Andra Zaharia is an information security content marketer who started at Heimdal Security, before transitioning over to CyberGhost and later going out on her own.
She created a content strategy and DA-topping links at Heimdal.
At CyberGhost, she built out content teams that created and localized content for different countries around the world.
And now, she’s applying these lessons directly to clients.
Andra thank you so much for joining me. Could you just give a quick back story about kind of who you are and what you’re up to in your day?
Hey Brad, it’s awesome to be here. Um, so my name is Andra Zaharia. I’ve been a digital marketer for 10 years and I’m currently a content marketing freelancer focusing on cyber security, AI and innovation.
Nice light topics.
Yeah, yeah, I really do pick em. Yeah. So I’ve been working in digital marketing for, uh, almost 11 years now actually. Not that I’m counting, uh, basically ever since I graduated. Um, and I graduated mid-crisis in 2008 a, which was really fun,
Yup, it was. I actually did too, so I know what you mean.
Yeah. Yeah. Okay. Okay. So yeah, that, that we have that experience in common, um, actually I graduated from communications and public relations. That was my major. So it, I only had like small encounters with marketing, uh, during my university years and with SEO actually caught my first job in SEO for a French SEO company, which was very, a very interesting experience. And that was kind of my only gig during college. And afterwards I started working with a local entrepreneur and blogger and he was one of the- the Internet was just, you know, uh, taking off in Romania in terms of communities and there were tweet meets and things like that. So the community was pretty small and very tightly knit. And I started working with this entrepreneur who actually was CEO of Yahoo, Romania at some point and she went off to, build a major gaming startup.
Uh, and I got to know, got started with consulting for digital projects, which again were very exciting and very, you know, a lot more creative than people tend to be now. And it was just this brave new world kind of opening up to brands. So that was it at a very interesting experience to start with. Um, and ever since I kind of had very different experiences. But looking back, did you have like this, this red line that connects them, um, and they help all, you know, I’m, I’m surely going to be able to, to mention a bit about it.
Awesome. Yeah. So what, what kind of stuff were you doing? What kind of French SEO? Are you doing? And in 2010 what
What kind of client sites where you’re working on what kind of like shady tactics? Where are you doing? Like how does that, how does that environment look started today?
Uh, surprisingly there were no shady tactics involved. They were a really, they’re a big French company and shame on me that I cannot remember their name. Um, but they were pretty big. They had quite a massive team in Romania and French is my second foreign language that I learned. So that was really challenging for me to kind of be able to express myself because I was writing ads and I was writing a bit of content to four for web pages mostly or very, very small blog posts, uh, at that time about, I remember having a customer and it was kind of mid size, um, that produced toys. So I had to write some content for that and I was given a list of keywords and we use this, um, this tool that had hounded its name. Again, that feels like very, very, very long time ago. So we were basically creating content and looking through keywords, kind of, I’m trying to, uh, create the, you know, uh, trying to give them an order and hierarchy for the customer to understand them and then use them for content in that.
Gotcha. How many languages do you speak?
Five. Not, not all of them that well, but I do like them. I do like to learn them.
Is it, is it easier to learn like two, three, four, five after learning this or, you know, three, four, five after learning the second foreign language?
It really depends for us. So Romanian is a Latin language, which means that we pick up languages, other languages really fast because we don’t have that strong of an accent. Um, so for example, anything that’s related to Italian, Spanish, and in Portuguese it comes in quite easily if you apply yourself a bit. Uh, French is usually taught in schools as a second language or English being the first one. It used to be Russian, but, uh, thankfully that changed of it because Russian is not the easiest language. Um, and then I actually picked up Italian from watching TV when I was little. Um, and then, um, for example, I want to learn Greek, which is a completely different ballgame at simply because there’s a different alphabet. But I don’t know if it gets necessarily easier. I think that the more you progress, it’s much easier to pick up a new language when you’re young and that that’s a big advantage to, to leverage.
But it did help me. I did this kind of naturally, I was always passionate about humanities and all of the topics related to that. Um, and I never had any idea how much it would help me in my job actually because I ended up translating a bunch of texts into these languages and various points in my career. Um, so that, that kind of worked work well up. Plus you get, you know that with each new language you get a different perspective because there was a different vocabulary and that’s one of the things that I really, really love about this.
Yeah, that’s interesting. I mean I can barely write English now and it’s the only thing I know. So how long does it usually take for you to be able to pick something up and write it in a way that it doesn’t come across as like a second language, if you know what I mean?
Uh, I think it takes about two years to get to the writing stage. I get to the speaking, understanding it, it goes really, you know, like one of this one to six months and then writing takes about two years, especially for languages that have a lot of exceptions, exceptions in Romanian from a grammar standpoint is a very difficult language. So is Italian and Spanish. And of course the, the fact that I’ve been studying English since I was three, um, that really helped kind of create and set the context for this. But then again, English is, while a beautiful language, it’s quite easy to understand and master if you, again, you know, dedicate some time to, to that. And I think I tend, uh, you know, US non-native English speakers, I think we tend to be a lot more careful about our wording. And one thing that I’m constantly trying to work on is my flexibility in terms of language. Uh, so I try to read a lot and see how people express nuance and what kind of idioms they use because it’s, these are things that you don’t naturally have as a non-native speaker. So, um, I’m still learning new words every day. And just the other day I learned a word persnickety in a book and I found it’s so fun. Such a fun word.
Yeah. I feel like videos and stuff like that. And like you said, it’s something that we don’t, we probably take for granted, but that’s the stuff to me anyway that makes things sound more conversational and more real and personal. Cause that’s what if you were talking or if you’re speaking just naturally, that’s what would come up. And it’s a way to also say things without over-elaborating. Cause I feel like a lot of times, even in a lot of, uh, you know, marketing related content, people like to overwrite and they just go on and on and on. When you can use like a dumb saying, or an idiom or something to say a lot more with saying less I guess.
Yes, absolutely. And that’s, that’s a lesson I think that you learn a lot through practice because I used to write these long-winded phrases and now when I look at them, I’m, I’m surprised by it, you know? Wow, this is quite tried to fit everything in there and break it up. And my usual advice, for example, when I used to manage your content team was stopped using long phrases. Uh, you know, be careful when using your passive voices, break your texts up, make it as clear as possible without dumbing it down. And that’s kind of a fine balance to achieve. But that’s usually, for example, kind of topic that comes up in editing a lot, uh, with content creators.
