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How to Spread the Word Through Content Marketing

Five tips for getting your online content marketing message right.
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Content marketing, the creation of original written and visual materials used to generate leads, is becoming increasingly popular online--because it works. According to the Content Marketing Institute, 91 percent of B2B marketers and 86 percent of B2C marketers are employing the technique, and more than half of both groups plan to increase their efforts in 2013.

"Those who produce keyword-rich online content, including YouTube videos, blog posts, articles and so on, consistently show up on the first page of search results for their targeted keywords," writes marketing expert Ann Handley. The biggest appeal to this approach is cost. In lieu of shelling out thousands of dollars to buy advertising or keywords, marketers employ creativity as currency.

Here are five tips for doing it right:

1. Understand your audience.
Study your prospective audience to determine their needs and interests so you can appeal to them in an entertaining manner. Do it by monitoring keywords and topics (including names of competitors) on your social media platforms to see which drive the most Facebook Likes, Twitter shares, blog comments, etc. Once you have attracted a small audience, use their feedback to create content that will pull in even more followers.

2. Make a plan.
Content marketing requires you to sustain whatever momentum you build through regular postings (daily is best). To keep it going, you'll want to develop a communications strategy that supports--not distracts from--your overall business goals by laying out a detailed editorial calendar of topics for the next few months. Then make sure to share the calendar with the rest of your team, doling out assignments where possible and asking the staff to contribute ideas for new content going forward.

3. Set high standards.
Apply the same standards to your online content as you do to the rest of your business. While effective content generates and nurtures leads, poorly executed content can have the reverse effect and actually damage your brand, causing you to lose readers and business. Play to your strengths: For example, if you're a skilled photographer, focus your content on teaching people how to get the best shot.

Bear in mind that the tone you use in a company blog or white paper (more formal) should be different from how you write for social media (casual and conversational). If you don't consider yourself a skilled writer, you can hire freelancers to do the job. But be sure to provide your writers with detailed editorial standards to follow.

4. Celebrate variety.
Don't limit your online content to routine blog postings or case studies. Consider offering product comparisons, a resource gallery or a directory of helpful information about your industry. Rethink common elements of your website. For example, perhaps you can use your FAQ page to address difficult questions related to your industry, not just your company.

5. Share wisely.
You've devoted so much time to creating meaningful content--now it's important that you know how to share it across appropriate social media channels. To build your brand's presence, set aside a chunk of time each day and use it to connect with others on various networks (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram). And avoid being too promotional; instead, share your best content when you believe it can provide obvious benefits to your followers.