(Photo credit: Shewatchedthesky)
This is short post on content creation and monetization.
Below is an e-mail I received from a friend of a friend. My answers to him are inline after “TIM”, and I’ve elaborated on a few.
The e-mail itself is also a great example of a thoughtful approach to a busy person (me). I bolded one key phrase.
For those who want to explore further, here are two related posts:
Now, let’s read that e-mail…
The Email: Questions and Answers
I realize you are a very busy man and you mentioned in your last reply that you are taking a couple of months off from doing interviews. I respect your request and, having read your work, understand the motivation behind it. I certainly don’t mean to intrude, but I’m working on a project for my work as a Content Strategist and would greatly appreciate it if you wouldn’t mind taking two minutes to answer two questions. I promise they are short and to the point and that I will not follow up your answers with more questions, unless you specifically allow me to. I thank you for your time in advance.
TIM: No problem :)
The questions are as follows:
When working with brands, specifically big multinational brands, I often run into the mindset that volume and velocity are the most important aspect of content marketing. Yet, it seems to me that agility and ensuring the content is found, consumed, shared and acted upon – meaning that content leads to conversions of direct business value – are more important than simple speed. What is your rule of thumb as it relates to content that keeps you from being in the news business and so focused on specificity while allowing for flexibility in topics and responsiveness?
TIM: You can’t out Fox News Fox News. Timely news-based content turns life (or business) into a keeping up with the Joneses nightmare. I focus on evergreen/useful content that is as valuable 6 months from now as it is the day it’s published. It might mean less immediate traffic, but it means sticky traffic and also Google traffic that will add up to monstrous traffic later. This all factors into conversion and sales, if that’s your priority.
My approach allows great flexibility and offers the option to hit STOP without losing it all. If I stopped writing blog posts tomorrow, I’d still make tons of income from my traffic (via books, start-up intros, speaking gigs, etc.). That was never the primary intent of my writing, but it’s a nice side-effect!
People prefer to trust other people, not brands (e.g. Steve Jobs versus Apple), so I have the advantage of being a single-person-based media provider. Brands can do this by singling out killer personalities to drive their brands (e.g. Bobby Flay for Food Network in the early days).
People want to follow humans, not trademarks. Plan accordingly.
How much of your content is planned vs. responsive?
TIM: 90% planned, at least. I write about the things that capture my attention and imagination, first and foremost. Guessing what other people want is exactly that — guessing. The remaining <10% is experimental and based on reader leads.
As a content marketer, the value of my work is often calculated in the same terms that media ROI is determined by. Yet, working in the digital space, it seems we can be so much more precise as it relates to causation. TV and media metrics often fall into the old logical fallacy of “Post hoc ergo propter hoc” (“After this therefore because of this”) Knowing that you are devotee of Drucker’s axiom “that which gets measured gets managed” I wonder what model you use to calculate the ROI of your content. Can you make a recommendation?
TIM: I don’t quantify the profitability of each piece of content, as it would affect my editorial purity and stymie my curiosity to explore things on the edges… yet that’s precisely what’s built my reputation, if I have one!
I write about what most excites me and assume that will hold true for 10,000+ people… if I write about it well. If I get 100 die-hard fans per post like that, I can build an army that will not only consider buying anything I sell later (assuming high quality — most critical!), but they’ll also promote my work as trustworthy to other people. This compounds quickly. The product — here writing — needs to stand on its own two feet.
Furthermore, it’s much more interesting to me to sell something like a small-scale, $10,000-per-seat seminar every 2-3 years, instead of obsessing over monthly, weekly, or even daily Amazon commissions, for instance.
Many high-traffic blogs and publishers are coming to similar conclusions and doing much the same. Optimizing a bad business (or marginally profitable one) is not as elegant as creating a parallel, higher-margin revenue stream. Think TED videos and TED attendance. If TED charged for their videos from the beginning, where would they be now? Near obscurity.
As Warren Buffett once said, “Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks.”
That said, if you’re operating in a CPM-ruled world, you might have other near-term pressures, but I’m building a snowball the size of continents. The catch: it sometimes moves at a glacial pace. Big things take time, but that’s OK — almost nothing can stop a glacier from moving once it reaches critical mass.
Thank you again for your time and consideration in this matter. I certainly appreciate it, as I do all of your work.
TIM: Thank you and my pleasure!
AFTERWORD TO READERS: What are your most burning questions about content, whether as craft or business? Please let me know in the commments, and I’d love to hear your own best practices.