50 Top B2B Content Marketing Influencers To Follow in 2021 #CMWorld

2020 CMWorld 50 Content Marketing Influencers

The all-virtual Content Marketing World 2020 is upon us. As the largest content marketing conference in the world, CMWorld brings together a stellar array of talented professionals who are loaded with curiosity for future trends, marketing knowledge, and aspirations for new successes in the post-pandemic world. For the past 12 years leading marketers from all over the world have gathered in Cleveland, Ohio for one of the world’s strongest content marketing events, and for this unusual year Content Marketing World is entirely virtual.

Readers of our blog know we have a long history with the conference starting at the beginning, with 10 years of speaking and attending along with seven years of partnering with the Content Marketing Institute to develop speaker and influencer content marketing campaigns.

A TopRank Marketing tradition that has been imitated in recent years but never truly duplicated is our annual list of content marketing experts ranked according to their social influence, a helpful compilation derived from the hundreds of excellent #CMWorld 2020 speakers.

List Methodology: For this list we utilize the Traackr influencer marketing platform to filter the content marketing experts who are speaking at the current year’s Content Marketing World conference using a large number of criteria including the relevance of the individuals to the topic, the degree to which their networks engage, the size of their networks, and other factors. Online data is pulled from blogs, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, LinkedIn and other platforms.

The focus topic in question is most definitely “content marketing,” and everyone included on this list is:

  • A speaker at #CMWorld 2020
  • Ranked in the top-50 for “content marketing” according to relevance, resonance, reach and audience metrics

CMWorld 2019 Influencer network

People always thank me for including them in these lists and there’s no thanks to be given other than to the people who worked hard sharing useful knowledge about content marketing to their social channels, in blogs, videos, podcasts, and online in general.

Many thanks go to all the people who are actively sharing knowledge about content marketing by engaging and helping others with helpful opinions, insights and expertise on the social web. This list is only a starting point to help expand your content marketing universe.

In this year’s list there are familiar faces and quite a few new entries. We plan to learn new lessons from these 50 content marketing influencers and hope you’ll do the same throughout the rest of the year and into 2021 and beyond.

50 Content Marketing Influencers Speaking at CMWorld 2020

JuliaMcCoy

Julia McCoy @JuliaEMcCoy
CEO, Express Writers
Presenting: How to Build an Online Audience Through Powerful, Consistent Search Optimized Content Creation

ChrisPenn

Christopher Penn @cspenn
Co-Founder & Chief Data Scientist, Trust Insights
Presenting: Practical Applications of AI in Content Marketing

LeeOdden

Lee Odden @leeodden
CEO, TopRank Marketing
Presenting: Influencer Marketing Unleashed: Top Tactics for Success from Global B2B Brands

MichaelBrenner

Michael Brenner @BrennerMichael
Content Marketing Agency CEO & CMO Influencer, Marketing Insider Group
Presenting: Content Optimization & Distribution Strategies – Mapping Content to the Buyer Journey (and ROI)

Pam Didner

Pam Didner @PamDidner
Author, Founder & VP of Marketing, Effective Sales Enablement
Presenting: 3 Trends You Can’t Ignore As a Content Marketer
Presenting: Ask Me Anything With Pam Dinner

ChristophTrappe

Christoph Trappe @CTrappe
Chief Content & Marketing Officer, The Authentic Storytelling Project
Presenting: How to Make Sure Your Company Ranks in Voice Search

Ann-Handley

Ann Handley @MarketingProfs
Chief Content Officer, MarketingProfs
Presenting: Ask Me Anything With Ann Handley
Presenting: Precedented: 5 Principles of the Last Chaotic 10 Months That Are the Very Key to Content Marketing Success in the Next 10 Years

Viveka-Von-Rosen

Viveka Von Rosen @LinkedInExpert
Co-Founder & Chief Visibility Officer, Vengreso
Presenting: Ask Me Anything With Viveka von Rosen
Presenting: Why Your B2B Sales Force Should Be Your Greatest Content Distribution Channel

Bernie Borges

Bernie Borges @bernieborges
Chief Customer Officer, Vengreso
Presenting: How to Develop an Account Based Podcasting Content Plan that Drives Revenue

RobertRose

Robert Rose @Robert_Rose
Chief Strategy Advisor, Content Marketing Institute
Presenting: Architecting Desire: A New Strategy for Content Marketing for the Next Ten Years
Presenting: Ask Me Anything With Robert Rose
Presenting: Content Marketing 101 – Let’s Begin
Presenting: Content Marketing Strategy For Agencies – How To Create, As Well as Deliver, Content Marketing Strategy To Clients
Presenting: Welcome to Content Marketing World 2020

Dennis Shiao

Dennis Shiao @dshiao
Marketing Consultant, Attention Retention
Presenting: The Magic of Meetups: How to Use Meetups to Build Community, Drive Brand Engagement and Inform a Content Marketing Strategy

Erika Heald

Erika Heald @SFerika
Marketing Consultant, Erika Heald Consulting
Presenting: Content Marketing for Marketing Agencies: Make Your Services Sing

Melanie-Deziel

Melanie Deziel @mdeziel
Chief Content Officer, StoryFuel
Presenting: Ask Me Anything With Melanie Deziel
Presenting: More Brain, Less Storm: The Power Of The Creative Process

Andrea-Fryrear

Andrea Fryrear @AndreaFryrear
Agile Marketing Coach & Trainer, Co-Founder, AgileSherpas
Presenting: Persistently Agile: Why the Key to High Performance Marketing Lies with People Not Projects

Jay-Baer

Jay Baer @jaybaer
Founder, Convince & Convert
Presenting: Ask Me Anything With Jay Baer
Presenting: Courageous Content: 6 Ways to Get Noticed Amidst the Noise

Jay Acunzo

Jay Acunzo @jayacunzo
Founder, Marketing Showrunners
Presenting: Start Here: How to Make Things that Make a Difference by Changing How You Begin

Andy-Crestodina

Andy Crestodina @crestodina
Co-Founder & CMO, Orbit Media Studios
Presenting: Google Analytics for Content Marketers: How to Optimize Content for Traffic and Conversions
Presenting: SEO Workshop

A. Lee Judge

A. Lee Judge @ALeeJudge
Co-Founder & CMO, Content Monsta
Presenting: Ask Me Anything With A. Lee Judge
Presenting: Be Content

JonathanCrossfield

Jonathan Crossfield @Kimota
Content Writer & Storyteller, Freelance
Presenting: Show Your Work: How to Become a Fact-Checking Pedant (and Why You Should)
Presenting: The Content Marketing Diamond Model for Small Businesses and Entrepreneurs

Kathy-Klotz-Guest

Kathy Klotz-Guest @kathyklotzguest
Founder, Keeping It Human
Presenting: Fearless Content Teams: Creating a Safe Place for Unsafe Ideas

Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi @JoePulizzi
Founder, Content Marketing Institute
Presenting: Ask Me Anything With Joe Pulizzi
Presenting: Keynote – Where Do We Go from Here? Disney, Diversification & The New Marketing Business Model

Brian-Fanzo

Brian Fanzo @iSocialFanz
Virtual Keynote Speaker, iSocialFanz
Presenting: What Podcasting & TikTok Can Teach Us About Creating Empathetic Content!

