Category Archives: content marketing

Why Your Budget Must Include Website Re-Investment

Yes, it is that time of the year. Sure the leaves are falling and nature reinforces her beauty, but I am not talking about that. It is budget season and everyone is looking at what they have done in the past year and tweaking allocation numbers.

But before you finalize your budget by simply modifying last year’s budget, you need to take a fresh look. What will truly yield growth of brand awareness, consideration, sale, loyalty, and advocacy? I’d expect website revitalization was not on last year’s budget. I will also bet that many say, “websites – oh that is so ‘90’s,” but I will tell you a “correctly designed” website is so 2020’s. Let’s explore why.

website reinvestment

First, let me state that I am very bullish on social marketing as a way to win over an audience and turn them into your most valued customers – advocates. But if we look at social media platforms today, we see that the platform evolution now hinders brand engagement with target audiences. Just look at Facebook. They have practically eliminated organic reach of brand postings. And you know just about all social platforms main objective is to optimize their own monetization. They also look to appeal to their audience. Not the brand’s audience. Social platform’s first concern is their success; not marketers success. Don’t be naive.

Second, I always state that marketers must have complete empathy for their target audience. Culture has been transformed by digital technologies. More people get information online (social networking, mobile, and the Internet) as a primary source. This consumer/client behavior means your website would be extremely compelling if it was a) dynamic with continuous content updates (posts), b) more interactive and social, and c) mobile ready.

The first step in revitalizing your website is to start thinking like a media company. Think about being the “Buzz Feed” for your brand category news, information, and entertainment. Produce original content regularly. Curate relevant content and include it on your website. Think about what it takes to be a resource for your audience such that they want to go to your website daily to get up-to-date information.

The next step in revitalizing your website is to make it more interactive and social. If we look at human behavior, we see that they do want to engage with brands. That is, if the brand makes it worth their while. Converse with your audience. Listen to your audiences needs and wants. Produce compelling content based on their input and comments. Build sustainable relationships. Facebook and other social networks have clamped your ability to engage. So bring that functionality to the digital platform you own and you control – your website. Consider building a community integrated within your website. True, you may not get as many subscribers as Facebook likes or Twitter followers, but certainly you will get individuals that want to remain engaged and are likely your best customers/clients.

At the same time, various social platforms do continue to be an important part of your marketing mix. They should be used to proliferate the content on your website. Additionally, paid media of social platforms is a very important budgetary consideration. The greatest value of paid media on social platforms is the ability to target specific demographics. I have seen paid media deliver very strong click through results (back to your website).

I hope it goes without saying that your website MUST be mobile ready. More and more people access the Internet via mobile device. Do you really want to eliminate access of your website to a majority of the population because you have not made the investment to make it mobile ready?

I have given you the three areas to focus on with regards to the revitalization of your website. Staying consistent in numerology, there are three reasons why website revitalization must be part of your 2015 budget:

1) Audience use of digital is not only ubiquitous but their individual use is very strong,
2) Your website is something you completely own and control … you do not have to worry about the usage rules being changed, and
3) Your website is likely the strongest digital source to monetize your brand.

Make sense? Can do?

Make It Happen,
Social Steve

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4 Tips for Winning Content

Most brands are challenged delivering compelling content continuously. They feel the pressure to come up with new content day-to-day or week-to-week. And when they do come up with posts, articles, photos, and videos, it often does not resonate with their audience.

So I have just one, most important tip for you, but it consists of 4 questions. As you develop your content strategy, plan, calendar, and execution ask yourself four questions. Find the intersection of the answers of all four to guide your content development.

Q1 – What are the interests of your audience? Independent of the product or service that you market and sell, understand the content that your audience is looking for and what they typical consume. For example, here is some data for content “moms” regularly look for and share …

content for moms (Source)

Q2 – How can I help? If you want to win your audience over, be as helpful as can be. Appeal to your audiences’ needs and desires with information and entertainment.

Q3 – What is relevant? Determine what the current and emerging trends are. What cultural events are happening? Oscar’s. Emmy’s. Grammy’s. Tony’s. Superbowl. World Series. George Clooney marriage … etc. Think about tying your content to something current that captures the interest of all.

