Mark Schaefer wrote a post advising a “liquid” content strategy, with content posted only on various rented, third party platforms and not on a site that you own. This is diametrically opposed to the hub and spoke (or “spine”) strategy I support. In the hub and spoke model, your content lives in your hub (usually a website or blog) and is shared elsewhere (third-party spokes). Imagine your entire content team spinning their wheels — and your budget — in a constant search for “woo” to accommodate this pseudo strategy. It’s not sustainable.
This concept might work quite well for companies like Groupon, but B2B companies or companies that need to convey complex ideas will find little success scrambling after the next shiny object that has captured the public’s attention. Rather than frantically posting original content on third-party platforms first, like so many corporate lemmings, consider the fickle audiences the platforms are attempting to capture and realize that to do so is to support the quest of the platform for relevance and business longevity in the face of mutable tribes – not necessarily to support your company’s best interest.
Savvy companies need a content strategy based on trust and ownership. Ownership of your content comes first. The bulk of your best content should live on a platform that you own. No matter how seemingly stable the shiny third-party platform, you have no control over its terms of service, copyright issues, privacy of user data, access to user information, scale, or even their longevity. Placing all of your eggs in someone else’s basket puts you (and your business) at their mercy.
Paradoxically, leveraging these third–party platforms most effectively requires trust. In this case, I’m not talking about trusting the platform – I’m talking about trusting your team. Determine the platforms that will have the most use for your needs: marketing, sales, customer service, thought leadership, community building, and product feedback. Give your team loose guidelines for each, as well as access to the tools they need to do their jobs (including design, style guides, editorial guides, image rights management, and content creation and editing tools). Then get out of their way.
A great editorial team is going to know when and how to create your best content and then adapt it for each platform, and when not to. This excellent team is also going to know how to generate real-time content, as appropriate. A fantastic community manager will know how to leverage the community’s content, thus building engagement. A savvy social sales person will know how to generate leads from paid, owned, earned and rented media. A superb customer service rep will know how to offer support and empathy in a social media setting, in a time frame the customer understands.
In short, what causes companies the most pain is not the challenge of maintaining multiple, continuously changing platforms – it’s the pain of leaving bureaucracy, land grabs, and office politics behind; killing inefficient approval processes; and generally getting out of the way of a great team. New shiny platforms have their uses. Trust your team to identify the right ones, and fret less about converting every piece of content into a platform-specific tidbit.
What did you run from today? As my puppy ran from a loud noise three stories below, I teased him for being ridiculous (my pit bull is a lover, not a fighter). It dawned on me immediately that none of us are immune to these ridiculous moments.
In my work through the years, I’ve often expected executives and business leaders to be fearless. With decades of experience and vast stores of knowledge, telling the story of your work — whatever that work is — should be effortless. Instead, those few that are fearless are met with legal teams, media teams, branding specialists, multiple editors, and accountants. By the time the intrepid few have run that gauntlet, they are often completely turned off by the effort it takes to tell their business story. Their strife echoes through a canyon of cubicles, creating an environment where the the more timid among them get the clear message that one carefully produced pre-approved message for all is “good for you”, going down like medicine.
What would happen if you chose the bold statement, the action words? Would the sky fall from your declarative sentence? I don’t mean adding a layer of buzzwords to your headlines, or linkbaiting. I mean digging deep, and releasing the barbaric yawp of your full experience. I’m not talking about a late night taxi confession, a regrettable drunk dial to your less guarded inner self. Instead, simply saying what you mean, revealing what your decisions cost you and what your successes gifted you. I mean helping those who are trying to find your work understand how they can connect with you beyond your price sheet.
Try an exercise with me. For one week, pay attention to every word you don’t say. If you want to write it down, even better. But for one week be mindful of when you are silent. Also be mindful of when you self-edit — be it on social media or in the boardroom. What did you lose in your silence; what opportunity was missed? When you self-edited, was your point softened to the point where it caused meetings to end without action, or a project to extend another week in indecision, destined to die in committee?
As you begin to see the toll self-censorship creates in your everyday life, take a look at your brand storytelling. Does it seem rote and disconnected? That means you are allowing fear to take the lead, instead of clear conviction and knowledge. I propose that what makes you afraid is exactly what should be said. Am I advocating for disclosure of corporate secrets, or mishandling of client trust? Of course not. I am advocating for clarity, purpose, brevity and as much truth as you can tell in your corporate communications. That’s the “secret” that makes people who read your words come back for more.
