The Time-traveller’s guide to Quantum Leap content

Unleashing your content’s time-travelling potential can revolutionise your strategy, unburden your schedule, and ensure you’re delivering consistent value to your audiences

June 11, 2018

The Time-traveller’s guide to Quantum Leap content

Time can be a hard taskmaster for a B2B content marketer. We operate to demanding schedules where we need to balance quality with frequency, and originality with visibility. At a time when thought-leadership content has an increasing influence over B2B buying decisions, there’s a natural pressure to keep coming up with expert, compelling content. You’re only as influential as your most recent and visible contribution to the conversation in your category.

The best content marketers make sound strategic decisions about how frequent those contributions to the conversation need to be – but it can still end up feeling like the content timetable takes the best that you can throw at it, and just keeps asking for more. Delivering value to audiences on an ongoing basis is the right objective, but it’s certainly not an easy one.

But what if you were able to reverse your relationship to time and the timetable? What if you could bend the content timeline so that it multiplies the value of what you create rather than just demanding more value from you? The most effective content marketers make every great idea count, time and time again. As a result, they are able to deliver originality and relevance for their audience on a consistent, ongoing basis.

What is Quantum Leap content?
I’m not talking about mindlessly resurrecting old content just to fill a gap. I’m not talking about saying the same thing over and over until you sound like a broken record. I’m not talking about recycling old content as an alternative to having fresh and original ideas. The solution to demanding timelines isn’t brainless zombie content that wanders through eternity with no connection to what’s happening around it. The solution is Quantum Leap content: content that can arrive at any point in time with something relevant and compelling to say. It can play an equally valuable role in the past, the present and the future. Remember the TV show with Scott Bakula arriving at different points in history equipped with the unique perspective and ideas to change things for the better? When we recycle and re-use content as part of our content marketing strategy, that’s exactly what we should be aiming to do.

It sounds ambitious but it’s actually very achievable. I know this because Quantum Leap content plays a vital role in LinkedIn’s own content marketing strategy. It’s a role that’s kept evolving as we find more content formats to play with. We’ve found that approaching the lifespan of content in a different way isn’t an alternative to originality and innovation – instead it encourages and empowers it.

The three dimensions of time-travelling content marketing
There are three dimensions to becoming a time-travelling content marketer: planning your content from the start in a way that gives it the potential to make an on-going contribution, bringing your existing, righteous content back from the past, and bringing exciting content forward from the future. Each of these dimensions extends the lifetime and the value of the content you are already creating.

The TARDIS approach to planning time-travelling content
Our approach to planning content for the long-term is built around the ‘Big Rock’. For anyone not familiar with this term, Big Rocks are the most important, substantive and meaningful content assets that you produce. They take the subjects that matter most to your business and your audience, and they explore them with depth and authority.

Once LinkedIn started building our content strategy around Big Rocks, we started to generate levels of engagement that we’d never seen before – and significantly, levels of engagement that barely diminished over time. Our first Big Rock was The Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to LinkedIn. We’ve updated the content of this guide every year since we launched it but it still has the same fundamental core content that it started out with. It’s now been downloaded on more than 1 million occasions.

When we started to explore the reasons why our Big Rocks deliver such ongoing value, it became clear that it wasn’t down to chance. Our Big Rocks were natural time-travellers because of the way we planned, structured and created the content to begin with. This helped to ensure their continued relevance. It positioned them in a way that made it easy to update them and keep them fresh and valuable. Perhaps most significantly, it enabled us to generate an endless stream of different content assets and formats based on the original Big Rock. We ‘turkey slice’ them to create infographics, opinion pieces, how-to guides, Q&A features, animations and more. Each of these items of spin-off content can be tailored to make a different contribution at a different point in time – and each also leads back to the core Big Rock.

With hindsight, there are six key characteristics of Big Rock content assets that enable them to play this time-travelling role: Topicality, Authority, Relevance, Detail or Data, Interviews and Structural features (TARDIS for short). Embedding these characteristics when you first plan your major content assets can play a big role in extending the timeline over which they add value for your business:

Topicality is extended timeliness. It aligns your content asset with an issue that your audience cares about right now – but also an issue that is likely to have ongoing resonance and relevance. We’ve produced definitive Big Rock guides to Content Marketing and Metrics and Analytics because we know that these are issues that are at the top of B2B marketers’ agendas now – and are likely to stay high up on those agendas for some time to come. Other topics may become more or less of a priority for marketers over time. This isn’t necessarily a problem. If you have a clear sense of the topical value that your content offers then you’ll be ready to reactivate that content when events push issues back up the agenda.

Authority is the single most important characteristic for time-travelling content. It ensures that your point of view will be seen as valuable at any point when audiences engage with it. Aim to create the definitive answer to a question that your audience asks – or the definitive take on a subject they care about. The authority that you can embed enables your content to stand up over time. You may want to update it ready to re-enter the conversation at a later point, but that core value means that you won’t have to start from scratch.

The best starting point for content that can engage over an extended period of time is content that engages immediately in the here and now. Business decision-makers list relevance to what they are currently working on as one of the most important triggers to engaging with content, and that makes an understanding of your audience’s current priorities vital to driving engagement. However, it doesn’t mean that your core, authoritative content won’t also be relevant to decision-makers facing similar challenges in the future – you just need to make the connection to those issues in a different way. This is why it’s important to be ready to refresh how you present your Quantum Leap content at different points in time. Use fresh headlines, intro copy and images within LinkedIn Sponsored Content to relate your Big Rock to the headlines of the day. Refresh the core content asset with a new introduction or new illustrative examples on an annual basis – and spin those off as timely content assets to keep it front of mind.

