by Steven Threndyle

Freelancers perusing job listings on Indeed or Glassdoor will often come across content marketing writing gigs. It’s a job that requires the imagination of an advertising copywriter, the inquisitiveness and writing discipline of a journalist and a bit of an understanding of data science.

Increasingly, this kind of writing is being outsourced by major brands to digital marketing agencies who then, depending on workflow, assign these stories out to freelancers.

Quietly is a Yaletown-based digital marketing firm led by two successful Vancouver tech-preneurs; Dario Meli from Hootsuite and Sean Tyson from Invoke Media. Using advanced proprietary software to tease out consumer insights, Quietly consults for world-wide brands such as Sotheby’s Realty, PWC and Okta, a Silicon Valley software security company. Quietly seeks to “quietly” nudge consumer awareness through engaging storytelling, rather than bludgeoning them with blatant sales messages (TODAY ONLY—75% OFF!).

Kristin Ramsey is Quietly’s editorial director. She says, “We like to think of the internet as this giant focus group. We ask our clients questions like, ‘How do customers find your company? How does your website currently perform? How would you like your customers to find you?’ In some industries, the average consumer will look at five or six pieces of content before they purchase a product or service. Our data-driven approach uncovers what those pieces of content should be.”

She says, “The goal is to drive customer awareness and conversion, which we can do in a number of ways. We’ll look at the broader business category and study what relevant topics might be trending when it comes to search terms. We study our client’s competitors to find out which stories perform well and where gaps exist that we can fill. We’ll even use Quora to find out what people are talking about in on-line forums.”

Ramsey summarizes: “You’ve started by engaging a reader with a story that isn’t necessarily a sales piece. Then later, you reach them with another piece of content that shows how you solved their problem, hopefully by purchasing a product or service.” For instance, although Herschel and MEC both make backpacks, their target audiences might see themselves entirely differently; one is a fashion accessory for going back to school, the other is a tool for tackling a 4,000-metre summit. It’s not a ‘one size fits all’ solution.

In short, like other content marketing firms, Quietly helps brands become publishers—and more importantly, distributors—of their own content by formulating and executing a content strategy. The actual stories are written by freelancers.

The process begins with writers going to the Quietly website and creating an online portfolio, which Ramsey says can be added to or modified over time. She says, “Our editors review portfolios regularly so that we can match a writer’s specialties with the right client opportunity.”

Quietly reaches out to the writer and supplies a creative brief that contains information about the client and target audience, a style guide, headlines and angles, and required keywords for improving search-engine optimization (SEO). The brief also outlines the voice and tone required for each story, the depth of expertise of the target audience, and the role the story plays in achieving the client’s business goals.

She explains, “Each story is written to both index well with search engines and maximize reader engagement on social media platforms. If people like the content, they’ll share it and that exponentially increases its reach.”

Heidi Turner is an Abbotsford-based freelancer who wrote for Quietly in its early days. She feared that it was yet another “content mill” (like Suite 101, a keyword-stuffing content provider that paid its writers the woeful rate of ten cents per word).

“A typical month might see me write five blogs per month for a business website They would give me the topics and it was up to me to do the research and write and submit the articles. If changes were needed, the editors would let me know. All of the research was performed online. There was never more than one set of revisions per story. The people were lovely to work for and the pay was okay given how little time the articles took me. I would say that it’s great for someone in the early stages of their career to get experience writing and learning about new topics.”

It’s worth noting that this kind of performance-based storytelling has insinuated itself across all media and corporate channels. Social media can be a huge factor in a story’s success, and from an editorial standpoint—whether you’re a journalist or a corporate writer—future story decisions—and assignments might be driven by how many clicks, likes, or shares a story receives.

Virtually all online media outlets now prominently display “Most Read” stories; indeed, most of us have clicked on “Five Top Stories on Thursday October 11, 2018” for a quick media fix. In what might seem to be the ultimate insult to storytellers, this data-based decision-making even informs what kind of screenplays and scripts that Netflix will put into future development, based on viewer preferences. However, you might want to view it, content marketing is here to stay.

Shortly after moving to Vancouver from Winnipeg in 2015, Karsten Cramer attended an open house for tech start-ups attended by Quietly staff. He completed the online application and received the first of many assignments in a variety of different fields.

Indeed, experienced journalists would probably find Quietly to be a joy to work for. Cramer says, “My client is Quietly, and the Quietly editorial team takes full responsibility for liaising with their client and securing final signoff.” The creative brief is straightforward, and Quietly staff even vet/interview the client’s subject matter experts beforehand. Cramer continues to work for Quietly despite the fact that he’s recently moved to Amsterdam, proving again that “virtual careers” can be a reality.

Cramer says, “I would happily recommend working with Quietly as I appreciate their level of professionalism, their prompt payments and the fact that they are out there finding work for writers like me. However, I also recommend that any freelancer should aim to build up a stable of clients, both for the variety of work this brings and to minimize the risk of being dependent on just one or two clients for all your income.”

Although she declined to provide Quietly’s exact pricing structure, Ramsey says “Our goal is to enter into long-term relationships with our writers. We try to give them batches of stories to work on that can provide a consistent income.” She invites freelancers—especially ones with a specialty—to register on the Quiet.ly website which helps them match content with your areas of expertise.

One challenge for freelancers considering content marketing is that former journalists tend to be generalists, said Ramsey. The highest paying gigs are usually in specialized fields like finance, law, and technology.

Ramsey says, “Many of us come from a magazine publishing background. As an editorial team, we aren’t precious. We look to what the data is telling us as a starting point and create content that’s engineered to perform and that provides value to the reader.”

Steven Threndyle is a Vancouver-based freelance writer. You can find him on Twitter at @threndyleski.

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