09 Mar Q&A with Emilie Kopp, Content Manager, SolarWinds
Recently, Emilie Kopp, content manager at SolarWinds graciously agreed to talk with me about her role at the IT management software company, how she manages content for multiple blogs, and the direction they’re taking as they revamp their blogs and work to start conversations instead of just pushing out information.
The majority of folks I talk to about content management have the reverse problem that Emilie does – they are looking for ways to motivate their staff to blog. But, Emilie is working to corral and manage MANY contributors and multiple blogs.
Read on to see how she makes it all work.
What is your actual job function and how does it relate to management of Geek Speak and the other SolarWinds blogs?
I’m actually one of the younger SolarWinds employees in terms of years with the company. I started in May 2014 and the role of content manager was actually a new role for the company. But, content management wasn’t a new concept for SolarWinds. Before I started there was a variety of people that held other roles within the organization that were meeting to try manage the way we created content for our own channels.
I am now leading this charge – of overseeing the creation of written content for our owned channels. By our owned channels I mean: our website, blogs, Thwack community, email, and social media channels.
What is your main focus right now?
There are a couple of blogs that we see the most active participation on and the one that we are focusing on the most right now and are actively building out a strategy for in 2015 is Geek Speak.
Geek Speak is what I’d classify as our main corporate blog. We want that to be a destination for IT pros to come and find answers to the biggest challenges they’re facing. It’s very much meant to be a shared conversation between SolarWinds employees and community members. Not only do our executives and Head Geeks contribute content but we also have Thwack Ambassadors who start conversations about what they’re experiencing as well.
We also have other blogs on the Thwack community that extend the conversation outside of just general IT best practices. Topics covered on these blogs would be a bit too in the weeds for Geek Speak where we try to keep the conversation less about products and more about solving problems.
There is Product Blog, where our product managers get involved in the conversation and provide updates about the products as they are released, how customers can get more out of the products, as well as information on product roadmaps. We have Announcements, a blog where we put out company news, awards, and other news. We also have a blog called The Whiteboard, which is one of the blogs we’re looking at possibly rebranding. It’s meant to provide insight from our executives and we feel like it could be highlighted in a better way.
Actually we’re reevaluating all of the blogs currently, it’s a big undertaking. First, we’re working to more strongly position Geek Speak and then we’re going to branch out and take a hard look at the other blogs to evaluate the mission, internal ownership, contributors, and other factors.
How often do you evaluate your blogs?
I don’t know that they had been looked at before now. I think the blogs were created very naturally out of the conversations occurring in our community and as a company we hadn’t really put too much definition or criteria around who could start a blog.
Now we’re working with our community team to look closely at who has the ability to contribute to our blogs and doing a blog audit. In 2015 we hope to put stronger definitions each blog’s purpose and place, and decide, given that propose, which blogs should exist and who should be the owner in terms of content publishing and scheduling.
For Geek Speak, specifically, how do you manage contributors?
Even though Geek Speak has been around for several years, in terms of having a defined strategy we’re still relatively new. Prior to my team taking ownership of the blog, (by ownership I mean we define what content will be published and who will be responsible for publishing it), we were on one extreme end of the spectrum in that we just made it open to anybody to contribute. Anybody who wanted to start a conversation or draft a post had the ability to do so. This was great in that we had gobs of content, but may have lost us some followers as well because the content was so varied and may have not provided real value to readers.
Now, we scaled it back, but I still don’t think we’ve found that perfect happy medium between open contributors and a very controlled contribution model. The way it exists today is that we have only a small amount of people who have the ability to publish to the blog whenever they want – that is our Head Geek team.
Head Geeks are our technology evangelists and defined into that role is to help IT pros solve their day-to-day challenges. These are the guys that are writing articles for publications and whitepapers for our website, so we know that anything they write is going to be ideal for the blog. In addition to that, we have our Thwack Ambassadors who we work with for content as well. For Thwack Ambassadors, we basically provide writing prompts and help them schedule the post, but otherwise they are open to share what they want about the assigned topic. We also still allow other SolarWinds employees to contribute, but they have to go through a much more rigorous process to get scheduled and approved. We have an editor-in-chief for the Geek Speak blog who keeps an eye on post frequency and topics. He works with all of the employee contributors to make sure they are hitting the requirements we have for content on that blog and schedule out their posts.
