From the Ground Up: Building a Business Through Content & Community

Elisa Schmitz (center) on the Medill Women in Marketing panel with (from left to right) Karen Entriken, Tiffany Saxton, Melissa Ben-Yoseph and Heidi Barker.

Last year, I spoke to a group of students, alumni and marketing professionals at my alma mater, Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, on a panel discussion titled Medill Women in Marketing – Current Trends and Challenges in an Evolving Industry. Following that panel, I was interviewed for Medill’s Journal of Integrated Marketing Communications. Here is an update of that interview, conducted by Celine Zhang.

Q: Could you please brief our audience about your education background and career path?

A: I have a bachelor’s degree in Communication Arts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s degree in Journalism from Medill. I have worked in market research, retail management, public relations and television operations. 

But for most of my career, I have been an entrepreneur. I started my first company while expecting my first child. iParenting.com grew to become one of the most highly-regarded parenting websites in the world, named “Best of the Web” by Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report and The London Times, among others. I sold that business to the Walt Disney Company and worked for Disney for two years as Director and Executive Editor of the Disney Interactive Media Group. After I left Disney, a few years later I started my second business: 30Seconds.com, a digital media company creating inspirational content and community, with more than 800 contributors globally. 

Q: 30Seconds.com seems to be a very interesting emerging company with a focus on content and community. What inspired you and your team to launch it?

A: After selling iParenting to Disney, I knew that mobile was the next frontier in media. In trying to solve the problem of how to get great content to busy women on their mobile phones, I realized that time was the key. Nobody has 30 minutes any more, especially when they’re on their phones. But everybody has 30 seconds. So I set out to create a destination where busy women – and men – could get great tips from experts in the same amount of time it takes them to watch an ad on TV.

Q: How do you define the company now? What is the business model and revenue model? How do you forecast the company’s future?

A: We have created a digital media platform with an audience that encompasses our website and social media platforms, as well as the audiences of our community of contributors. Because our goal is to be the place where women come to inspire and be inspired, we try to make every touchpoint with 30Seconds a positive experience that adds value to our community. 

Our business model encompasses content marketing, influencer marketing and social media marketing. We work with brands who want us to create content and experiences, and then engage our community around that content and experience. 

We started with one channel, Mom, and have grown to seven channels: Mom, Dad, Pregnancy, Health, Food, Beauty and Travel. We plan to continue going deep into those categories, always looking to our community to see which areas they would like us to pursue. We also will continue to build out more resources and tools to better engage with our community.  

Q: How does 30Seconds engage, entertain and educate its community members? How does 30Seconds foster connections and relationships between companies/brands and customers?

A: 30Seconds publishes inspiring content across our platform five days a week (sometimes more). In addition, we host interactive events, such as our #30Seconds Twitter chat. This is the time where our community comes together to chat live about a pre-scheduled topic, such as parenting, travel or food. We interview an expert guest about the topic and allow our community to interact live, ask questions and enjoy the time together. We often trend on Twitter, and it’s truly one of the best opportunities to connect with the community. We also host Facebook Live interviews, called #30Seconds Live, with experts and live from conferences and events around the country (prior to the coronavirus pandemic). 

These events are not only fun for our community, but also important opportunities for brands to connect with their target audience. We allow brands we believe in to sponsor content and events such as our Twitter chats and livestream events. This fosters relationships between our community members and the brands that want to reach them. We also have a rewards program. For certain actions taken on our site, such as commenting, sharing and publishing content, users can receive “time collected” in their 30Seconds time banks. As the time adds up, they can redeem it to get items – such as sponsor products and services – from our Rewards Store.

Q: Does influencer/expert marketing work well? Are there any other tactics under the 30Seconds content strategy that work very well?

A: For influencer marketing to work well, you have to have the right people with the right attitude. For example, there are plenty of people who go out and buy followers or build audiences only to try and make money off of an Instagram account. With this approach, there is very little engagement because it’s not authentic. We have found that true authenticity is exceedingly rare, so the truer to life and to yourself you can be, the more successful you will be. Brands recognize the quality sites and influencers over the others, and they prefer to work with the quality ones. As with anything, hard work is necessary to success. There really are no shortcuts. Be true to your audience. Slowly it will build as word spreads about how great your content is. Publish and share great content every time, and the rest will follow. 

Q: How do you forecast the future of content and community management?

A: I believe content and community management will keep evolving as media evolves. It’s a fascinating time to be in digital publishing, with technology changing every day. We plan to stay ahead of the curve by listening to our community and creating tools and resources that make sense as we grow together. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, digital publishing has become even more important. As we stay closer to home, the online world keeps us more connected than ever.

Q: Any suggestions for current students who are looking to start their careers in content development or community management?

A: It’s a wonderful time to be entering the content development and community engagement space. Exciting tools are being built every day to enhance the user experience and create more opportunities for consumers and brands alike. To show your skill and range, take any opportunity to be published on quality sites. Offer to volunteer if you don’t find a paid job at first – experience is experience. Don’t let fear stop you. My favorite quote is, “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” My best advice is: keep an open mind, stay curious, think big, stay humble and never stop learning. Who knows, you could be a part of, or even build, the next big thing!

