Courtney Sembler: Creating & Scaling Your Educational Content

In this interview we chat with Courtney Sembler for the HubSpot Academy about creating and scaling your educational content. She dives into her over 5 years of content creation experience to hand deliver you some tips, tricks, and strategy gems.

We talk about going global, multi-lingual needs, as well as has that single marketer can leverage re-purposing their content to scale their efforts even more. 

Want to read the book Courtney mentions?

The Culture Map

Audio

About the Expert

Courtney Sembler

Courtney hails from San Francisco, CA and moved to Boston, MA to work for HubSpot in 2015. She currently works as the Manager for HubSpot Academy Education dedicated to leading the inspiring and passionate Inbound Professors. She was a previous Inbound Professor focused on email marketing, GDPR, and contact management. She is devoted to education, environmental programs, and a true email geek.

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Full Transcript

George Thomas 0:00
All right sprocket tears. I am so excited because today we're gonna take time to do an interview with Courtney sembler, from HubSpot Academy. And we're doing this because one of the major problems that you face is creating content. At least that's what our surveys and polls tell us. So we wanted to dive in and we wanted to ask questions around multilingual going global. What if you're that one lone wolf person trying to create content? How can you create content, the right content and scale it? Those are the answers that you're going to find in today's interview. So let's go ahead and get into the good stuff. Today, we're talking about content and content creation. And I really want to start Courtney by allowing you to give the audience the viewers the listeners, have the ability to understand why I have picked out of the entire world you to talk about content creation and scale. Billy, so let the viewers and listeners everybody know a little bit about you and kind of what makes you tick.

Courtney Sembler 1:06
It's a great question sort of why we're chatting today. I've been at HubSpot for over five years now, which is crazy to me to think. And most of the time that I've spent at HubSpot has been in this educational content space, thinking about how we can educate our customers. You know, for us, our HubSpot customers around the world and what they're doing, how they're functioning. And over the last two years, I've had the great pleasure to actually manage our group of content graders, we call them professors, you're familiar with them. And thinking about how we scale that not just with people in headcount, yeah, we could hire 510 15 more professors every year. But how do we do that in a way that helps our customers grow as well. And so my focus has really been on international expansion recently, how we do this in Spanish, French, German, Japanese, as well as Thinking holistically about growing our platform and bringing on more and more customers. So I've had a lot of different focuses at my time at HubSpot, but the last two years has really been focused on this educational content space.

George Thomas 2:10
So I love that. And I want to actually dive into because we want to get to the deep end of the pool. But I want to dive into this question first, Courtney. And that is, folks, believe it or not, who are not yet creating content, for their customers for their prospects for their leads, like why do you feel it's vitally important that they focus in on this content creation strategy?

Courtney Sembler 2:35
Definitely. And it's a good question because there are a lot of things that you can do to help grow your business. There's a lot of different ways to reach your prospects and your customers. And really, the reason why myself and the academy team really focus on content is because it's the most human and helpful form of doing inbound. It's arguably one of the most sort of whole pieces of doing inbound because it really puts you in this place. Whether you're going to provide value to someone, before you extract it, you're not asking for them any, you know, anything up front, you're really getting at what they need, providing that value, and then in return, they're going to keep coming back for more. And that's what's going to help grow your business at the end of the day, is getting that person to come back time and time again. But the reason why we start with content is because it allows you to focus and be able to bring those people in. But also, it's one of the best ways to really highlight all the knowledge that you have. Think about all the things that the members of your team know how to do, it's going to be pretty difficult to jam all that into an email to a customer base. That's gonna be a lot of bullet points. But a lot of that content creation can really help you shine in those ways that makes you different than your competitor that makes you stand out in the crowd and does it with your best human foot forward. Because that's really what we like to focus on and content is your human Tell your customers and your prospects that and they're going to keep coming back for more.

