Let me tell you a story…

A presentation at Ignite Workshops in June 2019 in Belfast, UK by Christopher Murphy

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Let me tell you a story…

A half-day workshop introducing content marketing and highlighting the role it can play in promoting your business online. This workshop was first delivered for the pre-accelerator and accelerator startups at Ignite, Belfast.

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Follow me on Twitter…

I’m @fehler on Twitter. If you’ve got questions, ping me and I’ll do my best to answer them. My DMs are open.

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What I do in one slide…

A little context, so you know that my advice is drawn from plenty of real world experience.

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I have a lot of experience and I think that’s important to share, just so you know I’m not a charlatan. These are just some of the things I’ve done…

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I’ve focused here on content-related projects I’ve worked on, so you know I’ve been applying the theory and doing this in the real world.

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Before we get into work I’ve done, I think it helps to define ‘content marketing’. What is it exactly?

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Four parts: 1. strategy; 2. valuable content; 3. attracting an audience; 4. converting that audience and driving profitable outcomes.

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I’m not talking about all of writing.

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This isn’t content marketing, it’s journalism. When I write for 8 Faces, Offscreen and other magazines I’m not marketing a product per se.

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This isn’t content marketing either, it’s product writing. When I ran my record label I had to do a great deal of writing: product descriptions, artist biographies and other forms of writing. Again, this wasn’t content marketing per se.

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I’ll be exploring projects I’ve worked on that have a content marketing focus. (This isn’t restricted to words, as we’ll see shortly, but my focus as a writer has been words.)

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For ~five years I wrote here at The Standardistas’ Periodical (you might call it a blog, but the word ‘periodical’ fitted more closely with our brand).

This writing drew traffic to the site, which translated into lots of opportunities.

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I’ve also written for clients, for example, Hunter Savage – a recruitment agency – in Belfast and Dublin.

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This was one of a series of ten articles on UX commissioned by Adobe and published on Smashing Magazine.

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Adobe sponsored these articles to raise awareness of their experience design product, Adobe XD.

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They then syndicated the articles and republished them at the Adobe blog. (This maximised the value of the content I’d created for them.)

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The UI ‘course in a book’, Building Beautiful UIs, that I’m currently working on – also for the Adobe XD team – is another form of content marketing: It’s the creation of valuable content that drives awareness of XD.

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If you weren’t at the workshop, skip these slides.

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If you weren’t at the workshop, skip these slides.

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If you weren’t at the workshop, skip these slides.

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If you weren’t at the workshop, skip these slides.

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If you weren’t at the workshop, skip these slides.

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This is what we’ll cover. The workshop will run for a half-day (~2-3 hours).

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Part 1: The first thing you need to focus on is a strategy. All too often content marketing projects fail because there’s no real strategy.

Without a strategy you’re throwing spaghetti at a wall. You need: 1. considered content; and 2. a regular cadence or rhythm.

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Investing in good content pays off, it drives traffic to your site and raises awareness of your products.

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Large companies, like Stripe (and – as we’ve just seen – Adobe) invest in content to raise awareness.

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These guides on how to run an internet business are useful and they help to promote the Stripe brand and drive awareness of Stripe’s products.

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They give you some guides for free. If you want more, you have to give them your email address.

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Giving Stripe your email address – in exchange for further valuable content – adds you to a mailing list, which they can then use to promote their products.

The mailing list part of the equation is a separate workshop, but it can be used to convert customers, driving profit.

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Small companies – like my publishing business, Tiny Books – can also use this strategy to promote their products and services.

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If you’re a small company you’ll need to take on all of these roles. There are tools you can use, like Beacon (http://beacon.by), to help you with the design part of the equation.

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When I share content, especially on Twitter (which I use more than Instagram), I brand it subtly. This means that when others repost it or share it to other networks (for example, Pinterest) my brand follows along.

Consider the life of your content once it’s no longer in your hands.

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Growing my mailing list for Tiny Books meant that when I launched my first book, Start!, there was an interested audience that I could promote it to.

I sent a series of three emails to my list: pre-announcing the launch; announcing it, with a discount code; and informing readers that the discount code was about to expire. That drove more than enough sales to cover the time I spent writing it, my editing costs, and my design costs.

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As I showed earlier – with Adobe – you can maximise your content investment by syndicating it and publishing it through other channels.

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Adobe, for example, published this content via Smashing Magazine and Adobe’s own site.

