Q&A: HOW HUBSPOT KEEPS ITS CONTENT MACHINE RUNNING

This article originally appeared on Column Five.

From ideating and writing to editing and managing, HubSpot Marketing Blog Editor Carly Stec knows a thing or two about the value of content—and what it takes to create it. In our latest Q&A, she shares her thoughts on the keys to great content, the trends she’s most excited about, the challenges of managing a major brand publication, and why sometimes you should just hit publish.

C5: Tell us a bit about your role. What do you do at HubSpot?

CS: I’ve been the Editor of HubSpot’s Marketing Blog for a little over a year now. Previously, I held a seat on this team as a writer—contributing to both our marketing and agency publications.

In the editor role, I oversee the editorial strategy and vision for the marketing section of the blog. This includes providing feedback to our contributors (both internal and external), generating post ideas to feed our pipeline, working across teams to organize campaigns, optimizing our content for both search and lead generation, and conducting experiments and analytical projects designed to improve

That said, I’ve recently stepped away from the day-to-day editing a bit to focus on some larger blog team projects: our blog redesign and our email subscription overhaul. These are two high-impact projects that I’m really excited to have a chance to work on. So … stay tuned! We’ve got some really interesting updates in store for our audience in those areas.

C5: What role does content play in your overall branding and marketing efforts?

CS: To say that content plays a meaningful role in HubSpot’s branding and marketing efforts would be an understatement. After all, it’s the sole reason why my team exists: We are, quite literally, the content team. And there are a lot of us. The bloggers. The multimedia content strategists. The podcast crew. The Medium folks. The Inbound.org team. We’re all creating original content for our respective audiences on a daily basis.

But content creation exceeds the limitations of just our team—it’s truly engrained in everything we do here at HubSpot. We use content to get found by our potential customers. We use content to help solve our existing customers’ problems. We use content to train our teams and partners. We use content to attract new talent. We’re sort of known for it.

And the best part? We’re always experimenting to find new ways to make content work for us and our audience. We’ve recently started testing out “posts as podcasts” as a way to introduce audio into our traditional, text-based blog posts. We’re messing around with video recaps there, too.

C5: What does your team look like?

CS: As I mentioned before, I work on a pretty large content team. But my particular role falls under the blogging subset of that team. On the blogging team, we have seven full-time employees that span across our two main blogs—Marketing and Sales—as well as our agency division.

I work under our Managing Editor, Emma Brudner, who oversees all of the publications. Each blog has a respective editor (that’s where I come in) who then works directly with the team of writers to plan and execute on the editorial calendar. It’s a great mix that’s worked out really well for us.

C5: How do you measure results?

CS: Our team looks after two main metrics: traffic and leads. Recently, we’ve shifted our focus to sit a little higher up at the top of the funnel, so traffic often takes priority when we’re mapping out our editorial efforts for any given month.

Aside from those two, there are a lot of little things we make note of—maybe something we write gets picked up by another publication or it takes off on a particular social channel. Those mini victories are important to acknowledge because the more in-tune you are with what works, the easier it becomes to replicate those successes.

C5: Which marketing trends are on the horizon within the next year?

CS: Ephemeral content, live streaming, and bots.

Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing ephemeral content take shape and find its place this year. Coming from someone whose job it is to fine-tune content before publishing, I’m really intrigued by the raw, unpolished nature of content that simply disappears. The other really interesting thing about ephemeral content is that it demands your attention. Think about it: if you blink, you might miss it. And in a world of eight-second attention spans, this concept presents a unique advantage for marketers that get it right.

C5: What have been the most valuable lessons you’ve learned about content creation/management over the last few years?

CS: 1) Know when to just ship it. People often spend far too long obsessing over all of the little details. Accuracy and comprehensiveness are extremely important, but it’s sometimes better to get something live and then iterate once you have an opportunity to gather some feedback.

2) Scale up gradually. You have to be realistic about what you want to produce and what you actually have the time to produce well. The quality/quantity debate is a tricky space to navigate, but I always lean in favor of quality. Remember: People want to come back to blogs that offer consistent content—in terms of volume and value—so don’t bite off more than you can chew.

3) You’re going to spell things wrong … and people are going to call you out on it. Life goes on ?

C5: What are some of the biggest challenges in maintaining a big brand publication?

