One of the most important and often difficult aspects of inbound marketing is content development. it's essential to have current, meaningful and relevant content that speaks to and motivates interested prospects to reach out and connect with your firm.
Most accounting marketing professionals understand the importance of content in the inbound marketing cycle. Unfortunately, they often don't have the time or resources to focus on content development. Instead, they are left with either having to hire a writer (full-time or outsourced) or to implement a content development program internally.
I have found that a growing number of marketing professionals are being tasked with the challenge of implementing a program internally. In other words, it's being left up to them to make it happen. This approach is burdensome and difficult, and, from my experience at CPA firms, virtually impossible.
Simply imagine how daunting it would be to get professionals with billable responsibilities to take time to focus on writing articles. Imagine how partners and managers react when they get the news that they have been tasked to produce content. Generally speaking, one of two things happens: Either they agree to help and magically never have the time, or they simply disagree from the outset, making the process all the more difficult.
Despite the gloomy picture I have just painted, it turns out that there are several firms across the U.S. that have proven me wrong. In an effort to help firms that may be considering an internal content development program, or that may need to add some pizzazz to the program, I have provided an outline below of key elements from other firms' successful efforts.
KEYS TO A SUCCESSFUL APPROACH
- Identify a champion. As with most projects, it's essential to identify a partner-level champion to move efforts forward. In the firms we observed, in almost every case the managing partner or managing director was the champion. They made it a requirement that staff (including partners) need to participate in developing a certain number of articles each year for use on the blog, Web site and in other forums. The details for each firm were a little different, but the guiding principles were the same. There was a mandate to participate in the content-creation process. This is the most important part of the program, and this effort created unmistakable leadership with objectives and goals. If you don't have a champion, then you can expect to see very little participation.
- Determine firm authors. It's a common mistake to think that partners should be the only ones participating in a program like this. Partners are very busy and have client demands that will often divert their attention. It's essential to tap into senior managers, managers and supervisors, as well. They are more likely to have additional time they can dedicate to the process - and they may even be eager to participate, so make it a firm-wide program. The more professionals you include in the process, the more likely it is to be a success. Diversity in content is important, and involving a greater number of professionals from different focus areas will ensure a broad spectrum of content.
- Create a content calendar. Identify what subject matters you want to promote at what times of the year. Depending on the expertise of your professionals, you may want to focus on promoting niche-related content at one time of year and then service-related content at another. Perhaps you just want to focus on building up content related to a specific issue that is impacting all of your clients.
Whatever the case may be, it's essential to have a written calendar that clearly identifies what topics are going to be covered and when. Of course, in the beginning flexibility is critical, but as the program matures, you should be more concise about the type of content you are seeking. Remember to visit the content calendar regularly and be flexible enough to allow changes should a hot topic arise.
- Define eligible content. While the calendar will provide direction on subject matter, it's still up to each author to identify a topic to write about. For example, the content calendar may call for an article on employee benefit plan audits to be written in March. However, no additional direction beyond this is provided. As a result, suggesting ways for each author to brainstorm a topic will play a key role in getting the desired content. One firm suggested that authors review recent client e-mails to find a question, comment or other exchange that covers an important issue or topic. Others have encouraged authors to consider recent seminars and presentations they attended to identify pressing issues, topics or questions that arose. Consider how these items could be turned into articles. What angle makes the most sense for the firm's target audience?
- Past published content. Provide examples of past published content. This is important as it gives authors an idea of what an article should look like, how it should be formatted and the end goal that they are working toward. The firms we observed shared that it's best to provide examples of tax articles to tax authors, audit articles to audit authors, and so on.
- Offer support. Support from marketing is another important component within a successful content program. In the beginning, authors will lean heavily on marketing for support in all stages of the process. The reality is that they are being asked to do something that, for most, is completely outside of their comfort zone.
Hand-holding and ongoing encouragement will help ensure that they become confident in their task. Some will need more support than others, and the need may be ongoing for a period of time.
Prepare your marketing department accordingly, and ensure that there is time built in to help support contributors. Remember, the program does not function on autopilot simply because you have provided tools to help get them started.
Implementing an internal content development plan is not a simple process. If you have the blessings of management and a willing group of professionals, though, it's not beyond your reach. Your firm's intellectual capital and thought leadership are what clients come to you seeking, so begin implementing a program that highlights and shows off the assets you offer. Every day is another step closer to reaching your prospects.
Brian Swanson is a principal with Flashpoint Marketing, a marketing and lead-generation company focused on serving the accounting industry. He is certified by the Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organization in Internet marketing, and as an Advanced SEO Specialist. Reach him at (888) 428-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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