The results you see when a company is a content marketing powerhouse are the culmination of thousands of hours of work to make it what it is.
In my time at Sprout Social, I had the privilege of building and scaling a content program that drove 1M+ visitors per month, brought in significant revenue, and built brand awareness.
Additionally, we now have the honor of playing a part in the content program for dozens of companies and have a front-row seat to what works well.
From this, I have identified the 7 key elements required to scale an effective content marketing program:
Let’s dive into each one for more detail and ways to practically apply this in your company.
In the early stages of a company, everyone starts out with a team of one. Eventually, that grows beyond one person and there are a number of ways you can take it.
In-house, outsourced, or a mix?
Being an agency, we often interact with companies as they are wrestling with this question.
It is honestly rare to find teams that are 100% in-house or 100% outsourced, so some combination is quite common. Even at Sprout Social, we did most things in-house, but always had the majority of blog content created by contract writers.
I have two big points to make on this:
- Expect this to evolve over time. Whatever you decide to do now can always change in the future, so it is typically best to solve for whatever you need right now.
- Consider what roles need to be in-house with deeper context and consistent work and which roles are better off utilizing a specialized skill set that isn’t needed as often.
An example for the second point, if you want to make high-quality case study videos 6-8x per year, hire a contractor to do those. Hiring an in-house video role for that work (and buying all of the equipment) isn’t a good use of the budget.
This is (hopefully) a more obvious example, but consider the work from this lens to understand what should be in-house and what can be outsourced.
Skills that match your ideal content formats
In Season 2, we talked about how you need to understand who your ICP/target audience is, where they spend their time, and how they like to consume content in order to know what content formats to focus on.
In addition to blog content, some of our clients do a lot of video content, others have a big podcast, and some do a lot of webinars.
As you consider growing your content team, it is important to know some of these larger elements of the strategy to make sure that the skill sets on your in-house team align well with your ideal content formats.
One of the most challenging aspects of a larger content marketing program that I’ve encountered is figuring out how and where to draw the lines between content focused on brand awareness and content intended for demand generation.
There are certainly some individuals who can do both, but in a company where there are clear and pressing acquisition targets, a single team trying to do both will almost always be pulled into content strategies and tactics that are biased towards the short-term.
In my experience and what I’ve seen in a number of other successful SaaS companies, it is beneficial to have some type of bifurcation to allow teams to have a different north star metric and work the way they need to in order to hit their goals.
The one caveat is that there must be a marketing leader on the team that can see the full picture and ensures that the teams are coordinating efforts and collaborating, rather than working in silos.
In Atomic Habits, James Clear states, “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”
This is true for companies that want to scale content marketing and hit new goals year after year. You are only going to be as good as your systems.
Here are the three biggest systems that will impact your growth.
Project management is the most critical system in your entire content program.
You must feel confident that everything is properly tracked, that there is ownership and accountability for all tasks, and that anyone who needs visibility into details, dependencies, and due dates has it.
How can you grow if people are still Slacking you to ask when something is due?
Content Management System (CMS)
I don’t have a strong preference on which CMS your team uses as long as 1) it is adopted by your team and 2) it does not have major technical issues.
Within the CMS, make sure it provides you with the content functionality you need to be able to execute your strategy as planned.
This may include:
- Related content plugin or native functionality
- Different CTA formats
- Ability to embed resources
- Different page and post templates
- Ability to create a table of contents
- Ability to format content callouts for featured snippets
Every initiative cannot be a bespoke design and you can’t depend on developers to make small additions or one-off functionality each time.
As your content program goes, you will have more teammates and contractors contributing and you need to ensure that your systems include clear internal guidelines.
The most important guides are:
- Tone and voice guide
- Brand style guide
- Consistent writing style (AP, Chicago, etc.)
It may not feel like a big deal now to make a few tweaks here and there, but the overall style cannot be dependent on one person and over time, those little tweaks will add up to a lot of work.
Let’s be honest. Most people don’t get excited about “the process.” It can feel restricting and raise concerns that your content won’t be creative because it is too regimented and machine-like.
However, when you have a good process in place, it actually frees you up from dealing with the same problems over and over and enables you and your team to spend more time being creative and focusing on creating quality content.
Clear end-to-end process
You need to know what the entire process looks like for content to be created, published, and distributed for each content format. Blog posts, videos, and webinars all have a different process, so make sure you have all of those nuances mapped out for each one.
