6 Content Marketing Commandments: How To Be Successful Without Losing Your Sanity
Thomas Jefferson was the 3rd president of the United States. To the left here is his tombstone.
Does it mention anything about him being president? Nope.
That was his wish. Allegedly, he left explicit instructions for how his tombstone should read. And evidently, as a result: he was a total rockstar.
I mean c’mon, that’s an impressive resume. That’s a life of impact. To intentionally leave out mentioning “POTUS” in your epitaph.
Why do you think he chose that? Why did he identify (and want to be remembered as) the primary writer behind the Declaration first and foremost above everything else?
Probably because he understood what we seem to have forgotten — that capturing and communicating ideas is far more important than any title we could ever take on.
The words we write, the videos we create, the businesses we build, the photos we take, the paintings we paint —these things all have the potential to live on far after we are gone.
In a world with disappearing photos, fleeting tweets, and information overload, we forget that what we are creating can have a lasting impact — in the minds of readers and for society at-large.
Although it’s unlikely that any of us will pen something so significant as The Declaration of Independence, it’s not unlikely that we could pen something that will impact people today or even future generations. I think it’s important that we don’t lose sight of what this is that we are all doing here.
We weren’t put on this earth to amass clicks, likes, claps, views, and email subscribers. We were put here to make an impact. To do something of value for others.
The “Content Marketing Commandments” I abide by, for myself and with my clients, is really just a set of principles that help keep us all sane. They help keep us mission-oriented, rather than click-hungry. They help keep us grounded. They help me stay focused on the bigger picture.
What’s crazy is that following these principles, while counterintuitive, creates real results. They help achieve what a content marketing budget is designed to achieve in the first place: sales. The difference is that we don’t provide crappy content or scammy offers to get them. We go for the heart space, the soul space, and for lasting impact.
RULE #1: Content production is a service in itself.
Sure, there may be another reason to make a vlog. Like driving traffic to a product or service. Because you know as well as I do that whatever sits behind your paywall is the real value-add.
But readers and viewers have a ridiculously refined bullshit filter in this day-and-age, and the catch-22 of it all is you aren’t going to get the outcome you want by only focusing “acquiring leads” or “filling your sales funnel.”
You and I know when we read a sales page that is making a bunch of empty promises. We can feel the vapidness of an article designed just to attract email subscribers.
And guess what? We don’t hit “buy now” in these cases. Or respond to the call to action at the bottom of the webpage.
Your intended audience is no different. The way we connect with them is by creating content that is authentic, thoughtful, and deep. By telling a powerful story. By sharing some insight. By giving something to those who are giving you their attention.
Aim to deliver value with the content itself, not just what comes after.
Give because you genuinely want people to succeed. Give because you want to help. Give because it’s the right thing to do.
Or as Gary Vaynerchuk might say, “Jab, Jab, Jab” [we’ll forget about the right hook for now].
RULE #2: Share what you know and how you know it.
I recently had an acquaintance tell me that he literally copies and pastes OTHER PEOPLE’S BLOG POSTS and puts them on his site. He relies on the fact that most people won’t catch him. For SEO. To create the illusion that he knows something — that quite frankly, he doesn’t.
As someone who ghostwrites articles for a living, I was a little taken aback by this. It’s straight plagiarizing.
Most of us don’t go this far. But we are almost as creatively lazy. We rely 100% on other people’s ideas. Just regurgitating and rephrasing them.
There is nothing wrong with using other people’s ideas. That’s what they are there for. We are meant to integrate and build off of them. But the value we can provide as content creators is not from taking credit for ideas, so much as it is in finding ways to extend, color, and reframe them.
[Case in point: I learned the exact wording “share what you know and how you know it” from an article Nicolas Cole wrote a while back. Sure it’s not revolutionary, and I could spin it off as my own, but why would I?]
The best way to do this is to be original. Tell your story. Share your research. Offer up your experiences. That’s way more interesting than writing another article about the same old morning routines that everyone seems to follow now. Or copping off something that Tim Ferriss has written extensively about.
Here are some examples of topics I’m interested in learning about right now:
- What is it like to be a trans person of color in America right now?
- How can I write and deliver the best possible wedding speech?
- What do you really learn in an MFA program? Or a Psychology Ph.D. program?
- What mindsets, beliefs, and values do people who make it through crushing adversities have to adapt to survive?
The answers to these questions are bound to be interesting stories. These are things that cannot be explained by just anyone.
Telling me your story and your insights, and documenting the ways in which you’ve learned about a certain topic, is incredibly compelling. And plus… it prevents you from feeling like an imposter.
RULE #3: Be grateful for each reader, viewer, or commenter.
Don’t get so caught up in the performance of a piece of content that you forget there are real human beings giving your ideas their time, focus, and attention.
Years ago that wasn’t possible. You couldn’t reach people by just typing a few words on a keyboard and pressing enter. We are all in a blessed position to have this microphone called the internet.
