The Gaga guide to planning your content marketing (Part 1)

Vinay’s note – If you’re involved with content marketing, then you are probably acquainted with the feeling of being overwhelmed, as the number of things you’re supposed to do never seems to end. In this two part post (read part 2 here), you’ll discover how to tackle content marketing much like Lady Gaga – using a proven system that works.

INTRO

Content marketing planning - chapters

Content Marketing is harder than you might think: creating articles, doing influencer outreach, growing your email list and so on.

It seems like the number of things you’re supposed to be doing never ends. So how should you make sense of all of it? How do you know WHAT to do and WHEN to do it?

Since we’ve faced the same questions and challenges as you have, we’ve put together this step-by-step guide to help you see the entire Content Marketing puzzle. It will answer questions like:

  • What should I focus on first – content, email subscribers, blog design?
  • Should I write a book?
  • What is guest posting? When should I do it?
  • Is it time to launch a private group?
  • How do I create a Content Marketing plan?

…and much more!

The reason we’re tackling the concept of Content Marketing together with popstars like Lady Gaga, is that they’re using a proven system. There’s a reason most major music stars follow the same pattern: tease a single, release a single, release a music video, launch an album, announce a tour, go on that tour, repeat for a few years, keep in touch with fans and repeat previous steps all over again.

It’s a system that works and brings results. All the intricate, connecting parts of it want to keep it working – from the actual pop star to the manager, concert and album promoters, fans, venue owners, and event organizers. They all want the system to work. Because it makes almost everyone money (usually the fans are the entities that are funding the whole operation).

In the next 8 chapters, we’ll break down the entire content production and promotion system. You’ll understand actions, motivations and timings. Since you’ll have plenty of experience after this guide, you’ll also be able to transform yourself into a one-man Content Marketing army.

You’ll have the knowledge to create great content, the confidence to promote it and the connections to influence your peers, to attract them towards your products and services.

Are you ready? We’ll start our journey with a blueprint of everything we’ll do in a year. It’s time to plan your Content Marketing year.

1. Plan your year

Content marketing planning - plan your year

Thoughtful planning goes a long way. It can help you achieve peace of mind, knowing that you’re not acting randomly. It can help you manage your time better, since you’ll have to fit in other engagements, according to YOUR schedule, not THEIRS.

Big music stars really plan ahead. They do year-long tours, announce albums months ahead of release, and have a constant stream of tracks and ongoing projects.

You also have to account for the fact that no one really expects music stars to launch more than 1 tour or album per year. The scene has been set, the precedents are in place. Use them to your advantage.

The only downside is that there will always be the ones who work differently. Buckethead released 251 albums throughout his career. 118 in 2015 alone. Taking a step away from music into movies, Woody Allen has released 1 movie per year, every year, since 1982. Neil Patel blogs about 5 times a week. And he’s writing massive 3,000-5,000+ word articles, on a constant basis.

You have to remember that those are not standard situations. Those are the extremes. There will always be peaks in each industry, including Content Marketing. Those aren’t your targets, you’re not directly competing with them. Your success shouldn’t be about beating them or achieving their levels of performance.

There are a lot of examples of musicians with small, loyal fan bases that do just fine. They release albums every few years, they keep their fans happy with exclusive content, they organize their own shows and concerts. They ultimately make a living out of it, without the need to turn to record labels, expensive producers or promoters. This comes down to the theory of 1,000 True Fans.

Planning your yearly content marketing output means there will be less surprises in store for you. Since you’re putting the puzzle pieces in place ahead of time, you’ll get to see the whole picture. That means you get to choose when to launch that ebook, guide or massive blog post. Of course, along the way, you’ll encounter news and issues. You’ll adjust and resort to your backup plan – which you can work on from the beginning.

It gives me great comfort to know I'm in control of my content marketing. Click To Tweet

When you trust yourself, others trust you. It’s time to forget about that Impostor Syndrome and become in charge of your content marketing efforts.

Planning your year doesn’t mean you should CREATE that entire year’s content. That would be crazy and pretty close to impossible. It just means laying out the pieces of content you’ll create, the projects you’ll work on and the collaborations you’ll engage in.

February and September of 2015 were very busy months for me. I’ve created 30 Tiny Projects and I’ve written a blog post each day, respectively.

These don’t just happen. I’ve laid out over 100 blog post ideas before I even started writing 1 on my blog. I’ve had double the number of topics for projects and articles in text form before I began putting 1 letter into WordPress. Doing so allows me to have an on-going source of ideas I can work on.

