How to Use User-Generated Content to Drive Sales


Who’s responsible for creating your company’s most valuable content?

Your marketing team?

An agency?


How about your customers?

Customers are generating quality content for companies all over the world around the clock. In my experience however, few companies have picked up on that fact – let alone realized how valuable this user-generated content can be.

In fact, user-generated content can be more effective at driving sales than the content you create. That’s because prospects are more likely to take their peers’ word at face value. To them, user-generated content is more authentic, more trustworthy. Don’t believe me? A study by Reevoo found that “70% of consumers place peer recommendations and reviews above professionally-written content”.

User-generated content can be more effective at driving sales than the content you create via @sujanpatel.
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That’s a huge help when it comes to driving sales.

What is user-generated content

UGC is content created by a brand’s audience (who may or may not be customers) – anything from reviews and social media or forum posts, to testimonials and blog posts. In short, UGC is any type of content that’s relevant to the company and created by the user.

UGC is any type of content that’s relevant to the company & created by the user says @sujanpatel.
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Of course, not all types of content – UGC or otherwise – helps drive sales. Content has to target users at a particular point in the sales cycle, and move to the next point (ideally, making a purchase or becoming a customer).

Let’s look at what types of UGC are most effective at driving sales and how you can leverage them in the sales process.

User reviews

Reviews have to be the most prevalent form of UGC, and when it comes to selling, the most important. According to stats reported by Econsultancy, “61% of customers read online reviews before making a purchase decision” and “63% of customers are more likely to make a purchase from a site which has user reviews.”

61% of customers read online reviews before making a purchase decision via @econsultancy.
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When it comes to encouraging customers to write reviews and incorporating reviews into your site, you have a few options. Services like Reevoo and Trustpilot ask customers to leave reviews and provide widgets that link to your company’s reviews page. These review-assistance providers also offer the benefit of acting as trust signals on your site.

They’re really useful, but they serve primarily as tools for reviewing the company as a whole. If you have an e-commerce store, you should provide a way for customers to review specific products and display those reviews on the product page. If you’re not, you’re missing a huge trick – it’s invaluable in helping reduce purchase anxiety, which is one of the “top reasons shoppers don’t buy.”

Shopify-connected companies can easily integrate product reviews into their site using plugins like Product Reviews or Yotpo.


Regardless of the review platform (or platforms), one rule always applies: if you want reviews, you have to ask for them.

Sure, some customers leave reviews without being prompted, but you get far more reviews if you take the lead and ask.

The bigger review platforms (i.e., Reevoo and Trustpilot) can be configured to make the requests for you. Alternatively, most email marketing providers allow you to create automated workflows that trigger an email to customers shortly after they received their purchase and ask them to leave a review. If you’re a MailChimp user, you can read here about how that works and the benefits.


A testimonial is similar to a review – in fact, many testimonials start life as reviews. They are often more detailed than reviews, but what really separates them is that you choose which testimonials to display.

What separates (testimonials from reviews) is that you choose which testimonials to display via @sujanpatel.
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Here’s an example of a testimonial taken from


The fact that you have total control over the testimonials can mean they don’t carry the same weight as unmoderated reviews or won’t be trusted by potential customers.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have them on your site.

Getting testimonials is easy. You can either take snippets from existing reviews or if you want a longer or alternative-format testimonial (like a video), reach out to your happiest customers or brand advocates and ask if they’re willing to create one.

Bonus tip: A small thank-you gift can boost the odds that you’ll get a yes.

Community content

You might not think of your customers’ questions as being a valuable form of UGC, but every time customers post a question about your product online, they’re doing you a huge favor.

Here’s why.

First of all, if questions are being asked (and answered) on a public platform like a forum, that’s content – content that is crawlable, indexable, and has the potential to send you qualified traffic.

But there’s more.

Overfamiliarity with your own product makes anticipating customers’ questions difficult. Even more difficult is anticipating how your customers are going to word those questions.

If you’re writing your own FAQs or deciding on the topics of instructional blog posts based on what you think your customers are asking, you’re doing it wrong.