Hm. Gotcha. Yeah. Let’s, I want to come back to that because I do think it’s interesting getting that perspective on not only building and growing and managing content team, but then also doing it in multiple languages. Um, but for now you were doing kind of like some French, some French SEO. I’m totally, I’m totally like making it sound awful, but, you’re doing the French SEO and then you got started and were working with an entrepreneur. How do you, at what point do you go into cybersecurity? Cause it’s this wonderfully emerging market, uh, and it is so dry and boring and technical. So how do you, how do you, like, you know, do you purposely seek it out or do you accidentally kinda like fall into the right position or
It was sort of by accident? So between my first job experience and Heimdal Security, which was my first job in cybersecurity, uh, there were a string of experiences which were mostly consulting then I got started working with startups a lot. So I worked with a web development agency and we handled clients. We handled digital for clients such as Auburn Foreman with Jack Daniels and Finlandia and then a bunch of other brands, um, who are especially bronc former. And I, I had this it amazing experience while working with their international brand managers who are super advanced in terms of digital, uh, for that point. So it was very interesting to see there. We’re talking to Twitter about age-gating content, uh, at a point of time in which Instagram was barely emerging in the states and not sort of the rest of the world.
So very interesting time there. And starting to work with startups. I worked at a coworking space for tech startups and at the kind of a bigger, uh, conference that happened once a year with specifically for tech startups. Uh, so there I was a community manager. I handled all of the contents, um, and was involved kind of, we were a small teams who are doing a bit of everything, events and things like that. And there were a bunch of startups are obviously that we’re working from that space. And one of them was actually Heimdal security and you know, being part of the digital scene in Romania, the blogging scene first, because I used to be a blogger in I, I’ve been writing on my Romanian blog since 2008. Uh, but I kind of, uh, stopped doing that a while ago because I dedicated myself to co English content.
Um, so being able to interact with these startups, I got to know a lot of people and some of these people were at Heimdal security. And when I was ready to kind of dive more into content, because I realized that I don’t want to be a generalist. I want to really focus on a specific act aspect of marketing. Um, they were looking for someone to help with content because they were looking to grow. Um, the manager that had formed a team here in Romania because time though is a Danish startup, uh, he was very focused on organic growth. He had previously worked at Blue Garden, so he knew the infosec world really well. And, uh, he had started it actually the inbound program inside of the company and now he had this chance to, you know, build something from the ground up, which was really exciting.
Um, so I took that role and that was, those were, it was the best working experience for me so far up to the point where I became a freelancer because we had this incredible freedom and we were able to move really, really, really fast. Uh, and that was like a huge thing for me. Um, and I realized I, I enjoyed working with tech startups. I was very interested in the scene than reading about it for years. But once I actually got to work in cybersecurity, it was an aha moment for me because I realized that really, really love it and aligned with my personal values and my interests. And it gave me the opportunity to work in educational content, which is something that I really want it to do. And it was techie and it had, um, you know, the bigger mission that cybersecurity does.
If you still haven’t become a cynic, you, a part of you that still believes that, uh, you know, it’s, it’s not a losing battle in that there’s so much more to achieve. And I feel like cybersecurity is kind of a literacy that we need, uh, for the coming decades at least and them going forward because it’s become so woven into everything that we do and so important for the actual existence of our society and our world as we know it, that you can’t really do without these concepts. So I saw myself as a bit of a translator, um, being able to understand these technical concepts. Of course, not like a technically minded person would seed them, but just to understand how they work and how they work together and how they affect our context. And it also makes a lot with psychology and sociology, which is, you know, part of my development, that sort of marketing as a communication professional because they’re kind of, all the lines are blurred.
Um, was this into the disciplinary bit, which combines psychology and sociology, anthropology and so on and so forth. And, uh, we focus a lot on how, what it takes to change human behavior and of course PR sees that in a different way. Product Marketing sees that in a very different way, but it’s all about driving change and people’s behavior at the end of the day. So this kind of gave me a chance to contribute to this change and help people form habits that were safe for them. So it, it just fell into place. And, um, because I had this authentic passion for the field, I think that, uh, that really influenced my results and our results as a team because we were really into it. All of us. It was a very good time. Um, the small team that moved fast, I was kind of the, the honeymoon period of a startup.
Definitely before the hard part, but also before like scaling part where you’re just like kick your feet up and not do that much and get paid lots and readings all there. I liked your point about translations here in this case, like more metaphorical than literally like we were talking about a minute ago where you’re, I feel like especially in this space, your goal isn’t to dive deep into like layers of encryption and unpack that. Your, your job is to distill what that means or why it matters to the reader essentially. And I think that’s one of the things that you obviously did really well and we’ll dive into some of these pieces individually. But um, I feel like you did a really good job of balancing the, the technical stuff that matters, but also relating it back to people in a way that’s easy to understand and kind of grasp.
Thanks for that. I think it, it’s really a matter of being, I think that more and more, you know, these areas and I think the same is going to happen with AI, with blockchain and other areas of technology that have a lot of depth to them. I think that there used to be, for example, in cyber security, and this happens in other fields as well, just two types of content and one that’s highly technical and one that’s very superficial and fragmented. There was not much in between for people to actually, uh, you know, for it to have a bit of storytelling to help some emotional appeal and not just be read by people in the industry because breaking outside your industry, I think that’s the biggest and the most difficult bit, uh, crossing that chasm, you know, not in product development but, and then product market fit, but actually with your marketing as well.
Um, so I think that that’s where I kind of found my fit and the fact that there were enough technical resources even in the beginner level to help me understand how everything works. And then, um, just the drive to kind of serve people and help them in that way. And by understanding, by kind of following my own needs, while I learned about cybersecurity, I managed to reflect that into my work. And actually one of the posts that I wrote that was really successful, especially in the beginning and that kind of still works and brings in traffic is list of courses on cybersecurity, which I gathered because I did the research for myself at that point.
Yeah. I always like when when a real life and work cross over a little bit. Um, but also looks like you took a lot from your kind of SEO background cause there’s glossary was like a glossary play in there and some of those like guys who put together, uh, we are defining terms. There’s an expert roundup, there’s what is like kind of query-based like question-based queries. Um, and so it seems like you’re able to find that sweet spot between technical superficial on the qualitative tone side, but then also on the other side, um, still create things that are very kind of classic SEO driven.
