When a company increases the cadence of its publishing there’s a risk of the bar dropping lower than a limbo contest.
There’s no substitute for more quality material, but management and marketers often forget you can’t schedule insight, and good ideas need time to prove themselves in practice before they’re ready for the public. Smash cut to overzealous declarations of, “Sure, I’ll have something interesting to say five days a week!” Standards soon vanish just to get the calendar filled.
While publishing frequency isn’t always the right lever to press in pursuit of your growth goals, increasing it is a generally effective strategy in a marketing practice that benefits from compound returns. HubSpot made this very point with data from their customers that shows a strong correlation between the number of posts published per month and an increase in traffic and leads, a trend that held for B2B and B2C.
Meeting expectations is key
While the research above is useful assurance, it’s equivalent to “eat-your-vegetables” in the world of publishing. Of course more chances at bat will produce more overall hits. The resulting challenge, and the cause of red-faced debates in editorial meetings, is how to keep your batting average high, lest the average value you deliver per post drop below what your audience will accept.
A safe, reader-centric way to approach this cadence challenge is to build and test content archetypes. Archetypes are a deliberate style, or a clearly defined way, in which to publish a good idea. They’re useful because they get you to think outside of the traditional article format when deciding how to assemble your calendar.
Why archetypes work
The main function of content archetypes is to turn consistency and creativity into friends instead of foes; they help make your publishing process repeatable, but not repetitive.
Based on a presentation given by Pete Meyers
This is in contrast to overly strict “templates,” which turn content into a sterile, boring exercise by being rigid on the deliverable details (e.g., how many words to include in an intro). When creating new archetypes, I like to play to their strengths and make sure the following points are surfaced.
1. Plainly state what new value the format brings. Does this archetype help you fill gaps in your content marketing strategy? Where does it fit in your overall plan to publish compelling, informative stories for customers? How does this format help grow the publication in addition to helping customers grow their skill set?
2. Determine where the material will come from. When you have to draw from the well of creativity week after week it’s unarguably valuable to know, with certainty, that there will be material to draw from. With archetypes, you can build separate pipelines to source future content that are far more reliable than “have a genius idea, write a blog post about it.”
3. Identify where the format fits on your calendar. Archetypes are the individual parts of a modular system, so it helps to think about where they fit. This gives you a sense of the true production cost. Since you’ll be responsible for bringing this format to life on a regular basis, what calendar space makes the most sense? (I.e., should you publish a smaller segment on Fridays, or make a larger series bi-weekly?).
4. Set your standards and plan to reach them. Quality comes in different shapes and sizes; a small or less ambitious format can still pursue quality. What does quality look like for this archetype? One way I get the gears turning is to contrast the format to something else. For example, when and why is a checklist more valuable than a long, in-depth article?
Established publications that live and die on cadence always have an archetype or series system in place. A modern example outside of brand publishing can be found in show types on rising YouTube channels. I like studying these upload schedules in particular because they’re set by a small team and are the lifeblood of the channel. YouTubers have to make consistency work, or they don’t eat.
Here’s an example schedule from Snoman Gaming, a channel YouTube recommended to me as being “on the rise.”
Good Game Design, a collection of video essays on what makes a game memorable, is clearly the signature show. But the sole creator also posts game reviews, lists, music, and highlights to ensure the channel has a variety of material to watch. This also mitigates the otherwise noticeable silence that would occur between episodes of Good Game Design.
Company publications can learn a thing or two from these schedules. Audiences find satisfaction in different ways for different formats; time spent on production doesn’t guarantee an increase in reader satisfaction, it only guarantees an increase in scope.
You need to properly pair the material with the format, not try to cram everything into the long form container. Archetypes can be used to reliably create material of varying scope that is unique, interesting, and immediately useful to readers. With a consistent schedule, you’re afforded the time needed to produce the headliners; the big pieces through which you’ll showcase your big ideas.
Archetypes in action
Concepts like content archetypes, while they sound promising, can often feel like they dwell in the sky. Now we need to bring things back down to earth with real examples.
We began establishing more specific archetypes for Help Scout last year, but the current content team has run with this idea and grown it into something even better in recent months. To crystallize what an editorial calendar with archetypes might look like, here’s a sample of what you’ll find on the Help Scout blog, and how each format contributes to the publication.
Archetypes should improve your publishing by complementing your existing material rather than clashing with it. One we had been actively developing at Help Scout were interviews. A classic format, but it did specific and deliberate jobs for us, namely the following.
- Interviews helped us share ideas on topics our customers cared about, but that we had less experience in. We never had a dedicated education team or a support team with over 100 people. But we could talk to experienced practitioners who did.
- Interrogation-style interviews can work for many brands and podcasts. But support is a community with lots to share and not many platforms on which to share it. We preferred to meet somewhere in the middle by giving our interviewees room to speak about their projects without being flanked from all sides.
- All of our interviews were tightly edited. This wasn’t to cover the warts of natural conversation, but to be respectful of a reader’s time. Long, breezy exchanges are a perfect fit for some publications, but we were broadcasting to busy people and bet on the value of keeping things concise.
The interview format serves as a reminder that there are many roads that lead to the same place, but you have to choose which one you’re going to take to get there.
An “immeasurable measure” of quality for a piece of content is the number of individuals, or a teams, that implement the ideas into their workflow. The more readers who take action, the better.
Landing a single core idea is easier when the entire post is dedicated to it. When a key takeaway is mixed in with a slew of other tangentially related concerns, it’s easy to skip.
With the marketing community’s strange obsession with “10x” content, it’s commonly forgotten that writing little things can create value, too. This is how you make use of short-form content: match small but impactful stories with the right length of coverage.
