How to get your content marketing team out of its echo chamber
It's time to break out of your bubble. Contributor Ben Jacobson explains why engaging with subject matter experts outside your typical sphere is the only way to generate fresh ideas and keep your marketing authentic.
In news media jargon, an “echo chamber” is a situation where information, beliefs or ideas are reinforced or amplified through communication and repetition inside a defined system. When you’re in an echo chamber, whether you’re aware of it or not, you don’t question your sources, and perspectives that deviate from the status quo don’t have any way to get in.
Brand publishing is no different, especially when marketers get so focused on ROI that we start over-relying on flawed performance data. Which posts on your blog drew the most social shares, brought in the longest reading sessions and captured the most leads for your business? What topics are driving the most engagement on others’ blogs and social presences?
You’ve been told over and over — by the content marketing industry, mind you — that once you see a trend that’s working, you should replicate it. But if you do this for too many content cycles in a row, then you’ll never compare the performance of a fresh idea to an overdone one.
And if every content marketer in the world starts doing this using the same data sets, as presented by the same measurement and competitive intelligence tools, then no one has the opportunity to stand out as a contrarian voice or a new point of view.
This is exactly why we all need to emphasize collaborating with people who operate outside of our echo chambers. We need to solicit input from bona fide subject matter experts, people who live in the trenches — both within our organizations and without.
Demand for bursting our own bubbles
There’s been a lot of talk in recent months about the peer-to-peer echo chamber on social media, especially as the industry tries to make sense of the US election results of this past November.
Tips For Breaking Out Of Your Social Media Bubble pic.twitter.com/dATUHowTRR
— The Onion (@TheOnion) August 2, 2017
This is why add-ons like FlipFeed (for Twitter) and Escape Your Bubble (for Facebook) have risen in popularity so rapidly. While many of us are content in the Trump era to stick with what we already believe, others are hoping that exposure to more diverse voices can help to heal rifts.
This is human nature, after all. We tend to look for information that strengthens the narratives we want to hear — regardless of whether or not a narrative is useful to us, or even factual.
When misleading information is introduced into these echo chambers, it is viewed as credible so long as it confirms the primary narrative. And in the rare cases when better information is introduced to debunk the falsehoods, we tend to ignore it or somehow mangle it to reinforce our false beliefs.
Marketers are especially susceptible to creating and floundering in our own echo chambers. After all, as a marketing professional, you’re using content and social media to amplify what you are saying about your brand, and the positive things others are saying about your brand. The noise — by the brands, for the brands and about the brands — is constantly chattering across platforms.
The longer you stay inside this bubble, the easier it is to start believing that what you see is all that exists.
Here’s how Marketing Land columnist Patrick Armitage framed the issue:
[blockquote] Content marketing experts have become infatuated with their own content marketing genius. We’ve created a cottage industry of meta-content marketing: content marketers writing about content marketing so that other content marketers can read it. Rinse. Repeat.
And while we’re getting high on our own supply, we’re ignoring our customers.[/blockquote]
Afraid that your content team is too insulated inside its own bubble? Go out of your way to expose yourself to other voices with fresh points of view.
The magic of in-house experts
Input from line-of-business experts plays a major role in your ability to create content that resonates. And yes, it can be a challenge to do this well. Identifying, reaching out to, and establishing viable workflows with subject matter experts (SMEs) require considerable effort. But it’s worth it.
Of course, asking these people to contribute will fall completely flat if you don’t make the process as easy as possible and if you don’t manage to get your entire company invested in content creation.
If you want to make it easier for people to participate, you need frictionless ways to make that happen. Streamline your guidelines for participating. Get rid of the heavy policies and content submission mechanisms, and give line-of-business experts the freedom to contribute however it’s easiest for them to do so.
Imposing on someone to send you a fully formed blog post is a much bigger ask than a three-minute voice recording captured using a free smartphone app like Anchor, or a one-minute product walk-through captured using a Chrome extension like Loom.
Employee communication apps are likewise great for enabling this kind of open idea exchanges. With an interface that resembles a social newsfeed, Smarp, for example, can be configured to display internally facing posts organized into categories, so that marketers can track the topics that are most important for content generation. You also can use the platform to start dialogues around content ideas and solicit input from the soldiers in the trenches.
