A weekly Google Hangout dedicated to discussing content marketing, search marketing, SEO and more.
Topic: Cooperative Content Creation – How to create more engaging and authentic content by letting your customers tell their own stories.
Ray Grieselhuber, Founder & CEO at GinzaMetrics
Erin O’Brien, COO at GinzaMetrics
FULL VIDEO TRANSCRIPT
Erin: Hey, everyone. Welcome to another episode of FOUND Friday. Happy New Year! We’ve been doing this since 2013 and we’ve covered a lot of topics and trends for marketers. I want to say that, honestly, if I have to hear that content creation is the new hot trend again, I’m really going to lose it. I don’t mean I’m going to lose it because it’s not true, I just mean because content is a big, nebulous non-term when we’re talking about a marketers livelihood.
Content creation which is basically back to doing anything, which is writing e-mail, making an ad, taking a picture and posting it to Instagram, creating a blog post, whatever – that’s all content creation. So we’re basically saying that if content marketing is the new trend, we’re saying that doing anything that has to do with your job is a new trend, which isn’t true and also doesn’t really mean much. I think that we need to break it down a little bit more.
Today’s show is the breakdown of specifically addressing how to create good content alongside of your customers and target audience – something that jargon makers are now calling “cooperative content,” whatever you want to call it.
Ray, let’s just go ahead and jump onto this. Marketers have been looking for a way to create more content both on and off their site and we know that they’ve tried things that have gotten them punished in the past, whether it’s by search engines or just audience members in general. Let’s start with a quick rundown on some things that haven’t gone so well.
Ray: Probably the most recent example that everyone was either affected by or was told that they should be very careful in what they’re doing is guest blogging. Guest blogging is one of the things that sounds like it’s really good because you can work with people who are not on your staff. They’re going to have fresh ideas and they can bring in new content when they create it for your site.
Unfortunately, a lot of the quality on those guest blogs were very low and the incentive for the guest blogger themselves was not really to build high quality content but more just to get backlinks to their sites. About a year ago in January of 2014, we started seeing some warnings from people like Matt Cutts and so forth saying that this was not a good practice. As a result, some of the algorithm changes that happened on Google throughout the rest of the year really started to reflect that.
It’s not to say that guest blogging is a bad practice. It’s something that can be done but it needs to be done the right way. We can talk further about that.
Erin: Guest blogging is a really good example of a problem that we’ve had with trying to do content in the past because when somebody tasks a marketer with, “We just need more content,” that’s a really big undertaking if you want to do it well because that idea has to actually come from somewhere theoretically and hopefully the idea is a unique way to present something that’s going on, some unique or authentic view on a topic and isn’t just the copying and pasting of something.
When we’re talking about guest bloggers, there is, as you said, this idea that I just want to get this topic out there and covered and I want to get paid. So if you’re paying guest bloggers, there’s some incentive there for them to just crank out as much content as they can, whether it’s amazing or not. There’s also this idea of backlinks to their own site. Guest blogging has that problem.
But when we’re talking about copying and creating content, literally just copying and pasting or taking some version of existing content and changing a couple of words here and there is going to get you smacked down by Google and likely in the other search engine around these days, Google being the most problematic. In spite of the fact that we kind of messed this up in the past as marketers and got caught and penalized by the Goog, I want to talk about how to move forward. Why is working with customers to create content a good idea?
On my top favorite reasons to work with customers to create content is, if you’re working to create new content with your customers, you can actually be fairly certain it is original because you’re creating a partnership that probably hasn’t been done before and discussing something from a viewpoint that may not have been discussed before.
Secondly, when you open up to letting other people participate in content creation, it means you’re getting more bang for your buck because it’s not you and your department solely having to create all of this stuff. So, it actually will amplify your own output. This is especially great for people who have really small marketing teams if you can expand your team outside of your original borders.
Thirdly, I’d say that having your customers, users, and brand advocates submit and participate in content creation, it’s telling you as a brand, as an organization, what’s actually relevant to them because they’re telling you what they want to talk about, what they want to hear about, what’s really interesting, and so that should actually bleed over into a lot more of your marketing and advertising efforts because this is actually what’s resonating with real-time users.
Ray: Yeah. I think that’s really important. The way I explain it to people is, you should be thinking at any time about your story as it runs your brand and around your products. I think that some of the really successful niche, e-commerce companies that have come out over the last couple of years, some of the new startups in the B2B space have been really successful – all of these companies have a story that’s unique and they do it in such a way that they get their audience and their customer base really engaged in creating and hoping to spread that story, as well.
