Note that I wrote tactic, and not strategy - Content Journalism isn’t an end in itself, and shouldn’t be thought of as such.
Content Journalism is about creating content that demonstrates expertise in your field, and makes you stand out from the sea of regurgitated stuff.
The main issue marketers face when they need to get expert content produced is that most Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) cannot write compelling copy, and most writers have no clue about the topic at hand.
This isn’t to say SMEs should learn copywriting (it’s not their job) or that writers should learn the topic (most writers don’t get paid enough or don’t have enough time to do so).
But that’s the unfortunate reason why most content you find out there is nothing but regurgitated, imprecise and useless fluff.
👉 Content Journalism helps bridge the gap between writers and SMEs to infuse content with expertise without involving experts too much in the content creation process - to move away from regurgitation.
Mixing core journalism practices (research, citing sources, storytelling, etc.) and “regular” Content Marketing allows marketers to create expert and helpful content (mostly) frustration-free.
Here’s what the content journalism process looks like:
Find an interesting angle to cover the topic
Write an outline based on research about the topic + SEO best practices
Conduct interviews with SMEs to gather expertise, anecdotes and quotes
Incorporate expertise in the outline
Get content produced.
This process leads to content that is expert, helpful, and engaging.
Content journalism isn’t the end-all-be-all of content marketing - it can be useful in some situations and completely useless in others.
If you’re writing about guinea pigs, there isn’t much to report on. There’s no interesting angle to find about why guinea pigs can or cannot eat strawberries.
The content is mostly factual - there’s no analysis or insights to provide, no particular expertise to convey.
But when writing about how to use idea collection to increase employee engagement, getting expertise in your content is paramount.
Otherwise, you’ll just be regurgitating platitudes, like “people feel better when they’re considered”, when you could be sharing first-hand experience about driving such an idea collection program at an enterprise firm.
That may help you reach your content production goals, but it won’t make your content marketing program effective.
What exactly do I call “regurgitated content”?
This topic has its own article on our blog, but let’s give a quick example here.
Let’s say you’re looking for marketing automation tools.
You run to Google, click on the first result, and:
That’s 112 words with 0 information in them.
Because the writer has nothing to say about “the benefits of marketing automation” (the angle is terrible), they use buzzwords like “conversion rate”, “workflows”, “scale your lead gen” (yes, I fixed the typo for this one).
112 words, 2 spelling mistakes, and content that basically says: “marketing automation is a thing, and it does stuff.”
This is what happens when you produce content as an afterthought. This company is probably focused on keywords, search volume, and producing lots of content.
I can picture the meeting when marketers have to pull up the data to prove the effectiveness of their efforts.
I wouldn’t want to be one of them.
How does Content Journalism differ from Brand Journalism?
Ok, at this point we have a distinction to make.
I hate jargon as much as the next guy, but marketing is full of it, and I can’t fix it.
Some people confuse Brand Journalism and Content Journalism.
Very similar terms, very different concepts.
Brand journalism is all about promoting your brand in a journalistic way. It’s more about branding than it is about marketing.
It’s used to improve the perception of a brand in the general population, whereas content journalism is a tactic used to produce helpful content as part of your content marketing efforts.
They may sound the same, but the goal is very different.
Content Journalism focuses on helping others - it starts with your audience, the type of content they want or need, and the problems they’re trying to solve.
Brand Journalism, on the other hand, starts with the brand. It’s about the image that the brand is trying to project, and pushing the brand narrative everywhere.
Content journalism is publishing in-depth, expert content on your website, when brand journalism is making interviews in high-profile magazines.
What To Expect From Content Journalism?
Content journalism is not a marketing revolution. It’s not going to boost your marketing ROI by 300% in the next 3 months, nor will it solve content frustration forever.
It can, however, be used to fix some common content marketing issues:
Battling with bad, unhelpful content
Battling with ineffective content marketing that doesn’t contribute to business results
The results of using content journalism in your content marketing are three-fold:
You’ll stand out immediately. This is going to be more and more of a problem in a world riddled with AI content. Having an interesting and original angle to create engaging content will put you ahead of the pack.
