A few weeks ago I attended a Social Media Workshop hosted by the Association of Management Consulting Firms in Chicago. The event was really structured to look at how firms are using social media to both distribute their thought leadership and to encourage dialogue around it. Attendees included marketers from many of the world’s largest consulting firms and content editors from many high profile publications including HBR, McKinsey Quarterly and Forbes. This will be the first of 3-4 posts related to the vibrant discussion at that event.
Forbes: Doubling Site Traffic Through Open Content
Fred Allen, Leadership Editor for Forbes magazine and Forbes.com spoke at some length about the content reinvention Forbes.com has gone through over the last two years. The outcomes are compelling — the site has doubled its monthly website traffic to 30M monthly unique website visitors in just 18 months. And, the process by which they did it is a very thought provoking one for any consulting or engineering firm.
In 2010, Forbes began to recognize a significant shift in the way news is distributed and consumed. Today, people don’t go directly to a content provider anymore. They start at LinkedIn and Facebook to see what topics are trending and what people are recommending as content worth consuming. They then travel to that content wherever it exists. Basically, news is just much more social and much more interconnected than it ever could have been even just a few years ago.
Leadership saw this consumer behavior shift as having wide reaching implications on the publisher’s most fundamental business model. To put it bluntly, they felt that the old newsroom model was gone. News was no longer a one way dialogue of event sharing. Consumers expect a conversation, and want to contribute to the content they consume. Also, Forbes.com was no longer envisioned as a daily portal of edited content, but was envisioned as more of a socially-enabled provider of interesting content from various sources.
Expanding The Content Model
As a result, it decided to move beyond the small news room and engage a wide range of really great outside contributors. As of today, sitewide, Forbes.com has roughly 50 staff writers and over 1000 outside contributors. Most of the contributors are uncompensated, and most don’t expect payment — they’re more interested in the vehicle and the community that Forbes.com represents for them.
Simultaneously, the website was opened up through very relevant, very detailed social media integration. It’s easy for a site visitor to follow a writer or a contributor. Comments, call outs and shares are readily and easily available. The site lists the number of views, the number of likes, and the number of tweets any article gets. And, it showcases which Forbes writers and contributors recommend what content.
The results are, of course, staggering. Doubling site traffic to 30M monthly unique site visitors in just 18 months is a pretty astounding accomplishment.
Applying This to a Professional Services Firm
Obviously, Forbes has a very different business model than a consulting firm or an engineering firm. It is in the business of publishing content. And, it uses that content to sell advertising. By contrast, professional services firms are in the business of providing advice, and they use content to sell their advisory services. That said, I see a number of strategies any firm could apply right away to increase value from their content marketing efforts:
1. Open Up The Content Publishing Model
One of the biggest struggles I see firms have is sustaining the content engine. They have a hard time getting internal content experts to take the time to write. Some firms employ ghost writers — occasionally with great success, often with very little. But, a firm doesn’t have to be the sole producer of content for its website. Why not ask 10 influential thinkers in your space from outside your company to write for your site? Surely you can identify 10 people you respect, but don’t directly compete with, to write for your firm. Unlike Forbes, you may need to pay for their services. A handful of posts throughout the year from recognized experts outside your firm could drastically increase site traffic through the additional sharing and reach they provide for the content. Also, the firm increases the credibility of the content by encouraging outside perspectives.
2. Open Up The Social Sharing Model
One of the incredible statistics that came out of the AMCF session was that only ~50% of consulting firms allow users to like content, share content or comment on content. This is an astoundingly low number. When people are reading blogs or articles they don’t necessarily want all the answers packaged with a nice, pretty bow. They want to contribute and share their opinion. Firms that don’t do this are really missing a huge part of the content marketing mix.
In next week’s post we’ll explore this in more detail, “Why Aren’t Consulting Firms More Social With Their Content?”