How HarperCollins Christian Publishing Maintains an Active Community

How HarperCollins Christian Publishing Maintains an Active Community

Jason Schemmel, Social Media Manager at HarperCollins Christian Publishing, joins the Content Pros Podcast to talk about building and engaging with a healthy, active community.

In This Episode:

Please Support Our Sponsors:

Huge thanks to our amazing sponsors for helping us make this happen. Please support them; we couldn't do it without their help! This week:

Full Episode Details

How HarperCollins Christian Publishing Maintains an Active Community

Building Up the Community

We live in an age where the term “social media” exists ubiquitously in our vocabularies without need of definition or explanation. As individuals and as businesses, it has become as integral to our interactions as the telephone or email.

That said, having a basic understanding of what social media is and how to use it is very different from knowing how to engage with your customers and build a functioning community. Every person starting a business knows that social media can be a powerful way to promote the latest product. But what about the bigger picture?

Rather than a running timeline of ads and promotions, your company’s social media could become a hub for your customers to engage with and support each other as they connect through your product on a deeper level. As a business you have an opportunity to use your social content to foster this connection and strengthen the foundation that ultimately supports you.

In This Episode

  • How identifying your target audience can guide which social media your business should focus on
  • Why you should use social media as a funnel to catch a wider audience that leads back to your product
  • How repeatable campaigns can help your brand stand out and keep your audience engaged
  • The importance of empathizing with your audience when creating targeted ads

Quotes From This Episode

“If you don't have a presence on social media, you practically don't exist in today's society.” Click To Tweet

“In today’s social media age, it seems like everything has to be visual. There has to be a visual component to it, or it’s just going to get completely lost.” — @JasonSchemmel

“If you stay with the same strategy over and over again, eventually it's going to burn out.” Click To Tweet

“When people are looking out for each other, that’s what’s really adding value to everyone and that’s what’s really going to drive a successful community.” — @JasonSchemmel


See you next week!

What Great Brands Do That Good Brands Don't in Content Marketing

Okay content is easy. Killer content is hard. This nifty eBook shows you the difference, based on our real-world work with dozens of brands. A must-read!

