When you create content, how long do you spend (on average) creating it, and how much time do you spend promoting it? 60% creation and 40% promotion? 40% creation and 60% promotion? An even 50/50 split?
How about 20% creation, and 80% promotion? Sound farfetched?
Well, this is the rule that Derek Halpern of Social Triggers lives by.
According to Derek:
“The secret to building a blog with a raving fan base that’s ready to buy what you sell has nothing to do with how much content you create. It, instead, has to do with how good you are getting you are at getting your content into the hands of more people.”
The logic behind Derek’s rule is that it can be really difficult for bloggers and businesses, particularly those that are new to the game, to find an audience for their content. This means that they need to work extra hard; not necessarily at creating that content, but at getting people to consume and share it.
Sounds about right to me. Some people seem to believe that if they create content, the readers will come flocking to their site, share their content, probably buy something, and hey, presto – that content’s been a success.
Unfortunately, you probably already know that that just doesn’t work in the real world. Content without the marketing is not content marketing – it’s just content. And unless you already have a very large, dedicated, and active audience, creating content without marketing is very, very unlikely to get you the results you want.
In 2013, Laura Roeder of LKR Social Media wrote:
“I had been operating under the assumption that consistently updating my business’s content (webinars, cheatsheets, blog posts, you name it) was the key to driving lots and lots of good traffic to my site. But think about it: how am I going to boost my numbers if no one actually knows there’s new and interesting content to be consumed?
So my team and I decided to follow Derek’s advice and shift the focus to promoting our content more than actually producing it. Still skeptical? The traffic to my blog has actually increased, even though we’ve got fewer new posts that go live every week!”
In short: this works.
However, not everyone is quite so on board with Derek’s ideology as me (and Laura)…
Two years ago Mark Schaefer of Business Grow wrote “Pimping your posts and the myth of the 80/20 rule”.
Of the 80/20 rule Mark says, “this is a tweetable little sound bite that’s easy to remember and pass along. But it is so whacked-out that I just have to say something about it in case anybody out there is beginning to believe it.”
Uh-oh. Has Derek been misleading us all along?
Mark’s argument essentially boils down to the perceived practical implications of the 80/20 rule. In the blog post referenced above, he goes on to say:
“It may take me three hours or more to create a great blog post. On average, I try to create two of these posts every week. That’s six hours spent on content, not counting editing guest posts, responding to comments, and attending to other details of the blog like finding images, etc.
If we only count the six hours I put into writing two decent posts, the 80-20 rule would suggest I spend 24 hours a week pimping my content.”
While Mark’s math is correct, I think the issue lies in how literally he is applying Derek’s rule.
Derek says, “create content 20% of the time time. Spend the other 80% of the time promoting what you created.”
However, Derek isn’t saying that we should stick with our existing content plan, but up the amount of time we spend promoting that content. He’s saying that we should amend how we use that time.
Put simply, if you currently spend 20 hours a week on content creation and promotion, you should re-organise that time so you spend 4 hours creating content, and 16 hours promoting it.
You should not, as Mark might have us believe, spend 6 hours a week creating it and 24 hours (a week) promoting it. Unless, of course, you want to…
Personally, I try to write a couple of times a week for this blog. I also write regularly for Content Marketer, Forbes, and Entrepreneur – amongst others. If I were to apply the 80/20 rule in the manner that Mark’s implying, I would barely have time for anything else. I’d probably struggle to find time for eating and sleeping.
What’s more, it’s pretty easy for Mark to condemn the 80/20 rule. He’s been blogging since 2009 (when the blogosphere was somewhat less competitive), has a large and loyal following, and in excess of 100k Twitter followers.
He’s also penned three print books, and is a regular speaker at conferences and events. It’s safe to say then, that Mark needs to do very little (if anything) to promote his content, purely because he has an active following that are ready and willing to do the hard work for him.
This simply isn’t an issue for Mark – but that doesn’t mean it’s not an issue for many, many other bloggers and businesses.
Now, I’m not saying that Mark doesn’t have any valid points. In that same post he says, “the only people who will create long-term business value for you is your core audience – your return readers.”
And I don’t disagree with him there. Growing a loyal audience (like Mark himself has) will have a huge impact on how successful your content is, and how well that translates to conversions, sales, and revenue.
This isn’t an audience you can buy. It’s an audience you have to create through sheer hard work and determination.