You’ll demonstrate real-world expertise. Showing that you deeply understand the problem you’re trying to solve is as important as showing how you can help solve it. This leads to content that converts better because you show that you know your sh$t.
You’ll increase brand awareness and brand equity. Helpful content reflects very positively on a brand. Brands who invest in helpful and expert content can quickly become go-to players in their markets.
You can obviously get these results without going down the content journalism path.
But for high ticket B2B SaaS brands, content journalism removes a lot of frustration.
A Detailed Look At The Content Journalism Process
Now that we’ve established the basics, let’s look at the content journalism process in more detail.
Step 1: Research, Research, Research
As you know, most journalists are specialized in one are - like tech, science, or celebrities.
That’s because it’s much easier to write about something when you know the topic, follow the news, the trends, etc.
(That’s also why most of our content is geared towards B2B SaaS - we understand the specific challenges these brands are facing to reach their audience and structure their marketing).
The first step of content journalism is to research the topic. And you have to go as deep as you can.
Content journalists have to read books, articles, blogs and above all perfect their BS detector.
Our projects are structured in such a way that we know your space pretty well when we reach the content writing stage.
Kickoff calls, customer interviews, topic ideation and competitive research give us a good overview of your industry.
Step 2: Find An Angle
The second step is to find an angle - something unique and interesting that’ll drive the story of the piece.
You could go ahead and write about “What is SEO”, “What is Keyword Research” and all those tings people don’t want to read.
But if you try to find an interesting angle, you could end up with something like “Why the SaaS Keyword Research Game Is Changing”.
That’s not a huge shift - but it already makes for a more interesting piece.
If you can, you should also try to make it fit your brand narrative.
This specific article on our blog does that, because our entire approach to content marketing is that brands need to move away from keywords to ideate content to focus on customer problems instead.
Finding interesting content angles is a tough skill to master, and requires knowledge about the market, the audience and the topic at hand.
Step 3: Write An Outline Draft
Based on research, top search results and your newly-found angle, you should write a content outline.
This is a raw draft of the piece, with the angle, the structure and all the ideas to be developed in the final version.
This is the best (and maybe the only?) way to rigorously formalize your ideas and make sure you understand the topic thoroughly.
As 17th century French author Boileau puts it (yea, I’m French - sorry - and a literature major at that) : “ce qui se conçoit bien s’énonce clairement - et les mots pour le dire arrivent aisément”.
It translates to something like: “What is easily conceived is easily spoken - and words to say it come easily.”
Did you guess why I’m not a professional translator? Yeah …
If you can’t find the right words to express something, or you have to resort to lingo and jargon, it’s because that thing isn’t clear in your mind.
Once the outline is done and we have a good idea what the piece will look like, it’s time to interview subject matter experts.
Step 4: Interview Subject Matter Experts
Interviewing people is also an art. It takes time and practice to run good interviews and get what you need from people.
The outline serves as a good base to go out and interview SMEs - you should have lots of questions by now.
The feedback you get from SMEs could be about lingo (“people actually wouldn’t say something like this”), much needed precisions about the audience (“well, our buyers also think about XYZ when they say this”) or general technical knowledge (“that’s not exactly how XYZ works”).
Subject Matter Experts can be Product Managers, CMOs who’ve studied the market a lot, CEOs who know the ins and outs of the industry, or whoever is brave enough to be interviewed.
💡 Pro tip: we like to group interviews together to save everyone some time. Prep 5 different outlines, and interview people about these 5 topics at once - there’s usually some information overlap anyway.
Step 5: Incorporate Feedback & Write the final piece
The last step of the process is to incorporate feedback into the piece, and write the final version.
At this stage, you should have:
An interesting angle - Hopefully tied to your brand or product narrative
In-depth expert information - Gathered from SMEs
A nice story to tell - Powered by content writing skills
Ideally, once the piece is done, you’d have it reviewed by SMEs as well - but not all companies can incorporate this into their content production process.
