Category: Business and Marketing

How to Dress Your Content for Success

“Style is a way to say who you are without having to speak”  – Rachel Zoe

If you know me, you know I am not a fashionista. But just because I do not have a closet full of the finest clothes and shoes does not mean I don’t understand that how a person shows up will dictate how they are perceived. My fashion style is more aligned with my personality: relaxed and casual. The rope sandals that I buy from Bonnaroo each year are much more representative of who I am than any high heels.

173H.jpgThe way we dress will affect the expectations that people have. Wouldn’t it be weird if I were in my jeans, t-shirt, and rope shoes but extra serious and all business? Or if I was wearing an expensive suit and Prada heels but was completely relaxed and careless? 

The same is true for your online content. The first thing a person sees when they come to your site is the style you present. This includes the colors, the layout, the size and type of font, the number and type of images, and the number and type of advertisements and call-to-actions.

I may see an enticing headline but once I click on it if the actual site is not appealing I rarely stick around to read the content that drew me there. Even if the site is appealing, if the content is not laid out in a format that’s enjoyable to read, I move on. I am sure you do the same thing. Here are my 3 tips for creating content that represents who you are and appeal to the audience you want to attract.

You Do You

Your content marketing should differentiate you from everyone else. Let’s get real: Whatever you are writing about, there are thousands of others writing about the same thing. And if you think you’ve found a topic that no one is writing about, then that begs the question if anyone is looking for such content.

Your content should represent the story you have to share with the world. A good story is authentic, creative, makes an emotional and personal connection, inspires actions and takes an audience on a journey with the brand.

Although there are various design best practices and trends that you should follow, ultimately when you look at your site you should be confident that it represents you in the way you want to show up to the world and it communicates the expectations you want to set for your audience.

If your site was a person at a networking event, what would it be like? If you have a site that presents a reader with lots of pop-ups and advertisements as soon as they land on a page, then your site is like that annoying sales person who goes around shoving their business card in everyone’s hand. If the font on your site is extra small and condensed with lots of words, then your site is that person who stands in the corner like a wallflower but if you start a conversation with him he will talk nonstop.

Think about who you are and how you want the world to see you and then allow your content and its style represent that.

What Are You Trying To Accomplish?

Why are you dedicating time and resources to publishing content?

Are you trying to build a brand identity? If so, the total focus of your content is to align your brand–whether it is a company name, a stage name, or your birth name,–with what you want to be known for. Be consistent, be unique, and be engaging. Draw people in by connecting with them on an emotional level. Create content that aligns with what you and your ideal audience have in common. Make sure your site is dressed up the way you would show up.

Are you trying to find sales leads? Then your content should show your expertise and help your audience think through how to solve problems. Run a keyword search to see what questions people are looking for answers to and answer those questions but also provide a personal insight or unique idea. Perhaps present a boring answer in a fun and creative format. Whatever you do, do not be a salesperson. No one wants to be sold to. Don’t dress your content up with pop-up ads or lots of call-to-actions that demand their information. Instead be a valuable resource that people are willing and wanting to do business with.

Are you trying to get people involved? Maybe you are trying to get people to advocate an idea or event or share their own opinions or insights. If this is the case then you need to write content that is conversational and includes your audience. Hit the points that are the emotional triggers for them and then allow them to include their own thoughts. Curate your audience’s information and talking points. Give your audience something to do. Perhaps you can choose an audience member to take over a social media account. The biggest difference between how you dress this kind of content is that people should recognize your site is a place of community collaboration.

Dress Appropriately For the Occasion

When using social media channels to publish content or promote your blog content, keep in mind that consumers go to Facebook and Linkedin with different goals and mindsets. Facebook provides a fun and entertaining diversion. It is a place where people go to see pictures from their friends and celebrate life’s little moments or to debate the latest political controversy.  When you are on Facebook be engaging, be fun, and keep it light.

LinkedIn, on the other hand, is where people turn for career advancement. Content that helps users build skills for their current job, find vendors to solve business problems, or get another job would be well-received there.

Each platform has its own community rules and culture. Be sure how you show up does not make you stand out in a bad way.

Finally, do not try to be everything to everyone. Each person and brand has its own unique style and each person has their own taste. Your goal should be to attract an audience that shares your style and taste which is the foundation of a solid, long-term relationship.

