Here we explain content atomisation in action: a popular hack to get your high-quality content working as hard as it should.
“In a 140-character world, a white paper feels like reading Moby Dick. Backwards. While covered in maple syrup.” – Jay Baer, President of Convince & Convert
In the publishing and media industry, the atomisation trend is growing. Made easier by the proliferation of digital spaces, capabilities and tools, its benefits are shared by both audiences and brands. In essence, it means the unbundling, parsing, repurposing and leveraging of content into easier-to-consume content bits, which are fanned out across well chosen channels and platforms through targeted distribution.
The aim of atomisation: to maximise the reach and return of high-value content – promoting it in ways that suit the conditions of each platform and the preferences of each audience.
Atomisation may take the shape of a white paper being broken down into an infographic for Facebook. It might be a webinar remixed into a sequence of snappy YouTube vox pops. Or it could be a podcast episode derived from a keynote speaker at one of your own major hosted events. In each instance, these juicy nuggets will be working to drive audiences back to that main piece of content – which is often a blue ribbon piece (aka big rock or hero piece) into which you’ve invested significant hours, effort and research.
Here, we look at the good, the gormless and the grounding logic of atomisation. We also give an example of how Engineers Australia partnered with Newforma Inc to atomise a major two-city Australian event.
Atomisation done wrong
A 7000-word white paper, with each successive sentence a tweet.
The first chapter of an ebook, transferred to a blog post (having a gated ‘read more’ link at the base) – with not a single word changed.
A conservative brand snapchatting about their webinar pre-launch.
These are examples of atomisation done wrong (all, as far as we know, thankfully not drawn from real life). Here’s why.
The first example is guilty of hyper-atomisation. No content needs to be splintered that much. A better approach would be to select a few choice quotes and perhaps get your design team to format them into an infographic for the feed.
The second example commits the ‘cut and paste’ crime, along with a hamfisted matching of content to audience type. Basic persona mapping will tell you that blog readers will be at a different stage in their customer journey than those reading an ebook. Typically, they will be at the ‘awareness’ or top-of-funnel stage – curious about your brand’s offerings, but unprepared to deepen the relationship with you without being convinced why.
Their needs, reading preferences and expectations are very different from those who have already sundered over their details to download a gated ebook. A better atomisation strategy would have been to uniquely spin out a key insight behind the research – perhaps having a form fill pop-up to the ebook appear on the article page (but only when the user has read at least halfway through).
The third example may have begun like this:
Executive (brashly): “Okay, this webinar is a big thing, team. Real big. We have to push it across channels. Forty times guys. Forty different kinds of atomisation. Snapchat’s popular, right? Let’s put it out on snapchat. Somebody Snapchat me talking about our webinar.”
Marketer (timidly): “Uh…But boss. Our audience doesn’t use Snapchat. Also, you usually can Snapchat solo…”
Executive (excitedly): “Forty times!”
It comes back to the point and purpose of atomisation: to repurpose hefty, high-quality content, tailor it for different audiences on different channels and use it to drive audiences back to the main.
Atomisation as part of the master strategy
Atomisation done well isn’t atomisation as afterthought. It begins right up in the planning stages. When you’re building your big rock, you should be engineering in and/or envisioning the ‘fault lines’ where it can be split up later on.
Let’s say, for instance, you’re an authoritative player in the fintech industry. Your goal for the coming quarter, the team has agreed, is to nab 500 marketing-qualified leads. To do this, you plan a big, gorgeously designed gated ebook, featuring a diverse selection of industry experts sharing thoughts, insights and predictions on the state of digital disruption in finance five years from now.
Before a single word has been put down, you’re already thinking about how to atomise it. You decide that in your phone calls with experts, you’ll ask to record them so as to use select quotes to produce a podcast series around. You invest in the resources to make sure their voices don’t crackle or sound like they’re coming from an empty Heinz tin.
You plot infographics around key statistics referenced with the design team briefed early on. You also plan your editorial calendar around the launch date, ensuring that across the quarter you have at least a dozen articles that are tied to the asset, with calls to action to download it.
With those interviewees you can meet face to face, you create videos to embed in guest-authored blogs, and ensure they are on board to promote their guest posts on their own channels too.
And, of course, you ensure that you have budgeted sufficient social media dollars to promote these blogs, videos, podcasts and infographics across social media campaigns.
In other words, atomisation should be part of your master strategy. As Contently found, marketing teams that take the time to plan and document their strategy have more sophisticated programs than those who don’t. Besides making your job easier (and your operations less slapdash), it just makes business sense – ensuring this big content marketing investment isn’t dumped in one hard-to-get corner of your website and forgotten, but instead is working as hard as it can, in as many permutations as it needs to be in, to fulfil the purpose it set out to do.
Atomisation done right: An Engineers Australia and Newforma case study
Unlike the ultimate (and slightly hyperbolic) bad examples we talked about earlier, this atomisation case study isn’t a hypothetical, but sourced from real life.
In mid-2017, software company Newforma partnered with Engineers Australia to host two roundtables in Sydney and Melbourne. Over breakfast, leading industry specialists shared their insights and perspectives on the future of construction in a data-driven world. (Full disclosure: Engineers Australia is a Mahlab client.)
In the months following, the panel discussion was built into an eight-page feature for the September issue of create, the association’s premier print magazine for members. Two of these pages were set aside for an infographic, giving quick and engaging visual representation to dozens of statistics.
The feature piece then entered its next atomisation stage, repurposed into snappy online pieces and run as a six-part sponsored content series on the Engineers Australia website. Each story was amplified on Facebook and targeted to relevant industry professionals.
The best-performing post had a particular appeal for its audiences. Why? Because it looked at the audience’s specialisation in a novel way. Specifically, how data analysis and tools had found a hidden connection between Phillip Island fairy penguins, trees and Sydney property values. With a low cost-per-click, the Facebook post scored an additional 15 likes to the Engineers Australia page and a reach of over 15,000.
Through using atomisation as part of a planned content strategy, an exclusive breakfast event didn’t end as it might’ve done in previous years – i.e. at the point when industry leaders polished off their eggs and closed up talks to head into their day. Instead, the event found a new, extended and richer life across an array of different platforms and channels.
This is, in other words, atomisation done right.