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I write all the time, it helps me clarify my thinking and is – I believe – a useful skill to develop.

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I also write because I have no marketing budget so I use my articles – sharing lessons I’ve learned – to promote what I’m doing.

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Let’s get started with a little warm up exercise.

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Draw three circles.

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In the first circle: List all the frequencies you can think of. These are a handful, but think about how often this content might be published.

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In the second circle: Consider the modes of delivery or the channels you might use. Again, these are a handful, but think about where this content might be consumed.

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In the third circle: Consider the type of content. Again, these are a handful, but think about what form the content might take.

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In teams of two, take one frequency, one channel and one content type and consider what this might be as a content marketing deliverable.

This isn’t your strategy (though it might be), it’s really intended to get you thinking.

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Here’s one idea I made earlier, from a series of three.

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And here’s what they might translate into.

These might not be book reviews, of course, they could be product reviews. The important point is that the content you publish is valuable and useful.

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Here’s another idea.

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And here’s what they might translate into.

The important point is these interviews celebrate your customers’ stories. They need to be light on the hard sell.

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Here’s one last idea, before you consider some of your own.

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And here’s what they might translate into.

Tutorials might be about your product or related products, or your service, or challenges that your customers face. (Remember: You’re focusing on the creation of valuable and useful content.)

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Let’s pop them up on the walls and have a short discussion. This is a chance to learn from everyone in the room, so we’ll end up with a series of possible approaches to content marketing.

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Part 2: Who’s your audience? Where might you find them? (YouTube? Instagram? Elsewhere?)

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You can’t be everywhere. If you are, you’ll spread yourself too thin and you’ll be creating content that’s either: less than ideal or too infrequently published. Pick a handful of channels and develop your skills in these and put your weight behind them.

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Choose the channels that are right for you, where your customers are.

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Social networks are powerful, but you can’t publish on all of them (especially if you’re in a company of one or two).

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Let’s design your customers. We’re going to focus on where you find them. Where do your customers gather? Every business will be different.

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Working solo, create a drawing of your customer (or different customer types). Paint a detailed picture: Where do they find information? What channels do they prefer? How often might they consume content?

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Let’s pop them up on the walls and have a short discussion. This is a chance to learn from everyone in the room, so we can paint a detailed picture of different customer types.

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I’ve focused on words first, because that’s what I learned. Anyone can learn to write, it just takes: practice, a spellchecker and, perhaps, tools like Grammarly (https://www.grammarly.com).

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When I started writing at The Standardistas, the posts were short.

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As my writing improved, I started to create longer articles. These were original content – only available on my site – where I wrote around a theme.

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I also used interviews with prominent industry figures. Here’s one with Josh Brewer, who now runs Abstract, but who was Principal Designer at Twitter at the time.

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Interviews serve two purposes: 1. they’re interesting to do and they widen your knowledge; and 2. they help drive awareness of what you’re doing.

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Reading habits have changed, especially as we’ve moved to screens for reading.

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NN/g have a useful article on designing content for the web.

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I’d strongly recommend reading How Users Read on the Web. It was published in 1997, but it’s still relevant.

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Embrace these techniques and you will enhance your content, ensuring it’s more reader-friendly.

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Simon Collison is someone well worth following. I borrowed some of the following content from him (I think… they were in a notebook I’d created after attending one of his excellent workshops). /* Simon, if you’re reading this: “Hello, and thank you!” */

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Reading on screen is more tiring than reading on paper. As such we need to design our content accordingly, it needs to be shorter.

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We need to consider content according to these limitations.

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Build trust, keep it short, and ensure calls to action (CTAs) are easy to identify.

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Ask yourself: What do you want a user to achieve on a page? Ensure there’s a clear call to action that satisfies that goal.

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I really like Process Type Foundry’s huge CTAs. They’re no nonsense (and they look lovely, too).

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One thing I didn’t really have at The Standardistas’ site were clear CTAs. If I was to redo this, I’d fix that.

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On my new website for Mr Murphy, I’m fixing that. (When I get some breathing room, I just need to finish the site!)

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When a user reaches the end of a page – especially a long page – consider a content upgrade using a lead magnet. How To Boost Conversions by 785% in One Day (The Content Upgrade) is a great article on how content upgrades work.

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A content upgrade is like a magnet, designed to attract leads.

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When you create your lead magnet, focus on adding value. Tools like Beacon are great if design isn’t your strong suit.