Those were mainly the input from my manager because he used to cover a lot of the, let’s say more technical aspects of marketing. So we worked really well together because our abilities and our skill sets complemented each other. So while he was – with his help, I learned a lot about on page SEO and I’ll help branding for that, his guides that were super helpful for us and the fact that we are able to execute and Tessie sayings fast meant that we are able to also see results. Uh, which is a big thing because SEO in big companies is a very long and convoluted process that never,
you know, unfolds as expected. Uh, so while my, my tech, let’s say my, my SEO background helped, there was a lot to learn because things have changed massively and I never got, let’s see, proper education in terms of Seo, even if it was self-education. I picked up elements along the way and of course working with the mean that they start making sense together and you start to see patterns and you start to understand how to balance this Seo perspective with what people in the industry are very interested in. And the big thing I think is something that is still rarely found in cybersecurity, especially is people with a real interest for the field. I don’t think you can be able to anticipate a need or, um, anticipate interest or topics that are going to be big and the next x months or x years from now unless you’re looking at what’s happening, unless you’re looking at trends and you’re reading the reports.
And there used to be quite, you know, just a bunch of them when I started out and now there’s, I actually wrote an article about us that’s coming out soon and I went through something like 80 reports. Um, so the volume of information has increased a lot and the competition and the industry has increased a lot. It’s also in terms of content because big companies started investing massively in it. Um, but there’s still a lot of room, um, for tackling topics. Even if though, um, even if they come up a lot in the news or generally and the, um, let’s say the public arena, uh, things like password management and things like that. Um, there we, because you’re, when you’re in an industry, I think this is a bias that you start developing. The more you get into an industry is that you think that everyone knows about let’s say the password reuse because you keep reading and talking about it almost daily.
But the fact is that outside our tech bubble, outside the cyber bubble or in the bigger tech bubble, people still don’t know these things. So you have to continue talking about them in better ways and more informative, practical, helpful ways. But you shouldn’t let this go. Um, and I think that for example, at least Dobson, uh, recently wrote an article about overcoming this sort of bias. She, she published it on conversion XL. And I think it makes some very good points about, um, breaking out of this kind of self-developing bias that you and I really get.
Yeah, I think there’s a lot of good points there, but I think it makes you with the curse of knowledge. So it makes you skip things or skip explaining things that you should explain. And what happens when a reader reads it for the first time and they are not at the same level. They don’t get it. And so it doesn’t resonate. Even though what you’re saying is good and maybe written well, it doesn’t really resonate or doesn’t land and people aren’t actually engaged with it because they’re there yet. Uh, you’re kind of like speaking over their heads. Um, even like localizing content, we’re kind of skipping around a little bit and we’ll maybe come back with this, spend more time on it. But when you’re localizing content, and especially in something like cybersecurity, the way you might talk to someone in and authoritative or authoritarian regime, I was gonna use like a different example, but I mean us is kind of becoming like that too. So, uh, here you might talk more about like, I dunno, um, hackers like tagging your public wifi versus they’re not. We should be, but Americans probably aren’t thinking as much about like their government agent, like snooping on what they’re saying or censoring. Uh, in a broader sense.
Yeah, that’s absolutely true. And there are tons of cultural nuances. I mean, besides the political context is simply a different relationship that people have with this concept that’s very personal because security is one of our basic needs. Uh, and it becomes a very personal conversation when you start talking about stealing people’s data and things like that. So for example, because at time low security, most of our customers, uh, in the beginning used to come from Denmark Norway, Sweden, Germany. They have a very intense culture of security. They know their concepts. We had customers who were 70 or 80 years old and they had multiple layers of security on their computers. So we were talking about the different, it was a completely different experience talking to them, especially, you know, they like a more formal tone of voice. They’re very, very aware about fishing. So aware that at some point we ran a campaign and people, uh, emailed us and called us and das is this fishing cause we’re not sure.
And they’re very, they’re all borderline paranoid and not unrightfully. So, um, but that was a very interesting experience. And, uh, the same as, it’s also when it comes to translations, it’s very difficult to convey the same nuance in various languages and you have to modify the nuance and you have to be able to work with translators that really understand your field because otherwise it’s difficult to translate cyber security and it ends up something very, you know, botched up. That doesn’t make any sense. Um, and the playfulness for example, that you have an English, uh, in terms of vocabulary doesn’t really apply to other languages because translating puns, we’ve tried. Uh, um, so there are, uh, there’s a lot of nuance and to be able to kind of distinguish and convey this nuance, you have to really understand the concepts yourselves and you have to understand not only the technical aspect of it, but also to kind of emotion or reaction that it gets from people.
And that it helps a lot to talk to your friends about it. Friends who don’t work in tech, people who are not concerned with these things. Just to see their reactions and compare them to, you know, um, people within the industry and see what actually they need, what kind of emotional appeal it has to them. Um, and I do this all the time because I nag my friends and family about password management. That’s my one thing. I tried to stick it to one thing at a time. Um, and it’s interesting to see what we, I’ve, I’ve managed to change about, I think
more than a dozen people to get to, to switch to password managers. So the fight continues though.
You should be an affiliate
Yeah. I haven’t really, it’s just if we curb just a little bit data breaches, that would be enough. More than enough reward for everyone.
Well, we can talk after this about that because I buy it. We might have something around there. Um, so with Heimdal I’m saying that correctly. Right. Okay, good. You did an influencer kind of campaign where you got to go to 30, uh, 30 people, maybe over 30. I’ve worked in a lot of different industries. So before I kind of, we specialize in software and all, I did like everything. Insurance. Law. Travel. Like every pretty much terrible experience I’ve, I’ve lived through, uh, doing influencer outreach outside of marketing and tech is like not a thing. So how do you convince these like stodgy B2B executives that’s actually in their best interest to help give you some, you know, time of day to put their name on the stupid quote on your site? Like how do you, cause it actually performed really well. I was looking at some of the stats, I was looking at the referring domains, but how do you, how do you actually make that happen?
So that was actually my third roundup. We had two previous rounds before that. Um, yes. Um, so I was kind of, I already had, first of all, I already had a prior relationship to some of these people that was based on that first contact. Um, I think that there were various ingredients here, but three of them stand out and I think they’re really important to link building because I see, you know, mistakes the same mistake over and over again. As I’m sure you’ve seen more than your share of the same. Um, so one of the ingredients was building an intro, a relationship that’s really based in which you can prove that you’re really interested in a topic and that you understand that. And then your, um, you know, coming up with a question worth answering. I’m also asking just one question versus from two or more is a much easier way to get a response.
So just being able to focus on one thing at a time and again, make it a question that’s aligned with their interests aligned with, uh, the broader audience and something that’s also, um, you know, in the moment that at the topic that’s of interest in that particular time. And it just so happened that this is kind of an evergreen topic, the one that I approached because it was actually a question we got from a customer, uh, for us at Heimdall, we always kept replies open to any email debt any customer would get from us. And we got this question, is Internet security a losing battle? And I thought, hey, that’s a great question that I’d love to ask some people who are really passionate. And it just so happens that even dual cyber security may seem very abstract and cold and very formal. There are so many passionate people in this industry that all you have to do is find a topic that ignites their passion. And that triggers that kind of super intense response. And the response that we got for this particular roundup was absolutely astounding. There was one, one contributor actually told me I wrote 3,000 words, but I thought that was too long. So I cut it down.
20,000 words almost. Yes.
They weren’t like your typical two sentences of generic bs. They were like, people actually thought about it and give a shit. And like,
exactly. And I think that that was the thing that it was something that they really cared about. They had a passionate opinion about it. It was not necessarily polarizing because that was not the intent. The intent was constructive. And, um, many people in cyber security, even if doing in executive positions and so on and so forth, many of them really there, they’re evangelists in the says that this may not be in their title, but they talk about this a lot and they’ve been doing this for a while to know, you know enough to know that, why it’s important and the kind of effect it can have and why it’s important to talk about it like this. So I think that that kind of triggered the question triggered their passion and we got this incredible collection of contributions that I still look up to and I sell, not that it’s my word, even if it weren’t, uh, I really enjoyed doing this because it was a conversation that was outside of anything commercial.
Um, and it was interesting that one person. Um, so I reached out I think to, around a hundred people. Um, and, uh, just one person told me that my PR won’t let me do this because you’re a competitor, but just that one person, the rest were perfectly okay and that was a corporate blog. Uh, but the fact that we already had a track record of educational content that was not aimed at anything commercial and the fact that we have kind of this proof that hey, this is really what we do, we’re not claiming to do this. Um, I think that built some trust with them. Um, and the fact that, you know, they saw us being active and the industry trying to contribute being involved in communities that they were part of as well and just constantly nurturing those educational focus. Um, I think that’s helped a lot.
I think that’s smart. like you said, you’re making it about the bigger mission as opposed to like your brand. Um, and I was going to ask you these, that around 30% then of the people who you had to like kind of reached out to ended up kind of converting
But it does take a lot of following up and does because I think that people are really busy. I mean some of them are really interested, but you have to reach out and do it in very super respectful, very personalized manner because it’s just, I, I get a random outreach emails myself. Uh, and I got one for a podcast episode which had nothing to do with content marketing reached out. Could you link this in your blog post about your podcast episode? And I was like, yeah, but it’s not, they’re not on the same topic.
Yeah, no, people are the worst aren’t they?
Yeah, just some of them.
Um, yeah. So when you look at like the broader content, uh, I looked at, because I’m a nerd, I looked at the referring domains on your side, on the, on Heimdal. And the recurring theme that I wanted to kind of bring up is that do you have links from the New York Times dreamhost PBC, like all these massive brands, like massive media publications and they’re all pointing to the content. And so this was kind of something I wanted to talk about a little bit. Cause then from Heimdal you went to cyber ghost, now you’re doing your own thing. So you kind of have done a little bit of everything from creating the content, the managing it, hiring and now creating it again. To me people have linked building backwards in that they find it hard or difficult or expensive because the thing they’re trying to build links to is awful.
Usually in most cases or they’re like doing the bare minimum and they have it backwards in a sense of you, you need a, you need to spend more money on the asset and then all the link building comes a lot easier. And so that was one of the examples where after looking through, you know, just the top, all the da 90 sites linking to Heimdal are all based on content. Well I mean what’s your experience like when you’re like looking for writers and you’re hiring writers and how does that Jive with what you know when it goes kind of comes to link building, what does that process look like? If the thing you have is, is actually good.
So first of all, yeah, totally agree with you in terms of creating quality content and quality doesn’t necessarily mean 10 keywords. It means whatever it means for that specific industry and topics. And I think that that’s very, you know, a concept that’s usually debated, um, a lot. And something that I wanted to mention before jumping into how the process looks like is that we created a specific category, uh, on the blog that was security alerts that were created, especially for the link creators as Brian calls them. So, especially for people that would actually write an amplify that topic because it was something timely, it was something new. And we usually strove to bring out topics that, uh, you know, brought on new attack vectors and tied to know some new social engineering technique, something worth, uh, you know, that we’ll also had kind of a global impact or potential global impact.
So it had to have, we have kind of a mental checklist that we validated each time we wrote about one of these alerts. And what I would do is I started pitching them and pitching them on growing my list of contacts and developing relationships with them. And what happened is it got picked up several topics. We have, for example, in low alert for bot was one of the first types of, um, android model that really spread. Um, so in February, 2016, we got 300 plus backlinks in a week because that got picked up massively first by publications in cybersecurity, which I had a, you know, good really relationship with, um, the topic was right, it was created specifically for them, for um, other people. So it got picked up and from there on the bigger publications that were not necessarily a tech oriented, picked it up themselves because it, that’s kind of how it snowballs and I see still see that happening that you’d see the same use, uh, in 10, 20 media outlets.