Pay attention, not just to what questions your customers ask but how they phrase those questions. Use this information to craft content designed to answer the questions your customers are really asking.


Competitions can be an excellent way to motivate your customers to create content. In exchange for the chance to win a prize, customers are asked to create and submit something – often a photo but it could be a video or even a written piece of content. Just remember that the more labor-intensive the “ask” is, the fewer entries received.

Let’s see an example.

To promote the launch of its $1 reusable cup, Starbucks asked customers to doodle on a white cup and submit a photo of the design using the hashtag #whitecupcontest on Instagram or Twitter. The winning design (below) was printed on a limited run of reusable cups.


Image source

Despite a relatively small prize (when you consider Starbucks’ resources) of a $300 Starbucks gift card and 25 of the limited edition reusable cups, more than 4,000 coffee-drinking doodlers entered the contest.

We can assume this contest succeeded in driving sales in a number of ways.

  • Although entry to the contest was “no purchase necessary” (people could enter by submitting an image of their doodle on any white cup), that condition wasn’t widely publicized. It’s safe to assume that some sales were generated simply from people buying a cup (and its contents) so they could take part in the contest.
  • The contest helped to publicize Starbucks’ reusable cup, which in turn helped increase sales of said cup during and after the contest when people would want to get their hands on a limited-edition cup.
  • Anything that generates (positive) PR for a brand should naturally help drive sales.

Social content

User-generated social content (UGSC) is a huge win for marketers though there’s one big roadblock – consumers on social media are rarely looking to buy.

Admittedly, this is changing. Platforms like Instagram bombard consumers with native advertising, while remarketing ads are seemingly 10-for-a-penny on Facebook. Consumers must adjust to advertising on social media, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they like it.

You can get around this roadblock, and at the same time boost the effectiveness of your social media marketing by using UGC.

To do this, ask your customers to share relevant UGC socially, while tagging your brand some way (usually a hashtag).

Belkin did this when it partnered with LEGO to design customizable iPhone cases.


Customers were asked to submit photos of how they had customized their cases and to use the hashtag #legoxbelkin.


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Remember Coca-Cola’s Share a Coke campaign? It resulted in a 2% increase in U.S. sales. Sure, a big part of that was due to the novelty factor of buying a Coke bottle with your name on it, but I don’t doubt the increased social interaction around the campaign played a role too. (Customers were asked to share a picture of themselves with their namesake bottle of Coke using the hashtag #ShareaCoke.)


These innovative campaigns are great examples of how UGSC can be used to boost awareness of a product and subsequently drive sales. It’s so much more effective than brand-generated content because each post is a genuine endorsement from the customer – there’s no other reason for customers to post these pictures other than the fact that they like the brand and the product.

Dark side of UGC

User-generated content isn’t always positive, though. You run the risk that some of that content will be less than complimentary.

That risk increases when you’re running campaigns that ask users to submit content via a public medium (using a hashtag) rather than directly to you (emailing or direct messaging).

When McDonald’s asked customers to submit stories highlighting their “fantastic experiences” at their local restaurants using the hashtag #McDStories, the campaign was – perhaps unsurprisingly – hijacked.


The New York Police Department ran into similar problems when it asked the public to share snaps of themselves with the NYPD on Twitter, using the hashtag #myNYPD. It was hoping for pictures like this:


But what it got looked more like this:


Unfortunately, it’s impossible to prevent negativity from happening, but you can minimize the risk. Before executing a public campaign designed to engage customers and generate UGC, sit down with your team, brainstorm all possible negative outcomes, and if need be, edit your strategy accordingly.

Before executing a (UGC) campaign … brainstorm all possible negative outcomes via @sujanpatel
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UGC is an amazing tool for driving sales at little cost to your business. Have I missed any methods for utilizing it? Let me know in the comments.

Want to stay updated on the latest in UGC and other content marketing tactics, trends, and strategies? Subscribe to the free daily CMI newsletter.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

The post How to Use User-Generated Content to Drive Sales appeared first on Content Marketing Institute.

