What comes to mind when you hear the word “automation”?
The Terminator? Artificial intelligence? A Ford Model T? The word conjures many myths and Hollywood lore in our minds. Which is why when most marketers discuss content marketing automation, there’s bound to be confusion.
“You said automation! Where are my sentient content robots?!”
While artificial intelligence tools like Wordsmith can draft basic original content via algorithmic and rule-based intelligence, they are far less sophisticated than hype would have you believe. Let’s just get this out of the way as long as we’re on the topic; content marketing automation does not equate to AI software applications or robots that can automatically generate all the content for your brand.
The marketing automation software industry is booming and is expected to grow by over 19 percent in the next five years to hit $14.15 billion by 2024. The reason for this is simple. Automating marketing tasks can save time and money and improve the effectiveness of campaigns.
Automation tools have come a long way since the first email autoresponders. It’s now possible to automate tasks at every stage of your campaign, from initial competitor research and content creation through to optimization and final analysis.
You still need writers, marketers, thinkers, creators, designers, data scientists, and human nerds galore – even if you are going to automate select aspects of your content marketing workflow.
So, this begs another question; what exactly is content automation?
Content Automation Defined
In its simplest form, content marketing automation means using software to streamline as many aspects of the content marketing process as possible. This includes content generation, distribution, team performance, and content performance measurement. A good example is consolidating content planning, brainstorming, and content performance measurement under a single toolset.
Like its cousin, marketing automation, content automation seeks to transform traditional content tasks into automated processes that can save your team time and money.
On one hand, marketing automation platforms like HubSpot and Marketo transform what used to be manual marketing activities like lead database segmentation, email and landing page creation, into automated tasks that can be managed from a single interface.
On the other, software applications like DivvyHQ streamline manual, content-centric processes like idea aggregation, editorial scheduling, workflow/task management, team communication, deadline accountability and content strategy analysis/reporting.
Why Do You Need Content Automation?
Content automation provides an excellent way for businesses to do the two most important things: manage expenses and grow revenue. Do you think business owners will ever get tired of that? In fact, content automation can actually drive ROI. It’s also ripe with benefits. There are numerous advantages to content marketing automation, including:
- Saving time
- Reducing costs
- Making smarter decisions
- Generating higher quality leads
- Improving team accountability
- Inspiring creativity and ideation
- Building a more relevant social media presence
Multiple trends are emerging in content marketing. To continue to generate leads and profits through content marketing, you’ll need to evolve and make sure of the following:
Content Needs to Be More Personalized
It’s no secret that audiences respond more favorably to content when it’s personalized. AI/machine learning can help with the ability to integrate dynamic content based on different parameters. Simply put, AI can segment your audience much better and faster than you.
This segmentation and tracking enables you to present different content to different visitors on your website. This could be based on their previous purchases, pages viewed, their industry, or more.
Dynamic content can also be useful in email campaigns. AI helps here as well, especially drip campaigns that are triggered by a buyer’s actions. This way, the content and messaging they are receiving from your brand are more relevant to their experiences. This connection often leads to better engagement in the form of opens and clicks.
Content Marketing Needs a Central Hub
Content automation is best executed when it has a central hub like a content marketing software platform. The future longevity of content automation depends on this. If you don’t have a central hub, content automation loses its key benefits of reducing time and resources spent.
When you have a single system that can handle all the automaton features you require, it becomes easier for adoption. So, what does your platform need? It should have these standard features:
- Content calendars that can be shared and accessed with ease
- Production workflows, including simple and complex processes
- Your content archive – storage of approved assets with relevant metadata
- Automated reporting – don’t waste time combining analytics from multiple systems
- Integrations and an open API – connecting your content hub to multiple downstream delivery systems
Deployment and Disbursement of Content Must Be Simple
It can take a considerable amount of working hours to publish all your content manually and then subsequently post it or set up ads on social media. A robust content marketing platform and integrations with downstream publishing tools can help you automate these tasks.
