LinkedIn’s Jason Miller: What Makes a World-Class Content Strategy

Jason Miller, Senior Manager, Content Marketing, Marketing Solutions at LinkedIn (Source: LinkedIn)
Jason Miller, Senior Manager, Content Marketing, Marketing Solutions at LinkedIn (Source: LinkedIn)

A world-class content strategy typically goes far beyond the digital space. People talk about it, remember it, and most importantly, act on it.

Jason Miller, Senior Manager, Content Marketing, Marketing Solutions at LinkedIn, and his team created and launched the “Sophisticated Marketers Guide to LinkedIn” in January. He spoke to ScribbleLive about how to create a world-class content strategy, the type of content that resonates with audiences and promotion strategies.

How do you put together a world-class content strategy that works?

Jason Miller: Moving into 2015, if you are serious about content marketing and social media then you are going to need to dedicate budget and head count. The next step is to align those folks with your demand gen and PR functions. The idea here is that content fuels social, demand gen and even PR to some extent, and unless you have those teams aligned and working together cross-functionally, you will likely not see the success you are looking for.

I’m in the camp of we don’t need more content out there, we need more relevant content. Search engines have killed content farms for a good reason; they were pumping out bad content that was created specifically to rank on specific keywords that their business was interested in. That strategy is no longer effective and does not make sense anymore. While SEO is still important, it is not the No. 1 thing your content should be based upon. Instead, you should be creating content that answers existing and prospective customer questions and solves their pain points. The best answer optimized for multiple channels will be the winner of this game. It’s no longer a game of numbers, but instead [it’s a matter] of relevance.

“You should be creating content that answers existing and prospective customer questions and solves their pain points.”

Breaking Down Silos Within Marketing, PR Departments

Miller recalled a conversation with Copyblogger’s Brian Clark on how he has his team set up. Clark told him about breaking down silos and having demand gen, social, content, and PR all sitting together, talking to each other and working together seamlessly.

Miller said this is critical because the content person is creating content that is used in demand gen programs. In return, demand gen discovers which content is working based on how sophisticated their marketing automation system and reporting metrics are, and where it is in the funnel. This enables the demand gen group to ask the content people for more of the type of content that is performing well.

As a result, it’s more relevant content based on hard metrics, what’s working, what’s driving revenue and what’s shortening the cycle. Miller said social media has become part of this process as well. Don’t think of just running social campaigns, but think more along the lines of, ‘How can I make every campaign social? What campaigns are the demand gen team running that you can plug into social?’ Social is also a great place to test content and refine your messaging, which again can help align folks in the demand gen, social, content and PR departments and keep the communication flowing seamlessly.

“At the core of your content strategy, you should be creating content to tell your brand’s story, answer a customer’s question and alert them to solutions of problems they may not even know they have.”

How do you figure out what content to create and what subjects to cover?

JM: Two of the biggest questions content marketers face are: What type of content do I create and who should I target? The data is out there, and it’s up to marketers to distill that information into insights to create content that resonates. At the core of your content strategy, you should be creating content to tell your brand’s story, answer a customer’s question and alert them to solutions of problems they may not even know they have.

Do a little bit of keyword research, survey your customers, set up some social listening and you should be able to find a number of topics to create content around. On LinkedIn, you can use Trending Content to find out the topics that your audience is talking about and the top articles they are sharing. This is a fantastic way to guide your content strategy on LinkedIn.

What makes good, relevant content that gets results?

JM: I think you have to adopt the concept of literally thinking like a publisher. Companies should be thinking about writing the definitive ebook/guide on whatever conversation they want to own. That conversation should be all about helping customers and prospects instead of directly selling to them.

As Jay Baer famously said: “Sell something, get a customer for a day, help someone, get a customer for life.” That’s where the biggest opportunity in content marketing comes into play, in my opinion. When I first started at LinkedIn Marketing Solutions, there was an opportunity to tell the story of the marketer on LinkedIn, specifically the content marketer.

There was this perception, and there still is a little bit, that LinkedIn is an online resume, when in fact there’s an entire portfolio of solutions and tools for marketers to be more successful. I wanted to create the definitive guide to marketing on LinkedIn.

“‘Act like a publisher,’ doesn’t mean creating a bunch of irrelevant content. It means being strategic and creating content with a purpose.”

