Founder at Large Shane Snow on Contently and How the Company’s Platform Unites Creators and Digital Marketers to Perfect the Art of Storytelling

Founder at Large Shane Snow on Contently and How the Company’s Platform Unites Creators and Digital Marketers to Perfect the Art of Storytelling

TL; DR: For the folks at Contently, effective digital marketing relies on three factors: tech, talent, and strategic planning. And, since 2011, the company’s software has been helping businesses leverage all three. Contently’s cloud-based platform facilitates collaboration between all stakeholders on a project, allowing for optimal communication between teams to streamline approval processes. The company also employs a vast network of creatives qualified to develop a number of content types — from articles and infographics to videos and whitepapers. Once a business has tailored and broadcasted its messages, Contently’s analytics software and researchers determine what’s working so the organization can devise data-driven business strategies to move forward. We recently sat down with Founder at Large Shane Snow, who told us how Contently is enabling businesses to achieve big returns on investment through compelling and targeted storytelling.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is one of the most important ways for site owners to gain organic traffic. In the mid- to late 2000s, it was easy to rank for certain keywords regardless of human readability. Some webmasters thus unsuspectingly paid for low-quality, “spun” content that worked for Google’s algorithm, but didn’t actually provide any value to readers.

Despite ranking high in search results, these pages really didn’t serve their purpose as customer attractants, as many viewers would see a page full of nonsense and keywords rather than actual content, which often caused them to leave and never come back.

Meanwhile, Journalist Shane Snow was noticing many of his colleagues were severely underpaid.

“There were these groups of companies known as content farms that were trying to figure out the game Google was playing and how to trick it,” he said. “They would pay struggling freelancers $5 an article to write content that wasn’t very good, but it was good enough for Google.”

After some of Shane’s friends and business partners suggested launching a blog network, the idea for Contently was born.

Shane Snow's headshot and a graphic with the text "Those who tell the stories rule the world"

Co-Founder Shane Snow said Contently’s platform facilitates collaboration between creatives and project stakeholders.

In 2011, Shane and company were ready to launch Contently, a place where freelancers could find higher paying opportunities while providing quality content to digital marketers. In turn, this content would help drive business and provide visitors with content relevant to them.

As one of Contently’s Co-Founders, Shane has seen the company grow exponentially in just a few short years — helping provide content that not only works for search engines — but also for consumers.

Marrying Talent and Data to Ensure Quality Content for Site Owners

As the demand for quality content has grown, an increasing number of marketers and creators have joined Contently’s network. Today, the network helps connect more than 100,000 journalists, designers, and photographers with even more clients in a variety of industries across the world.

As such, Contently and its marketing clients must comb through thousands of gigabytes of data each day to ensure the overall quality of content. Because each client is looking for something completely different, measuring this quality is far from an exact science.

“Quantifying quality is very tough, in part, because quality is in the eye of the beholder, especially when it comes to creative works,” Shane said.

Photo of Contently team members

Contently’s network joins thousands of journalists, photographers, and other creatives with clients around the world.

Contently’s goal is to meet desired business goals as closely as possible. As Shane told us, a content piece’s efficacy can be measured in terms of increased traffic volume and social media shares, or even less directly as a steady rise in ROI.

“In the context of business, you can measure a degree of quality in terms of audience reaction,” Shane said. “If your audience is spending time with you, then you have given them something that is worth that time.”

To make the job easier for all involved parties — the audience, the freelancer, and the marketer/site owner — Contently bases matches largely upon desired content and previous journalistic experience. For example, a site dedicated to selling SSDs can expect quality articles on SSD-related topics that pique the interest of readers and potential technology buyers.

A Holistic Approach Built to be Compatible Across Channels

To unite businesses with the most appropriate creators, Contently uses a number of tools, including a proprietary matching algorithm that takes several factors into account, including creator expertise and content specifications.

“It’s like a Match.com algorithm that recommends creators based on your company profile and what you put in for your goals, content strategy, and keywords,” Shane said.

Once content is created and approved, it is time to integrate it into the company’s website and social media channels. Fortunately, Contently is compatible with most existing content and customer relationship management software.

Contently’s software integrates messages across a business’s online touchpoints, including websites and social media.

On its own, Contently’s centralized platform helps site owners organize and manage their content campaigns in a variety of ways. Among Contently’s earliest offerings were file sharing and editorial calendars. Today, Contently’s tools are centered on integrating content throughout all of a business’s available traffic channels, from blog posts to social media pages.

“Contently is built to allow you to manage all of your content creation and then push it to all of these other places that sit on top it,” Shane said. “It then pulls back data from those places and tells you what you should do next.”

This part of the platform, known as the Content Decision Engine, simplifies the approval process.

Streamlining Production With Analytics to Identify Bottlenecks

One of Contently’s most-used features is the production analytics dashboard, which collects data across several points in the content management process.

“It shows you everyone’s capacity — who’s bogged down, who’s not, who’s in control, and how quickly people can do things,” Shane said.

By examining all departments involved in the creative process, businesses can easily identify where the bottlenecks lie.

“It helps them reorganize things so those departments can work faster,” Shane said.

For example, Contently was able to help a large financial firm save more than $1 million a year by helping them streamline production.

Contently’s involvement in the content lifecycle is threefold — it helps businesses streamline creation and management through its technology platform, its talent network, and its content strategy expertise. Using analytics, businesses can devise ways to push content faster and more efficiently, while the talent network allows access to more creators.

On the other hand, expertise is offered both directly and indirectly to businesses seeking a less technical approach.

“We have infused our content strategy expertise into the platform itself,” Shane said. “We have a lot of people who read our blog just to learn how to do content better.”

The Philosophy: To Provide Useful Information That Benefits Customers

Contently was created in response to low-quality content mills that not only skimped on quality, but left creators seriously underpaid. Among its network of 100,000-plus creators, more than 1,000 of them include award-winning journalists who have written for The New York Times, The Telegraph, and National Geographic. In addition, Contently helps showcase — and drive business for — a number of world-renowned photographers, Emmy-winning videographers, and leading designers and content researchers. In turn, this massive pool of talent is available to businesses looking to compel and inspire its audience.

In keeping with its mission to provide the world with useful information, Contently is set to publish The Storytelling Edge.

“This will be Contently’s first book,” Shane said. “It’s a distillation of what we’ve learned over the last several years in terms of how to transform your business through stories.”

The team plans to attend several events to promote the book, which aligns perfectly with Contently’s philosophy of sharing information that benefits businesses and readers alike.

In the meantime, Contently publishes two digital magazines, The Content Strategist (for marketers) and The Freelancer, which provide advice as well as demonstrate the effectiveness of content marketing. In addition, the Contently Foundation was started as a nonprofit organization to help fund investigative journalism by working closely with The Guardian and The New York Post. Aside from the numerous awards earned by writers, Contently itself was named the Best Content Marketing Platform by the 2015 Digiday Signal Awards, as well as one of Crain’s 2015 Best Places to Work in NYC.

By bringing award-winning talent to marketers, Contently helps drive business through audience involvement. To successfully engage one’s audience, content must be interesting, timely, and useful. Contently has helped major enterprises such as American Express, GE, and Sony provide useful information that results in greater customer loyalty. Meaningful information not only helps drive traffic, but builds customer trust and retention, leading to a better overall relationship between creator, site manager, and customer.

Sean Garrity

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