What would you do with a blog that averaged 150,000 monthly views?
Do tons more to drive leads, our team decided unanimously back in 2016.
Up until that point, we merely invited readers to consume our blog content, which focused on the latest social media trends. Readers were free to enter and leave the premises at any time. We didn’t ask for visitors’ email addresses in return for access. Even if we wanted to use in-your-face dropdowns begging for an address, we had no special content to offer.
Resolved to do better, in 2016 we began creating premium content monthly. We published lengthier e-books, practical templates, and how-to guides; we also posted blog content pointing to those premium assets. And we hired a full-time inbound marketing expert to generate leads through landing pages and nurture those leads through an evolving set of email sequences.
The results came quickly. Our premium content brought thousands of downloads and our email campaigns turned into a sizeable amount of free trial activations and subscriptions.
Still, we were restless. Was this the best we could do? Within a year, we knew we were ready for something more … something bigger. Yet instead of going deeper into the funnel to garner more sales, we chose to focus on the top of the funnel. We came up with a content initiative that would establish us as thought leaders. And rather than build out our current content site – which had thousands of daily readers – we launched a new blog with zero traffic.
While our existing blog had just won a coveted spot on Social Media Examiner’s Top 10 Social Media Blog list (and was a great conversion engine), it lacked that “oooh, let’s see what Agorapulse says about topic X” factor. Our writing was solid, well curated, and helpful for social media managers, but it wasn’t definitive.
In our space of social media marketing, we felt being definitive wasn’t merely pontificating about a new announcement from Google or commenting on how to use a new feature on Instagram. Becoming a definitive source meant taking the time to see if an original idea holds up in practice. That sounds a lot like the scientific method, doesn’t it? It only made sense that we called the project Social Media Lab.
Conducting content experiments
We hired one full-time and one part-time “social media scientist” to test long-held social media myths that we were antsy to see proven right or revealed to be completely off base. These scientists spent months setting up and running the tests. During this time, we had nothing to show the public so it was a matter of waiting until we had posts about the experiment to push live.
On one fateful week in August 2017, after months of sweating, we published our findings on three tests. Within two months, two of those three posts ranked on the first page of Google for their chosen keywords. And during that time, our lab experiments got social media shout-outs from some of the biggest names in the industry.
We’re still evolving the model, but we’re confident we’ve hit a rich seam of original, data-driven insights.
Agile sprints used experiment
A sprint in Agile methodology represents the period of time you allocate to complete a finite number of tasks. In the development world, it’s common to have weekly sprints. In fact, it’s what our internal development team uses. In marketing, we set monthly sprints.
At the beginning of each month, we decide which activities we’d like to take on (or have been asked to take on). Each activity is given a level of effort (LoE) using the Fibonacci numerical sequence – called “story points” in the Agile world. At the beginning of the monthly sprint, we all get on a call to count the points and assess whether we’ve over- or under-extended ourselves for the month. If necessary, we adjust to ensure we can reasonably complete each activity.
We hold ourselves accountable for these tasks by hopping on a daily scrum call with our team. Each of us has about two minutes to share what sprint tasks we’ve completed since we last spoke and what we plan to do for the rest of the day. We also share what blockers – whether personal or work-related – are in the way of moving tasks forward. At the end of the month, we review each assigned task and explain the success or failure of getting it done.
With Social Media Lab, we are so keen on getting the word out about our experiments that content creation and content promotion get separate tasks and story points. Our lead scientist is responsible for the content from each experiment and I’m responsible for the promotion of each of those experiments.
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Tech tools for content marketing sprints
Asana is our home base for all sprint activities. Our monthly sprint boards hold the LoE, tags, assignee, and latest status of each activity. As a team, we run through our Asana tasks at each month’s sprint kickoff meeting and retrospective. And each of us checks Asana a few times a week to make sure that we (and our direct reports) are on track to meet our goals.
We use Google Hangouts to conduct our daily scrums (our marketing team is spread across seven countries) and a Slack channel called “scrum” to log our daily tasks and blockers. Slack is particularly helpful if one of us can’t join the daily Hangout or if we’re running late to scrum. Since Slack is more of a “push” tool than Asana, I’ve integrated the two, meaning whenever a status is changed on a key Asana project, a message goes out to the team on a linked Slack channel.
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Please note: All tools included in our blog posts are suggested by authors, not the CMI editorial team. No one post can provide all relevant tools in the space. Feel free to include additional tools in the comments (from your company or ones that you have used).
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute