What Matters Most – Content Marketing for Businesses with Shondell Varcianna

In today’s episode, we discuss content marketing, best practices, tips and how it works and can benefit small businesses with Shondell Varcianna, CEO of Varci Media (http://www.varcimedia.com)


Man 1: Welcome to the “What Matters Most” podcast presented by First United Bank & Trust. That’s my bank. Visit us today at mybank.com.

Eric: Hello, and welcome to “What Matters Most,” the podcast all about finances, community, savings, and security for you, your family, and your business. This podcast is brought to you by the helpful folks at My Bank, First United Bank & Trust. I’m your host, Eric Nutter. And in today’s episode, what matters most is “Creating Engagement for your Business with Content Marketing.”

And for this helpful discussion, I am thankful to be joined remotely today by Shondell Varcianna, CEO and owner of Varci Media. Since 2014, Varci Media has been creating content. They are a writing company that helps financial institutions save time by writing blog posts that convert into customers. Shondell and her team have transformed their clients’ blogs into solution providers for their customers. Good morning, Shondell. How are you today?

Shondell: Good morning. I’m great, thank you so much for having me.

Eric: Yeah, yeah, glad to have you. And I’m excited to talk about this topic. You know, a lot of times on this podcast, we talk about a lot of in-depth numbers, and financial figures, and market trends, and things like that. And normally, those topics are I’m in deep waters. I’m surrounded by a lot of professionals that know a lot of things and they’re really smart about a lot of those topics and being in the marketing arena, I like talking about marketing. So I appreciate you joining us today and talking a little bit about content marketing.

Shondell: Oh, you’re welcome.

Eric: So let’s start off by just kind of setting the playing field. So for businesses out there that may be listening and business owners that may be listening, explain content marketing to our listeners, and what does that entail?

Shondell: So content marketing really just entails promoting content that you have through a variety of different channels. And that could be through Facebook, LinkedIn, it could be a YouTube video. It doesn’t even have to necessarily be online, it could be offline as well. Just the majority of content marketing is done online simply because it’s the quickest way to reach your target audience and a large number of people.

But it’s really just the promotion of content. And content comes in many forms. The content could be written, it could be video, it could be infographics. So content does come in different forms. But it’s really the promotion of content, is what content marketing is.

Eric: So how does a business get started in that arena? Because there’s a lot to bite off there. And what would they do to kind of understand what should I be putting out for my audience?

Shondell: The first thing I would say is if you don’t know who your target audience is, that would be where you would wanna start. So determining who it is you wanna go after, who it is you wanna target. And then finding out where they are is really the first two steps. Who do you wanna target, and find out where they are. If your target audience is on Facebook most often, then that’s where you wanna be putting out your content. And the type of content you wanna put out is really the type of content that your target audience wants to know.

So for example, if you find out that your target audience is on Facebook, you wanna be there, but you wanna be answering questions that they’re asking. And one of the ways to do that is to, if you don’t currently have an audience, then you’re gonna have to do some research to find out, you know, where they are, create that audience so you can put out great content in front of them. If they’re on forums, then you would wanna get on those forums, answer questions. Facebook groups is a great place to start as well. Just to get in front of your audience, answer questions that they’re asking. Provide value, and people will start to get to know you, you’ll build your brand, and then you can create content based on the questions that they’re asking.

And then you’ll get a feel for what your audience wants, and then you could start putting content, you know, on your website, bringing them from Facebook to your website, having them subscribed to your blog, or having them subscribe to your newsletter, whatever you wanna have on your website. And then that’s how you will create your audience and build your brand, and continue to answer their questions, and then eventually, the business will come after building a relationship with your target audience.

Eric: Right. Yeah, the providing value is really important, and I appreciate what you’re saying to kind of be involved, it’s not just a…there’s a silver bullet that fixes everything. You have to actually know your audience by being where they are and understanding them, and engaging with them so that you can know what they’re talking about and what they’re interested in.

Shondell: Absolutely, and then doing that consistently over a long period of time. Because it’s a, you know, it’s a long game, it’s not a short game, because, you know, especially if you’re new and you have never put out content, or maybe you put out content but you haven’t been consistent. There’s just so much information being thrown at, you know, people in general, customers nowadays that if you’re not providing value, and if you’re not consistent, you know, it’s that saying, out of sight, out of mind. So that’s really what it comes down to, providing value over a period of time.