No one wants to go back to publishing directly on those profiles. It’s not efficient and would require way too many physical resources. It’s another reason why content automation won’t be going away anytime soon.
Automate Content Creation
If you think of automated content as nothing more than the nonsensical content produced by article “spinners” in an attempt to manipulate Google’s algorithm, you’ll be shocked to see what today’s content automation software can do.
The AI industry has made huge leaps in the last decade, and one area where this is really obvious is content creation. News publishers have already been using automated content creation tools for several years. For example, the Washington Post uses AI technology to write short reports and social media updates on sporting events.
To get an idea of just how sophisticated AI-powered content generators have become, just look at the example of GPT-3. Even the previous version of this AI model is so effective at writing “fake news” that OpenAI, the nonprofit that created it, was forced to withdraw it from public use for fear that it would be misused.
However, most marketers won’t want to automate the entirety of their content production. But, automated tools can be very helpful to post social media updates, short news alerts, and other small snippets of content.
aul Roetzer, one of our advisors and founder of the Marketing Artificial Intelligence Institute, has a clear opinion on the state of automated content creation. “We’re a long way away from robots replacing creatives and writers. There are platforms available today that can generate highly templatized documents like financial reports, but Johnny 5 is not guest blogging for you anytime soon.”
Content automation tools can also assist in the content creation process by recommending topics to write about and keywords to include. Some content creation tools will even create an entire article outline complete with subheadings, which you can then pass directly onto a writer for production.
One other area where AI can be as good, if not better, than human writers is creating headlines. AI-powered tools can generate a headline based on your content, optimized to catch the attention of your audience.
Automate Content Curation
While AI will likely never fully take over for humans when it comes to content creation, content curation is definitely one task that you can turn over to the machines.
Content curation is essential for maintaining your presence on social media, but it can be incredibly time-consuming to find enough high-quality and relevant content to fill your feeds.
Content discovery tools can scour the web for content related to specific keywords and rank it based on social shares, likes, comments, and other criteria. You can then select the best content to post to your feed from the suggested selection.
Automate Content Workflows
If you understandably don’t want to give up any of the important task of content creation to a machine, you can still benefit from content automation. Content automation platforms can streamline your workflow and save you hours of time by allowing you to queue up and schedule your social media post and other content in advance, posting it automatically at a pre-selected date and time.
Content scheduling tools can also assist you with selecting the best times to post for optimal engagement and even find new channels for you to distribute your content.
Sometimes it’s not tasks that need to be automated, but the actual assignment and management of tasks. This is another key advantage of DivvyHQ. Users can easily create custom workflows that will automatically populate when you add items to your content calendar, so you don’t have to repeatedly map out plans and processes. This can end up saving a lot of time, especially for high-volume teams with numerous contributors.
Another time-saving aspect of DivvyHQ is the automated reminders and notifications. When someone completes or approves a task upon which you are dependent, you’ll receive alerts (both via email and in-app) to let you know that you’re good to step in. This removes the need for manual updates and helps eliminate gaps and snags when a project changes hands.
Automate Content Marketing
The 2019 In-House Creative Management Report surveyed more than 500 creative and marketing professionals and unsurprisingly found that, “As teams grow, creatives are stuck spending more time on administrative tasks.” In fact, nearly half of respondents said they spend one day a week or more on non-creative work, and a troubling 22% “indicated they spend 10 hours a week or more chasing down information, feedback and approvals.”
Year-over-year data shows that this issue is getting worse, not better. And the stakes are high for content marketing managers. The report also found “creatives that spend just four hours or less on admin tasks each week are more likely to report effective leadership, use of best practices and an ability to get creative assets into market producing results more efficiently.”
If you’ve not yet fully embraced automation in your marketing strategy, the time is now. Today’s marketing automation software is incredibly sophisticated and yet highly cost-effective. Whatever investment you make into automation tools and platforms will be recouped quickly in the form of increased efficiency and improved campaign ROI.
