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Published April 6th 2015

How To Ignite Your Content Marketing With ‘The Content Code’

The latest book from Mark Schaefer is a must read for content marketers.

is based on a wealth of research and data. Mark gets under the skin of why some content ignites and is shared widely, whilst other content languishes and remains unloved. He also provides practical advice on how to develop a content strategy and ensure your content is shareable.

Sharing is Key to Content Ignition

Producing good content is not enough. Content needs to be ignited and transmitted, which in large part comes from people sharing your content.

People share content for many reasons but it is according to Mark, a process that is “inexorably linked to self-image, caring for others and even compassion for an author or brand.” Mark continues “It’s an astonishingly intimate experience, a precious symbol of trust and communion.”

  1. Content transmission and sharing argues Mark is a mix of art, science and a little mathematical magic. There are six factors to cracking this content code, namely:
  2. Brand development
  3. Audience and influencers
  4. Distribution, advertising, promotion and SEO
  5. Authority
  6. Shareability
  7. Social proof and social signals

Yep, the acronym spells out Badass.

Content Ignition is Essential in a World of Content Shock

As Mark sets out very clearly “there is just too much content and too precious little time for people to consume it.” The volume of content is sharply increasing, which means you have to work harder just to maintain the attention your content is receiving. A recent study by Heinz Marketing estimates that 60-70 per cent of content on a B2B company website goes unseen.

One of the interesting developments in a world of content shock is that those with deeper pockets are placed at an advantage. Mark highlights how whilst the most popular YouTube videos a few years ago were home made, the current most viewed videos are dominated by big brands with slickly produced content. This shift of advantage to those with deep pockets is increasingly true in a world where you have to pay to play. For example, on networks like Facebook as organic reach falls, you have to pay to ensure your content is widely viewed. Wealthier companies can both benefit from content shock and increase it for smaller companies.

Epic Content is Not Enough, it Needs Amplification

Whilst producing great content may earn you a place at the table Mark argues that “the real power only comes to those who can create content that connects, engages, and moves through the network through social sharing.”

Content that is transmitted by others is very powerful. According to EMarketer 70 per cent of consumers say they are more likely to make a purchase based on a friend’s social media updates. Mark makes the important point that the power doesn’t come through the content but through “content transmitted by trusted friends”. He gives a nice example of how even a relatively simple short advice post by Chris Brogan got over 400 social shares. The content did not drive the shares but rather the fact Chris had a trusted community audience and distribution. Thus Mark concludes “regardless of quality, content marketing success must include community, distribution and promotion.”

Social media plays a key role in amplifying content and in establishing thought leadership.

Winning the Content Arms Race

So many things resonated with me when I read the book but one of the key ones was the need to be relentless. I am often asked how my previous companies did better than competitor companies and became market leaders. My response is always the same, it was partly luck but fundamentally we stayed up later than the competition. We were relentless. This echoed strongly by Mark when he says you have to create content shock for your competitors. His advice is to find an unsaturated niche, consistently produce a volume of helpful content and never stop producing content so you crowd out your competitors. A great example of this in my view is Hubspot. If you view the most shared content on ‘inbound marketing’ you will see that Hubspot dominate, they literally crowd out the competition. They have been so effective that I now use a negative operator -hubspot.com when searching for ‘inbound marketing’ content on BuzzSumo.

One of the other ways you can win is to find overlooked niches in your market. Once you have idenitifed your niche Mark outlines how you should produce three types of content:

  1. Hygeine content. Short form content such as How-To tips and videos.
  2. Hub content. This is more in-depth content which holds your audience.
  3. Hero content. Something that transcends the day-to-day, something brilliant or dramatic.

Getting Ignition

The key, as outlined above, is not producing great content but gaining ignition. As Mark reinforces it is not about content but about content that moves.

Gaining ignition is not easy. The average Twitter user retweets only one in 318 content links they receive in their feed. On Facebook, just one-half of one percent of those who see a Facebook post share it.

Content must be inherently shareable. This means it must be linked to self-image and caring for others. If someone shares your content, will it make them look cool or informed? Does the content strike an emotional chord or will it be helpful to their friends? research for the New York Times found there were five reasons why people share content:

  • to be useful
  • to define themselves to each other
  • to grow and nourish relationships
  • self-fulfillment
  • to get the word out about causes and brands

Getting content shared is about far more than traffic. The New York Times survey found:

  • 73 per cent of sharers process information more deeply, thoroughly and thoughtfully when they share it
  • 85 per cent say reading content other people share helps them process information and events
  • 49 per cent say sharing allows them to inform others about what they care about and encourages them to take action

Mark argues that emotion, ego, insight and self-fulfillment are key to sharing. He highlights a number of studies and authors in this regard, for example:

  • An analysis of 1,400 case studies found that cases with emotional content perform twice as well as cases with only rational content. Emotion is consistently found to be a huge driver of sharing.
  • Ted Wright in his book Fizz arrgues that those that share are intrinsicly motivated. “Influencers share stories because they want to build bonds with people. For them, that is the reward, and it comes from a place deep within them.”
  • Lee Odden argues that what many people want to share is insight, not quality or quantity of content.