So that happens a lot. Plus, if you’re there and responsive and they need to quote in any more context or something that’s specifically dedicated to them that because once you send out those emails, you should really pay attention to your inbox and be responsive as responsible as possible for these people. So we had this specific category created for them because I think knowing your audience is the most important thing that you can start with a knowing who you’re writing for will transform the way, ride your content. Because these alerts, for example, we’re very small articles. There were 600 words as opposed to the huge guides that we put together. So you really have to pay attention to those, to those elements. Um, and then when it comes to hiring people to do the same, that was a huge challenge for me. Um, you know, being, just finding the people, for example, finding people locally that had international experience because you’re going to find marketers that are usually focused on the local market and the local market
in Romania is very different, uh, in terms of maturity level and complexity from what’s going on in international markets. So that was a big thing. Plus they’d have to have, you know, great command of English and kind of prove that they’re very interested in experimented with things like doing their own projects and things like that. And I worked with junior content creators and mid-level and senior years, so I kind of had, I went, uh, throughout the entire spectrum. Um, it was difficult to find people who would be interested in the field. So I found people who are interested in marketing and interested in learning how to write mindset. But it did kind of, um, after someone left because she realized she did a really good job, but she realized that her main interest was in cybersecurity and that she wouldn’t probably progress. So after that happened, um, which was very, you know, mature conversation and it’s helped me realize that I need to put this kind of, uh, introduce this into the interview and talk about the fact that, you know, I’m very excited about cyber security, but you may not turn out to be, so you should, you know, try to, before we make a decision and try to read around, see if it clicks with you and your personal values because you’re going to be disengaged and unproductive ultimately.
Uh, so that was one of the big challenges. Um, and we started for example, with Heimdal. We started building up the content team was pretty small and at the kid was the same as CyberGhost as well, is that we serve all the needs of the company. So I’m not talking only about blog content and social media, community engagement and so on. I’m also talking about all the email flows, the product for the, uh, the content for the product.Uh handling translations as well. That’s usually incorporated in the same operation. Plus, you know, content for B2B marketing. Uh, which was obviously very different from what we were doing, which was kind of a mix between B2B and B2C, but the lines were a bit more blurred over there. Um, so it was, uh, it’s difficult to find people who are flexible enough because besides being a good content marketer and, uh, understanding the industry you also have to be very flexible in terms of writing because there’s top of funnel content and mid funnel content for the website.
And then you have to go into product content, which is a completely different thing. And the onboarding and emails flows. Um, and the fact, for example, that I got to work on all of these different assets really gave me a very good vantage point of, you know, what works and what I like to do most because I ultimately realized that I don’t want to do performance stuff because it just, it’s, it’s not for me. I like the organic side of things. Um, so that’s, that’s one of the big challenges as well. I think what really helped is to find people that have really good values in terms of personal responsibility. And proactiveness, even if they’re not the best at their craft, because it was, it still is very hard to find content marketers here, uh, and even internationally. Um, and just being to being able to have the same, let’s say level of, um, engagement and kind of the same standard of excellence.
I think that really helps, um, because when you, when you connect on this level, you get to be very candid and sincere about your strengths and your weaknesses and try to compliment each other this way, uh, and also be able to offer and accept feedback from a place that’s um, you know, a place of curiosity and generosity and non judgment and evaluation. And that’s how I kind of started, uh, working in, I started to accept and adopt this management for all. And I learned a lot from my previous manager, um, from, from Eileen, who was my manager at CyberGhost goes as well. So we got to work together and form two different teams. Um, and ultimately I realized throughout these experiences while management was a fantastic experience for me. It was super intense. I realize that I don’t want to do management in the run and that I prefer to be a bit more hands on and be an individual contributor, uh, as in that model that kind of, um, using Microsoft and Google.
Yeah. I think it’s interesting. Kind of wheeling back a little bit the recurrent different types of content for different reasons. So the people who are going to create mmm heavily keyword driven stuff, it’s, it tends to be like super research-based versus being able to respond quicker to something that’s more of a viral story even though it doesn’t have like any search volume practically. Um, so you have that issue plus like you said, having to split time between like marketing-focused content and more maybe education or educational from a sense of like product support, uh, knowledge base type stuff. More like tutorials, instructional and then finding the right type of people. And I think that’s something that most people get wrong in hiring writers is the type of writer that you’re looking for. And so I feel like most of the idea of this like unicorn marketer or writer doesn’t exist.
Like it’s all, it’s all bullshit. Like you just have to find, especially when you’re hiring, you have to find people who are like 70% of the way there. If they need to take like seven of your 10 boxes of the key ones and then you can kind of help them in the other areas and then grow them and teach them. But even working from client to client, everyone’s needs are so different that no one’s just going to like hop in with no training and I immediately understand exactly what you’re looking for. So, and I feel like that’s where this maybe industry lags behind Adwords, even organic search in some areas to a certain degree cause it’s more black and white in those areas. Where if you’re setting up an ad group, like there’s like three ways to set up an ad group, you could do like single keywords because they’re like, it’s very, it’s very black and white is becoming, as the market becomes more commoditize and competitive, the tactics become a lot more checklist based. Versus the content thing, it’s still, it’s still fairly early.
It is. And it’s still very nuanced and I completely agree that you have to give people time to understand the field and really have, not necessarily an expert understanding, but at least have their fundamental concepts. Right. And that’s something that usually companies are not very patient with. And I think that that, that is a loss plus, you know, being able to connect to those content marketers to do the rest of the teams. Because I think that that, that is absolutely essential. Being able to talk to customer service and maybe be able to understand the product flow, uh, and everything that’s going on there and people’s expectations and talk to sales and see what issues specifically people having companies, because you know the media- if you want to work in content marketing, you should never judge a potential field that’s new to you from what you read in the news or blogs or or whatever because that’s, that’s a distorted image because people talk about innovation a lot and the next big thing.
But in the market, the needs are still basic there. There are tons of basic things lacking, a basic understanding of, I don’t know, SEO basic understanding of what defines good and worthy content, uh, and what works for your brand at that stage and things like that. So you really have to be able to give these people a chance when they become part of your team first to establish, you know, how we do things, why we do them. That’s very important because everyone’s experience is different. There is no formal training or education. Well, there is education in courses, but there is no, uh, formal education in terms of content marketing is still fairly recent kind of role. It didn’t exist when I graduated. I had no idea I’d be a content marketer, uh, 11 years from that moment. Um, and then, you have to realize that given that there’s kind of no standards, uh, except for the ones that you know, experienced people have and they all agree on what, what the baseline is, the rest all come with bits and pieces.