“Automating all internal workings of a marketing team isn’t possible yet, but there are plenty of automation tactics that can be implemented quickly and painlessly,” wrote Gain CEO Albizu Garcia at AdWeek. “There’s plenty of proof that automation helps marketing teams work faster, as well as be more organized and efficient.”
Let’s take social media and email — two close cousins of core content marketing (read, blog content on your website):
Social Media Publishing and Promotion
Once we’ve created awesome content, we need to share and promote it. Social media is a fixture for this purpose, but getting those promotional posts out can be a grind (especially if you want to cover each major network with multiple messages).
There are plenty of dedicated tools out there for social publishing, but most DivvyHQ users prefer to just handle it within our app. You can easily compose, schedule, and track social posts in the platform, making it easy to grab a snippet or excerpt from the content item and craft your messaging around it.
Broadcasting is one key element of a social media strategy, but so too is listening. You want to be stay aware of what people are saying about your brand, and can easily do so by setting up a mechanism to alert you any time your company’s name (or specific terms of importance) is mentioned.
If you’re looking for help on this front, HubSpot has a great list of free social monitoring tools.
Email Marketing Campaigns
From newsletters to product updates to seasonal campaigns, email is an excellent channel for reaching your customers directly. But executing email marketing is not the most frictionless endeavor — you need to schedule deliveries, manage your subscriber list, remove opt-outs, and (ideally) optimize continually based on results.
An email marketing platform with automation features can be tremendously helpful for these purposes. And while there are plenty of popular ones out there, in my experience it’s tough to beat MailChimp.
Automate Lead Nurturing and Sales with Content
Automation tools have existed for email sales and lead nurturing for a long time. As email tends to be used for sales and marketing on a large scale, and a single campaign may be sent out to tens of thousands of people, it’s simply not practical to handle this manually.
At its simplest level, automation software can be used to automatically send out an email to a new lead when they sign up to your list. But, there’s a whole lot more you can do with automating your lead nurturing process.
You can drip feed a series of emails over time to build a relationship from initial contact to an avid subscriber. You can also trigger emails based on actions such as opening an email or clicking a link.
By setting up different triggers, you can create unique customer journeys, personalized to each individual and optimized for conversions. And, once you’ve done the work to set this up, you don’t need to lift a finger as everything is automated.
Automate Content Analytics
Content analytics is an important part of these automation tools as it enables you to track the performance of your content across different channels and optimize your distribution process as you go along.
While every marketing team has access to content stats and metrics these days, digging through them to derive KPIs and actionable numbers is often a slog. I recommend using a tool that simplifies your content marketing analytics by providing a quick overview with your most critical indicators front-and-center. Our Enterprise Plan has a terrific feature for this purpose, and there are also numerous dedicated apps that do similar things.
Automate Content A/B Testing and Optimization
Do you have two potential headlines for your article, and you’re not sure which one is more effective? Or, maybe you want to experiment with different images on your social media posts to see which one gets the highest click-through rate.
Split A/B testing is the traditional way to measure the effectiveness of two different versions of a single piece of content, but it can be very time-consuming when done manually and can quickly become complicated if you’re experimenting with more than one variable.
Automated testing and optimization tools take the hard work out of optimizing your content and marketing campaigns. With AI-powered tools, you can even experiment with thousands of iterations of a single landing page or piece of content, and the software will intelligently optimize it with each individual who visits the page.
Pitfalls in Being Late to the Automation Party
The key to content automation delivering ROI and other advantages is that you must leverage it for what it can do NOW, and prepare for its capabilities in the future. In fact, here are some horrible time wasters and “substitutes” that companies commonly use but should get rid of at the earliest:
1. The Spreadsheet as Your Content Calendar
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again, spreadsheets are ruining your content marketing strategy. While using an Excel spreadsheet works great for expense reports, it becomes extremely cumbersome when used as an offline content calendar.
In our recent research, we found that marketers using offline tools for content planning simply didn’t see as much success. Wondering why? It’s simple. The best teams use content calendars collaboratively.
