How Even Small Teams Can Build Powerful Content Marketing Engines
An Inside Look at OpenView’s Content Strategy
At OpenView, we produce and publish a great deal of content, something you’ve probably realized if you’re a regular Labs reader. But, what many people don’t know is that we’re only able to produce as much as we do (five posts every single week) thanks to a strong, dedicated and expert pool of regular content contributors.
This approach to content marketing can work really well for new and even later-stage startups, especially those that might be bootstrapping things in the marketing department. In addition to ensuring that you’re able to consistently deliver intrinsically valuable content, this strategy also helps you attract prospects to the top of your sales funnel and has the added benefit of strengthening your professional relationships within the community you serve.
Getting started with your own content network might seem daunting, but it really breaks down into two sides of one coin: building your network of contributors and then managing the content those contributors create.
So, since we’re all about sharing best practices at Labs, and so many startup leaders I interact with constantly ask how we maintain such a robust stream of content, I’ve decided to share with you how we’ve built and maintained Labs over the years.
Building Your Content Network
The first step to creating a successful content network isn’t finding superstar contributors; it’s understanding who your audience is and what they want and need from you. At OpenView, we break our audience into multiple personas, including different functional roles and leadership levels. It may take you a little while to zero in on exactly which topic areas are of the greatest interest to your intended audience, but do take the time to clearly define this.
Delivering highly relevant content is critical to your content network’s success. For OpenView, we feed multiple personas interested in a variety of topics including marketing, sales, product and so forth. In addition to finding the right stories (and people to tell them), we also need to make sure we have content for each persona every single week. It’s a bit of a balancing act, but it helps us maintain consistent engagement across our entire audience.
Once you have a clear sense of who your audience is and what interests them, you can start looking for your superstar contributors. Our goal for the OpenView content network is to reach as many people as possible by leveraging the knowledge and expertise of the influencers and thought leaders we already know as a result of being a venture capital firm. Our existing relationships gave us a great head start on building our network; and the same approach applies to most organizations. It’s just a matter of looking at who you already know.
In our case, we supplement that foundational network with new sources that we find through research and networking. Today, our network includes a variety of contributor types:
I find many of the regular contributors in the OpenView content network through OpenView employees, partner contacts, and other people in our regular business ecosystem. I tap people who are advising our startups as well as people who work in our startups, including marketing leaders, sales leaders, and even CEOs. We also sometimes work with the CEOs of prospect companies, which not only provides us with really relevant content, but also helps us nurture those relationships.
I’ve also had success sourcing great contributors from websites like Product Hunt, LinkedIn, Medium and previously Quibb (they’ve unfortunately recently shuttered). The benefit of using these kinds of sites to find writers is that their work has already been somewhat vetted. I can read an example of their writing, see what their social following is like, and get a sense of the kinds of topics they write on.
Our content mix includes some syndicated or republished pieces that I select from a variety of sources. When I come across a piece that covers an idea that’s new and unique or one that looks at an evergreen topic from a fresh perspective, I’ll seek out the author to see about repurposing the piece for OpenView. I usually start on LinkedIn (to see if I can get an intro through a mutual connection), but I’m not averse to just reaching out directly. Most people are pretty open to having their content republished on our blog. We’re a well-respected firm with a huge and very targeted audience. I am always sure to explain that we provide full attribution and links back to the original piece. Most writers are delighted, especially when they find that republishing with OpenView tends to drive traffic to their original post as well. In one case, we drove thousands of additional views to a Medium post that was almost three months old.
In addition to outside contributors and syndicated content, it can also be worthwhile to see if you can get internal folks to write some pieces. While it’s sometimes challenging to get people to make the time, content authored by company employees helps boost brand credibility and is a great way to help readers get to know your company’s team.
As far as producing original content in-house, one of our most successful content tactics has been interviewing CEOs and other functional leaders and turning those interviews into best-practice pieces and stories about how various startups built and grew their companies. We also regularly run surveys and conduct research to produce new data related to what our audience most cares about. And, in the coming weeks we’ll be launching a new podcast – just one more way to deliver valuable content to our audience. You can sign up to be notified when our podcast BUILD launches here.
The beauty of this multi-prong approach is that it scales really nicely. At the moment, my core content network includes about fifty top contributors from these three contributor categories.
Developing Your Content Engine: Workflow and Promotion
Keeping up with our almost daily content cadence would be impossible without an effective workflow and a fair amount of planning ahead. Since joining OpenView nearly three years ago, we’ve reached a point where we have consistent activity with our content network and are able to schedule posts about two weeks to a month in advance. This gives us a good buffer so we never run out of content or get behind on publishing.
One of the most challenging tasks for any content manager is constantly coming up with new topics that are relevant to their audience. One underrated value of a strong content network is how it helps editors develop a long list of possible topics. At OpenView, topics are driven by our audience and what they react to most strongly and by our contributors; my job is to shape contributions so they are as beneficial as possible for our specific audience. When I talk with a new contributor, I tell them that I’m an expert at content marketing, but they are the expert in their own field. That’s why we want them to write for Labs in the first place. Then, we work together, combining their subject matter expertise with my audience expertise. I take their topic ideas and help them craft stories that will appeal to the senior-level leaders that comprise our target audience.
With an established network and contributors who are helping to identify strong topic ideas, the day-to-day work transitions to focus on follow up, publishing mechanics, and promotion. My general rule of thumb is that contributors should be submitting content at least once a month and ideally twice a month. If I haven’t heard from a contributor whose content has performed well, I ping them to follow-up on ideas we’ve discussed, or just to check in. It’s understandable that people get busy, so I just try to keep the lines of communication open.
In terms of promoting our content, we post to a variety of sites and also ask our contributors to share with their networks as well, including sharing to their various social profiles. And we routinely review analytics to see which posts are performing best, and we schedule additional burst of promotional social posts to support that content.
Which sites are the most effective channels for driving engagement on a particular piece depends on your audience, and on the content topic. For OpenView, my go-to sites for promotion include LinkedIn, Inbound (for pieces with a marketing edge), and sometimes Medium and Product Hunt (when the content is appropriate). We also highlight a collection of curated pieces in each week’s OpenView newsletter.
It’s key to match each piece of content to the appropriate site or community. People on LinkedIn are looking for different kinds of content than people on Product Hunt. Relevance is incredibly important for driving interest and engagement. Thinking you can just blast everything everywhere is not a smart strategy.
We’re also always testing new channels and promotion strategies. We’ve had some recent luck getting some of our content picked up by newsletters that have built large followings with some of our key personas. These pick-ups drive a lot of referral traffic, so it’s definitely the kind of opportunity we want to pursue whenever we have the chance. And no matter what kind of promotion we’re doing, we make sure to track everything so we can assess what’s working and what’s not, and then optimize based on performance.
For OpenView, a strong content network is critical to the success of our content marketing efforts and therefore our overall brand strategy. It gives us additional capacity, flexibility, and helps us consistently publish high-quality content that our readers value. If you’d like to become a contributing member of the OpenView content network, please feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com.
Learn about the content you should be creating once your company has product-market fit.