How to Produce Quick and Effective Video Content With Your Phone


Video is the rising star of content marketing. In our survey with the CMO Council, 79% of senior marketers say video’s role will increase in overall visual content strategies. And since we all carry powerful cameras in our pockets every day, content marketers have no excuse not to experiment with video.

79% of sr. marketers say video’s role will increase in #visualcontent strategies via CMO_Council @GetLibris
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Not every video can be shot on your phone, but authentic, timely video can have a high impact even if its production quality is lower. It requires little financial investment, has a short learning curve, and offers high potential return. The key here is speed: Quality phone videos are a perfect fit for sharing stories in the moment. Here are three tips for creating effective video content in a flash using your phone.

Quality phone videos are a perfect fit for sharing stories in the moment says @KristinTwiford.
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1. Shoot for a fast edit

If you want to turn video around quickly, take your time while you’re shooting so your edit is easier. Make sure to get enough footage but not so much that it is impossible to sort through all the clips to quickly find the best one. A few long, steady shots are better than a ton of shaky, short clips you can’t use.

TIP: Hold the camera shot longer than you think you should. Clips always feel longer when you’re shooting than they do in the edit bay.

Don’t forget to differentiate your shots. In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to get caught up in the action and record everything from the same angle. Remember to think about the editing process as you’re shooting. You will want wide shots of the action as well as tight cutaways so you can avoid jump cuts (a transition between two shots that are too similar, making it look like the subject is jumping from one position to another).

Check out how a tight cutaway allows me to move between two similar wide shots in this sequence:



2. Frame your interviews to tell the story

Interviews can help you create a narrative for your story. If you have a well-framed interview shot, you won’t have to cover the interviewer’s words with B-roll in the video. (B-roll is secondary footage that’s shown when you cut away from your main shot — your A-roll. In this case, your A-roll is the interview subject. In a news clip, B-roll allows the reporter or interview subject to narrate the story as a voiceover, while the B-roll showing the action or the environment is played. B-roll makes your story visually interesting and is key to holding your viewers’ attention.)

Hold your phone at the eye level of your subject. Position the subject on one side of the frame and ask the person to look at you.

To create this shot, I’m holding the camera in my right hand and standing to the left of the camera. My subject is looking across the frame to have eye contact with me.


Check out the full video shot on phone that includes this interview with Aaron Noffsinger on the Kellogg’s #GetsMeStarted activation.

Ask open-ended questions rather than yes-no questions. Questions that start with “Tell me about …” or “Why …” elicit more detailed answers. They allow the interviewee to describe the story on camera. As you’re shooting, listen for soundbites and stop after you have two or three good ones. This will help you edit faster because you won’t have to sift through a long interview.

3. Streamline your post-production workflow

Your post-production workflow should be as seamless and fast as possible so you can publish your content while it’s still relevant. When I shoot video on my phone, I send clips directly to my team’s visual media library so it’s archived and accessible for everybody to use.

Then, I download the clips from the library to my computer and edit with Adobe Premiere. This workflow is the key to a fast edit — I can hit upload as soon as I finish shooting and my clips are ready to edit by the time I get back to my desk.

I like Premiere because it has a user-friendly interface and gives you more control over your content. If you are new to video editing, you can also use apps like iMovie or Magisto.


The iPhone-shot video for Kellogg’s as it appears in the editing stage using Adobe Premier. The 2-minute, 30-second video was edited and published in one day.

TIP: If you are editing video for your blog, edit the clips into a one- or two-minute story. Standard news packages run about one minute and 15 seconds. Write complementary copy to share context or insights you didn’t capture on video. Share short clips on social media with the blog link to drive traffic to your post.


Remember, you’re not editing a documentary or a video for your website’s homepage. Video shot on your phone is intended to be short, compelling, and published quickly. If you plan properly, shoot efficiently, and edit properly, you will be able to produce content that’s more timely and be a valuable contributor to the growth of video in marketing.