Amy Balliett

Amy Balliett @AmyBalliett
Founder & CEO, Killer Visual Strategies
Presenting: Marketing to Gen V: Engaging the Visual Generation

RichSchwerin

Rich Schwerin @Greencognito
Senior Content Strategist, Autodesk
Presenting: The Magic of Meetups: How to Use Meetups to Build Community, Drive Brand Engagement and Inform a Content Marketing Strategy

AmandaTodorovich

Amanda Todorovich @amandatodo
Senior Director of Digital Marketing & Health Content, Cleveland Clinic
Presenting: #CMWorld Cleveland Clinic Health Summit
Presenting: The Test of Time: Long-Term Success at the Cleveland Clinic

Zari-Venhaus

Zari Venhaus @zvenhaus
Director of Corporate Marketing Communications, Eaton
Presenting: Developing Global Content for Local Audiences

Amber-Naslund

Amber Naslund @AmberCadabra
Principal Consultant, Content Solutions, LinkedIn
Presenting: Digital Doubt: Fighting Imposter Syndrome in a Hyperconnected, Content-Saturated World

Luvvie-Ajayi-Jones

Luvvie Ajayi Jones @iLuvvit
New York Times Bestselling Author & CEO, AweLuv Inc.
Presenting: Keynote

Nancy-Harhut

Nancy Harhut @nharhut
Co-Founder & Chief Creative Officer, HBT Marketing
Presenting: 10 Human Behavior Hacks that Make Your Email Crazy Effective

Andrew Davis

Andrew Davis @DrewDavisHere
Keynote Speaker & Best-Selling Author, Monumental Shift
Presenting: Ask Me Anything With Andrew Davis
Presenting: Limit Less: How Successful Brands Increase Their Revenue, Generate More Leads, and Spread Their Message in a Crowded Marketplace

Cathy-McKnight

Cathy McKnight @cathymcknight
VP of Strategy & Consulting, The Content Advisory
Presenting: Learn How to Move from Mayhem to Momentum by Building a Content Strategy
Presenting: Technology Forum: From Figuring Out Your Audience to Gaining Market Share – A Tech Company’s Guide to Effective Content Marketing

Tamsen-Webster

Tamsen Webster @tamadear
Founder & Chief Message Strategist, Find The Red Thread
Presenting: Ask Me Anything With Tamsen Webster
Presenting: Pressure Test Your Message

Val-Swisher

Val Swisher @valswisher
Founder & CEO, Content Rules, Inc.
Presenting: The Personalization Paradox

Giselle-Abramovich

Giselle Abramovich @GAbramovich
Executive Editor of Enterprise Thought Leadershhip, Adobe
Presenting: Trade Secrets: How the World’s Most Successful Content Marketers Deliver Results

Tim-Riesterer

Tim Riesterer @TRiesterer
Chief Strategy Officer, Corporate Visions
Presenting: Account Expansion: The Conversations, Content & Collaboration that Grow Customers

Sydni-Craig-Hart

Sydni Craig Hart @SydniCraigHart
CEO, Smart Simple Marketing
Presenting: Ask Me Anything With Sydni Craig-Hart
Presenting: Compelling Multicultural Marketing: What You’re Missing, What’s Working Now and How to Get Results

Ardath Albee

Ardath Albee @ardath421
Interim VP of Marketing, Modus
Presenting: Account Expansion: The Conversations, Content & Collaboration that Grow Customers
Presenting: Take a Sales Enablement Approach to RevOps
Presenting: Use Serial Storytelling to Drive Demand for Complex Solutions

Liz-Willits

Liz Willits @lizwillits
Founder, Liz Willits
Presenting: Email Automation Crash Course: How to Create Emails People Want to Read

Zontee-Hou

Zontee Hou @ZonteeHou
Head of Strategy, Convince & Convert
Presenting: Financial Services Forum

Maureen-Jann

Maureen Jann @NeoLuxeMo
Chief Marketing Strategist, NeoLuxe Marketing
Presenting: Content Marketing for Marketing Agencies: Make Your Services Sing
Presenting: The Content Marketing Diamond Model for Small Businesses and Entrepreneurs

Doug-Kessler

Doug Kessler @dougkessler
Creative Director & Co-Founder, Velocity Partners Ltd
Presenting: Let’s Steal from The World’s Most Awesome Content

Jared-Johnson

Jared Johnson @jaredpiano
Founder & Content Producer, Shift.Health Network
Presenting: #CMWorld Cleveland Clinic Health Summit

Ashley-Zeckman

Ashley Zeckman @azeckman
Senior Director, Inprela Communications
Presenting: Staying Power: How Authentic Storytelling can Transform Your Marketing from One-Hit Wonder to Lasting-Legend

Ahava-Leibtag

Ahava Leibtag @ahaval
President, Aha Media Group
Presenting: Writing with No Respect: Find Out What it Means to Me

Christine-Michel-Carter

Christine Michel Carter @cmichelcarter
Strategy Consultant, Minority Woman Marketing LLC
Presenting: Ask Me Anything With Christine Carter
Presenting: Creating Authentic Content for a $1.5 Trillion Audience

Carmen-Hill

Carmen Hill @carmenhill
Principal Content Strategist & Writer, Chill Content
Presenting: Combining Story + Structure to Create a Sustainable Content Marketing Strategy

Laura-Ramos

Laura Ramos @lauraramos
VP & Principal Analyst, Forrester Research
Presenting: Drive Your Content Transformation From The Bottom Up

Shafqat-Islam

Shafqat Islam @shafqatislam
Co-Founder & CEO, NewsCred
Presenting: Ask Me Anything with Shafqat Islam & Alex Cheeseman
Presenting: Beyond Breaking the Rules: Why Connections in Marketing Matter More Than Ever

Jennifer-Jordan-Robustell

Jennifer Jordan Robustelli @jenastelli
VP & Head of Content, USA, Babbel
Presenting: Flood The Zone! A New System For Creating Compelling Social Video

Jacquie-Chakirelis

Jacquie Chakirelis @JacquieChak
Director of Digital Strategy, Quest Digital
Presenting:

Even the best statistical analysis, no matter how deep and well-researched, can only take you so far in finding the people who you’ll consider the most helpful and influential in your daily professional marketing lives, which is why we’d love it if you’d please share the name of content marketers that influence you most in the comments section below.

To further your own content marketing expertise, here’s a bonus list of some of our best recent posts about content marketing:

If you’d like to learn more about creating a successful B2B influencer marketing campaign, you’re in luck! Our CEO Lee Odden will be presenting at Content Marketing World on the topic. Here are the details:

Tuesday, October 13th – 4:00pm – 4:30pm Eastern
Workshop with Lee Odden & Ursula Ringham, Global Head of Influencer Marketing at SAP
Influencer Marketing Unleashed: Top Tactics for Success from Global B2B Brands

We hope to see you virtually at the Content Marketing World conference, and be sure to follow us on Twitter at @toprank for real time updates during the conference.

New Research: How B2B Content Marketers Are Impacted and Pivoting During the Pandemic

Professionals Wearing Masks and Bumping Elbows

Each year, Content Marketing Institute releases a new version of its B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends report, providing a timely contextual snapshot of the discipline at large and its ever-shifting landscape.

Needless to say, this year’s edition hits differently. While there is always change and evolution afoot in the annual study’s findings, 2020 has been a year of unprecedented upheaval for our profession, along with most every other.

The impact of COVID-19 on B2B content marketing is a direct and prevalent focus in CMI’s latest report, which helps leaders and practitioners in the field understand how their peers are reacting and adapting to a disruptive global event.

B2B Content Marketing in the Age of COVID-19

You can find the full report here, but today I’ll share five particular stats and insights that struck me as noteworthy in the 11th Annual B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends report.

  1. Content strategies are changing, both short-term and long-term

Slowly but surely, we’ve been making progress. Forty-three percent of respondents this year reported having a documented content strategy, which is a bit disappointing on its own, but encouraging when you looking at the running trend:

  • 2020: 43%
  • 2019: 41%
  • 2018: 39%
  • 2017: 37%

That’s remarkably steady and consistent growth! I might argue we’re still lagging behind on the whole, but progress is progress. Having said that, it is a bit ironic that at a time where more B2B marketers than ever have gotten their strategy down on paper, we’re being forced to crumple it up and rewrite it.

“It’s a bit ironic that at a time where more B2B marketers than ever have gotten their strategy down on paper, we’re being forced to crumple it up and rewrite it.” — @NickNelsonMN @CMIContent #ContentMarketing Click To Tweet

Maybe that’s a bit strong, but 70% of respondents in the CMI survey said the pandemic has had a major or moderate impact on their B2B content strategy. Two-thirds indicated that the nature of their adjustments are both short-term and long-term.

CMI Image A

With this in mind, if you’re among the majority that still hasn’t developed a documented content strategy, this might be a good time to flesh one out that strikes this balance between the big and small pictures. During times of turbulence (and long-distance collaboration), it’s always good to have a single source of truth. Last year I provided a simple three-point checklist for documenting your content strategy, and the guiding principles still apply.