And the best value, in my opinion, to provide is providing solutions to problems that they have, answering questions to, you know, problems that they have. And then over time, you know, they’ll be, “Oh, you know, this person, you know, he’s been answering a lot of questions, they’re active here.” And then when they need your product or service, they’ll reach out to you because you’re always in front of them, answering their stuff.

Eric: Yeah, you know, it’s funny, it’s a pretty simple concept. It’s just execution is the hard part. You know, it’s being there and being that constant value provider makes a lot of sense, because then, you’re on the top of everybody’s mind. And when they have a problem, they know, “Well, Shondell always answers my questions, so I am gonna reach out to her first.” But the hard part is that execution and doing that, so we’ll probably wanna talk a little bit about that, and what ways to tackle that.

But before we get there, I have one question about setting expectations regarding content. So like you said, it’s a long game, takes a while to build an audience, maybe some of our listeners have tried, maybe they’ve put out a couple of blog posts or some posts on Facebook, and maybe they got a couple of likes or a couple of comments, but it was, you know, it didn’t explode for them. When you’re talking with your clients, what expectation setting do you put in place so that they understand the reality of the long game?

Shondell: See, is more than… the expectation that I put in place is, you kind of get out what you put into it. So it really… And it’s not just content, but usually when I talk to my customers, it’s, we’ve got to put out great content but there’s more besides just the content, like what else are you doing? Are you doing any search engine optimization? Are you… So there’s more than just content.

But if you’re just starting out, and we don’t want to get too technical, but what I would mainly say is focus on social media, because that is where you can get the best bank for your buck. Especially if your audience is on Facebook, because then you can run Facebook ads, and just write great content that you can get right in front of your ideal customer.

Organically, it does take a little bit longer, simply because everybody is not gonna see the post that you put out every single time they’re on social media, because no one’s really on social media 24 hours a day. And this is why it’s important to put out more content, because the more content you put out, the more eyes to your content. So if you only put out, you know, one per week, you know, none of your target audience may even see that. So if you put out, you know, 10 pieces a day, then chances are your target audience will see one or two of those pieces.

So it’s the consistency and putting out a lot of content over a period of time. This is why people oftentimes hire people to do it, because some people just don’t have the time and you’re running your business. You know, you’re focused on running your business, it’s hard enough even being on social media, you know, part of the day if you’re extremely busy, it’s much more than, you know, creating valuable content for your audience. But that’s really what it takes to get people to see the content that you’re putting out there over a period of time. It really comes down to, you know, putting it out all the time in front of your target audience. There’s no real shortcut to it, unfortunately. That’s really what it comes down to. But over a period of time if you’re getting in front of them…

And then I would also say track what you’re doing too. You don’t wanna just keep putting content out there, and nothing’s happening. So you wanna make sure that you’re putting it out there in front of the right people. This is why the work beforehand is great. Know who your target audience is, and really pay attention to where they are. So that’s, you know, half the battle. You don’t wanna just start putting out content and then no one of your target audience is not seeing it. So I would say put the work in ahead of time, and do the research and find out who they are, where they are. And that’s where you wanna be focused on all the time. And then you will see the result eventually.

Eric: Is there a number that you use as sort of a metric to help your clients know when they’re being successful or when they’re reaching a level of engagement that you would consider a success? Or how do they know, “I’ve put out enough” or that, “I’m hitting the mark,” what indicators are there?

Shondell: Based on the calls that they’re getting, based on the inquiries that they’re getting. So, we’ll track the amount of inquiries that they’re getting through their website, through phone calls that they get, so that’s all tracked. And then we will ask them to ask, you know, where do they… If somebody inquires, they can ask them, you know, where did you hear about us? Was it from a blog post? Was it through social media? And then you’re able to track. Tracking is so important because, then, you know where to focus more, then you know where to put most of your energy on. You know where your customers are coming from. This is also where Google Analytics comes in because it will tell you where your audience is coming from. So that all needs to be tracked. So you know how well you’re doing.

And then what it also does is it tells you what type of topics your audiences like so that you can put out more of that. So you can see what posts have been more successful than other posts, what topics are they most interested in, where are you getting most engagement, and then we can track that and then say, “Okay, these are the topics that we’ve been getting the most engagement, let’s create some more content around this.”

So that’s typically how we’ll look at it and track it over a period of time and then, you know, change the content, not change it if it’s working really, really well, we’ll just create similar topics around that. And then we’ll keep it going from there but yeah, monthly is, we usually look at those numbers monthly.

Eric: Got it. So it sounds like, you know, not only should you first start off with knowing who you’re talking to and what they want and what they want to hear about, but also having a strategy for what to do once you start pushing content out.