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From the Ground Up: Building a Business Through Content & Community

Elisa Schmitz (center) on the Medill Women in Marketing panel with (from left to right) Karen Entriken, Tiffany Saxton, Melissa Ben-Yoseph and Heidi Barker.

Last year, I spoke to a group of students, alumni and marketing professionals at my alma mater, Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, on a panel discussion titled Medill Women in Marketing – Current Trends and Challenges in an Evolving Industry. Following that panel, I was interviewed for Medill’s Journal of Integrated Marketing Communications. Here is an update of that interview, conducted by Celine Zhang.

Q: Could you please brief our audience about your education background and career path?

A: I have a bachelor’s degree in Communication Arts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s degree in Journalism from Medill. I have worked in market research, retail management, public relations and television operations. 

But for most of my career, I have been an entrepreneur. I started my first company while expecting my first child. iParenting.com grew to become one of the most highly-regarded parenting websites in the world, named “Best of the Web” by Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report and The London Times, among others. I sold that business to the Walt Disney Company and worked for Disney for two years as Director and Executive Editor of the Disney Interactive Media Group. After I left Disney, a few years later I started my second business: 30Seconds.com, a digital media company creating inspirational content and community, with more than 800 contributors globally. 

Q: 30Seconds.com seems to be a very interesting emerging company with a focus on content and community. What inspired you and your team to launch it?

A: After selling iParenting to Disney, I knew that mobile was the next frontier in media. In trying to solve the problem of how to get great content to busy women on their mobile phones, I realized that time was the key. Nobody has 30 minutes any more, especially when they’re on their phones. But everybody has 30 seconds. So I set out to create a destination where busy women – and men – could get great tips from experts in the same amount of time it takes them to watch an ad on TV.

Q: How do you define the company now? What is the business model and revenue model? How do you forecast the company’s future?

A: We have created a digital media platform with an audience that encompasses our website and social media platforms, as well as the audiences of our community of contributors. Because our goal is to be the place where women come to inspire and be inspired, we try to make every touchpoint with 30Seconds a positive experience that adds value to our community. 

Our business model encompasses content marketing, influencer marketing and social media marketing. We work with brands who want us to create content and experiences, and then engage our community around that content and experience. 

We started with one channel, Mom, and have grown to seven channels: Mom, Dad, Pregnancy, Health, Food, Beauty and Travel. We plan to continue going deep into those categories, always looking to our community to see which areas they would like us to pursue. We also will continue to build out more resources and tools to better engage with our community.  

Q: How does 30Seconds engage, entertain and educate its community members? How does 30Seconds foster connections and relationships between companies/brands and customers?

A: 30Seconds publishes inspiring content across our platform five days a week (sometimes more). In addition, we host interactive events, such as our #30Seconds Twitter chat. This is the time where our community comes together to chat live about a pre-scheduled topic, such as parenting, travel or food. We interview an expert guest about the topic and allow our community to interact live, ask questions and enjoy the time together. We often trend on Twitter, and it’s truly one of the best opportunities to connect with the community. We also host Facebook Live interviews, called #30Seconds Live, with experts and live from conferences and events around the country (prior to the coronavirus pandemic). 

These events are not only fun for our community, but also important opportunities for brands to connect with their target audience. We allow brands we believe in to sponsor content and events such as our Twitter chats and livestream events. This fosters relationships between our community members and the brands that want to reach them. We also have a rewards program. For certain actions taken on our site, such as commenting, sharing and publishing content, users can receive “time collected” in their 30Seconds time banks. As the time adds up, they can redeem it to get items – such as sponsor products and services – from our Rewards Store.

Q: Does influencer/expert marketing work well? Are there any other tactics under the 30Seconds content strategy that work very well?

A: For influencer marketing to work well, you have to have the right people with the right attitude. For example, there are plenty of people who go out and buy followers or build audiences only to try and make money off of an Instagram account. With this approach, there is very little engagement because it’s not authentic. We have found that true authenticity is exceedingly rare, so the truer to life and to yourself you can be, the more successful you will be. Brands recognize the quality sites and influencers over the others, and they prefer to work with the quality ones. As with anything, hard work is necessary to success. There really are no shortcuts. Be true to your audience. Slowly it will build as word spreads about how great your content is. Publish and share great content every time, and the rest will follow. 

Q: How do you forecast the future of content and community management?

A: I believe content and community management will keep evolving as media evolves. It’s a fascinating time to be in digital publishing, with technology changing every day. We plan to stay ahead of the curve by listening to our community and creating tools and resources that make sense as we grow together. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, digital publishing has become even more important. As we stay closer to home, the online world keeps us more connected than ever.

Q: Any suggestions for current students who are looking to start their careers in content development or community management?

A: It’s a wonderful time to be entering the content development and community engagement space. Exciting tools are being built every day to enhance the user experience and create more opportunities for consumers and brands alike. To show your skill and range, take any opportunity to be published on quality sites. Offer to volunteer if you don’t find a paid job at first – experience is experience. Don’t let fear stop you. My favorite quote is, “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” My best advice is: keep an open mind, stay curious, think big, stay humble and never stop learning. Who knows, you could be a part of, or even build, the next big thing!

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