Social media content writing tends to get brushed off as unserious by traditional writers: People get paid to Tweet 15 words, or put 8 words onto a pink background for an Instagram Story? Wait — you can do an Instagram Story with just words?
The answer to all of the above is, YES, and there’s definitely skill involved in writing for social media. Especially for dominating Twitter. Case in point for Twitter: the unexpected ascendancy of the Merriam-Webster account. Or the trollish brilliance of Wendy’s. Meanwhile, brand marketers at Converse have taken their Instagram Story Highlights section to a creative zone that lives between short-form documentary and old-school print ads. So if you’re a creative looking to expand creatively and financially, don’t scoff — there’s a lot of potential in this niche for talent who understand it.
For some large brands, there may be an agency, an in-house social media manager and a copywriter involved in crafting content for social media platforms. But at many companies, the same person produces and posts content (text, photo, video) for every one of a company’s channels. And many of these niche content producers do this for multiple accounts/brands (4, 10, even 20 or more).
Even for people who came up in the plate-spinning environment of an agency, that sort of multitasking is intimidating. So what does it take to write and produce content for 10 different accounts? And how do you figure out how to charge?
In this Niche Freelancer, we pose these questions to Nikki Goethals, founder of Marvel Marketing Squad. After 10 years in various creative functions from branding to fiction writing to freelance copywriting, she found her niche as a social media content resource for brands and social media management firms. She now is in her third year owning a boutique agency, and handles content creation for — wait for it — more than SIXTY (60!) brands monthly. Her answers may intimidate some of the long-form veteran writers, but they also illuminate a process and attitude that can keep dozens of clients happily on the rails in a social-driven world.
Interview with Nikki Goethals
How many clients do you create content and handle social for? How many require daily handling, how many are multiple times a week, and how many only require attention once a week or once every other week?
Goethals: Currently my company manages 22 overall clients, but it’s a bit more in-depth than that number might suggest. While I do have many direct clients, I found my niche as a content creator for social media managers. That means that I don’t just do content for their company, but also for a large bulk (if not all) of their clients. So, when you take that into consideration — Marvel Marketing Squad is actually creating content for over 60 clients a month! That’s 60+ different brands, different stories, and different industries.
I wish I could say that we had a method that worked for all 60 brands, but people run their businesses differently – requiring us to adapt how we deliver content. I’d say half of our clients have content created weekly (to coincide with their weekly blog post, video or other initiatives) and the other half we do all at once at the end of the month. I prefer the monthly work as it is more of a “set it and forget it” task. However, any of those 60 clients could email me on a daily basis asking for additions, changes, etcetera, so it’s hard to pinpoint just how much daily work is actually accomplished. My email is often a hopping place!
Do all your clients require content calendars (or do you require them for all clients?)
Goethals: We work with businesses at all stages. I’d say most of my clients definitely have a content calendar of some sort developed. A few of the newer businesses will rely on us to create one for them and adjust as we go. I would recommend a content or editorial calendar for anyone posting content online.
Do you also create visual content for some clients, or do they supply that?
Goethals: Yes, we are a full service content creation company. I have a squad of copywriters, content curators and graphic designers so we can handle any type of content.
Do you write memes, infographics, create GIFs, and build Instagram Stories as part of your content writing?
Goethals: We do all of those in-house, when they are incorporated in the content strategy. It can be tough to get an entrepreneur or small business on board with video marketing and some of the visual aspects of online marketing. We certainly encourage it but, typically, clients just want the right mix of copy and design to build their online presence and don’t tend to invest in some of the more advanced or trendy elements of content. I love handling those projects when they are requested though!
Do you create slightly different content for all channels?
Goethals: Absolutely. Society now has the attention span of a goldfish, so half of the battle when it comes to content is grabbing the audience’s attention. We certainly won’t encourage anyone to cut corners in this area (in this case budgeting for time to create the content). There are ideal ways to build content for each platform including hashtag strategy, frequency, timing, etc. Even the image dimensions are different per platform. Why post your best content to LinkedIn on Saturday? Most people aren’t in the office. It’s important to understand the differences and adapt content accordingly.
I see that you often work with social media management firms, or VAs, or other companies that have some crossover with what you do. How do you manage to carve out your specific role vs. what they handle — is it a delicate balancing act?
Goethals: It can be. Some of my best clients are social media managers, but yes, it can be tough marketing our social media content services without stepping on anyone’s toes.
