Ferris Bueller may have been talking about stopping to smell the roses in your everyday life, but he may as well have been discussing marketing trends. Things change quickly in today’s 24-hour news cycle, and if content creators don’t pay attention to what’s going on around them, they could get left behind.
Many marketers already have processes for staying ahead of digital trends, but a content creator may not have access to the same client availability or granular reporting that helps some of those marketing minds succeed. That often leaves them locked out of valuable career advice and hot trends that could improve their portfolios and deepen their client list.
Ferris may have said it best, so let’s take a look at some of the lessons a content creator can learn from the classic film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to stay on top of marketing trends.
It might seem like an attention-grabbing endeavor—such as the one Ferris pulls when he takes center stage on a float during a Chicago parade—isn’t applicable to the common man (or in this case, the common content creator). But there are certainly ways to leverage what the big brands and influencers are doing, scaling and tweaking them to fit your efforts. First, you have to find out what those big moves are.
Ed Brancheau, the CEO at Goozleology, recommends using a tool like BuzzSumo to see what’s taking off in a given industry. “BuzzSumo is great to find the influencers in a market, follow their posts, and generally keep on top of what’s happening,” he says. “Also, it makes it really easy to search for a particular keyword and find articles in the last 24 hours or so that are getting a lot of shares.”
Traditional social media sites can also help creators see what’s trending and what’s gaining traction. Of course, you’ll have to actually click on links to study the pieces being spread around, and read profiles and do a little extra digging to see which public profiles are influencing audiences. “Twitter is definitely one of the most helpful tools when it comes to staying on top of marketing trends, whether I’m reading up on the most popular hashtags or visiting the profiles of influential leaders,” explains freelancer Kate Tully.
But too much Twitter can serve as a distraction to creative minds, and luckily there are other tools that help cut through the noise of cluttered feeds. “My favorite tool is the Nuzzel app,” adds podcaster Josh Muccio. “I follow marketers on Twitter, and this app surfaces content that lots of my friends are sharing. More importantly, it keeps me away from my Twitter feed.” Several other freelancers mentioned tools such as Hootsuite, or even taking advantage of website capabilities such Twitter Lists, as a means of discovering what’s making an impact on audiences.
Sure, you could leave your fearless leader at the front of the class reciting “Bueller…Bueller…” over and over again. But ultimately, that leaves the rest of the audience bored. If you want to avoid this mess, you’ve got to show up—to conferences, networking events, client visits, and more.
Conferences like Content Marketing World offer opportunities for content creators with other creative minds, as well as marketers, editors, and strategists who are regularly seeking their services. The opportunity to speak directly with clients and make connections with influencers is invaluable to many, but it also acts as a way to learn what employers are looking for in their creators. Even an offhand comment may spark inspiration for a new endeavor.
“As a freelance writer in the technology industry, I’ve found that the most interesting stories come not from searching online but from my own experiences with companies, and with people,” says freelancer Anne Janzer. “This past year I’ve attended a number of conferences and spoken with people from all sorts of businesses. And many of these interactions have turned into wonderful blog posts or stories for future books.”
Closing the computer, heading out into the world, and exploring the industry you’re centering content on is a great way to get new ideas. Just make sure you’re keeping an open mind and scoping out all the options at your disposal.
Ferris and his crew made time to stop at a museum during their monumental day off, and they even managed to take a moment to reflect on some particular images. The same goes for content—visually appealing pieces tend to perform better than their text-only counterparts.
Visuals are really important to me,” says Tully. “I tend to be drawn to articles that have compelling pictures or relevant graphics, especially if I can save them and send them to other people.”
Many creators cited battling content fatigue as the biggest challenge they face. Visuals are one way of combating this problem: A more traditional post can easily be taken to the next level with a video, photo, graphic, or illustration. However, it can get difficult deciding which is right for a certain piece of content and what will strike a chord with the audience—after all, visuals are subject to many of the same trends that affect other more traditional types of content.
Take the GIF, for example. Years ago, the use of moving images in an article would have been out of the question. Now, not only is it widely practiced among popular and extremely viral sites (BuzzFeed, anyone?), but some employers expect their content experts to be able to create GIFs, embed them properly, and otherwise be adept at intertwining them in a story. Freelancers who spotted this trend ahead of the curve and managed to hone their skills had a leg up on the competition.
There’s no shame in being named “The Sausage King of Chicago.” Ferris knew this when he used the title to snag a table at a ritzy restaurant, but content creators can take a page out of his book by learning to look beyond a name, especially for quality insight. Your news on industry happenings doesn’t have to only come from well-known websites.
“I get my inspiration from other writers. At any given time, I have at least one novel I’m in the middle of reading,” Tully says. “And I love nothing more than reading work that my peers have written—watching how other people use words, describe scenes, and get from point A to B always inspires me to get something new down on paper.”
However, don’t discount recognized online digital marketing sources.
“There is no better way than to stay educated in the realm of marketing than by reading, watching, and absorbing everything you can,” Mine Salkin, a digital marketing manager, explains. “Advertising Age gives a great overview of the entire industry, and its case studies allow you to really ponder why some content is more compelling than others.”
Faking sick is nothing new for high school students, but Ferris took it to another level. Content creators can take a page from his book and make sure they are committing to their efforts wholeheartedly. That often means going above and beyond when it comes to research and preparation, both regarding content as a whole and the specific industry on which you’re focusing.
“Share your email. Become a member. Download eBooks and white papers,” recommends Heidi Wise, a freelance communications professional and the owner of her own firm. “If somebody gives you free access to valuable insight about content ideas, management, or trends, it’s absolutely worth the ‘cost’ of sharing your contact information so you can be more effective at creating content that compels people to act.
“I’ve done this to learn from other freelancers, marketers, and companies who provide services to help marketers and content managers do their jobs better,” Wise adds. “One particularly helpful group I discovered this way was the Freelancers Union. I’ve also learned a great deal about customer expectations across industries through Loyalty360.”
One of the most important lessons to learn from Ferris is that quality—whether of a day off or a piece of content—matters more than quantity. Even when you learn of the latest marketing trends or viral crazes, don’t let it cloud your judgment of what content is going to best help tell your story. The best content for a personal or professional brand will always be the content that tells a story and tells it well.
“It’s important to always remember that, rather than jumping on a viral topic and regurgitating noise that might give you a temporary spike in traffic, great content should…always serve a purpose,” Salkin says.
As a content creator, you have your work cut out for you. Using the right tools and tapping into the right sources of knowledge can smooth the process and help you cultivate the best possible stories for your clients and your portfolio.
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