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Video is also a powerful medium for storytelling.

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The Blok Knives website uses video to tell the story of the business’s product in addition to words and pictures.

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This lovely video – by Jamie Isbell – tells a short, but compelling story. It shares the story of the product and the story behind the product.

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In addition to their Kickstarter campaign video, Brewbot also used video to share their story.

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Every backer got a bespoke generative image put together in a lovely short ‘thank you’ video that featured every backer’s name.

This is the kind of lovely content touch that customers will share on social channels. In short: The effort pays off.

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We’ve seen the rise of imagery thanks to Instagram’s explosive growth.

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Instagram’s a great channel (no one even needs to read) for sharing your product’s or service’s story.

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In an Instagram culture, consider how you might use visuals instead of text to communicate.

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All of these photographs – of work by Cara Murphy (@silverlandscape) – are art directed so that they have a consistent look and feel. [Photography: David Pauley]

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By professionally photographing your products you also ensure they are at a high enough resolution for use in offline media like magazines and books. Again, this can lead to offline content marketing opportunities.

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Part 3: What’s your content? You have to ensure it’s: valuable (the web is a big place, how does your content stand out?); relevant; and published in a consistent manner (there’s no point in publishing intensely, then leaving vast gaps in your schedule).

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We all have 86,400 seconds a day. We have a finite amount of time, so it’s important not to waste it.

Customers are time poor, but information hungry. Focus on what they need and don’t waste their time. They’ll respect you if you do that.

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There are probably others publishing similar content, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room in the world for one more voice: Yours.

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The web allows us to establish our own, unique channels. That’s an exciting prospect, use the mediums you use with care and attention to detail.

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Just because one news channel exists, doesn’t mean there isn’t room for another opinion.

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Let’s take a look at three typography blogs, each and every one is different. Stephen Coles takes a macro look at typography, encompassing a wide field of vision.

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Xavier Encinas takes a thinner slice, focusing on the world of Swiss typography.

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Keith Houston takes an even thinner slice, writing only about punctuation marks.

All three are blogs about typography, but every one is different, flavoured by the individuals who create them.

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Don’t throw spaghetti at a wall, consider everything.

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Ask yourself: What value can I add? Identify that and get behind it, developing a unique voice.

Original content is higher value, but it takes time to create. Balance it with other, repurposed content – pointing to others’ work, for example – and use that content to ensure your channel is publishing consistently.

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Robin Sloan has written eloquently about this, I’d recommend reading his post stock and flow.

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Stock and Flow are both important, build them in as part of a considered strategy.

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What’s your message? What are you sharing? Keep it focused and don’t stray too far from it.

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Take your message and break it down into ‘pillars of content’. Develop a mix of related themes, then you can programme your channels.

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If I turn on a channel and this is all I see (unless it’s a cookery channel) it can get a little monotonous.

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Instead, develop a series of themes.

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When I started writing at The Standardistas, we developed a series of themes around which we published.

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These were our themes. Yours will, of course, be different.

The posts on tweed and beards were sparse, they were a somewhat idiosyncratic part of our brand. (Think of these as salt and pepper that enhance the flavour.)

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Above all, your schedule needs to be regular. Don’t make the mistake of starting with boundless enthusiasm then – after a burst of activity – fizzling out.

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Think about your scheduling.

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Also think about your pacing. This is just like a television channel: some posts will be short, some will be medium and some will be lengthy.

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Put it all together and you have a good mix of content focus and content length.

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It might sound obvious, but there’s no substitute for actually starting. The quicker you start, the quicker you’ll learn. Don’t let inertia hold you back and don’t endlessly build a strategy in your head without starting. Put simply: The best way to start is to start.

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Practice makes perfect: I look back on my first Standardistas post and think, “I could have done better,” but that’s not the point. The point is I started and I improved as I continued.

Don’t make the mistake of not starting.

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I used this approach with my students when I ran Belfast School of Art’s MFA Multidisciplinary Design Masters programme. Start with something achievable then work you way up the complexity ladder.

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If you’re new to writing, start short. As your confidence grows, you can take on weightier topics.

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Part 4: Finally – because you’r doubtless busy building a product or a service – I’ll share some processes I use that enable me to create content in a streamlined manner.

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Good content doesn’t appear out of nowhere. You need to get into the mindset of becoming a hunter gatherer so you’re always surrounded by inspiration.

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Priming the brain ensures you’re never short of content ideas.