End-to-end processes should also include things like:
- Who is responsible for approvals
- Service Level Agreements (SLAs) between teams
- How and when tasks get added
- Prioritization guidelines
This is a big, ongoing task, and these processes will frequently be refined, but it is one of the most valuable areas that you can spend time improving for your company.
It can be tempting to hold off documenting the process until it is finalized but as I just mentioned, it will never really be final.
Creating clear documentation of your process and the roles and responsibilities of the team is critical to ensure that the process is followed and new team members or contractors can easily get up to speed.
For Ten Speed, we’ve found that a 4-5 minute Loom video can save hours of time internally.
Don’t overcomplicate things and make the documentation task any bigger than it needs to be if a quick video or light documentation will do the trick.
Having a clear content calendar for your team is a critical part of your process. That’s right. Content calendars aren’t a strategy, they are a tool for the process.
Your content calendar will help your team (and leadership) understand what is going out when, which eliminates a lot of one-off questions and aligns everyone around the same production expectations.
As noted earlier, you begin to have multiple teams over time that are responsible for different types of content and the coordination of all of it is critical. Even within your blog, you may have HR posting about a ‘best places to work’ award, Product Marketing posting about a new feature launch, Brand posting a piece sharing the company’s stance on a current event, and Demand Gen posting SEO content and a webinar takeaways post.
Even for smaller companies, it can get crowded quickly, so establish the content calendar early, make it visible to the entire company, and lean on it as a critical part of your process.
There are a lot of different things we can get into with content strategy, but I want to really focus on the role that strategy plays in scaling a content marketing program.
All of the systems and processes in the world won’t matter if you don’t have a clear and effective strategy for your company.
Tie to business outcomes
No one needs traffic for the sake of traffic, so make sure that your strategy is tied to business outcomes that the company cares about.
Does that mean that all content needs to generate leads and revenue? No.
For example, most SaaS CEOs want to build a company that is a leader in their space. So, what can you incorporate into the content strategy that you can say, “we are doing x, y, and z because they will help establish us as a leader in the space.”
Big picture, multi-year vision
Every company has to start executing and learning along the way in the beginning. However, part of scaling and maturing your program is that you grow out of that phase.
Once things are moving and you have some learnings about what is working and what isn’t, you need to develop a bigger, multi-year vision for what the content program will look like.
Maybe you have some traction in organic search and there is a ton of room for growth so the blog is going to be a huge factor. Maybe video is working well and you can see a path to building a huge media hub.
Whatever it is for your company, give the team and your leadership something to look to down the road that can guide investments and prioritization.
Annual, quarterly, monthly
Your content strategy needs to be laid out and communicated annually, quarterly, and monthly.
If you are only creating a strategy for the year, it is going to be difficult to stay on track and complete everything needed to get the desired results.
If you are only creating a strategy monthly or quarterly, you won’t have a good idea of where you need to be at the end of the year.
Create your annual strategy, then work with your team to break it down by quarter and by month to establish a clear and executable plan that stays on track with the big picture.
Quick note: You don’t need to have every blog post topic or webinar topic planned at the beginning and it can be beneficial to leave some margin for teams to do what they need to topically inside of the larger framework for the year.
Recommended Reading: Advice From The Many Faces of Content Marketing That SaaS Teams Can’t Afford to Miss
How do you create quality content at scale?
A lot of companies start out strong at the beginning because there aren’t many expectations being put on the content yet. No specific goals on reach or traffic and typically not a set content strategy and calendar.
When the content program begins to grow and those expectations show up, it can become more complicated to understand how to do things well at scale.
As mentioned earlier, the people you work with to create the content need to have the right skill sets and specialization for creating the content.
The need for specialization will continue to grow as you scale your content marketing program and will continue to be a more diverse mix of in-house and contract creators.
That said, it always seems to prove valuable to have 1-2 folks on your team that can span across a number of areas to fill in for people on vacation, support a bigger push, or anything else that might be needed.
A huge factor in your ability to execute against your content strategy is understanding the bandwidth needed to do so.
If you can’t actually do all of the things in your strategy, then you need more resources or you need to scale back your strategy.
Bandwidth is typically the number one reason that content teams work with freelancers or agencies. It can be a lot faster to onboard an outside resource with a specialized area of content creation than to post a role and hire for it internally.