Q4 – What is my brand position? Finally, we look at you, the brand. When you deliver content, you want that content to reinforce what your brand stands for. Not necessarily pushing a product, but rather support of your brand story.

Realize that you need to answer all the questions and find the intersection of all. Answering one and then developing content will not lead you to the correct destination.

content elements

Let me give you an example. Let’ say that you are a laundry detergent brand. (Pretty difficult to build a content strategy around laundry detergent, huh?) Consider the content moms care about – kids, vacations, pets. Consider how you can help your audience – laundry tips, time savings, “cramming it all in.” What is relevant – Halloween is just around the corner. What is your brand position – superior cleaning, environmentally friendly.

So a content idea is doing a story of Halloween 2014 where you provide ideas for kids’ costumes and suggestions for when your dog gets into the candy and has an “accident” on the laundry pile. Hopefully you get the idea. I intentionally picked a brand category that many would likely find difficult to develop content around. Heck, if compelling content can be developed for laundry detergent, you can certainly drive winning content around your brand.

Make It Happen,
Social Steve

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Time to Rethink Social Media

As I shared with you a couple of weeks ago (and many others have covered) Facebook is changing the way it treats brand’s posts and their distribution (or lack thereof).

rethink socil media

Should anyone really be surprised? Does it not make sense to monetize the accomplishment of being the number one social network? Sure, you can get ticked off, but can you really blame Facebook.

And you know what … you should take some blame yourself. Does it really make sense to put the control and success in the hands of another platform? What has kept you from putting control and destiny in your own hands?

So if you agree that you need to keep control and manage your own destiny, this means that you, the brand, need to have your own platform. Here is what I mean by this …

Every brand should have its own “home court.” This means that brands should have a content repository where all their content is housed. This content repository should sit on the brand’s website. Often the content repository takes the form of a blog. Brands should not place their content on a platform that someone else controls. You should control this platform.

Now this does not mean that I think brands should not use social media, but the social channels should be used to proliferate content. Social media should also be used as an extended channel for brand engagement with their target audience. A brand should put together a content strategy for the owned digital asset (their website) and then think about using social media channels to distribute abstracts of the content such that digital traffic is driven to a platform they control.

When a brand builds success driving traffic to their website, the next step is to think about building a community there. About two years ago, I indicated “Why Facebook May Not Be Your Brand’s Community.” Now some may say, why should I bother to build a community? Why would anyone come to my community when there is Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and others? Can I really get a crowd developed? Well, think about this. If you truly deliver content that is interesting, entertaining, and/or compelling, you will capture a crowd. And if you are worried about the size of your community, simply look at each individual as a potential ambassador of your brand spreading your content and brand value. Give them a reason why they would want to join your community. Even if you had a handful of ambassadors, that is a major accomplishment. Earlier this year, I provided a play book describing “Successful Social Marketing – Integrating Content and Community.”

I am certain there are some that will say they don’t have the resource or budget to do what I am suggesting. Heck, I’ve heard it from the companies I have worked for and clients I provide strategy and plans to. My answer to this is simply … if you truly care about your customers and potential customers you will find the budget. I say this not because this is the business I am in, but rather because the audience behavior demands it. I am a marketer first and foremost. I got into digital and social media because I followed the audience behavior.

And now new Facebook procedures demand change. Change that I recommended even a couple years back. Change that demands you keeping up and adapting your marketing skill set.

And needless to say, other social platforms will change. So here is the question … are you going to stay stagnant with your digital, social, and overall marketing? Or as the title suggests, isn’t it “Time to Rethink Social Media” and your whole digital approach. Audience behavior, technology, and platform operations demand you be adaptable. Don’t get comfortable. Put your seatbelt on and drive the course to success. If you expect a straight road you are fooling yourself.

Make It Happen,
Social Steve

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Delivering the Content Your Audience Wants

When it comes to social marketing, there is only one response to the question, “what is the content your brand delivers to its audience?” The answer must be “the content they want.” Social marketing is not about delivering a marketing communication to push content on your audience.

And the second mistake most make in social marketing is thinking that their job is done when they acquire a high number of likes, followers, or fans. I like the way Nate Elliot puts it in his June, 2012 report “The ROI of Social Marketing” – “Fans have little innate value; it is what brands do with their followers – not merely that they have them – that creates value.” And this means delivering consistent value to those fans on their terms.

