“We wrote our first blog post before we wrote our first line of code.”
- Jon Miller, founder, Marketo

Blogging is important for every business. So we don’t just offer ghostwriting services for others. We blog for ourselves. Why? To discuss big issues such as content strategy, commissioning and ROI, as well as tactics for effective copy creation or editing, not to mention news about Collective Content.

Remember, over a third of marketers say blogs are the most valuable content type. Let us know what you’d like to read about here.

Publishing

The hidden pitfalls of repurposing content

Photo by Hannes Wolf on Unsplash

You can find plenty of articles about repurposing content – why to do it, how to do it. But few tell you the pitfalls. And there are more than you might imagine.

The concept of repurposing old content is simple and seemingly compelling. When we are asked to perform content audits at the beginning of content programmes (here’s what you need to know about content audits) ‘repurposing’ is always a choice of what to do with each historical item of content (along with ‘kill’ and ‘reuse’ as is).

There are two thoughts that go through lots of clients’ minds when they hear about repurposing. The first is that it will be easy. The second is that it will be cost-effective, in part because it’s easy.

That means there is increasingly a tendency to lean towards repurposing content above other options – including creating fresh content from scratch.

But this can be a mistake.

 

Repurposing’s pitfalls

Repurposing, by its nature, means working with something that already exists. But an existing item of content – and by item we mean anything from a social post, to a white paper, to a video and more – can be a month old or a decade old. I’d guess it’s typically in the 1-3 years old bracket. So some items need a lot more updating, just because there has been more change in the world since they were created.

Then there’s the question of consistency, which also relates to the authorship of those existing items of content. There has to be a call whether to keep a piece consistent with its original style or update that too, especially if an organisation’s style guidelines have changed. (Don’t know about style guides? You really should.)

This can be easier if the writer or other creative originally involved is still around. They might not be, especially if the work was done by an outside agency.

And on that matter, who gets the byline – literally the acknowledgement of who created a piece – when it’s partly one person from two years ago and partly a more recent edit? That’s not a common problem but we have seen it become one when the byline is between two senior peers at the same company.

Vertical, local

And all of this is to say nothing of two of the main reasons why an item of content is often repurposed. ‘Bringing it up to date’ is a less likely reason than ‘verticalising’ for a particular industry audience or localising for a specific geographical market – say Europe or Germany. In the case of the latter reason, localisation might also involve translation and changing content substance and style to match local conventions.

Verticalising content has especially grown in popularity over the past year or so. It’s also not the hardest thing to do. We’re fans. But the secret is to be sure-footed about which parts of an existing asset should stay exactly as they are.

And the key is in execution beyond repurposing, too. The recipient who works in healthcare of a white paper or email or other item should probably not see the generic version of the asset, and certainly should never see a version that is 20 per cent different aimed at their equivalents in banking or retail or manufacturing.

 

Oh… SEO

Another dimension is when someone then tries to optimise old content for today’s search best practice. Search engine optimisation (SEO) and a whole mini industry of SEO consultants can be valuable. But going back to old content to optimise for today is a decision to be made – preferably at the start of any project, not at the eleventh hour.

Also understand that today’s SEO best practice is tomorrow’s ‘avoid-at-all-costs’. Hands up anyone else who has shared an old infographic only to be contacted by its creators and asked to take it down or alter how it sits on a page because now Google is punishing them.

 

The bottom line is that repurposing can be valuable. But don’t always assume it’s the best way to go.

For all the reasons stated above, it can be complicated, time-consuming and costly. A great existing asset is often best served by creating a brand-new follow-up. That’s not always the case. But one secret content creators rarely tell you is that starting afresh can be one of the easiest processes of all, and cost about the same amount. Take their advice.

Follow us on Twitter – @ColContent

Read Further

How to… ghostwrite

WHAT IS GHOSTWRITING?

Ghostwriting involves using a professional writer to create works in another person’s name. It could be a column for a newspaper or online publication, all the way through to a whole book or screenplay. It’s usually about more than simple copy (“Welcome to our ‘About us’ page…!”) and quite often involves an external specialist.

In our world, ghostwriting is usually for senior executives at companies, and takes the form of columns and various social media posts including blogging, rather than, say, white papers or reports, which tend to carry a company’s name as their ‘author’.

 

WHY USE A GHOSTWRITER?