Episode Transcript

Randy Frisch:Welcome to the Content Pros Podcast. I am Randy Frisch from Uberflip. I've got Tyler Lessard joining me from Vidyard. Today, we're going to dig into how we use content for our social media strategy. It's funny because I think social's been around as a buzzword much longer than content. In fact, if you listen to this podcast, you may have gone to it from Social Pros, which was the predecessor to this, but nowadays at least on my team, and I don't know about you, Tyler, but I find that our social team and our content team, they are linked hand in hand in terms of what we're going to create and how we're going to get it out there.
Tyler Lessard:Yeah, absolutely. There's a tight-knit collaboration there, but the one thing that still interests me a lot and my team a lot is how does the focus on social influence how we create content, the kind of content we create? Is it just a distribution channel or is it a different mechanism to tell different stories and to get different messages out there. So excited to dive into this with you today. We've got Jason Schemmel, social media manager at Harper Collins Christian Publishing, speaker at Content Marketing World, podcast host extraordinaire. Ladies and gentlemen, it is going to be a great episode. Jason, maybe quickly introduce yourself and talk a little bit about what you've been up to the last five or six years at Harper Collins.
Jason Schemmel:Sure. First off, thank you, guys for having me on the show. This is a wonderful thing. Absolutely love it. Social media is a fantastic thing. Like you said, I've been a social media manager at Harper for five years. I help manage five different brands within our Bibles department. Two of them are Bible translation focused. One of them is a brand focus called Thomas Nelson Bibles and then, two of them are community focused. They all have varying accounts and exposure on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube. Snapchat, not so much just because that's such a barrier to entry for marketers and businesses right now, but it's definitely a fun thing. I love social media.
Tyler Lessard:Let me ask you before we dive specifically into content on social media, I'm actually interested in your answer to this question of how do you think about what social media is for today's marketing organizations? Is it a channel? Is it a program? Is it a strategy? Is it part of everything we do, all of the above? How do you think about the role of social and how do you position that within your own organization?
Jason Schemmel:I think of social, it's really a jack of all trades. You can use it for just about anything and everything. At its most basic level, it's exactly what it says. It's meant to be social. It's meant for people to interact with other people and subsequently, a lot of people like to take our businesses and our brands online and kind of make that its own person as well. So a lot of people use that as a way to interact with those businesses and brands that we see constantly online, whether it's through Facebook or Twitter. You see plenty of brands just rocking it out on Instagram, sharing some awesome behind the scenes photos, some up and comings. They interact with a lot of people.
So you can use that definitely as a way as a distribution channel getting your content out there, but I also love it as a way to connect with the people outside who already know about your brand, maybe who already don't know about your brand yet. It's also a great way to get some feedback, too. That is probably the one thing I love most about social media is that just about everyone is on it. It's kind of like comparing it back into the '90s where if you're a business and you didn't have a website, you practically didn't exist. Well, it's the same thing nowadays, but for everyone. If you don't have a presence on social media, you practically don't exist in today's society. So it's a great tool in that you can get some wonderful customer feedback and start putting that into the content and the strategies that you're building up for your business.
Randy Frisch:So it's interesting as you describe that, Jason, that everyone's got to be on social. If you're not on there, you're not in, you're not up to speed as to what's going on and not able to connect with your customers.
Jason Schemmel:Certainly feels that way.
Randy Frisch:Right, but at the same time, I think sometimes some of us get overwhelmed by that idea because it then means that everyone's there, right, and everyone's trying to break through the clutter. So maybe you can talk about with everyone being on there and obviously, you're in an industry where there's a lot of competition, a lot of different chasing for eyeballs I'm going to assume. How do you zone in to find the right people that you want to connect with on the channels that you participate on?
Jason Schemmel:In finding the right people, well, for us at Harper Collins it comes a little bit easier than some as we're very much a Christian faith-based company so those are the people that we're looking to reach. That helps us narrow it down a little bit, but with the various brands that I help manage, each one of them has a core demographic that we're trying to reach and they're all just a little bit different. They're the same if you look at the big picture, but when you're getting down to the nitty gritty of it, there's a few extra things here and there that this type of audience likes more than the other one. So, that helps us decide what social media avenues we're going to be using.