Lets talk about this through a case study of a leading consumer brand I recently looked at as an off-shot of some work I was doing. (Let’s just call them Brand-X)

Brand content reach and engagement

From the figure above, you are likely to think that the brand is performing well using Facebook to deliver content and capture strong reach and engagement. But when we look into real execution, things are not as pretty as they seem. First off, look at the peaks. While 500K people talking about this seems impressive it is less than 2% of the 27 million likes. It is also worth noting that the new product and service spikes came with paid sponsored posts. The content the audience reacted to most were celebrity video posts and a contest, and still, these posts reach less than 2% of the fans captured (which were likely via paid Facebook as well).

Once again, Nate Elliot expressed some interesting information. This month, the Ogilvy agency released data showing that the brand pages they manage reach just 6% of fans. For pages with more than 500,000 fans, Ogilvy says reach stands at just 2%.
Some have realized this for a bit, but were apprehensive to come out and say anything against the social media behemoth. Brands and agencies are now openly talking about their discontent. More and more brands are disillusioned with Facebook and are now placing their bets on other social sites — but few of them want to go on the record. In addition to poor Facebook measured results some see the biggest problem with Facebook is their constant rule changes.
But do not think for one second this does not mean that there is not a great value to brand social marketing. And I am not totally knocking Facebook either. But here are some points.

1) Facebook is extremely powerful when users (as opposed to brands) share the value of a product or service. Marketers may not need to focus on content distribution to Facebook, but certainly look to motivate their audience to share in all social channels.
2) Content marketing is extremely valuable. Brands need to get their marketing departments to evolve from traditional marketing communications to storytelling communication.
3) Compelling pictures and videos win audiences.
4) Think about numerous channels where content can be delivered to your users. (For example, I just did some research on a particular target audience for a brand and found out the targets were most active on Google+ and LinkedIn.)

When push comes to shove, pushing and shoving does not work in social media. Deliver compelling content YOUR AUDIENCE wants in the places that are likely to turn the best results. Think about having your own media repository and using social channels to distribute that content. Have others share it on social channels and be the place for conversations and engagement.

Make It Happen,
Social Steve

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The Content Development Plan Every Marketer Should Use

As I work with a number of brands, the most difficult challenge I see them having is grasping how to build a content calendar. So many seem overwhelmed by the idea of building out a plan for 90-day’s worth of content, yet alone an entire year.

I like to encourage building an entire year’s plan because that allows a budget and plan to be set for not only article production, but photos and videos as well. Now don’t get me wrong. Brands still need to work in the moment of current events and have their content reflect that, but certainly themed topics can be planned for one year going forward.

Before I give you an execution methodology for building a brand content calendar, I want to first share with you a couple of reinforcing facts with regards to why content marketing is so important … It is not hype. I read an article (complete with a great infographic) this week titled, “Why Our Brains Crave Storytelling in Marketing,” and there were two facts that solidify why content is such a vital part of brand marketing. First, 92% of consumers want brands to make ads that feel like stories. Why not just give the audience stories that reinforce the intersection of brand and audience value. The second was that the brain processes images 60 times faster than words. Need any additional motivation for the need to produce pictures and videos?

So let’s get to the helpful part now … How to plan your content calendar. As always, all marketing strategy should start with a complete understanding of your target audience…. What are their wants, needs, interests? What are their digital behaviors. If you do not have access to specific research to gain this information, start Googling and you will find the definitions required. From this information, you want to determine content themes your audience is looking to be covered and social channels where they are active with brands. Consider about 6-10 themes and about 4-8 social channels.

You need to be customer-centric and the first step is always about understanding content that will resonate with them. But in the next step, you need to consider your brand, what you sell, what the value proposition is for customers, and your overall position. Use this information to sharpen your content themes, but make sure you are still planning to deliver content your audience is looking for, not corporate communication.

The last step in refining your content themes is to do some due diligence on your competition. Look at their site, blog, and social channels. Understand what content resonates strongest with their audience. Look at posts and determine what types yielded the most audience engagement.

