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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Does Experimentation Belong in Social Media Marketing?

It is really not a question of if experimentation belongs in social media marketing, but rather a question of where experimentation belongs in social media marketing.

social experiment

As I have stated many times, social channels are a very busy place for brands to be heard and rise above the noise. Just about every brand now has a social presence. So the question becomes, if everyone is doing it, how do you make sure your brand is seen, heard, and stands out. “Me-too-ers” will never be successful due to the abundance of brands vying for audience attention on social channels. Thus, innovative experimentation is required. But do not just throw things out there in a wild adventure of experimentation. There are some steps you should take to create some boundaries for experimentation. Let’s review the fundamental steps to deliver successful social implementations.

Social success really comes down to the intersection of two factors. First and foremost, you need a complete understanding of the target audience you want to reach. This understanding is a combination of a) a set definition of the target audience demographics, b) deep insights to the audiences’ behaviors and usage patterns in digital, and c) constant listening to the targets to gain a timely perspective of what is relevant in their daily lives. Social success starts with a customer centric mentality.

The next step in developing a successful social implementation is capturing the brand position, value proposition, and communication tone. Re-look at the marketing definitions of your brand.

Once you have the target audience and brand persona formally documented, look at the intersection of what the audience is looking for, and what your brand wants to communicate. This defines content memes for your social brand. Make sure you stay customer-centric. Too many brands push their agenda. If you want to be successful capturing awareness and building advocates in social media, you must be sensitive to your audience motivations as opposed to pushing corporate agenda.

Now that you have the basis for your social strategy, plan, and implementation, you should experiment with clear differentiated content and engagement approaches in social media. Doing the pre-work prescribed above provides calculated boundaries for experimentation.

I started this article by asking if experimentation belongs in social media marketing. Let me say that the answer is a resounding yes. You will never stand out in a crowed space unless you are seen as innovative and different. I have worked with many brands (big and small). When a client asks me for a business case supporting a recommended strategy and plan, categorically I know the client will never accomplish success in social. This request identifies a me-too-er that is implementing social because everyone else is doing it as opposed to truly focusing on winning over an audience. The most successful social implementations were not driven by previous business cases. They were innovative by first understanding their audience, and then doing something not previously done. Case in points – Old Spice, Dove, Red Bull, and Skittles. All of these brands experiment and buck the norm to produce compelling approaches that captivate large audiences and receive positive responses.

So the bottom line is that you must experiment in social media marketing. Have an umbrella methodology as described in this article to take calculated risk. Be innovative and do something not done before. Stand out. Measure results and tweak implementations based upon audience results. Experiment. Be different. Stand out.

Make It Happen,
Social Steve

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Understanding the Place for Always On Social Media and Promotional Social Media

Does your company have a set, defined social marketing strategy? One that addresses growth or promotional times AND also includes a plan for keeping users engaged over the long haul. You see, driving significant likes and followers is completely meaningless unless those people you have gotten to like and follow you have actually stayed engaged with your social property and get your brand’s posts. If you keep up on Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm you will know that is it getting more and more difficult to get your brand post to show up on users’ newsfeed. That is unless you are willing to pay for a promoted tweet. And is it really appropriate to pay for a social engagement? As a brand sometimes yes, but definitely not as the norm.

Social Marketing Success

With this in mind, let’s breakdown social marketing to two sub categories – always on social and promotional social.

Your social strategy should start with a definition of continuous always on listening and monitoring, content production, distribution of content, and engagement. Who is your target audience? What do you want to convey to them and discuss with them that is most compelling to keep them engaged? How will you make sure that you get information to them on a daily bases (or most of the time)? What is your messaging and content strategy? It is important to have a plan of keeping your audience connected after they have opted in to your social channel.

Let’s review some terminology. For Facebook, they are moving away from the “People Talking About This” parameter and moving to “People Engaged.” People Engaged (found in the People tab for Facebook page administrators), is the number of unique people who’ve clicked, liked, commented on, or shared your posts in the past 28 days. “Other Page Activity” (in the Visits tab), includes Page mentions, check-ins and posts by other people on your Page. “Engagement Rate” is the percentage of people who saw a post that liked, shared, clicked or commented on it.

These are the numbers that really matter. Not the number of likes for a brand page. Yes, you need a decent amount of likes for the important evaluation parameters to shine. But “likes” is just a starting point. If you have a strategy for keeping your audience compelled and interested, you will see strong engagement numbers. You will also see nice continuous incremental growth of followers.

Thus, social promotion is the start of execution for social marketing. Not the start of social strategy. Your execution has to be well planned and executed after you do a social promotion.

So promotional social does come with some cost. Usually, a sweepstakes, giveaway, significant discount, or donation to a worthy cause (as perceived by your audience) is used as a promotion to have a high impact lift a brand’s social following. Paid media is also required to help promote the program. Social promotion is best used when the brand determines a significant event is about to happen. For example, a product launch, new packaging, seasonal drive period, etc. Social promotion should be used as an extension of an overall marketing promotion.

Social promotion is likely to drive some sort of spike in your followers. This will definitely make executives happy. But you should not be content with these results. Your success should be significant fan growth followed by continuous high levels of people engaged and engagement rate. You should be looking for quantifiable success of “always on social” following social promotion. Not just success from promotional social. In the words of a very successful media tycoon, “win big or go home.”

Make It Happen,
Social Steve

Footnote – I know many of you reading this article, a) get it, and b) are frustrated that others in your company do not. It has been hard for you to get your point across and find the right words to explain. Suggestion … please share this article … maybe it will help to get your concerns across from an objective source.