I’ve also found it’s useful to re-purpose dead time, using it productively and build systems for finding and sharing content.

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Once a year I spend some time curating the links on this page. The launch screen of your browser is a great place for content sources so you’re never short of provocations.

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There are also aggregators – like Sidebar – that gather daily sources of inspiration.

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I also use RSS feeds to ensure I always have something interesting on hand to read. Digital Trends has a useful introduction to RSS feeds that is worth reading if this is new to you.

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I user Reeder on my phone and repurpose dead time so I’m not wasting time idling. This is Reeder’s overview, showing a range of content drawn from different sources.

Curate a list of RSS feeds appropriate to your product or service.

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This is Reeder’s article view, which you see when you click on a title on the previous screen. Clicking the icon highlighted loads it directly in Reeder, saving you a trip to a website.

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This is Reeder’s article view with a truncated article expanded within the app.

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Once I’ve found something interesting, I use Simplenote and Bear (two note syncing apps) to start the writing process. These apps, and others like them, allow me to work on files in the cloud so I can use whatever device I have to hand to write.

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I use Simplenote for ‘scratch’ content, capturing ideas as I find them.

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When an idea is beginning to take shape and become more formed, I move it to Bear where I refine it and get it ‘publish ready’.

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Finally, let’s tie everything together through the creation of a content calendar that you can use after the workshop to kickstart your content marketing efforts.

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Consider both the content (what you’re sharing) and the cadence (how often you’re sharing). This all needs to be worked out so you’re doing everything strategically and minimising wasted time.

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A good place to start is with a content audit of your competitors’ content. This will help to inform your strategy and – because you’re looking closely – will help you learn more about your competitors.

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If you were running a fintech business, for example, find others in the space who are sharing interesting content and learn from them. In fintech, Monzo is a good example. What could you learn from their content strategy?

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Monzo are sharing a great deal of their business process. They’re also adopting a very open approach towards sharing their design thinking. Lastly, they’re focusing on sharing solutions to the typical problems that surround money, saving, for example.

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Look at the frequency of your competitors’ publishing. In this case, Monzo publishes frequently: 28 posts in May, 2019; 23 posts in April, 2019; 18 posts in March, 2019…. This will give you an idea of the kind of cadence you’ll need to consider.

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The Monzo Journal – the company’s email newsletter – is filled with valuable and useful content. It also features an illustrated card character, which you see prominently when you scroll through your emails (there’s a lesson that you could learn).

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Lastly, Monzo are using Twitter (and other social platforms) to share useful information more frequently.

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Monzo – unlike many banks – is encouraging its customers to join its community, which – unlike many banks – is active and vibrant.

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Monzo’s community, unlike many banks, is filled with active members – all creating user generated content – that helps to promote the brand.

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With a content audit of your competitors’ content completed it’s time to create a content calendar for your business. This is a guide you can use to ensure that everyone in the business is on the same page and is pushing in the same direction.

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A content calendar is a little like the Radio Times, it shows you what’s being published and when. Convince & Convert have a useful overview of the benefits of content calendars that’s worth reading.

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Map out what you’re doing and when. This helps to keep you focused and ensures your schedule is consistent. It’s also useful for ensuring you team knows who’s doing what and when.

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Your content calendar keeps you focused, but there will always be times when life interjects and you have crises to deal with. Setting aside some backup content is a good idea so that – even when things are going wrong – you can keep the schedule maintained.

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In the distant past television didn’t run 24 hours a day. Turn on late at night and you’d see a ‘test card’ like this. You need to ensure that your content’s published frequently, there’s nothing worse than a customer arriving at a site and seeing blog posts that are years old.

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In our final exercise, we’ll put together a content calendar that you can use as the basis for your post-workshop content marketing strategy.

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Working solo, create an initial content calendar. Ten minutes will give you enough to get the ball rolling, but you’ll need to work on it later, developing and enhancing it.

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Let’s pop them up on the walls and have a short discussion. This is a chance to learn from everyone in the room, so we can see multiple perspectives of what a content calendar might be.

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The best way to start is to start: get started and fine-tune as you learn. Good luck!

(If you weren’t at this workshop, I normally close on a slide that says: “What’s the worst that can happen? We’re not heart surgeons!” In this workshop – would you believe it – we had a heart surgeon!)

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You might like to follow me on Twitter where I share useful links related to design and technology (and, occasionally, mental health and life).