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Content marketing for brands and publishers with Shafqat Islam from NewsCred

Tim Gibbon (Social Media Portal (SMP)) - 17 January 2014

Social Media Portal (SMP) interview with Shafqat Islam from NewsCred

Shafqat Islam from NewsCred on content marketing, publishing and sourcing journalism talent to service brands

NewsCred logoSocial Media Portal (SMP): What is your name and what do you do there at NewsCred?

Shafqat Islam (SI): I’m Shafqat Islam, co-founder and CEO of NewsCred. As CEO, I oversee the strategic growth of the company, pioneering the first end-to-end content marketing platform for brands and publishers.

SMP: Briefly, tell us about NewsCred (for those that don’t know), what is it and what does company do?

SI: NewsCred is a content marketing platform. We provide brands with an end-to-end solution that helps simplify and scale the entire content marketing process. NewsCred is focused on two core offers, software and content. Our software, The Content Marketing Cloud, gives marketers a single platform to plan, source, discover, publish, share and measure all of their content.

Additionally, we’ve built the first content marketplace. Brands gain access to licensed content from over 4,000 publishers, including New York Times and Bloomberg, to original content through our exclusive network of freelance writers, photographers, videographers and designers.

Photograph of Shafqat Islam, co-founder and CEO of NewsCredSMP: Who are your target audience and why?

SI: Our target audience is every marketer and content creator. We believe that great marketing is great storytelling. Through growing our network of marketers, while simultaneously evolving our network of content creators, we are able to make marketing and advertising better. And we are able to turn marketers into heroes and journalists into rock stars.

SMP: What do you define as content marketing and what role do bloggers, freelancers and journalists have to play in this?

SI: Content market is the engaging and informative narrative that fuels modern marketing strategies. The work of bloggers, freelancers and journalists sustain today’s content ecosystem. At NewsCred, we understand the value of writers as well as other digital creatives and ensure that they are given full credit for their work.

SMP: And what role do brands play?

SI: As brands have become publishers, consumers have increasingly turned to brands as a home for content and information as a utility. By playing that role, brand marketers are driving affinity and subsequently revenue back into their businesses.

SMP: Why was content marketing such a talking point in 2013 (what will be hot this year)?

SI: Brands are seeing content marketing as an effective tool to capture the attention of digital audiences who demand better quality and greater relevance in what they read online. In 2014 brands will seek out one clear, cost-effective content marketing technology platform that offers end-to-end solutions for content creation, distribution, management and analytics.

SMP: How long does it take to review bloggers, freelancers and journalists before they can start working with NewsCred?

SI: The vertical editors review each writer’s online portfolios, sample articles and social media presence. If the writer qualifies based on this review, our editor calls the writer and interviews them, discusses their career, measures their communication abilities and confirms their interest in writing for brands.

SMP: What’s the benefits of them working with NewsCred?

SI: We pay them a lot more than the competition. Each writer earns $500 for a blog post and $1,000 for an article. NewsCred takes no fee on the work. Once a client accepts an article, NewsCred immediately initiates a wire transfer to the author. Writers no longer have to wait for their article to publish or have their money sitting in an accounts payable department. We also promise consistency and a personal connection with clients. Every journalist is placed on a brand team and works with that brand throughout campaigns. Personal connections are formed during phone calls and direct communication between the brand managers and journalists.

SMP: How did you initially attract users to your service and how do you do it now?

SI: Our number one mission is helping the journalism industry not just survive, but thrive. With that mission in mind, we built a freelance network that freelancers would love. We reached out to great writers via LinkedIn and other social media portals. Now, we count on word-of-mouth and direct outreach to sign-up new amazing journalists.

SMP: You’ve entered the UK market, but what does that mean and what services are you providing?

SI: In 2014, European companies and agencies will increasingly tap into content marketing technologies and solutions as they realise the opportunities there. We are bringing our end-to-end content marketing platform to global brands and publishers from our new position in the UK. We already have many licensing agreements with European-based publications including The Guardian and The Economist and hope to forge many more relationships with brands and publishers there to provide software alongside licensed and original content at scale.

SMP: What are the challenges that you’ve encountered and how are you overcoming them in what you have been doing so far at NewsCred?

SI: NewsCred is a story of five years of perseverance. We’ve always been driven by the goal of finding a way to surface high-quality journalism, but we had to go through some initial setbacks. Being in the wrong business at first helped us realise the real problems in the industry – there was no simple way for brands and publishers to source licensed content. So we shifted our company (multiple pivots) to address the needs of the market and focused on developing the two core assets of our business: world-class technology and premium licensed and original content.

SMP: What are the high moments of what you have been doing so far?

SI: I always say that I get paid to hang out with my friends. The high moments for me are when I walk into our office and I see the energy, enthusiasm and passion of all my colleagues. Nothing beats building an awesome team.

NewCred website screenshot

SMP: What are the main social channels are you using, why and which are the most effective for NewsCred?

SI: We have built our presence on LinkedIn, Twitter @newscred, and Facebook. We’ve also gotten widespread feedback for our infographics and presentations on SlideShare. Additionally, we’re proving the value of our content marketing solutions with The Bulletin, NewsCred’s blog that curates licensed and original content on digital marketing and content strategies.

