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Q&A: Cathy McPhillips on How CMI Uses Social Media to Drive Event Attendance

Content Kings As vice president of Marketing at the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), Cathy McPhillips leads the marketing efforts for CMI’s Content Marketing World, Intelligent Content Conference and CCO Magazine. We caught up with her to learn how she uses social media to increase email subscribers and how Facebook drives attendance to the CMI’s largest annual event. She also imparts her own tips and techniques for obtaining content marketing success.

Juliet Stott: What role does social media play in CMI’s content marketing strategy? Do you use it as a distribution tool, a way to engage with your followers or as a way of obtaining repurpose-able content in the form of user-generated content (UGC)?

Cathy McPhillips: All of the above! We definitely use it as a distribution tool. Our Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts are the largest source of referral traffic to our website, outside of our daily and weekly emails to subscribers. These channels are great for building and maintaining our authority in the industry. They also provide a place for us to communicate and engage with our community to see how our content is resonating with them.

Our community manager does a great job of curating and sharing content from other industry leaders. We know full well we’re not the only smart content marketers out there—but we aim to be a hub for all things content marketing-related for our community.

Instagram has been fun for us to collect user-generated content. If you check out our Instagram feed, you’ll see some of our Content Marketing World attendees’ posts regrammed. That’s probably the biggest place we’ll use UGC.


Is there a formula/technique that always works for you?

Our formula (for years) is Andrew Davis’s 4-1-1 rule. For every self-serving tweet or post, you should share one piece of relevant content of your own, then share four pieces of relevant content shared by others. While it ends up being not exactly that scientific all the time, having a content calendar has helped our community manager make sure it’s as close as possible.


Social media is a place where people go to find out about what’s happening in the lives of their families and friends. Can you give some tips about how you use content on these channels to gain attention and cut through the noise?

The first thing we do is create a channel plan. Our channel plan is pretty simplistic, but important. We have a chart that has all of our social channels in a column on the left. Then on the right, we write the objective and strategy for each channel. For example, on LinkedIn we want to be the content marketing authority. So, we focus on sharing our blog posts, research and other content that positions us as a leader while providing valuable content to our customers and prospects.

On the opposite side of the scale, on Instagram we’re hardly ever promotional. Our community has a chance to see the personal side of our team, our event and our industry. It’s Joe [Pulizzi] traveling on the road. It’s members from our team in Panera for an off-site meeting. It’s a funny moment at Content Marketing World.

Every quarter to six months, this channel plan is reviewed to see if it’s still on track with both what the audience needs and what the channel is able to achieve—with algorithm changes and such.

An important key to breaking through the clutter is not using the same approach on every channel.Tweet: Even if we’re going to post the same CMI blog post on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, the message shouldn’t be the same. On Twitter, we may pull a quote or use the blog post headline, plus the link and a relevant hashtag. On Facebook, we’ll ask a question related to the blog post. On LinkedIn, we may pull a graph from the blog post and provide useful information that will entice the reader to click and read more. Each of us use our social channels differently as people—so it only makes sense that brands know why their audiences come to their various social channels.


Is one social channel more effective than others for you? If so, why? What does it allow you to do that other channels don’t? Can you give an example of how you have used social to drive your users to either sign up for your event or subscribe to your email list?

As I mentioned, we use all of our channels a little differently—and that’s a good thing. Right now Facebook is performing much better from a referral traffic standpoint than Twitter or LinkedIn, although Twitter consistently has the stronger community and depth of conversation. But six months ago, that wasn’t the case. So, it’s important to look at analytics to determine where your audience is.

We use social to drive customers to both our Content Marketing World registration page as well as our email subscription page, but in true content marketing fashion, we don’t always just do the hard sell with a tweet saying “Register now!” Rather, we’ll create a blog post that also is the topic of a session at Content Marketing World. Then we’ll make sure that post is shared on our relevant channels. In that same vein, we’ll drive people to our e-books and other pieces of content that have CTAs to move them closer to a subscription or an event registration.


How important is the CMI blog? How does it feed into your marketing strategy? Does it supply content for your weekly emails/give you something to publish on social? And how important are the guest blog posts to your overall strategy?

Our company revolves around the CMI blog and Content Marketing World. Most of our marketing strategy stems from the blog. It gives us:

  • Content for our daily emails and our weekly digest emails
  • Content for social media that can be published in its entirety or can be repurposed by extracting quotes or charts
  • “Click to Tweets” showcasing poignant quotes or facts from an article shared on social
  • Content for a SlideShare presentation—or vice versa
  • A channel to distribute our podcast—via show notes on the CMI blog

We use guests on our blog. They fill a need or a niche to provide value to our readers. We don’t assume we know it all, and value the expertise of subject matter experts.Tweet:


Content Marketing World 2017’s theme is “A World of Stories.” Which brands are attending?

There are some great new brands coming to Content Marketing World this year, including Kawasaki, H&R Block, Harvard Business Review, Arrow Media Group, our own Cleveland Indians and Cleveland Cavaliers, Estee Lauder, and many more. And we also have some great brands returning such as: GE, Google, REI, Rockwell Automation, Xerox and the Cleveland Clinic, just to name a few. If you visit our website, you’ll find more of the brands speaking.


From your own marketing experience, what tools, tips and techniques can you share that have really worked for you in your practice of promoting the CMI?

From a promotion standpoint, our best success always stems from knowing our audience. Whether it’s us segmenting our emails to reach various job functions, geographies or industries, or if we’re running Facebook ads or doing retargeting, we always need to know who our audience is, and who we’re looking to reach. Our content marketing has helped us identify who our customer is, what they look like and what they’re doing at CMI. That helps us in every decision we make.

Another very critical piece is just listening. We hold weekly Twitter chats every Tuesday, and much of what our participants share over that hour is intel we can use to decide on blog post topics or ebook ideas. In some cases, it has even led us to asking one of them to speak at Content Marketing World. By listening to our customers on our Twitter chats—and then social in general, we’re much more likely to hit the mark on what they need, so we can continue to be a valuable source of information for them.

Content Marketing World 2017 is taking place in Cleveland, Ohio, on September 5-8. Go register for an Early Bird discounted ticket until June 2!


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Juliet Stott
Juliet is a former Guardian journalist now freelance journalist, writer & content strategist in York, United Kingdom.
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