Normally I like to ask how you motivate SMEs to create content, but you have so many contributors it doesn’t look like there is any lack of motivation! How do you handle it all?
We never had an issue finding the right contributors for the Geek Speak blog because, at the very least, creating that content is written into the job description of the Head Geeks and Thwack Ambassadors – it’s not their full time job but it’s a large aspect of their job. And, the content they create flows directly out of what they do on a day-to-day basis and conversations they have with customers.
Yes, it’s still a lot of work. And I don’t know if we would put the same level of effort into all of our other blogs, but knowing that Geek Speak is the main corporate blog, the destination that customers and prospects would have in mind when they think of ‘SolarWinds blog’ we really want it to be a home run.
But, it’s also all a learning process. Yes, there are industry best practices that we employ but they don’t always work in every situation. Maybe one day we’ll decide that having five blogs doesn’t make sense and we’ll have categories on our main blog or we’ll decide the conversation about products doesn’t make sense where it exists and we need yet another channel. And we can do that. It’s flexible. We just have to be deliberate and thoughtful about it.
As you’re evaluating the different aspects of Geek Speak, can you share what exactly you’re looking at and what you’re thinking about as you work to make it a destination?
The two things we primarily look at to measure the success are reach and engagement. That will likely be common for almost any blogger that you talk to.
How many views did we get on this? Did people look at this? Did they care about it? And then the engagement is a reflection on whether or not the content resonated.
Part of our mission for Geek Speak is to leverage the community to drive these conversations, so almost every blog post we have (no matter who the author) ends with an open-ended question. I know this seems fairly simple but some blog posts have garnered more than 60 comments. If you were to go back and audit Geek Speak, you’ll easily be able to see which topics resonate with our audience just by the activity (or lack thereof) in the comments section. The hard numbers give us the justification to say that product-focused content doesn’t work on that outlet and we need to reconsider where it is published.
With reach and engagement being the main metrics you look at for the blog, how do those align with corporate goals?
My team sits under corporate marketing, and the corporate marketing objectives are built around brand awareness and reputation. So, having a bigger viewership and readership on Geek Speak relates directly to our brand reach and brand awareness. It also helps bring search traffic to our community and subscribers routinely bring traffic back to the site. The engagement metric actually reflects our brand reputation as well since the more highly engaged our customers are with the blog, the more share of mind that we’ve got and that we are establishing SolarWinds as their trusted advisor when it comes to solving IT challenges.
That’s interesting, because a lot of the marketers I talk to are really, in the end, asked to show how their efforts lead to sales. I know that sales is always the ultimate goal, but their blogs are constructed and managed with the goal of driving sales and if readers are not clicking on CTAs or moving down the funnel in an obvious way then it’s not effective. So it’s interesting to me that you’re able to really focus on reputation and brand awareness and it easily wraps up and ties into corporate goals.
It’s a longer-term play for us, for sure. And I don’t knock the blog mangers who are held accountable for having a direct impact on sales, because that is a tough job. It’s also one of the reasons why, in the past, we got caught up in having a blog post that focused on products and features and at the end had a call to action that linked to a product page. There was a recipe––a formula. And in fact, I’m working now to break that formula.
It was almost a cultural thing that we’re internally battling with. We’re trying to step away from having that direct, measureable impact on sales. There’s actually a more nuanced way to accomplish this and if we do it right, it’s going to pervasively power itself in the future, but we’ve got to start by building a critical mass, awareness, and a reputation as a resource where you can go to find information to do your job better.
I look to Hubspot and Eloqua as best in class blogs and maybe one day we’ll get back to a model where we do use CTAs that make sense. I think when you’ve provided your reader with value, if you’ve done your job well, you’ve positioned your products as part of the answer you can ask the reader to take the next step and address that part of the solution by clicking on a download, subscribing to a list, or checking out a product page. We’ll eventually get back to that kind of post, but right now we need to focus on just establishing our reputation and getting back the readership and engagement we want to have so that we can EARN the right to have that commercial conversation.