So, we're pretty heavily focused on Facebook because our target audience is pretty much between the ages of 30 and beyond, trying to hit those, the parents, some of the older generations, things like that because they're really entrenched and we like reaching with those people. They like coming to us for guidance, for motivation, understanding, knowledge and things like that. We like to give that content to them, but to your question, in trying to get through the noise, trying to put out the quality content, doing the research, asking questions, finding out what kind of things are they looking for, we have a pretty good recipe of they like to see Bible verses. They like to see prayers. They like to see things that they can share with other people, whether it's their friends or family.
On top of that, we like to push that a little bit farther and like, "What else can we offer you? Do you like this piece of content? Would insightful blogs help? Would access to a priest, maybe ask a couple of personal questions help?" Things like that. So we try and find one extra way that we can help them out as well.
Randy Frisch:That makes a lot of sense. It sounds like you actually have a very self-identified audience-
Jason Schemmel:Oh, definitely.
Randy Frisch:Which makes that part of it a little bit easier. So maybe just to reframe the question, you were starting to get to this at the very end, it's how do you decide what the right mix on these channels is of plugging your own product, which is content in itself?
Jason Schemmel:Absolutely.
Randy Frisch:Versus thought leadership or motivation to get through one's day, which obviously is a key aspect tied to that faith-based audience that you have?
Jason Schemmel:Well, I'd say the hardest part of that is we have a product, the Bible, that in and of itself doesn't change a whole lot, but as a publisher, we're putting out a few extra titles every year where it's a study Bible or a devotional Bible. So even though the Bible itself is the same, we still mix it up a little bit where we offer some extra study notes that are geared towards a certain crowd or we have some devotional prayers and things like that that help out a certain other demographic. Like we have a men's devotional Bible. We have a women's study Bible, something that's catered towards a little bit to a specific group.
So, we try to keep that in our forethought when we're strategizing how we're going to put out some content, if we're going to do reading plans. We have emailers that come out that offer some inspiration and some product highlights and things like that, but we also try and think of what else could they be looking for? So obviously, it's just to say, "Well, we have a Bible. Here's a Bible. Try and buy it." What's driving them? Why would they be interested in this? Because it's a product that they only buy you think maybe two or three times in their lifetime. It's hard to get that strategy together, but we try and find ways to keep it different for sure.
Randy Frisch:Do you view your social channels as more an area that you would lead to a transaction or is it the idea that it takes you back to some sort of transactional destination? I'm just curious. I went to your Facebook page as an example and found it interesting that you've got product up at the top in terms of the header image for the Facebook page, but then a lot of the content as you spoke to gives very inspirational messaging on a day-to-day basis. So how do you link from your social strategy with content to that more transactional approach that you may be hoping for? Is it a short term play or is this a long term play?
Jason Schemmel:Yeah. So our social media is meant to be very tippy-top of our sales funnel. We use that as a way to keep us in the forefront of people's minds so that way when they see those inspirational posts and those Bible verses, they think of us. Then every once in a while, we'll run a promotion or a sweepstakes, maybe a coupon code or something like that that links back to a product and that's where we hope to drive some sales. So more often than not, we use our social platforms to generate leads to our websites.
We don't normally go straight to a product page. It's mostly to our website, whether it be the KJV or NKJV or Thomas Nelson Bibles, we lead them there so that way, they can see all of the different products because we can't ... If I were just to post about one specific Bible, I can only hit one small group of people, but if I say, "Hey, we have this great deal on NKJV Bibles, here's a few of them. Come to our website and check it out that way," that opens it up to a much broader audience and let's us hit a lot more people, rather than this very niche focus group.
Tyler Lessard:So knowing that you've got, and I think most of us have this notion of a couple of different goals with our social channels and you've got that higher level engagement and involvement and community building, which is really to keep people warm and engaged with your brand and then, you've got the more conversion-centric content and programs you're pushing out to try and drive that action. I'm curious from your perspective on what types of content or what types of communications are you seeing to be effective these days in one or the other, that content that's really driving more engagement with the brand and more social activity versus the kinds of content that's helping you drive conversions? How do you think about that and do you have any examples of one or two different content campaigns you've built out through your social channels that have been successful for you guys?