Plan your year in terms of releases – are you going to “drop” an ebook this year? Do you know who you’ll be doing a “collab” with? Any videos coming out soon?

The 3 tools that can help you plan your year are Trello, Editorial Calendar for WordPress and CoSchedule.

1.1 Trello

Content marketing planning - trello

There are few tools out there that consistently deliver on their promise of speed and simplicity. Trello is a card-based organizational tool. And since cards are organized in lists, you can simply name them January, February and so on and you’ve got yourself a free yearly planner.

Trello integrates with pretty much everything, so you can write in Google Docs or gather feedback in Typeform and it can show up as a card in one of your lists. It makes organization a breeze, so you can focus on the big idea.

1.2 Editorial Calendar

Content marketing planning - editorial calendar

Editorial Calendar is a barebones WordPress plugin that helps you have an overview on what’s going on with all your content.

While you can’t directly assign a post to a user, its drag-and-drop interface makes it dead simple to plan your posts in a visual manner. Move articles around, plan big launches, establish multi-part articles – visual organization makes it easy.

1.3 CoSchedule

Content marketing planning - coschedule

This little tool has done a lot of growing up. It started as a WordPress plugin for scheduling posts in a visual way. It’s now a content collaboration and promotion powerhouse.

You import content from Google Docs or Evernote, map it by day in the planner, assign it to the right person to edit or promote, and you’re pretty much done. Add deadlines on top of that, plus social-media scheduling and CoSchedule becomes every Content Marketer’s planning dream.

Feel free to mix and match the tools for planning. Whatever works best for you and your team. And even if you don’t have a team yet, you should pay attention to your collaborators.

For a more in-depth and side-by-side comparison of Trello and CoSchedule, check out our article here.

2. Band members = collaborators

Content marketing planning - find your band members

If you’ve ever seen Blink 182, Coldplay or Green Day live, you’ll remember that there are more people on stage than there seem to be in the actual bands. These are often instrumentalists that collaborate on live tours, but aren’t a permanent addition to the bands themselves.

And it’s not just for bands. Single stars do this as well – Lady Gaga, Beyonce and Miley Cyrus, just to name a few. And sure, it makes sense that they’d have a band present, since they can’t play ALL the instruments and perform dance moves and sing at the same time.

So we do accept that in certain instances, there are other people around the main star, people that often don’t get credit for their work. We accept it because we’re fond of that ideal “lonely genius” image.

Oh, and have you ever seen a big star set up? There are often times tens of trucks of equipment, crew and accessories involved with every single live show. Because every show is such a big production for the audience. And it should be – not just a product, but an experience. Something to remember. Something you can take part in, leave and tell your friends: “Wow, that was amazing. I feel so alive now!”

Getting back to creating your content pieces. You shouldn’t feel like you’re alone. Even if you’re the main star of the show. Or in your case, blog. In my experience, there are 3 types of content collaborators you should have around you:

  • Content Collaborators
  • Product Collaborators
  • Sharing Collaborators

Let’s have a look at each one in particular.

2.1 Content Collaborators

These are the easiest to come by. Fellow content creators you can befriend to be part of your crew, at least temporarily.

The way you find them is by focusing on your strengths and interests. If you’re really good at writing, find people who complement that side of you – people who rock at design, amazing video creators, etc.

If you’re interested in only writing about mountain biking or DIY, search forums, blogs and email newsletters on that topic.

These possible crew members are only a Google search away:

  • “mountain bike + phpbb” (forums)
  • “mountain bike + powered by wordpress” (blogs/websites)
  • “mountain bike + newsletter”

Then, the real challenge is making them say YES to your crazy request.

Hey, I just met you. And this is crazy. So here's my number, let's collaborate maybe... Click To Tweet

Since you’re looking to build a partnership, always start with giving. Go for the ask later, when you’ve gained their trust. My go-to solution is to offer a free guest post. That way, not only will the potential collaborator see if I’m good enough to partner up with, but he’ll also get free content for his blog. Win-win.

Sometimes, bigger bloggers or websites don’t require more content, so you should also consider offering other services. For example:

  • Technical website analysis
  • Content optimization checklist
  • Email subscription increase ideas
  • Article sharing support
  • Blog monetization ideas

You get the point, anything that you can give for free, that provides value for that potential partner (and hopefully for their audience as well).