I’m sure that the content you create is quite good, but unless your entire addressable market is waiting for each piece you publish, you need content distribution.
Many content marketers have heard of the idea of spending 20% of their time creating content and 80% distributing content (not sure there is one person to attribute this to), but very few actually do it.
In fact, I’d argue that most SaaS companies are spending 95% of their time creating content and 5% distributing content.
Have a clear plan
The best way to ensure that you are actually distributing your content beyond publishing the blog post, podcast episode, or YouTube video is to create a plan for how different content formats will be distributed.
Teams are typically better about this when they are working on a bigger content campaign, but it doesn’t happen consistently with all content.
Let’s use a new blog post as an example. Each post should be:
- Optimized for organic search
- Linked to other content on your site
- Included in a newsletter
- Shared on social channels
- Provided to the team to share (social advocacy)
- Added to a sales enablement library
This isn’t an exhaustive list and doesn’t even get into repurposing that content into other formats (up next), but it at least gets the content you spent time creating out into more places than simply sitting in your blog.
The best way to really get the most out of your content and achieve that 80% of time spent on distribution is to repurpose your content into different formats.
The hardest part is creating the initial content, so turning that into several more types of content is about execution more than anything else.
If we use that same example of a single blog post being written, here are all of the ways you can repurpose that content (let’s assume about 2,000 words) into more.
- Extract parts of the blog post and create 15-20 different social posts
- Create 1-3 short videos covering the same topic
- Create 1-3 podcast episodes covering the same topic
- Create a webinar covering the same topic
- Turn the post into a PDF guide
Now, you probably shouldn’t try to do all of those things for every single blog post, but you get the idea. The content is there and if you plan appropriately, you can do a lot more with it.
The other great thing about repurposing is that you can do it retroactively. You can bundle a lot of existing assets on the same topic into a kit, repurpose your highest performing content, or many other things with existing content.
The biggest factor is changing your mindset and the expectations of your company to get off the hamster wheel of always creating new content and establishing a blended approach to new and repurposed content.
Recommended Reading: Yes, You Should Be Repurposing Content [+7 Examples To Get Started & Expand Your Reach]
In the end, it all comes down to having the right data to show the progress being made and to inform future strategies.
Two levels of data
I typically recommend that companies have two levels of metrics.
The high-level metrics are limited to 7-10 key areas of growth that help give leadership an idea of progress without getting overwhelmed by a 15-tab spreadsheet or dashboard with 45 charts.
The detailed level of metrics is for the content marketing team. Inside of each of the 7-10 leadership metrics should be a lot of detailed tracking the team is reviewing regularly to understand progress and performance.
If leadership has confidence that you are on top of the details and can speak to any positive or negative changes in the top-line metrics, they will typically be comfortable with staying out of the weeds.
Here are some examples for both:
- Total content impressions across all non-paid channels
- Total traffic to content
- High-level engagement metrics
- A roll-up of video and/or podcast metrics
- High-level conversion/pipeline metrics
- Webinar attendees organized by ICP or customer segment
- Total number of blog posts generating leads or signups
- Detailed social engagement metrics
- Detailed newsletter engagement metrics
- Total and average view time on video content
Obviously, these metrics need to be tailored to your specific channels and content formats, but you can see that each set of metrics serves a purpose and will help drive your company forward.
A big factor in the measurement of your content marketing efforts is how that information is packaged up and communicated.
The metrics are the metrics but the communication of progress is what helps drive budget increases, team growth, and overall executive team support.
Here are some key areas to consider:
- Have an executive dashboard with the high-level metrics available and widely distributed. Have detailed reports ready upon request for areas that need a deeper look.
- Write and share an update quarterly on the progress, learnings, and challenges. Scaling a content program is a long process and proactive communication will go a long way.
- Continuously align with leadership on the long-term vision and opportunity rather than getting sucked into the details of specific tactics or knee-jerk campaigns.
Recommended Reading: SaaS Content Marketing Guide: Build a Strategy that Increases Brand Awareness and Influences Revenue
Building and scaling a highly-effective content marketing program is a journey that not everyone has the opportunity to do.
If you are at a company where this is a priority, take advantage of the experience and keep pushing and refining. Eventually, you will look back and realize what a massive amount of growth you and the company have experienced as a result.