Recently the Content Marketing Academy LinkedIn Group turned 1 year old.
In that time, the group has not only become the largest content marketing group on LinkedIn (13,000 members and counting), but it’s among the most active of any group on LinkedIn, garnering praise from group members, marketing influencers, and even from LinkedIn team members along the way.
The success of the group didn’t happen overnight, however. It’s the result of trial and error. So in celebration of the group’s first birthday, here are 12 lessons we’ve learned in 12 months, and how they apply to marketers everywhere.
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1. Growth is great, but interaction is better.
What has made this group stick is the intense focus on real conversation. The group averages a solid 14 comments per discussion, and that’s on about 62 unique discussions per month! The lesson here is to emphasize two-way participation. Your marketing should be a conversation-starter, not simply a means to promote your message over and over.
2. You’ll need to spend some money.
12 Lessons from LinkedIn’s Largest Content Marketing Group by @andrewjcoate
If anyone claims they can spur rapid social growth entirely organically, they’re probably lying. Paid distribution is an important part of marketing, and that applies to social as well. We’ve supported our efforts across social channels with paid promotion, which has garnered better interaction with our content (paid allows you to segment and target audiences more effectively) and has also helped to grow our audience.
3. Take calculated risks.
One of the main reasons for the group’s success is also one of our biggest risks: we decided to ban links from the “Discussions” section. We ran the risk of appearing too heavy-handed, angering group members and discouraging participation. There wasn’t a lot of data to support this tactic, but we had a hunch it would foster better conversation.
The response was overwhelmingly positive. In fact, participation quintupled nearly overnight, eventually rising to the regular engagement we see now. If you want to be trendsetter or thought leader, you have to break away and try something new.
4. Ask questions.
The risk above wasn’t entirely blind. I had tried this before with some success, and when we asked group members what would make the Content Marketing Academy better, people said they were fed up with overly promotional posts.
In fact, that initial discussion is what really awoke engagement. People like being asked for their expertise and opinions. And responses from your audience can also inform the content you create.
5. Look for patterns.
Another benefit of the group’s growth is we have an amazing sample size for research into key topics. The group has marketers from a variety of industries at different points in their career. Yet, despite that wide-ranging diversity, common questions get asked and common answers are given. I frequently tie these threads together and deliver them to our content, sales, and customer service teams as questions we should not only be aware of, but should answer. If a topic comes up over and over again, a definitive answer probably hasn’t been provided yet and we should continue to explore the topic.
Do this in your own research. Look for trends in topics your audience or industry cares about and respond to them.
6. Focus on brevity and clarity.
Speaking of trends, I took a look at the conversations that generated the most responses and why. The most common feature of popular discussions is a single, brief, direct question.
We live in a “skimming” culture online. If someone can instantly gauge what you want from them, you have a better chance for results. Fast Company wrote a brilliant article about this, referencing the success of Walter Cronkite as an interviewer. And this message extends beyond asking questions. Apply it across your marketing, from calls to action to headlines.
7. Maintenance matters.
We defined a clear strategy for the group and executed on it, but as the group grows, new challenges pop up. The group thrives on quality discussions. More members means more discussions, more comments—and more moderation.
I’ve had to test out some new strategies for staying on top of submissions, answering group questions, commenting on discussions, keeping my team members involved, balancing a good flow of conversation topics, and pleasing members with different needs. The experience proves you can’t just launch a marketing campaign, high five, and move on. It takes constant maintenance to ensure you’re delivering value, and constant adjustments as things shift and grow.
8. Community matters.
Many group members say they come to the group with any content marketing questions they have. This LinkedIn group has become an important resource for networking and professional discussion, as well as a safe place to ask questions of peers, problem solve, and brainstorm.
As marketers, we sometimes lack inspiration. Having a professional community outside your office walls is vital.
9. LinkedIn matters to marketers.
Research suggests that marketers choose to interact on LinkedIn, a trend that extends well outside our group. Those that care about content marketing also care about LinkedIn. If you’re not paying attention to what’s happening on LinkedIn on a daily basis, you’re missing out.
10. A personal touch sets the tone.
We send personal invitations to many of the people who have joined the group. We welcome every person who joins the group, and I respond to dozens upon dozens of private messages that come my way each day. If that sounds like a lot of work, it absolutely is. But it’s worth it. People come to the group knowing what to expect and what’s expected of them, and they feel important to us on a personal level. Which they are. Personalization is an important part of marketing. It builds connection more quickly than non-personalized messages ever will.
11. Hire a community manager.
I say “we” a lot in this article, and that’s because this group’s growth has been a team effort. My team helps me invite new people to the group, contribute questions and introduce topics, and answer questions from members.
However, the day-to-day moderation and maintenance falls on my shoulders. As a community manager, I spend time becoming intimately familiar with all aspects of the group—who’s joining, who’s interacting, what they’re talking about, and how the group affects our business from marketing to customer service to sales. I keep the momentum going. That’s not bragging. That’s part of my job. If you’re looking to derive real value from an owned community or from a social network like LinkedIn, you need someone (and likely multiple people) with an awesome set of skills dedicated to doing just that.
12. The Content Marketing Academy kicks ass.
Okay, I’m tooting our own horn here. The group is successful not just because of strategies and tactics. It’s successful because of the amazing group members that contribute to its ongoing growth and interactivity. If you’re not a member of the group yet, join today and see why it’s so special. If you’re a marketer, I promise this LinkedIn group is worth your time.