Perhaps only a small number of managers are fleshing out the content calendar, but the rest of the cast of creatives and executives can benefit greatly from real-time access and visibility. For example:
- Senior management needs real-time visibility to help them make resource decisions
- Management (or clients) need access to content to review or approve
- Writers need visibility and access to manage their personal schedules and tasks
- Search engine wizards need to weigh-in on topic ideation and content access for keyword optimization
- Your social and paid media teams need real-time updates on publishing deadlines to launch promotions/campaigns
- All parties benefit from seeing what others are working on in real time.
With all those parties involved, a spreadsheet constantly getting passed back and forth offline creates multiple dependencies and bottlenecks. This is insanity, not automation.
Content marketing automation software can clear this up, arming you with collaborative online content calendars that are far more visual, nimble and real-time than any spreadsheet. Using online tools you can assign roles for specific team members, and get everyone working on different aspects of content at the same time.
2. Using Email for Team Collaboration
Many teams dealing with content use email to communicate. No surprise there. But using email as the de-facto tool for collaborating simply doesn’t work.
According to the Washington Post, professionals are spending nearly 20 hours a week checking their email. The Post went so far as building a calculator to calculate how much of one’s working life has been wasted playing email ping-pong.
Keeping a team of people organized around ideas, drafts, strategy or results via email can get stressful fast, especially with more than a handful of people involved.
The problem with email is that it forces us into a state of constant distraction and multitasking. Productive collaboration, idea generation, and staying organized require focus. Trying to use email as a content collaboration tool is simply painful, unproductive, and will end in lost documents, missed connections, and frustrated team members.
3. Conducting Meetings in Place of Process
“I love meetings” is not something you’ll hear echoing through the halls of many companies. And for good reason, too.
According to Atlassian, your average meeting goer spends 73% of their time doing other work while in meetings, and 91% report they also daydream through meetings. If you can look yourself in the mirror and honestly say your meetings are any better, than congratulations – you’re an anomaly.
So why are the majority of meetings unproductive, and meeting goers so disengaged? Because most of them are unnecessary.
The problem is twofold. In many of our organizations, meetings are used quite literally as process. When someone needs to see departmental action, what do they do? Call a meeting. Develop a steering committee. Huddle up to “get to the bottom of it.” But 99% of the time, nothing happens in meetings. It’s talk, and more talk. Reviewing the status of projects, deliverables, and timelines? Also just talk.
If you’re using meetings to drive process when it comes to content, you simply won’t see much progress. Equipping each team member with the right tools, the right strategy, and the room to do their work is how you make the gears of process turn. Content marketing automation software can play an enormous role in reducing meetings, facilitating process, and equipping team members with everything they need, when they need it, to do their jobs.
4. Leveraging Brainstorming as Creative Ideas
As we recently wrote on this blog, the way you go about brainstorming writing ideas will have a big impact on whether or not you generate audience-centric content. While brainstorming can often produce a large volume of ideas, the first ideas out of the gate, and the loudest voices in the room tend to dictate which ideas gain traction. The problem is, those are rarely the best ideas.
Subsequently, without ample documentation, many brainstorms do not translate into content marketing success, ideas, or help in conducting more productive content planning meetings.
Using brainstorming in place of a broader idea generation and content marketing strategy process will only result in frustration, and failure.
Content marketing automation software can significantly improve upon brainstorming by offering repositories for storing ideas at various phases of development.
Most content marketing automation software provide workflows for logging content ideas, outlines, drafts, and more. In addition, automation software allows you to attach audience details, meeting notes, screenshots, buyer journey summaries, SEO keyword research to each idea or outline in your queue. Many automation platforms add a layer of task management to this mix, allowing project managers to distribute tasks right from a dashboard that shows ideas, calendars, and outlines.
5. Using Any and All Tools for Project Management
A good plan, a solid workflow, time management, staying on deadline, and keeping content professionals motivated to do quality work are all keys to successful content production. But all too often, team members live in isolated worlds, with varying degrees of self-management abilities. Hours of their days are swept away as email, meetings, interruptions and competing organizational priorities vie for their attention.
