Valeria Maltoni is a co-author of The Age of Conversation, a groundbreaking ebook collaboration by 103 of today's top marketing writers. She is also a Fast Company Expert blogger and a contributor to Marketing Profs Daily Fix, and Marketing 2.0. And she is eighth on Joe Pulizzi's Top 42 Content Marketing Blogs.
I recently asked Valeria some questions about content marketing and share her perspectives here.
1. What kinds of content do you write or use to market your business?
In my day work in corporate America, I use a mix of stats, studies, citations, and stories to sell my personal ideas. When talking with customers, I like to play back to them the conversation they initiate with us – the questions they ask, the issues they tell us they face, and help them with tips, information, and technical knowledge from our teams.
I started Conversation Agent, my personal blog, from a pretty simple concept. My observation was that the line between marketing and public relations would be blurring considerably with greater adoption of social media.
The idea that brands should start learning good manners, show personality, and behave is now starting to take hold. The phrase I display on my banner – connecting ideas and people – is not a tagline, it's what I do through content and actions. It may start with talk, but talk can change our lives if we're willing to change the way we look at things in the process.
My blog is a launch and learn place. I experiment with ideas and formats, present questions and alternate ways of thinking about how people interact and connect to get to meaning and work and make myself available to the conversation that ensues.
2. What sources, besides your own, do you use to find content? (blogs, newspapers, magazines, colleagues, books, etc.)
My sources are all of the above, and especially the dialogue with the online and off line communities with which I participate. Sometimes ideas need some chewing on to be digested properly. This could be the reason why we resonate with Purple Cows and debunking Sacred Cows. All kidding aside, the international community is a great start to finding inspiration and learning about success stories or useful failures.
3. How much of yourself, your personality, your own experiences do you include?
I write the way I think, connectively. The blog format has been gods-sent as linking allows me to show how information is interconnected. For more than 7 years I gathered professionals from all walks of life for face-to-face discussions on business plans, companies’ online models, a view from the CEO chair, new technologies, the search for meaning, etc.
Those were opportunities to experiment with a community of diverse professionals from all kinds of industries. I think our critical mass was above 500 members. The most successful events gathered 200 people actively engaged in sharing stories. But my community building days started many decades ago in Italy when our school was organized around group work. My penchant for writing started with a simple class on journalism in sixth grade. By then I was already an accomplished poet (so says my mother).
In my writing I tend to put a lot of my experiences even when I report on other people's successes and stories – that is the point of view my readers have come to appreciate and want. What we call “voice” in new media.
4. What kinds of results do you see from your online content?
Conversation Agent has grown very organically and steadily. This is my third year of publication posting every day but Saturday. I continue to incorporate what I learn from my readers and from the online community into my thinking and doing. I am very lucky, and I work hard to deserve the attention and time of my readers.
In the beginning, my long time association with Fast Company magazine as curator of the Philadelphia readers' network and then contributor to the blog on customer service drew attention to my own blog.
Then I met Tony Hung through his excellent content as guest writer at ProBlogger. He invited me to contribute to The Blog Herald. The idea was to help teach bloggers how to market themselves. It was a lot of fun, and it allowed me to experiment with many formats.
I was also super fortunate to have generous and smart friends like CK who thought it a good idea for me to contribute to Marketing Profs Daily Fix. Ann Handley is an editor and writer I respect tremendously and was honored that she would include me in her roster of talented marketers and speakers. At the Daily Fix, I work on contributing original ideas and the perspective of the corporate marketer as I share questions and issues with my colleagues. As well, Francois Gossieaux invited me to be among the founding members and writers at Marketing 2.0. This is how I stay plugged in with my peers on community building and the new tribes.
I'm indeed very lucky and work hard to deserve the trust I am given by contributing and giving to others growth and connections. My most frequent purchase is thank you cards and stamps.
5. How much time do you spend daily writing or posting content on your blogs or sites?
I'd say about 3-4 hours daily, and 12-15 hours on weekends, which is when I do most of my writing. The hardest part is really what to leave off, how to make the content effective and useful without burdening time-strapped readers with unnecessary words. It's an ongoing effort on my part, coming from the verbose form of Italian, my native language.
6. What advice would you give to others in your profession about using content for marketing?
Put in the time to distill what people find valuable, but also take the time to experiment. We do not know how something new will help us until we see it. Innovation comes from experience and from following your gut and picking yourself up every time after failing to hit a home run. People often need a lot of clues to connect the dots, but they are seeking for the dots, so keep building those pockets of value and be willing to let the conversation evolve your thinking.
7. Tell us what your profession is, and who your typical clients are.
Currently, I am Director of Marketing Communications at a large IT infrastructure services company, where I am the voice of the organization with customers and prospects in various media through content. My own value proposition is the ability to infuse the meaning from businesses into content and using brand(s) as metaphors for deeper and new conversations with customers. A byproduct of that has been the growth of mature companies in mature industries (in one case a start up into next stage of growth) like technology, consulting, and chemical manufacturing. My typical clients are the communities the organization serves – internal and external.
8. Where can people find you and learn more about what you have to say?
Conversation Agent is my online content hub. People can also follow me on Twitter and FriendFeed. Because I go deep, I tend to add less networks and work harder to deserve and give attention where I choose to participate. The best part of my blog is in the comments and conversations. So if you want to learn more about content, feel free to visit with my readers.