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Marketing Content Strategy

TCS Case Study: How to Find out What Your Audience Really Craves Through Social Listening

Yesterday, we kicked off our Content Standard case study project, introducing you to an ongoing series where we talk about everything we learned during the relaunch of our media property. Today, we will talk about the power of social listening and how you can use tools to refine your content strategy.

After you decide to start over with your editorial strategy, you must put the pieces back together and discover what matters most to your current and prospective customers.

For a long time, marketers acted on intuition, creating content and marketing strategies around topics they felt were of interest to a specific audience. There wasn’t much data to guide these assumptions—sometimes they paid off, other times they flopped.

Now, new tools keep marketers accountable for their decisions. Data has opened up new doors for brands, allowing them to create valuable content that doesn’t interrupt consumer behavior online. Relaunching our news site and blog gave us the opportunity to use these tools to look at different sets of data ahead of time.

In this blog, we will highlight how we reorganized our site and fueled our current content strategy.

Who Are We in This Big Ecosystem?

It’s hard to get people to listen to you anymore. To get in front of an online audience, you either have to pay for eyeballs or produce something really useful.

Borrowing from Ann Handley’s expertise, great content is useful, empathetic, and inspired. To evoke emotion or action from our audience, we needed to identify the stories that would enrich our readers’ lives and push these senior marketers to have breakthrough moments in their professional careers.

We wanted to equip our readers with the tools to break through barriers, inspire them to push boundaries by highlighting innovators, and show empathy for persistent obstacles.

However, a dizzying array of companies are rushing to the marketplace, offering to help these marketers with some facet of content marketing. There are plenty of emerging technologies that help brand marketers achieve one component of content strategy, but leave out other imperative aspects.

We firmly believe that Skyword is the best place for original content creation, but we also recognize that marketers struggle with other parts of content marketing. To gain a better understanding of this developing marketplace, we conducted an exercise to create open dialogues between emerging marketing platforms, attempting to categorize and link different players by their core offering. This led us to our Content Marketing Ecosystem SkyScape infographic.

This project not only allowed us to gain a greater perspective on the organizations looking at content strategy through a different lens, but it focused our editorial strategy and showed us where knowledge gaps existed and were growing at a rapid pace.

With our perspective on the ecosystem rooted in our analysis, we saw the content marketing world moving toward Pangaea. Yet, no one in the business world had wrapped their head around this change.

Understanding your audience

Creating content was becoming more challenging now that everyone was doing it—a phenomenon that Mark Schaefer dubbed “content shock” in early 2014. But with new technologies paired together, the mess that was once so disconnected began to make more sense.

By talking with senior marketers, we began to uncover how leading teams were using disjointed platforms to execute integrated strategies.

Still, few brands had found the key to content marketing success. Our first breakthrough moment in content strategy came when we realized we could scale and share this knowledge of what works in content marketing and challenge our readers and clients to become industry pioneers.

But first, we needed to figure out what those trends were.

Understanding Site Behavior

I want to take a step back and say that everything we published in the past wasn’t a failure. In fact, a lot of the content we released did very well. But, a complex marketplace requires organization, and our thoughts were often inconsistent.

So it made sense for us to start by looking at our past successes and failures at the site analytics level. We aimed to pull threads from the data to see which topics resonated with our current audiences; decide whether we could authoritatively speak to those themes moving forward; and then ask ourselves where we would fit them into a new, even bigger editorial strategy.

Anyone who has used Google Analytics knows that the wealth of data available in the platform can be overwhelming. You can look at the data from many angles, identifying topics that generated the most reach (views) or the pieces that engaged readers for longer periods of time (time on site, bounce rate, exit rate).

Blind targeting

We aren’t in the market for clicks. Skyword’s mission is to help brands break through the noise in the marketplace. Our content had to be rich, engaging, and have actionable insight.

We managed two Google Analytics accounts, one for the Skyword Blog and the other for our news site. In diving into Behavior > Site Content > Content Drilldown, we looked at the Top 100 performing articles over the previous six months on the Skyword Blog. We analyzed the top blogs in terms of page views and average time on site. Some important themes immediately stuck out:

  1. Articles validating content strategy performed well, while articles that showed increasing investments in content strategy performed even better.
  2. Posts that tied SEO to content marketing featured higher-than-average visits and time on page, and lower-than-average bounce rates and exit rates.
  3. Four of the top 10 performing articles were written for an audience of freelance or marketing writers.
  4. Our fairly new agency innovator series, which profiles top marketers in the digital space, showed above-average engagement metrics.
  5. Two of the top five articles offered readers tactical advice on how to capture clicks and get content in front of audiences.