So with deliverables scattered across individual calendars, how can writers, designers, project managers and executives stay aligned and in tune? The thing is, they don’t.
Manual project management via calendars, email, and whiteboards can only get you so far. If you’re going to scale your content, you can’t afford the unavoidable inefficiency of trying to keep everyone’s offline calendars in sync. You don’t run payroll, or your 401k program out of a spreadsheet, so why would you run a content program out of a calendar?
Again, content marketing automation software can clear these problems up by giving all team members access to a shared calendar, with varying degrees of read, and write access. Many automation tools will send reminder emails when tasks are not complete, and allow content production team members to be more heavily involved in long-term planning.
For any marketer working in content, brilliant writing robots have their appeal. Unfortunately at this time, it’s complete fiction. In the meantime, make the most out of your content marketing automation by implementing any one of the tips above, with any number of content marketing automation platforms.
Choosing the Right Content Automation Platform
Your options for content automation are vast. But not every platform is the same. Features and functionality will vary. Here’s a comprehensive guide to help you make the best choice.
Define Your Must Haves
When looking for the ideal software, create a list of must-haves for content automation. What do you need to be able to automate?
The most often automated activities in content marketing are publishing and posting. Once your content is complete, you have to share it with the world by publishing it on your website and publishing it on social media sites. So you need a system that integrates with these other platforms.
Further, you may want features like automated notifications. For example, if you’re using a content calendar (which you absolutely should!), changes or additions to the calendar need to be communicated. Instead of using email, automated notifications make things much simpler.
Know Your Scalability
Content automation is essential to any size business. It’s very helpful when you have a small team, so that they can get more done. But it’s equally advantageous on the enterprise level because it enables better workflows. No matter your size, however, you need to ensure the tool can scale.
It needs to grow with you, or if you are already a healthy size team, then it needs to work across multiple teams.
Consider Your Budget
With any technology, there is a cost. However, you may be able to reduce certain labor costs with automation, so you should keep this in mind. Pricing for content automation tools is all over the place and is impacted by features and number of users.
Your goal is to find something that is affordable but also works for your content team. It’s an investment in the future of your content marketing, so contemplate the ROI you’ll get back when you are determining your budget.
Get a Feel for User Friendliness
The whole point of using technology is to help your content team. With the right platform, content automation should be easy breezy. If you have to jump through too many hoops or feel that the learning curb is too steep, it’s probably not the right system for you.
Look for content automation tools that were designed by content marketers for content marketers. They know your challenges and needs and construct platforms accordingly.
User friendliness is the biggest consideration when it comes to making content automation and content workflows easy. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck with an expensive platform that no one wants to use.
Test Drive Each Platform
After you have narrowed down your options, it’s time to do a test drive of each platform. At DivvyHQ, we offer a free 14-day trial so you can decide if it’s the right fit for you. You need to be able to explore the software and understand how it enables content automation.
By engaging with the system and setting up a few activities, you’ll know if it can meet the needs of your team and really improve content planning, collaboration, and more.
Building an Automated Content Strategy
There are many automation tools and possibilities available to you, but you don’t have to use them all. If you want to streamline your workflow and boost the ROI of your content marketing efforts, start by identifying time-consuming and repetitive tasks that you can turn over to automation software.
For most marketers, automating social media posts is a quick and easy win that can save hours of work each week.
You can also look at other areas of your content strategy where there’s room for improvement, and consider experimenting with automation tools to see if they can help out. For example, maybe you know your content is good, but it’s not reaching as many people as you would like. An automation platform can help to optimize your distribution plan and schedule so that you can reach a wider audience.
See how your results compare after trying out each tool, so you can figure out what is working for you. Most content marketing platforms give you the option of trying out their software for a limited time, so you’ll know if it’s going to work for you before you commit to investing in a particular automation solution.
To find out more about how DivvyHQ can help you to plan your content and automate your workflow, sign up for a free trial today.