  1. Adjustments to messaging and targeting are the top reactive priorities

Asked about the specific changes their organizations have made in response to COVID-19, the top answer – selected by 70% of B2B marketers – was “Changed targeting/messaging strategy.” The most common answers after that were “Adjusted editorial calendar” and “Changed content distribution/promotion strategy.”

CMI Image B

Nothing too surprising about this. It goes without saying many marketing messages and campaigns that were conceived before the pandemic became irrelevant (if not blatantly tone-deaf) when the world was flipped on its side. Brands everywhere have been forced to fundamentally rethink what they’re saying, and who they’re saying it to.

For that reason, I’m a little surprised that responses like “Reexamined customer journey,” “Increased time spent talking with customers,” and “Revisited customer/buyer personas” were all so low on the list. This does feel like a good time to get back in tune with the preferences and pain points that guide people toward our solutions.

  1. Measurement methods have mostly remained stable

Another finding that stands out to me in the chart above is that “Adjusted key performance indicators” and “Changed content marketing metrics” were at the very bottom. For better or worse, it appears that most teams are sticking to the same yardsticks now as they were a year ago.

Maybe that’s a good thing! If you’ve truly locked down your measurement strategy in a way that accurately proves out results and fosters constant refinement and optimization, it probably shouldn’t change based on outside circumstances. However, according to the 2020 Marketing Measurement & Attribution Survey from Demand Gen Report, 40% of marketers said their company’s current ability to measure and analyze marketing performance and impact “needs improvement,” while only 13% said they felt they were “excellent” in this regard.

So perhaps reporting and analytics simply aren’t viewed as a priority at this time. I find that troubling, because in a time of widespread budget cuts and resource drains, the ability to demonstrate the revenue impact of marketing activities is arguably more important than ever.

  1. Content creation challenges, not pandemic-related issues, are holding back success

Among those who rated their organization’s overall level of content marketing success in the past year as “Minimally Successful” or “Not at All Successful,” CMI broke down contributing factors in order to identify the most prevalent barriers. While the fairly broad “Pandemic-related issues” was available as an option, this was actually among the least common responses. At the top of the list, cited by 63% of laggards, was “Content creation challenges.”

These challenges can take various forms (some of which can be doubly categorized as pandemic-related issues).

“Our company needs more content. We serve a deep niche and few people understand our industry well enough to pop in and do small projects for us,” said one anonymous respondent quoted in the report.

Said another: “Clients are getting bombarded with electronic information—especially now since in-person meetings and events are on hold. How do we create compelling content that gets distributed in a way that stands out from the clutter?”

  1. Virtual events and live-streaming increased — but not THAT much

Among content types used by B2B marketers over the past 12 months, the biggest risers from last year are those you would expect:

  • Virtual events/webinars/online courses increased from 57% to 67%
  • Live-streaming increased from 10% to 29%

These are hefty jumps … but they still don’t point to ubiquity, by any means. There remains untapped opportunity on the frontier of online experiences, although clearly it’s getting crowded in a hurry. The second quote shared in the previous section points to this challenge, which is at the same time both new and old.

Break through the clutter and earn attention: Amidst so much transformative change, this eternal edict of content marketers stays the same. We’re currently just seeing it play out in a new environment.

“Break through the clutter and earn attention: Amidst transformative change, this eternal edict of content marketers stays the same.” — @NickNelsonMN @CMIContent #ContentMarketing Click To Tweet

Virtual events and live-streams have much potential for engagement and interactivity. We might receive some inspiration on these fronts when the folks behind this report bring their anticipated annual event, Content Marketing World, into the virtual realm this year for the first time. It’s going down on October 13-16, and our own Lee Odden will be delivering a presentation: Influencer Marketing Unleashed: Top Tactics for Success from Global B2B Brands.

As Lee will illustrate, influencer marketing should be a piece of the puzzle in forward-looking B2B strategies. Many of the other trends outlined here will converge and shape the future of content marketing.

How to Win at B2B Influence With The Magic of Content Co-Creation

Win B2B Influence
Today we live in an age of information overload where the speed of content discovery and the variety of options for media consumption across connected devices presents new challenges for B2B brands and buyers alike.

The natural response for buyers is to filter their choices and focus those few sources which are most trusted, credible and meaningful. For brands that want to differentiate and even dominate in their category, becoming known as “the best answer” for their domain of expertise will have enormous impact.

The challenge of increased digital sophistication brings an opportunity: businesses can differentiate and capture market attention by growing their authority and influence.

Content is a top priority for brands.
Numerous research studies continue to support the fact that content marketing is a top priority for marketers but there are also some challenges; companies find it difficult to produce enough content, as well as create content that engages and has enough variety.

Even when companies are able to produce high quality, relevant content on a regular basis, the challenge of distribution and reach is a concern for many. Part of the solution is to connect B2B content creation efforts with internal and industry influencers that already have communities they engage with on the same topics.

Influencer content and authority.
Brands aren’t the only non-traditional online publishers. Subject matter experts are also able to publish through social networks and media, blogs and increasingly easy contributions to online publications.  Besides creating topically competitive content, SME publishing has empowered individuals to attract their own audiences and become as influential as the some of the companies they buy from.

In addition to working with established influencers, brands can nurture future influencers to create a more effective brand community that exponentially scales reach and engagement.

The shock of content proliferation.
As a result of the content explosion, brands are faced with the reality that the majority of the content they produce might never be discovered or engaged. At the same time, brands must recognize their customers are becoming more influential about the same topics brands are spending advertising and marketing budgets on.

When business customers are empowered to create, consume, publish, interact and transact anytime, anywhere, how do brands break through to create meaningful connections and engagement? How does the dynamic of content and influence help fulfill buyer information discovery, consumption and engagement expectations while delivering on business outcomes for the brand?

As a vehicle for influence, content is one of the most powerful tools in a digital marketer’s mix to attract, engage and inspire buyers to act.

“Content co-creation is the currency for building relationships that can boost credibility, influence and action.”

The B2B content + influence solution.
A business content and influencer marketing strategy can be one of the most effective combinations B2B marketers can make.  By incorporating relevant influencers that can inspire action with content marketing efforts, marketers can reach new audiences with brand messages that are credible and trusted.

Influencer driven content marketing is also one of the best examples of how digital marketing and public relations are converging. The integration of messaging, content, social media and engagement right along with the promotion of information and media designed to inspire transactions should be the focus of any business that wants to differentiate and grow.

Buyers trust influential experts.
The 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Research Report reveals that 77% of B2B marketers believe their prospects rely on advice from industry influencers. Additionally, 84% trust influencers to create brand awareness and 69% count on influencers to help generate new leads.

While B2B content marketing on its own is effective, working with influential experts to co-create content is an approach that yields surprising results.

Lead with Empathy
Influencer content gets results.
When the pandemic swept through the world in early 2020, monday.com identified an opportunity to help support teams that had gone from working in-office to working remotely.

As a provider of remote project management software this transition created an opportunity for our client monday.com to position itself as a valuable resource for remote teams. Monday.com partnered with TopRank Marketing to develop an influencer marketing campaign featuring industry experts that could reach and engage remote work teams more effectively than the brand on its own.

Seasoned experts and influencers in the remote work space were engaged to collaborate on and promote content published on the brand site, on the influencers own sites, brand social channels and via livestream.

By engaging influencers with audiences hungry for information about remote work best practices, this campaign added value to the target audience and increased awareness of monday.com’s offering with impressive results:

  • 17.9M in potential reach from brand mentions by influencers (goal was 1M)
  • Over 300K organic impressions on social media
  • Nearly 3k video views of a live stream featuring two industry experts within the first week

See the full Monday.com influencer marketing case study here.

By connecting with market and niche influencers and working with them to achieve mutually beneficial goals, modern marketers can create invaluable relationships with authoritative experts. These connections can result in the creation of high quality, relevant and authoritative content that serves the interests of the influencer and the brand as well as providing access and reach to the influencer’s community.

B2B influencers are credible, authoritative individuals who have an engaged community that follows and acts on their thought leadership.

Winning at B2B Influencer Marketing means working with influencers to affect change in thought and action amongst a network towards goals that are mutually beneficial to the brand, the influencer and their community. Whether it is a partnership to co-create content or more general advocacy, business influencers open doors for brands to connect with engaged buyers they might otherwise never reach in a meaningful way.

