Content marketing is a complex, sometimes counter-intuitive way to make money. It often takes a lot of giving before you start to see the results. But those results are undeniable, and they stick around for years. They build momentum, and eventually become nearly unstoppable.
So what’s the secret to mastering content marketing?
There are many answers to that, and some of them are mutually exclusive. But there’s one answer that may not have occurred to you. One of the most powerful ways to leverage content marketing – is to get others to do it for you.
Let Others Do the Content Marketing for You
1. Accept Guest Posts, and Do it Right
SEOs (search engine optimizers) and content marketers love the idea of guest posting as a way to build traffic. But few articles talk about the power of hosting a site that accepts guest posts as a method of building traffic.
Of course, opening up the floodgates and accepting guest contributions isn’t always a strategy that’s going to guarantee growth. We’ve all seen the slew of terrible article directories filled with subpar content that was clearly put together in about five minutes as part of an effort to manipulate the search results. Most of those sites pull little or no traffic.
Yet, if you look at most niches, you’ll find at least one major success that consists of content produced in large part by guests. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that standards are the main thing separating the winners from the losers who employ this strategy. Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all strategy here. But some commonalities include:
A Brand Identity with a General Shared Purpose for the Content
It’s not enough to only accept good, great or even awe-inspiring content. If the guest posts don’t have anything in common, you’re going to end up with a schizophrenic brand. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that every article needs to be about the same topic, and in fact most marketers are probably too narrow, rather than too broad.
I’m talking about your tone, values and purpose. Those should be made abundantly clear in your guest-posting guidelines.
Depth and Novelty
There seems to be a myth floating around that most users need a double dose of Ritalin just to sit through an article longer than a single page. Neil Patel has repeatedly found that long form content typically increases conversions  as well. If an article is 400 words long, I feel fairly safe in saying it’s probably not valuable (unless you’re Seth Godin). That’s not a universal statement, but it’s generally true.
Please don’t take this to mean that a post is valuable if it’s long. Look for content that brings something new to the conversation, something a bit more comprehensive than anything else on the subject. Something that finds interesting connections, something insightful or something that puts a new spin on an old topic.
Do not accept content that feels too familiar.
Your guidelines should strongly emphasize the takeaway. People will happily read long form content, but only if they feel like they’re getting something out of it. Your readers need to understand what the benefits are. That should be made clear in the title. Readers also love being told what to do. That’s why most of them are there. They’re looking for advice and instructions.
If the post isn’t useful or novel, it had better be entertaining. That means it ought to be funny, relatable, inspirational, cute or incites an emotion. Let me be clear on this, this is not the same thing as creating emotional content. Emotional content tells readers how you feel, when your goal should be to make them feel. Remember, the story creates an emotion, it doesn’t embody one.
I already know what you’re thinking, “How am I supposed to accept guest posts like this? Nobody’s knocking down my door.”
The answer to this is actually fairly simple. You just need to be willing to make a few investments. You need to set the bar high early on. The best way to do that is to work with somebody influential from the very beginning.
If you think you need to have an amazing site before that happens, I’m going to tell you that you have it all backwards. Jon Morrow is with me  on this. It’s influential relationships that make all the difference. You know what Jon Morrow finally did that turned his blogging career around? He hired Problogger’s Chris Garret to give him some pointers. His response was that nobody knew who he was.
If nobody’s knocking down your door for a chance to guest post, chances are nobody influential has worked with you yet.
I know a lot of people stress “relationship marketing” and if you’re already good at that, you probably already control a massive platform with influential people requesting to contribute content to your site. If that’s not you, I’m going to let you in on a little secret – people like to get paid to write.
Digital marketers have grown up in a culture where you write to make money by getting attention. But a lot of them come from a journalism culture, a culture where people expect to get paid to put finger to keyboard. If they’re any good, and if they’ve got a network, they’re probably getting paid. And most times, influential bloggers generally aren’t asking for that much money.
None of this is an excuse to stop approaching them like human beings, of course. Most of them are very busy. You should still make at least a bit of an effort to sell them on the idea of writing an article for you. After all, you’re probably going to want to do this more than once, and you’re probably going to want them to feel comfortable sharing your site and promoting you on their network. Use the money as an ice-breaker to kick off a relationship, not an excuse to avoid it.
It won’t take too many of these paid gigs with influential writers before outreach starts to get easier, and you start to notice that you don’t need to offer the money to get the results. Keep at it for several months or up to a year or so. Pretty soon, you’ll be getting more requests than you’ll know what to do with.
2. Become a Master Curator
Before we dive too deep into this, I’d just like to stress that you can’t do content marketing on curation alone. At least, I don’t believe that you can do it ethically, or for very long, if it’s the only thing you do. I strongly believe that curation adds value to the Internet when done properly. But I don’t believe that it adds enough value to transform you into a genuine authority on its own.
