Mark Schaefer Breaks Down the Content Code

Mark Schaefer authored The Content Code to resolve the very real challenges of brands addressing the current digital marketing environment. With a glut of too much content, attention deficit disorder, and murky evolving SEO rules, communicators find their articles, presentations and other information lying fallow. We asked Mark to keynote xPotomac 2015 to shed light on what it takes to resolve these challenges.

The following is an interview conducted with Mark on behalf of xPotomac. Don’t miss his xPotomac keynote on August 27th, which is designed for experienced digital marketers. (register today using the code “Geoff” and get 20% off). And you can buy The Content Code on Amazon. Any typos or errors are mine, not his.

GL: I love that The Content Code is BADASS. How did you come up with this cheeky acronym?

MS: As I was developing the six strategies that became the backbone of the book, I wondered if there was some natural acronym that I could come up with to help people remember the ideas. I wrote the six on a whiteboard and stared them down. BADASS emerged. Probably one of the best moments of my life. Afterall, how many people literally write a BADASS book?


GL:: You mention the importance of sharing or transmission of content as the critical difference between success and failure. Why do most brands struggle to get their content shared?

MS: I don’t think they are aware of the problem. Right now, the marketing conversation is focused on 1) creating content and 2) building an audience. But neither one of those factors matters unless the content MOVES. The content must be seen, be shared. It must connect. The economic value of content that does not move is exactly zero.

The economics of sharing are powerful. Most Americans say their purchase decision is affected by what is shared on the web. The act of sharing content is an intimate experience that creates advocacy for our brands. I am convinced that there is no metric that is more important right now than the sharing of content.

And getting that content to move in an increasingly information-dense world is getting harder and harder to do. This suggests that marketers need to understand how and why content moves. We need to develop an entirely new competency around that factor. And that what The Content Code book is about. I think this is a such a critical topic. We need to change the conversation now.

GL: xPotomac co-founder Shonali Burke is noted as a member of you Alpha Audience. What is “Alpha Audience” and what makes them so important?

MS: So if you’re with me that the sharing of content is both strategically and economically important, the people who actually share your content are truly the bedrock of your business. Those are the people who are actually advocating you through this generous and emotional act of sharing. These are the most important people in your audience — your Alpha Audience.

I used Shonali as an example in the book because she has been an amazing supporter of my content for years. Through her story, I demonstrate the importance of building trust, not traffic, as the cornerstone of a modern marketing strategy.

Mark is pictured here at SXSW with Tamsen Webster.

GL:: In The Content Code, you mention analytics in several areas and it is clear that brand-specific data informs much of your ethos about where to share content. What tips do you have for brands grappling with data analysis?

MS: I can certainly sympathize with those grappling with analytics. Part of the problem is that many analytics packages are not sufficient to manage our marketing efforts today. We are not going to get any earth-shaking insights from looking at averages, mentions, and sentiment. It’s likely that the real value is going to come from the strong small signals from the people who really love you, from measures that can lead you to better content ignition.

Does your analytics plan include a way to discover and nurture your strongest advocates? Probably not. Does it tell you how effective your content is compared to competitors? No. That is a a big disconnect in the marketplace.

I have been working on a new company that can actually measure a brand’s ability to ignite content. We’ve developed a 50-point statistical analysis that quantifies content marketing effectiveness. I think that will help get us at least part of the way there toward more meaningful metrics!

GL: You close the book by recommending that brands build an ignition competency. What does that look like for a brand with several team members?

MS: First, I must say that I’m impressed that you read the book to the end. Thanks for that!

I think it is this simple. If you identify a resource on your team, hand them The Content Code book, and tell them to “do that,” you will have a competitive advantage. No question. Even if a business does a little every month, there will be results.

A focus on content transmission is the new marketing edge and there will be benefits to those who understand that and respond first.

From the Internet of Things to Video Moxy

I have the great privilege of hosting the xPotomac Conference every year with Patrick Ashamalla and Shonali Burke. We just published video recordings of our 2014 sessions, including our keynotes, on YouTube. You can see the whole channel here.