Gaining and maintaining their trust is a balancing act. And it’s not a process you start today and end tomorrow. It takes weeks, months and even years for another person online to trust you enough to like your ideas and want to give you their time.

In the music space, there are a few entities that have made their mark primarily through collaborations: Pitbull, DJ Khaled, Pharrell Williams and Rick Ross.

When you think marketing and collaborations, you think about Sujan Patel & Rob Wormley, Neil Patel & Hiten Shah, and Brian Halligan & Dharmesh Shah.

2.2 Product Collaborators

These are businesses or bloggers who offer anything from digital products to services and access to events. That could mean hosting, blog plugins, ebooks, project management systems, etc.

It pays to be in contact with some of these.

First – you’ll get access to free (or highly discounted) tools and products you can use. Along the years, I’ve gotten ebooks, email marketing tools and loads of SWAG. You’re saving money and getting to rub shoulders with companies that thrive on reviews and PR.

Second – you’ll always have something to write about. Companies love free PR, so writing an honest piece about a product or service is only going to make them happier. And if you think that brings value to your audience, even better.

And third – you’ll extend your reach even further. By leveraging your connections with these collaborators, you can potentially get in touch with influencers that were too distant from you, until now.

Treat your product collaborators well and you’ll be rewarded in the long run, in more ways than 1.

2.3 Sharing Collaborators

If you’ve ever submitted your article to sites like Inbound.org or GrowthHackers.com, you’ll know that just adding your link doesn’t do much for your traffic. You have to, somehow, get people to upvote you, share your article and comment on it. But it’s the classic marketing Catch-22: you need people to see your article, in order to read it, share and upvote it. But they can’t see it, since they haven’t shared it or upvoted it.

The solution is a crew of fellow marketers, willing to share your articles every now and again, when you ask them. That means that your content piece will no longer start with 1 upvote on the New or Latest pages, but you could rocket to the homepage, thanks to their upvotes.

Is it ethical? Yes and no. They are marketers who choose to upvote your article and they are doing it in an open way. Hopefully, they’re not hiding their identities or using multiple accounts to do this. You’re not forcing them to do it, you’re merely suggesting it.

If, however, you set up a system where you ALWAYS share and upvote their articles in return for this service, the situation gets a bit blurry. There’s no longer free thought, there’s just an organized upvoting circle.

As long as it’s suggested you can upvote something and not directly mentioned, having sharing collaborations is an excellent addition to your Content Marketing arsenal. Product Hunt does a great job of making sure product builders don’t beg for upvotes, and there have been cases where votes have been eliminated under the suspicion of fraud.

More on the topic of sharing in Chapter 7 – all about fan communities.

PRO EXAMPLE: Gabriel Weinberg is the CEO and Founder of DuckDuckGo, the “do-not-track-me” search engine. Together with Justin Mares, they’ve written Traction and sold over 10.000 copies within 2 months. Their secrets?

They began as a team, but other collaborations soon followed. To increase interest in the re-release of the book, Justin partnered with Zapier and SumoMe marketer Nat Eliason and launched Programming for Marketers, a free email course. This led to almost 3,000 new subscribers they could email about the Traction book.

Going back to the first release of Traction, going on podcasts didn’t turn out to be such a big revenue driver for them. But since they were trying different marketing channels at the same time, potential buyers were bombarded with Traction news and articles all over the place. They’ve used their connections to essentially carpet-bomb the internet to find out about the book, driving over 37,000 sales in a year.

3. Singles = articles

Content marketing planning - work on lots of singles

This one’s probably the easiest to understand. If an album is made up of individual tracks, then why can’t a book be comprised of individual articles. I’ve seen cases where marketers were too much in their heads, thinking it’s cheating to just bundle up the articles and call that a book. And that’s only partly true.

If you only gather the articles and don’t do additional formatting, that’s not a quality product. You still have to make sure it looks okay on most mobile devices, add more up-to-date information, insert additional content like graphics, quotes and new pieces of content.

Musicians promote a single months after it’s been released. Videos, tours, interviews, teasers, fan Q&As, talk show appearances and so on. If it’s good enough for Lady Gaga, why shouldn’t you give it a try? The 80/20 rule is golden. Spend 20% of your time creating content and 80% promoting it.

Another thing I hear some marketers fear is the idea of stale content. If you’ve written an in-depth guide to the latest Google algorithm update, that’s a valuable article. However, it’s only useful until the next algorithm update. That doesn’t mean you should ONLY create content that’s always up to date. Timely content works wonders, especially if you’re the first one to break a story.