Jason Schemmel:Well, in today's social media age, it seems like everything has to be visual. There has to be a visual component to it or it's just going to get completely lost where, thanks to Snapchat and Instagram, everyone is all about taking pictures and finding pictures. They have to have that colorful image. So we try to incorporate that in a lot of our social strategy, even though we're primarily focused on Facebook, we still need those images to help us stand out because it's so easy for us to scroll through and we see images and tweets ... Or excuse me, tweets on Facebook, right? Images and posts and all sorts of other things going on in our lives and in our friends' lives, it's easy for our post to get lost in all of that. Especially with Facebook's ever changing algorithm, we have to find interesting ways and cost effective ways because we can't run a Facebook ad for everything, but effective ways to reach our people that they also know that when they see that, they know it's instantly from us. They don't have to look up and see, "Okay, who posted this?"
So one of our very successful campaigns going on right now is our daily Bible verses, which we call the verse of the day. So every day, we have what we call a meme. I know, it's a little bit different than what most of the internet thinks a meme is, but that's our term for it, is we have these memes where every single day, it's a different Bible verse. They try and correspond around what's going on. So we're getting more to holiday focus. So with Thanksgiving coming up, we're posting Bible verses about being thankful, being grateful for things and helping others. So we'll post those up. Every single morning, we link back to our signup page so that we can get an email, add them to our email list and that's been going actually very successfully. We've gotten a lot of good feedback out of that. People look forward to it.
There was even one day a few weeks ago, I completely forgot to post it for that day or schedule it for that day and missed it, and I had four messages in my inbox saying, "Where's the verse of the day? I'm looking forward to it and I couldn't see it?" It's a good indicator that people are looking for it, but at the same time, I'm kind of kicking myself thinking "Oops, I forgot to post that," but people look forward to that. Now they want that little bit of motivation and it's great that it's a very shareable and highly engage-able piece of content.
Tyler Lessard:It's a great example and I think it actually goes back to something we've talked about a few times on this podcast, which is the power of almost like a series-based content or things that become almost expected with your audience that they really resonate with and we've seen similar things here where we've run programs that ... It's like it feels almost, like you said, it actually felt really good as a response when I had somebody say, "Hey, where was this? I didn't see the new one." You go, "Okay, somebody is listening out there. They're watching. They're catching this," and you build that sort of suspense and that expectation from the audience that they're looking forward to engaging with you, which is tough for all of us marketers out there to not only get people to not unsubscribe, but to get people to really actually want to subscribe into our content.
So we're going to take a short break here to hear from our sponsors, but when we come back, I want to dig a little bit deeper on that to dive into what is the secret to making sort of a successful set of repeatable content like that that all of us can learn from. So we'll right back after this.
Randy Frisch:Welcome back here on Content Pros. We've got Jason talking to us about social and how to create these repeatable campaigns as Tyler was just talking about. I'm actually curious about that and it's something we're trying to do a little bit more here at Uberflip is have a little bit more identity to our brand so that people know whether they're getting an email from us, that it's coming from our company or they see us on social, they understand that that's us, but also break through at the same time. We need to balance that ability of consistency with a little bit of different feel. But the part I'm more curious on is how do you get this alignment through your organization? Maybe you can paint for us first, Jason, like how big is the marketing team that you work with and how many different stakeholders will play into everything from the creative assets that get put together for your posts to the messaging that you choose in that week to kind of stream throughout the different go-to markets?
Jason Schemmel:Sure. My media team, we're only three people. There's my boss that handles a lot of the big project stuff and then my co-worker and I tag team between the two publishing houses because under Harper Collins Christian Publishing, we have Zondervan Publishers and Thomas Nelson Publishers. So she handles a lot of the Zondervan side and I handle the Thomas Nelson side, but between those two publishing houses, there's about two or three marketers on each side so we have about anywhere between four and six people that we work with to get marketing strategy together to find out social assets that we want to get put together.
They're really the product experts and they help us understand what we're promoting. So we'll sit down at least once a month and talk about the products that they want to highlight and then from there, we start building out a plan and start strategizing, okay, what type of content do we want to build out for this? Do we want to have a lot of graphic designs for this? Do we want to have a lot of images? Do we want to do eblast or a drip campaign? Maybe a blog post or get some influencers involved, things like that. There's a few stakeholders, but ultimately, we help drive the direction of where the strategy and the content is going.