Navigating the Social Media Playground

Social Media is an ever-changing, overwhelming sea of possibilities. For most people, the biggest challenge is figuring out where to get started with social media.

We all have heard the familiar and sound advice to start by listening. Listen to your customers, listen to the community, listen, listen, listen.

Everyone says to listen! Listen to what?

The reality is that there is so much information or noise being generated every second that you could spend an entire career listening and never do anything else.

The trick is to not just listen, but to participate, as well as be able to adapt the voice of authority.

Think back to being a kid on a playground, or go visit a busy playground and observe for awhile. What you will notice first is that it is a noisy place. There are little girls having secret conversations in one corner, groups of boys raiding each other on the equipment, and a group of boys and girls building castles at yet another section of the playground. Each of them are living in their own world and are tuned into their own activities, but the call of an authoritative voice raises their attention and will cause all activities to change directions.

How does this relate to developing your own social media listening program? The social media world is very similar to a child’s playground (in oh so many ways!)

When a child arrives at the playground they will first glance around to see what is going on and who they know. I relate this to casting a wide net to gather a high-level insight of conversations that are happening related to:

  • Your Brand
  • Your Competitors
  • Your Services
  • Problems you Solve

Once we understand the landscape and ecosystem of all the activities going on, we will begin to focus in on what we know best and where we feel most comfortable. On the playground this would be equivalent to saying hi to our friends and checking in on what they are doing. In the social media world it is very much the same thing. We will check in on our customers, prospects, and people who know us that we should get to know.

As we play we begin to learn the rules of the playground. Who is in charge of which activities and which children are committed to those activities as well as which children are just exploring various areas. In social media we call the leaders of certain circles influencers. Social media influencers,  like the children leading various playground activities, were never appointed as leaders and they have no real authority, but they have a personality that entices others to follow along. As we play with them we strengthen existing relationship bonds as well as make new friends.

In business, this would be equivalent to understanding the context of each conversation, the sentiment within each community and the connections among different social ties. Look for who is the center of influence within your market.

The child who wants to lead his own little tribe will be successful only if he or she has tapped into areas of play that children are most drawn to and story lines that they want to act out. Similar to the business person who needs to create messages that resonate with their customers needs and desires and to attract an audience who are willing and able to respond to various calls to action.

Once you are not only part of the community, your community also becomes part of the ecosystem and you will be tapped into new opportunities as well as potential threats to your playground enterprise. You will be able to respond to these opportunities and threats to the best of your ability.

However, there is always the inevitable call from the voice of authority that changes the game. On the playground it is the voice of the parent saying it is time for your best friend to leave, thus shaking up the connections within your group. Online it is the voice of a social networking site enticing your community members away from your chosen channels with promise of better tools, friendly user interfaces, or more efficient ways to track the enormous amount of information we are all keeping track of. The child must be prepared to rebuild or move on, as does any business investing in social media.

However, to keep up with it all, you have to continuously be listening.

Interactive Content Enables Visitors to Experience Your City Like a Local

Destinations all around the world invest millions of dollars in attracting visitors each year. You see commercials with celebrities inviting you to California, or families enjoying the 5783999789_9d06e5d7df_zbeaches of Florida while most of the country is waiting for the next winter storm. Attracting conventions and visitors to your city means more economic growth, not just in tax revenue, but in increased revenue for local businesses including hotels, restaurants, attractions, and so forth. 

Over the years, as more people spend the majority of their time with digital media and travel planners have begun to conduct all of their research online, destination marketers have moved their marketing messages to optimized websites, blogs, and social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. But is simply moving your content from one media platform to another the best approach? Of course not.

When new platforms are introduced, marketers need to be quick to seize new opportunities. Consider when radio, once the major media platform, was usurped by televisions in people’s homes. Did communicators simply switch their message from one platform to the next without looking at the new opportunities that they could explore in the new medium? No.

Now that people are carrying around the entire interactive world wide web in their pocket, marketers need to rethink not just how they will communicate but what they can communicate and how their communication can impact the experience of their audience. Based on Google’s recent algorithm updates, we also know that the more useful and timely your content, the more your content will show up in search results.