We’re seeing this globally, too. There’s a site in Japan that’s actually – I bring it up because it’s similar to a company that I believe I brought up in the past in the New York site as best paid which is basically this outdoor goods camping site. There’s a similar site in Japan where it’s the exact same business model where they have this high-end outdoor goods and people are obsessed about their products because they’re quality and everything else. They do so much work to really get people to obsess about these products and actually write about them online and create videos and so. If you’re buying a new tent, people will spend their entire weekend putting up their tent in their backyard, camping in their backyard, making videos, and everything else. All that gets posted back to their main website obviously.
That’s something that the people at social media marketing from day one have been really good at. We’re starting to see this extend to what we call content creation in general, which is to your point, pretty much everything that you can do with your website. It’s something that the really smart companies are getting good about, making sure it’s optimized as well for search and e-mail and other forms of distribution.
Erin: So we’re talking about starting out with cooperative content because that’s the approach that we’re talking about today. I think that your examples are really good – activating people to be really excited to not only buy your product initially but then to continue to engage with you after they check out at the store or after they download your software or after they read your white paper or do whatever it is that they’re doing. That is what you’re going to consider conversion as a brand. What we’re really talking about is post-conversion activation. It’s making somebody an evangelist for things or allowing them to continue to tell the story to others. I want to talk about how we actually get people to participate in this.
I want to bring up, too, at this point that you actually don’t have to just work with people who are current customers. You can talk to anybody who’s relevant in your audience about what’s going on in the industry because it should be people who are excited about the industry as a whole. If we take this sporting goods and outdoor goods idea, maybe they haven’t actually bought a specific product from you yet, but maybe what you’re getting is feedback, pictures, input, etc. from them about things that they are already doing and that will inform you better about the type of people that are also paying attention to your product and your brand.
Because we’re coming from a more B2B angle, we do FOUND Conferences and that activates people who are both current customers as well as prospective customers and partners to really participate. We’ve seen great success in creating content with that not just here but also in Japan where we’ve had up to a couple of hundred people all in one small seminar room.
Ray: That’s been really good for us. It’s one of those things that works really well for B2B companies in particular because there is so much relevant content that we’ve created. You have your own website, you’ve got YouTube, you’ve got SlideShare, to some degree you’ve got LinkedIn helping you promote things. You’ve got these really focused channels and distribution areas that you can use.
For us it’s been really good where we’ll create with these conferences called FOUND Conference which is basically helping brands talk about general concept of findability. We have our customers speaking at these events. They’re creating their presentations, they’re speaking on panels, and so forth. That draws a big audience but also it’s really helpful because we upload all of those presentations to the SlideShare account for our FOUND Conference. Some of those SlideShares are still some of our best performing content. We get a lot of referrals and leads from that, as well.
It’s one example that comes directly from our own activities that has been really useful. We see this work really well for a lot of other companies, too.
Erin: One of the fears I think that comes to mind or one of the concerns that people raise is there’s already so much on the marketer’s plate that adding one more thing and saying, “Oh, cooperative content. Great. One more thing to add to the list.” It’s really not. It’s to say that if you’re already having to create content – which you are because as we said, creating content is literally just doing your job – cooperative content is not another item on the list. It’s how you create the rest of the content that you need to create.
For example, you can do what we do with the FOUND Conferences or even with these FOUND Friday episodes. Get on a call and chat with a customer about a particular topic. Then you can leverage that for a case study, for advertising, for e-commerce purposes if that’s your situation. You can use it for blog post, you can use it for landing pages, you can use it as e-mail fodder. You can take one interaction, once conversation with a customer, one 15- or 20-minute conversation and leverage it to create a ton of content. You don’t even necessarily have to use the video or the phone call itself as the content piece although you certainly can. Each one of those things can be spread out into a lot of different topics and will often introduce you to other topics that you could be talking about.
On FOUND Friday we have a guest joining us in two weeks. That person works in a PR agency. We’ll have the perspective of where content, where marketing, where analytics and things are from a PR person’s perspective and what working in an agency environment is like right now. We’ve had people on that also create other tools. Every time somebody different joins us and has this conversation, we get a huge deluge of different types of content that we can create from having that conversation with someone.
You and I both have this conversation all the time about where to add resources and where to manage things. I think that our experience with doing FOUND Conferences and FOUND Friday has actually helped drive a huge amount of our marketing since we’ve started doing this stuff over the last two years.