“Everyone is influential about something.”

B2B influencers can be industry professionals, they could also be inside a company as subject matter experts or a company’s own customers. Influencer relationships with brands often include a value exchange of some kind and it’s up to the company and influencer to decide whether that’s an exchange of information, visibility, compensation or something else.

The essential questions of B2B influencer content.
To be effective when working with business influencers, B2B brands need to consider what they want the influencer to do for them beyond a simple endorsement.

  • How will the influencer’s involvement help the company reach a particular business goal?
  • What will an ongoing relationship with influencers mean to the brand’s marketing efforts and reputation in the industry?
  • Also, what kind of content does it make the most sense for the influencer to contribute to?
  • How does the brand want to be known and which influencers already have that credibility and authority?

These questions and more will be answered in the following model for B2B influencer content co-creation.

6 best practices for working with and influencing B2B influencers to co-create content:

  1. Identify Influencer Program Goals
  2. Research, Engage and Recruit Influencers
  3. Develop Co-Created Content with Influencers
  4. Inspire Content Promotion
  5. Influencer Measurement and Program Optimization
  6. Ongoing Influencer Relationships

1. Identify Influencer Program Goals – Serving different audiences (influencers, brand, prospects, industry media) requires a strategy that identifies distinct goals. While most subject matter experts and influencers desire increased visibility, B2B brands will want to grow their expertise for a topic amongst a target audience and attract new business. Consumers of the influencer content will want expert information from someone they trust. Industry news media will want examples they can reference and subject matter experts they can cite.

Just starting out, co-created influencer content can be as simple as a value exchange: increased exposure for both the influencer and the brand with the objective of attracting new target audience engagement and influencing a spectrum of conversion actions: subscribe, download, register, request information.

As an influencer content program matures, goals can become more sophisticated and multi-faceted to include public relations, recruiting, customer marketing and more advanced customer acquisition.

B2B influencer content programs should be tied into the content marketing plan and editorial calendar. An important part of designing an effective influencer content program is to identify the specific topics to be covered. Specifying topics and themes will drive all subsequent actions in the program from influencer recruiting to planning which media type to create to content promotion.

2. Research, Engage and Recruit Influencers – It’s important to identify the key themes that represent topical focus for the brand, the product or service and the campaign or program that you will creating with influencers. The sooner your company specifies these topical areas of focus, the sooner influencers can be identified and engaged.

“The time to start recruiting influencers is long before you need them. Romance takes time.”

It can be useful to start influencer identification by brainstorming with executives, marketing, communications and product managers to develop a list of known topical experts and even nominations of specific individual influencers. However, subjective measures like these bring heavy bias. It is always a good idea to validate influencer recommendations using data about topical relevance, resonance of that topic with the influencer’s audience and the their network size. There are many influencer marketing platforms which can provide the data needed to properly filter which individuals are perceived as influential by the communities that listen to them.

Influencer sourcing and engagement takes time. Many influencer co-created content projects will draw from both existing influencer relationships and involve making new influencer connections. Initial recruiting might be limited to small, easy projects that advance the relationship to more robust and substantial time commitments.

It is possible to jump start an influencer content program by working with a specialist agency that already has relationships with relevant industry influencers.

The most common mistake businesses make with influencers is to qualify them based purely on network size (fans, friends and followers) and affinity to a certain industry or area of interest. Without the ability to affect the way a network thinks and how they act, an influencer isn’t really influencing anyone.

“A brandividual is popular. An influencer is effective at creating popularity.”

Topical relevance, resonance and reach characteristics will be useful with influencer discovery tools like BuzzSumo which focuses on Twitter data. There are also robust tools like Traackr or Onalytica.

After you use a tool to identify and initially qualify influencers for each topic, then you can bring that list back to your internal subject matter experts to manually review and filter. Of course, no influencer discovery tool is perfect. Correlation between internal recommendations and data from an influencer marketing platform might take more time, but it’s a best practice for distinguishing between brandividuals and effective influencers.

When recruiting influencers, there are several important considerations:

  • Relevancy and effort to ask ratio – It has to be timely and on message with what they stand for. It also has to be easy for them to do. Popular, smart people are busy!
  • Be clever or humorous – Nothing cuts through the crap like humor but most of all, be a real person when you communicate, not salesy, pushy or entitled
  • You are a known entity – Having a reputation as a brand or being a well-known person in the industry is very useful. Previous personal contact with the influencer is even more valuable.
  • Vision of the project – Be able to articulate what the influencer’s involvement will be and what it will do for them personally. Also show how the project will help others.
  • Optimize for attract – Create influencer projects so good and so well known, people compete to be involved.

What doesn’t work.
Presumptive, high expectation recruiting pitches with no personalization and little upside for the influencer rarely work. It’s the equivalent of a stranger approaching you and saying, “Let’s get married”.

The time to start creating relationships with influencers is long before you actually need them. If a company is thinking that working with influencers is even a remote possibility, they should start identifying, qualifying and engaging with them now. That way, when the time comes to work together on a project, there’s already some familiarity and credibility before “the ask”.

Effective influencer recruiting for content co-creation projects comes down to being relevant and interesting, respectful and to deliver a great experience that results in a desire for more.

3. Develop Co-Created Content with Influencers – The content marketing plan for co-created influencer content should identify the primary and sub-themes, the influencers to work with for those assets, the types of contributions the influencers will make, the type of content to be created, deconstructed component parts, social share messages and details on repurposing.

Go modular – Modular content planning allows pre-promotion of the co-created content project to build momentum for launch and then deconstruction of the content for customized repurposing and social promotion on networks, blogs, and the media.

Select topics – Topics represent the themes and areas of focus for planning editorial and for sourcing influencers. Topic alignment between brand, influencer and community is essential for mutual value to be created.

Identify type of content or media mix – Types of content are often determined by the content marketing plan, and target audience. At the same time, there are some types of content more amenable to co-creation with influencers such as eBooks, reports, blog posts, quoted infographics and video compilations. A clear line of sight must be present between the co-created content and the content objectives in the marketing plan.

Once influencers, topics and media types are identified, a campaign to request content is initiated. Setting expectations during the recruitment phase for how participation will work is essential. Influencers are busy people and providing a timeline with due date, clear instructions and even examples will result in a higher participation rate.

Influencer content collection requests are often more effective when a few A-list influencers are already on board with the project. Leverage their name recognition to influence other influencers to participate.

Be prepared to send 2 to 3 content collection emails and when the deadline arrives, do not be afraid to use a fear of loss pitch. But by all means, be cordial, helpful and respectful.

4. Inspire Content Promotion – Influencer communications should provide expectations and clear timelines along with the benefits for all when a co-created influencer content project is successful.

Providing influencers with tools such as sharing images, pre-written tweets, embed codes and short URLs can substantially increase promotion participation and reach.

There are four important considerations when encouraging influencers to help promote the content they helped your company create.

Create content worth sharing. Topics that address issues that are important to the influencer will get your foot in the door and useful, visually compelling content will inspire them to open that door and share. Reaching out blindly and asking to share doesn’t work as well as having a connection first and then asking.

Let the ego do the talking. Content that includes an influencer’s contribution will probably get shared even more. Because let’s face it, people love to see themselves get recognized. Better yet, ask them to participate in the creation of the content.

However, when mentioning influencers in content it’s essential that it be credible, high quality and creative. Most influencers have caught on to the tactic of simply mentioning famous industry people just to get them to share. There must be value created that inspires and earns the share

Make it fun and easy. When emailing a promotion request, consider making it funny or at least clever. We’ve gone so far as to write outlandish examples of what NOT to do or suggest fake prizes for contributing like his/her beard scarves or beef jerky underwear.

Also make it especially easy for the influencer to share. Capture their attention, succinctly explain what it is and what you want them to do. Then offer pre-written social share text that’s even personalized just for them. You may even create a resource page with images and other share options for them to use.

Pay them. Either compensate the influencer with information and promotion or simply pay them to share your content. Once you start down this road, it’s pretty difficult to get off, so plan for continued compensation once you start.