You’ll also notice that with this process, the person writing the content doesn’t have to be the content journalist themselves.
In fact, we never have content journalists write the final content. Most of the time, writers take care of this.
This isn’t an issue because the process is rigorous and the outline is very detailed - there’s very little margin for error.
But What If We Don’t Have Subject Matter Expertise?
Marketers do not always have access to in-house experts able to answer every question.
The first thing I have to say here is: if you have nothing specific to say about a topic, but you want to write about it anyway, reconsider.
If you can’t bring anything to the table, and you’re only trying to get undeserved traffic and attention, it won’t really work.
You may get traffic and attention, but you won’t get results.
Back to the topic: imagine you’re writing about Technical SEO, but you don’t have any tech SEO experts on hand.
What do you do?
You can do what DuxSoup did in the example above, and write nonsense on a topic you know nothing about, which makes your whole organization look bad.
Or you can do it the content journalism way, and reach out to people to do what we call a roundup.
The idea is that you’ll gather insights from a few people who know a lot about the topic, and use those insights to create your article, much like a journalist would do.
You may need to be creative and reach out to several people with different profiles depending on the topic.
👉 If you read Prowly’s article on Content Journalism (which you probably already read) this is exactly what they did. Instead of uttering nonsense about a topic they didn’t master, they invested time in reaching out to people, getting quotes and data, and writing a compelling story.
I don’t believe in thinking your audience is dumb and will fall for your BS. We’re writing for smart people who know what BS looks like, and can see right through it.
Trying to fake it by juxtaposing empty words is not going to convince anyone - you’ll just look like a fool.
How To Start Your Content Journalism Journey
Ok Vince, great, so how do we go about it? How do we start with content journalism?
The first step is to change your mindset about content. Don’t think of content as a cost, but rather as an investment.
Yes, it takes more time and effort to produce this type of content. Some companies are uncomfortable investing a lot of resources into ONE piece of content.
But think of it this way: if you write the same fluffy content everyone writes, you’re no better.
Yes, you have it on your site, but it’s useless - even if people visit it, they don’t remember you or consider you. They read and move on.
If you’re trying to get organic traffic out of your content efforts, remember SEO is a zero-sum game: for you to rank on first page, you need to push someone else down to second page.
If you’re just as average as everyone else, it won’t happen.
The second step is to hire the right people.
Yea, that again.
We usually hire people with a journalism background, and teach them content marketing and SEO. This is much easier than the other way around.
Hiring people with social sciences or journalism backgrounds ensures they “feel” the content, are interested in investigation and research, and are trained for it.
If you are a content writer, train, and start changing your mindset from “I need to get this piece out ASAP” to “I need this to say something no one else has said before”.
The third step is … well … do good work.
I’ve highlighted a barebones method, but the best way to get good at something is to fail a lot.
So, just jump in.
And if you need us, we’re here to help (wink, wink).
[Insert Fluffy Conclusion H2 Here]
Let’s wrap it up.
Content Journalism may not be for everyone - and that’s ok. Some brands will make great use of it, others will stay away from it.
It’s more expensive and higher-effort than “traditional” content marketing, and it’s better suited to technical products, or products with high ACV.
The higher in the food chain you need to sell, the better content journalism becomes. If you’re targeting enterprise-level clients, fluffy content won’t cut it.
On the other hand, if your product is self-serve and targeted at a broad audience like freelancers, content journalism might not be the way to go. It may be too expensive or simply too in-depth for your industry.
Remember: it’s a tactic. It can help solve some of your current content production problems and ramp up your content game.
It’s not a get-rich-quick scheme, or a solution to world hunger.
These don’t exist.
I'm the CEO & founder of ScaleCrush. You can often find me ranting way too much about BS marketing advice, fluffy and regurgitated content, and calling out gurus. I also happen to have my very own unoriginal thoughts about the stuff we're going through.
Marketing gurus are lying to you. Am I?
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