Thus to create content that is shared you ideally need to give people a way to make themselves look good while promoting your ideas. Three of Mark’s ideas include:

  • Share remarkable content, literally content that people will remark upon. I liked Mark’s example, did you know that vending machines kill four times as many people each year as sharks.
  • Help people achieve something or provide content that bestows achievement upon them eg achieve a high quiz score, being included in a ‘best of’ list or favourably mentioned. Achieving status helps generate social currency and sharing. People love quizzes as it says something about them.
  • Make it exclusive. Offer an exclusive interview, give advance access to key influencers.

Ignition Tips

Mark’s book includes so many practical tips to give your content ignition, far too many to mention here but below are some examples:

  • Share buttons. Content with sharing buttons is 700 per cent more likely to spread than content without such buttons.
  • Remove barriers. Do people really need to register to access your content?
  • Create joyful content. People love to smile.
  • Create long form content. 90 per cent of the New York Times most emailed articles are over 3,000 words.
  • Craft a headline. Make it tweetable, descriptive, creative and include a number. List posts can get up to 50% more shares.
  • Be visual. Our own BuzzSumo analysis of over 100m articles found that posts with images get twice as many shares as posts without.
  • Revive content. It is perfectly ok to reshare evergreen content. Good content does not die. Recently I listend to a great podcast by Tomasz Tunguz on the compounding benefits of content marketing over time.
  • Repurpose content. Mark gives a good example of how one of his posts had 7,000 page views but when repurposed as slides it was viewed more than 100,000 times on Slideshare.
  • Curate content. Be helpful to your audience by curating content and saving them time.
  • Use hashtags. Mark argues the hashtag is arguably the most important innovation in social media.

Engagement Matters More than Follower Numbers

I have personally been interested in the impact generated by infleuncers when they share your content. You might initially believe that having your content shared by a big influencer will help you build your audience. This is not always the case. Mark gives some great examples, including one where a referral by Guy Kawasaki took down his blog but didn’t particularly increase his subscriber numbers, maybe they were less relevant. Influencers don’t always drive their followers to take actions.

Even more importantly sharers don’t always take action themselves beyond sharing, they may simply share because they respect the influencer and not even read say content they are linking to. We had a case at BuzzSumo where a tweet by Rand Fishkin that linked to us (which we really appreciated) was shared on social media a great many times. Interestingly it was shared by more people than the number that actually visited the link.

Mark gives another good example, where he shared a blog post asking people to support a charity he was involved with. Whilst he raised more than $6,000, a significant achievement, the numbers were interesting. 750 people shared the post but only 92 made a donation. Of the 92 people that donated, Mark had met 80 of them in person and they made a much higher average donation. In fact out of Mark’s 70,000 followers at the time only 12 that he personally did not know actually donated. A conversion rate of less than two hundredths of a percent. However, it was actually much lower as a number of social media heavyweights with over 100,000 followers had also shared the post which Mark estimated geenrated over 3m Twitter impressions. Those 3m impressions generated ONE new donor.

Thus whilst there is huge potential to ignite your content you need influencers that can move their audiences.


There is so much in Mark’s book, it is packed with insights, practical tips and advice. I am conscious I have not covered many of the issues he raises such as distribution, advertising, promotion, SEO, building an alpha audience, heroic brands, developing authority, social signals and social proof etc. All I can say is that if you are serious about content marketing you should buy a copy and set aside time to read it. My advice would be to buy the physical copy as I found myself excitingly scribbling notes in the margins as I read.

Click to buy: The Content Code: Six essential strategies to ignite your content, your marketing, and your business

Reflecting on Mark’s book I wonder if this article will be shared? Hopefully it will be useful. It has taken me a couple of days to read, review and draft this summary of Mark’s ideas. Hopefully people will also recognize the value of Mark’s work and want to share to promote his book. It may also be shared by Mark’s core audience out of loyalty to Mark to help spread the word about his book. Finally, I hope I have built some shareability into my content by building a relationship of trust with my audience that has developed over a number of years of researching and sharing ideas about content marketing. Let’s see.

Inspired to step up your content marketing game? Check out our how to create engaging blog posts in 5 steps.

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