(Updated February 2020)
Lately, it seems like I’m always finding myself in the role of content marketing “mythbuster.” Although social media comes with incredible marketing potential, things like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn also make it really easy to spread claims that may or may not have a basis in fact. That’s how a lot of content marketing rules so often come to be taken as gospel, although they’re often not much more than gossip about what the cool kids are doing. Just because somebody on Twitter labels them “best practices” doesn’t mean they really are (or, at least, not for everybody). So I’ve developed a habit of questioning claims of how things “should” be done, especially when it comes to writing and content marketing. And I’ve noticed a lot of questionable claims lately, so today’s post is a mythbusting roundup:
- Nobody will notice if you pull a bait-and-switch.
I live in the South, and one common social misstep people who aren’t native Southerners make is inviting people to a barbecue, only to serve hotdogs and hamburgers.Around here, “barbecue” refers to either ribs or pulled pork, covered in a dry rub or slathered in barbecue sauce, and slow-cooked (for hours) on a grill. Anything else is a bait-and-switch.
I feel the same sense of betrayal when I click on a Tweet that promises something really interesting, only to be redirected to a landing page where I have to give away my contact information to read the content that captured my attention. If you’re offering a download, fine, but be upfront about it. Don’t pretend you’re giving something away, and then try to sell it. (And don’t serve hotdogs to Southerners when you’ve promised them barbecue.)
- Every piece of content needs a strong CTA.
I hardly ever share posts or Tweets that include an overtly promotional CTA — like “Buy my ebook to learn more.” I want to share content that adds value, not advertisements. But is that really a thing, or is it just me? As it turns out, it’s a matter of degree. Readers interacting with your brand on social media aren’t as far down the sales funnel as those who connect with you through other platforms, like your blog or LinkedIn. In fact, 90% of social media users classify themselves as “lurkers.” And it’s pretty tough to bridge the gap from lurker to convert in one social media update. So an effective social media CTA can’t be anything that requires too much effort or commitment. It’s kind of like asking somebody how many kids they want on a first date.
- A writer is a writer is a writer.
If you hang out your shingle as a doctor or lawyer and don’t have the proper credentials, you’re going to have some very unhappy officials knocking on your door. But there’s no gatekeeper for writers. Anybody can call themselves a writer (and, if they can get and keep clients, more power to them!), and there’s nobody around to call them on it. However, while it’s true that you get what you pay for, I would never encourage you to pay for more than you need. If all you need is a reliable way to get from Point A to Point B, then there’s no reason to spend money on a BMW. The same is true for writing. If you just need copy for clickbait, fine — go for the lowest price. (Please don’t ‘think I’m condoning clickbait. Clickbait posts are the telemarketers of the internet.)
But if you find that level of writer doesn’t meet your expectations, you’re going to have to step it up a notch, because the pros won’t work for those rates. Good writers want good clients, and they have the ability to pick and choose. So, most of the time, “No, thank you” means, “You’re not even in the ballpark.” Not “Offer me two more cents per word.”
- Writers are creatives who can’t tell time.
Plenty of people assume that all “creatives” are disorganized, happy-go-lucky, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants types who can’t be bothered to meet deadlines, return phone calls, respond to emails, etc. I call BS. All writers are NOT that way. Only you can decide if a particular writer’s skill is worth putting up with those annoyances, but know that there are plenty of writers who run their business like a … well, like a business.
- It’s all about the money.
While the best writers command the best rates, there are some things you can negotiate. Some writers will charge less if you give them a byline (bylines have a capital value). Even if you don’t want to grant the writer a byline, you can still give permission to include the work in a portfolio.You can also write recommendations and endorsements for LinkedIn and for their website.
But please don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re being generous by offering a writer “exposure.”
I actually had a site contact me and offer to publish my work if I paid them.
- You need a writer who’s an expert in your industry.
In some cases, maybe. In most cases, however….no. Just no. My motto is:
Subject matter experts may be able to write content that other subject matter experts love…but if those other SMEs aren’t going to buy your product, that doesn’t really accomplish anything. A writer with subject matter expertise isn’t necessarily the best person to create content that matters…content that sucks readers in and motivates them to do something. Only a writer who specializes in business can connect the dots and create content that makes customers believe they can’t live without your product.I can almost guarantee that somebody who can write an engaging blog post about IT can also write one about supply chain. Subject matter expertise is no substitute for writing expertise. Look for a writer who has written the same type of content you need rather than one who’s written about your particular niche.
- You can trust a portfolio.
Here’s the thing about portfolios (and I say this as someone who has managed a lot of writers over the years): You have no way of knowing how much editing went into the piece after the writer submitted it. In most cases, it’s easier to fix things yourself than to send it back to the writer, so the finished product might look very different from the writer’s version. I’m not saying that portfolios are worthless, but I am cautioning you to look for work published on a variety of platforms. (It’s pretty unlikely that every single site that publishes the writer’s work has an awesome editor willing to cover for them.)
- Grammar isn’t important.
The casual tone of blogging has led to the myth that actual technical skills — you know, like grammar, spelling, and punctuation — are only important to other writers. Not true. Trust me on this, there are plenty of non-writers out there who pick up on those errors and will conclude that you and your brand are stupid and/or sloppy for not catching them yourself.
I don’t expect you to accept my opinions as gospel any more than I’d expect you to accept supposed content marketing rules as gospel. That would make me quite the hypocrite. I just encourage you to run the “everybody knows that” stuff through a common sense filter. If it works, great — adopt it and make it your own. If not — trust your judgment. Just because the cool kids are doing it, that doesn’t mean you have to.