George Thomas 4:03
Yeah, I love the human side of business the being helpful, right? You guys even used the word holistic a lot with the Academy. And you know, I start to think about Okay, so now I understand it's important to create content. My next question for you, and I'm sure this is a hurdle for you guys as well. And for every business, I think it is, which is why I'm asking you the question, by the way, is like how do you know what educational content to create? Or I might even ask it in a way of like, how do you know what content to create? Because it's not like we're just gonna create content for creating content sake, there has to be a plan a strategy, like a SMART goal tied to this so what are your thoughts?

Courtney Sembler 4:44
Yeah, if you if you're just getting started with creating content, this is going to be your biggest hurdle because everything is going to come to mind. You're going to get into a zoom with your colleagues on visual you know whiteboard is going to start to fill up with everything you need to start to circle from something's on that A virtual whiteboard. And really the biggest sort of three suggestions that I have is first is what is the thing you answer the most for your customers? What is the thing that ends up in every email that ends up on every landing page, the thing that you try to distill down, but you keep getting questions on, because that's probably the path of least resistance for your first few pieces of content. And it really can come in many forms. And that's really sort of the second piece is, where are your customers today? Do they like video? Are they on social? Where are they already congregating? And if you don't know that, then you can't start creating content yet you got to back up a little bit and start to figure out sort of where they are. And then the last piece too is what are you a rock star on already? You're going to be a future rock star on something else. But what are you doing today that you're like getting a gold star from you're feeling really good about because you don't want to try to create content on something you got to go and sort of dig for do the thing. Even if it Seems a little bit foundational start there, because that just is going to a pick up your sort of competence and building content. But it's going to be the easiest way to get something out. And just like everything, when we talk about the inbound methodology, the flywheel momentum is the key here. You want to be able to pick up speed and continue to move. So when you think about that whiteboard of what could we do, start to circle the things you get questions on, and that you're really good at already.

George Thomas 6:28
Yeah, I love those tips. Those are amazing tips. You should probably rewind that section and watch it again. You did mention something in there about finding your audience. Can you maybe throw us a tip or two around like where they can start with like, okay, you you're creating content. This is the type of content that you're gonna create, maybe but look here, like, how do we figure that part of this out?

Courtney Sembler 6:54
Yeah. And it's, it might not be one place in the wild. And that's sort of the the tricky part is This is where repurposing content is going to become your best friend. Because you might throw something out on a blog post that you then shortened down for a tweet, or an Instagram post. So it might be a little bit of beg, borrow and steal from a few different places. But the biggest thing to start with is, who is that persona that you're trying to target? Are you trying to attract new visitors? Are you trying to engage the ones you already have, or delight your customers? Because if you choose one of those three things, it's immediately going to be more helpful and figuring out where you place that content. And really where they are. You think about the differences in where your prospects are versus your customers, your prospects are going to have to lean into blog content, social content, that micro learning experience, because you don't really have their attention yet, for your customers, video content, being able to send them newsletters, being able to really engage and bring them in, think about communities and getting them to talk to one There are two really different sides of that spectrum. So it's really asking yourself, who do I want to contact first, you're going to probably hit all three of those buckets eventually. But when you're getting started, don't bite off more than you can chew, get started with which of those areas and if it's your prospects, great, we've got some amazing ability to do website content, blog content, social content, all being able to focus on that like micro learning experience. And then really just started drive that across to your customers as well.

George Thomas 8:32
So I love that you mentioned in that last section repurposing, because I've been wanting to get to but had to paint a picture to the scalability part of this content creation that I want you to be able to dive into. And so and it sounded like at the very beginning, there's almost like a couple different directions that you can talk about when it comes to scaling the content creation. So let's talk first to those people who are like the lone Wolf, right? The the single marketer, and they've got to create this content like, how can you scale content creation using things like repurposing or whatever strategy? You folks and the HubSpot Academy have figured out to kind of make less more or more even more.