Ray: Yeah, absolutely. It’s worked really well for us. We’re seeing it worked really well for a lot of other companies. I think we’re going to see a lot more of it, too, because the burden of content creation when we start talking about content marketing and really any form of non-paid advertising online marketing, the burden of content creation itself is probably still the biggest unsolved problem. We’re starting to see a lot of services out there that are doing basically bulk content creation for hire and those can help to fill a gap certainly. There’s Scripted.com. It’s one site that helps you do this. It can help you fill in some of the gaps and it’s basically like guest blogging services.
But again, there are risks so that it has to be done right. You’re going to get much higher quality content. We have people who actually care about your products and your brand and getting involved with what you’re doing and doing this sort of collaborative types of content creation. It can really spread out the amount of work necessary to create this content.
Erin: We get this question asked all the time when we’re talking with people about the product is they’re like, “Oh, if you know what type of content we should create, if you know what type of content is working for us and for our competitors, will you guys just create the content for us?” I get that all the time.
I say, “Sure. Technically, maybe we could do that but that should really come from,” as you’re saying, “somebody who’s in the industry.” Because there are so many different industries, it should come from somebody who is knowledgeable about that space, from somebody who has passion around it and can really speak to as opposed to just throwing a bunch of jargon-y words into a blog post and submitting that and saying, “Hey, check this out.”
One of the other places that we see being really important is forums and discussion boards. And in the e-commerce side, that would be reviews and feedback on things like Amazon and Foursquare, whatever it is. Time and time again, it’s really obvious that if somebody who doesn’t work at the company endorses your brand – if somebody says, “Hey, I really need to know what the best running shoe is,” and somebody waves in and is like, “I really love my Nike running shoes – like the Air Pegasus 360 – I want those,” that means more than Nike saying, “You should buy Nike running shoes,” because of course you should buy Nike running shoes. So you want that endorsement from your own people.
I’d love to talk a little bit more about how to activate people in these kind forums and discussion boards especially when we’re talking about B2B. B2B has a more difficult time because people are really loyal to consumer brands a lot. But with B2B, sometimes there’s not that loyalty.
Ray: Yeah. There can be. There are times where it’s not. And it does depend quite a bit on what you’re talking about – B2C or B2B. Forums in particular, it’s really tricky especially if you’re talking about a B2B context because you don’t want to just obviously stay on the forum. Very unsophisticated marketers do that a long time ago. I think most people know that that’s not the way that you do things now. But still I’ll be out on Quora and someone will ask a question about the best tool in some space and inevitably you’ll see some startup or some company that nobody heard of, they’ll be like, “Hey, you should check us out.” It’s amazing to me that people still do that.
The way I always recommend talking about stuff like that is if you are going to respond directly, don’t talk about yourself at all if you can avoid it. Talk about the trade-offs from different types of platforms. Talk about what things people may be looking for. Your goal in that particular forum article is not to get them to go and buy your software or your system or your product, whatever it is you’re selling. Your goal is just to get them to see you as someone who’s trustworthy and that’s it. If you can do that then you’re starting to build a relationship with people. Then eventually they’re going to be interested in what you have to say.
But it’s something that you can’t just do it once and expect it to work. You can’t be like, “I posted a very thoughtful answer on Quora. Then we should get leads coming left to right.” It’s just not going to happen. There’s just too much noise out there, so you’ve got to apply consistency. You have to be really consistent about doing it over and over and over again.
There’s Rand from Moz – this is a really good example of this – even in the early days but probably now still he’s just out there every day. It’s a really good example. There are other companies that do a really good job with this where they’re just always engaging with their audience.
Erin: The point you make is a really good one in terms of, you can’t just go out once and you certainly should not just promote your brand as the answer to everybody’s problem. Being more selfless and saying, “I would like to help you solve your problem. Here are the ways I would do it,” is definitely a more appropriate way to participate in a forum. This is why we’re saying cooperative customer content is a really great thing especially when we’re talking about this, because you don’t even have to try to build that trust necessarily because somebody will probably inherently trust a third party more than they would somebody coming from the brand.
We’re talking about the fact that you can actually bypass some of this if you make this activation. I think one of the things we should back up and talk about – because when we’re talking about doing this cooperative content, this inherently implies that you have customers who actually like you, people who want to help you out and are willing to write positive reviews, do case studies, participate in FOUND Friday episodes, doing all these things, and some people may be like, “Well, I’m not really sure if that’s happening right now.” I don’t want necessarily talk about relationship building from the get-go because that’s a whole other ball of wax and maybe we can do that on another FOUND Friday episode. I want to talk about, if you’re literally trying to see if somebody is open to building content, what that conversation could start with and how you would reach out initially to get them interested in participating.
