By this point, you might have heard of Intercom, the business messaging platform connecting 17,000 companies with over one billion customers.
But, many fans might be more familiar with the company as a content marketing powerhouse: Intercom has created a content marketing program that’s not only created a huge following, but also driven their business.
Here’s how Intercom has built their successful content marketing empire:
1. Find a market. “When we just a four-person team, we didn’t know exactly what would work and what wouldn’t,” explains Des Traynor, Intercom’s Co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer. Intercom eventually decided to focus on the types of content that would genuinely interest the startup community. If they could develop content perfect for early-stage companies — the company’s initial target audience — they could then become synonymous with early-stage startups.
It took a lot of belief in the strategy. A lot of small startups want to copy where Intercom is today, but they need to actually understand that overnight success does not happen overnight. If you’re looking to implement a successful content marketing program, you’ve got to copy what Intercom did at the beginning.
2. Just keep writing. Traynor appointed himself the content lead, writing as many as 93 of the first 100 blog posts. Traynor says that regardless of your role in the organization, keeping your writing sharp is very important. “Writing your thoughts down is a great forcing function,” says Traynor. “It ensures you think things through, and find strong simple explanations so that others can learn from you.”
Of course, as a content marketer raw output is important, but there’s an inherent tension between quality and quantity. “One clear goal of content marketing is consistently producing good fresh ideas that people haven’t heard before,” says Traynor. “No one likes to hear it, but the goal is quality and quantity. Quality should be your first goal, but never to a point of paralysis.”
3. Don’t obsess over the news cycle. Traynor and his team did not focus on timely content. To operate a news-obsessed blog, Traynor argues, is a treadmill: “You need to have sharp opinions about everything, all the time.” If your business is anything like Intercom’s, this is the wrong approach for two reasons:
- Your lead content producers typically also have mission-critical jobs within the organization they need to focus on, and
- There is more competition in the 24-7 news cycle with a “me too” news piece rather than in the “smart ideas about building a startup” category, as Traynor puts it.
Intercom didn’t want any of their content to ever feel dated, plus, more importantly, they wanted to make sure content was built with the long-term in mind. “We’re not going to cover the news,” says Traynor. “We’re not going to talk about the latest iOS features. We’re specifically interested in stories that will stand the test of time.”
4. Learn from what works. Intercom has had some surprise hits; when it does, it puts special effort in understanding why those articles have done especially well. “Being busy is Lazy,” by one of the firm’s executive assistants, wasn’t part of any intended content strategy, but they found that it was actually particularly relevant to their audiences.
Another that sticks out is “Why happiness at work really matters“, a post that Intercom’s Managing Editor, John Collins, wrote quickly after attending a talk by Alexander Kjerulf, Chief Happiness Officer at Woohoo. Three years later, it is still generating traffic. The post’s secret? It coupled a strong headline and a universal theme.
5. Create downloadable content… Intercom on Starting Up, the company’s last book, was downloaded 16,000 times in its first 2 weeks. While those are some impressive numbers, it’s still got a long way to go before it can surpass Intercom on Product Management, which has been downloaded an incredible 80,000 times.
For many companies, content development is all about prospecting, and that’s an area where Intercom has also excelled. Prospects from Intercom’s content are among the highest converting in the business. Conversion is even higher when the leads are from Intercom’s books.
6. …But don’t assume print is dead. While the recent Intercom on Starting Up was downloaded quite a bit, it was also shipped as a hardcover to another 1,000 customers. It was made available for free to download (share it with a friend to get it for free, or alternately make a $5 donation to Black Girls Code) or a hardcover book which could be shipped. It may seem counterintuitive to sell a hardcover book, but it makes sense if it’s a format that customers want. And, interacting with a physical book has been shown to improve information retention.
7. Enlist your fans. Intercom has contributions coming from employees at Dropbox, Lyft, Stripe and more. While the company infrequently carries guest posts on its blog, its podcast is all about conversations with people in the industry whose work that Intercom admires. When those people share the episode with their networks – which is often – it helps expand the audience.
8. Never be satisfied. Intercom’s company blog gets 200,000 pages views, has 90,000 UVMs and is read by employees of Google, Airbnb and Uber. Moreover, its newsletter has surpassed 25,000 subscribers. And yet, by all accounts, the company is looking to do even more. Given the number of competing demands on people’s time and attention, no company can afford to rest on their laurels. Intercom’s past success inspires them to continue producing the best articles, podcasts and books for their readers.
9. Reinvest. Because of the company’s success with content, Intercom decided to double down by adding a well-established content professional to join their ranks: Ken Yeung of VentureBeat fame. Yeung cites Intercom’s “pretty unique view around editorial content” as his main reason for joining their growing content team. Up next for Yeung? Implementing a “new editorial program,” very much still under wraps. It’s this dedication to creating quality content that resonates with viewers that drives Intercom’s success.
Which of Intercom’s 9 principles are you following in your content marketing strategy? If there’s anything you’d like to add, tweet me – I’d love to know what is and isn’t working at your company.