Courtney Sembler 9:17
Yeah, the repurposing is really the name of the game. You know, if you think about a webinar you've recorded or a presentation you did, or blog post you created, there's so much content in there that you don't have to start from scratch. Even if you think about repurposing from just expanding on topics. You know, one of the biggest things we talk a lot about is like, Well, okay, I know what I want to talk about, and you create this great thing. And then you like, pivot and start doing something else? Well, you just picked up all this momentum on this topic, like, Don't shy away from leaning into that, because you can really to your point, just get more and more out of that if you stay focused. there's a there's a problem we typically see with that sort of thing. set it and forget it. While I created that blog post, I'm just gonna see how it performs. We'll keep going. What did you talk about there that you can build on in the next one? Something that we've tested out a few times is sort of this series type content, where it sort of focuses on an area, you might hear it, you know, pillar content or pillar strategy. Like, what's the one thing and then how do you branch out from there on this sort of tactical way to do that, if you think about it more from like, okay, Courtney, I created a blog post, how do I get more content out of there? Well, was there a quote that you use that you can actually put on social and link back to that piece of content? Was there an end paragraph that sort of wrapped up with next steps, you can then build the next post off of those next steps. Or if you're producing a larger piece of content, like a webinar or presentation, start to bring out some of those chunks, break them down into three to five minute videos, and be posting them on YouTube or on your blog, wherever it may be? You're really strong To get that value by repurposing it. And not just saying I did that one thing, and I moved on to the next.

George Thomas 11:06
So I love that because the idea of repurposing I do want to dive a little bit deeper into that, though and ask you, Courtney, is there a way that you've seen that you can start with like this certain type of piece of content and it just drizzles down into these others versus what might feel like somebody working up hill, if you will?

Courtney Sembler 11:26
I think the uphill battle is always where we kind of focus but at least for from our perspective, one of the things that you can think about and if you're not familiar with HubSpot Academy, one of our typical offerings is that certification course. And it's a larger piece of content, typically ranging four to five hours worth of video content, ending in an exam in which we provide you a credential a certificate that sort of proves your knowledge in a specific area. So if you think about one of our professors Jory, or Rachel or Kyle, they'll create this long certification four or five hours that produces Is hundreds of different pieces of content for them. Because then they'll have the one lesson that's really specific to, you know, how do you create a blog post? And in there, then it's really specific about how do you create that blog post inside of HubSpot, and then even further down, well, then how do you analyze that blog post in HubSpot, and you sort of get this trickle effect where you start with the larger idea, you kind of can funnel it down to the smaller pieces. And a good example might be George has been working on this reporting certification, it's going to come out next week. It's looking great. And all of that content really can be repurposed to talk about any type of recording across HubSpot, and be plugged in. So the next time someone else wants to talk about recording, they don't have to recreate it, they can actually just grab it from the place that already exists and repurpose it. And so it's really where if you can find a way it might not be a certification for everyone. But think about you know, if you created four or five blog posts on a similar topic, back the next time you created something sort of aligned, you could pull from that already and be able to repurpose it that way.

George Thomas 13:07
Yeah, a great example of that, actually, is how you guys did the new inbound certification because there's literally chunks from other certifications brought in there. I was like, Oh, that's this is so smart how they did that section right there. So we talked about topics which by the way, we're a firm believer, literally, if you go to our main navigation is sprocket talk, comm go to problems, you'll see all the problems, the topics that we help people solve, and you can dive into there. So use that for your own companies steal our ideas, we don't care. We've talked about that lone wolf, that one person. What about the company because you guys have had to go through this. You know, I can remember when it was like two or three professors versus like, I don't even know how many professors at this point. How do you go from like one or two people working on the content creation. And actually scale in the other direction where you're adding people and kind of adding these rules and these like things that have to be in a place for everything to be consistent and like, like, there's so much I don't even know how to ask the question, but I know you know what I'm asking him like, How the heck do you take it from one to be bowling? Like just grow it?