5. Influencer Measurement and Program Optimization – Individual influencer promotions of the co-created content project can be measured based on social network shares, sentiment of those shares, engagement on the topic, links and blog pickups.

Embeds used by influencers to create blog posts can be tracked for referred search traffic along with referred social traffic from their links. Referred traffic that results in website visits can be further analyzed for metrics such as time on site, categories of content consumed, leads and sales.

Overall reach, engagement, traffic, leads and sales for the content project can be tracked as well, taking note of the contributions made by influencers towards key performance metrics like growing affinity between a topic and the brand as well as business outcomes like leads and sales.

6. Ongoing Influencer Relationships – Beyond the campaign or program at hand, do make the effort to continue the relationship with influencers you have worked with. The 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Research found that 12 times more B2B marketers who run Always-On influencer marketing programs are successful vs. those running intermittent campaigns. Focus on creating a great experience for contributing subject matter experts and they’ll be very interested in working with your brand again on future projects.

The more influencer programs you develop, the more influencers you will have connections with and draw from. Remember, when it comes to promotions, you can also ask past influencers who are not part of your current program to help, since they are aware of the value that would bring and the effect of “a rising tide lifts all ships.”

Ways to stay connected and Always-On with influencers in a meaningful way include:

  • Offer them feedback after the program about the effect of their contribution
  • Cite influencers in your future blog posts
  • Connect and engage with influencers on social networks
  • Refer influencer expertise to other companies that could use them (i.e. help them get work)
  • Cite influencers in contributed articles to industry magazines, newspapers, websites and newsletters.
  • Include them in future projects

Whether your brand is engaging with influencers to provide useful information or you’re co-creating content with influencers to create a useful industry resource that will be shared with new communities, there’s a value exchange that can benefits everyone involved. Content is the key to that value transfer between brand and consumer, brand and influencer and for the overall community involved.

To learn more about B2B influencer and content marketing best practices, be sure to check out the 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Research Report, or contact us directly at TopRank Marketing.

Your Guide to Effective Storytelling in B2B Content Marketing

Book Laying in Front of Tranquil Lake Scenery

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a guy who understands content. He was the featured keynote speaker at Content Marketing World three years ago, and his company HitRecord empowers creators to collaborate and produce awesome stuff together.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt also understands storytelling. He is an actor, director, producer, and writer who has appeared in numerous beloved movies and TV shows. His work as an author includes a series of works called The Book of Tiny Stories.

“The universe is not made of atoms; it’s made of tiny stories,” the tagline asserts.

Given his experience and expertise at the intersection of content and storytelling, it’s worth listening any time Gordon-Levitt speaks on these subjects. So I definitely took notice when the film icon suggested recently that the future of storytelling lies not in movies, but video games.

The gaming medium “feels like kind of the most groundbreaking storytelling,” Gordon-Levitt observed in a new episode of the YouTube show Hot Ones. “Storytelling that’s completely in a whole different realm than anything we’ve seen before.”

Personally, I can’t disagree with him. I love video games, in large part due to the immersion of a well-crafted narrative that draws the player into an interactive virtual world. And while marketing departments aren’t exactly concocting the next Grand Theft Auto, we do have the ability to deliver storytelling experiences that go above and beyond, by embracing many of the same principles that make video games such an appealing format in the eyes of Gordon-Levitt and others.

Of course, the formula for impactful storytelling in B2B content marketing is different from video games, or movies, even though it might share commonalities with both. To help you develop stories that engage and activate your professional audience, I’ve developed a blueprint, which I’ve dubbed the S.T.O.R.Y. model.

The S.T.O.R.Y Model for Great Storytelling in B2B Content Marketing

Sizzle. Tension. Originality. Relevance. Yearning. Every stellar piece of storytelling in B2B content marketing encompasses these five words. Let’s break down each one, and how they come together for a powerful experience. (We’ll lean on JGL to visualize these concepts.)

Sizzle

sizzle (n): a state or quality of great excitement or passion

In Gordon-Levitt’s world of filmmaking, a “sizzle reel” refers to a short, fast-paced video edit featuring the best of someone’s past work. Sizzle reels are often put together by actors who distribute them in hopes of landing gigs. As the name suggests, these reels need to sizzle: The excitement and passion must be on display right away in order to wrangle the attention of a casting director sorting through hundreds of them.

The B2B marketer’s directive is no different. Earning the attention of our audiences in the era of rampant content saturation means we need to bring it. If your story does not imbue a genuine and immediately discernible sense of passion and excitement, it may very well not be worth telling.

via GIPHY

Tension

tension (n): a balance maintained in an artistic work between opposing forces or elements

Sizzle is how you grab the audience’s attention with your story. Tension is how you keep it. Storytellers can build tension by referencing or hinting at something early on, and then gradually working toward the payoff.

This dynamic was explained beautifully by Andrew Davis at CM World – one year after Gordon-Levitt’s appearance – in his opening 2018 keynote exploring the “curiosity gap” and how it counteracts dwindling attention spans. I had the pleasure of watching Davis break it down alongside my colleague Ashley Zeckman, who recapped the session here on our blog. Read her post and you’ll learn everything you need to know about using tension to keep your audience hooked.

“The more tension you raise, the more your audience needs to see the outcome.” @DrewDavisHere #Storytelling #ContentMarketing Click To Tweet

via GIPHY

Originality

originality (n): freshness of aspect, design, or style

In order to be memorable, it must be novel.

While it’s valuable to keep someone watching or reading to completion, we’re not telling a great story simply because they absorbed the whole thing. We’re telling a great story if it sticks with them. To this end, freshness and originality are essential qualities.

The human brain can only consciously store so many memories. There isn’t much room for redundancy.

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel with every story you tell, but there should always be at least one inventive or unexpected element that makes it feel unique.

via GIPHY

Relevance

relevance (n): the quality or state of being closely connected or appropriate

From one view, the word “relevance” is incredibly broad. From another, it is narrow as can be.

Example: Coronavirus is relevant to every human being on Planet Earth right now. But, what about the mental health impact of a pandemic on first-time telecommuters, and how HR managers can provide meaningful support? Now you’ve zeroed in.

Here is where we begin to diverge from standard forms of entertainment. Great art often speaks to the many. Great B2B content marketing should speak to the few, but in a fiercely resonant way.

“Great art often speaks to the many. Great B2B content marketing should speak to the few, but in a fiercely resonant way.” @NickNelsonMN #Storytelling #ContentMarketing Click To Tweet

via GIPHY

Yearning

yearning (n): a feeling of intense longing for something

And here is where we fully settle into the marketing realm. Leaving the viewer with a sense of yearning is a common objective in entertainment – think cliffhangers – but only in content marketing is it requisite for efficacy.

This doesn’t mean someone finishes your story and has a yearning to go buy the product or service. That’s an unlikely (albeit highly impressive) outcome. It means they yearn for more – more installments in the series, more content from the brand, more information on the website, more social media posts from the account.

via GIPHY

Tell Your Brand’s S.T.O.R.Y.

When your story sizzles, builds tension, exudes originality, sparks relevant tones with a defined audience, and leaves the reader or viewer yearning for more … you’ve got yourself a highly effective piece of B2B content marketing. The specifics within this framework are flexible and open to your own creative spin – you’d hardly be able to check the “originality” box if that wasn’t the case – but the overarching principles of impactful marketing narratives are quite consistent in every successful production. They’re most often found in movies and video games too, for that matter.

via GIPHY

To learn how you can apply this formula to establish stronger relationships with your audience, check out my blog post on channeling the skills of Abraham Lincoln to build trust through storytelling.

7 B2B Content Marketing Tactics For Long Term Success

Man running down an infinite road into the sunset image.

I have an important question for you:

Athlete A runs a marathon in under 3 hours. Athlete B runs a 40-yard dash in under 5 seconds. Which athlete is more impressive to you?

Athlete A can run the distance, but Athlete B is explosive. ?

via GIPHY

If you’re anything like me, you answered that they’re both very impressive. And you’d be right. Having both endurance and power are extremely important. So, why am I asking this question on a blog all about marketing? Well, the most successful content marketing strategies have tactics that cover those two qualities: endurance and power. AKA long-term and short-term tactics.

