What Content Marketing Can Learn From Craigslist

Let’s make a graph.  On the x-axis, we have ‘ugly website design.’  On the y-axis, we have ‘annual revenue.’  Berkshire Hathaway excluded, I challenge anyone to find a company that is further along in the top right corner of that graph than Craigslist.

Now, let’s not discount the end-all-be-all of online classifieds just because of poor website design.  I’ve found years of housing and a career through Craigslist.  Craigslist founder Craig Newmark has plenty of lessons that the content marketing industry can learn from.  Today, I want to highlight just five of those lessons.

#1 Creative Posts Get More Attention

If you’ve ever searched for apartments on Craigslist, you know how the listings usually go.  There are the spammy realtor listings that will throw up two fuzzy stock pictures.  Plus, they usually neglect to include the address of the location they advertise.  And then, there are the listings by actual property owners who care about their house or apartment.  These listings will have plenty of pictures, information only an owner would know, and maybe even suggestions on how you could use the different spaces.

Thirdly, you have your wildcards.  Your wildcard listings stand out through humor, pertinent details, and personality.  This is how you want your content marketing efforts to come across!  Give your audience creative content that stands out from the sea of dull information.  Create content that matters; content that people will want to share with others!

#2 Know When Your Audience Is Reading

Another key factor is to know when your audience is reading.  Studies show that Craigslist sees the most traffic from apartment-hunters on Sundays.  If you’re posting to Craigslist, you want to put your listing up late Saturday night/early Sunday morning.  But, you’re not posting to Craigslist; you’re posting to Twitter, Facebook, your blog, etc.

If you haven’t been paying attention to when these sites get the most traffic, it’s time to start.  Knowing when your audience is reading is essential.  But, before you know when they’re reading, you have to have a clear picture of your audience profiles.  (Check out this post by Amie Marse to make sure you understand your audience profiles.)

Once you know the audience that you’re writing for, you’ve got to figure out where they go on the Internet and when they go there!  If your audience is using Facebook and Twitter (and it’s likely that they are), do yourself a favor and read this invaluable how-to on sharing your content by Samantha Murphy at Mashable.

Here’s the short of it:

Twitter: peak time is 1:00-3:00 pm ET on Monday

Facebook: peak time is around 3:00 pm ET on Wednesday

If your company has its own blog, make sure you’re tracking the results with Google Analytics.  This tool is free, easy to use, and provides lots of valuable feedback for site-owners.

#3 Exceed Expectations: Trust & Value

Thirdly, exceed your audience’s expectations.  Generally speaking, this is good life-advice.  Whether you’re in school, working for the man, or romancing a lady, when you exceed expectations your hard work pays off.

Good Craigslist admen exceed expectations by providing lots of information in their postings.  Furthermore, they include quality (and valuable) pictures, a phone number, and let you know a little bit about themselves.  Also, if the listing seems under-priced or a little odd, they’ll usually let you know the reason, thereby decreasing suspicion and increasing trustworthiness.

And really, that’s what content marketing boils down to.  Content marketing is all about relationships and relationships are built on trust.  When you make a point of exceeding your audience’s expectations, you build their trust.

The second part of exceeding expectations is adding value.  Bill Wyman, in the Wall Street Journal, makes an astute observation about Craigslist founder, Craig Newmark.  Wyman writes, “[He] did one simple thing: He thought about what his users wanted and put very little on his site that wasn’t useful to them.”

If you look at Craigslist, the stark barrenness of the website might immediately strike you as ugly.  But, you’ve got to hand it to Newmark… he’s made his content extremely easy to access.  If my great aunt pulled up Craigslist, I think she’d be able to figure out what’s going on much more quickly than if she had opened my Facebook News Feed.  Make sure you’re adding value along with all your content’s bells and whistles.  There’s no better way to exceed expectations than by adding value.

#4 Be Personable

Also, you want your content marketing efforts to come across as being genuine. Knowing the faces behind your audience profiles is essential because it allows you to make smart judgment calls about how you get your content across.  One of my clients runs a legal blog for people with financial problems.  It’s not the time to be funny.  But, it is appropriate to be empathetic.  Remember, being personable only works when you know who you’re writing for and what they’re looking for.

Successful Craigslist-ers know what kind of person is searching for their guitar amp or litter of kittens.  You should know who’s looking for the information on your blog.  Write for them.  It’s your blog, sure, but if you want it to be successful, you’ve got to write for your audience profiles!

# 5 Play By the Rules

Please, just play by the rules.  The bane of content marketers’ existence is article spinning.  Essentially, article spinning is rewording the same article and posting it elsewhere as “unique content” just to build up a web reputation.  Don’t do it.  Besides being tacky, it just doesn’t work.

In the world of Craigslist (and pretty much everywhere else on the Internet) this is known as spamming – a very frowned-upon practice, indeed.  As someone who’s looking for an apartment right now (ed: sorry if that phrase attracts spam), going through Craigslist can be a frustrating experience.  It’s so obvious when realtors rephrase the exact same apartment listing and repost it five times in a day.

People see through spam.  If you’re spinning articles or taking advantage of the content marketing industry in a similar way, people will notice.  And, the result isn’t good.  Your reputation sinks, your audience dwindles, and you’re definitely not building relationships and adding value.

What other content marketing tips can we learn from Craigslist?

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Ben Richardson is a writer based in Nashville, TN. While he loves writing on a variety of subjects, he's our go-to on all things related to branding and the creative aspects of content marketing. Follow him on Twitter!

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