There are more than two dozen types of content marketing tracked by the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), with the five most popular being social media, articles on a company’s own website, e-newsletters, blogs, and case studies. But no matter what type of channel you choose--or how good your content might be--context is the most important issue that must be tackled in turning content into an effective marketing tool. It’s not just about creating and publishing content, you must build a community of readers who relate to your message and find your content relevant.

For starters, it is absolutely critical that you pinpoint your reasons for content marketing and tie them to well-defined and quantifiable business goals, says Lauren Fairbanks, chief content strategist at Stunt & Gimmick’s, a creative content agency. “The next step is figuring out what types of content are going to produce the results you want. If your goal is high-in-the-funnel activity like attracting attention and building brand awareness, focus on getting your message to a large target audience. If your goals are lower in the funnel--such as getting leads or driving purchases--focus on content that pushes conversion,” she advises.

Community building is an important aspect of content marketing because an energized community will spread and share your content in ways that a marketing department cannot, says Chris Pilbeam, managing editor at Vocus, a provider of cloud marketing software. Stacey Acevero, the social media community manager at Vocus, says there are four keys to successful community building:

  1. Know your audience. Research who they are online.
  2. Intently listen to your audience or target community before engaging. “Pay attention to the topics they chat about, especially their wants and needs,” she suggests.
  3. Engage in the communities where your audience is most present. “Go where your community is, and stay relevant and on point,” Acevero stresses.
  4. Be helpful, not promotional. “Communities can sniff out a fraud before you even set foot in the door,” she warns.

The choice of which channel or channels to use for your content marketing is highly dependent on your message objective. “If it is brand awareness, then social media and blogs become the preferred channels to stimulate discussions that will induce good word-of-mouth promotion,” says Darren Bosik, chief methodologist at QuestBack, a provider of enterprise feedback management solutions. If customer acquisition is the primary goal, more costly but effective content marketing approaches such as white papers, advertorials, and custom publications should be considered, he says.

No matter what your content marketing objectives or channels, some best practices always apply when targeting an audience or building a community, says Angela Courtin, chief content officer of Aegis Media Americas and president of The Story Lab, the agency’s recently launched content arm. “Be authentic, in the moment, relevant, useful, entertaining, and a good friend. And just be a good global citizen,” she counsels. Adds Pilbeam, “The dynamic of content marketing is that readers trade their time and attention for content that will help or entertain them. Your content should answer a question, solve a problem, or inspire readers. Then you earn the right to pitch them appropriately. Do not blast readers with brand messaging up front.”

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