That said, I’d like to direct you to a little Facebook Page called Just Girly Things . A Facebook Page with an engaged audience a full three times larger than its subscribed audience. While the Page doesn’t seem to make this clear anywhere (again, not so ethical), most or all of the content posted on this page is reposted from elsewhere on the Web. This hasn’t stopped them from reaching an incredibly broad audience by posting content that people can’t seem to stop themselves from sharing.
For a more business-related example, take a look at Shopify’s Facebook Page . On a platform where it’s most common for brands to reach less than 1 percent of their audience, Shopify is reaching about 10 percent of them. Why? When they could be spamming their audience about their sweet new hardware  kits for their iPad POS system, instead they’re posting inspirational quotes  from their Pinterest boards. And those Pinterest boards are made up of curated content.
As a curator, you have a few basic responsibilities:
- This is where bite-size content comes into play. Save the depth for your own content. Bite-size content makes its way through social networks, and it’s a great way to expand your reach.
- Again, just because it’s somebody else’s content doesn’t mean you should be sacrificing your identity. In much the same way that that brand and style of clothes you wear says something about your personality, the content that you share with your audience says something about who you are as a brand. It comes back to tone, values, and purpose. Select content for its shareability – but always keep brand in mind.
- Social networks are for entertainment. The need to be funny, cute, inspirational and novel is dramatically intensified on social networks. Being useful can still be powerful – but it’s not quite as crucial.
- Curated content can be a good place to link back to your own more in-depth content.
- Always credit the original source of the image. And yes, it had better be an image or maybe a video. Images consisting of stylized text work fine (often better, in fact), but they must be visual.
- The content doesn’t have to be new. In fact, if you are re-sharing brand new content that just got shared on a major media outlet, you’re going to be seen as redundant. You’ll actually be seen as more valuable if you are digging through the archives of the Web and sharing content that you discover that way. The important thing is that the content is new for your audience. In that sense, it should not appear derivative.
Curation is also useful as a way to test audience responses and learn intuition about what kind of content propagates through your network. You can leverage this knowledge to produce your own bite-size content, a crucial differentiator that will make your social presence even more valuable.
Finally, familiarize yourself with Fair Use  and any other applicable laws when you choose to leverage content curation for marketing purposes. There is a fine line to walk here, and while social networks have changed the way things like this are approached, you need to be aware of the legal risks involved.
3. Empowering Users
By now, most of you are probably familiar with the term “user-generated content,” but understanding how to leverage it and use it as a marketing tool isn’t quite so obvious. Your audience and customers don’t work for you. You can’t tell them what kind of content to produce, or even to produce it in the first place. How do you use this to generate sales?
For starters, I just want to be clear that this stuff works. Peer-reviewed science  has demonstrated that social media activity produces sales. And that, by far, the most influential communications are the information-rich communications between consumers.
But what can you do to get those information rich interactions started?
Photo contests like the Guardian’s “Own the Weekend ” or Burberry’s “Art of the Trench ” can massively reinvigorate a brand, expand your reach, and connect you with your audience. Photos get conversations started, especially when the stated goal of the contest is to create a photo worth talking about. You can take this to the next level with Vines  or videos.
If your audience is of sufficient size, it’s never a bad idea to set up a forum on your site. While social networks have become the dominant place for people to interact online, forums are still the most heavily used platforms for discussions revolving around a specific subject. Since brands are often subject-driven, forums are incredibly powerful.
Nothing gets people talking quite like a question. Simple, open-ended prompts designed to get ideas flowing are especially effective.
Make it easy
User-generated reviews have been central to Amazon’s success, made all the more useful by the fact that the reviews are easy to write and vote on. Sites like Imgur , someecards , and Cheezburger  owe their success to the ease with which people can upload images and generate memes. The more tools your users have at their disposal to generate content, the more user-generated content you will have.
With enough quantity, you get quality. And if you have a rating system in place, the most shareable content will rise to the top.
Moderation is a Crucial Part of the User-Generated Content Process
It’s crucial not to get overbearing with your moderators, but at the same time, it’s important to maintain a brand identity. You want to create an environment where people feel welcome to have their own opinions. But you don’t want Internet trolls to turn the place into a mess of hate, brand-bashing and crude jokes. Put a clear and concise moderation policy up, and enforce it. Where possible, allow users to vote on comments and content, or to flag them, in order to put some level of self-moderation in place.
While user-generated content is a great way to expand your reach and build a connection with your users, it can backfire terribly if you fail use it to develop a brand identity and a sense of values. The goal of these user communities should always be to build a core following and a corresponding identity for your brand.
By now it should be clear that when you “let others do the marketing for you,” you’re going to be doing a lot of work. This isn’t about reducing marketing costs. It’s about building a connection with influencers and with your customers. It’s about building a culture around your brand.
Community Talking  Photo via Shutterstock