Studies show the 92% of consumers trust recommendations from people they know and 70% trust opinions posts online. Therefore, the best way to market your destination is through word of mouth. The best word of mouth comes from people who have had an amazing experience. The best way to help your visitors have an amazing experience is to empower them to feel at home in your home – to be able to experience your city like a local. Here are 4 ways to refocus your content from marketing to attract visitors to empowering your visitors.

Local Guides

I can guarantee that you have people in your city who are quite knowledgeable about the best places to visit and they love to share their in-depth knowledge with friends and strangers alike. In The Tipping Point, journalist Malcolm Gladwell referred to such people as “Mavens.”

What makes leveraging the content of such Mavens so powerful in your marketing mix is that your audience will recognize the passion they have when sharing information and the authenticity of their advice. Their words are based on beliefs and experiences as opposed to a marketing message that is trying to sell something.

Many of these Mavens have already leveraged digital media sites to share their stories and have already built a significant audience. By working with your local Mavens not only do you get to share great their stories with your audience but you also get to tap into their audience.

Insider Insights

What is common knowledge to locals is often completely foreign to visitors? On my first visit to NYC, I did not understand that “No Standing” signs were no parking signs and I spend my first night in the city getting my car out of the impound. This is not a good experience. I am a local in Atlanta and fortunately know when to ignore my GPS when it tries to get me to turn down a one-way street, an unfortunate GPS glitch that will get locals in some serious trouble. On a recent visit to New Orleans my son spent 5X surge rate on an Uber because he did not know how to catch a taxi or navigate through the transit system.

By creating an arsenal of insider insight guides that can be linked to within relevant content on your site, share within a library, and promote on social networks, you can empower your visitors to become “mini citizens” of your city for a few days or weeks. 

Breaking News

Visitors need to know breaking news happening in the city that is specifically related to their experience. The local news that is covering who was murdered and what store was robbed is not where your visitors need to be tuning in. Instead, they need a news outlet that tells them the weather information and what some alternate plans that they can make if the weather has interrupted their day. They need to know what shows are playing or games that are going on where they can still get tickets. They need to know what streets or highways to avoid during certain hours and alternative ways to get around the city.

When you switch your marketing from just trying to showcase all that your city has to offer to providing insights on how to experience your city, not only does your marketing become more useful, but it will develop into a rich story about the many characters that make your city great.

Need help getting started empowering your visitors with these tips? Contact me.

Does a strict brand voice have a place in online conversations?

What does social media mean to you? That is an important question to ask every stakeholder involved prior to launching a social media initiative. This question not only needs to be asked, it needs to be discussed in-depth, debated, and documented.

There are people who believe that social media is an extension of marketing communications, others who believe it can generate sales, some who see it as a way to provide exceptional customer service and those who see it as a necessity for reputation management.

I, personally, am in the “all of the above” camp. Social Media enables conversations with and about brands. These conversations can be started by the brand, but only if the brand becomes part of a community. Ultimately the conversations will be driven by the community based on what community members are looking for. This could be product information, customer service, exclusive information, or up-to-date news.

Many emerging and/or larger brands have worked hard to build their brand image, an image that connects with the target audience profile. Style Guides have been created that dictate images that should be used to represent the brand as well as the words and sentence structures that are used when discussing the brand. This works well for marketing and advertising campaigns where there are copywriters and designers that create controlled images and experiences. But how does a style guide work within online conversations?

The answer is it provides your social media manager with insights of what to listen for and what conversations are most relevant to get involved with. But it cannot dictate what to say if the brand is seeking an authentic and timely voice.

I am seeing a lot of brands trying to force their controlled brand experiences within social media channels and the results are mixed. It seems if the brand is already established and has a significant amount of loyal fans, then people will comment, like, and share the creative copy-written messages. Below is an example of such a great copy-written tweet from Coca-Cola:

drip-934949_640“When you open a coke, 12,607 bubbles are born. Happy birthday bubbles!”

But is that a community-driven conversation starter? No. Is it an effective brand builder, especially as it is re-tweeted by the millions of followers of Coca-Cola? Absolutely!

This effort works for Coca-Cola, which has decades of expert brand building efforts behind them. Coca-Cola did not have to start the online conversation, they had to join it. By the time social media even hit Coca-Cola’s radar there were already thousands of conversations happening about them each day.