For content marketing to be successful, you need those flashy, attention-grabbing campaigns to meet immediate goals. But you also need reliable, consistent, thought-provoking content to compound results over time. Below, I share the B2B content marketing tactics that combine for the greatest long-term success.

“The most successful content marketing strategies have tactics that cover two qualities: endurance and power. AKA long-term and short-term tactics.” — Annie Leuman @annieleuman Click To Tweet

7 of the Best B2B Content Marketing Tactics

Long-Term B2B Content Marketing Tactics

Tactic #1 – Blog Content

When it comes to tried and true tactics, blogging takes the cake. Blogging is some 26-years old and still drives amazing results. In fact, a recent survey from SEMrush found that it remains the most popular content type with 86% of marketers responding that it is the most important content type they create. Considering how much we marketers value optimization and data, we wouldn’t still be writing blog posts in 2020 if they didn’t drive results.

How is blogging a long-term tactic, though? Well, similar to most long-term tactics, once you start you can’t stop. A blog is a brand-owned channel and a valuable resource of relevant knowledge for your customers and prospects. Stop publishing there, and it stops being that reliable source of brand perspectives and information.

All out of new blog content ideas? Read these tips for more efficient content creation from TopRank Marketing CEO, Lee Odden.

Tactic #2 – Social Media Content

Back in 2019, Statista reported the average person spent 144 minutes per day on social media. I can only imagine that number has gone up in 2020 due to the COVID-19 health crisis. In marketing, you go where your audience is, making social media content a must for any brand both B2B and B2C.

And once again, your social media content needs to be consistent over the long term if you’re to grow your social media following into the connected group of prospects, customers, and partners that you desire. Furthermore, social media content requires constant monitoring so you’re able to capitalize on timely topics and discussions that happen on social media platforms in real time. Growing your audience on social media is a laborious and lengthy process, but it’s easily worth it to have an engaged following, ready to consume the content you distribute and promote on your platforms of choice.

How should you approach social media listening in the age of coronavirus? We have some tips for you that should help

Tactic #3 – Influencer Content

Read any other marketing blog and an influencer marketing campaign is probably classified as an ad-hoc, short-term tactic. However, here at TopRank Marketing, we believe in an always-on approach to influencer marketing.

Think about it this way: do you approach personal relationships as a one and done interaction? No, relationships require nurturing and frequent interactions in order to grow and solidify. We believe influencer relationships, and therefore influencer marketing, needs to be approached in the same way. With nurturing. With empathy. Influencers are people, too, you know.

Not sure what always-on influencer marketing looks like? View these 5 examples

Tactic #4 – Podcast Content

Starting a podcast is not for the faint of heart. It involves working with a new medium: audio. It involves publishing across several channels: Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, etc. It involves securing guests. It involves creating thoughtful episodes. And, most importantly, it involves creating a show listeners want to tune into week after week.

It is because a podcast is intended to be a continual show or series that it’s one of our favorite B2B content marketing tactics. Here at TopRank, we think of our podcasts like TV shows. Each podcast has several seasons made up of carefully designed episodes that match the theme of the season. This allows us to use each episode and each season as a chance to further grow and engage our listeners.

If you’re wondering how you can launch your B2B podcast, start with these 10 steps.

Short-Term B2B Content Marketing Tactics

Tactic #5 – Sponsored & Guest Content

As stated above, blog content is extremely valuable. But when posted on a brand-owned blog, you’re limiting the exposure of your content to the people who already know or follow your brand. To reach a larger audience, you need to turn outward. And while more social media or email promotion could help — if it’s on a brand-owned channel you’re still limited to people who already follow you. So what about reaching a new audience?

This is where sponsored or guest content can help you reach a new audience and expand your reach in the short-term. By posting content on a different channel, you’re exposing your content and thought leadership to a different audience. For example, you can secure placement on publications in a new target vertical or write a guest post on an expert’s blog. These are one-time placements, making this tactic drive short-term results, but the pay-off of greater reach and exposure is definitely worth it.

But waitisn’t that just advertising? We explain the great content vs. advertising debate here

Tactic #6 – Digital Advertising Content

Marketers have the seemingly impossible task of delivering the right message, at the right time, to the right audience, in the right channel. That’s a lot to ask. And it’s reaching that right audience that can be really hard to do with the long-term tactics above. Like I said, using brand-owned channels can make it tough to reach a new audience.

Luckily, digital advertising content is a great short-term tactic that can help you target your ideal audience with the right message, at the right time, in the right channel. From native social media advertising to traditional display ads, these ad campaigns can help you spread your message in the short-term.

Digital advertising is best when paired with content marketing. Learn more about how to marry the two tactics here. 

Tactic #7 – eBooks, Infographics, and Larger Content Campaigns

Campaigns, like eBooks, infographics, and interactive assets, have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Because campaigns aren’t designed to last forever — you need one to end for another to begin — they make it onto our short-term tactics list.

Why are they a great short-term tactic? You can pack a ton of information and insight into a content marketing campaign. Plus, you can use a wide mix of media and strategies like influencers, video, audio, interactivity, and more to drive powerful engagement among your audience. They aren’t built to last, but they are built to pack a punch.

Birds of a Feather Flock Together

The best B2B content marketing strategies use a mix of the tactics above for both long- and short-term success. Short-term tactics help raise awareness for the long-term tactics. And long-term tactics help build up a loyal, engaged audience for future short-term campaigns. In other words, you need both. There’s a mutually beneficial relationship between all content marketing tactics. So use the list above to start plotting your course to B2B content marketing success.

Hungry for even more B2B content marketing tactics? Well, here’s 50 of them. Enjoy!

How to Optimize Original B2B Research Content For Credibility and Impact

Optimize Original Research Content

For many in the B2B marketing world, original research provides an effective way to build thought leadership and drive content for owned and earned media.

Unfortunately, many research reports from B2B companies are dry, uninspired and focus solely on pontifications from the brand point of view. Such unremarkable content isn’t helping customers, especially if they never see it due to information overload or they don’t trust it.

“With more information, options and people involved in a buying process, buyers are paralyzed when trying to move forward.” Gartner

Fortunately, there’s a better way.

More often than not, B2B research reports have marketing objectives focused on building brand thought leadership, attracting new names for nurturing and to serve as a resource for sales. Since most B2B brands don’t have the credibility and distribution to reach their marketing goals on their own with such reports, they rely on advertising and PR to attract attention.

Ads and PR are fine complements to content. But they’re even more effective if that content delivers an experience that is includes built-in credibility and distribution to the the audiences that are probably ignoring most marketing and advertising.

How can you optimize research report content to deliver this kind of experience?

Brands that co-create experiential content with relevant experts and influencers can build industry confidence, grow brand trust, create a more effective digital customer experience and drive business growth.

What does that kind of research report collaboration content process look like?

B2B marketers have included quotes from industry experts in their reports for many years – but most do not. However there are many more ways to engage with credible voices that have the trust and attention of the audience you’re after.

For example, you might partner with a mix of industry experts, influential customers and people who work at brands that represent your ideal clients to add perspective to original research.  Adding that expertise isn’t enough. The content itself should be packaged as an experience. Whether it’s interactive or just well-designed, research content doesn’t have to be boring.

I think our latest research report on B2B Influencer Marketing is a perfect example of this.

B2B Influencer Marketing Report Preview

We partnered with 20+ B2B brand marketing executives and influencers to provide perspective on the key issues surfaced by the research. Instead of the report being authored by me (with some help from my team), there are contributions from influential B2B brands that include:

  • Dell
  • SAP
  • LinkedIn
  • AT&T Business

There are also insights provided by some of the top B2B influencers in the industry including:

  • Brian Solis
  • Ann Handley
  • Tamara McCleary
  • Mark Schaefer

Pulling together credible voices to join your own in an experiential piece of content is far more likely to be shared by contributors and your community, looked at by industry media and potential customers, and actually used by your sales people in their communications with prospects.

Such a rich content experience can deliver far more value than a one time campaign, especially if you roll it out in phases.

For example, you might extend the value of original research by implementing a phased content approach. For example:

The first phase might be the co-creation and publishing of the original research with industry experts and clients.  Promotion would focus mostly on owned channels, organic social and private channels like email, forums, etc.

