Talking content strategy with someone who's working it.
I am bored of myself. Know who’s more interesting than I am? Peter Harris. So this week, we’re all about Peter, Editor-in-Chief at Workopolis.
Peter is the best kind of colleague – creative, smart, deadline-driven, flexible and funny. In the mid 2000’s we worked together on the Sympatico/MSN portal. At that time, I ran MSN’s entertainment/movie channel and Peter was the homepage gatekeeper. It was his job to determine what stories made the front page, how to properly crop photos to grab the reader's attention, when to drop something mid-day if it just wasn’t working and run a daily story meeting to pick and choose what he’d highlight. He constantly optimized the homepage, helping each channel editor (like me!) to meet their traffic targets.
We’ve both moved on. Now he runs a content marketing shop that’s so powerful, it can move politicians to act. For real.
Q. You've had a rich and varied career, working as both a poet and in the media. How has your background influenced your approach to content marketing/strategy/storytelling in your current role?
Peter: I was an ad copy writer and a travel writer early in my career, and in that line of work, you have no choice but to finely hone your writing and story-telling abilities. But that doesn't always transition to the web. Talented writers and journalists who've always worked in print don't always fare well online. That's because on internet, the audience is never wrong. It doesn't matter how insightful or important your story is – if nobody reads it. If your piece doesn't find readers, you can't blame the audience, it's you who have failed.
And online you have the tools to measure audience response in real time. So you can learn what engages people, and what repels them. It was through being the homepage editor of two portals (Sympatico/MSN & Yahoo! Canada) that I learned to read an audience and optimize accordingly.
Prior to editing those portals, I had spent five years building the original Canadian content for Monster.ca. But we just wrote and published stories that we thought were interesting or useful. They didn't drive much traffic, because traffic for a career website was easy to come by in those days, and content marketing wasn't much of a thing yet. But it was about to be.
When I took the job at Workopolis, I was excited to see what we could really do. I had the career site knowledge, and now I knew about reaching new audiences, optimizing content, and truly generating web traffic. And that's where it all came together.
Since then, our media impressions are up over 1000% with my team running PR, and editorial traffic has increased by 254%.
Q. How do you describe what you do to someone who's not in the business?
Peter: We analyze data to find interesting or informative insights to share, we read the news, study labour market trends, and we write stories. The key is to find the editorial that will resonate with the targeted audience you are hoping to connect with. This keeps you top-of-mind as a trusted advisor. Your audience likes and trusts you because you genuinely help them with useful and engaging information. Therefore they visit your website, share your stories, and recommend your content. (And eventually use your products and services because they like and trust you.)
Q. Do you have guiding principles/pillars that help you and your team focus your editorial plans and content creation?
Peter: We resist the push to sell more. We're in marketing, but it is a delicate balance. We don't disseminate self-serving product pitches. That would turn off the audience, and if we don't have them – we don't have anything.
It often comes down to 'the hook.' Almost anything can be interesting in the hands of a talented writer – if you know what your audience likes. I always ask my team, "Would you click on that?"
But of course the balance is there too: you can't let your writing and topics descend into the kind of click-worthy crap content that is proliferating the web right now. It has to be good, but it has to be good.
Q. What tools do you use in planning and creating content? (like calendars, editorial guidelines etc)
Peter: We have editorial guidelines that we use and give to our team of freelance contributors. These detail the kinds of stories that fall under our mandate (and it's a fairly broad range), as well as the brand voice description, and some best practices on writing for the web.
I'm not a big fan of editorial calendars. Ours is very loose, for big events. For the day-to-day, success comes from being more agile than that.
(Steph’s note: Dear clients, if you’re reading this, you know I like editorial calendars. But remember the other stuff I said? Once yours is done I REALLY believe you need to be CONSTANTLY updating it and, at the same time, reacting to what happens in real time, just as Peter says. Editorial calendars are great for brands and some organizations that might not have a lot of ability to be flexible at the beginning of their content odyssey. It’s a way to start planning and acting on your content ideas. Once you’ve got that down, then you layer on real-time, trending plans. A lot of times people make a calendar and just pump content out accordingly like robots. That’s no good, you have to adjust and react. Having an agile team that can do so is the best solution of all. When I worked in media, we didn't have full blown calendars. We had a broad long-range plan and then a more weekly view on what we wanted to accomplish, which of course varied with the news. That's how it should work. Steph over and out.)
We also don't automate social updates. Automation is the opposite of 'social.' The Facebook audience is different from the Twitter followers. We post separately to each platform and respond in real-time. That's because it's not broadcast; it's a conversation.
Q. What does a typical day (although I know there's rarely a typical day) at work look like for your team?
Peter: I start reading news alerts and a list of news and career sites at about 6:30am daily. I send out an email to whole company (not just my team) at about 7:30am with the latest industry news and topics that will likely be discussion pieces that day.
At work my team starts with an editorial meeting. What is trending on Twitter? Which of the morning headlines could be relevant for us to write about? What should we write ourselves vs. outsourcing to a freelance?
Then we write. And we publish on Workopolis and share through social channels and newsletters. We monitor news alerts and social media all day. Every day.
We also meet regularly with the Business Intelligence team. They provide the data for our art. Big number trends in skills appearing in job postings, keywords sought by candidates or employers, more frequent job changes in resumes, etc. This allows us to write original research pieces with information unavailable elsewhere.
Q. What do you use to measure the success of your efforts?
Peter: I like that it's science. There's no guesswork involved in measuring success. Newsletters are measured from open rates and click-through rates. Stories are measured by social shares and page views.
Monthly we also measure overall traffic from editorial and social as well as how many other key metrics (unique visitors, job searches, and job views) these generate. Those are core company goals and we need to optimize our strategy to ensure we're driving relevant traffic – not just big numbers. But we do drive big numbers.
Q. Why is Content Strategy/Marketing important to Workopolis' overall strategy?
Peter: It's important for traffic. A website needs traffic and we are an inexpensive generator of audience engagement. Plus nobody clicks on ads anymore.
It's important to the brand. When you need help hiring – or finding a new job, you're going to turn to a brand that you trust. Our content is an integral part of building that trust. We keep Canadians informed and up-to-date on labour market trends, hiring practices, and working in Canada. We're the thought-leaders of the industry. That's a level of engagement with an audience that you cannot buy through any other form of advertising.
Q. What's been your proudest Workopolis moment?
Peter: Professionally, it was probably when then MP Mike Savage (now the mayor of Halifax) stood up in the House of Commons and called for the government to support a National Work From Home Day. And the Mayor of Ottawa declared a Work From Home Day for that city. This was a movement we started with a blog post and careful nurturing on social media until it had over 50,000 supporters. Then Labour Minister Lisa Raitt appeared with Savage in a Workopolis branded bathrobe in support. (There's a video about it.)
But more personally, I am most proud of the feedback we get from readers. When someone comments on how much our editorial has helped them get out of a bad work situation or land that job they really wanted, that's always the best part of my day.
Because we're not just selling a product or building a brand. We have the chance to genuinely help real people. And I think that the whole team appreciates that fact resonates throughout the work. And that's why people respond to us.
Thank you for the info, Peter. For all the rest of you - check out Workopolis’ latest news and advice.