Most senior executives don’t have enough time to write. Many don’t have the inclination. Even those that have both of those, as well as some writing skills, probably need some help – and we’ve written before about considering an editor in that case rather than the full ghostwriting process.

Think of ghostwriting as outsourced writing but for a specific person. That means the ghostwriter gets to know the voice of the person they’re ghosting for and builds up a relationship over time – through regular contact, ideally sometimes in person.

Whatever the exact set-up, ghostwriting should take away pain from an individual and organisation looking for consistent, informed content.

Whether orchestrated by someone internal at an organisation or by an outside agency, understand that ghostwriting comes with a number of key decisions. Let’s look at some of them.

 

WHO NEEDS A GHOSTWRITER?

The assumed answer to this is usually “The CEO”, or a departmental boss, or perhaps the highest paid person in the room. But ghostwriting isn’t just for the higher-ups. Consider other members of staff whose thoughts and experience are worth sharing with the wider world, especially that wider world sizing up your company and what you sell. How about when they want to hear from your engineers or those on the factory/shop floor? They could all benefit from some help.

 

WHAT KIND OF ORGANISATION NEEDS A GHOSTWRITER?

We could argue: All of them do. But the honest answer is that it’s preferable for the author whose name is on a piece of writing – the ‘byline’ – to have done the writing. For reasons already mentioned, that’s not always possible. But we’d even go as far as to say that some authentic writing that isn’t perfect can work well in certain situations – for example, on a start-up’s blog when it’s from the founder. In other cases, quality has to be higher. Professionals need to be involved.

 

THE GHOSTWRITING PROCESS

Where to begin? Our first recommendation is for contact between the person whose name appears on any piece of content and the ghostwriter. You’d think that’s obvious. In some cases, where the ‘author’ is very important, that doesn’t happen. That’s not just a shame, in terms of what it says about priorities, but it can affect the quality of output and even has ethical dimensions. Even if there is only one meeting, at the beginning of any ghostwriting process, it’s a big advantage compared to no contact.

So start with contact. Break bread. The ghostwriter gets to look the person they’re ghosting in the eye and start getting a sense for how they talk and maybe how they think. This is the launch pad for something longer term.

 

Regular contact

But beyond the initial phase, regular contact is ideal. But not only is it regular – say, once a month, for 20 minutes – but it is accepted at the beginning that the subject matter expert brings at least one idea to the table every time he or she speaks with the ghostwriter. And the table is of course metaphorical. These subsequent stages usually happen over a call.

But having an original idea and actually speaking are important, rather than attempting the process on the fly or in writing – through email, for example.

A lot of good writing – certainly blogging – is about expressing one idea at a time and expressing it well.

And trying to get a feel for what someone means and thinks is much easier over the phone. You hear where they’re unsure, for one thing, and can seek clarifications and ask follow-up questions.

Not to mention, asking someone who by definition isn’t a writer, to write down all their thoughts, is slightly bizarre.

Much more likely is that an intermediary – someone in a marketing department or in PR – will try to convey these thoughts. An experienced ghostwriter will seek to hear the thoughts first-hand.

 

Plan the output

Lastly, we’d say have in mind the type of output from any call between expert and ghostwriter – blog post, book foreword, guest article in an industry publication and so on. Know when this is due to appear and how it will tie in with other pieces of content, not necessarily all ghosted or from the same author.

Proper contact, expertise and planning are the bedrock of a successful ghostwriting relationship.

 

To recap:

  1. Getting to know you: There should be a relationship between named author and ghostwriter. Meet in person at least once, or more often, if possible.
  2. Keep talking: Continue with regular contact but never just in writing. Monthly calls are ideal. The expert should bring ideas to each interaction – one ideaper item of content is enough.
  3. Plan, plan, plan: Know where the resulting content will appear. Ideally have a calendar that shows type of output, destination and date.

