that you can use for inspiration. You can pull landing page/image inspiration for your own purposes.

I also regularly use Evernote to clip evergreen blog posts so that I can refer back to them.

Feedly is also a great place to keep an inventory of your favorite blogs. With Feedly, I can scroll through my feed really quickly and look for inspiration. Here’s an example:

Feedly

One of my personal favorites is using Twitter lists to keep tabs on certain industries. For example, I made a list of venture capitalists that I like to follow and I always get value from checking up on it every day:

Twitter Lists

Team Brainstorming

Making good use of your team is one of the most powerful ways to come up with great ideas.

Moz has a great set of tips for running a great brainstorming session right here:

Brainstorming

Look For What’s Working

Utilize tools like Google Trends and Google Display Planner to see what’s trending. Keyword Tool is another great way to see keyword volume not only on Google, but on YouTube as well.

Keyword Tool

I personally love using SEMrush to take a look at what competitors are doing in terms of PPC and SEO. BuzzSumo is great for looking at how content is performing socially.

Here’s an example use case for BuzzSumo:

Let’s say I’m interested in looking at top performing content for ’link building’. I’ll go to the ‘Content Research’ tab in BuzzSumo and enter “link building”:

BuzzSumo

Because we’re in the ideation phase right now, I’d like to:

  1. Export all these results, and
  2. Create an alert for this phrase so I can continually monitor it.

Just thinking off the top of my head, maybe I can create an alternate version of the first result. How about ‘How to Use Pinterest for SEO: Link Building’? Might be worth a shot.

Look For What’s Working in Terms of SEO

Although you can use BuzzSumo to see what type of content is being linked to, its specialty is not in SEO. Instead, I turn to Ahrefs when I do my SEO analysis. Ahrefs is a paid SEO tool (minimum $99/mo) but I think it’s well worth it for the insights that it provides.

Let’s continue to build off of our search for top ‘link building’ content:

Ahrefs

Similar to BuzzSumo, I’d create an alert and export these results. The only difference here is that Ahrefs is focusing more on SEO metrics such as ‘Domain Rank’ rather than social shares.

What’s Working Well in Other Industries?

Check out this ad by Squatty Potty:

[insert code]

The ad is pure genius because it’s a product that isn’t necessarily easy to advertise. Who wants to talk about optimizing pooping?

But that’s exactly what they did. They even have me talking about their poop product right now.

The ad is funny and educational. And remember: ads are content marketing too.

Watch this ad and think about how you can create something funny and educational. And keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be a unicorn pooping out rainbow ice cream! ;)

3. Promotion

The third step is promotion. I’ve covered this extensively in my content promotion piece. If you’re pressed for time, here’s the high level:

  • E-mail/tweet at people you mentioned in the post.
  • Find people who have shared similar content and gently nudge them to share yours. You can use a tool like BuzzSumo.
  • Share to relevant communities on the web.
  • Share to your social followers.
  • Share to your e-mail list.

4. Continue to Refine

Every quarter, take a look at your processes and make adjustments accordingly. Things change quickly in the online world.

The best technologies of today might be inferior in 90 days. A search algorithm change may put a wrench in what you’re doing.

Constantly tweak and refine your processes or your content engine will start falling apart. It’s the same thing as maintaining your car.

Here are some tools you can use to keep your processes in one spot:

Traffic Metrics Dashboard

Put in the effort to track all the work that your team is putting in. Moz has a fantastic case study about simple KPI dashboards right here. Here’s a little more insight from their founder, Rand Fishkin:

When you have created your dashboards, get your team together and walk through each metric and its importance. After that, assign each dashboard to stakeholders and revisit the numbers each month. Everyone should take a look at the numbers and have input on what they’d do next.

5. Content Marketing Team Tools

We’ve selected a few tools that make our lives easier when it comes to content marketing:

  1. CoSchedule – CoSchedule allows us to manage our content like a true editorial team. It includes editorial calendars, allows us to schedule social posts directly, and assign tasks to our team.
  2. Buffer – Buffer is a social media scheduling tool that allows us to queue posts ahead of time. The analytics are also very helpful.
  3. MeetEdgar – Edgar allows us to create a ‘library’ of posts where we can continue to resurface older evergreen content on a set schedule. If you’ve spent a lot of time on creating great content, it just makes sense to continue to put your good work on display since social media is so fleeting.
  4. BuzzSumo – As discussed above, BuzzSumo helps us find content that is performing well and influencers who are sharing specific content.
  5. Slack – Our communication tool. Outside integrations allow us to push new blog posts into channels so our team is instantly notified. This gets us all on the same page to start promoting at the same time.
  6. Zapier – Integrates with most of the web applications we use. For example, we can have our blog RSS feed connect with Buffer automatically to push new content out automatically.
  7. Dropbox – File storage.
  8. Evernote – Popular note-taking tool.
  9. Google Drive – File storage.
  10. LeadPages – When we write content, we’ll often add a content upgrade to help increase e-mail subscribers. LeadPages has a feature called ‘LeadBoxes’ that makes this easy to do.
  11. Ahrefs/ SEMrush – Mentioned above. These tools give us a deeper look into a site’s SEO: inbound links, overall score, keywords a domain is ranking for, etc. They also provide insight into SEM campaigns.
  12. Feedly – Mentioned above. This allows us to consolidate our favorite RSS feeds and Buffer posts for curation.
  13. LibSyn – LibSyn is a podcast hosting service that allows you to store all your podcast episodes. They also have features that will push your podcast automatically to SoundCloud for more distribution.
  14. Google Analytics – Google’s free Analytics tool.
  15. Screenflow – Screenflow allows us record tutorials both for internal and external purposes.
  16. GoToWebinar – This allows us to host live webinars each week. We use GoToWebinar specifically because it integrates with LeadPages. An alternative to GoToWebinar is Zoom (cheaper and more features).

Conclusion

Creating a content machine is an investment that will start to pay dividends down the road. As your content team continues to grow, it’s important to create a self-sustaining process so that everything flows smoothly.

What are some other important content marketing processes you’d add?

  • paul johnson

    Eric, great article covering Team/ ideation/ promotion/ refinement. I’d also drop a step “creation” in there as it’s critical to build a solid outline (with things you mentioned such as leywords and phrases) and execute with a well written piece. But just wanted to say nice job and you’ve hit on some really helpful tools

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