When people ask me how I came to be vice president of communications for a social media technology company, they’re sometimes surprised to hear I was once the managing editor of Entrepreneur magazine. How does an editor switch from journalism to marketing?

In reality, many of the same skills I used to help produce Entrepreneur month after month easily translated into the world of content marketing where I now spend much of my day. Whether I’m writing blog content or a news release at my current company, Rallio, I find myself applying traditional media lessons in digital platforms — and I’m not alone. Many of the writers and editors with whom I used to work have switched from journalism to marketing.

Here are three of the major lessons from my editorial career that I’m now applying to content marketing.

Switch From Journalism to Marketing: Clearly Define the Audience

At Entrepreneur, our articles spoke to, obviously, entrepreneurs, and we had a specific definition of what that word meant. The entrepreneurs reading our magazine were people who had started a business from the ground up and were striving to make it grow — not mom-and-pop shops or professionals such as doctors and dentists with private practices.

We acknowledged that while the latter group might occasionally read our magazine, the largest readership was people seeking small-business financing advice, marketing tips, growth strategies and entrepreneurial inspiration. Having that defined audience allowed us to tailor articles for growth-minded entrepreneurs.

The same principle applies to the content marketing strategies we use at Rallio. Our blog, social media and overall messaging speak to multi-location brands and manufacturers that use our proprietary technology to manage and grow their entire social media presence — from syndicating and boosting content to managing and monitoring reviews.

Like the small segment of non-core readership that turned to Entrepreneur for their business information, we have a handful of solo businesses using Rallio technology. However, we have mass appeal among multi-unit locations and large manufacturers, which are best served by the wide range of features our technology offers. As such, our content marketing efforts are focused on the latter, the group most likely to provide a return on investment.

The takeaway: You can’t be all things to all people, so hone your content to speak directly to the audience you’re trying to capture. You’ll have better results with your content marketing and overall goals if you focus on the group that’s most interested in reading what you have to say.

Consider, for example, if you have 25,000 Instagram followers but only a small percentage of them interact with your content or become qualified leads. Those aren’t quality followers. Think quality over quantity, and work to earn followers who are part of your target audience. That way you’re more likely to continue expanding your following and generating leads as more and more like-minded folks find your page.

Switch From Journalism to Marketing: Build Long-Term Relationships

Before I was managing editor at Entrepreneur, I was a staff writer and, even before that, a reporter and editor for my college newspaper. As a writer, I relied on certain sources to provide me with information and quotes for stories. The more I built relationships with these sources, the easier it was to get the best interviews. Over time sources grew to trust me and freely agreed to be interviewed. That level of trust came about because I was true to my word, I fairly and accurately reported information, and I didn’t misquote my sources or try to trick them into telling me something.

I view content marketing in the same light today. As a company and in the strategy recommendations we give to clients at Rallio, we follow a few simple rules for great content:

  • Use your content to build relationships with a target audience, not to sell, promote or trick people into buying something. If you’re overly promotional or misrepresent yourself, readers will be quickly turned off and go elsewhere. Around 80 percent of the time you should be posting content that’s useful, entertaining or informational; the other 20 percent can be self-promotional.
  • Respond genuinely to online engagements. When someone comments on one of your posts, comment back. Reply to all your online reviews, both positive and negative, so people know you’re listening and you care. In the case of negative reviews, avoid being defensive, work to understand the situation and make every effort to take the conversation offline.
  • Offer something of value to the reader, and generally make it obvious there’s a real human behind the content.

The takeaway: To grow your following online and encourage trust in your brand, post engaging content that feels “real.” Like a writer reporting the facts, focus on posting content that informs, inspires, entertains and connects with your audience. An ounce of passion and a gallon of humility go a long way toward building authentic connections and long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with your audience.

Switch From Journalism to Marketing: Measure Meaningful Results

At Entrepreneur, readership and advertising sales were the primary indicators of the growth of the publication — with readership naturally being the more difficult of the two to measure. That is, we couldn’t account for every reader because we didn’t know who might be picking up a copy of the magazine secondhand. We also couldn’t necessarily track that reader in a sales funnel where he reads an article and makes a subsequent buying decision.

Similarly, with online content, although you can track impressions, clicks and social engagements, it’s trickier to equate those actions with sales. It’s not always as simple as a customer seeing a piece of content, clicking through in response to a call to action and immediately making a purchase. In reality, someone might read your content, leave the page, later see an ad you pushed out, receive an email or a direct-mail piece from you, visit your social pages and then perhaps head to your site to make a purchase without any indication of what, exactly, influenced the buying decision.

Because of the above variables, you might wonder whether content marketing is worth the effort and costs. Those include production costs associated with the creation of blog posts, video content, social posts and photography, along with distribution costs needed to get the content in front of people, including any software as well as paid promotions via social or pay-per-click advertising. However, it’s possible to measure your results by comparing these costs against the return on investment or against key performance indicators.

The ROI might mean generating leads from your content that become sales, and if you can identify the value of a lead — say, one lead is worth one $100 subscription to a service you offer — then you can compare the content marketing costs against the return. Here’s how it works: ROI has a clear formula — it’s the return minus investment, divided by investment, expressed as a percentage. For example, if you spend $400 to make a piece of content and get leads worth $4,000, then your ROI is 900 percent:

  • $4,000 – $400 = $3,600
  • $3,600 / $400 = 9
  • 9 x 100% = 900%

You can also look at less tangible metrics such as a boost in website traffic, social media engagement, brand awareness and reputation, and media mentions. For instance, if your website traffic increases as a result of a social media campaign and you get new qualified leads that convert into sales, you can see how your content marketing is working overtime to produce results.

The takeaway: Your content marketing works across multiple platforms to generate leads and, ultimately, sales. If you have a CFO or other executive scrutinizing your content marketing budget, you can use the ROI formula to show concrete returns, while also illustrating the ways your content is going the extra mile even while you’re sleeping.

You don’t have to track every possible metric. Actually, overthinking things can cause “analysis paralysis” where you take no action at all. Instead, choose relevant metrics for each campaign and set goals around them. As long as you’re spending less on producing content than you earn in return, your content marketing initiatives are worth the investment.