 

The ethics of ghostwriting

Ghostwriting happens all the time. But it’s not usually transparent to a reader and rarely do we see any discussion of how ethical the practice is. Much writing by company executives and celebrities in mainstream media is ghost-written. The most common hat tip to that is at the foot of columns by famous sportspeople, with an italicised line saying something like: ‘[Named author] was talking to [journalist at publication who ghosted the opinion piece]’. That rarely happens when on a CEO’s blog or when a company submits an article by their head of X to an industry publication. Is that OK? This whole subject comes down to the idea of authenticity. There’s a line of thinking, more common in certain parts of US media and marketing, that ghostwriting is ethically wrong. Or at least has big problems. The Collective Content take on this has already been alluded to in the accompanying blog post. To ghost for someone with no knowledge of that person’s thinking is bad. Contact is key. Worse still – and this happens even less often – would be when the ‘author’ has someone ghosting for them but doesn’t know that. This is rare but can happen at the largest organisations. Bottom line: Completely making up words and thinking for someone who might have them – but just can’t properly express them – is a no-no. But communicating what they’ve told you – under their name, through ghostwriting – is legitimate.

Follow us on Twitter – @ColContent

Need a corporate blog but don’t have the time or editorial expertise? Try Speech-to-blog, a corporate blogging service from Collective Content.

Read Further

How to… run a content audit

What is a content audit?

Every brand should audit content and do so on a regular basis – ideally once a year. The reason is simple: your historical content holds tremendous value and is probably contributing as much or even more towards lead generation than your new content.

That’s what content marketing specialists HubSpot found in 2015 when they reviewed and analysed their content. They found that 92 per cent of leads and 76 per cent of traffic came from assets more than 30 days old.

Courtesy of HubSpot

A content audit lets you look at what’s working and what isn’t. It tells you what your customers and prospects are interested in and helps you make decisions one how you could do better.

At Collective Content we do a lot of content audit for our clients. In this guide we’ll talk about how we do it, why we do it and what you can expect to get out of it. Plus we’ll share our content audit template to get you on the right track.

 

What are you auditing?

Content means more than just articles. It refers to virtually anything a business produces that might be independently useful. This can include documents, newsletters, blogs, social feeds, videos, podcasts, infographics, webinars, brochures, technical manuals, games, apps, and on and on.

In short, it’s all the kinds of assets you provide as one business proving your usefulness to another.

 

Who should audit your content?

Ideally you should choose someone who works with content and brands on a regular basis. The auditor should also have a clear understanding of the brand’s objectives and audience. They should also understand the different content types and what they’re best used for.

Automation is increasingly being used in many marketing sectors. While algorithms can speed up the process of quantifying marketing collateral, content audits always benefit from a human touch. Content management systems can tell you what you have, analytics can tell you how many times items are read but you need a person to read them and decide whether they meet your messaging and audience objectives and whether they complement your brand.

A content audit is more than assessing word count and keywords. It’s about assessing quality through value judgements and making recommendations on what to do next. And that’s an area where people do better than machines. At least for now.

 

What are the stages of a content audit?

A content audit is a manual and sometimes time-consuming activity. Let’s break the process into two steps:

1.     Content inventory

2.     Content audit

The inventory is where you list and categorise all your content. An inventory is quantitative, a comprehensive list of the content assets your brand owns as well as information on type, channels and dates. While it is a fairly mechanical process it can also add value: was it hard for you to find it all? If it was you then it’ll be just as difficult for your audience. (Pro tip: Most organisations don’t know what content they have, let alone have a single ‘owner’ for it.)

The audit is qualitative. This is where you analyse what you have and understand how it aligns with marketing goals and customer needs. An audit lets you identify content that is effective as well as assets that go against the grain. An audit helps you make recommendations and decisions about getting the most out of what content you have.

 

Content inventory

The detail of a content audit is best captured on a spreadsheet with vertical columns corresponding to the criteria you’re assessing.

Title/headline

This should be the title of the asset rather than how it’s referred to internally.

Type

Blog post, white paper, infographic, blog post. Simply a description of the type of asset.

Date

Take some care with this. While looking at the ‘date modified’ date can tell you when an asset was last updated, it won’t tell you when it was created. A superficial update to correct a typo will give an asset a new date when in reality it may need to be updated or retired. You can also break out date as ‘date created’, ‘date modified’ and also ‘date to retire’ the asset.

Timestamps or dates on assets are always a good idea. Don’t listen to anyone who says that leaving them off helps make an asset feel more ‘evergreen’. A good way of telling how old an asset may be is by checking any research or report dates it cites. If those dates go back a year or two that’s fine. More than four years and consider whether the message is still relevant. And if it is, try and update the research or report references with more recent data.