You don’t need a full-featured solution like Smarp to collaborate with your company’s subject matter experts, though. Regularly scheduled brainstorming sessions, or even just a Google form, can do the job well, too.
Grow and Convert’s Benji Hyam recommends a process of exploratory interviews with experts, just to help marketers understand the issues at play enough to formulate article angles, and then circle back to the experts for feedback once drafts are ready.
Do whatever works best for you. The important thing is to remember that most marketers are somewhat removed from the down-and-dirty business sides of our organizations. We aren’t out on sales calls trying to close the deal, or on the production floor trying to fulfill orders. You’re probably, for the most part, isolated from the “real world” that goes on in your company.
Sure, you may be fielding some customer service and support queries, since these often take place on social media, but rather than answering the tough questions from your audience, you probably forward them on to an SME (subject matter expert).
For your content to truly resonate with new prospects and existing customers, you need input from the customer support staff on where users might need more training resources.
You need to hear from the sales team about what barriers and objections are keeping people from converting — and where content isn’t aligning with audience members’ pain points. You need to understand exactly how your product, fulfillment and success teams do what they do, so you can talk up that magic.
In short, you need a system for maintaining real-world perspective to keep your content fresh, diverse and relevant.
Engaging experts from your external network
For all its flaws and growing pains, influencer marketing is undeniably effective. A 2016 Nielsen Catalina study found that it’s now more effective at building awareness than traditional advertising.
Also, using influencers to collaborate on your content can pop that echo chamber bubble in a jiffy. They’ll share your story from their point of view, not yours, immediately widening your perspective.
For brands searching for a more targeted approach, micro-influencers are becoming increasingly important. The idea here is to find those key people who are true subject matter experts in a niche you are trying to reach. It’s not about how “famous” they are, but about how well-known and respected they are in the niche where your audience lives.
We aren’t talking about Kardashian-level influencing here; that’s not what you want when you’re creating targeted niche content. Let me give you an example.
Say I want to get more exposure for my pinkie-toenail-piercing blog (I know — it hurts to think about, but bear with me a minute). I could hire the world’s top expert on body piercing in general to help create content, but that wouldn’t get me the hyper-specific content results I need. Instead, I’d prefer to hire the world’s absolute expert specifically on pinkie toenail piercing to create content with me. I’m far more likely to get that awesome laser-targeted content if I’m working with an SME.
Before you go after an influencer, consider what you’re trying to accomplish. Whom you target, and with what type of pitch, will depend on your objectives. If your aim is greater awareness or reach, consider bloggers or social media influencers with a good crossover in your audience relevance. For customer retention and upsell opportunities, find a micro-influence from your current customer base.
Once you know why you want to connect, then you can start looking at with whom you want to connect. For niche influencers, you can use influencer search tools like Upfluence or BuzzSumo, and then narrow them down based on their exposure and audience.
To find a relevant influencer from among your customer base, look to your CRM (customer relationship management) data, assuming it’s already synced with purchase histories and enriched with information on people’s social footprints. This will help you identify the customers who are already serving as brand evangelists, or at least some candidates who are especially promising to become evangelists.
After you find likely influencers, it’s time to reach out. You’ll need to be organized and stay on top of things as you do. These are busy people, and their time is valuable. Your CRM won’t be enough to keep track of contacts, follow-ups and results, so if you’re doing any significant volume of outreach, you might want to try an app like Mailshake to ease that process.
Once you’ve connected with the right folks and are ready to start creating content, one popular strategy is the social media “takeover,” where your chosen influencer guest-manages one of your social channels for a day.
Guest bloggers, webinar co-hosts, co-authors on white papers — all are great ways to create content that expands your reach. Of course, you’ll need to provide the right balance of creative freedom and brand alignment.
Your influencers will already have an established “voice” that resonates with their audience. Respect and encourage that, because it’s a big part of why they’re influential. You’ll need to provide guidance about your brand messaging and style, but don’t aim for rigid adherence.
Breaking the bubble
Echo chambers are a fact of life. The way most marketing organizations are set up almost guarantees a limited point of view and a tendency to get stale.
Help your team break out by leading them to take advantage of the subject matter experts and brand ambassadors that can truly influence relevant content creation. It’s the surefire way to keep your marketing fresh and authentic.