Tyler Lessard:So are there different things that you guys look at when you're focusing specifically on your social content strategy? I know it's one thing that my team is trying to think a lot more about is there's different content and different messaging that we want to put out there broadly on say our blog and through our email programs, but we don't want social to just become a distribution channel for those same tactics. So I'm curious kind of how you guys think about that and recommendations you have for the audience on how do you think about how do you approach content from a social channel perspective and is it different kind of content or is it derivatives of other things you may be doing? Or how do you efficiently manage that and create a stream and a plan for content that really is specific to social?
Jason Schemmel:One of the things we have to think about is we have to put ourselves in the shoes of the people that we're trying to reach. So there's a lot of empathy that goes into this and I think that's really the basis of all content marketing and that's what the best marketers do is that they utilize that empathy. I think the best thing about that is taking off that marketing cap where, okay, we just need to talk about this product, we need to talk about this service or this specific thing and think about the people that we're trying to reach. So, if we have a product that's very specific to a group, we need to put ourselves in their shoes and think what's driving them? Why would they be interested in this? Why would they care about this? What are they currently thinking? What are they feeling? What are they going to find valuable? Then based off of that, what can we do that helps hitting on those points.
So it's not always a Bible verse. It's not always a prayer or a devotional or something like that. Sometimes, it's offering some guidance and "Hey, right now, it's Thanksgiving season. What are you thankful for? What are you truly thankful for?" Because it's easy to say, "Well, I'm thankful for my friends and family and my faith and my community," and things like that. Take it a step further. Try and drive some of those thought processes that get people really thinking and then they think, "All right, well, that's really cool."
Randy Frisch:So Jason, we've been talking a lot about creating a following and consistency with messaging and trying to build relationships, but how does your team hold you accountable? What's the bottom line to determine if your team of three specifically are respected in the organization or not? Is it purely that good vibes that we're getting from the stuff we're seeing on social? Or is there specific targets that you're trying to hit as a team whether it's clickthrough rates, whether it's cost per click? How are you thinking about that as a team?
Jason Schemmel:It's literally everything. Yeah, the best answer to that is yes. Yeah, it's the content that we're creating and we're pushing out and the results we're getting from that. So we do end of month reports to see exactly how we're doing, how we're progressing. If our vanity metrics, reach and impressions and all that stuff are fluctuating a lot or if they're staying moderately the same. The same thing with our advertising and not just Facebook. I mean we do YouTube ads. We do Google Ads and all that stuff, too. How are those performing? Are enough people seeing them? Are we making them cost effective? How's our clickthrough rates? How are we AB testing and how are those doing? Same thing with our emails as well, we're constantly tinkering, which I think is a good thing when it comes to social and digital marketing. You always have to be tinkering because if you try and stay with the same strategy over and over again, eventually, it's going to burn out and it's not going to work out as well.
Randy Frisch:Makes a lot of sense. Just curious how you go beyond though your own teams' results, right? Because a lot of what we've talked about so far is the impact that your team from the social perspective is able to create, right, and what you're able to do in terms of clickthrough rates like we just touched on on all these different channels, but I know earlier this year at Content Marketing World, you actually spoke about the value of the community beyond and how you create these online communities. Have you been able to create activation from them at the same time in reverse, whether it's through an influencer marketing campaign or some sort of creation and social advocacy on behalf of your actual community out there?
Jason Schemmel:We've had some pretty good success with our communities. Like I said, there's a couple of brands that are very community focused and the really cool things that I've seen come out of that are not so much that we're able to constantly grow it. I mean growing a community is always a wonderful feeling knowing that there's more people that are finding value in the stuff that you're offering them, but one of the greatest things that's come out of that is people will put up comments and messages asking for prayer requests or asking for guidance in certain situations and before I even have a chance to respond to it, we have other community members already jumping in saying, "Hey, I experienced this a few years ago. Here's how I handled it," or "You have some questions about the Bible. Check out these Bible verses or check out this link."
