The other day, I realized something while reading a bunch of articles about becoming a more effective content marketer. Many articles recommend certain tactics to increase an individual piece's quality, but they don't often give tips on how to be a better content marketer in general.
We all know it's important to create original, useful content -- ideally quickly and consistently. But how do we make those processes part of our mental frameworks?
In my craze to develop habits to become more effective at content creation, I reached out to top content marketers and asked them one question:
"What’s one habit the best content marketers have?"
Here's what they said.
1) Constantly network.
Making new friends is the key to getting content shared and promoted. In practice, networking just means staying in touch with friends in your industry, reaching out to new people, contributing to sites like Quora, reddit, Inbound.org, and, in general, helping others succeed. Goodwill goes a long way.
Of course, I spend a lot time writing, working on SEO, and creating email campaigns, but it's all for naught if people don't know and trust me.
2) Actively listen to your audience.
Alex Turnbull, Founder and CEO of Groove
While your job is to ensure that your voice gets heard by others, the most effective habit you can build is actively listening to your audience.
That means reading comments, emails, and tweets and emailing your readers to find out what they’re thinking about, struggling with, and interested in getting better at.
3) Constantly research.
We all read a thousand things a day, but many people rarely capture or save the best stuff to reference later. So years ago I started keeping swipe files of my favorite emails, newsletters, and campaigns. I also take screenshots of interesting (good or bad) interfaces and experiences. I save data points and anecdotes from the articles I read on my fave blogs and in DeepDyve journals (a killer resource if you write epic posts).
Then, when I'm ready to write, I just slot those snippets of info into my draft posts, and suddenly what would've been an opinion piece is a far more credible, engaging post. By living in research mode, I've got the data I need to write more convincing and share-worthy content without starting from scratch every time.
4) Extract knowledge from others.
Kelsey Meyer, Co-Founder of Influence & Co
When you're producing content every single day, your own creativity isn't always enough. I've become a better content marketer by learning how to extract knowledge to gather insights from other people for a piece of content. We do this through verbal interviews, written Q&As, and using a knowledge management template to organize the information we receive from other people.
5) Watch how other content performs.
The habit that makes me most effective is watching how a ton of content in our space performs (via social media, feeds, blogs, and email) and seeing what works and what doesn't. That's a powerful process because it trains me to spot patterns in what resonates vs. doesn't, and it helps me be a better creator and amplifier.
6) Obsess over quality.
Camille Ricketts, Head of Content & Marketing at First Round Review
The key to being a standout content marketer is committing entirely to quality over quantity. Someone will always have more time or resources than you to throw a bunch of spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks. The best thing you can do to truly be different and get noticed is to be extremely thoughtful about what will distinguish you, and put all your energy into delivering on that.
7) Constantly ask, "Does this provide value?"
Jory MacKay, Writer and Editor for the Crew blog
Good content teaches, enlightens, and entertains. It's not an advertisement for your brand or just some way to highlight new features. It's a way to show you value your audience's time and want them to leave feeling satisfied.
To do this, you need to have a deep understanding of just who your audience is. At Crew, our target audience is independent creatives -- everyone from designers and developers to writers, marketers, and entrepreneurs. Almost every member of our team is a part of that audience, which makes them the perfect 'focus group' for determining whether my audience would benefit from a new article or tool.
Recently, I set up a Slack channel where anyone is free to drop in links to interesting articles or sites they've found. These end up as inspiration for new blog posts, extra content for our newsletters and social media, or just a way to show me issues that my audience is concerned with.
The people working with you might be the type of people you want to reach with your content marketing efforts -- you shouldn't ignore them as a great resource.
8) Live in "idea mode."
Brittany Berger, Content & PR Manager at Mention
I think the most effective content marketers live in 'idea mode.' They've learned how to come up with blog post and ebook topics almost passively -- going through life with part of their mind always engaged in how their experiences may translate into content topics.
For example, reading five posts from their RSS reader over morning coffee translates to three new ideas on their own to-do list. They come into work Monday morning with a post outline on lessons learned from their latest Netflix binge.
Of course, this passive idea creation is worthless without some organization, so effective content creators are also meticulous about keeping track of their ideas. Even if their idea collection is spread out over Post-its, notebooks, and four different online tools (not that I’m speaking from experience or anything), what matters is that when writer’s block or an empty content calendar hits, they have ideas to turn to.
9) Monitor conversations with your customers.
