We are pleased to welcome Tom Gerace to today’s installment of the Business 2 Community Expert Interview Series. Tom is founder and CEO of Skyword, Inc, a platform that manages every aspect of an organization’s content production process. Skyword’s clients include IBM, United Way Worldwide, Wall Street Journal and Autotrader.com. Prior to Skyword, Tom’s career is rooted in disruptive innovations in digital marketing and publishing. In 2002, he founded Be Free, the first affiliate-marketing company, where he served as the Chief Marketing Officer through the company’s IPO. In that role, he was awarded two U.S. Patents, for profiling computer users and targeting advertising based on that profiling. He raised more than $200 million and launched both U.S. and European operations. Under Tom’s direction and leadership, ValueClick acquired Be Free in 2002 where it continues to be ValueClick’s most profitable division. In 2005, Tom launched Gather.com, the leading participatory, performance-based media platform with 4.5 million monthly unique visitors in the U.S.
Tom is a founding member of Social Media Advertising Consortium (SMAC), an organization committed to driving social innovation by drawing industry leaders together to share best practices and new ideas. SMAC also focuses on creating a common vocabulary, standard buying units and uniform measurement methods for social media. Since 2008, SMAC has focused on setting standards and unveiling best practices within an ever-shifting industry. As a member of the board, Tom works alongside executives from Kraft, IBM, GE, PepsiCo and Weber Shandwick. Tom graduated magna cum laude with a degree in Social Studies from Harvard College in 1993.
5 Questions on Content Marketing With Tom Gerace
1. How did you get your start in content marketing?
Marketing has always been a passion of mine, starting with my first company, Be Free, the first affiliate-marketing company which we sold to ValueClick in 2002. However, it was while I was running a contributory social platform, where users generated their own news stories and discussion topics, that I became more keenly focused on content marketing. As the platform grew and users increased, leading brands started to approach us asking for content ownership. Business owners and marketers started to catch on to the impact of quality, compelling content on customer loyalty and sales.
A decade ago, people relied on a handful of editorially driven organizations for all of their information and entertainment — a newspaper, drive time radio, and evening TV. It was a push-driven information system where media companies enjoyed local monopolies and brands could ensure brand awareness by inserting their messages into those managed media streams. Today, when we need an answer, we google it. When we need a recommendation, we ask our friends socially on Facebook and Twitter. We have shifted to a pull-driven system, where consumers are in the driver’s seat. We no longer rely on a couple of media sources for all of our information. Today’s consumer selects and returns to the source that they find most helpful. Anyone and everyone provide that content — as long as they produce valuable, relevant and well-written content—and anyone can use that content to reach consumers, provide them with the information they need, and build relationships with them throughout the process.
Our goal at Skyword is to help brands and media companies capitalize on this search and socially driven world and to take full advantage of the many bottom line benefits to building and managing a well-executed content program at the core of their digital strategy.
2. What is the biggest content marketing challenges facing brands, agencies and media companies?
Producing high quality content on an ongoing basis is a huge challenge for marketers. To be successful, they need to think like publishers, delivering helpful and entertaining content on an ongoing basis.
There are four pillars that are critical for a successful the content program:
- Content Strategy: Content strategy serves as the foundation of all digital marketing; brands use it to connect with customers through natural search, social, email marketing, and paid channels like sponsored stories and SEM. However, according to eConsultancy, only 38% of companies take the time to build one. Organizations that begin the content quest without a roadmap waste resources and contribute little to the bottom line. By developing a plan that covers topic ownership and channel distribution according to consumer needs and the organization’s business goals, marketers will deliver relevant, time-sensitive content that motivates return.
- Expert Creative: Behind every successful content marketing program is a team of expert content creators. This group of people must have a solid understanding of the industry trends and consumer pain points along with strong writing and production skills. By recruiting creative support outside of the organization, marketers can add depth and offer audiences a fresh perspective. They also bring critical connection to the social circles of the creatives they engage.
- Editors and Quality Assurance: Quality matters. With content at the core of all digital marketing, marketers need to ensure that every article published on the organization’s behalf is relevant and thoroughly reviewed for quality and brand alignment standards. Assessing writing quality, SEO optimization and brand voice is essential for producing professional, top-notch content.
- Technology Framework: Content production includes many moving parts, and technology is the glue that holds the entire process together. Organizations cannot produce content at scale through email, excel spreadsheets and word documents. Many organizations spend more on the process of compensating writers through traditional AP channels than they pay to the creatives themselves. By employing technology that supports the entire content process and adapts to the organization’s needs, marketers can create content consistently, reduce overhead, measure performance, and focus on the tasks that matter.
Piecing together the expertise, resources and technology to support content production is a huge challenge for all members of the ecosystem. By focusing on each pillar, marketers will develop a program that lasts.
3. You’ve written a few blog posts about content marketing. What is the method to your own blogging success?
If you blog, and no one reads your post, did you really blog? A lot of writers focus incredible effort on creating content, and very little thinking about how they maximize the value of what they create. To do that, they need to consider:
- Topic selection: Don’t write about what you want to share. Instead, find out what your readers are searching for most often and address those topics that best match your expertise. Search has become the primary method of information discovery, with people searching 100 billion times every month around the world. Understand what they want, before you decide what to write.
- Search optimization: Use platforms that enable you to search optimize your content when you write (and be sure your editor doesn’t mess that up when he/she edits). Sixty-three percent of the times that people click away from a search page, they click on one of the first search results. If you aren’t optimizing your content, you aren’t being found.
- Social promotion: It’s uncomfortable at first, but share your content early and often on LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter. And yes, share your professional content on Facebook. Some of your friends will want to read it and that high school pal that you lost track of might be the CEO at your next customer company. Search engines also take cues from what is shared socially, so the more you share, the better your success at search as well.
4. What do you think is the future of social media?
Soon, we will stop thinking about “social” media. Social infrastructure will be built into everything and we won’t differentiate between what is and isn’t social.
5. What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out in marketing and social media?
Start with strategy. Understand who you are trying to reach, what they care about and how you can share what they need or love. Consider IBM’s award-winning content marketing plan at the Midsize Insider. They took time to understand what midsize business owners and technology teams need to know. They developed content verticals (in this case cloud computing, Big Data, security, remote workforce enablement,) that matched those needs. We worked together to recruit socially influential authors with siloed expertise to share industry background and news in each vertical. Now those writers produce high quality, searched optimized content that is socially promoted by both the brand and the expert contributors, maximizing the reach of each piece they create.
Second, have a voice. There are millions of people competing for social influence. Understand what makes you different and then capitalize on that. If you sound exactly like the guy next to you, nobody will be listening to what you have to say.