Format

Simply whether it is a PDF, HTML, printed collateral or other format. Record if it is available in multiple formats.

Gated

Your most valuable content should be gated for lead generation purposes. In other words, the reader or prospect should enter some contact information in return for the asset.

Consider un-gating older content of lower value. Give some good stuff away for free. Your customers will appreciate it.

URL

Simply the asset’s public web address. But try and make sure it has a meaningful URL to let search engines find and index it.

For example, www.company.com/ID?13444334 is not a great URL. Whereas www.company.com/how-to-do-a-content-audit will make it easier for Google to understand what’s at the address.

Others

Other content inventory criteria could include business owner, metadata, file size, word count and web (traffic) analytics data.

 

Content audit

Once we have a content inventory we need to assess its value. During the content audit we make a qualitative assessment of each asset, including its audience, buying stage, keywords, summaries and recommendations.

Target audience

Ideally your team will have developed user/buyer personas to help content authors write more effectively for the target audience.

Buying stage

You need content to support prospects at each stage of the buying funnel.

Often you find your existing content supports users at the top of the funnel. This is typically content that helps build awareness and focuses on being useful rather than moving the prospect directly towards conversion. Good examples of top-of-funnel content include blog/social posts, articles, infographics and white papers.

Mid-funnel content helps bridge the gap between top of the funnel awareness development and initial interest and the conversion. Mid-funnel content is particularly important to B2B companies where the nurture process may be longer than in consumer marketing. Nurture content should aim to demonstrate brand differentiation and begin to build a connection with the prospect. Good examples of mid-funnel content include case studies, e-books, white papers (again) and product fact sheets.

Bottom of the funnel content aims to convert prospects into customers. While the golden rule further up the funnel is to be useful and not ‘salesy’, by this point you will have delivered enough useful content to have earned the right to sell. Good examples of bottom-funnel content include demos and trials, detailed pricing sheets and interactive calculators (eg for ROI), all with strong CTAs to engage with sales teams.

Your content audit should assess whether you have the right mix of content for each stage of the funnel.

Keywords

Keywords help you align your content to personas as well as to marketing objectives. Keywords can also help support SEO campaigns.

Summary

The summary section makes a qualitative assessment of each content item. It describes what the asset is about: its premise and main conclusions. The summary should explain what the content attempts to do and how effective it does it.

Here are a couple of summary examples on IT security infographic and white paper:

“Traces exploitation of zero-day vulnerability with a detailed timeline which shows the speed at which zero days are weaponised and highlights which exploit kit makers are the most adept at this. Demonstrates the need for layered defence.”

“Walks the reader through likely rise in malware attacks, looks at what is commonly wrong with the response and suggest how layered security helps.”

You can also include a shorter version of the summary.

 

Recommendations

This final section is about deciding what to do next with the content item. Examples of next steps can include:

●      Retain: keep asset as it is

●      Update: a good asset but information or branding is out of date. Update and re-use

●      Repurpose: asset has value but is better used in a different format. A long e-book might be condensed as a white paper. A data-rich research report could be better deployed as an infographic

●      Retire: the asset is off message, out-of-date or simply no longer relevant to marketing objectives

You might have also heard this referred to as a ‘Keep/Kill/Adjust’ list or similar.

The recommendation section should advise on next steps and explain what needs to be done.

Here are some examples. Again from the IT security client audit in the previous example.

“Repurpose. Some very interesting and valuable information but could do with more accessible lay-out and sharper introduction.”

“Update: Some very good information promoting the advantages of Company A. But the piece will be four years old next year: what has happened since? Plus, its appeal to readers would be improved with a better headline and introduction.”

 

As promised here’s a Content audit sheet (519 downloads) to get you started. The template contains the list of inventory and audit criteria we use at Collective Content – although every client is unique so we talk about what we audit before we get started. Add any criteria you think are relevant to your audit.

Alternatively, drop me an email about working with us to perform a content audit. We’d love to hear from you.

 

Follow us on Twitter – @ColContent

Need a corporate blog but don’t have the time or editorial expertise? Try Speech-to-blog, a corporate blogging service from Collective Content.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Further

Contact us

Contact us to find out how we can help you:

Email:  tony.hallett@collectivecontent.co.uk

Twitter:  @ColContent

Facebook: facebook.com/CollectiveContent

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/company/collective-content

Phone:  0800 292 2826