And do you have to figure out what they’re good at, what they’d like to do further, what they enjoy doing the most. So you can give them a big chunk of that. And plus you have, you know, all these small, uh, kind of no brain work you have to do like sending out x emails after you’ve carefully reviewed them hopefully, or just doing your research and things like that. But I think that there’s beauty in all of these aspects because you get to learn so much. Plus you get to use your knowledge as a content marketer on all these channels. And for example, for doing research for a list of x people to follow on Twitter, you get to read so many wonderful ideas and like, that’s a blog post, that segment to funnel content page. Uh, this could be a case study. Oh, that’s a great idea for a lead magnet. So when you keep your eyes open to all these opportunities, you start connecting dots in your head a lot faster. But that takes time and that takes willingness to do it on your own as well, which is something that you can really push on people. And I think that that’s the difficult part, you know, keeping them engaged and motivated to want to learn on their own, not just, you know, what you’re guiding them towards.
How I feel like this problem becomes even more pronounced when you start, like at CyberGhost too, if you’re trying to localize content for, I don’t know, different countries and continents or not, now you’re not only hiring like one culture and one language in one area, you’re hiring like all over and then the end result should be different for all those. So, and I feel like the other issue that we run into, especially in tech is many people aren’t that empathetic and they think that they’re always right. So, so how do you, I don’t know, like this, this could turn into like a whole personal, uh, like therapy session, but how do you, how did you become like a more empathetic person so you’re able to work better with people on things like guiding them, giving them feedback? Uh, I can’t tell you the amount of times we’ve had people like tell us that we’re wrong and we have like a million times more experience doing this than them. And so it’s usually about like, okay, so we’re not wrong. Like these things are wrong stylistically with what you want. So let’s like really get specific to make sure we are on the same page. Uh, you know what I’m saying? I’m trying to say here, it’s like, it’s very difficult to in something that is so gray and subjective to scale it up and be aggressive and cheaper quality and quantity and do all these other things without kind of just steamrolling your way around
The perspective and vision that decision makers have, the key decision makers and that includes the CMO and ultimately the CEO depending on how involved the person is in this process and you know, where, how you can, to what degree can make independent decisions. And I think that being able to trust the person who’s in charge of content because it’s a very delicate issue. It involves legal aspects and compliance and the bigger the company is, for example, if it’s listed anywhere, um, on, on the stock exchange, that becomes a very sensitive issue because you have to be able to pay attention to nuance to know, you know, what my getting in trouble and how far you can go to express a powerful opinion without, you know, triggering a lawsuit. Um, so I think that there’s the question of trust and that trust, I think that it kind of cascades onto the people in your content team.
So if they come, um, we have this saying at that, this is a kind of a personal experience of mine. Uh, both me and my former manager, we did the altMBA Seth Godin’s workshop, which was an incredible experience. It’s very focused on leadership and it’s very focused on coaching. Uh, so we eventually, I first watched Eileen do it and I saw the results and then I try to, you know, after going through the experience myself and try to implement those things, which were very specific to how you manage difficult conversations and how you give and receive feedback, how you train your people, how you hold your one to ones, um, in a way that empowers them and in a way that, you know, I trust you to be responsible with your role and they trust you to, you know, think all of all these implications when you put out that content.
Because if you want to scale, there’s no way you can verify everything all the time and take it to that level of perfection that you want to take it to. And that’s a difficult thing to let go of. But when you have to work with product content and when you’re launching, for example, a new product suite and you have to localize a, your website content in eight languages and add five new ones to the website. Um, and when all these things are going on as an SEO project and mid funnel content project, a top of funnel content projects such as a content hub and all that’s going on at once, you’re going to have to trust those people and establish that this is our standard of performance and we’re going, each of us are going to do our best to reach it. Um, and I think that that’s a personal matter of establishing that trust and knowing and also having the trust and buy-in from your managers so you can go ahead and do the things you want to do.
Um, and that’s a relationship that you just have to grow. You either have a background that proves that you’re the right person for the job and that you can adjust your skillset and experience to this new context. Because for example, for me, Heimdal security was very different from CyberGhost a different dynamic, completely different challenges because I had to, we build a content team and scale, the translations and a localization project, which was huge and it’s very difficult to deal with. You have freelancers and agencies and, and an in house resource and then you have to talk to product managers and, uh, to everyone else who’s involved in the process. Uh, so to be able to do that in scale that, um, I think understanding the why we’re doing this and why we’re striving to do it and who is our validator, I think that that’s very important because one of the things that I think it’s essential to learn as a content marketers that you are never the customer, never, ever, you’re never the target audience.
And I think that that, um, if that becomes a mental habit, you get to cultivate empathy towards your customer. And when you have that empathy, you realize that if you were in those co that customer’s shoes, you’d want to have a clear translation, a correct translation. You’d want to have excellent customer service. You’d want to have a web page that not only looks good but also serves your needs actually in that you can read in the middle of the day with sunlight and you don’t have to adjust your screen brightness to be able to make out the fonts and things like that. So it, it gives you a broader perspective than just your piece of content that you’re delivering. You get to see it in context and they think that that’s something that’s cultivated when you help people interact with the other teams. So we worked really closely, for example, with our development team, with our product team. Actually the product managers sat with us in the same space, um, with QA, with support. Um, and it’s kind of the content managers job to also get information about the most pressing issues that, or projects in the company that involve content and explained that larger context so they don’t feel like a cog in the machine so that you give them over ownership over the process. And I think I’ve gone a little off the beaten path here.
No, it makes sense. How do you, so you have all these various people involved in the process. Uh, we’re assuming that they’re all semi-competent if they are involved in the process. How do you, how do you still maintain like the brand overall kind of tone, but still allow flexibility or room for individuals underneath that to express themselves in different ways? Is it about identifying the underlying principles? Is it about localization play a part? Where in English maybe you can make more dumb jokes about like stupid 70 sitcoms or like how do you like rectify all the things so that it’s, it’s not just like a bunch of people doing their own.
That is one of the very tough challenges. Like many things in content, in content, in very nuanced, you get to work with a lot, many, many shades of complexities in potential ramifications. A and ton of scenarios that can trigger like one thing can trigger the blog comment or whatever, especially in security and privacy where things are very, very sensitive and anyone who smells blood will come with a family of sharks ready to, you know, to cut you open. Um, so I think that it also, it depends kind of on the type of person that you hire as well. For example, one of my best hires and I’m really happy I brought her on board is one of my ex-colleagues from CyberGhost, Alexandra cause does a fantastic job. She writes in a very clever, funny, very whimsical tone that really fits CyberGhost as a brand for example.
