Content Chaos: Building Brand Through Content Experiments

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Ross Simmonds delivered this presentation at MozCon 2016 to share the value and ideal approach to leveraging content experimentation to drive results. From Reddit to Slideshare, these slides are meant to help understand how you can leverage the Build, Ship, Learn & Decide model to drive meaningful results in your content experiments.

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  •  
    Experiments have offered us some of the greatest inventions of our time.
     
    Experiments have helped us find cures to diseases.
    Experiments have helped us understand our world.
    Experiments have given us things like Velcro and Pumpkin Spice Lattes.
     
    In marketing, experiments offer us the ability to test a tactic, channel or assumption and determine whether it’s something that should be repeated.
     
    For years, I’ve been doing experiments…
     
    These experiments tend to follow a simple formula:
  •  
    Build.
    Ship.
    Learn.
    Decide.
     
    And yes… I know what some of you science people are thinking.
  • Bro.
    Do You Even Science?
    By keeping this process simple. It has armed me with the ability to embrace experimentation without fear. It’s a model I’ve used with clients. It’s a model I’ve used for myself. It’s a model that forces you to ship things quickly. And kill them even quicker…

    Build. Ship. Learn. Decide.

    It’s a simple process that I’ve used to figure out what works on Slideshare…
    What works on Instagram…
    What works on Reddit…
    And what works in some of the most interesting & boring industries you can think of…

    Build. Ship. Learn. Decide.

    I started with this philosophy many years ago…
  • It 1994…

    And Little Ross That Guy Right there.. Born in raised in a little place called Preston..

    Was Curious…

    He wanted to learn whether or not worms could survive the freezer…
  • So…
    I went back to that process..

    Build.

    I put the worms in the ice tray w/ water.
  • Second..

    I shipped it.

    I placed it in the Freezer.

    And then one day… After I forgot all about the worms..

    I heard my mom scream from the Kitchen….
  • At that moment, I learned….

    Two things.

    One: That the worms died.
  • Two..

    That Momma Simmonds was not pleased…

    And with that.. I decided I’d never do it again.
  • Build. Ship. Learn. Decide.

    One of the biggest myths I’ve encountered in talking to business owners – primarily small and medium sized businesses is the idea that experiments are too expensive for them to run and that they should spend their time and energy elsewhere….
     
    While I understand the importance of placing your energy where you will get the best bang for your buck. Experiments arm you with the ability to better understand where you should be placing that energy.
     

    ----- Meeting Notes (16-09-08 22:00) -----
    Finish this line
  • You just have to do them right.
     
    And in today, it’s my goal to show you how…
     
    Don’t get me wrong though…
  • Experimentation in marketing comes with risks.
     
    Whether it’s something that costs millions of dollars like Heinz and their purple ketchup or my own first attempt at Medium.com…
     
    The key is to realize that while failure is likely…
  • So is success…

    You just have to trust the data and be committed to learning and deciding quickly.

    Build. Ship. Learn. Decide.
  • There’s this idea amongst the marketing community that experimentation is only for a few industries. You can only experiment with things like color palletes, button placement, subject lines, landing pages and call to actions…
     
    But content experiments work too…

    Content experiments test things like topics, distribution channels, content upsells, new networks, types of content and bigger experiments like creating content for an audience that others say you should avoid.

    Build. Ship. Learn. Decide.

    If you stick to that process, content experiments can work for you too. But…You have to realize that with this approach – you need to be willing to embrace…
  • A little bit of chaos.

    Now I’m not saying everyone on the team should be running around crazy like they just saw a rare Pokemon outside… No… I’m saying… You have to embrace chaos because content experiments might feel uncomfortable.

    You need to stay committed to the process even when you face failure…

    And I’ve seen failure.

    You see, a few years back, I wanted to prove a point that you can drive success through Reddit. So I took my model…

    Build. Ship. Learn. Decide.

    And I decided to upload a bunch of my content to a Subreddit about technology for people to see…

    The results…
  • You’re banned!

    You’re done!

    Bye FELICIA.

    I was kicked off…. I failed.

    Now I could’ve said I done with this… I quit.

    But instead I started to study the game.
  • What I realized is that most marketers thought that Reddit was just a place for memes and uploading links.

    To be honest, I thought that too…

    In this example, a marketer put up a *meme* and the top comment said a million words..

    This sucks. You suck. Pen Sucks. OP Sucks.

  • Then I did some digging…

    I sorted the content on Reddit by the top posts.

    In doing so, I started to see a trend. I started to see that certain Subreddits wanted to certain types of content.

    For example. Entrepreneur – Wanted people to deliver content that was very similar to what you would find on an entrepreneurs blog. In-Depth. External links. Visuals. The works….