Here are each of the sessions:

KEYNOTE: Robert Scoble on The Age of Context

Find out more about Robert Scoble at

Lauren Vargas, Digital Media in a Regulated Environment

Find out more about Lauren at

Toby Bloomberg, Broadcast and Print Media Adoption of Digital

Learn more about Toby here:

Peter Corbett, The Internet of Things

Find out more about Peter at

Danielle Brigida and Allyson Kapin, Disrupting Social Change

Find out more about Danielle at and Allyson at

KEYNOTE: Jim Long, The Wild World of Video

Learn more about Jim at

The #xPotomac14 Compendium

xPotomac 2014 or #xPotomac14 was held last Friday at Georgetown University’s Copley Formal Lounge. Speakers include keynotes Robert Scoble, Jim Long, and session leaders Lauren Vargas, Toby Bloomberg, Peter Corbett, and Allyson Kapin and Danielle Brigida.


Early reviews show a successful event. Mike Schaeffer wrote, “The 2014 edition [of xPotomac] brought it strong, with an array of presenters, that all told one major story: Success in communications and technology will be predominantly based on strategically taking advantage of opportunities in front of you.”


Monica added, “What I found interesting was the fact that none of the speakers used extemporaneous PowerPoints. Instead, they used handhelds with colorful mind maps to remind them where they were in their talk (kudos to Kathryn Garrett for first pointing this out via Twitter). The result was more eye contact and audience interaction than you typically get when speakers are stuck in a pre-personal computer = overhead transparencies paradigm.”


As you can see, people tweeted about the content throughout the conference. And tweet they did. xPotomac trended for 35 minutes on Friday making it the 68th most popular topic in the country that day, according to Trendinalia United States.

xPotomac14 Word Cloud

Official xPotomac influence partner Zoomph tallied more than 3100 tweets and Instagram updates with a reach of more than 20 million people were posted last week and through the weekend. Not bad for 100 people coming together for a few conversations. The above Zoomph word cloud shows the 50 most referenced words in all those tweets.


Who was the greatest influencer of them all? Tinu Abayomi-Paul rocked her smartphone and took the prize, says Zoomph.


Most folks said they had a lot of fun (including emcee Shana Glickfield, who photo bombed me), and enjoyed the conference more than last year’s. Further, it seems we’ve transcended the increasinly distant BlogPotomac series that served as a foundation for the current xPotomac.


Co-founders Patrick Ashamalla (above), Shonali Burke and myself will bring xPotomac back next year at the Copley Formal Lounge thanks to our relationshiop with Georgetown’s Communications, Culture and Technology program. Look for more great speakers like Robert, Jim, Danielle and Allyson (pictured below), Toby, Peter and Lauren. In the interim, you can see all my photos from the event here. And we will roll out videos of the individual speaker sessions over the next month or so.


Thank you to everyone — attendee, sponsor and of course, our speakers — who made xPotomac happen. What did you think of #xPotomac14?

P.S. Since publishing, Brian Conlin published his “Six Brain-Bending Ideas from xPotomac 2014” on the Vocus blog. Check it out.

#xPotomac14 to Feature Robert Scoble, Shel Israel & Others

xPotomac is coming back this February 28, 2014! Our opening keynotes this year are Robert Scoble and Shel Israel, who will discuss The Age of Context, and how the world of media is being dramatically impacted by social media, data, mobile and sensors (see Geoff Livingston’s interview with Robert for an in-depth look at this issue).

Tickets are on sale now. If you register by December 31, receive an rely bird 30% discount using this code, EARLYBIRD. Contact Geoff Livingston (geoff @ directly to discuss sponsorship.

I have been organizing this conference and its predecessor BlogPotomac since 2008, so it’s pretty cool to see it coming back. In its current iteration, I have help from xPotomac Patrick Ashamalla and Shonali Burke (thank you for joining me on this crazy adventure!).

Before I unveil our closing keynote and additional sessions, here’s what’s new about xPotomac 2014:

  • The day has changed from Monday to Friday, providing an easier escape for media and marketing wonks who want to attend.
  • Six sessions instead of eight, with an anticipated 3:30 exit. The intensity of the sessions makes eight a bit long, in our opinion. Plus, we want to enjoy everyone’s company at happy hour afterwards.
  • The location will change from the Source Theatre. Though a great venue, the room got a little hot. We are in negotiations for a new venue, and expect an announcement shortly.
  • We will be keeping the gladiator style format (see videos from last year’s event), which people really seem to love. It offers more conversations and interaction with speakers.