So we had, we had these kind of brand guidelines but we wouldn’t have recite them as a bible. Uh, we, we had conversations. I think that these personal conversations are very important because you get to talk to people and explain the context and kind of agree on, you know, this is how our brand sounds. This is a bit too formal. This is a bit, you know, restrictive. Because for example, we used to translate first we wrote all the content in English. That was our main language. And when it came to translating campaigns or localizing any type of content, we would have also language restrictions because for example, Romanian is not as adapted to technology as a language. It doesn’t have the terms that you need. And when you start translating things, they start sounding funny. So if you talk about these nuances each time they come up and that takes a lot of time.
Um, as a manager you have to go and sit with that person and explain, you know, this is a bit too formal because of x and we should take it more towards in that direction. Or you know, what’s another way that you could phrase this and try to kind of inspire that critical thinking process into their own routine. Um, so I still think you can’t really force people to follow guidelines until the kind of integrate them and it becomes part of how they work in how they see the brand and how they understand the tone of voice. Um, and that takes a bit of time. That takes a bit of guidance. Uh, but once it happens, then you can let people be creative in their own ways. Because for example, we had an internal video creation. Um, so there was my colleague Chuck who handle video creation and he was a completely different type of creative.
Um, but he did things that were not only super on brand, but they were also, you know, it really amplified the brand’s essence and tone of voice. So I think it’s, it’s a matter of, again, being patient with people, onboarding them, really onboarding them and not just putting them in a place and giving them a laptop. Cause that’s not onboarding. Talking to people, helping people talk to others in other teams, explaining how things work. Just taking the time to get their feet on the ground and understand the bigger context for their work. And they think that this is very, I, I for one didn’t get much onboarding except for Heimdal. I would just, you know, people expect you to hire you and then so you can just run with whatever you have to do, which is great for seniors because they already know what’s up and they’re kind of self-sufficient.
But not everyone is. So that onboarding aspect incredibly important and having conversations about these nuances, um, there is no really automated way to scale this type of thing just through human connections and trust and keep talking about it, keep iterating on it. And especially as a manager, you have to really refrain from showing people how it’s done and doing it yourself and just letting them figure it out on their own and try your best to explain why something feels off because you know why it is off. It’s like, I don’t know it as it happens with, with the grammar rule that you know why it’s wrong, but I can’t really remember the explanation for it. Um, so I think that’s, uh, that’s something, somewhat of a similar experience.
I think that’s a really good point because it comes through on a tactical level. So when you’re editing something, for example, if you’re explaining if you’re flagging issues but you’re explaining the how and why versus we’ve also worked with people who will just start like rewriting stuff and that immediately tells me this person has an issue with delegation and that they’re not, they can’t delegate properly so even if you took them out of content, if you put them in like charge of what our email newsletters or something else, they haven’t built up that ability to properly set guidelines, build processes, set up a workflow, coach like they don’t and it and it comes out on the content side. It comes out as, oh that’s wrong. I need to rewrite it to make it sound like me.
Yeah, that’s a big thing. I think that in, especially in content marketing, your personal development as a human being is really tied to your performance because the more self aware you are of your own biases and issues that of course reflect in your work and how you pick information sources, that type of groups that you choose to be in and the type of people who you choose to look at as an influence, I think that shapes you dramatically as a professional. Um, and just the more you cultivate your own thinking because I really think, and I, I found many conversations about this lately on Twitter, uh, that content is about great ideas and it’s about a lot about thinking, not just writing and you know, regurgitating content because that’s there. There’s a lot of that out there. Even if it’s pragmatic, even if it’s a how-to and when you understand what you’re talking about, you’re able to make sense to that other person. And if you’re thinking is clear, it’ll come out on the other end is as being clear. And if you need feedback, especially, you know, from outside the industry, just go seek it. And being able to let go of that ego, that’s a big thing in content as well because you’re able to internalize feedback differently and see differently, uh, you know, and be able to, uh, feel less vulnerable. And when you ask people for feedback,
Yeah, think that’s a good segway too cause. So today you’re doing some strategy, some services, your, your podcast in your newsletter. Also, I feel like spend a lot of time on this, on this stuff as opposed to like, oh, here’s 10 hacks for a headline or some other crap like that to like, you know, sell your stuff. You really do spend more time thinking about thinking I guess
That is true. Let’s see. Naturally the altMBA experience was a big thing for me because it helped me, let’s say go from a mostly executive role to a strategic and management role, which is a, it’s, it’s a difficult trajectory and it’s challenging for everyone in different ways because no one teaches you how to get from a to b. You just have to figure it out on your own. And it helped me bridge that gap. Plus, um, it kind of brought up the topic of decision making. It’s something that’s really important for me. So that’s why I started creating content about that, which was initially started recording the podcast and then I started doing the newsletter and actually the newsletter is now a year old and I sent it for 56 consecutive weeks and I’ve never written so consistently for single thing in my life.
I think that is, for me, it’s huge to do it so consistently and never, you know, I have friends who blog every day and they find that so to difficult do and Ido it for my customers, I just can’t do it for myself. Um, but they kind of evolved together. So my uh, let’s say passion for content that I’m not pushed to or realize on do. I’m curious about many other sectors. Um, which makes me ready enough to pitch to, um, potential, um, ad news outlets and so on. You have to cultivate that relationship and you can do, um, you can freely do that for six or 10 fields. That’s very, you’re not going to be fine in different areas at the same time. And if he can do it, amazing. That’s rare. Um, so I focus specifically on this. I knew I wanted to focus when I started as a freelancer and the conversations I had for the podcast for, I wanted to, they wanted to have a chance to talk to people about their thinking process at, you know, that goes beyond their marketing roles because many of them are marketers.
They’re people who I’ve been looking up to for years. And I’ve found that they have a lot in common, a lot in common in terms of uh, the, their ability to self educate themselves in so many ways to be consistent, to challenge themselves and surround themselves by people who challenged them in a very constructive but very consistent way. Um, and the attention that they paid to their self development and their self awareness. And I think that’s what makes them such high performers in their field, whatever that is. And I have a few interesting interviews lined up and they want to get people from, you know, of course from cybersecurity. And other areas as well that are, you know, non-marketing related just to, I have this theory that’s kind of the same character traits of foreign, this red line and high performers and great decision makers, uh, and they want to seek it out and see if that really applies.