How do you use your phone to shoot video content?

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Cover image by Viktor Hanacek via picjumbo

The post How to Produce Quick and Effective Video Content With Your Phone appeared first on Content Marketing Institute.

This Week in Content Marketing: Thought Leadership Requires Actual Leading Thoughts


PNR: This Old Marketing with Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose can be found on both iTunes and Stitcher.

In this episode, we discuss the new Flex Frame native advertising unit introduced by The New York Times — and what it can teach marketers about user experience. We also dissect the art of thought leadership, which requires both thought and leadership, and grill McDonald’s for its YouTube channel fail. Rants and raves include a video on why businesses may be walking away from the Twitter negotiation table, and the launch of Facebook’s new Marketplace; then we wrap up with an example of the week from Pressed Juicery.

This week’s show

(Recorded live on October 10, 2016; Length: 1:04:27)

Download this week’s PNR This Old Marketing podcast.

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1.    Content marketing in the news

  • The New York Times to replace banner ads with a new proprietary format (07:40): Responding to the trend of platforms like Facebook and Google developing their own signature ad units, the Times is rolling out its own cross-device ad format, called Flex Frame. According to the The Wall Street Journal, the move is meant to modernize the Times’ display ad business, while improving the experience for both readers and marketers. Robert offers his thoughts on how the new format seems ripe for high-quality content, while I discuss my reservations that this business model will be effective over the long term — particularly if and when the popularity and profitability of native advertising starts to decline.
  • New rules of thought leadership in the content age (19:37): Exploring the role of thought leadership in today’s marketing mix, a new Economist Group report suggests that the technique offers big rewards for those who get it right — though it faces several key challenges, including the need to focus on evidence-based content and continually push the envelope in terms of presentation, targeting, and distribution. Not only was Robert really impressed with the presentation and user experience of the study’s microsite, I feel the piece emphasizes just how critical it is for marketers to take a definitive stance in their thought leadership content, and back up their assertions with data.

Marketers need to take a stance in thought leadership #content & back up w/data says @joepulizzi.
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  • What McDonald’s has learned from its failed YouTube channel (32:55): In an interview for news site The Drum, Ben Fox, McDonald’s head of media and customer engagement, opens up about why the company shut down its youth-focused YouTube channel; how challenging, yet essential it is to create content with a purpose; and how the brand plans to continue playing in the content space. Among the many questions this program raises in our minds, Robert wonders why McDonald’s allowed the format, rather than the story, to drive the idea, while I’m at a loss to understand what the purpose and ultimate goal might have been in the first place.    

2.    Sponsor (42:10)

  • ion interactive: 50 Ways to Engage Your Audience — Interactive Lookbook: Want a fun way to get 50 ideas for improving content engagement? That’s what this interactive lookbook is all about. Each capability is illustrated as an example of itself. Have fun. Get ideas. Get results. Get the Lookbook.


3.    Rants and raves (43:53)

  • Robert’s “commentary” No. 1: It seems Google, Salesforce, and other potential suitors may have lost interest in purchasing Twitter, sending the social network’s stock into a shame spiral. Despite reports that a potential deal is dead, this video from The Wall Street Journal points out that this is common behavior for companies that may be looking to drive down the share price before making an offer. In my mind, Google is still the leading contender for a Twitter acquisition, and would potentially be making a big mistake by walking away from the negotiating table at this stage.

  • Robert’s “commentary” No. 2: Another story blowing up on Robert’s social feed this week was the NFL announcing that it notified all 32 teams that they are prohibited from posting gifs and video on social media during games. Robert (somewhat surprisingly) agrees with the new rule, as he believes it helps the NFL brand maintain the value and integrity of its actual broadcasts.
  • Joe’s rave: Jeremiah Owyang’s latest Web Strategist blog post discusses Facebook’s launch of its Marketplace, a new feature that enables users to buy and sell used goods using Facebook connections. While this initiative may still have some work to do before it can truly take root, I’m encouraged to see Facebook starting to diversify its revenue streams and reduce its reliance on advertising revenue for monetization. I also propose a potential partnership that might be a great marketing match for this Marketplace.


