Interview with Katie Barber, Content Writing Specialist

Interview with Katie Barber, Content Writing Specialist
Interview with Katie Barber, Content Writing Specialist

First, welcome to our Experts Interview section, By hasty insights. It’s a pleasure to take your interview. We would like to know how did your journey start in Social Media and Content writing?

When I was in school social media didn’t exist yet, and there were only a few people who used the internet and saw any point in it. I loved writing but journalism didn’t particularly interest me so I studied design. I’m not really a designer either, but a design education allowed me to become fluent in different kinds of professional software, and I spent a lot of time making magazines and websites on the side with the other students at my university.

All in all, I was just a nerd growing up. I was the type of kid that’s always being nagged by their parents to get off the computer. Instead of building sites and blogging when I was at studying, I should have been doing my course work. No one seemed to think there was any point in messing about with the back end of the internet, digital marketing wasn’t a job back then, so I just came across as an aimless procrastinator.

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After I graduated I struggled to find work, as it was the middle of the recession. I also had no idea what I actually wanted to do. After a couple of marketing temp jobs, I landed a position at a global enterprise software company which was just taking off. They were hiring young people who were willing to get stuck in and work hard. They saw my enthusiasm for all things internet and gave me a job managing their social media accounts. This was over 10 years ago now, it was a very unusual job at the time and no one in my family understood what I did.

When I saw the web traffic going up and saw that my efforts were making a real difference to the business, I was hooked on marketing and knew that’s the area I wanted to be in for the rest of my career. After that job, I became very ambitious and focused. It was easy to find a job in social after that because by the time I moved on plenty of business owners wanted to experiment with social media but needed a geek to help them understand the ins and outs of the internet.

What do you consider essential skills for a social media marketing team these days?

When I first started out, people who were hiring me found it really difficult to even set up and use a Twitter account. That’s still true for some of my clients, but for the most part, the internet is getting more and more user-friendly. Many people can run their social media accounts themselves nowadays so to be worthwhile you need to have an excellent understanding of traditional marketing psychology, persuasion and the customer.

It’s very rare now that I get clients who have never tried social media before. Usually, I am taking over from another agency. So I have to be able to present a strategy that is going to out-perform the previous activity.

I’d say build up your wider business and marketing skills, anyone can learn how to schedule posts on Hootsuite. Not everyone can write a convincing message at a well-targeted customer.

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What do you feel are the most underrated skills in a marketing team these days?

You’d be surprised how many marketing teams struggle with lack of basic spelling and grammar. The goal should be to create work that the client feels is good to go, without them having to proofread it like a school teacher. So any marketer that can do that deserves a pat on the back in my opinion.

What do you see as the biggest challenges for social media marketing professionals over the next year?

The internet is favouring more animated and video content, so I think it’s going to be challenging for us to incorporate that alongside being able to write good copy.

Another thing is Instagram, it’s getting much harder for everyone – businesses and influencers to get a high reach. Reach seems to have been cut pretty drastically, and the algorithms always seem to be changing. It’s going to be a challenge to work out where we are with that platform and how to increase numbers. I personally think that advertising is going to become more of a necessity on Instagram, as Facebook went the same way a couple of years ago.

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People are getting bombarded with content and advertisements. In such competitive space, what is the right way to get your target audience eyeballs on your content?

I’m moving away from the 500-600 word blog to content that’s more detailed and long-form. I think if you put effort into something and it’s good quality it will perform. Yes, there is an over-saturation of content but the majority of it is quite poor. Many people are blogging just for the sake of it, even hobbyist bloggers.

Ad wise, I find it really hard to predict which ad will take off and which ones won’t. Some of my better performing ads have been the ones I really didn’t expect to go down well. It’s always a science experiment with advertising. A/B test everything to see which minor changes are performing the best. When I’m creating ads I make many variations to a variety of audiences and see which one gets the best results. Even if you have an ad that’s getting you a lot of business, it can start under performing the next month for no identifiable reason!

Content vs. Technology innovations in Social Media – what do you think is the current strength of the social media market and where do you think we lack expertise currently?

The first wave of digital marketers like myself have been doing everything by trial and error and the majority of us are self-taught. We’re creating a whole new industry and I think it’s going pretty well, so that’s our strength. It’s great to see so many new university courses and so many young people getting into digital and have the guidance from more experienced workers, rather than having to figure it out on their own. But, the industry is still understaffed and under-skilled.

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I live in a large city in the UK, usually the agencies I work with struggle to find good people and I’m always being asked to recommend freelancers. But I and all the good freelancers I know are usually totally booked up.

It may seem like the world is flooded with digital marketers, but that’s probably because we’re so good at marketing ourselves! In reality, there are more businesses than most digital agencies can take on, and more and more businesses are digitalizing their business strategy each year.

I'd recommend that experienced digital marketers get involved with their local universities and ask them if they need any help with workshops, guest lectures or work placements. Click To Tweet

I help my local uni work on real-life projects, supervised by their lecturers and it’s good fun. At the end of the day, if we have no one to hire, none of us can grow our business. We all need to make sure that the next-gen are well trained, and aren’t relying on dodgy sources of information.

How do you generate new ideas for content on your platform?

I manage several different platforms in a variety of industries, from fire safety to marmalade. It can be hard to think up new ideas every day for years on end, particularly as clients don’t tend to enjoy getting involved in the process long term.

There are plenty of national and international campaigns to work on. #RealBreadMonth has been perfect for my marmalade client, for example. I also spend a lot of time looking through government guides and handbooks, my client’s suppliers, charities, industry magazines – it’s endless! The majority of my time is spent researching.

Which is more important, data or content to the future of marketing? Why?

Hard to answer.

Without data, you wouldn't be able to understand whether your content was successful or not. Without content, you wouldn't have any marketing material at all. Click To Tweet

What advice would you give to young people who want to become a content writer someday?

It’s really easy to write about something you are passionate about and interested in like fashion or makeup or sport. It’s not so easy to write about plumbing. But if you want to make money as a marketer, you’ll have to be prepared to learn about new industries and fully understand why your client’s product is so appealing to their customer. The industries which content writers are reluctant to work in are the areas where it’s going to be easiest for you to start out and make money.

You have to be able to really get in the head of someone who is totally different to you. For example, one of my client’s customers are retirees with high bank balances who are struggling with hearing. So in my day to day life, I try and imagine how they would feel if they were engaged in the activity I am doing. How do they feel when they go for a coffee, or to a concert? What do they enjoy? What problems do they have? How can my client’s product solve that problem for them?

I’m often imagining myself as a 45-year-old IT exec who loves playing golf. Or a 55-year-old housewife who is deciding between a new bathroom and a new kitchen.

So although your fashion/sport/music blog is impressive, it’s great for an employer to see that you can write to different audiences in different voices. And that you can make something you aren’t even interested in buying, appealing to a customer who is totally different from you.

I’d say this begins with talking to people who are very different to you, asking them questions about their life and listening to how they talk and what vocabulary they use. Then attempt to write in their voice about something they find exciting.

If a young person had this skill, I’d be really impressed.

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What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in content creation in recent years compared to a few years ago?

Many more people are requiring content creation and there are many more unskilled people offering this service. It’s become a popular area to work in because it’s a job you can do at home. So while there is much more work out there and the competition is relatively low, it’s still necessary to highlight your expertise and make sure you have a strong brand so that you stand out from the crowd. Customers have become distrusting of digital marketers because there are so many cowboys out there. So a good reputation is more important now than it’s ever been.

Next: Interview with Kenneth Yu, Digital Brand Management Head at Allianz PNB Life

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