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Lauren McCullough – Senior Director of Marketing at The Muse – Transcript
Lauren McCullough is Senior Director of Marketing at The Muse. Prior to that she was Content Lead at Tumblr and Editor at Facebook. Lauren is also a seasoned journalist, having worked at NBC, Associated Press (AP) and Newsday.
The AMA with Lauren was held on August 22nd, 2018. This transcript has been edited for punctuation, grammar, etc.
Hello! So glad to be here and looking forward to answering as many questions as I can!
What’s an example of one way you were able to make a big impact marketing-wise for the company, and what is it that you did?
I’m a very process-oriented person and also very invested in building great teams and career paths for my folks. At Tumblr, I focused a lot of energy on making sure we made the most out of every marketing opportunity we had. If our Partnerships team scored an awesome opportunity (like the time we had the entire “Black Panther” cast in the office!!!), I made sure that we were creating content that we could use across Tumblr in lots of ways, as well as across our social channels and other off-platform places, too.
What does editor at Facebook mean?
At Facebook, I built and scaled an editorial team to support the Trending product.
Hi,Lauren and welcome. Could you please give some marketing dos and don’ts to someone who is just starting to market their own business and provide tips – best practices on how to get noticed quickly?
Authenticity is paramount. Take the time to understand what your business is and what value are you providing. What gap in the market are you trying to fill?
Once you have a sense of this, you can start to map out strategies to get that message out.
In terms of social and SEO, partnerships are an awesome way to amplify your message. Easy give-get arrangements for backlinks, retweets and shares will help you be seen exponentially.
Hi Lauren, where do you see the future of content going? Thanks in advance!
BIG question!! It’s the best of times and the worst of times for content creators. Having focus and making the right distribution choices are more important than ever. Knowing what your audience wants and needs from you will help you figure out what kind of content you should be creating.
What are the right distribution choices based on the type of content I’m providing? For instance, have you found video performs better on LinkedIn than on FB?
Test, measure, learn! There are some guiding principles, but the answer is going to be different for every company. One technique we have had a lot of success with at Tumblr and The Muse is re-circulating top-performing content from one platform to another. For example: If we see a tweet had strong engagement, we may post the same content to FB and Instagram. Over time, and through data, you’ll learn what your audience on each platform responds best to.
When hiring people for your team, are there any gold nuggets or recruitment tacticsyou can drop to help us find better folks/marketers?
Hands on experience is key. I try to structure my interview conversations around real-life scenarios to understand the nitty-gritty of the work people actually did (vs. what they supervised or contributed to). It’s also a great way to suss out strategic thinkers.
Hey Lauren – what types of content did you see performing best at Tumblr?
Great Q. K-POP! But also — Tumblr is such an awesome, special place filled with creative and hilarious people. Pop culture is huge on Tumblr, but not the kind of mainstream pop culture you see elsewhere. My team oversaw a lot of community work, and produced a weekly snapshot of the things that are popular:
In your experience working at numerous content-centric companies, what have you seen is the most effective way to boost user value? For eCommerce companies this is sometimes straightforward (driving sales), but TheMuse/Tumblr are a bit different.
I am a journalist at heart and came up in social and marketing from the beginning of these platforms. I think people want to be seen and heard, and that’s how you build quality community. At Tumblr and especially at The Muse, we spend a lot of time looking at quantitative and qualitative data to understand how we can do right by our audience.
What is a piece of advice you can give a startup struggling to get PR for our brand?
If you haven’t already, I’d spend some time identifying people (real people, not necessarily “influencers”) who can help tell your story. It’s also really important to mobilize your workforce to help tell your story.
Hi Lauren, how can one measure the value of the content? What metrics do you like to look at for content?
I love metrics! The more data, the better. It really depends what your business model is, and what goals you’re working toward. At The Muse, we measure and monitor lots of things, including page views, unique visitors, referral traffic, etc. On social, my favorite metric is engagement rate because that tells you how effective your organic content actually is with the people who are seeing it.
Thanks for doing this! In regards to Tumblr, did you or your team build any in-house tools?
Thanks for the Q. Our engineering team built a proprietary CRM tool for marketing push notifications, emails, etc. Lots of pros and cons.
Do you have a content writing process that you can share with a beginner?
Practice, practice, practice (and get lots of feedback!). Writing is something you have to do constantly to improve. The Muse has some great advice on ways to improve your writing:
What’s your favorite form of marketing (besides word of mouth/inbound/viral). Paid ads? Social? Email? And why?
Social will always be close to my heart, especially because I’ve spent a lot of my time building social programs from scratch. I’m very into email right now, and have been spending a lot of time working on The Muse’s email strategies.
To build on that topic, how did these opportunities arise and how would you effectively create the content to promote these activities through your channels?
At Tumblr, we were lucky to have a dedicated partnership team who built relationships throughout the entertainment industry and were constantly pitching opportunities and ideas. We worked hard to focus these pitches toward things that resonated on Tumblr, either because they were already popular or because we saw opportunity to build new audience.