    Additional Speakers

    Our closing keynote for xPotomac is Jim Long, a.k.a New Media Jim. Jim will lead a session on the rapidly changing world of video, and its implications for social networks and content creators. Currently, Jim is the Washington bureau videographer for NBC News.

    Cox Digital Media Director of Social Media Integration and blogging pioneer Toby Bloomberg will join us from Atlanta. Toby will discuss her insights and perhaps an adventure or two based her work with over 70 TV, radio and newspapers properties in using social media as a catalyst to build stronger brand-to-audience relationships.

    Nonprofit marketers Danielle Brigida, National Wildlife Federation, and Allyson Kapin, RAD Campaign will add insights into the nonprofit sector’s struggles with new media. They will engage in a conversation about what is working, what hasn’t worked, and why.

    Our final two sessions focus on corporate adoption of advanced media and the native advertising debates. These speakers will be announced in January.

    This post was originally featured on the xPotomac site.

    The Acidic Taste of Failure

    Sometimes you try to achieve things with all that you’ve got, and then you fail. Some say failure is good, that it teaches you what not to do, etc., etc.

    I agree, failing is part of the process of learning how to win. But I never like failing, particularly when I feel like it happened on my watch because of choices I made.

    I can feel the acid burning my gut. I always hate failure.

    Last week I experienced such a failure. It wasn’t on a public project, so let’s not read too much into things. Nevertheless, I failed. What made it worse was that I felt really good about the situation, rehearsed and worked hard, and put in extra time to get ready.

    When it was show time, the effort flew like a lead zeppelin.

    It was so obvious that I was dead in the water from the get-go, and I had to finish the job. If the situation was a baseball game, the opposition had a 10-run first inning. No escape for three hours. Done and done. Good night.

    At least I am laughing about it a week later.

    Nevertheless, it bugged me. Looking back there were mistakes like a critical flaw in evaluating my audience. A big disconnect occurred. Plus, I was exhausted and that didn’t help anything.

    So, I did what I always do when I fail. I got back up the next day, and started working on the next big thing, which is planning the 2014 edition of xPotomac (Patrick Ashamalla and Shonali Burke are joining me again as co-hosts this year).

    Because that’s what I do. I get back up.


    It’s important to take away what I can from the mistakes, adapt so next time there is different outcome, and work towards the next success. Maybe I’ll experience a win, maybe a different failure, but always move a step closer to the solution.

    I also took the necessary time to rest. Self-care remains one of the best ways to overcome failure. There is always more work, and sometimes I just have to put it on the backburner. If I treat myself like crap, I will surely feel and perform like crap, too.

    But no matter what, failures still burn, some more than others. That’s what makes winning all the more worthwhile. Call it fuel.

    How do you handle failures?

    Featured image by Mike Stimpson.

    9 Videos on the Digital Future

    Happy April Fool’s Day! We now resume our regular programming…


    Five weeks ago at xPotomac, nine speakers and one emcee delivered speeches and conversation starters that sparked 25-30 minutes of questions and answers each. The following nine videos are listed in the order of presentation.

    Special thanks to my client Vocus for providing videography services. Vocus is hosting the Demand Success 2013 conference in Washington, DC this June 20-21. The event focuses on marketing best practices for converging media, and includes speakers like Arianna Huffington, Content Marketing Institute Founder Joe Pulizzi, digital journalism expert Jay Rosen, and many more. Check it out.

    Please feel free to leave comments and feedback about the conference here. We’re listening!

    xPotomac Introduced: BlogPotomac Legacy and Future Vision

    DC’s very own Shana Glickfield (Beekeeper Group) provides the introduction to very first xPotomac. xPotomac is where the digital media future meets businesses. This groundbreaking conference features seven media technologies most likely to impact businesses and marketers in the immediate future.

    This smaller intimate conference features limited attendance to ensure maximum learning and networking. Speakers will present in a tight setting with the stage centered in the round or in a horseshoe formation. Each session features a gladiator like format with 15 minutes dedicated to speaking and 30 minutes of question and answer from the audience.

    Opening Keynote: Voice Search Changes the Game

    The opening keynote at xPotomac was provided by Vanessa Fox. Given how much of the current web — social and content marketing included — revolves around search, voice search represents a game changer, especially given mobile use with Siri and Google Voice Search.
    Continue reading