Scaling: How to Grow Up From a Brand Blog to a Brand Publisher

Welcome to the latest post in our Contently Labs series, where we answer common questions we hear from current or prospective brand publishers. Today’s question: “How do you scale from being a brand blog to a true brand publisher?”

Screaming “I want to be a brand publisher!” from the rooftops is the easy part. Figuring out how to become one is much more difficult—after all, no two brand publishers seem to look alike. Just look at these examples we’ve covered lately:

  • Instead of just uploading blog posts on personal finance, American Express went all-out with OPEN Forum, an interactive online community for small business owners who want to make better decisions.
  • Chipotle could have just uploaded beautiful photos of their burritos, but instead they spent over $1 million to produce a four-part satirical web series attacking Big Agriculture.
  • Social sharing app Buffer shifted their content strategy from “blogging about social media” to “creating high-impact posts for a broader audience and building relationships with influencers.” The result? Thousands of shares per post and increased revenue.

While we can marvel at the end result of brand publishing, how do you actually get there?

You are already a publisher, so act like one

“Here’s the reality: Each company with a website already IS a publisher,” said Ann Handley, author of the bestselling book Content Rules and chief content officer of MarketingProfs. “Even if all a company does is publish a blog or a Facebook page or a Twitter stream, that’s all publishing.”

So how can brands live up to that publisher title? It starts with having a clear goal in mind. That could mean direct sales, lead generation, brand awareness, customer retention, brand loyalty, or a combination of several goals. “If a casual marketer wants to become a publisher, there needs to be a business model behind the content,” said Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute.

That means understanding that simply blogging about topics their target customers might be interested in isn’t enough. “Just creating content that people like doesn’t mean it will help attract or retain customers in some way,” added Pulizzi.

Build a staff of journalists that advocate for the reader

One of the first things that brand publishers do is build a staff that can create content that will consistently engage readers.

This is one of the biggest hurdles for brands. According to HubSpot’s 2013 State of Inbound Marketing report, only 9 percent of companies employ a full-time blogger, and inbound marketing teams typically have fewer than six members. The stats are even more dismal for SMEs, with only one in eight businesses publishing more than three blog posts in a year, according to a survey from blogging tool Passle.

“The casual marketer can never get funding for additional staff because they can’t make a business case,” said Pulizzi.

But smart brand publishers that successfully evangelize their content (see our 4-step guide to doing so) and make the case that their content leads to business results can get the resources to build a staff—even if that team is just part-time freelancers at first. It’ll get you on the road to creating an in-house brand newsroom that might look something like this:

American Express Ann Handley brand newsroom brand publisher brand publishing Buffer BuzzSumo Chipotle content marketing Content Marketing Institute content measurement content metrics content ROI Contently Labs James Blackwell Joe Pulizzi Marketing Profs Passle

Via Contently’s guide to building a brand newsroom

Once that team is in place, they should be doing far more than just producing blog posts.

“Companies need to push beyond the traditional boundaries of publishing and reimagine it for where our customers demand more,” said Handley. “For example, maybe you don’t need a blog—maybe your audience is better served by an active Instagram presence or video or interactive tools.”

“Adhere to this formula: It’s useful, inspired and honestly empathetic to the needs of your customers. It looks at the world through their eyes. Not yours,” she added.

In other words, tell compelling stories that your readers will love on the platforms where they spend their time—just like a good journalist would.

In fact, Handley is an advocate for brands employing trained journalists. “I’m a fan of hiring people trained as journalists to be content creators,” said Handley. “The biggest advantage journalists have over others is that they are trained to be an advocate for the reader.”

innovative content American Express Ann Handley brand newsroom brand publisher brand publishing Buffer BuzzSumo Chipotle content marketing Content Marketing Institute content measurement content metrics content ROI Contently Labs James Blackwell Joe Pulizzi Marketing Profs Passle

Via Ann Handley

According to Handley, journalists tend to serve the reader first, instead of supervisors, clients, or the CEO. And that’s a good thing.

“Paradoxically, that serves a company’s needs far better—because the content they create is customer-driven vs. corporate-driven,” she said.

Shift from “Spread Metrics” to “Relationship Metrics”

Another stark difference between casual brand bloggers and brand publishers is how they measure the success of their content. Casual bloggers tend to overly focus on “spread metrics” such as pageviews, visitors, and social shares. Their idea is that the more “viral” the content, the better — but this approach isn’t sufficient.

“Firstly, you need to look at more than just social shares for your own content,” said James Blackwell, co-founder of BuzzSumo, a social sharing analytics tool. According to Blackwell, while shares can measure the popularity of your content, they are really most useful for analyzing the competition. “After all, you can’t track competitor pageviews, time on page or sign up rates so shares are one of the few metrics you have,“ he said.

With your own site, you’ll have the advantage of tracking other metrics.

“You need to clearly define your goals,” he said. “If you’re running a blog then this might be measuring the signup rate of email subscribers for each post, or product signup conversion rate. Which posts have performed the best? What’s the common theme among top performing posts?”

This leads us to the type of metrics that brand publishers are starting to focus on: relationship metrics.

Rather than focusing on how many eyeballs their content gets, brand publishers need to focus on the relationships that they’re building with readers. How long are readers sticking around and consuming your content? How often do they come back and how long do they stay? What percentage of visitors actually finish viewing your stories?

American Express Ann Handley brand newsroom brand publisher brand publishing Buffer BuzzSumo Chipotle content marketing Content Marketing Institute content measurement content metrics content ROI Contently Labs James Blackwell Joe Pulizzi Marketing Profs Passle

While these metrics make sense if you want to measure customer loyalty and brand awareness, they don’t exactly come as standard features in free analytics apps meant for casual bloggers.

“Brand publishers typically have their own in-house tools and teams of people to help with research and analytics. This helps them understand what content works,” said Blackwell.

Read more about what metrics to use in our e-book: The New World of Content Measurement: Why Existing Metrics Are Flawed (And How to Fix Them)

Play the long game

Sometimes, when casual brand bloggers devote more resources to storytelling and start becoming full-fledged publishers, they make a crucial mistake: They expect instant results.

“It’s a long game,” explains Blackwell. “You’re not going to see results overnight and you need to be providing value to target readers. Those businesses and publishers understand this.”

Joe Pulizzi made a similar assessment, noting that most casual marketers lack patience. “It takes 12–18 months to create real, sustained audience participation,” he said. “Most casual marketers just don’t want to wait that long for impact.”

This means that regardless of the challenges you face, it’s important to stay consistent if you want to see a return on your investment. In fact, according to the HubSpot report, 82 percent of companies who blog daily acquired a customer through their blog. However, of those marketers who blog monthly, only 57 percent of them have acquired customers. Consistency and frequency pays off.

“It’s all about consistency,” said Pulizzi. “Casual marketers publish whenever they get around to it because it’s not a priority. Once you make it to the big leagues, you can never miss a day of publishing, or a newsletter being even a few hours off. Content is a promise to your customers.”

Given all the work and resources in a brand newsroom though, brand publishing is more than a promise. It’s a commitment. But one that can pay off big.

More From Contently Labs:

7 Keys to Great SEO for Content Marketers

What’s the Difference Between B2B and B2C Content Marketing?

How Red Bull, Amex, and Dove Win by Proudly Branding Their Content

The Pros, Cons, and Costs of the Top 10 Content Distribution Platforms

A 4-Step Guide to Evangelizing Content Within Your Brand

Journalists vs. Marketers: How to Ease Tension Inside Brand Newsrooms

What’s the deal with The Content Strategist? At Contently, storytelling is the only marketing we do, and it works wonders. It could for you, too. Learn more.

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