But can emerging brands or even large brands who do not have thousands of mentions within online conversations happening each day create a community with only an authorized brand voice, or will they need to empower selected ambassadors to use their real and diverse voices?

Does a strict brand voice have a place in online conversations? I say yes; 40% of the time when social media is used to distribute news or create unique and creative brand impressions, a strict brand voice should be adhered to. For the 60% of the efforts needed to create an online community, such as providing exceptional customer service, offering solutions, requesting fans to share their stories or celebrating the successes and stories of their fans, brand guidelines should be followed only to the extent of how the brand is represented whereas not to prevent brand ambassadors from speaking personally as a means to connect with people as people.

I have witnessed many brands trying too hard to control their message and use only approved copy-written words within social media channels. Typically the community growth and engagement remains stagnant, the return on engagement is very low and the value of social media gets lost in translation.

Why Your Social Media Strategy Is Not Working

You are on all the right social channels. You are posting content consistently. But you are just not getting much value from your social media efforts. Here might be a few reasons why.

You Are Looking for More Responses

Is that really so bad? Should you be looking at that metric?9011116378_32e56983e3_c

I know, I know. This goes against everything you have ever read about social media as a conversation. We write about the value of conversation all the time. But think about it, all statistics show that more than 90% of your audience consumes content and less than 10% will contribute. This is like having a conversation with someone who listens but simply refuses to respond…not much of a conversation, huh? But the content is what is keeping them around, they are learning and thinking and will respond in their own way. Keep working on getting responses, but there are many other valuable stats to look at too.

You’re  Not Getting to the Right People

About a decade ago when I started consulting on social media that #1 concern was reputation management. “What will they say about us?” Most organizations have come to realize that Pandora’s box has been opened and people have the ability to say anything they want to say. That makes for a very noisy web. The response I have seen is that more and more organizations are responding by simply adding to the noise. FAIL

The key to an effective social media program is to get the right message to the right people at the right time through the right channel. This is nothing new in the world of communications. What is new is that people have many channels to choose from. Not long ago the choices were print, a few channels on TV and a few channels on radio. Now the choices are unlimited from blogs to text to social networking sites to video sharing sites. Our job is to make sure that our audience can get the message the way they want through the channel they choose to get it from. This is what we refer to as optimizing your communications for social media.

 Social Media is Another Thing You Have To Do

If you are stressed about how much time social media takes, you are doing it ALL wrong. The speed you are able to get personalized articles delivered as opposed to searching through pages and pages of “old media” is truly astounding. You can schedule several posts, repurpose content for different channels and be alerted when your attention is needed.  You should be using technology to save time. Not as an add-on while you keep doing things the old ways.

An effective social media program is about personalized channels and strategic data flow of relevant content. This creates value. Add in the ability for your audience to post their questions, insights, and reviews, what you get is conversation and community. The impact is enhanced business intelligence, more effective R&D, more successful marketing programs and increased customer satisfaction. If these are not the results your social media program is delivering, it is not working!

Get More from Your Online Interactions

This past week I had several opportunities to be part of conversations with people who are making great strides in their social media efforts. However, the main focus of their efforts has been to get their message to their audience. They sense there is something missing, benefits or opportunities they are not tapping into and that is why I was brought to the table.

There is a common theme I am hearing more and more which is that social media belongs in the realm of customer service. There are many case studies out there that show the damage a disgruntled customer can do to a brand through social media. More and more brands are monitoring social media sites to put out fires before they spread and a few are pro-actively reaching their customers to say thank you or offer additional information.

So what is missing?

Business Intelligence.

One of the companies I met with this week was struggling with getting their customer service group to participate in social media. The challenge that they face is one that is common across all companies I have met with; the belief the social media belongs in the marketing or communications department. The problem is that social media contains conversations, and those conversations span across all departments from sales leads to customer service opportunities, to consumer generated ideas for new products and services to technical collaboration to influential discussions about financial projections and so on and so on. How can one department filter and appropriately respond to all of these conversations even in a reactionary way, much less work to be part of these conversations in a proactive way?

The answer is to encourage and guide each department to make involvement in social media part of their daily responsibility. Of course for those who feel they have enough on their plate already that may seem simply overwhelming, not to mention many people still do not see the point.

So how can an organization motivate their teams to join the online conversations? Show them the value.