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4.    This Old Marketing example of the week (46:43)

  • Robert recently came across a wonderful story on Growth Everywhere about Pressed Juicery — a fresh juice business local to California. CEO and co-founder Hayden Slater was a self-proclaimed fast-food junkie who lost 60 pounds after introducing juicing into his daily diet. Later, he decided to take his passion for the health benefits of juice and pour it into a business that followed this new-found approach to healthier living. For the first three years, the company’s main marketing platform was a media property called The Chalkboard — a lifestyle-focused digital magazine that shared expert insights, healthy recipes, nutrition, beauty, and wellness tips, and plenty of inspiration for toxin-free living. With a content mission of serving as a modern guide to living well, The Chalkboard helped Pressed Juicery create 1.3 billion media impressions — and did so at a cost of less than $20K. Today the company has over 600 employees at 40 store locations, and has diversified its use of Chalkboard content to feed a growing portfolio of social media channels. Not only does Pressed Juicery’s experience make for a wonderful story of (wheat?) grass-root success, it’s also a shining example of how companies can build an online audience, then use it to drive actual foot traffic to its physical stores.


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For a full list of PNR archives, go to the main This Old Marketing page.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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Content Marketing ROI: 4 Ways to Get Started


Just as the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, the journey toward measuring your content marketing ROI starts with a single area.

It’s a first step that 28% of B2B marketers aren’t taking — they say they aren’t measuring the ROI of their content efforts, according to CMI’s B2B Content Marketing: 2017 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends — North America.

28% of B2B marketers aren’t measuring ROI of their #content efforts says @cmicontent. #research
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However, of those who characterize their content efforts as the most successful, 87% are tracking the ROI of their content during at least one phase of the buyer’s journey. Complete measurement of your content’s performance is definitely a thousand-mile journey, but a single category is all it takes to get started.

87% of B2B marketers are tracking #content ROI during at least 1 phase of buyer’s journey says @cmicontent.
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In the end, your own ROI measurements will depend on what “R” you’re after. In other words, before you start measuring anything, you first need to determine what you’re hoping to achieve by creating content.

To help get a handle on content ROI and how to start nailing it down, we corralled a panel of B2B content luminaries during Content Marketing World.

Check out their suggestions on where to start, and follow along in the video for even more nuggets of wisdom.

Led by Chris Bondhus, senior director of demand generation for Brightcove, this roundtable featured Ardath Albee, B2B marketing strategist with Marketing Interactions and author of Digital Relevance; Carla Johnson, president of Type A Communications and co-author of Experiences, the 7th Era of Marketing; Skyler Moss, director of digital marketing for HCSS; and Dusty DiMercurio, content marketing and strategy, Autodesk.


As our panelists reminded us, the buyer’s journey is a single place to start your content ROI journey. You need to know where in that sales funnel to start measurement. Will it be most helpful for your content marketing program if you first:

  • Measure audience size and behavior through top-of-funnel content?
  • Experiment with purchase-driving content at the bottom of the funnel?
  • Identify pain points in your conversion process, and measure those?
  • Map each piece of content to specific goals?

Take it from the top

Skyler’s team at HCSS started out as part of the 28% that doesn’t track their content ROI, even publishing content without mapping it to a particular persona. The HCSS team knew something needed to change, so it focused on creating top-of-funnel content and carefully tracking how it generated marketing-qualified leads (MQLs). With some diligent planning and lots of learning, the content now generates so many qualified leads that the sales team can’t keep up with the lead flow.

Basic tools tend to suffice for measuring top-of-funnel content because at this stage you’re primarily concerned with building up the size of your audience and encouraging them to move closer toward a purchase.

Google Analytics may be all you need to effectively gauge your content’s performance. But don’t fall into the trap of measuring page views alone; this single data point won’t tell the whole story of your content ROI.