Traffic stats for skyword blog

Our team repeated the same process for our news content. While we covered a much smaller range of topics in our news, such as content marketing, SEO, social media, and business insight, two categories surfaced to the top as clear winners.

We first looked at total traffic per category:

  1. Social media: 32.14 percent of total traffic from September 2013 to December 2013
  2. Content marketing: 14.09 percent
  3. Business insight: 13.57 percent
  4. SEO: 4.78 percent

After noticing that our social media and content marketing categories performed best, followed by our business insight and SEO sections, we focused on the popular themes within our news section. Some key takeaways included:

  1. Topics about newly acquired or created social media apps generated a ton of traffic, but their bounce rate was above the site average.
  2. Articles that included data about content marketing’s effectiveness or featured name brands made up seven of the top 10 performing articles in terms of traffic for the content marketing section.
  3. Business insight articles had the highest bounce rate of all news categories.
  4. SEO articles focused on product updates and typically didn’t showcase data or best practices supported by facts.

We concluded that topics about brands, new products, or acquisitions generated the most views, but from a less engaged audience. On the other hand, content that included third-party research, case studies, and best practices often generated stronger engagement metrics for brands.

Many marketers were looking for validation in their efforts, which confirmed our ecosystem analysis and supported our hypothesis that a knowledge gap persisted in our industry. However, when it came to news, we weren’t delivering on our promise.

Our next step was to take our combined insights from both research exercises and use social-listening tools to better understand the broader conversations taking place on the Web around these challenges.

Social Listening Puts the Pieces Together

By now, we decided that our new media property would include a refined news section, an internal blog, a section for our creative community, an interview series, and a section for guest posts.

Categories for TCS

With those sections defined, we had to think about the best ways to deliver a holistic view of the content marketing marketplace. Moreover, we had to do it through varying formats, with different perspectives, and at different understanding levels to reach both the rising and the senior marketer.

In retrospect, we did not spend as much time on social listening as we should have. We were eager to go to market with this new look, and we could have benefited from some extra time in the trenches. But, you live and learn!

We kept our news categories but narrowed our focus to only cover trends in content marketing and how they relate to social media, search, and business innovation based on site and social cues. After four months, we found the following:

  • Time on page for news content increased by 23 seconds.
  • Bounce rate dropped by 9 percent.
  • Exit rate dropped by 1.5 percent.

Social listening played a bigger role in how we broke content out into new categories for the Skyword Blog section. We started back with our ecosystem exercise and cornerstone landing pages. We had segmented relevant practices into categories such as content strategy, original content creation, content curation, content amplification and distribution, and content performance management.

We used those broader categories and plugged those phrases into our social tool, Sysomos. We wanted to discover how people today were talking about each practice, their sentiment toward those practices, and the negative social posts around those practices, and see whether we could offer a solution through content. For example, if you enter “content amplification” into Sysomos, you see this trend in social chatter:

Sysomos Data for Content Amplification

This graph shows the popularity of the phrase “content amplification” in Web content between September 2013 and June 2014. When we saw huge spikes in conversation around the phrase, we’d narrow the results to see what was being discussed. In this instance, I zoomed in to Dec. 8, 2014, and noticed that three days earlier, published a blog post that focused on B2B content marketing and how amplification is hard to get right.

The process was not only helpful in educating us about the different changes marketers face across industries and practices, but it clued us in on who in the marketplace was already creating engaging content around these new ideas.

We repeated this process dozens of times over to uncover commonly discussed topics and themes. This shaped our content categories, subcategories, and the foundation of our future editorial calendar. The end result was the first time we realized just how big we could go with our new media property.

Editorial mockup for TCS

Other Social Findings

We had also noticed through site data that we needed a separate section of the new site geared toward freelance writers. Our business model is built on our ability to connect creatives with businesses, but we had largely ignored our writer community in our content. We had to change that.

Additionally, we developed a Featured Editorials section that would recruit influencers across sales verticals, such as technology and retail. We also adapted our agency innovator theme into a broader series that would profile champions from retailers, brands, media sites, and more.

I hope you enjoyed this piece! Tune in on Tuesday for chapter three in the evolution of the Content Standard: “Reimagining SEO.”

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