Detail or Data
The value in a definitive piece of content often comes through the level of practical detail that you are able to provide. Topline views of a subject come and go – but handbooks that provide you with practical guidance tend to have an ongoing value. Don’t be afraid to get specific and in-depth with your time-travelling content. You can always update any details that change from year to year.

Often the detail in a definitive, Big Rock content asset comes through data. On the surface, it might seem that this will quickly date your content and prevent it from making a contribution in the future. When planned carefully though, content can gain additional traction and ongoing value through the smart use of original data and research. Identify data points that have an ongoing relevance to your subject and your audience – then update those data points on an annual basis. It’s a great way to signal the ongoing relevance of your core content each year.

Introducing different perspectives on a subject through Q&As and influencer profiles adds value to content both immediately and over time. Interviews are fantastic ‘turkey slice’ content that can be packaged separately as blog posts and included as value-adding quotes in related future content features.

Structural features
Structural features are the elements that you include to enable Big Rock content to engage on different levels: the box-outs, panels, infographics and illustrations that communicate information in different ways and cater to different types and levels of attention. Like interviews, these make the core content itself more engaging, but they also enable it to engage in different formats over a longer timeframe. Infographics are great content assets in their own right and can also be adapted as more focused nanographics, a proven way of capturing attention in the LinkedIn feed. Box-outs and panels are pre-written shorter blog posts, often with a practical focus that audiences appreciate. Illustrations can be brought together to provide a visual tour of your subject – and re-used over time to capture attention.

Applying the TARDIS principles to your planning will help to ensure that the major content assets you invest in are capable of delivering ongoing value over time – ready to be slotted into your content schedule whenever they are most relevant to your audience and your objectives. But these Big Rock assets aren’t the only types of content that are capable of time travel. The content that you’ve already created and the content that you are about to create can both play a role in the here and now. These are the two other dimensions of Quantum Leap content marketing: bringing back righteous content from the past, and bringing exciting content forward from the future.

Reviving righteous content from the past
Pre-loved content has a huge role to play in the present, provided you take a smart approach to repackaging its value. Not everything you’ve published in the past will be worth reviving in this way. However, when you have clear measures of success and a clear idea of what’s worked, you’ll quickly identify a list of righteous content that has the potential to keep delivering for you going forward.

At LinkedIn, we take three different approaches to recycling this content – and all three have delivered fantastic engagement levels and measurable ROI on the back of very little additional time and investment. In fact, we often find that high-quality content can deliver even greater value second or third time around:

Remixing big hits by changing the format
Changing the format of successful content can help it to reach new audiences and multiply the value that it drives for your business. We often remix content that’s resonated on other platforms to generate increased reach and ROI on LinkedIn.

The most successful tweets, for example, tend to have all of the characteristics of successful Sponsored Content: they are succinct, supported by striking images and have a clear call to action. With a little tweaking they can have a second life driving engagement in the LinkedIn feed, often among a more targeted and relevant audience. The same holds true of successful emails. We reformat these as Sponsored InMails and tend to find that open and engagement rates go up even further. Recently, we’ve worked on editing down successful posts from our blog to use as extended content updates. It puts our core ideas into a more digestible and accessible form that we can deliver to more of our target audience at scale. Blog posts can just as easily form the scripts for video content, driving increased engagement and sharing in the LinkedIn feed.

Frankenstein content – turkey slicing in reverse
We create a lot of great, original and very timely content outside of our ‘Big Rock’ content assets: opinion-driven blog posts about timely issues, infographics leveraging LinkedIn’s own data, podcast interviews and more. We came up with the solution of packaging these different types of content together in a format that could raise their profile collectively – and give them a longer lifespan after they’d moved off the front page of our blog. We thought of this as Turkey Slicing in reverse, creating ‘Frankenstein’ content from lots of unrelated elements that could come together to create something living, breathing – and smart. We found that the ideal vehicle for doing this was a quarterly magazine – and so we launched The Sophisticated Marketer Quarterly as both a print and online publication. Three issues in, we’ve signed up thousands of print subscribers, engaged tens of thousands of people reading our magazine online, and created a regular content event that ensures our best stuff keeps adding value.

Content reincarnation – a new life in a new role
Sometimes the key to reviving righteous content isn’t to change or update the content itself – it’s to change the media plan behind it. The content that worked brilliantly for generating leads amongst a targeted audience with an aggressive bidding strategy could have an extended life building brand awareness on a broader, always-on basis. It just needs a media plan that involves a larger audience, lower bid amounts to reflect its new role, and the removal of data capture forms to prevent any friction for audiences wanting to engage. 

Bringing exciting content forward from the future
It’s not just past content that can play a role for your content strategy in the present. Content that’s in development can start adding value for you even before it launches, especially when you stay alive to the opportunities for leveraging it across different formats.

When you’re busy creating video content, for example, try shooting behind the scenes footage and vox pops with those involved for use as bonus outtakes. This type of material is ideal for a preview post that can capture your audience’s attention ahead of launch. The recording of a podcast episode can become a live streaming opportunity – and while you’re preparing to release the podcast itself, you can be working on developing blog posts leveraging the ideas that you and your guests discuss. Not only are you extending the timeframe over which your content can add value. You’re also helping to build awareness and interest ahead of the main launch.

There is no reason why content’s value to your strategy and role in your schedule should be limited to the first moment when you create and launch it. Great content travels – over platforms, through networks and also across time. Often the greatest limitation is that content marketers themselves don’t see the potential in what they put out there. Be bold about identifying the value you’re creating for audiences and proud about exploring all of the ways that you can deliver it to them. You’ll find it easier to get time on your side when you do.