Andrew Boer’s enthusiasm for quality writing became evident just a few minutes into our conversation. That passion fuels his work as president of Movable Media, a custom content agency made up of thousands of writers, bloggers, and editors who are successful subject-matter experts with their own active followings.
Boer, who is a regular contributor to the Movable Media blog, Adotas, and MediaPost, spoke with us recently about what makes for great content, and what brands need to consider in order to create meaningful experiences for their readers.
TCM: Movable Media is not only your company’s name; it’s a concept you support. What does “movable media” mean to you, and why should it be part of everyone’s content strategy?
AB: Movable Media is a play on words. It’s really about authors owning and moving their audiences. We think social media and even search is driving to a future where authors drive the performance of their content.
TCM: How do you work with your clients to help them turn their marketing and brand goals into content that engages consumers and informs them?
AB: This is a tricky area, because if a client is focused on their marketing and brand goals first, and not on helping the reader, they will trip up. There was a classic example recently on a soap opera, where the characters start to talk about the merits of Cheerios. That completely backfired (Stephen Colbert parodied it masterfully), because it served the brand instead of serving the viewer.
TCM: In “The Difference Between Content Marketing and Custom Content” you write, “Brands or firms who are looking to be content marketers will have to overcome all of the same challenges as publishers. They not only have to create great content but also have to figure out how to attract and reach an audience.”
How do you suggest brands and firms begin to explore the ways in which they can attract and reach an audience?
AB: Creating content is easy. Creating great content that attracts an audience is hard. We think the best way is working with authors who are already reaching that audience, and compensating them to do so.
TCM: What, in your opinion, are the essential elements of good and/or useful content? What should it contain for the reader?
AB: Original thought, expertise, insight, and craft. Almost all journalists have the last piece; they are talented generalists, which can be helpful to understanding a topic and distilling the essence. But many of the bloggers we work with also have deep expertise on their subject, which can be valuable as well.
TCM: How can writers earn readers’ trust and keep them engaged from the first sentence on through the end of the piece?
AB: That is harder to do now than ever. The writer needs to construct a compelling narrative, which is where craft comes in. We work with bloggers with audiences partially because audiences are what brands are willing to pay for, but also because any blogger who has demonstrated the ability to create and grow an audience probably has a basic understanding of craft.
TCM: How do you know if certain content isn’t doing as well as you think it should?
AB: We track every article with our own tools, HootSuite, and others. We might look at what an author isn’t doing to promote their piece. For example, at Movable Media we give authors the tools to promote their content and help them to craft unique approaches for sharing on each network, such as Facebook and Twitter.
TCM: In “David Foster Wallace on Content Marketing,” you write, “My view is that content marketing, if done correctly, not only has the potential to be good for writers and brands, but also has the potential to be better for readers.” Why is this?
AB: It used to be that creating and distributing was hard, and monetizing the audience was relatively easy. That has switched. Many publishers are creating “good enough” content—rewriting other articles without a lot of independent or original thought. They simply don’t have the margins to do a better job. They can no longer monetize the audience the way they could. But brands value that audience, so they have the margins to support great content.
TCM: You appear to be very passionate about content. What keeps you excited about content marketing?
AB: (Laughs.) Yes, I guess I do drink my own Kool-Aid at times. The industry is absolutely exploding. The rise of author-driven media and the changes that Google made recently with Panda are bringing us back to the “content is king” paradigm, which we lost for a few years when the content farms dominated the search results. This creates a huge opportunity for new entrants to create great content, while many of the traditional publishers are struggling to keep up.
TCM: What books are you reading now—for business or personal?
AB: I read fiction and nonfiction in equal amounts. The books I carry with me and refer to all the time are Managing Content Marketing by Joe Pulizzi and The Four Steps to the Epiphany by Steven Blank. For personal, I am reading Louis de Berniere’s The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts.
TCM: With the proliferation of e-readers, we’re curious: Do you read books in paper form, or on a tablet?
AB: I guess like many people I read a lot on my computer during the day. The books I’m reading right now are paper copies, but I do read books on an iPad.