Instead of being upset that your content did 1,000 fewer views than normal, why not just be so incredibly grateful for the people who did view it? Why not use it as an opportunity to learn about what resonates with people? Or to understand more about human behavior, H/L writing, or communication? Why not be grateful that you are on this planet getting to do this thing?
No matter how many people are seeing your work, no matter how many readers or viewers they have, you must treat them as humans first. Not leads, not subscribers, not viewers. Humans. Humans that you have the power to connect with.
RULE #4: Data is a tool, but it won’t tell you everything.
Every word you write, every video you post, every photograph you take — when shared — can be boiled down to some data points. Views. Likes. Shares. Comments. Clicks. Leads. Sales.
There is nothing wrong with monitoring performance data. You should be monitoring it to some extent. Because you are creating for a purpose. And if you want to acheive that purpose, you need to measure your progress.
Otherwise, it’s sort of like you’re on an intellectual merry-go-round.
The problem is when the numbers begin to overshadow the purpose. You start to obsess over the stats of your work, instead of focusing more on Rule #1: Content production is a service in itself. You start creating with hopes of having your ego stroked, not with communicating some important ideal.
This is a recipe for failure. It’s also a recipe for losing your morals and mind.
Because there is an unlimited number of factors that can lead to the success of a certain piece of content. Interest. Timing. News cycle. Platform. Picture. Title. Luck.
A formulaic approach to testing some of these elements is impactful if you are disciplined. But it can easily get out of control if you are not. Your creativity is stunted. You find yourself talking about the same things over and over. And you become depressed — on the endless search for more validation.
So, forget vanity metrics. Forget the perception factor. Focus on what really matters — and that is ALWAYS the readers/watchers/consumers.
Look for metrics that help measure that your content is doing something for people — helping them scale their businesses, connect deeper with their friends, whatever…
I have written articles that have received over 100,000 views and receive all sorts of “buzz.” I’ve written articles that have received 20 views — that my clients or myself get very real, very personal responses about how this piece of content changed, touched, saved, or resonated with them.
Not every bit of value you add can be boiled down to a concrete data point. Remember why you are doing this in the first place.
Rule #5: Have a goal — and then make the content work for you.
What does success look like for you in your content strategy?
The most common answer I hear is: “more.”
“I want more leads. More views. More leverage. More thought leadership. I don’t know what I want, I just want more.”
While I get where my clients are coming from, that’s a terrible answer. It’s license to get stuck on the content marketing treadmill and never be satisfied with the result.
Many experts will tell you that you should be posting on Medium, Quora, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, Facebook, LinkedIn, Soundcloud every day. This is completely unrealistic. It’s a fulltime job to document and share every piece of your experience across multiple verticals.
Unless you have a substantial content marketing team behind you, this is an equation for burnout. It’s also an equation for failure on all other fronts. You’ll start sharing and forget to make time for what matters— like running your business or writing your next book. Or you’ll never start because it’s too overwhelming to think about.
The goal is to find the middle ground. To develop a strategy that makes sense given your resources. And to make the content you do create…work for you. Not the other way around.
You only have so many good ideas, so many good quotes, so many good soundbites. Here are just a few tips for how to maximize the results you get from that finite creative time/energy:
- Simplify your strategy. You don’t need to be everywhere all of the time to succeed at the level you want to. What do you want to accomplish? Where are the people you want to connect with?
- Do the baseline things. Use a photo. Link to other articles you’ve written or videos you’ve created. Create the illusion of an avalanche.
- Make it shareable. Make it so others will want to share your work. Word of mouth is most important in marketing.
- Use platforms with built-in audiences like Quora or Medium. Part of the work is already done for you.
- Syndicate content across different channels and platforms. No one cares if you share something on Medium and on Quora. Just like they don’t care if you share a clip of a YouTube video on Instagram.
- Use the pillar content model.
Rule #6: Do a lot of work.
Above all else, the way to build an engaged audience and the way to provide real value to that audience is to get into the arena and do the work.
Unless you already have an audience and an established brand, your first video likely won’t go viral. You aren’t going to amass a million views in your first month.
Content marketing is not some “get-rich-quick” scheme. It’s a choice to play the long game. It’s a choice to build for lasting impact, not quick and dirty sales.
Your voice, your brand, and your value-add will all change over time. Creating content is a low-cost way of experimenting with new product or service ideas. It’s a way of investing in your “becoming” as an individual and as a company. It’s a way of synthesizing what you are learning and leveraging that to add value for others.
It won’t be perfect at first. You have to work at it. You have to put in the time to get better at crafting and presenting a message.
But it’s worth it.
For as Theodore Roosevelt once said in his infamous speech “Citizenship in a Republic”:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds…
To be a good content creator, you cannot just sit back and judge others. An idea notebook means little. Your critiques mean nothing.
You must take on the role of a creator — and create. Step into the flow. Make it a priority. It will undoubtedly be part of your legacy.
And so, you must approach content marketing like you would any other important endeavor:
with poise, care, intention, and integrity.