    If anything… I realized that the majority of the communities were just like..
  • Medium or LinkedIn…

    Except people could be anonymous…

    So I had my goal…

    I wanted to figure out how to crack Reddit.

    It was time to Build. Ship. Learn. Decide.

    Luckily, I already built a bunch of content. So, I took a blog post that I already wrote and republished it on Reddit to see how the community would respond to a long form piece filled with links, graphics and your typical marketing think piece.

    So I Shipped It….
  • And very quickly, I learned that quality content works on Reddit the same way it does anywhere else.

    People often say that you can’t crack Reddit.

    That it’s impossible. I say you can, you just have to be willing to experiment. From this, I decided to go deeper.
  • Today, I’ve seen the front page multiple times… I’ve landed clients using Reddit..

    Helped my own clients generate 70k, 40k views…

    And essentially, understand the channel in a way that allows me to add value and succeed there…

    Now, I’d consider this to be a successful experiment. I went on to run experiments on different topics.. Using different formats and I even used reddit to conduct outreach for a few pieces of work…But not all experiments are successful.
  • Quora.. Oh Quora.

    My first love.

    I had a goal – I wanted to be considered by people on Quora as a marketing genius…

    I wanted to close clients through Quora. Drive traffic Quora. Build relationships through Quora.

    Build. Ship. Decide. Learn.

    My build was simple.. I had to answer questions.. So whenever I saw a question that was relevant.

    I shipped by answering it.

    I answered tons of questions throughout the site.

    Yet… The traffic…

  • Was horrible….

    That’s the referral traffic during my peak using Quora.

    I quickly decided that Quora wasn’t the best tool for me when it came to driving traffic…

    But… I also learned something else…

    I learned that Quora had relationships with the media.

    And if you wrote something that was timely and topical…
  • The media would take notice…

    For example, when the Grand Theft Auto came out, I wrote about in from a business perspective on Quora and Forbes picked it up… I did the same with Jay-Z when he released his album and a variety of other pop culture references…

    So I had another decision….

    I decided – When it came to building links from these top tier websites and generating credibility by being featured in Forbes… I could rely on Quora… But for everything… I had to tell Quora…
  • Bye Bye Bye….

    That’s the value of using a framework like Build. Ship. Learn. Decide.

    One of my most recent experiments was with Instagram marketing.
  • I’ve been experimenting on Instagram for the past year or so...

    It started with an account for my ecommerce site Hustle & Grind.

    One of the first things we did for this experiment was build a library of high quality content. We knew that the majority of the inspirational/motivational accounts on Instagram all looked the same so we wanted to stand out.

    We stood out by creating custom designs.

    People immediately took notice and we were able to grow our account quickly…

    In less than 6 months we hit 50,000 followers.

    But our biggest spike came a bit unexpectedly… You see, one of our Instagram posts were reposted to Reddit. Once there, someone reposted it to a site called 9Gag. Once on 9Gag, the community manager for the 9gags Instagram account decided to share it on Instagram and tag us in the process.

    Within seconds, our Instagram grew by thousands…

    At this point, it became clear that having other accounts talk about your account was a HUGE opportunity.
  • So we doubled down on influencers and shout outs.

    Build. Ship. Learn. Decide.

    We learned that this was a tactic used very frequently on Instagram. Whether it’s a tea company sponsoring a model or an account like us sharing one brands inspirational quote in exchange for them sharing ours.

    So, we decided that we would make this a part of our marketing mix.

    We created a small shout out group on WhatsApp added 7 different accounts that shared content about entrepreneurship and motivation – And each day, one of the members of the group would get shouted out by the others.

    It worked to perfection. In a couple months, we were growing our following by the thousands without spending a dime.

    I used this same strategy for clients. Helped generate thousands of dollars worth of sales. Generate press.

    It was all good.

    Until…
  • The dreaded algorithm…

    You can run all the experiments in the world but one algorithm change can throw everything a curveball.

    Since Instagram started changing their algorithm, reducing the reach of content with text and introducing the pay to play model – Our results on Instagram tanked… But similar to my first failure on Reddit…

    That’s not going to push me to right the channel off entirely.

    Build. Ship. Learn. Decide….

  • Now I’m giving Instagram Stories a go…

    Our average story is generating about 5,000 views.. And while the ratio isn’t great.

    I’m going to use the Build. Ship. Learn. Decide. Model to figure out whether or not its worth the effort.

    From an experimentation perspective – Instagram stories isn’t that scary.

    The channel is validated. The approach is validated. The topic is validated.

    It’s a similar to the same situation I was in with Slideshare when I took that on as an experiment…


    "Throughout this session you may have heard me talk about the value of VALIDATING channels, approaches, topics.."