But it’s also important to remember that every brand and their audience is different. For some, the 80/20 rule applied across their content strategy will get them the results they need.
For others (myself included) it might not be practical to significantly cut back on the amount of time they spend on content creation. As I mentioned above, I create content for multiple publications, largely because I’m simultaneously trying to achieve a number of goals besides simply growing an audience.
What then, should you do if, like me, you want to apply Derek’s rule, but can’t afford to significantly reduce the amount of content you create?
Applying the 80/20 Rule Strategically
I want to begin this section by making something clear: not every piece of content is produced with the same purpose or goal in mind.
- Some content is designed to target particular topics or keywords, rank in the search results, and drive organic traffic to a site. In other words: primarily for SEO benefits.
- Some content is created to drive conversions.
- Some content is designed with the goal of driving visits (usually referral visits), shares, and links.
- Some content is designed to achieve a combination of the above.
If, like me and many others, you have a diverse and multi-pronged approach to your content strategy, you probably won’t want to cut back on your content creation as dramatically as you would need to, were you to follow Derek’s rule to the tee.
If this sounds like you, here’s the trick: apply the 80/20 rule only to those potentially viral-worthy pieces of content – the content you create with the goal of motivating an untapped audience to share it, comment on it, feature it, and link to it.
Promote the rest of your content, by all means, but don’t go to the extent of spending five times longer promoting each piece of your content than you did creating it, if that approach doesn’t fit with your current strategy and your long term goals.
Crap Content Won’t Cut It
As we saw above, some people are taking Derek’s rule a little too literally and, consequently, aren’t fully “getting” what it’s really about. Another way I can see people misinterpreting Derek’s rule is to assume that any piece of content can prove successful if we plough enough time and effort into promoting it.
Hopefully, I don’t need to tell you that this simply isn’t true.
To make promoting your content worth your while, the content itself has to be good. Great, even. Simply banging out any old blog post and investing 80% of your time into promoting it won’t suddenly turn it into something that people will want to share. This method only works if you have the resources needed to create content that’s actually worth promoting.
The 80/20 rule can also be misconstrued as implying that we only need to spend a miniscule amount of time creating content. That it’s okay to spend just a couple of hours on content creation, because you’ll make up for what the content lacks in depth and quality with the eight hours you’ll spend promoting it.
Of course, that’s not true either. This isn’t a straight swap. You should be reducing the volume of content you create – not its quality.
This leads me back to the point above: the 80/20 rule doesn’t have to be applied as a blanket rule. It’s certainly open to interpretation.
If you’re struggling for time (and who isn’t?), you have two choices:
- Follow the rule exactly, and cut back on the amount of content you create.
- Stick to your current content calendar, and save the 80/20 rule for you very best work.
Me… I’d choose option two. I’m trying to build my personal brand, as well as promote a number of different ventures that I’m involved in. I’ve got too many balls in the air to simply cut down on the amount of content I create.
But that’s not to say that this is the right answer for everyone.
In Derek’s initial post about the 80/20 rule, he states that between March 2011 and April 2012, he averaged 2.54 blog posts a month. By most accounts, that isn’t very many.
But in the same time, he gained 27,000 subscribers. How? In his own words, “because I focused on creating great content… and then focused on getting that content into the hands of more people.”
So what is the right answer? Finding the strategy that works for you.
Promote Your Existing Content
As you (hopefully) now understand, a key element of the 80/20 rule is that you don’t need to keep churning out content for the sake of churning out more content. This means that if you’ve crafted content that’s done well before, there may well be scope for you to promote it again.
Derek himself said, “it’s smarter to find another 10,000 people to consume what you’ve already created as opposed to creating more.”
Old blog content is crazy valuable. Hubspot performed an analysis of their blog content and found that a massive three quarters (76%) of their blog’s monthly page views came from old content.
I don’t doubt that the stats would be pretty similar for most of us. It makes sense that they would – over time, content (tends to) gain more shares, links, and comments, which (tends to) translate to said content ranking better in the search results. Needless to say, higher rankings means more page views.
Why then, are we generally so focused on creating new content, when so many of us are, essentially, sitting on a goldmine of existing content?
Well for one thing, that old content might be outdated.
Does that mean you should leave that content to sit and rot? Of course not! Revisit it and update it. Giving old content a new lease of life can save you a huge amount of time compared to the time you’d spend creating content from scratch.