Social media naysayers love saying that the internet is nothing but photos of people’s outfits, people’s dinners and cat pictures. It wouldn’t surprise these detractors to be largely correct in their assessment, but it certainly did surprise many when the ultimate photo album of the internet, Pinterest, was the recipient of $3.9 billion in funding dollars recently. In addition to that, Pinterest has scored an unpaid deal to be preinstalled on Android phones in Latin America and Europe (Telefónica). What makes a site that has heretofore been seen as frivolous so valuable?
For one thing, Pinterest has 70 Million users as of right now, 80% of which are women. With women driving more purchases than ever before, reaching them has become important to every business. 80% of Pinterest items “pinned” are re-pins. That means that 80% of Pinterest activity is made up of people sharing what they find and what they covet with other people. The more intriguing aspect of this is that a user’s Pinterest circle of connections is not necessarily made up of only people that they know. With group boards and public sharing, entire circles of like-minded connections have sprung up on this very visual network. With a 66.52% rate of growth in web traffic referrals from September 2012 to September 2013, brands want to be part of the Pinterest storm more than ever before.
Like other social networks, Pinterest has been experimenting with its business model. It recently discontinued “Pin It To Win It” contests on Pinterest, and added Related Pins, paid Promoted Pins and Place Pins. Pinterest has also been experimenting with web analytics and has been on top of the anti-onlne bullying and anti-spam movements by giving users a way to report content violations.
What does all of this mean for a brand that has the kind of visual, lifestyle product that does well on Pinterest? To answer that question, let’s look at some sales and conversion data about Pinterest in the past year. First, the average time someone spends on Pinterest is 14.2 minutes. That’s incredibly “sticky”. Pinterest users spend an average of $140 – $180 on orders generated by clicks on the site. That is more than Facebook and Twitter generated average orders combined. 18% of Pinterest users have an income over $75,000. The most followed brand on Pinterest as of October 2013, Nordstrom, has 4.4 million followers, while the most followed Pinner, Joy Cho, clocks in at 13+ million.
What brands should take away from these statistics is that any brand with a visual, shareable product, a lifestyle product, or an iconic brand face will do quite well on this network. Pinterest gets great traction, repeat visits and enthusiasm from users in a way other sites don’t. It is my theory that they do this by being the network of possibility, looking to the future. Pinterest isn’t about what’s right now – it’s about what users aspire to. Brands that get that, and that present content that supports that and leads back to sales pages, will do well.
If you have a pulse and spend any time paying attention to social media platforms, you have heard the internet outcry against The Goog seemingly ramming Google+ down everyone’s throats. YouTubers are offended at the new requirement that users sign in with a Google+ account to comment. Gmail users, already angry that they have to opt out of questionable “features” like a tabbed browser that hides important messages, now have to check their settings to make sure people they don’t even know can’t use Google+ to email them. So what’s a brand to do in the face of such unrest? Invest in Google+ or take a pass?
Frankly, every smart brand should have a Google+ Page. At this point Google has spent so much time and effort tying their Google+ world to their search engine and other properties, it only helps a brand’s SEO to have a presence. How much you engage is up to you. It’s a time management challenge for your social media team to add one more social platform to the mix, that’s true. The important thing to note here is that engagement amps up the benefits having a Google+ page gives you. As noted by MOZ, the benefits of sharing, commenting, posting and +1s are still being measured, but +1 impact certainly stands out anecdotally as a key performance indicator for SEO.
Another way to make the best out of the necessity for a Google+ presence is to use their author and publisher features to the fullest advantage. By having all of the authors on your blog linked to their Google+ pages for authorship, and having your company linked to Google+ as a publisher, and making sure that the URLs you generate and links you share are optimized for SEO and Google+ and trackable in Google Analytics campaigns, you are adding serious juice to your existing SEO strategy. Think of it as one more layer in your SEO cake.
So what can a brand expect from the Google+ user base? One difference between Google+ and other social networks like Facebook and Twitter is engagement quality. Because Google has a robust content character count, plenty of easy to understand content editing features, and generally a more focused audience, discussions on Google+ tend to be more in depth. For brands with something to teach or products and services that lend themselves well to a longer form discussion where you can deep-dive into the real answer to a question, Google+ can be an enjoyable experience.
Some industries that are doing well in the Google+ world include wineries (there are a large number of wine lovers out there who want to go deep into the background behind each wine they love, their favorite varietal, viticulture practices, sustainability of farming, and more), musicians (Google+ allows for an interactive experience between a fan and a musician), and food (foodies have a great home on Google+ where they can host cooking hangouts, delve into the nuance of recipes and seasonal foods, and generally share their images and other foodie content in created detail to a more targeted audience than the typical, light “Hey, here’s my dinner” photo on Facebook.