So we created our “stake in the ground” ebook in the form of a 55-page guide called the “Sophisticated Marketers Guide to LinkedIn”. The all-encompassing guide to everything a marketer needs to know about marketing on LinkedIn all in one place. And we gave it away for free. We then repurposed that ebook into blog posts, infographics, webinars, etc. We created enough assets to fuel our social and demand gen for up to a quarter or more. We launched it in January, it’s still our No. 1 best performing piece of content, and I’m getting ready to release a second in the series in a couple of months.

I hate the cliché of brands acting like publishers, but if it works, and if you are going to do it, go big. ‘Act like a publisher’ doesn’t mean creating a bunch of irrelevant content. It means being strategic and creating content with a purpose. In this case it means actually writing a book and becoming the authority on your service or your product and telling the story of the how and the why.

Examining Quality Content

When asked what makes good content, Miller referred specifically to a formula by Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs and author of a new book that’s out in September entitled, “Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content”, and co-author of “Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business”.

Miller said he refers to the formula each time he created a piece of content at Marketo and does the same at LinkedIn. He pointed out that Handley’s formula uses multiplication signs because each one of these parts is relying on the one before it.

Ann Handley’s formula: Useful x enjoyable x inspired = innovative content

Is the process of content strategy evolving?

JM: I think there is an opportunity for it to evolve, but I also think that we have a lot of catching up to do at the same time. In order for it to evolve, we need to get closer to the model I mentioned previously. We need better alignment between social, content, demand gen, PR and even sales.

“Moving into 2015, if you are serious about content marketing and social media then you are going to need to dedicate budget and head count.”

How does content marketing and fostering engagement with B2Bs differ from B2Cs?

JM: I love this question. It’s funny, the conversation stems from Craig Rosenberg and me … so he was on a podcast that I was doing. He said B2C marketers have always been better at marketing because they’ve had more freedom and they know how to connect with people on a personal level. But on the flip side, B2B marketers have always been better at building long-term relationships and managing this process.

But now it’s kind of turning on its head because B2C folks can no longer do that one-and-done sales approach. They need to build these relationships so they need the technology B2B has. Then on the other hand, B2B marketers need to learn how to connect better and humanize their brand and connect better with people very early on at the top of the funnel and build these relationships. So B2C needs the technology for the building and maintaining and cross-selling and up-selling. B2B needs to learn how to humanize and connect better.

That’s my next question, is content scalable?

JM: Of course it’s scalable and here’s why. Answering the question of how marketers can best use LinkedIn for marketing was the most urgent topic that we needed to create content around. The next content piece will be focused on the topic that we feel is important to address for our audience. There are so many places we could go with our next Sophisticated Guide, it could be around content marketing on LinkedIn, thought leadership, lead gen, etc.

When it comes to measurement of content marketing? How do you know if it’s working? What measurements should you have in place?

JM: It comes down to three things for me. No. 1 is referral traffic. You can measure this with Google Analytics. Better yet, non-brand keyword referral traffic, which refers to people who are you coming to your site … without typing your brand name into the search engine. So where else would they be coming from? Well, they’d very likely be coming from your own, good content. It’s a super easy, non-complicated metric. No. 2 is engagement. I personally think it’s only a matter of time before engagement plays a role in rankings. But the idea with engagement is if your content is getting engagement — people sharing it, liking it, plus-one-ing it — that is a sign of relevance. So the more engagement you get, the more relevant your content is. It’s a good indicator of what is working and what I need to be creating more of.

There are people who will say, ‘I only have five tweets on this’. You know what, was it the right five people? Because we don’t necessarily need hundreds of thousands of shares, we need the right people engaging and sharing. It begs the question of, is your ego hijacking your content strategy? No. 3 is higher quality leads. If your leads are coming in by way of your content and they are much closer to purchasing your product, that’s a clear sign of success. How quickly is your content accelerating the funnel or shortening the buying cycle? That’s a metric that can be little bit tricky, but it depends on how sophisticated your marketing automation system is. If you’re not source-tracking each piece of content out there, then you’re really not going to be able to track success in this manner. Where did this piece of content get engagement from? Was it the blog, was it an email drop, was it Facebook, was it LinkedIn, was it Twitter? Every piece of content you have out there you have to be able to track on engagement and on the leads that it’s bringing in.