Courtney Sembler 14:20
Yeah. It's it's an interesting question to ask of like, how do you kind of go from this this model where, back in the day, we were creating webinars that just happened like three days a week, to to now, you know, 75 or 76 courses that are available 20 of those being certifications and there, there's a lot that gets wrapped up in there. But really, it comes down to two, three things. The first is frameworks, systems and global. So when we think about scale, the first thing is we that we think about is do we have a Do we really have a framework that we're teaching through? Do we have a way to explain to a new Professor how we go about creating knowledge Then, on the academy team, we use the instructional design framework Addie, analysis, design, develop, implement and evaluate, which really helps us structure and provide that framework. Build it allow any new professor or when we talk to external people really ground us and well how do we go from idea to to evaluating success? And so when you think about scale, that's that's the first thing. What are you going to teach everybody to create? And we've sort of evolved over time used to use backwards planning now we use Addie doesn't have to be set in stone. And really, the second thing is this system. And this is really where you'll get yourself into a lot of trouble in in the end if you don't think about the system from the start. We've made a few few hiccups along the way on the academy team, but really making sure all your content internally lives in one place. All your video assets, you know, your blog content, whatever it may be, it needs to happen. The central place. And this is also when you think about scale, the team people are going to leave, they're going to move on making sure that knowledge doesn't live in one person's head. Because that's really where you can get very tricky. And really the last thing is global. And this is a last thing that Academy is really leaned into in the last few years is, if you want to scale you need to start thinking about the learner, the customer, whoever they may be, that's not in your direct vicinity. Who is the learner who is, you know, on the West Coast? Or who is the learner that's in London or Australia who might be stumbling across your content? And does it resonate for them? Because that's really where you can actually pick up quite a bit momentum. Because if you're starting to attract people that are not in your direct area, but this is something it doesn't immediately have to be other languages, but just making sure resonates with someone who might not be exactly where you are in the world.

George Thomas 16:55
It's interesting because the global I think for a lot of companies They feel like that might be an enterprise thing. But it's really not. It's like, you can be the smallest of small companies and all sudden there's somebody from like Istanbul who's like paying attention to your content. Trust me, it's mind blowing when you figure that out. So how what do you do you think there's like 123 things that companies should be doing to try to make their content more global as they're creating it or as they're posting it? Like, what are some maybe tips tricks or hacks around this global mentality?

Courtney Sembler 17:32
Definitely. And you use the right word, their mentality, it is all about how you're thinking about this. And I encourage anyone who's trying to think about, you know, we talked a lot about going global Well, it's not really going global. It's just making sure you're set up to have people around the globe, engage with your content. And the first is just a revisit that that vision, that mission that you're trying to attack and make sure to include those people. A lot of people think about their vision state enter their purpose statement. And it's like to engage customers in New York or in San Francisco or like wherever they are, start to expand that out and be like, well, what would that mean? If we had someone from India, from London from Australia engaged with the content. And then the second sort of like a tip or trick is, is really challenge yourself. When you're writing content, put yourself in the shoes of someone who, you know, in our case might not be from the United States. A big lesson we had that we learned was a stop sign, like the visual of a stop sign looks very different all around the world. Sometimes it's blue, sometimes it's orange, sometimes it's a triangle. So the first thing that we did was start ripping out those images that cannot be applied into other regions. And it's difficult at first, because you don't see it until you see it. And then it's like, oh, wow, we have a lot of work to do. And sometimes, if it is something that you want to pick up speed on, it's helpful to break In someone from you know, either another team, or global but honestly, one of the biggest things that I did that helped was I read a book called The culture map by belief, her name is Aaron Meyers. And it's just really helpful to give you that perspective of thinking outside of your culture. And that's really what it comes down to is thinking outside of of where you are. Even if you don't have team members and those other cultures yet, hopefully you get there.

George Thomas 19:28
Love that. We're gonna put a description for the book, a description, a link in the description for the book below. So I will definitely look that up. I definitely as soon as you said I'm like, Okay, I need to see if I can read it or if it's an audio book, because I definitely want to dive into that. And and it's funny, Courtney, because we learned very similar lesson this force imagery, like I will say, going global, that's one of the major places you're going to want to pay attention to because we realized what like hands raised up in praising and In America, I mean something totally different in Japan. And so any marketing materials that would have visuals like that have to be changed. So you, you have to I love that you said it's like digging in it's, it's this micro level, it's paying attention to like,

Unknown Speaker 20:15
Who are they?

George Thomas 20:16
Like, understand them intimately if you're going to kind of be in that territory, if you will. So question if you had time and you could only give one tip, one tip on content creation, what would that one tip be?