Shondell: Absolutely.

Eric: Okay. Consistency with publishing. So you’ve talked about, you know, it’s a long game, you wanna do a lot of content, you wanna push out a lot of pieces of content. Is there… What would our listeners benefit from to hear in regard to, you know, frequency, should they be publishing every day, every hour, every week? And then the types of content they should be pushing out there like images, text, that sort of thing?

Shondell: Yeah, there’s not a particular number that I can say, “Okay, post, you know, once a week and this will get you X amount of engagement.” I could just say the more you post, the more engagement you’ll get. So it really comes down to, you know, how many inquiries you need, how many phone calls do you need? That I would post every single…every single day is definitely…you definitely should be posting every single day.

And posts could be, you know, it doesn’t have to be a 750, you know, word blog post on your blog every single day. If you post, you know, one blog per week, for example, you could take snippets of that blog and make, you know, 10 social media posts just from that one blog post. So there’s different ways you can repurpose your content. And I would also say, you know, if you’re gonna, you know, like I said, post, you know, one blog per week, take snippets from that, put on social media, then just take your iPhone and take a video of yourself giving some advice, some tips. That’s another piece of content. You know, a question that somebody may ask, answer that question, that’s another piece of content. So there’s so many different types of content that you can put out there. It doesn’t have to be, you know, a long form post, you can put up different, different kinds of content. But just the more visible you are, the better it is.

Eric: Right. I like that concept mainly from the standpoint of it can be daunting for a business owner, particularly a small business owner to think of both trying to run their business but then also trying to create these long blog posts, like you said, or any type of content. So when you think of it more like a conversation or just snippets, I think that makes it a little easier to digest and a little more, you know, doable for people.

Shondell: Absolutely. And something else that… And if you… it’s like I was saying, we were talking about earlier, if you’re in front of your target audience, and you’re seeing, you know, a recurring theme of questions that people are asking or things that people wanna know, you can turn that into a post as well. And it doesn’t always have…like I said, it doesn’t always have to be long. It could be quick. It could be, you know, this is a question I’ve been getting, I just thought I’d take a few minutes just to answer it. And you could even do a video, a one-minute video, and put that out there. And you could do that every day, or you could do that a few times a week. It’s just the consistency, and just keep on doing that and answering those questions. And that’s why it’s important to be in front of your target audience, because they’ll give you the content that you need. They’ll give you the content that you should put on your, you know, on your social media posts or on your website.

Eric: Yeah, so the lesson here is your audience is telling you the answer, you just need to listen.

Shondell: Exactly. Exactly, exactly. And then that’s just providing the value because you’re answering their questions, that will be you providing the value.

Eric: Right. Now, to do all of this, to publish this content, to track it, to do things like that, it can be a lot. Is there a particular set of tools that you recommend that can help them accomplish it, or like help with automation, or help to publish the content more easily?

Shondell: Yeah. So if you have a website and you are publishing content on your website, you can sign up with Google Analytics. Google Analytics is great for telling you where traffic is coming from on your website. So for example, if you, you know, wrote a blog post and you put it on Facebook, and you put a link to your blog post on your Facebook post. So really, what you’re wanting to do is, you know, you’ve got the audience on Facebook, but you wanna bring them back to your website so that they can subscribe to your blog and then get their email address, and now you can really get in front of them whenever you want. Google will track that. So Google will tell you, okay, this person came from Facebook. And that so now you know where your audience is coming from, so now you’ll know, “Okay, let’s keep focusing on Facebook.” Or, you know, this person came from, you know, this website. So it gives you a lot of information on where traffic is coming from.

Facebook also, so if you are on Facebook, and you are running ads, I’m pretty sure you have to be running ads to get the detailed information on your post. But if you’re running ads on Facebook, Facebook will also tell you how engaged your audience is with your posts. So you can get a lot of analytics directly from Facebook as well. So those are some areas that you can, you know, get some high-level information on what’s happening with the content that you’re putting out. Because when you look at that, then it just gives you more insight on what’s working from what’s not working so you know what type of content to push out more, and you’ll know if you should continue to push content on, you know, whatever platform because you’ll have the analytics from that.

Eric: Right. Yeah, and it’s important to look at those statistics and better understand what’s working and what’s not, otherwise, like you said, you’re kind of shouting into the void and you don’t know what’s happening or how it’s being consumed, or if it’s even being consumed at all. So it’s important to look at that. What about publishing? I know that a lot of the different tools themselves, Facebook, for example, will allow you to schedule posts so that you can kind of do your content work ahead of time, but there’s lots of tools like that out there that can help people. Do you have any in particular that you recommend?