Measuring page views alone won’t tell the whole story of your content ROI says @CSkylerMoss. #cmworld
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Instead, measure your top-of-funnel content via:

  • Average time on page
  • Bounce rate (lower is better)
  • Conversions related to goals

Remember, your measurement objectives should be tied to what the “return” in “return on investment” means for your organization. For Skyler’s HCSS team, return meant monitoring how many leads each piece of content produced. For others looking to improve engagement, the concern might be how long the audience spends consuming content as measured by time on page or a video’s play time as a percentage of its total run time.

The Secret to Content Marketing ROI

Go to the bottom

For Dusty from Autodesk, early efforts at proving ROI were simpler when focused closer to a purchase.

At this point in the buyer’s journey, fewer steps exist between when the lead interacts with content and makes a final decision to buy. You also likely already have more information about these leads in your pipeline.

Dusty suggests that when audience members’ behavior shows strong signs of interest in the solution you’re offering, you present half of that audience with a piece of content. This might be an e-book download, a webinar invitation, or a social media interaction; the important thing is that it’s designed to push them toward a decision.

Evaluate how the half of your audience provided with decision-driving content converts as compared to the other half of the audience that received no content. If the content group turns out to be more likely to ultimately become customers, you have a clear indicator of your content’s ROI.

Start where it hurts

Type A Communication’s Carla suggests that you focus your measurement efforts on pain points, which may appear at different points in the sales funnel.

Focus your #content measurement efforts on pain points says @carlajohnson. #cmworld
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Start where it hurts the most. Where is it that people are struggling? Is it to get people to understand the brand, to better prepare people for those first conversations? Or is it a hard time converting at the end?

While these questions might drive you to investigate content ROI at the top or bottom of the funnel as they did Dusty and Skyler, they might push you to track content performance for post-sales activity.

Understanding content’s impact at this point in the buyer’s journey includes measuring things such as:

  • Customer lifetime value
  • Repeat purchases, including upselling and cross-selling
  • Evangelism and loyalty, typically through social media activity

Or, your conversion bottleneck might show up at the middle of the funnel.

Maybe you have a large audience that produces a large number of qualified leads, but few of these leads become customers. Identify areas for better content ROI in this stage by tracking things like:

  • Average time for a lead to become a customer
  • Engagement with emails (since leads should be on one or more segmented email lists)
  • Repeat visits to website(s)
  • Downloads of more product-specific content like case studies and white papers

Give a goal to each content piece

Your content marketing as a whole should be driven by large-scale, macro goals (like increasing content-related conversions quarter over quarter), but each individual piece of content should have its own goal, too.

Marketing Interactions’ Ardath told us that during her workshop at Content Marketing World, she challenged attendees to assign a goal to each piece of content. It was, she said, far and away the hardest part of the exercise for many participants.

Assign a goal to each piece of #content says @ardath421. #cmworld
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Many of us, unfortunately, aren’t used to giving our individual pieces of content goals beyond achieving a certain number of page views. Even if your goal is simply to drive someone from one piece of content to another, you need to establish that in advance so you know what you should be tracking.

Consider what you want your content as a whole to achieve — whether it’s to increase brand awareness or to build up a subscriber base or drive more purchases — then work backward and make sure you can track each step toward those goals.


Get started with measuring marketing ROI

If you’re ready to take the first step on your data-driven content journey, start by asking yourself these content questions. They should help you get off on the right foot:

  • What stages does my audience go through before making a final buying decision?
  • Where is the bottleneck in that decision flow right now?
  • If we create content to help alleviate that pain, what metrics will show that it’s working?
  • Do we have the tools needed to provide data on at least a few of those metrics?
  • Have we clearly identified the macro and micro goals for our content?
  • Is the process of tracking content’s progress toward those goals explicit and clear?

What have you found to be the best first area to measure for successful content marketing efforts?

Want more insight in what successful B2B marketers do differently with their content marketing? Read the full report, B2B Content Marketing: 2017 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends — North America.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

The post Content Marketing ROI: 4 Ways to Get Started appeared first on Content Marketing Institute.