The second phase could emphasize earned media and extensions of the narratives highlighted by the research. Names captured can be nurtured with useful resources that go deeper on the topics and a video interview series with the experts who contributed would feature more in-depth conversations around the key report findings. Online events and some useful tools and more visual versions of the original content could also help with promotion hang time.

The third phase takes the report content and repurposes it into new formats: explainer videos, a podcast, infographics. An interactive microsite that gives viewers and opportunity to assess themselves against the benchmark data from the research provides an engagement opportunity without substantial investment in new content. The original group of influencers is now expanded to invite more people in those roles to contribute their expertise to content around the report’s narratives.

What you do specifically for your B2B business is up to you, but publishing original research in white paper format without any 3rd party validation within is simply no longer enough to attract, engage and inspire a meaningful experience or a return on your investment.

Creating a content experience that is credible and that can rely on distribution by its influential contributors on top of brand channels, PR efforts and ad buys will certainly achieve the expected thought leadership, engagement and demand gen goals more effectively. In the case of our report mentioned above, we hit one of our most important 3rd Quarter goals in just the first 2 weeks because of following this advice.

Imagine what you could do?

A Day in the Life of a Content Marketer During the Pandemic: Challenges and Tips

Working at Home with Cat on Laptop

I’ll never forget the night that everything really changed.

It was my wife’s birthday, March 11th. I took her out for dinner at a lovely restaurant in South Minneapolis, and for a couple of blissful hours, over exotic cocktails and delicious food, we unplugged from the loudening noise of a worrisome outside world.

After we walked out of that restaurant, there would be no more tuning out.

Stepping out from the darkly lit building, I looked down at my phone, and tried to process the sudden rush of stunning headlines:

WHO declares global pandemic. NBA suspends season. Trump addresses the nation. Tom Hanks has coronavirus. Tom Hanks!

It all happened on the same day, like a floodgate bursting. And the ensuing deluge has since uprooted almost every sense of normalcy we once knew. Around that time, I stopped going into work, as did most others around the country. I haven’t gone back since, save for the odd trip to water a plant or record a video in an empty office.

TopRank Marketing has been in WFH mode for more than five years now. Sorry, did I say years? Months. Needless to say, I know we are not alone, which is why I thought I’d offer a look at my typical day as a content marketer in the (ugh) “new normal,” and share some helpful things I’ve learned.

We’re all figuring this out as we go.

Overcoming New Daily Challenges as a Content Marketer During the Summer of COVID

I count myself as a lucky man, for a lot of reasons. One of them is that I can do my job pretty frictionlessly from home. While I miss seeing my coworkers, and there are newfound challenges (as I’ll discuss), I’m able to stay productive. In part that’s because I’ve developed my own personal solutions to these WFH hurdles. Maybe some of them can help you.

Getting Going in the Morning

I’m not what one would call a “morning person.” Generally I am rather groggy and cloudy after waking up. In this respect, going into the office was always helpful for me – the routine of showering, getting dressed, prepping some breakfast and coffee, and hopping into the car was inherently awakening.

I can’t say I take all those steps on a typical morning anymore. For a while, it was tough, getting in the mindset of traveling from bedroom to living room, and suddenly entering Work Mode. But what I’ve found helpful is using the morning as a bit of personal zen time. Unless I have early meetings, I’ll usually rouse myself gradually, pour some coffee, scroll Twitter, and size up my day. I’ll go through my emails, prioritize my tasks, and check in with account managers. This helps me build momentum toward optimal mid-day productivity.

Takeaway: Work/life balance can be tough during these times. (It’s often cited in surveys as one of the biggest challenges for full-time remote workers.) Don’t force yourself to instantly flip a switch. Find a comfortable routine that works for you.

Managing Distractions and Finding the Zone

Being in the office can bring its own set of distractions, but there are some unique ones associated with working from home. For many people, creating a designated workspace around the house is helpful. Personally, I live in a small apartment with my wife (who’s also working from home), and all of our building’s common areas have been closed, so finding our own space can be a challenge.

There are no easy answers to this one. Folks who have children home all day have it much worse than me. Especially in creative pursuits like planning and developing content, it’s key to find a zone, and the disruptions of screaming kiddos or a construction worker banging away outside can be anathema when it comes to getting things done.

The main thing I would advise is this: embrace asynchronous work to the extent possible. This basically refers to operating around your own schedule rather than those of others. For example, if there’s no timely need for me to work on something during the day, and my wife has meetings throughout the afternoon, maybe I’ll set aside a few hours in the evening to dive in.

Takeaway: Flexible work is becoming the new norm. Free yourself from the constrictions of a 9-to-5 workday and determine a schedule that facilitates your best work (while still being there for your teammates and clients as needed).

“Overcome WFH distractions by embracing asynchronous work to the extent possible.” @NickNelsonMN #ContentMarketing #WFHtips Click To Tweet

Communicating with Colleagues and Clients

In Buffer’s State of Remote Work Report 2020, when respondents were asked about their biggest struggle with working remotely, there was a two-way tie for first place:

  • Collaboration and communication
  • Loneliness

No surprise, as these responses basically tie back to the same ultimate downside of working away from our coworkers: disconnection and isolation. Collaboration is vital to producing the best work possible, as I rely on the talents and smarts of my teammates to enhance my own efforts.

There is no way to replicate the energy and organic spontaneity of working in the physical proximity of your coworkers. My best recommendation is finding varied ways to coordinate and communicate. Don’t rely on just one channel. Slack is good, and Zoom is good, but both can cause fatigue when overdone. Try different methods of collaborating, like generating ideas with a teammate simultaneously in a Google Doc, or even jumping on the good ol’-fashioned telephone.

One more thing: carve out “do not disturb” zones. When you’re in the office, you can plug in your headphones and signal that you’re focusing. Work with your team to create similar arrangements in the WFH, where this is far more ambiguous. You might even collectively decide on a consistent portion of the day where no meetings are scheduled and expectations for responsiveness are lowered (for us at TopRank, this is from noon to one every afternoon).

Takeaway: Maintaining consistent and constructive communication is one of the toughest challenges for distributed teams. The best way to foster remote collaboration is to … collaborate. Work together to develop practices and protocols that best align with everyone’s preferences.

“The best way to foster remote collaboration is to … collaborate. Work together to develop practices and protocols that best align with everyone’s preferences.” @NickNelsonMN #ContentMarketing #WFHtips Click To Tweet

Breaking Up the Day

Monotony can be one of the biggest inhibitors of creativity and productivity in WFH settings. There is a natural variety that plays out when you go into the office: interacting with different people, moving between meeting rooms, maybe running out for coffee or lunch as a change of scenery. Working from home, especially at a time where we’re all encouraged to quarantine and avoid public places, can really make the hours and days run together.

This leads to one of the biggest benefits I’ve discovered in the altered routine. It is now much easier to get out and get active. Sure, we’d occasionally go out for team walks when we were in the office, but without the ability to shower and change clothes I wasn’t exactly going out for intense exercise. And by the time I got home, I was often too tuckered out.

Now, I find myself getting out for a run, bike ride, or brisk walk almost every afternoon. It’s rejuvenating for body and mind. One silver lining of this pandemic is its timing; at least it struck as the summer was getting underway, which has allowed me to enjoy a lot of nice weather outdoors.

Takeaway: Find activities you enjoy to break up your workday and keep your mind fresh. Whether it’s exercise, a hobby, or simply unplugging, working from home provides the freedom to step away. And embracing asynchronicity enables you to distribute your work throughout the day.

For Better or Worse… There’s No Place Like Home

Plenty of people have been working from home full-time for years, and have developed their own habits and routines to optimize for it. But for many, like myself and surely many reading this, it’s something we’ve had to learn on the fly, out of necessity.

The good news is that our adaptations during this time will benefit us and our companies going forward. I am in full agreement with our clients at Sococo, who make a strong evidence-based argument that distributed work is here to stay and will forever be part of our reality going forward. Those individuals and teams that take this opportunity to innovate and create seamless remote work infrastructures will be poised to excel in the (groan) new normal.

With all that said, when I’m finally able to go back into the office and see my coworkers face to face, I’m definitely going to have an all-new appreciation for it.