It doesn't even have to be a link from our website or our blog or anything like that. It's just nice to see that there's community members looking out for other community members and I think when you really start seeing that happen within your community, when people are looking out for each other, that's what's really adding value to everyone and that's what's really going to drive a successful community. It's really a cool feeling to see that happen.
Tyler Lessard:Jason, let me ask you one sort of final specific question on as you look at your different social channels, I'm interested you said you do a lot on Facebook based on your audience, but I'm curious if you guys look at the different social channels and have a-
Jason Schemmel:Yes.
Tyler Lessard:Have a different kind of approach to content or how you engage on the different channels or do you focus on let's get a really great campaign, let's get a really great set of content and then, just leverage the different channels to get that consistently out there? How does that work and what are the differences that really jump out at you from the different channels?
Jason Schemmel:Yeah, from a content strategy and creation standpoint, we focus more on the content itself and then pushing that out to the channels and we try and think of it how would this perform on Facebook? How would this perform on Instagram and on Twitter and how would this be received or how can we create this in a way that it could resonate no matter what channel we have it on? That's been going really well for us. I mean there's always going to be some tweaks here and there. That's why we do testing. That's why we ask for feedback. That's why we have data as well. You put stuff out there. You find out how it does, find out what works and what doesn't and then, you tweak it and go from there. So to answer your question, we don't create content specifically for one social channel or ... For one specific avenue, excuse me. We create our content, but while we're in the planning stages of that content, we think, "Okay, how can we put this in a way where it can be well received on each channel."
Randy Frisch:That's great advice. Jason, so as we wrap up here, we always like to get to know our guests and what they do outside of content creation, but one of the interesting things we dug up on you leading into this podcast is that you're no stranger to the podcast. In fact, when you're not creating content at Harper Collins, you're actually creating content on your own. Maybe you can tell us a little bit about that and I'll let you say the name of the podcast because I don't even know how to go there.
Jason Schemmel:I don't know how censored you want to get on this. So I'll call it this way. It's-
Randy Frisch:We don't have a Christian following so it's okay.
Jason Schemmel:Oh, okay. All right, cool. Well, in that case, it's called the Get Shit Done Chat.
Randy Frisch:Nice.
Jason Schemmel:It has absolutely nothing to do with Harper Collins. This is completely a personal side project I've been working on. Really, it's born all out of selfishness where there's been times where I have these ideas or I have these thoughts of, "It'd be really cool if I did this or it'd be really cool if I started this business," or something like that. You look at other people who are doing an awesome job and you think, "These people are amazing. They're incredibly successful. I'm never going to reach that point because everything must come so easy to them." Then if you actually take a moment to talk to them, you actually find out that no, they go through the same struggles and hardships and defeating thoughts in their heads as I do.
So that's kind of what made this whole podcast a thing where I would just start bringing people on saying, "Hey, I would love to talk about your successes and how people know you, but I also want to pull that curtain back and ask what is something that you put your heart and soul into that just completely flopped that you thought you were going to be awesome at it, you were really excited about it and it just completely blew up?" It's eye opening because you see these people, they think, "Oh, I know exactly which one to talk about," because there's something that they've tried before that they thought was just going to completely rock it out and they find out they were completely wrong. No one wanted it. No one was interested in it. So getting to know people a bit more on a personal level, it's been really cool. It's been a lot of fun.
Randy Frisch:That's great. That sounds like a lot of fun. I'm not going to make you spell out the actual podcast. I assume people are going to be able to figure that out, look it up.
Jason Schemmel:If you want to be able to find it, just jump on Twitter and just #GSDChat. That's the easiest way to find it.
Randy Frisch:There you go. There you go. The call to action right at the end of the podcast. I love it. Jason, this was a ton of fun. I really appreciate it. This is helpful for Tyler and I as well. We live in more of a B2B world sometimes, but it's interesting to understand how you're connecting directly with consumers and I think it's something a lot of us need to remember is that all of our audiences, whether they're B2B or B2C are ultimately on social. As you said, they're all on there, they're all engaging. It's a way to connect with everyone and it's an opportunity for us to really humanize it in their day. So I think we got a lot of great tips from you, Jason.
For those listening today, we really appreciate taking the time to pick this podcast. This is the Content Pros Podcast. You can find us on Stitcher, iTunes, Google Play. When you find us, leave feedback. Let us know what we can do to make this podcast better. Until next time, on behalf of Tyler at Vidyard, I'm Randy at Uberflip and this is the Content Pros Podcast.
Show Full Transcript