Contently, a startup that helps brands find freelance writers, is rolling out a number of new features this week for brands that are pushing to communicate with consumers with stories and blogs that don't look or sound like advertising.
Contently's initial focus was on helping freelancers, and today claims more than 10,000 freelancers in its network. It has a few publisher clients (Forbes, The Atlantic) who use it to help create native ads for brands, but the vast majority of its growth is coming from brands themselves (Viacom, Procter & Gamble).
Now, Contently is expanding its contributor roster to include photographers, infographic artists and editors, starting with a partnership with designer marketplace Visual.ly. Clients will be able to build custom groups of contributors, communicate with them and get story ideas from them as a group.
Other changes are designed to smooth out the legal signoff and internal content approval process that organizations deal with when contracting to use outside talent. A new suite of analytics will measure the reach (impressions), engagement (minutes spent) and influence (action taken via shares, comments and subscribes) of each story a brand publishes.
Content marketing may be booming, but it's still nascent, and companies are still trying to figure out how to create sophisticated content that people will actually want to read and share and not just peddle propaganda. While they're trying to get more artful in their storytelling, they're also finding that managing the content creation process that's familiar to publishers is cumbersome. The amount of work involved for content that may only live on a few platforms is an ongoing concern, so brands obviously are motivated to find ways to streamline the workflow.
"The evolution is about how can we facilitate the storytelling process,” said Shane Snow, a co-founder of Contently. “The biggest thing we’re hearing is this clamor by brands saying, 'We have this content, but we have to get our lawyers to sign off on it, and they mark it up and fax it back.' It’s this archaic way of doing things.”
Clearly, for content marketing and its cousin, native advertising, to gain traction, brands will not only have to master the process, but be able to demonstrate through metrics that the outcome is something people actually want to engage with—and not just another press release.