For a customer service team who goes through the day responding to concerns and issues, frustrated_worker-2answering the same questions over and over again, show them the value of being able to build a community where frequently answer questions are discussed in detail, challenge the community to provide suggestions and ideas that make the conversation multi-directional as opposed to the team always answering customer questions. Finally, invite the customer service team to the executive table to share the insights they have gained from their interaction with the customers.

If active participation in social networks is designed to help your team do a better job and contribute to the overall direction of the company, more people would be willing make it part of their responsibilities and in the end, everyone from the customers to the employees, to the owners of the company, will benefit.

Social Media Empowers a DIY Culture

Last week I had to call the post office because some very important pieces of mail are not finding their way to my mailbox. Initially, their response was to connect me to my carrier who assured me he is delivering everything that has my address on it. As you can probably imagine, that did not give me any comfort because I know there is mail that I am not getting. So I convinced him to escalate the issue to someone more senior. I finally was able to speak with someone who explained the entire process that an envelope goes through to get from Atlanta to Alpharetta. Together we brainstormed where the disconnect could be happening. We finally decided on a strategy we can work on together to trace where the problem might be.

I realized that the key to that level of customer service was to get me, the client, involved photodune-616811-change-and-crisis-xsin the process of making things right. When something goes wrong the customer usually feels a loss of control which is very frustrating. But simply giving control back to the customer alleviates some of that frustration and enables the possibility of finding a mutually beneficial solution.

This is what the technology that powers social media has enabled; the ability for the customer to remain in control, whether a company wants to give it to them or not.

Customers have the ability to compare options, not just through marketing material or sanctioned talking points, but by seeking out peer reviews and subject matter experts. In many ways, this has shifted the marketing strategies and customer service approach of many companies. As opposed to appealing only to needs and benefits, companies now need to educate the consumer and be involved in their evaluation process.
This starts by listening to what customers are saying, not just about your brand, but about their needs. So many times I see social media monitoring efforts that are only focused on brand mentions, which is great if you are only looking to nurture existing customers and manage your brand reputation. But if you are looking to grow your client base and to keep your competitors from stealing your current clients, you need to be monitoring for terms related to services you offer and problems you solve. You need to pro-actively guide the Do-It-Yourselfers.

To do this you need to:

a. Be involved in the online conversations.

b. Make sure your content is easily distributable by community members.

c. Make sure you show up when people are looking for your services.

This same process can and should also be applied internally. In a production meeting this week for a training video we were discussing how all of the data shows that people want to learn at their own pace and they want the training to be interactive. The DIY culture wants to be able to be involved in solving their own problems, and internally that means interacting with their peers, easily finding relevant content and staying involved with changes that impact their jobs. Although social media technologies empower this level of interactivity, it is vital that a company establish a social media roadmap to ensure the success of such an effort. This roadmap would include;

  • A vision statement that directs, aligns and inspires actions on the part of the key stakeholders.
  • A clear compelling statement of where this is all leading.
  • Identification of information silos within the organization that prevents collaboration.
  • Vulnerabilities due to unauthorized use of social media. Strategic recommendations for implementing social media technology that meets the organization’s need.

Ultimately, social media technology has empowered the DIY culture and they are not waiting for permission to get involved. They are moving forward with or without permission or involvement. It is important to be aware but also perhaps even more vital to get involved.

The Difference Between Social Media Marketing and Online Communities

As more and more brands embrace social media as an extension to marketing, advertising, pr or customer service efforts, the line between social media marketing and the essence of online communities continues to blur. However, it is important that these efforts not get mixed up otherwise the purpose and benefits of each effort will get diluted and the tactics and measures of success will become a confusing mess.

Social Media Marketing can be measured by the number of impressions, the reach of the conversation, as well as the number of transactions. Social Media Marketing can have very specific and measurable goals such as increase share of voice, improve brand reputation and/or awareness, or direct sales.

photodune-3447460-community-xsOnline communities are much more nebulous. Communities, in general, are a very ancient creation. Communities of people gathered together for interdependent reasons. Therefore, a community is about the experience of belonging.

There are many benefits for a brand to develop a community, including the ability to scale. If you bring together people with passion and expertise then every person in the community gains tremendously for the small efforts of many. Think of Wikipedia.