Once you have your content themes narrowed down, determine the cadence for each topic. How many articles will you produce, photos taken, and videos to be made. When considering content cadence, remember visuals work best. Think about your audience’s attention span. You can likely keep them interested with a number of photos per week, a video a week, and an article or two. Think about which theme topics lend themselves best to article, picture and/or video. Consider ways to generate UGC (user generated content) for some of your content.

I like to take the information I described and create two spreadsheets to determine a brand content calendar. The first spreadsheet lists each theme, the cadence for production, and channels where the content will be seen, as shown in the diagram below.

Content Calendar 1

Use all channels as appropriate for each content piece. Notice that in some cases, the actual content will not be posted on a channel, but rather the social channel is used to reference the content piece and provide a reference link. This is often done with blog articles and referencing them on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter.

Once you have built out the Theme/Cadence/Channel Content Chart, add spreadsheet tabs for each channel determined to use. On each channel tab, build a one-year calendar. Next, go back to the Theme/Cadence/Channel Content Chart and copy a theme, look at the cadence specified, and paste that theme on the social channel chart per cadence specified. Do this for all themes and all social channels as shown below.

Content Calendar 2

Now you have a plan in place for content production. Not that you need to explicitly follow this calendar, but it gives plan activities for each week, each month. It allows you to pre-work content production. When executing, consider ad hoc changes driven by cultural changes, news, and brand industry specific events.

Don’t just wing your content production and posts. Your content production should be run much closer to the mentality of a media production company. When done this way, you will see a much greater audience following and engagement. Tell your audience great stories.

Make it Happen,
Social Steve

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4 Investment Musts for Social Media Success

As I talk to many new and potential clients I am constantly reminded that most companies do not know what it takes to be successful using social media. I think we are finally at the point where most believe they need to incorporate social into their business, but it feels likes the early 90s once again. In the 90s, most companies (and investors) knew that they needed to get on the Internet bandwagon but had little idea how to make it work for their business. Jump forward to 2014. Most companies know that they need to leverage digital and mobile technologies to increase their social capabilities with their target audience, but few know exactly how to invest.

Do we still think social media is free?

Social Media Investments

As I thought about the content for this article this week, I came across a headline “Marketers Lack Social Budgets, But Investments Growing In 2014.”

According to a Forrester study, “Some 28% of marketers surveyed by Forrester admit not allocating a budget to social in 2013, and an additional 55% allocated a mere 1% to 10% of their total budget, followed by 28% who invest zero, and 11% who allocate between 11% to 20%.” Empirical data supporting my experiences.

Before I get to the 4 musts, let me just say leaving any of them out destroys the possibility for success. Look at each of them as a single base hit in baseball. If you do three of them (or have three singles) and not the produce the fourth, you leave three runners on base and do not score. All four investments produce a winning run – don’t fall short.

1) People – Probably the most important aspect of a successful social effort at a company is having the right social leader and supporting cast. With regards to a social leader, companies must invest in an experienced hybrid digital and traditional marketer. Far too many organizations put leadership in the hands of a young digital millennial that has no experience driving business objectives, or in an experienced marketer that has not kept up with emerging new media. As I wrote a while back, “When Looking for Your Company’s Social Media Marketing Leader, Consider …” a dual skill set and experience is a must. Once the leader is in place, you then determine other support staff required to meet needs and synergy.

2) Content – Brands must invest in the production of great content. Content should include articles, photos, and videos. If you want your brand to stand out and be shared, stellar content is your must valuable asset. Brands need to think like publishers and producers. Great content pulls your audience to your brand’s digital assets. As I have stated before, “Content Marketing – Social Marketing – You Can’t Have One Without the Other.”

3) Tools – One of the biggest challenges is scaling social. Social requires human intervention. While we look for human interaction, it is presumptuous to think that companies can engage with every member of their target audience. Marketing automation should not be used for social engagement, but I am bullish on using technology to assist in social execution. There are an abundance of great social tools to help companies with their social programs. I suggest staying on top of new technologies, as the social tool space is making great advances. But for starters, you need to invest in three types of social tools – a) social publishing which helps you plan content calendars, manages content distribution on your social channels, and provides analytics with regards to post click through, reach, engagement, and shares; b) social monitoring and listening tool that allow you to monitor brand and category mentions; and c) influencer tool that allows you to determine top influencers in your brand space to prioritize for engagement.