For tips from one of those full-time remote workers who has been doing it a long time, explore Lane Ellis’s post from earlier this year sharing remote working tips from a distance marketer.

5 Unheralded SEO Tools for Content Marketers

Smiling businesswoman at computer image.

Are you using the latest search engine optimization (SEO) tools to help with your content marketing efforts?

Don’t worry, as we’ve got you covered with a look at some of the most helpful SEO tools to help you refine and augment your content marketing plans.

Sorting through lists of the seemingly endless number of available SEO tools can be frustrating as well as a hit and miss proposition, however we’ve put this collection together so that you can skip the search and get right into SEO tools you can use today to help you create amazing content marketing stories.

Let’s jump in with our collection of fresh SEO tools to boost your content marketing experiences.

1 — Google Lighthouse

Google Lighthouse

Google’s own Lighthouse tool — an open-source project — offers a simple way to check a number of basic SEO-related issues that every website should consider. Among its auditing functions are tools specifically focusing on performance, SEO, accessibility, and progressive web apps, and it’s also capable of examining webpages requiring authentication.

The tool can be run standalone, from the web, in Google’s Chrome DevTools, or incorporated into continuous integration systems, and its Lighthouse Viewer allows viewing and sharing of analysis data online.

2 — Botify SEO Platform

Botify

There are numerous powerful SEO platforms that each look to be as close to a one-stop-shop as possible for marketers and brands to gain reliable and relevant search insight, and squarely in this category is enterprise SEO suite company Botify.

Botify offers a vast array of SEO analysis, data crawling intelligence and indexing metrics tools, all while working to make this complex information both easy to understand and act on, as Google’s Martin Splitt recently touched on in a live video conversation.

3 — Bing URL Submissions Plugin for WordPress

Bing

B2B marketers in WordPress environments recently got access to an open-source plug-in from Bing Webmaster Tools, automating the submission of new site content to the Microsoft’s Bing search engine.

Bing URL Submissions Plugin in a feature-rich plug-in that can also be customized via Bing’s API for incorporation into other content management systems.

4 — Schema.org

Schema

Google and other search engine firms prefer that businesses use schema markup for structured data in the format set forth and maintained by the Schema.org organization, which is especially important today as features including Google’s Knowledge Graphs rely in part on this simple yet often-overlooked element, as Michal Pecánek recently examined for Ahrefs.

5 — WebPagetest

WebPagetest

Another free tool frequently used by savvy search industry professionals is WebPagetest, allowing webmasters and technically-proficient marketers to run a variety of tests including content type breakdowns, page speed data and others providing helpful information.

The data from WebPagetest can be used to troubleshoot website slowness issues, as Barry Schwartz recently outlined in “Google: How To Diagnose Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) Slowness.”

Smart SEO Tools To Make You A Knowledge Builder

via GIPHY

We hope you’ve found at least a few new-to-you SEO content marketing tools among those we’ve taken a look at here, and that you’ll find them useful as you create new campaigns that are using the soundest practices of SEO, and that they’ll also help build your own team’s knowledge.

We have a multi-year history of highlighting helpful marketing tools, and here are a few of the other most recent articles we’ve published on the subject:

How Authentic Content Builds Brand Trust in Uncertain Times

Man Interacting via Virtual Meeting

These are strange times indeed.

As I write this, I’m sitting in my home office, because my employer – like so many others across the country and world – is doing what it can to help stop the spread of COVID-19. This is the type of event that casts new light on just about everything, including the topic I’d planned to tackle today.

No business wants to act or appear opportunistic right now. That goes without saying. But the truth is that marketers, brands, and creators of all kinds can make a positive difference. Being legitimately and authentically helpful in a moment like this can have a lasting impact.

With personal interactions and physical proximity being minimized, people will turn to the web more than ever for trusted sources of information and meaningful content experiences. It’s worth thinking about what role you and your brand can play.

The Show Must Go On

As I mentioned in one of my earliest blog contributions after joining TopRank Marketing, I have a side hobby outside of my career in marketing: running a Minnesota Twins baseball community site. With this passion playing such a big role in my life, it goes without saying that I’m feeling affected by the sudden and indefinite absence of baseball, at a time where the sport’s lengthy season is normally just getting underway.

Empty Stadium Seats Image

(Image Source: Peter Feghali, Unsplash)

I recognize, of course, that in the grand scheme of all that’s happening, this is small potatoes. It’s a game. But it’s also a source of comfort and routine for me and so many others. And the bottom line is that while Major League Baseball’s schedule will not proceed, life will. And this applies more broadly to businesses and content creators across the spectrum.

As our CEO Lee Odden wrote recently with regards to marketing during the COVID-19 pandemic, “the need for information and solutions might slow or change but not stop.”

Let’s explore how brands can go all-in on authenticity to strengthen bonds during a time of universal uncertainty and anxiety.

“Marketers, brands, and creators of all kinds can make a positive difference. Being legitimately and authentically helpful in a moment like this can have a lasting impact.” @NickNelsonMN Click To Tweet

Building Trust through Authentic and Altruistic Content

Content marketing is inherently a long game, focused on building relationships first and foremost. Right now, the best way to pursue this goal is through authenticity and altruism, in the context of your business and its audience.

Keep Your Audience Informed

The ongoing pandemic affects different industries and verticals in different ways. If there’s a white space for providing news and updates in the niche you serve specifically, you might consider filling it. Curate news from authoritative sources (like the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and make it available in an easily accessible place.

This is also a great time to provide helpful guidance around adjustments and adaptations being made in response to this situation. For example, our clients at Antea Group leveraged their expertise on the subject of employee health and safety to provide ergonomic tips for a home office. Another client, LinkedIn Sales Solutions, served up advice on staying connected digitally when “in-person” is not an option.

Be Open and Human

We talk about authenticity in B2B marketing frequently because it’s so vital for practitioners to constantly remind themselves that we’re not interacting with businesses, we’re interacting with human beings. COVID-19 presents a universally shared human experience on a scale that is unmatched in many of our lifetimes.

There’s never been a better time to open up and share real, relatable stories. Everyone is going through something, and it can be comforting to learn how others are dealing with the unique circumstances brought on by this scenario.

Focus on Connection

Thanks to technology, distancing doesn’t need to equate to isolation. People are likely to be yearning for social connection in a major way. The simplest thing a company can do is place an emphasis on being accessible and responsive via social media, email, and other channels. But you also might consider finding ways to replicate the dynamic of personal interactions. For example:

  • Webinars & Live-Streaming: It can sometimes be difficult to draw big crowds of busy professionals for a live broadcast, but at a time where traveling and in-person meetings are reduced, there are more openings on calendars. Running a webcast with a theme that’s relevant to the current times might hit a sweet spot.
  • Virtual Networking Events: With so many major conferences and summits being canceled, there’s still a need for people to network and grow. This may present an opportunity to host or participate in online gatherings and meet-ups. One thing worth considering is a virtual happy hour, where people flip on their laptop camera, crack open a beverage, and enjoy a genuine chat from their own respective locations.

“At a time where traveling and in-person meetings are reduced, there are more openings on calendars. Running a webcast with a theme that’s relevant to the current times might hit a sweet spot.” @NickNelsonMN Click To Tweet

Stick to Your Strategy

Understandably, it can be weird to think about selling at this moment. Pushing products and services – especially those that might be deemed “non-essential” in the face of a global health crisis – feels tone-deaf at a time where everyone’s attention is pulled toward the headlines. I get it.

But here’s the unavoidable truth: This ordeal isn’t going away anytime soon. Life will be different for a while, and as we acclimate to a new norm, the drumbeat of business will regain its steady rhythm in most spaces. So it’s important to keep a holistic, integrated, full-funnel strategy in place, even if you’re lessening the conversion emphasis temporarily.

One thing many companies will want to ponder is how they can make it easier to digitally purchase and transact.

Into Unknown Territory

There is no playbook for this. Every person, family, and business is treading new ground. But we’re all going through it together and that’s why it is more valuable than ever to let our authenticity shine through.

“The friend in my adversity I shall always cherish most. I can better trust those who helped to relieve the gloom of my dark hours than those who are ready to enjoy with me the sunshine of prosperity.”Ulysses S. Grant