CS: I’m willing to bet that a lot of people would assume the biggest challenge I face is coming up with enough post ideas to support our editorial pipeline, but that’s not actually the case. Instead, it’s managing and organizing all of the ideas that we do have that’s proven to be really challenging.

The thing about running a big brand publication is that there are a lot of moving parts. We have ideas sourced from our team’s internal brainstorm, requests for campaign support from our larger marketing team, external guest contributions, etc. So finding a way to organize all of these ideas in a simple, streamlined way is a big undertaking—especially as our team scales. Right now, we’ve landed on Trello as the best place to house our backlog of ideas—as well as our publishing schedule for the next few weeks—but I think this is something we’ll have to iterate on as our strategy matures.

Another challenge? Building and documenting a process for everything we do. I was lucky enough to inherit a really exhaustive written style guide when I stepped into this role, and it’s made training new writers and maintaining a consistent voice across all of our content a lot easier.

But we’re constantly presented with new challenges that force us to stop, think, and make a decision that we all agree on as a team. For example, what are the guidelines around selecting stock imagery? How do we want to talk about product XYZ? How should we think about CTA alignment? These are all important considerations, and as our team grows, the need for documentation in these areas becomes more and more apparent.<

C5: How much content are you personally creating versus managing?

CS: Truth be told, it’s been a while since I’ve sat down to write a blog post. But what I’ve learned by taking a break from writing to explore editing and content management is that that muscle doesn’t go away. It takes a long time to “find your flow” as a writer, but once you do, everything sort of just clicks.

C5: What makes content great?

CS: I view great content through two lenses:

  1. Content that solves a problem.
  2. Content that is memorable.

Content that solves a problem might not come equipped with a super sexy title or a stunning visual element, but if it answers a question that someone has in a really clear and concise way, it’s a win. It’s great because it’s valuable.

Content that is memorable is an entirely different beast. Memorable content is the type of content you can’t wait to run and tell your friend, spouse, colleague, or mom about. It’s the type of content that makes you feel something—whether that be inspired, mad, sad, frustrated, motivated, validated … whatever.

The challenge here? You have to learn when and where each type makes the most sense. Strike that balance right and you’ll be in great shape.

C5: What type of feedback do you find yourself giving marketers/writers most frequently?

CS: “Learn how to anticipate the reader’s next question, and answer it before they can ask it.”

For us, this is the key to comprehensiveness and quality. If we want to write the best piece of content on the Internet about topic XYZ, we have to cover all the bases. I think a lot of the time it’s difficult for people that are writing for a professional audience to get out of their own head. They make assumptions based on what they already know about a topic but don’t stop to consider how the information might translate to someone who’s less informed. This is often referred to as the “curse of knowledge,” and it can be really tricky for people to overcome it.

C5: What are the most rewarding and frustrating parts of your job?

CS: Quite simply, I really enjoy helping people. I love helping our readers get better at their jobs. I love helping our team hit goals we didn’t think we stood a chance against. I love helping writers hone their strengths and shake their bad habits. To me, that’s the most rewarding part.

That said, the most frustrating part has been coming to terms with the idea that blogging isn’t an exact science. I’m very process-driven—I love to have a game plan so I can anticipate a certain set of outcomes. But that’s not the way blogging works. It’s actually really messy. Sometimes the post you pour your heart and soul into comes up short. And more often than not, the posts you don’t expect to take off, well, they do. The key here is to take note of what happens, what works, and what doesn’t work, and learn from i—even when things don’t go according to plan.

C5: Who are some writers that you really look up to and find yourself regularly inspired by?

CS: I really admire Ann Handley’s authenticity. I think her approach to writing is refreshing and a little quirky, but always clear. She was one of the first marketers I felt inspired by—and she remains one of my favorites to this day.

If you haven’t already read “Everybody Writes,” go pick up a copy.

C5: What one piece of advice would you give someone interested in getting into content marketing?

CS: Start writing a little something every single day. It’s much easier to ease into the habit than it is to force it all at once. Even if the world of content marketing is heading in a more video/audio direction, being able to articulate your thoughts or an idea well will always be important.

Many thanks to Carly for sharing her thoughts. Follow her posts on the HubSpot blog to keep up with her. For more wisdom from game-changers in content marketing and content strategy, check out these Q&As:

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