So that’s kind of how it happened and I have to say I’m really glad to be back in terms of doing the work myself. I’ve missed it. I’m really enjoying and I love it. I don’t love meetings at all. Um, and that kind of, instead of nurturing me, it just, it’s kind of sucked me dry of any energy and they couldn’t really perform at my best in that context. But I really, it’s really nice to pick up the pace again, which is something that I really enjoy doing. They want to see things done in, want to experiment, see if they work and improve constantly. Um, plus I think I had this week where I wrote, I think around 300,000 words, 30,000, sorry. No, yeah, that was a bit much.
No, it sounded, it sounded right in place on a marketing podcast where everything is hyped up. I wrote a million words.
It was just, it was a good week where I got into that flow of writing because you get to that state of deep work that’s really, you know, that’s super rewarding and very engaging. So I’m, I’m glad to be doing that again and to be doing with, with customers that really value content and then make it a priority because they understand, you know, it’s its potential and they understand why it’s necessary for them at that point. And if they need some other type of content that’s not necessarily top of funnel, I will recommend that to them. So I will, you know it I’m not trying to impose and I think that content marketers should try to shy away from this. Just impose your type of service even though that customer doesn’t really need it . So someone may definitely need to start off will definitely need a better website with more use cases in case studies before. Do you need a blog? So just made sure you prioritize those kinds of things and understand the impact on the business. Um, because content is wonderful, but at the end of the day, it’s quite the cost of operation to maintain. So you, you have to really prove your ROI there.
It’s a slow build too, and I don’t think people totally get that work takes, it takes months and months and months to, for the results to pour in and it does. It’s just you get the return and months 12 to 24 are going to be like 10 x what you got from one to 12. And so if you’re not, you’ll have to invest any more necessarily at that point. But if you don’t understand that going into it, you’re better off running ads or doing, you know, half a dozen other things.
Yes, I couldn’t agree more. I think that’s the golden rule and dicing that. The compound effect is incredibly powerful. Uh, and I think that kind of, I see this in my past work because my articles at Heimdal are still bringing in traffic even though if they haven’t been updated for like three or four years, um, or well around three years. Um, most of them.
It sounds like you can easily pitch them for some work right now. Well, thank you again. I just saw we’re running a little long so I cannot thank you enough. It’s super interesting hearing your point of view. Not only in like, you know, a specific kind of technical field that a lot of people don’t really talk about too much, but that’s going to like take over the world soon. Um, but then also to just, just you’re in such a unique position and working and having all the experiences from managing people to hiring the training to doing it yourself, plus doing it across borders, borders, which, uh, is I can only imagine is incredibly difficult. So thank you for sharing a view of that. It’s been really interesting to hear about.
Thank you for the opportunity and thank you for kind of taking me down memory lane and, uh, realizing you know, again, what, when I talk about things a, I keep getting these renewed enthusiasm and excitement for the work and they realize that there’s just so much more to, to be done. And just, you know, I feel lucky to be also in an industry that’s super supportive and its shares a lot. And I think I’ve learned so, so much from people like yourself, like Brian Dean, like Benji Haim. So many people that have shared so much of their process and their results and they’ve trained generations of marketers. I mean, you just have to really be curious about this stuff and to explore it. And it’s just so much to learn and to do. Uh, even for your own project, if you’re like stuck in a job and you want to have to change your professional path, just, um, you know, start experimenting with your own stuff and see how it works. Um, and I really do hope more people join us. We really need more hands on back here.
Uh, where, where should people go? All have links, all this stuff. It works. People go, if they want to learn more about you, if they want to hire you, if they want to talk to you today,
I think so much. Uh, so they can find me on Andrazaharia.com and I hope you link to this in the description because I know that my name is not the easiest. It’s not the most complicated one, but not the easiest one. Uh, as well. So if you just Google my name, I’ll probably pop up anywhere on the first page and you’ll be able to find me. I kind of roam around Twitter a lot, uh, and my handle is my name. Um, and they’ve recently, because I gave up Facebook and Instagram, you can find me on Linkedin, which is not that bad if curate your feed, actually. I know, I know people hate it and now it has reactions.
Perfect. Uh, I’m only gonna link to your LinkedIn now. That’s the only link so everyone just floods your, I don’t know, connection. And wants to sell you their website, their web design services from Bangladesh or whatever. Uh, thank you again. Like I said, it’s been a, it’s been a lot of fun.
Thank you. Thank you, Brad. Thanks so much.
7:48 Andra’s advice to content writers And my usual advice, for example, when I used to manage your content team was stopped using long phrases. Uh, you know, be careful when using your passive voices, break your texts up, make it as clear as possible without dumbing it down. And that’s kind of a fine balance to achieve.
12:17 Why cyber-security is so crucial now and in the future. And I feel like cybersecurity is kind of a literacy that we need, uh, for the coming decades at least and them going forward because it’s become so woven into everything that we do and so important for the actual existence of our society and our world as we know it, that you can’t really do without these concepts.
14:59 The gap in content. I think that there used to be, for example, in cyber security, and this happens in other fields as well, just two types of content and one that’s highly technical and one that’s very superficial and fragmented. There was not much in between for people to actually, uh, you know, for it to have a bit of storytelling to help some emotional appeal and not just be read by people in the industry because breaking outside your industry
19:15 The industry bubble. The more you get into an industry is that you think that everyone knows about let’s say the password reuse because you keep reading and talking about it almost daily. But the fact is that outside our tech bubble, outside the cyber bubble or in the bigger tech bubble, people seldom know these things. So you have to continue talking about them in better ways and more informative, practical, helpful ways.
28:19 How Andra built trust with B2B executives and convinced them to take part in a successful campaign. The fact that we already had a track record of educational content that was not aimed at anything commercial and the fact that we have kind of this proof that hey, this is really what we do, we’re not claiming to do this. Um, I think that built some trust with them
48:55ish Mindset to be a better content marketer I think it’s essential to learn as a content marketers that you are never the customer, never, ever, you’re never the target audience.And I think that that, um, if that becomes a mental habit, you get to cultivate empathy towards your customer.
54:09 How to successfully onboard and set new hires up for success So I think it’s, it’s a matter of, again, being patient with people, onboarding them, really onboarding them and not just putting them in a place and giving them a laptop. Cause that’s not onboarding. Talking to people, helping people talk to others in other teams, explaining how things work. Just taking the time to get their feet on the ground and understand the bigger context for their work.