Oftentimes efforts to building online communities involve bringing together more people with questions than answers. This makes sense when you are trying to find people with a need that you can fill. That is called selling. People do not become part of a community as a means to be sold to.

If we think of communities like we think of our neighborhoods, then what we are seeking are people with common interests, people we like to invite to our house, people with expertise such as…I don’t know…plumbing. Most importantly we are looking for people we trust.

So how do we build online communities? We set out to bring together people with a passion and expertise to share, we give them tools that help them get to know each other and we highlight ideas and insights of the members.

Building an online community takes a lot of work. Hospitality must be top of mind. Think of hospitality as the welcoming of strangers and offering “gifts” with no expectation in return thus creating an environment of trust and safety.

As your community grows it is tempting to think it centers around you or your brand. It doesn’t. It is important that community members always know that they are appreciated and are often reminded why they are there – what is the benefit to them.

So, should your social media efforts focus on marketing, advertising, pr, customer service or community building? That depends on your goals and resources, however, do not confuse community building with marketing or you may find that you create a road map that does not lead you to your goals.

Defining Online Community

I have noticed the word community is being tossed around inappropriately lately. It seems many people are trying to make online community analogous to social media. Perhaps the holiday season is a good time to explain the difference.

You know how you walk down the street in your neighborhood? Hopefully, you live in a neighborhood where you see your neighbors on the front porch or in the front yard. If not, think of a show, like Sesame Street, where people run into their neighbors every time they walk out of their door. That may feel like a community, but it’s not. It is a group of people in similar proximity who have the ability to socialize. That is social media in the real world.

Social media is a set of technical tools that enable people to express themselves, “house” their personalities, and socialize with each other.

photodune-348156-friends-xsNow, raise your hand if you were invited to a holiday party, game night, or to help a friend move over the weekend. If you raised your hand then you were invited to be part of a community; People who get together to enjoy each other’s company, share ideas and help each other out. Online this is most similar to communities that have existed for years, inhabited by the members who share information, ideas, and solutions to problems.

Today there are many other wonderful online communities of people who share information about their hobbies, interests, and struggles. Within these communities, each person knows and supports each other and more often than not there is no real defined leader or sponsor within the group.

Most of the time online communities such as these are spontaneous, people who are searching for connections find each other, but it is possible for a brand to “orchestrate” such a place. To do so a brand might want to think of themselves as an HOA where they meet and listen to the community members, set the rules for the community, and find ways to connect and support each member within the community. This definitely takes time and commitment, beyond just creating content that is generated and pushed through social tools such as Facebook and Twitter.

To reiterate, social media is for people you say hi to as you pass them by, a community is for staying connected to and supporting the people you care about. So the next time someone refers to their online community ask them questions about what they know about the people they supposedly care about.

What Business Communicators Can Learn From Rock & Roll

Not long ago I was watching History of Rock & Roll. As I watched the progression from Chuck Berry to 80’s Hair bands, I noticed a few common themes about the rise and fall of artists. I realized that these themes are lessons that business communicators can learn from.

The Message Has to Resonate

Musicians and songwriters might write songs about their lives, stories, and experiences, but the songs that become hits are the ones that their FANS can relate to. The songs that seem to be written about their lives, stories, and experiences. The songs that are about the common human conditions are often timeless.

The same is true for business communications. Your message needs to resonate deeply with your audience. They need to hear what you are about and say…” wow! you know me so well.”

Relationships Matter

The paparazzi exists because people want to know about the lives of the people behind the music. Although we are attracted to the music that speaks to our heart we also want to know the heart of the artists behind the music.

The same is true for business communications. We have so many reasons not to trust businesses lately, that they only way to gain our trust is by letting us know who you are.

You Can’t Fake It

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Shall I say more? Well if you have no idea who the two guys above are, you can look it up here.

It seems, that yes…more needs to be said. Once Rock & Roll became popular, an industry was born. From that industry, many fakes have been born. They rise and fall fast. The same is true when you try to outsource your communications as opposed to create a process to be real to your fans, the attention you attract will rise and fall fast. You cannot fake it and make it.

What I learned by watching The History of Rock & Roll is that the best way to be a Rock Star Business is to sincerely have the right stuff to be a Rock Star and to be real and accessible enough to let your fans rock with you.