4) Integration – Social cannot be in a silo. Every marketing effort and every business initiative needs to have a social component. As you develop business initiatives, the social leader needs to be involved to determine how each element can be socialized to promote brand value and motivate sharing and advocacy. Social needs to go across all business strategies.

I have outlined the four investment musts for social media success. Now the question for you … are you ready to invest in all needed social elements to drive winning results or are you just dabbling in social because you feel everyone else is? Success demands commitment and investment.

Make It Happen,
Social Steve

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Top 7 Reasons Why Brands Fail at Social Media

“Well, the results are in. Social is doing a pathetic job of turning readers into customers. After all the hype has settled…after all the stock clamoring has died down, the truth is staring us in the face: People don’t want to be customers on social media.” Such was the opening paragraph on Entrepreneur.com’s post, “Here’s the Big Problem With Chasing Customers on Social Media.”

success or failureHow many times do you read articles that state something similar? What really gets me is that so many brands continue to approach social media incorrectly and then reports indicate social media failures as opposed to companies’ failure on social media.
So as a first step, I strongly suggest we all get social media right before we start assessing the success of companies’ social efforts. And here are the top 7 points of failure for brand social screw-ups.

1) The wrong person leads social efforts – “66% of CMOs surveyed said their companies are unprepared to handle social media, where the ‘rate of change seems faster than many can cope with.’” There are two types of people responsible for social efforts at a company. a) A young digital millennial that does not have experience driving company KPI (key performance indicators) results, and b) chief strategy/marketing officers that do not understand nor participate in social platforms. This presents a problem where you either have someone that understands social media user behavior or someone that has experience delivering business results … but not both qualities at the same time. What is needed is a hybrid of both and there are few that can bridge both worlds.

2) Going straight to tactics before having a strategy and integrated plan – how many social efforts start with an objective of building a Facebook and Twitter presence? Far too many. A while ago I wrote an article “Where You Start in Social Media Strategy Defines Where You End Up.” It highlights the problem of thinking tactics before strategy. Start by addressing integration of social efforts in overall business strategy. Then build your social strategy followed by a plan, which includes tactics.

3) Measuring the wrong thing – today, most social reporting is done by indicating “reach” and “engagement.” Yes these are important factors. But how many executives can relate reach and engagement to their KPIs? The typical response from an executive is likely to be, “Yeah, but does that increase my sales?” And at the same time, I have often stated that social is poor at direct sales. So what you really need to measure are those areas that tee up sales. Think of the sales marketing funnel where awareness, consideration, and post sales loyalty and advocacy parameters are important functions of sales. For more information, see “Know What Successful Social Media Looks Like.”

4) Selling instead of being a valued source – users are immediately turned off by brands that use social presence to sell product. Social should be used to develop long-term relationships and build a reputation as a valued source of information and engagement. This approach will create sustainable loyalty and advocacy. The result is long-term sales, but ironically done so by avoiding a sell mentality.

5) The content is not exceptional – I remember making this point to a boss of mine and he asked, “Does the content really need to be stellar?” Case in point – are you ever wowed by mediocre content? Would you ever share so-so content? There is so much noise in the digital space and you really need to standout. Think like a publisher or a producer who is only successful when they deliver killer content.

6) Talking and not listening – the strongest relationships start by knowing your audience. And the best way to get to know your audience is to listen to them. I love the line – “We have two ears and one mouth so we should listen twice as much as we talk.” As far back as 2009, I raised the issue of a lack of social listening, and the problem is still pervasive.

7) Lack of a social business culture – social success does not come from one person or one group. Ultimate social success will come when sharing, engaging, and commitment to the brand audience comes from every part of the company. I expect to see “social business” be an evolutionary process within companies. This will not just happen overnight and progressing to this culture requires executive leadership.

So as step one, I urge everyone to take their social media efforts seriously and not just wing it. Do the right thing. Then, when we can get enough companies and brands actually delivering a sensible and meaningful social media approach that is compelling to their target audience, let’s evaluate success/failure. Are you ready to…

…Make It Happen?
Social Steve

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