LinkedIn has become a top publisher, curator and a go-to source for information with new features like Influencers and sponsored post sections. Through the Influencer program alone, original content is receiving an enormous number of page views. LinkedIn makes it simple to exchange content and reach segmented audiences. The concept of social networks as publishers is a novel idea that I expect will disrupt the traditional publishing ecosystem.

SMP: What sort of activity / engagement are you receiving across the social channels that you use and how do you create / sustain this?

SI: We use major social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter for content promotion, lead generation and engagement. Our content mix includes blog posts, content from partners and industry leaders, and fun posts around our company culture. With each new piece of high value content, we create a social campaign – social posts for every channel with relevant links to gated content and visuals. Any sales-related inquiries from social are funnelled to our sales reps for immediate follow-up. For white papers, ebooks and webinar registration, LinkedIn yields the lowest cost per lead via Sponsored Updates. Aside from LinkedIn’s sponsored updates, we’ve tested Facebook’s boosted page posts and sponsored stories.

SMP: What do you see as your biggest challenges and opportunities?

SI: The biggest opportunity right now is in partnering with brands – we think every single company in the world will be involved in content marketing. Brands are adopting content marketing as a legitimate tool that generates leads and serves up real ROI. Our clients have seen immensely positive business results after initiating content marketing strategies. Another opportunity is overseas as European brands and publishers look to integrate content marketing strategies. Our challenge is to keep in-tune with the market landscape so that we will have the most up-to-date content and technology to serve modern marketers.

SMP: What is the most challenging part of building upon the brands presence in digital environments (including social media)?

SI: Many brands have built up large online followings, which is a huge advantage for us and them. It’s important to understand the kinds of conversations the brand wants to start with their audience, and we’ve been challenged with the task of finding engaging and interesting content to hook the audience, sustain and grow them. The brand’s digital personalities tell us a lot of what we need to know about their audience. Our technology and editorial teams source content, finding the best pieces for them to display across their online spaces in a scalable, simple fashion.

SMP: What’s going to be the most interesting aspect regarding social media, social networks and/or technology for publishers over the next 12 to 18-months and why?

SI: I’ve said it before, but LinkedIn, born as a professional social network, is stealing the market share from leading publishers for good reason. Their content is fresh and easily distributed. I expect that in the next 12 -months, LinkedIn will rise as both a leading distribution channel and top publisher. For publishers this means they need to change how they’re thinking about and spending money on content creation and subsequent distribution. I expect we’ll see everyone from agencies to brands to publishers thinking about the end-to-end challenges of content marketing including creation through distribution and allocating resources against the whole solution, versus hard to manage fragments.

SMP: What are your top five predictions for social media for publishers over the next 12 to 18-months?

SI replies with:

1 Social feeds will grow as news sources in their own right as users turn to social networks like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook etc., to get the most updated news.

2. Content sharing and consumption will be quicker and more visual, and publishers will need to get creative to target different audiences.

3. Social media will force publishers to think about their own brand and digital voice in new ways. No longer reliant on the voice of their by-lines, social media will encourage publishers to have a distinct voice themselves – publishers will have to think more like marketers than ever before.

4. Publishers who rely on native advertising and sponsored content for revenue will be competing with social networks that are offering different forms of paid placements to brands and marketers as well. We’ll see brands comparing buys on publishers to those on social in ways never seen before.

5. Social networks will develop better measurement tools to help marketers track the performance of their content and so publishers will then be forced to show results for their new sponsored/native efforts. Publishers will need to find unique ways to quantify the value of their high-level content, as often their distribution won’t compete with that of social networks.

SMP: What are your top five content marketing, digital and/or social media tips for publishers?

SI replies with:

1. Plan to increase your own marketing budgets. Invest in better marketing technology, hire experts and create new roles and departments within your business.

2. Create more interesting, entertaining and informative content marketing offerings for brands to capture native advertising budgets in an increasingly crowded space.

3. Develop measurement strategies for your content marketing offers, so that brands can see the ROI within their customer databases and CRMs and target prospects.

4. Seek out new distribution partners who can help you drive revenue from content you’ve already created and published via brands who are hungry to fuel their digital audiences.

5. Invest in mobile publishing and optimisation solutions to drive revenue off of the shift of eyeballs consuming content on mobile phones and table devices.

SMP: Best way to contact you and NewsCred?

SI: Shafqat’s Twitter @shafqatislam and whitepapers at the NewsCred website.

Now some questions for fun

SMP: What did you have for breakfast / lunch?

SI: I woke up at 4:30am for an early morning flight to a client meeting, so I had an unhealthy sausage, egg and cheese sandwich at Newark airport.

SMP: What’s the last good thing that you did for someone?

SI: Hopefully I do something good for people every day. I like paying for people behind me in line at coffee shops and tollbooths, etc.

SMP: If you weren’t running or working on NewsCred what would you be doing?

SI: DJ-ing, like I was doing in college.

SMP: What’s the best content marketing campaigns / activity you have seen this year and why (it can’t be one of your own, or a clients / partners)?

SI: I really like Project Sunlight from Unilever. Hennessy’s Wild Rabbit campaign is also great.

SMP: When and where did you go on your last holiday?

SI: Nepal.

SMP: What’s the first thing you do when you get into the office of a morning?

SI: Play some music. Yesterday, it was The Killers.

SMP: If you had a superpower what would it be and why?

SI: Easy, Teleportation.

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