Though content marketing is not a new concept, it's now more important than ever for any company looking to build relationships and drive deeper engagement with customers. Even as content creation tools and social media have simplified the process, they've also changed the business landscape. Companies now need to embrace their new role as publishers and act accordingly.

Act like a publisher

If you are putting content online to tell your brand's story—whether via your email newsletter, Facebook account, Twitter handle, or blog—you are a publisher. Rather than ignoring this reality, you should acknowledge the critical importance of your content marketing program and put a plan in place to manage and measure its effectiveness.

IMN recently surveyed marketing professionals across different industries [full findings here] to better understand how they viewed and measured effectiveness of content marketing programs.

Though the vast majority of respondents said they understand the value of a content marketing program and are engaged in content marketing efforts, many are having serious challenges in executing a content marketing program at a very basic level. Internal resource constraints, finding and sourcing relevant content, making sure content passes regulatory compliance, and hiring good content writers were the primary challenges respondents faced when implementing a content marketing strategy.

So how can you address those challenges and implement a successful program? By following the following four steps.

1. Set program goals

Before kicking off your content marketing program, set specific goals outlining what you're hoping to achieve. Those goals will begin to shape the types of content you ultimately provide.

According to the IMN survey, customer and prospect engagement and awareness are two of the top objectives for content marketing programs; combined, these two responses were the top goal of 51% of survey respondents. Customer loyalty, increased leads, increased revenue, and thought leadership are additional program drivers.

Now that you've identified your goals, you need to map the type of content to the goal, just as a publisher would. If prospect engagement is a top goal, think about the top five questions a prospect might ask you about your product, service, or company... and map the content to those topic areas.

For example, if you are a financial services company looking to grow your retirement planning business, a story that includes tips for managing your 401K would help capture prospects who are seeking a trusted partner.

2. Optimize content for multiple channels

Social media and blogs are two of the newer content marketing channels, offering additional touchpoints for engaging with customers and prospects. Just as a publisher would, you should put a strategy in place to address each channel—including blogs, social media, websites, and email newsletters—to take advantage of the strengths that each offers in engaging customers.

For example, as a complement to SEO efforts, blogs are a critical component of retaining customers and prospects who visit a website, whereas newsletters provide an opportunity to track customer and prospect engagement against specific types of content and offers.

Just as you would not develop long-form content for an advertisement on an airplane banner, you should match the content and messages to the medium and audience. On Facebook, it is more likely that you will engage fans and followers with images, video, or a short text message. Save the longer-form content for your newsletter and blog. Twitter is good for providing short text from a blog post or other piece of collateral and driving traffic back to the source with a shortened link that can be tracked. Hashtags, which arrange content by topic on twitter, should also be used to help people who are searching for particular subjects to find your content.

In addition, be sure to spread out the timing of messages across channels. If people follow you across different channels, you don't want to hit them at the same time with the same message. Instead, you want to provide them with something different to maintain their engagement across multiple touchpoints.

Surprisingly, more than half—52%—of respondents in the IMN survey did not have a separate content marketing plan for each channel; that shortcoming can hinder the effectiveness of their content marketing program. To set yourself up for a successful content marketing program, identify the strengths of each channel, outline a strategic plan for each, and diversify content on a regular basis.

3. Execute your content marketing plan

To effectively execute your content marketing plan, develop an editorial calendar, which will serve as the base of your program. This schedule of topics and themes that will be addressed via your content helps to alleviate the pressures associated with producing a frequent supply of content.

The editorial calendar will also outline who will be responsible for each piece of content and the dates for publishing. Based on preferences, the calendar can be created for a three-month period or longer, broken down into weeks, with seasonality taken into account.

Taking advantage of this tool, which is used by publishers helps determine the type of resources you will need to put in place to execute against the calendar. For instance, are there ample internal resources or will a third-party content provider need to be put into place?

Surprisingly, only 32% of respondents to the survey had an editorial calendar in place. Setting up a calendar and assigning deadlines is critical to the overall success of a content marketing program.

4. Measure program effectiveness

Once your program is under way, examine the goals you developed in the beginning to help identify success parameters to measure the effectiveness of a program. In addition to your own measurement, take advantage of the built-in measurement tools across channels to more effectively measure your success.

In the digital world, measurement is real-time and actionable. Google Analytics is a free tool that provides insight about website performance and the content driving traffic to a website. Twitter and Facebook both provide insights on followers and fans—where they live and the content that interests them. A comprehensive newsletter program will provide metrics on delivery statistics, open rates, when content items were read and by whom, and the return path readers took to a website.

Knowing what content was read will help future offers and content to be better tailored to specific customers and prospects.

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By embracing your role as a publisher and following these best-practices, you can establish and grow a successful and rewarding content marketing program that regularly engages customers and prospects and maps to organizational goals.

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Craig Fitzgerald is editorial director of IMN, a digital marketing services provider. Fitzgerald leads editorial strategy and oversees content for the company's customer email newsletter and social marketing service.
image of C.C. Chapman
C.C. Chapman is an expert in online and social media and a co-author of Content Rules.