Courtney Sembler 20:34
That's a tough one. There's a lot of tips. I think that I think the biggest tip and it's maybe the the not so sexy tip is get your system in place. Whatever it is, you can create content morning, noon and night. But if your system isn't working for you, not just with you, but if your systems working for you, you're going to be able to do it so much faster. Whether it's being To track updates to content, because that's a huge thing as you scale, you need to be able to know what's out of date, what you might want to remove. And what you want to dedicate resources to have someone actually engage with that content and keep it up to date. You need a system to be able to do that, your system will evolve. You don't have to spend loads of money on a system to get started, but just have a central place that everyone keeps track of that. That's going to make your content creation process. And the actual execution of it goes so much better.

George Thomas 21:32
So Courtney, here's the thing we've been talking about going global, but one of the things that if we didn't talk about on this interview would leave people just like in the weeds, if you will, and that is what have you guys been doing as far as like multi lingual and being able to put that whole piece of I'll call it yarn or thread or whatever together as you move forward.

Courtney Sembler 21:57
Yeah, it's really been something that's coming together in the last Like 12 to 18 months we we did got very fortunate we invested in professors that are focused on regions and languages. So if Spanish, French and German and Japanese professors were really focused on providing that experience, and the biggest thing, when you think about going into a language that is not your native language, you know, you could be a company in German, maybe your native language is German, you're going into English, whatever it is, you have to think about the scale and the region. And what I mean by that is, if you're translating content, you're going from English to another language, you have to think about, again, that process that happens that system so that things quite literally don't get lost in translation, that you can make that connection that it is aligned. But the second is that you are going to make changes. There is very little in this world that we can just translate Like one to one from English into another language or German into another language, you have to think about what happens in that other language to give it that human holistic vibe to it. So when someone's learning in Spanish from your company, they feel like it was made for them not translated for them. We've been able to solve that problem a little bit with headcount, as well as a really big alignment with our localization team here at HubSpot. But it really comes down to going back and understanding who you're educating and another language. So whether it's, you know, a company, you mentioned, that it's always a big learning of like, Oh, yeah, I mentioned this company slack and people like I don't, I don't know what that is. And it's like, Okay, well, I'm getting off to the rock star here. And so you, you really want to start to think about some of those micro aspects that are happening.

George Thomas 23:53
I've been waiting to ask this question till the very end because we've talked about a lot of things on this journey of content creation. And so my final question for you is all of this multi lingual going global scalability. The Lone Wolf, why is HubSpot a really good platform to think about using for this systems and processes and education and being human and, and holistic,

Courtney Sembler 24:20
it's all about that connection, really allowing that network effect to happen where if you're creating content inside of HubSpot, it's going to connect with those contacts that are consuming it to give you the data to be able to continue to follow up with them. And even just being able to extend that if you think about the HubSpot app marketplace, if you want to be using Vidyard, or Wistia, or zoom, all those platforms are going to integrate into HubSpot seamlessly. So you aren't actually having to put the work in to make the system work. And that's a really big, like benefit to you as an individual whether you're the lone wolf or the larger company. Instead of having to, again, work for your system, your system is going to work for you. And HubSpot can really be that base that you know, CRM platform that's allowing you to do all of that. And bring in the integrations that you're already using, whether it's Slack, whether it's zoom, whether it's, you know, the accounting integration that's based in Tokyo, whatever it may be. It really allows you to do work in there, and be able to provide that experience so you can focus on what you do best, which is, you know, really focusing on the things that your customers your prospects need and creating that content for them.

George Thomas 25:37
So I knew that that wouldn't disappoint. Courtney is amazing. She's been doing this for years. And of course, we love the HubSpot Academy. We love certifications. We love the lessons and that's why honestly, we create our own content as well because we understand that there's such a mission to be able to create content around HubSpot and being great at growing a business through sales marketing service. Is that we have to do our little part to put our dent in the universe as well. Hey, remember to be a happy, helpful, humble human. And along the way, let's make sure that we do some happy Hubspotting together.