Becca Van Nederynen, People Ops team lead at Help Scout, wrote a post that serves as a nice example. Her piece covered our weekly practice of Fika, a social pastime from Sweden that we adopted to ensure people across departments were talking to each other. The post distilled what Fika could do for other remote companies; no surprise, it was well received and we saw many teams try out Fika for themselves.
3. Contextual curation
You might say all content is curation, because writing transcribes hand-picked experiences and examples to share with other people. But as a format, content curation is an oblique way to approach publishing. There’s far more information produced than can ever be consumed, so if you can separate the wheat from the chaff you’ve saved your audience valuable time.
The biggest risk is getting lazy with the format. You need to move the conversation forward regardless of what you curate. The value isn’t just in links, news, and the goings on, it’s in the context only you can provide.
Help Scout’s latest series, The Supportive, does a great job of this. It’s a video recap hosted by Mathew Patterson on topics that matter in support. Mat keeps the conversation timely, but he also provides a longstanding perspective instead of simply news jacking the flavor of the week. Like all good curation you’re left with something to think about going forward, not just a bigger collection of bookmarks.
4. Product-related posts
An absence of product updates always reminds me of a poorly lit storefront: you may know you’re open for business, but nobody else does. Sharing what you’ve been working on captures your product’s momentum, which helps stave off a reputation of dust and rust. Remember: next to doing the right thing, the most important thing is to let people know you are.
Company blogs usually struggle to find a balance. Either they exclusively broadcast vanilla “We Have This Feature Now” updates, or they actively publish educational, entertaining material but can’t find a way to weave in stories about the product. The latter is an easier fix than it might seem. I’m simplifying a little, but I regularly rely on these four approaches.
1. Storytelling launches. Discovery is what turns event into story. When building new product for customers you end up with by-products in the form of questions raised, problems observed, and challenges overcome. Hard work always leaves stories in its wake. Share them.
2. Compelling context. Content can provide context between customers and new product improvements. Often, plenty of context is needed to help customers understand a feature’s value — to teach about best practices, why it’s worth using, and what results they can get.
3. Regular recaps. Help Scout has a monthly broadcast called Release Notes that details the new improvements made to the product. Customers get an email, but it’s also posted on the blog for posterity, and for the potentially curious reader.
Example: Release Notes
4. Announcements. Sometimes the best route is a straight shot from A to B. While announcement posts have their place, that doesn’t mean they have to be boring.
Example: Introducing Help Scout for iOS
You’ll need to decide how each fits into your newsletter broadcasts, as sending everything to everyone creates value for no one. Segmentation can help solve this problem, but if you’re not there yet, you can make headway by simply deciding what to send and when (e.g., broadcast storytelling launches to all readers, and Release Notes only to paying customers).
5. Q&A’s or pro-tips
Some problems persist because they aren’t worth building solutions for. Similarly, some questions remain unaddressed because they aren’t expansive enough to warrant an article; a short reply is all that’s needed. Q&A sites like Quora prove the point.
Q&A’s as an archetype are the perfect example as to why audience expectations matter. While you might build your clout on long form pieces, that doesn’t prohibit you from occasionally answering short reader questions. In fact, readers (and customers) will welcome it, so long as you provide sharp answers and make the series a distinct segment on the blog.
Help Scout takes a slightly different approach in the form of a pro-tips column for users of support software, written by members of the support team and current customers. Because these posts focus on answering real user problems with tips on tools and process, they’re also useful pieces to send directly to customers looking to get more out of the product.
6. Community syndication
Good ideas deserve the opportunity to land more than once. This is especially true when all that’s holding the idea back is the lack of a larger platform.
We found this was a common struggle in the support community. Smart articles, presentations, and case studies were being published only to be quickly scuttled toward obscurity by the uncaring conveyor belt of the internet. Without the initial push provided by an existing audience, many writers in support struggled to reach their people.
Inspired by InVision, we began syndicating select content from the community to the Help Scout blog. It’s similar to how Quartz or The Huffington Post will re-publish a popular story, but in spirit it more closely resembles how YCombinator will occasionally feature a piece from a founder or operator.
In searching for material to syndicate, we favored two main sources.
Posts from personal blogs
A general rule when sourcing content is to look for quality you can’t quite write yourself. We favored smart takes from leaders in community and user experience design, and we looked for the personal stories being shared directly from support practitioners.
7. Team contributions
Since I’ve already written a lengthy series on publishing as a team, let’s quickly look at how this practice fits into a fast-moving editorial calendar.
To make team writing play nice with a schedule that never stands still, you must be proactive and get on the front foot. This means looking for catalysts of new stories (product releases, project target dates, etc.) before they happen, or at least planning for team contributions well in advance of your normal timelines. When I worked with Stephen on “Illustrations Are More Than Digital Eye Candy,” we began preparing right after his presentation on the subject at our company retreat. Since he had plenty of work on his plate, it was nearly a month later before the post saw the light of day.
This is how many team contributions are going to go, so you should always be skating towards where the puck is going. Big product launch coming up at the beginning of Q3? Start talking about what you can cover today.
Managing a self-imposed constraint
Content teams typically look to publishing cadence as a means to address the very top of the funnel: unique visitors. Archetypes are a great way to deliberately pursue this kind of growth, and they allow you to do so earlier than you might have thought possible.
But it’s important to note that all publishing strategies are directional, not definitive. Your job is to reach the right people, so if new archetypes pressure you towards reaching only more people, you need to change course instead of being beholden to your own creation.
Above all else, remember the frequency you set is a self-imposed constraint. Click publish because you have something to say, not because you have to say something.