A final bit of advice… when you are building your pieces of content, make sure that each piece is tied to any of the variety of Google properties out there. Make sure its optimized for Google+, Google Analytics, YouTube, Images, and more so that you pick up every nuance of Google’s search juice available to you. Think of each bit of content as part of a multi media multi network publishing conglomerate run by your brand, and you’ll start to see results.
In the end, Google+ is the “bad medicine” of social media, not because it doesn’t have benefits, but because it does. It may be a bit hard to swallow, but once you do you realize that it’s good for you – just what the SEO doctor ordered.
A number of new plug ins have appeared on the scene that take the concept of a web site paywall to a (potentially) new low. I’m talking about the rise of the social paywall plugin. On the surface, it seems innocuous: instead of charging users money to view your content, a la the New York Times or Boston Globe and their limited content paywalls, you attach the reveal of your content to a like, share or other social action. At first, this seems like a great way to get people to share your content, and to increase your social media presence. Digging deeper, it creates some challenges.
The first challenge you face with any paywall system, monetary or social, is how it is delivered. Paywall systems that deliver a portion of the content prior to asking for your payment work somewhat better than those that just block the content altogether with a pop up or gated web site. User behavior dictates that the person who has come to your site interested in content and who is then confronted with a blocking pop up will simply move on and try to find the information elsewhere. That’s the best case scenario – in the worst cases, they will be annoyed at the road block and take to the internet to express their frustration. In general you don’t want to annoy your potential customer or reader, especially in the first moments of their experience with you.
With the trend lately to “surprise and delight” the people your brand comes in contact with, it’s important to evaluate how this kind of information gating will accomplish (or hinder) that process.
There is also the question of what kind of brand story you want to tell. Do you really want to be “that brand” that makes an ask for every site visit? The brand always coming to the customer with their hand out? You can be that brand, but it will not get a great response from your customer. It’s better to be the brand that gives, that actively works to create emotional relevance and connection, and to be useful. There is nothing useful about content-gating.
In fact, if you are a brand that has a compelling content story to tell, people are going to click like on your pages, share your content, and comment or otherwise engage naturally. It simply may take a bit longer to build that relationship, something that is difficult for a brand trying to balance social media and content marketing ROI with earning the trust of their customer and potential customer.
Some companies talk about building “advocate armies”, and to those that use that phrase without knowing what it means, a social paywall may seem like a shortcut to achieving that goal. Here’s the kicker: if you make someone like you, it’s a bully marketing tactic. It doesn’t generate loyalty, repeat business or enthusiasm. It simply makes your customer accomplish a chore before they even know if you bring them value.
True advocate marketing is about a relationship you build with the people most enthusiastic about your company. By giving those advocates a platform and encouragement and value, you get more lasting value than just the ego metric of a like or share. Look at what Influitive is doing with B2B advocate marketing, for example. They are using participation and conversation inside a simple to learn tool to create armies of advocates for their B2B clients. Branderati is doing something similar in enterprise level B2C advocacy, and Addvocate applies the model to your own employees. These are all companies that offer value before making an ask. This creates a much more effective crowd of advocates telling your story (and their stories and how they relate to yours).
Keys to Advocacy
It’s key to create the kind of advocate relationship that works not only for you, the brand, but also for your customer. Some easy ways to make this happen include:
1. Be useful! Make sure every piece of content you create is useful. Address a need, acknowledge a need or solve a problem each time you put something in front of your customers.
2. Be inspirational! Being useful consistently can sometimes be difficult to achieve when you are generating content over time. Peppering usefulness with inspiration will help you rise to the top in your customer’s minds. They’d rather be inspired by than talked at.
3. Embrace discovery! If you find something enthusiastic, inspirational or otherwise appropriate that has been created about your brand by a customer, reach out to them. Promote them without expectation. If you want to increase the level of support and gratitude, reach out to them personally and find out how you can highlight their content.
4. Make things easy! Make it as easy as possible for people to participate in your brand, and to advocate for you. Give them easy ways to find you, easy hashtags to remember, personal attention on your social channels, and help them talk about you and build community around you.
5. Encourage creativity! Be cheerleaders of your advocates. Find ways to showcase the creative things they do with your brand. Are they making vine videos of your products? Are they making photo memes about you? Are they posting haikus to your page? Whatever they are doing, embrace it, promote it and encourage it.