Ray: I would say starting with your premise, it’s people who are already working with you to some degree. They may not be your customers specifically but they may be someone who has mentioned to you already or they have written about you in the past. They’ve somehow “engaged” with you. That would be ideal as a minimum starting point. If you can get customers to write about you, obviously that’s even better.
But basically the conversations happen in somewhat casual environments. We’re going to skip relationship building for now, but you want to be talking with these people. Basically, topics will come up and you’ll be like, “What we do is one option.” We’ll be talking about something like, “We do FOUND Friday. You should come join us on the show one day. We’d love to have you write about this. We’d love to have you join or host a seminar.”
They come up kind of organically. But because we have this medium that we’ve created which may be part of the equation here is having something that you can consistently refer people to because they have to have an incentive to come and do this. So we can say, “Hey, we’ve done these shows.” In our case, we’re literally saying, “We’ve done these shows. We’ve had really cool guest speakers in the past. It can help you get some awareness for what you were trying to do and we can help you with that.”
So it has to go both ways. People are busy. They don’t have time to just go help randomly every company that they like out there. So you’re providing kind of an audience for them, too. That’s probably one of the more powerful ways to get people involved with helping you create content.
Erin: Yeah. And it’s really true the idea that having these conversations organically with people and bringing it up also implies that you should be regularly speaking with your customers especially those people that are – I don’t want to say you should ignore the middle group of customers but I will say that there are people that are probably highly engaged with you, with your product, with your brand, with whatever you’re doing. Either they’re frequent shoppers or they’re logging into your platform all the time, whatever that situation may be, they’re constantly re-tweeting things that you do.
And then there are probably people who are what we call like slipping away, people who are lower engaged and you want to bring them back into the fold. I’m not saying you should ignore the people in the middle, but the people on either end of that spectrum are probably really going to get the most ROI from trying to get them to participate. So the people who are already super highly involved because they love you and want to be around you and are probably going to be crazy, passionate about discussing something with you anyway and then the people who are slipping away may get reengaged and re-up with you brand and with your products if you would bring them into these kinds of discussions. Because it’ll showcase not only that they want to help you and give you a platform for what you want to talk about but also hopefully it’ll re-position your brand as a knowledgeable thought leader because hopefully when you have this discussion it’ll bring something to the table.
So I think that there is a lot of benefit to looking at your customer segmentation and saying, “Who would benefit the most from joining us for a conversation?” I want to say you don’t always have to do something like a FOUND Friday. You don’t have to do anything that actually requires anybody to on camera. Certainly not everybody likes that. There’s so many other ways. You could literally do a phone call and just chat with them about their experiences about a particular topic and just record the phone call so that you can go back and listen to it and try to get more ideas for content and ask them if you can use quotes from the call. That’s always something that you can do, as well.
I’d like to mention that if you’re going to do something like this – when we first try to do FOUND Friday, if I go back and watch some of the original episodes, we try too hard to make the topic appealing to everybody and so super broad. And so we’d be like, “Okay, on today’s FOUND Friday we’re going to talk about e-mail.” It’s like, “Oh my God.” That is such a huge conversation. You can’t just talk about e-mail. You can’t just talk about SEO.
If you’re going to make cooperative content a thing, you have to actually help out the person that’s cooperating with you and get a super-specific topic and be like, “This is exactly what I want to discuss with you.” Otherwise, it’s too difficult for somebody to say yes to, I think, or they say yes and you end up with all these weird factions.
Ray: Yeah, for sure.
Erin: So let’s talk a little bit about things that we’re seeing and why this is so important globally? I know that with us, we’re a smaller company and we have a presence in a lot of different countries, and so we rely on a small marketing team to create content and to interact with people across multiple global boarders. I know that the team in Japan does a particularly good job at dealing with this.
Ray: It’s definitely a challenge because in addition to just the actual bandwidth of creating new content with your people, it hard. But I would say that you have to focus in on a couple of key markets, so we focused in on – for us obviously – the U.S.-Japan. Any English speaking country would be an obvious one for us to go for. In Japan the thing is what worked really well for us is we do have that dedicated team there and they’re building these relationships for a number of years.
They know who we are, we know who they are, and we all help each other, talk about things that are relevant to the industry. This works when we’re doing events. We invite them as speakers to events. They’ll you know recommend that we do interviews with the press and they invite us to do internal seminars in their companies as well. So it’s something that once you start the engine, it starts to really work well. But it takes time to build that up, too, but it’s something that’s been very effective for us.