Think about classic tracks like The Beatles’ Jude or Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal. Even though they’ve been released decades ago, they’re still popular. Do they feel dated? On a technical/instrumental standpoint, perhaps. But on a “it makes me feel good when I listen to this song” scale? It’s still off the charts. It’s what content marketers like to refer as Evergreen Content.

It’s a type of content that’s always popular. That will always feel fresh. That will never get old.

Related:

While we’re on the subject, I like to think I’ve created a piece of content like that. “The 7 Hacks I Use Against Myself To Write 1,000 Words Each Day” is an article I’ve written in late August of 2015, near the beginning of my blog. 400+ shares later, it’s still getting retweets and comments. Why? Because it’s specific and actionable enough so that it instills a sense of courage, that you could achieve such a goal. It’s also broad enough so that it doesn’t exclude writers, bloggers or any group of people that enjoys writing.

How to get started creating evergreen content:

Step 1: Research your topic and try to get as close to it as possible.

Make sure it’s specific and relatable enough. For example: “The Greatest Musicians Of All Time” tends to change, year by year. It’s also very wide. On the other hand, “The Complete Biography Of Michael Jackson” can become evergreen content. The story has a beginning and an end. It’s also just about 1 specific person.

Step 2: Think like a wiki.

Aim for beginner-level information, since there are only a handful of experts. Make it full of resources: add videos, images, links to your other articles, quotes, external links, etc.

Step 3: Keep the resource updated.

Just because you’ve created something that’s evergreen now, that doesn’t mean it just stays that way. That’s a myth we need to clear up. Even in the Michael Jackson Biography example above, there is always new information and data coming in. Make sure you revise your content to keep it timeless for your readers.

A few examples of evergreen content formats: checklists, guides, lists, stories, reviews. The CognitiveSEO blog has identified 24 types of evergreen content – make sure you have a look for yourself.

Evergreen content is great for repurposing. That means you start off with 1type of content (say a written article) and you transform it into many other types (a Powerpoint presentation, an Instagram post, an infographic, etc.).

Once you’ve got your central content piece, repurposing it is easy. You think of other ways the content could be presented and distributed. A presentation is great for people who are mostly visual and lack the time to digest the entire written article. An audio version of the article is fantastic for people who focus better using sound. An infographic and social media graphics are highly shareable pieces of content that can drive traffic to the original piece. Video is gaining more and more traction – you can turn your presentation into an animation with just a few clicks in Photoshop or After Effects.

Singles do work on their own – and so should articles. But singles are usually part of a bigger concept, an album. So why limit yourself? Go back to the articles you’ve published last year, and find the book that’s hidden within them.

If you’re curious about our blog, know this: 90% of the traffic from 2014 came organically. This just goes to show that planning ahead and using high-quality evergreen content does pay off in the end.

PRO EXAMPLE: Sujan Patel writes 25 blog posts every month and still finds time to contribute to online publications such as Fast Company, Inc, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes and Entrepreneur. His secrets?

He’s figured out that the more he writes, the better he gets at it. And then he starts getting on people’s radars. Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to start a relationship with journalists, blog owners and fellow entrepreneurs.

A little bit of topic and audience research and your article pitch will write itself.

4. Tours = guest posts

Content marketing planning - do tours by yourself

Musicians do worldwide tours and offer live experiences for a global audience. They’re essentially gaining access to new audiences every time they play. They form new communities and engage with loyal fans.

Guest posting is the act of creating a content piece for another digital entity. The most common example is writing an article for another blog. By doing this, you’re borrowing their audience. Your content provides value, increases trust with the target audience. You could be a nobody, but still benefit from guest posting if your content is good enough.

The blog you're guest posting on acts as a platform for your credibility. Click To Tweet

Once you get 1 guest post, it’s time to move on to the next 2. There’s a snowball effect involved with this tactic. I love writing a post and then using that to show I’ve done work before. I’m using my previous work to drive my future success.

There are blogs, like Webris, which requires you to have 3 articles on major sites before you even attempt to contact them for a guest post. I don’t see that as an obstacle, it’s just a challenge to come back to, further down the line. Feel free to mark it up in your yearly plan.