Shondell: Yeah, buffer.com is a great one. You can schedule social media posts on that as well. Hootsuite is another one that you can schedule posts as well. So you can literally, you know, put content on any of those websites for the whole week, and then you can choose the time that you want them to go out and they’ll go out on whatever time and date that you choose. So yeah, those are some great tools that you can use if you don’t have the time to post every single day. You can, you know, set a day where you say, “You know what, I’m going to schedule posts to go out for the next week,” and then you don’t have to worry about it. You can do that.

The only thing I will say with scheduling posts is if you don’t have someone doing it, then you will have to find time to engage. Because that’s where the value comes in. If someone comments on your posts, if someone asks a question, you will meet someone or you will have to schedule some time to engage with them, because that’s really where the relationship is built. That’s also where the whole, you know, know, like, and trust factor comes in as well. It’s in the engagement, if people are asking questions, if they’re commenting, you wanna engage with them so they feel like, “Okay, there’s somebody behind there and everything is not automated.”

Because it’s great to use automation, but you don’t want your audience to know that you’re using automation. Because people will…you know, people won’t wanna engage with that. So just be careful with that. And something else I will mention, if you do use automation tools, be mindful of the time that we’re in. For example, I know people who used automation tools before the pandemic, and they didn’t change the content. So it was no longer relevant once the pandemic hit. They had scheduled posts so far in advance that, you know, when the pandemic hit, they were still, you know, marketing like they were normally marketing as if there wasn’t a pandemic. So then the information was no longer relevant. So that’s just something you want to be mindful of as well is if you’re gonna schedule posts, you know, way out there in advance, just keep an ear to what’s happening in your local market so that your content is still relevant to your audience.

Eric: Right. Yeah, that’s really good advice. We had a previous episode where we talked about marketing during the pandemic, and that was certainly something that you have to be mindful of that kind of thing. I mean, the pandemic is such a large widespread thing, but there can be localized versions of that too, something locally happens in your market that if you are tone deaf to it, that can negatively impact your reputation.

Shondell: Absolutely. Absolutely. And it just kind of goes back to knowing your audience. Right, because if you know your audience, then you will always put out relevant content, because, you know, you know them in terms of you’re almost friends with them. You know them by name, you know, you’ve built a relationship with them so you know what’s happening in their life. Then it just, it really becomes holistic if you start from the beginning and work your way to building that long-term relationship. You’ll know your clients so well that you’ll know the type of content to put out there, and you will be mindful of what’s happening because you know them so well.

Eric: Exactly. Yeah. I love that. Well, Shondell, do you have any final thoughts on the topic of content marketing that you want to share before we wrap up?

Shondell: No, I think I covered what I wanted to talk about.

Eric: Excellent. All right, well, Shondell, sincerely, thank you for joining me today and providing such helpful insights. If any of our listeners have a question or wanna learn more, maybe they’ve got a question about some of the tools we mentioned, what’s the best way they can get the support they need?

Shondell: You can go to our website at varcimedia.com. We’ve got a bunch of free information there. We’ve got a blog checklist. So if you have started a blog and you’re not sure if you included everything that’s needed, there’s a free checklist that you can check out. And then there’s a guide that I also wrote as well, that just gets a little deeper into exactly how to find your target audience, how to get in front of them, and how to write the content that they will like, that’s free as well. And that’s exactly step-by-step on what we do for our clients in terms of, you know, helping them find their audience and write effective content. So that’s all free on our website.

And then you can check out our blog post, we posts pretty often with a lot of useful information on there as well, that’s all free. So you can check that out and, you know, create content that resonates with your audience.

Eric: That’s awesome. And I know that your business primarily focuses on financial institutions, but that would be applicable to any business, really.

Shondell: Absolutely, yeah. The information in there really, you can use it for your business because it just gets into how to write for your target audience, whoever your target audience is. So yeah, the information, you can definitely use that for everybody.

Eric: Awesome. Shondell, thank you so much.

Shondell: Oh, you’re so welcome. Thank you so much for having me.

Eric: Absolutely, it’s my pleasure. Well, that brings us to the end of our show. You can always find more episodes by visiting mybank.com/podcast or on your favorite podcast app. You can always leave us feedback, ask questions, or request the topic for us to discuss by sending an email to podcast@mybank.com. Thanks for listening. We’ll be back next week with more helpful content. But until then, we wish you the best in focusing on what matters most to you.

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