    That's the checklist for measuring how risky a channel is.
  • When you test the riskiness of an experiment.. Consider the time/energy that goes into it the execution and then look at whether or not the channel, approach and topic have been validated.

    My first Slideshare deck was all about Content Marketing lessons from Obamas campaign.

    The channel itself was new territory. You see, it was 2012 when I made this deck…

    And Slideshare wasn’t much of a marketing channel. It was a place to upload your decks. It hadn’t been bought by LinkedIn at this point and while some people were having success, it wasn’t breakthrough.

    So when I rolled this out, self-designed deck and it generated 7000 views.

    I thought NOT BAD.

    The approach I took was kinda risky but not really… And the topic was something everyone was talking about.

    But I wondered, what if I did invest in design and treated these decks more like blog posts by telling a story?

    Would I be able to double maybe triple that 7k views to something more?

    Build. Ship. Learn. Decide.

  • The decks took off.

    I continued with the approach of creating TOPICAL decks.
    I enhanced the content by bringing in a real designer.

    And the decks began generating anywhere from 100k views to 500k views…

    Slideshare officially went from an unknown experiment to something I knew would work.

    And some of you might be thinking… Cool. So you got some views.

    I’m with you. The experiments need to drive results beyond vanity metrics.

    Like Wu-Tang says: Cash Rules Everything Around Me…

    So while the views were great… It was when I started to experiment with Call To Actions when the decks really started to pay dividends.
  • I started to generate highly qualified leads.

    Each deck had a different call to action – Some driving people to get in touch if they want to learn how to use a certain channel… Some driving people to download a piece of content..

    And these are just a few of the many campaigns…

    Build. Ship. Learn. Decide.

    Recognize that not all experiments are treated equally…

    Some experiments cost more time. Some experiments cost more money.

    You always have to start by understanding the cost to run your experiments…

    From there…
  • You need to determine:

    How risky is the channel?
    How risky is the approach?
    How risky is the topic?

    And once you gauge that – Categorize your experiments into categories.

    What is high risk? What is low risk? What is innovative?

    From there, determine which experiments are worth implementing so you can determine which experiments…
  • Will actually work for you..

    The more you experiment, the more you will learn about your customers and the best ways to connect with them.

    From channels like Reddit & Slideshare to Instagram and Quora – the possibilities are there…

    And if I could live you with one more model to try…

    It would be the 70:20:10 model from Coca-Cola…
  • They commit to creating content that falls into these three categories.

    Low Risk. Think content efforts that you know will work…
    Innovative. Think experiments like many of those we talked about today….
    High Risk. Think unchartered territories and topics and channels that you’re avoiding…

    And remember - As you run these high risk experiments and learn more about the different channels…

    The High risk content will become innovative content and the innovative can become low risk…

    And that’s when you find breakthroughs…

    That’s when the CHAOS…
  • Can lead to something special…

    So, folks I push you to try running your own experiments.

    Experiment with topics, channels and beyond that…

  • Because that’s what life is all about…

    That’s what pushing an industry forward is all about.

    The more we tinker. The more we experiment. The better we can serve our brands and clients…

    The better we can serve each other… Because sure… We could sit back and stick with only what we know will work.

    We could sit on the sidelines and wait…

    But in that case, we mayswell be as dead as a worm..

    In my parents freezer.

    Thank you.
  • Content Chaos: Building Brand Through Content Experiments

    1. C r a t e @ T h e C o o l e s t C o o l C o n t e n t C h a o s : B u i l d i n g Y o u r B r a n d t h r o u g h C o n s t a n t E x p e r i m e n t s
    2. WHAT IS AN EXPERIMENT: A scientific procedure undertaken to make a discovery, test a hypothesis, or demonstrate a known fact.
    3. Experiments don’t work for small & Medium Sized brands! COMMON MYTH:
    4. REALITY: They do! You just have to do them right.
    5. EXPERIMENTATION ISN’T JUST FOR UX, EMAIL, SEO & PAID MEDIA… CONTENT
    6. Reddit is a content platform just like Medium.com or LinkedIn pulse!
    7. HOW TO VALIDATE YOUR EXPERIMENTSValidate the different channels Validate the approach Validate the topic
    8. EXPERIMENTS HAVE THE ABILITY TO DRIVE REAL RESULTS
    9. The 70:20:10 Model from Coca-Cola 70% Low Risk Content Achieves all qualifiers. 20% Innovative Content Accomplishes 1 or 2 of the qualifiers. 10% High Risk Content Achieves 0 of the qualifiers. Create a visual that shows that these three things are connected..
    10. EMBRACE A LITTLE CHAOS…
    11. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better. - Ralph Waldo Emerson
    12. R O S S S I M M O N D S C r a t e @ T h e C o o l e s t C o o l

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