We also worked really closely with our design team to produce high-quality assets (videos, Instagram Story content, graphics) that we could share with our partners as well as use ourselves.
Do you have any tips for a small team starting their content strategy? Any must-have KPIs to implement? Thanks!
I’m a firm believer that content should have a purpose, and usually that purpose should be laddering up to company goals, business needs, etc. KPIs will vary depending on where/how you’re publishing and distributing.
What do you think is the best way to approach content and building your audience?
It really depends what your business is and what you’re trying to accomplish with your content. I’m also strongly in favor of having diversity in what you publish, and calibrating your content mix based on performance.
What’s the most effective strategy you’ve found in establishing (unpaid) partnerships?(I am assuming it was a unique situation coming from huge companies like FB and Tumblr but if it’s possible to answer from the perspective of an unknown startup, that would be helpful.)
Thinking about building partnerships as an “unknown startup,” I think tapping into your network is a great first step. Who do you know who can help you, either directly or by introducing you to someone else?
In terms of how you’ve seen editorial ethics/content creation & distribution practices shift over time, what’s surprised you? Or what’s been the most exciting shift?
Content creation moving in-house with brands is super cool, and super nerve-wracking, but mostly potentially really awesome.
How do you determine what type/format of content to focus on? I.e. Whitepapers vs video vs blogs.
At The Muse, we try to keep our content diversified. We have an incredible collection of career advice content in article form that we share and build around. We also produce and partner around webinars, eBooks and Case Studies with our clients.
How does Tumblr leverage LinkedIn in terms of marketing? Do you invest into creating content specifically for LinkedIn?
At Tumblr, we primarily used LinkedIn for recruiting and some employer branding. At The Muse, we see strong responses to a lot of career-focused content, as well as Muse-culture content (e.g. photos from our company retreat, news about our founders, etc.).
If you had a $100/month budget for marketing tools, which would you acquire?
Tough question. Depending on what your business is, I’d definitely prioritize SEO tools (though there are a lot of great free ones available). I’d want an email tool, but not sure if I could afford it? Then I’d probably invest in a social media management tool.
Hi Lauren! Any tips for a company currently devising the future of their content strategy?
Your business should determine your content strategy. Understanding what you are, what you’re offering, what your content is aimed at delivering — awareness, leads, user growth?
What tips do you have for a brand trying to create their story?
Talk to your employees! We talk about this every day at The Muse. Your employers are the face of your company and they can help you shape your brand in a way that will resonate with the market (and future recruits, too).
Can you tell us in your opinion what is the difference between “digital marketing” and “social media marketing?” I have found that everyone who seems to know FB and Twitter like the back of their hands thinks they are one and the same.
Great point. Digital marketing is the parent category, with social media marketing as a child. Digital marketing encompasses a lot more than just social media marketing: Email, demand generation, events, etc.
What is the best kind of content for resource strapped startups to work on? Short regular blog posts or long form content (whitepapers, ebooks, definitive guides etc.)?
From an SEO perspective, long-form and “timeless” content is the best investment if you’re trying to grow audience.
How would you structure pillar/long form contents for a completely new startup? Getting into specifics, is there an ideal word count for each piece/how many pieces?
2,000-10,000 words is ideal for the long-form “comprehensive guide” content, ideally filled with keywords and authoritative content.
Do you have any tips on managing multiple projects as a director of marketing?
Coffee (and wine) are your best friends. Build out a great project management process. My teams at Tumblr and The Muse use Trello for project management, which allows me to easily dive in and out of various projects to understand their stage, places I need to weigh in, etc.
What do you use system-wise for your day to day? To-do list? CRM? EMail (if not webmail)?
The company collaborates in Google docs, we have shared data dashboards and regular “All Hands” meetings to discuss high-level projects. I’m pushing Trello hard bc I love it. Some teams at The Muse also use Contently for content management.
Welcome! You’ve pioneered a career in an ever-fluctuating industry. What tips do you have for managing change and navigating the uncharted territories of digital marketing?
Flexibility is key! Molly Graham, former FB, Quip and Chan Zuckerberg Initiative exec, has a great phrase — “Giving up your legos.” We actually had her speak at The Muse recently – she’s incredible. Here’s a version of her talk: “Giving Up Your Legos” and Other Lessons in Scaling:
If you could go back in time, what is the one piece of advice you’d give yourself when you were starting out?
Be the unicorn. I’ve done lots of different things in my career, and I’m better because of all of them. It’s OK to not want to follow a conventional path. Listen to your gut, trust your instincts and work fucking hard.
Hey Lauren! What are some online publications and social media feeds that you think are doing great work / are inspired by?
Too many to name! I’m obsessed with SMBs on Instagram. Glossier can do no wrong, so authentic!
PHEW! I <think> I answered almost all of your questions. Please feel free to DM me if I missed yours. Would love to connect, too. I’m @lfmccullough everywhere.