I haven’t seen better ROI from another Content Marketing tactic than guest posting. Not only is it cheap (it doesn’t require special equipment or money to get started), but the rewards are tremendous:

  • You’re making powerful connections. When you’re starting out with Content Marketing, there will be people who will be 10 times or 100 times your size, in terms of work ethic and actual content pieces. Creating one for them means they trust you enough to put their own stamp of approval on it – and you. The more stamps you get, the more you’ll rise up and start putting stamps on others.
  • You’re gaining highly-targeted traffic. A good guest post ends with your author bio. Optimize that so people can’t wait to find out more about you and click to your blog or landing page. And since that traffic comes from an influencer, your visitors will be handpicked for you.
  • You’re growing your email list. Don’t make the mistake of forgetting to get emails. Use popups, widgets and content upgrades to win over some of the visitors from the borrowed audience. Make sure the landing page from your author bio is tailor made for that specific blog – create a special title or graphic, letting visitors know that page was created especially for them.

I’ve made it my mission to not advertise or spend a single dollar on paid promotions in order to drive traffic to my blog. It’s a tremendous amount of work, but writing comes naturally to me. That means that there will always be another guest posting opportunity out there waiting for me. All I have to do is keep working and continue my outreach program.

How to get started with guest posting:

Step 1: Find the blogs that will accept your content.

This is easily done with a few clever Google searches such as:

  • “[your keyword/niche] + inurl:guest post guidelines”
  • “[your keyword/niche] + inurl:guest author”
  • “[your keyword/niche] + inurl:write for us”

Another method I’ve used for my previous guest posts is to find blogs on Twitter and straight up ask them if they’re looking for fresh articles. 8 times out of 10, they are. Even if they don’t visibly advertise it on the blog.

Step 2: Analyze past articles.

You might get lucky and come across a blog with Guest Posting Guidelines. Written right, those are golden. They should mention the audience, the types of articles they’re publishing, the blog mission and writing tips.

With or without these guidelines, you should have a look at their past articles. Analyze their number of words, how many comments they get, who links to them, how shareable they are, etc. You’ll want to have that as a foundation for your guest post.

Step 3: Pitch your amazing article idea.

Daniel Louis breaks it down beautifully in his article: your guest post pitch should understand the WHO, validate the WHY and show the HOW.

Show them you understand the blog and its audience. Let them know you agree with what they’re trying to achieve and that you’re on a similar path. Finally, using your previous article research, explain why your article will work great for their blog.

Step 4: Write the article.

Once your pitch is approved, you’ll start writing the article. Ideally, you should create better posts for others than for your own blog.

Work on your Author Bio so that it links back to your blog or landing page. Without it, there’s little chance you’ll get any tangible benefits from guest blogging.

Step 5: Promote and follow-up.

You want to make your guest post successful, so start your collaboration on the right foot. Post on social media, contact other bloggers, get in touch with the influencers you’ve mentioned in the article.

A week or so later, check in with the blog owner and ask how the article did, in terms of traffic and feedback. Mention other ideas you have and keep the ball rolling. Turn that single guest post into a constant posting position.

Guest blogging is THE place to start if you want to make a name for yourself. It does get easier over time, but only if you love what you do and you practice, practice, practice.

Writing articles takes time and requires finesse. What if you’re a great public speaker? Then you should really focus on taking part in podcasts.

PRO EXAMPLE: Leo Widrich is the co-founder of Buffer. Using guest posts early on, he’s managed to acquire over 100,000 users in just 9 months. Writing over 150 articles for other blogs, he started with MyBlogGuest and BloggerLinkUp. His secrets?

Start building relationships with blog owners before you ask for something in return. Look for what’s working and do better than that. Measure everything. Focus on a few channels that do well, and push hard on those. Start small, but scale once you’ve built a good guest-posting process.

 

We’ve now covered the first 4 sections of the Content Marketing Planning activity. We’ve planned our year (using specific tools and techniques), found our other supporting band members (who will help us with content, products and sharing), made sure to work on lots of singles (on our own and with collaborators) and learned the importance of doing tours (writing guest posts to expand our audience).

 

Time to put that knowledge to the test: leave us a comment with your current struggles with Content Marketing Planning. Then continue on to part 2 of this guide.

About

Sorin Amzu is a Digital Marketer and Content Marketer from Constanta, Romania. Over the years he's done everything from email marketing to Ads, SEO, Social-Media and Growth Hacking. His major love is creating content that educates, entertains and provides a solution for users. He now leads the Performance Department at Evonomix, a Business Transformation Services agency.

  • Laurent Beretta

    Powerful. Insightful. Thorough. This is the best article for whomever wants to put together a content strategy. I was looking for a course on how to do just that. I found it here.

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