Erin: I want to also talk a little bit about where in your company you might be able to look for additional resources for cooperative content. So beyond just saying this is the burden of or the responsibility of the marketing department, you’ve got other places in your organization that are talking to people all the time, right? On the very obvious list is sales. So sales people talk to people, they know when new customers are coming in, they know when they sound super enthused, they know when they’ve been activated and they’re having a really awesome time. That’s probably a really good place to get a list of high touch high quality people.
I would also say that a frequently overlooked marketing resource is your customer support or customer success team or account management. Those people know who is talking to people all the time, they know what kinds of questions are getting asked regularly, they know what the biggest pain points are, and that should actually probably be a marketing campaign for you. It’s like, “Let’s create marketing materials around the common pain points of the people who would use our product.”
Touching base with other departments inside of your organization would be really helpful. Other places that you can look too would be public relations. Public relations team knows what’s trending typically or should know what’s trending in your industry and they should also know how people are responding to it and what’s already been said, so that’s a really good place to understand like, “Who’s talking about this already? What’s already being said?” And then you can actually tap your customer or potential audience member. You may even want to try to talk to somebody who just participated in the story and try to get them to have a follow-up conversation with you.
There are so many resources inside of your organization that can help you with creating content and leveraging your customers and audience members to create content that don’t just kind of confine to yourself to just your own marketing team.
Ray: Yeah, absolutely. It’s really important to look at your overall – we call it ecosystem but it’s really just everyone who’s involved with you in some way. They all can help you, you can help them. I think the more that you get better at that sort of collaboration the better.
Erin: I also want to point out the idea of this cooperative content jargon word came from a collaborative deck between content marketing institute and Marketo, two places that are constantly focused on what’s really driving traffic and things. This conversation was mentioned by a lot of people who are seen as pundits or experts in the area of content marketing, and they’re talking a lot about user generated content which is the original word which is like everybody’s a publisher, everybody can create their own content which is great. But this is now moving a step beyond what we’re calling just user generated content which implies that you have no control over anything, to cooperative content which is a participation between you and your customers, your users, your audience to do something together.
I think that what you’ve brought up earlier is going to be the sticking point that I want to make sure that we end with as the thought which is you can’t ask people to just create content with you and for you and not get anything back. A lot of people will consider you making a great product or providing a great service as they want to write a great review or they want to send a tweet about how awesome you are, and that’ll be enough for them. But when you’re asking people to participate in something a lot bigger or more time intensive, remember that the word is “cooperative,” which means you should be working together and not saying, “Hey, you’re already paying us and now we would like for you to do our marketing for us too.”
One of the things we offer is incentives. If somebody signs up and they’re like, “I really need a price break,” we’ll say, “Sure. We’re willing to give you a price break. We’d like for you to participate in some marketing collateral down the road.” That’s kind of an exchange. So you really have to consider that as an option. I know lots of other companies do that, as well. Medical companies are infamous for doing it. They’re like, “If you all participate in case studies, pictures, do whatever, we’re willing to give you like $100 or $500 off of this $5000 device.” For a lot of people this is a really big deal.
Any final thoughts from you on activating customers and target people, target audiences to help you out with content?
Ray: No. I think it’s a really interesting topic. It’s something we could go on for a lot more. It’s easy to look at something that’s working well for Salesforce and trying to apply it to a B2C site and you’re probably going to run into a lot of trouble with that. So understand not only what industry you’re in but also the very distinct characteristics of your particular market and audience everything else because things are going to work differently for everything. I think that’s important to keep in mind but a lot of the lessons can be drawn parallel from each of these different things. As long as you do that then you can really help your audience engage in helping create new content and start getting a lot more coverage out there.
Erin: Cool. And that is the name of the game. You get more awesome content, get more relevant content that’ll actually mean something to people out in front of your target audience and that’s been the mantra for what we’ve seen people’s marching orders in 2015 are.
I do want to mention that if you have questions about cooperative content or how we do FOUND Fridays or how we work with people, you’re always welcome to send them to us. There’ll be a recap of the show as well as notes and additional thoughts posted on the GinzaMetrics blog. You can also send us messages on Twitter @GinzaMetrics or you can e-mail directly. I’m Erin@GinzaMetrics.com and Ray is Ray@GinzaMetrics.com.
We will see you guys next Friday. Thanks for joining, Ray.
Ray: Thanks, Erin.