Even if the content’s core message hasn’t aged, ask yourself whether your existing content is performing as well as it could be. Are the call-to-actions up-to-date? Could they benefit from better copy, a new design, or different positioning?
If you’re looking for a way to streamline your content strategy and get more bang for your buck, begin with a detailed audit of your existing content.
That said, revisiting old content shouldn’t take over your entire strategy.
Even when you’re up to your eyeballs updating and promoting old content, it is a good idea to make sure you’re not neglecting your blog. Have you ever landed on a blog that hasn’t been updated for two or three months (or longer)? It doesn’t look good, does it? Did you assume the person or company behind the blog has given up on it? Yep, probably. And did you hit “subscribe”? I didn’t think so.
Delving into your content archives is an awesome way to reap more rewards from old content, but you should make sure you’re allocating some resources to creating new content.
How to Promote Content… In the Words of Derek Halpern
There are tons of different ways to promote content, and if you ask around, chances are, every person will give you slightly different advice. This post alone, curated by Kristi Hines, includes 32 different content promotion tips from 32 different marketers.
These include “have a relationship with your social connections” (from Heidi Cohen), “email people you mention in your posts and ask them to tweet” (from Neil Patel), “share influencer content without asking for anything in return” (Joe Pulizzi) and “facilitate real social buzz for quality content with Viral Content Buzz” (from Gerald Weber).
However, if you ask Derek Halpern his views on how to promote content, he’ll likely summarize his advice into four succinct words: “write email, hit send”.
Now, I don’t by any means believe that this is the only content promotion strategy you should use. Personally, I’m a big believer in never putting all your eggs in one basket.
That said, I have to admit that Derek seems to be onto something. Why? Because if someone asked me, “what single content promotion tactic should I use?” I would say “email outreach.”
This is because, in my experience, the single most effective content promotion tactic is email outreach.
As you’ll see in this post from Derek, there are a lot of myths surrounding how you should and shouldn’t do content promotion…
Myth: Timing your Twitter updates is really, really important.
Reality: In most cases, Twitter has such a negligible impact on referral traffic that when you Tweet doesn’t really matter that much (just try not to Tweet when most of your followers will be in bed).
Myth: Your existing readers will promote your content for you.
Reality: Unless you already have a really large, loyal, and active following (aka, Mark Schaefer), to put it bluntly, they won’t.
Myth: You don’t have enough time.
Truth: Chances are, time isn’t the issue – your priorities are. If you believed your blog, your content, and its promotion were as important as they actually are, you would make time, period. So make the time!
You could spend your time worrying about the perfect day, hour, and minute to send a Tweet. You could sit back and assume your existing audience will carry your content for you. Or you could push content to the back of your mind because there’s something (always, something) more pressing to deal with.
Or… you could actually start producing content on a regular basis (it doesn’t have to be often – it just has to be routine) and promoting the heck out of it.
It all comes right back around to the 80/20 rule: create less content, and spend more time promoting it.
There’s tons of misinformation surrounding the 80/20 rule. Mark Schaefer is, quite clearly, not a fan. But he’s not really getting what it’s really about.
The 80/20 rule is not about taking your existing content plan and upping the amount of time you spend on content promotion five-fold.
The 80/20 rule is about cutting back on the amount of time you spend on content creation, investing more time and effort into producing quality content over quantity content, and investing more time and effort into promoting that content.
It’s a rule that’s best suited to those that are relatively new to the content marketing game – the brands and bloggers that don’t have an existing audience to consume their content that are trying to build one. The brands and bloggers for whom, producing more content will offer them very little benefit – unless they’re also able to increase that content’s visibility.
How can they do that?
By focusing less on content production, and more on content promotion – at an 80/20 ratio (or thereabouts).
That said, if you do already have a decent following, you can still apply and benefit from the 80/20 rule.
Instead of cutting back on your content creation, you simply apply the 80/20 rule strategically. What does this mean? Instead of applying it to every piece of content, you apply it only to that truly great content which you believe has the potential to go “viral”.
Whatever your situation, and however you apply it, the 80/20 rule isn’t about weighing yourself down trying to push content that clearly isn’t cut out to perform. It’s about ensuring you give your content the time and energy it needs so that it attracts the attention it deserves.
What rule do you apply to your content creation and promotion strategies? I’m all ears, whether you’re fully on board with the 80/20 rule or completely against it. Take a minute to let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment below:
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