I think the way we make this work is by staying in our own lane. We are a content management company, not a social media strategy company. When someone comes to me asking for something outside the scope of what we offer, I have some power players I bring in that can help with things like logo design, web design, social media strategy, social advertising, and virtual assistant work. We offer up high-quality content — whether it be for Facebook, a website, a blog, or a new business just getting started — and we are clear that we don’t manage the rest. We also team up well with businesses that handle these other tasks to make it as seamless as possible for the client. That way it feels like collaboration and not competition.
Could you describe how you block out a typical day when you have copy due for 8-10 different clients?
Goethals: Elaborate spreadsheets, lol! I know it seems like a low-tech answer, but we use some basic tools – such as Google Sheets and Trello/Asana to schedule out all the content and make sure it gets posted or delivered to the client on time. Since I work with a team of sub-contractors, Trello has been a lifesaver in getting content assigned, completed, edited and returned on time. And, I have an editor/proofreader who helps me stay on top of the deadlines.
As for a typical day, I’ll check my email first thing in the morning to make sure there aren’t any urgent requests and then I’ll either open up Trello and start sending/posting content or I’ll look at my schedule (spreadsheet) to see who is up next. I tend to prioritize by deadlines and go from there. I also have learned to give myself more time than I think I will need, just in case something last minute pops up and distracts me from the schedule.
What do you enjoy the most about your job?
Goethals: There are many things I love about my job. Getting a feel for a company’s brand – their voice and messaging and who they want to be when ‘they grow up’ – is always exciting for me. I honestly believe that my client’s success is my own success. I’d say over 90% of my work comes from referral or word-of-mouth marketing from happy clients. You really can’t ask for better than that!
I also really enjoy that I’m not just doing ONE thing day in and day out. I get to use my background in branding, marketing, copywriting and graphic design to create ALL kinds of fun or informative content. Since I’m a creative, it helps keep me energized. Plus, I’m doing more in the realm of networking, speaking and teaching classes — as if I didn’t already have enough to do!
What is the trickiest part of it?
Goethals: Like any good designer will tell you, you can’t please everyone. I’m usually able to get a client’s voice or brand fairly quickly, but that isn’t always the case.
Also, you’ll have the occasional client who has a pretty specific industry niche – isn’t creating any of their own content – and is expecting you to conjure up some online miracles for their business.
If a company hasn’t spent any time working on their own branding, that can be problematic too. I’ve discovered that I can tell now, after doing this for 3 years, whether or not a client has long-term potential just by how much thought they’ve put into their branding strategy.
Did you do any other kinds of writing before getting into social media content creation? If so, what kinds, and can you compare the pros and cons?
Goethals: Naturally. I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. Fiction is definitely a different beast in that you have more freedom to explore and try things and more time to edit out parts that don’t work. Content creation is fast. Businesses have to maintain a consistent presence – meet their goals – and find their target audience. There isn’t as much time or freedom to explore creative content in this role. This is especially true for business owners who haven’t taken time to draft a content strategy.
I can also draw on the decade that I did freelance copywriting in my spare time. Often, in those situations, you aren’t given much in the way of branding – just a topic and keyword set. In retrospect, it was difficult to create the best content that way because we weren’t given brand or company information to draw from. Of course, most of that work was to game the SEO rule,s so it wasn’t as much of a priority then as it is now. Brand storytelling is where people are going because in order to draw people in, you have to stand out.
What do traditional writers need to understand, or in what aspects do they need to retrain their brains, in order to be successful at social media content creation?
Goethals: While I can’t speak with any authority on the priorities these other authors need to focus on, I can say that social media content creation is all about the audience. Companies fall into a trap of telling instead of showing or talking about themselves instead of their target audience. It’s about more than finding a ‘pain point’, it’s about communicating how you deliver a solution to their problem. When I talk to my clients, I remind them that they are not the hero of the story – their clients are. When we treat our audience as heroes and make it easy for them to resolve their current issues – then they’ll come back to us for the solution to their next one.
Also, I think it’s important to pay attention to the content we consume. If our ideal client looks a lot like us, then the content we take the time to read, view or digest is important. Do you gravitate to long-form blog posts or 30-second videos? Your answers can reveal much about your direction and where you will find the most success.
Social media marketing can be used to drum up new business, but many new owners think they can just throw up any kind of content and the effect will be this passive climb to six figures. That’s not the case. If we aren’t giving the audience what it wants, then we won’t actually have an audience at all.