Kevan Lee, Content Crafter for Buffer's Social blog
One thing that has been valuable for us at Buffer is making the time to listen to our audience. We do this in a couple of ways: Monitoring blog comments and social media mentions, and staying in touch regularly with our support heroes about the conversations they're having with customers.
10) Let ideas sit a little longer.
Steve Wiens, Managing Editor of Microsoft Stories
I learned how to cook up a story in the hectic, short-order kitchen of news journalism, but for me inspiration usually needs more time to marinate. So I’ve learned how to sneak in a moment or two of reflection while on a run. While my conscious mind takes a break from that new project, my subconscious keeps working at it, simmering until inspiration finally boils over.
11) Constantly ask questions.
Hana Abaza, VP of Marketing at Uberflip
As a content marketers, you have to figure out what content is needed, create a dialogue with your audience, and nurture the relationship -- all while telling a compelling story and meeting your business objectives.
Kind of a tall order.
Because of this, the ideal portrait of today’s content marketer is someone with a varied skillset that includes a few key habits for success. But, if I had to choose one, I would say that the best content marketers are always asking questions to get a deeper understanding of their audience.
By putting themselves in their customers’ shoes, the best content marketers learn what their audience will love, what they’ll hate, and how they’ll react. This keeps them in relentless pursuit of the right content, the right angle, and the right story.
12) Listen to complaints.
Danny Schreiber, Marketer at Zapier
My ears are always listening for the next blog post idea. On the Zapier blog, we're dedicated to helping professionals get more out of apps by sharing tool tips, tricks, tutorials, and automation guides. Ideas for posts come from our own experience with apps, but some of the best pieces we've published have come from listening to others discuss -- or complain about -- apps.
Last year, for example, our 'Unofficial Guide to Google Hangouts Video Calls' became one of our most-read posts, and it came about thanks to a buggy Hangout video call with a colleague. If I hadn't heard that person ask me, 'How do you adjust video quality?' and 'How do you fix the headset?' I might not have written that post.
13) Always be ambitious.
Sam Slaughter, VP of Content at Contently
For me, ambition is the most important quality a content marketer can have. Successful people in our field aren't content with just making content -- they're driven to create the best work out there on whatever topic they've chosen. There are so many things competing for our attention at any given moment, and lots of content just adds to the noise. It's only the best and most interesting work that’s going to make an impression, and that's what we all need to shoot for.
The best content marketers aren't just trying to be better than their competitors; they want to be better than everyone out there, regardless of the source.
For Contently, producing the best content means building the best marketing publication in the world. Since we’re competing with every publisher out there, our ultimate goal is to produce better content than anyone, including established publications like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. It's a lofty goal, but if we didn't aim high, we'd be selling ourselves, and our audience, short.
14) Exercise curiosity.
Joe Chernov, VP of Content at HubSpot
Being curious. Okay, so maybe it's more of a 'trait' than a 'habit,' so let’s say, exercising curiosity.
Ask questions -- ask the CEO what she's worried about, unpack why some deals close and others are lost, ask new hires why they joined the company.
You'll probably get all surface answers initially. Dig deeper. Exercise curiosity. Watch random TED talks. Participate in -- even if just passively -- communities like Inbound.org. Read articles that you want to read -- not just those that you are "supposed to" read. Then ask yourself why you care about them. Go to a play. Listen, really listen, to a great album. (I've had Lou Reed's 'New Sensations' on loop for days.)
What connections can you draw between these personal interests and your business or your audience? Perhaps nothing, but it's your job to keep trying to draw connections. It's your job to keep your self-monitor active. Why? Because these are the places true inspiration is found.
15) Avoid blindly following the latest trends.
Anum Hussain, Head of Content at Sidekick
'Video marketing is the next big thing,' they say. Now replace video with any of the following: quizzes, infographics, SlideShares, listicles, flowcharts, podcasts, essays, and so on. There’s nothing wrong with any of these content types, but there is something completely wrong with blindly copying what your content competitors are doing.
Want to try a new content format? See how your audience reacts with a minimal viable test. Key word here: YOUR audience.
If your own, specific, unique, reader base isn’t engaging with this new format, it doesn’t matter.
As content marketers, it’s our responsibility to provide our readers with valuable content. Developing strong frameworks for how we think about content and the process we use to create it are crucial to becoming better content marketers.
Beyond the habits of content marketers, there are many habits we can employ to become more effective. To help you catch up on some of the most common ones, we summarized the best-selling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, into a quick guide here.