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The Secret Sauce, Ep. 15: Understanding Content Ecosystems

How do you build a variety of well-rounded content for your site, and ensure that it's all working toward a common goal? Marketing and Communications Lead Shawn Smith shares his thoughts on content ecosystems, and provides a framework for how you can approach the concept in this week's Secret Sauce.

How do you build a variety of well-rounded content for your site, and ensure that it's all working toward a common goal? Marketing and Communications Lead Shawn Smith shares his thoughts on content ecosystems, and provides a framework for how you can approach the concept in this week's Secret Sauce.

How do you build a variety of well-rounded content for your site? And is it all working toward a common goal? If it seems disparate, maybe it's time to look at your content development, writing, and publishing as an ecosystem where all parts – big and small alike – have their place and are working together to support that ecosystem. But how does it work? Marketing and Communications Lead Shawn Smith shares his thoughts and provides a framework in this week's Secret Sauce.

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We'll be back next Tuesday with another episode of the Secret Sauce and a new installment of our long-form interview podcast On the Air With Palantir next month, but for now subscribe to all of our episodes over on iTunes.


Allison Manley [AM]: Hi, and welcome to the Secret Sauce, brought to you by This is a short podcast that offers a quick tip on some small thing you can do to help your business run better. I’m Allison Manley, an account manager here at Palantir, and today’s advice comes from Shawn Smith who is going to talk about how content ecosystems can work for you.

Shawn Smith [SS]: Hi I'm Shawn Smith, Marketing and Communications Lead here at Today I'm going to talk to you about the concept of a content ecosystem, and why it might be the right choice for your team and organization with regard to content creation, publishing, and how it dovetails with your overall marketing strategy.

This is a big topic, of course, so I'm going to do my best to give you a high level overview of how it could work, without getting too far into the weeds. Think of it as a general framework, with which you can begin to understand how you could use it, and also how to think about the development of your content (including but not limited to content verticals).

It also has to deal with your sales and marketing goals, customer personas, and other important considerations, so the assumption going in is that you have some of this articulated.

With that in mind, let's start at the beginning: an ecosystem. In biological terms, an ecosystem is a biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment, or, in general use, a complex network or interconnected system.

The important terms here are community, interaction, network or system, and interconnectedness. And health, but we'll get into that later.

I think this concept is particularly useful if you are part of a small marketing team. Here at Palantir, the team is quite small… in other words, it’s just me. I have some help from our account managers, our sales folks, and others. BUT there is a big caveat here regardless of marketing team size, and that is the opportunity for team-sourced content. After all, we have about 25 different people working at different disciplines in the company.

Given that content publishing is hugely important for a service-based company like Palantir for sales purposes, we *must* have a variety of different content types to attract and keep engaged our various audience types (and ultimately lead them to choosing us for projects, of course).

We create content about the kind work we do, share insights on new technology, details on events at which we're speaking, how our company operates culturally, job openings, our client's projects, and many other types.

And while we work in a variety of disciplines, some, like development and supporting technologies, are quite technical in nature. So we'll use something technical as an example for developing content as part of an effective content ecosystem.

But before we talk about content, let's start with the 20,000 ft view of this content ecosystem framework to understand how it operates: It's important to think holistically, and build upon some sort of overarching goal your organization has.

What is the goal upon which we can build a foundation for our marketing plan and strategy? We value collaboration and transparency both internally and with our clients at Palantir. And with our 20th Anniversary around the corner, we're focusing on allowing our company values to surface throughout the content we generate. That's a great goal to use an anchor.

From there, we think of a supporting theme for the quarter (or any length of time that may work for your organization). This theme could be one of your marketing campaigns.

For example, we know that our strategy services in all their forms are incredibly important for our client projects, and can vastly increase the success rate. We'll use this as our supporting theme for the quarter, focusing on strategy services.

From here, you can get as granular as you wish. I like to then take the quarterly theme, and break it down monthly and overlay with other targets we want to hit due to an event coming up, a conference, client project launching, or some other kind of happening. You can go further down this rabbit hole, too, breaking down by week or even by day should there be a particularly important sales and marketing opportunity coming up.

Now that we have a basic framework, let's get back to content. Earlier we decided to go with something somewhat technical in nature… so how about Drupal 8 as a platform choice for our client projects?

It's a big topic, and can inspire content big and small in nature, and that's perfect because every bit of content in the ecosystem has its place; it could be small and fun and, say, community facing, or technical and epic, or somewhere between.

Now, let's take a look at Drupal 8 as a content generation concept, with strategy as a theme, and collaboration and transparency as our overarching goal. What content can we develop around this?

We could talk about Drupal 8's new features that make it easier for content editors to publish content. That is likely strategically important for our almost all of our clients. But how does this work in Drupal 8? This could be a blog post, a webinar, a downloadable how-to, a podcast, and certainly supported via social channels to point people to this various content.

We could also talk about something much more technical in Drupal 8, like how it has REST baked in, or how it plays nice with a suite of PHP technologies out of the box. The question here then becomes: who are we targeting with this content, and where does it fit into our content ecosystem during this time? More specifically, how does it work with our theme? And further, does it hit our target goals? It could, so long as we tailor that content to do so. REST being baked into Drupal 8, not to mention it playing nice with PHP technologies, provides our clients a variety of interesting ways to surface data and interact with external data sources to offer the kind of content and information their audience wants. So we can talk about that generally, or offer a technical whitepaper. We could host a webinar that explains this in a non-technical way to be more transparent about technology. Any many other content types, all appropriate for our theme, working toward our goals.

The examples could continue, but the important thing is that it sets you up with a framework to both make sense of what content you could publish, but more important WHY you're publishing it. It's also important to make this concept your own. It shouldn't be overly rigid, it’s not prescriptive, nor should it be too soft… instead it should be… well, squishy. After all, stuff is going to come up and you'll have to pivot and scramble to get some sort of content online that may not entirely jive with your theme or goals exactly.

To review:

  • Establish your company goals, whatever they may be
  • You then develop a quarterly theme based on some targets or other happenings occurring during that time
  • You determine your preferred level of granularity, be it monthly, weekly, or even daily
  • You then create content that both supports your theme and goals, making sure you look at it through these important lenses
  • Then you make sure you have a variety of content, whether small and fun or technical and epic, or something between

If you're interested in introducing this for your company, and you're in charge of marketing and/or content generation, you'll need to own it and act as the product owner, really. And if you have a team from which content can be developed, their buy-in is going to be key to your success. While this approach may be rooted in generating leads and driving sales, it's also about highlighting all of the things that make your company and your team amazing. Revenue generation is a nice byproduct of that.

If you utilize this method, and make it work for your organization, I'm confident that in time you'll have a healthy content ecosystem. And as an aside, if you use the inbound methodology, this is a fantastic compliment to that as well.

AM: For more great tips, follow us on Twitter at @palantir, or visit our website at Have a great day!

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