November 28, 2012

Lean content marketing: How to do it right

Leo Widrich, co-founder of Buffer, at last night’s Lean content marketing event (photo by JD Lasica).

5 rules for creating content with social appeal

Target audience: Content marketers, agencies, marketing professionals, businesses, brands, start-ups, nonprofits, social enterprises, educators, journalists.

JD LasicaLast night I attended the first Lean Content Marketing meeup put on by, the content curation platform, at their San Francisco headquarters. About 80 folks, a mix of marketers and entrepreneurs, turned out to hear Leo Widrich, CEO and co-founder of Buffer, offer his five cardinal rules of content marketing.

Content marketing, which my partner David Spark prefers to call brand journalism, is the practice of creating content relevant to your brand to gain greater visibiilty in search results and in social channels. Simply put, if you don’t create content, you can’t be an influencer, and you won’t get people talking about your company, product or service.

Where does lean content marketing come in? We’re a stone’s throw from Silicon Valley, where the conventional wisdom holds that a company that’s lean and product-focused will out-perform one that’s too marketing-centric,’s Arabella Santiago explained. Thus, like lean startup culture, the marketing sector could learn a few things from smaller, nimble means of spreading the word about a great new product — with social media at the top of the list. Blasting out a brand message doesn’t work if the underlying claim or value proposition is bupkis.

5 rules of lean content marketing

Leo (@leowid on Twitter) offered five lean rules for lean content marketing, and they all resonated with me, so I thought I’d convey them in a lean blog post.

1Choose quantity over quality. if you spend hours agonizing about creating the perfectly crafted blog post or video, you’ll be reluctant to do the next one. So just go for it. “Hit the publish button,” and let your community help you fine-tune your post, Leo said. It’s good advice and echoes what I’ve been telling clients for years.

For better or worse, four shorter blog posts will likely get you more traction than one longer polished post, he said. When Buffer launched, they aimed for posting four new blog posts a day. It’s the same formula that entrepreneur Jason Calacanis advised when he was running Weblogs, Inc.

2Unlock the hidden power of images. Leo cited a Princeton University study which found that the mere act of adding eye-catching imagery to a blog post or article tends to make it more credible to readers. That’s one reason my consultancy Socialbrite offers a community learning center that showcases dozens of sites where you can choose from hundreds of millions of free images.

3Borrow, copy and steal. Again, here’s no-nonsense advice that’s especially helpful to start-ups. “I’m not talking about copy and paste,” Leo clarified. (Too many sites do pirate content, alas.)

“A lot of people starting out in content marketing try to create a lot of original content right off the bat. We advise them to copy and copy until you’re good, and then you can be creative.” In other words, see what kind of content resonates with your community, no matter where it originally appeared, and emulate those kind of blog posts. How-to articles and top-10 lists may be hackneyed, but they work.

4Don’t just do marketing — offer value to the community. Leo titled his slide, “Help one other person with each piece of content,” but the takeaway I got from this section was: Don’t write just about yourself. Keep your readers and community in mind. What would they like to know about?

Buffer learned to not just write about its own product updates but to publish posts like Five effective content marketing tools (including Buffer). It also doesn’t hurt to mention influencers by name in your posts, like Guy Kawasaki, in the hopes that they’ll help pimp your post.

Leo then waxed a bit philosophical, quoting the glorious African proverb, “If you want to walk fast, walk alone. if you want to walk far, walk together.”

5Keep it real. I took some liberties with this heading, too, which Leo titled, “Show your passion and culture.” The main takeway here was: Be approachable, authentic, human and personable. Don’t become too full of yourself as you become bigger, more successful and more professional.

Buffer made that mistake by gussying up its newsletters — hiring a professional designer, adding lots of images — and then saw its open rates plummet. So it went back to plain-vanilla text-only email newsletters and now has an email open rate of 35 percent, far above the industry average of approximately 25 percent, as well as a click-through rate of 10 percent — again, pretty good.

“Look at the data,” Leo implored. “Make sure the culture of your company comes through. And don’t be afraid to have fun.”

Terrific advice. All of it.

What do you think of Leo’s five rules of lean content marketing?


Content Marketing Manifesto by Rand Fish of SEOmoz (Slideshare)

How inbound marketing benefits businesses (

Why I hate the term ‘content marketing’ ( Lasica, founder of, is now co-founder of the cruise discovery engine Cruiseable. See his About page, contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.

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One thought on “Lean content marketing: How to do it right

  1. I agree with Leo. Many good folks make quality and value #1—which isn’t “wrong”—and find that the value of their efforts low and is unsustainable.
    Quality and value need to be priorities that you work into everything that you do, wherever you can, but unless you can achieve quantity, the overall value of your effort won’t be worth it.
    Yes, it’s a challenge! But that’s why you need to clearly set your goals along the lines Leo suggests to keep on track.