“The idea with engagement is if your content is getting engagement — people sharing it, liking it, plus-one-ing it — that is a sign of relevance. So the more engagement you get, the more relevant your content is.”

Can you talk about real-time marketing and engagement?

JM: I think of real-time marketing in three ways: waiting for the moment, in the moment and anticipating the moment. Content that’s put into a resource section on your website as sort of a library, that’s organized by topic and searchable is what I call content waiting for its moment. This can easily be repurposed or used in campaigns when the time is right, its content-in-waiting that has been created for a purpose while also living to see another day. I call that content waiting for the moment; sort of an ever growing content repository.

Content that is in-the-moment is similar to newsjacking. A really great example of real-time marketing is, of course, the dunk in the dark thing, but we all can’t have a creative agency working on Sundays at a moment’s notice. One of my favorite examples of content in the moment comes from Smart Car. They saw a tweet about this guy who was walking in Boston or NY and [tweeted], I just saw a bird crap on a Smart Car. Totaled it. …. Then [Smart Car] created this infographic based on how much bird crap it would take to actually demolish a Smart Car, and they tweeted it back to him. That’s a pretty expensive reply, but after Mashable picked it up, Huffington Post, everybody, and everybody else started talking about this thing. It got some amazing brand awareness. It humanized the company.


smart car bird poop tweet
by Spencer Hansen via YouTube

The third type is what I call anticipating the moment, which is where we’re moving with predictive analytics. The ability to produce relevant content based on data from previous interactions. I think Amazon does a great job with that. It reminds me of the movie “Minority Report”, where the pre-cogs see the future and the cops act on it. I think content that anticipates the moment is really the most exciting type, and it’s going to be interesting to see how technology continues to evolve in order to enable marketers to take advantage.

“B2B marketers need to learn how to connect better and humanize their brand and connect better with people very early on at the top of the funnel and build these relationships. So B2C needs the technology for the building and maintaining and cross-selling and up-selling. B2B needs to learn how to humanize and connect better.”

How can marketers make their content stand out?

JM: Hire a comedian with a marketing background to join your team (or a marketer with a comedy background). If that’s not an option, the try giving your B2B campaign to a B2C agency. When I started three or four years ago at Marketo, [I thought,] I have to tell a story with marketing automation software? That’s not fun. That’s not sexy. But I found a way to get very creative with it. So I called my buddy Chris Buehler, who’s the CEO of Scorch. Scorch was working on some very cool B2C campaigns with the likes of Anheuser-Busch. Chris was my college roommate back in the day, and we’ve known each other for half our lives so I knew I could trust him. … I said, ‘I need to put together a B2B campaign for this launch’. And he said, ‘We’ve never done a B2B campaign”. I said, ‘Perfect’. Giving a B2B campaign to a B2C agency was a whole new perspective on what a B2B campaign was supposed to look like. That’s when we really started to see success because I had somebody with a fresh look on marketing at the top of the funnel to ingest a little fun, a little entertainment, and a little personality while still being serious marketers.

We created a coloring book for B2B marketers. It was one of the biggest pieces of content I did at Marketo. Here at LinkedIn, I did something very similar. We created a holiday ebook where we pulled together influencer posts and then turned all the influencers into snow figurines. That’s something you’re not likely going to get a B2B agency to come up with, and it worked wonderfully.

Recently, I was tasked with creating a campaign to launch LinkedIn’s Trending Content and Content Marketing Score — we had to figure out how to tie these two things together.


Introducing the LinkedIn Content Marketing Score and Trending Content
by LinkedIn Marketing Sol… via YouTube

The first thing I thought of was how these two work together, like a dynamic duo. [I immediately thought of super heroes such as the Wonder Twins]. We also wanted to make a video that was fun and engaging with a story line that would resonate with other marketers but also stand out. The video we created with Scorch wasn’t like anything LinkedIn Marketing Solutions had put out before. But it worked and it was a tremendously successful campaign that turned heads and drove business. I think if we had created something really basic that just announced the new product, it might have missed the mark, but we injected personality and made it into an epical adventure.

Follow Jason Miller on Twitter. Follow Engage on Twitter for more stories in this engagement series. Contact ScribbleLive to find out how content engagement can help your company can reach its business goals.

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