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Digital Technologies and User Behavior Change What it Means to Be a Brand

If you look on Wikipedia for the definition of a brand, you find that it is the “name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s product distinct from those of other sellers.” But as a marketer, I think it is much more important to think of what it means to be a brand in terms of your target audience.

Thus, I define a brand as a promise made from a company to its target audience with regards to the product(s) it sells. A brand is defined by characteristics such as quality, features, availability, and overall user experience. When done right, every single aspect of the brand definition is lived by and delivered by every employee of the company.

brand and digital

But a funny thing happened along the way. Knowledgeable marketers started using poetic justice of communication and claims of the product/service sold by the company and stretched the truth. All this in an effort to increase sales. In some cases, this resulted in members of the target audience reacting and purchasing the brand. If shoppers were unhappy, they would stop buying the product, and maybe even tell a friend. The user did not believe “the promise” and reacted. As this plight has continued throughout marketing and advertising of brands, it has spawned an overall skeptical outlook by people with regards to company claims and advertisement belief. This cynical perception did not happen overnight. It took a good 50 years or so of “Mad Men” to drive this behavior.

Fast forward to today’s world. How do people react when they feel they have been misled by product claims? How do they react when they have a bad user experience? More and more users are sharing their product experiences. Whether it is sharing with their entire network on a platform like Facebook or broadcasting it to the world on a platform like Twitter.

The promise is still part of being a brand, but it is exponentially more important today.

So now that you understand the change, let me describe for you the gigantic immense problem this creates. The stretching of the truth that companies get caught in is a big problem, but it really is not the biggest problem. The key problem today is that companies have lost their ability to build brand AND engage appropriately in the digital world, simultaneously. Too many companies treat branding as one activity and digital/social marketing as a separate implementation. Company executives need to take responsibility of this detrimental scenario.

How many companies have a responsible leader in place with experience, business knowledge, and creativity to build and retain a brand COUPLED WITH experience, business knowledge, and creativity to drive successful digital marketing? The answer to this question is very few. And even worse, the fact that brand marketing and digital marketing are siloed exacerbates the problem.

The debacle up from this problem shows its ugly face daily. There are numerous companies that do not reinforce brand positioning through their digital implementations. The people running the digital channels are most often blind to what it means to carry out a brand voice and imaginary through social engagement. Many companies do not have a digital engagement strategy that centers on upholding the brand persona.

And adding to the challenge is the fact that brand position is equally in the hands of the audience as well as the company’s hands. The audience has a voice that is stronger and moves faster than ever before. You need to have a strategy and a plan that addresses how to leverage this audience rather than ignoring their voice and power that is carried in the digital world.

I think it is imperative to understand how the world of a brand has changed due to the technology changes and more importantly, human behavior. Every company needs a leader that has the skill set to address the change. Through my experience, I have worked with companies that do not want to address the change head on. Working the corporate environment and being a positive change agent has become a slippery slope. I would not go so far as to call the two a dichotomy, but together they are definitely challenging.

It takes bold, strong, experienced leaders to navigate a company due to the real and significant changes that technology and user behavior have created. The outcome of these changes cannot continue to be ignored or swept away. Whether it is fear, lack of skill set, or don’t rock the boat corporate mentality, it is no longer acceptable to keep brand marketing and digital marketing siloed. The future of your business depends upon it.

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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Digital Ignites the Human Economy – Brands Must Act

More and more people have displayed a strong disdain for corporate acts done with the sole interest of revenue and profitability. Whether it is unjust labor acts, environmental flaws, or unacceptable political positions, individuals are holding companies accountable for their operations. People want to stand by a company that shows concern for issues beyond its financial well being.

On the flipside, many consumers are seeking information and supporting companies that show strong support for communities, needy groups, and the earth preservation.

Human Economy

While I am not the first to use the term human economy, I will define it as a business condition where individuals are loyal to brands that demonstrate commitment to causes of interest and importance to them. Conversely the individuals may propagate and disseminate information on brands that take inappropriate actions against people and causes that they support.

Digital technologies have literally changed our society. We now seek and have access to an abundance of information that includes corporate activities and behavior of business leaders. It is virtually impossible to hide as more and more companies become (willingly or unwillingly) transparent.

I find it ironic that while many blame social media for the degradation of human communication and relationship building, that the exact opposite is prevalent for brand-audience relationships. People want and look for a deeper connection with the brands they purchase. They take the stand that if they are going to give companies their money and support, they want to know the brand is worthy of their contributions. The degree of (positive and negative) emotional bonding has increased as a result of digital and social media.

Shrewd companies recognize this cultural change and have incorporated relevant programs to their corporate or marketing agenda. Take the Dove “beauty from within” campaign. Think of Paul Newman’s corporate philanthropic commitment and activities. Whether these are true heart felt endeavors or not really does not matter, but rather the perception of the audience is what matters.

And now that digital and social use is the norm, corporations would be wise to demonstrate corporate social responsibility and/or adopt a social movement and utilize a social strategy to proliferate information and gain recognition.

While I would like to think that all on earth look beyond their own well-being and show a strong regard for all inhabitants of the earth, I am not quite so naive to believe this is the case. But independent of your personal convictions or not, I will tell you that corporate development of social cause is a business imperative. Our world has moved to the human economy. The people of the world are demanding more from corporate leaders. If businesses are to attract a target audience that cares way beyond corporate profits, business leaders need to change their image. And while companies work to market the new image, they need to consider how digital and social platforms will be used to listen, engage, communicate, and unleash their audience to share the brand in a most positive light.

I remember the early days of social media where most corporations were afraid to use social media because they were afraid what people would say. Well we are well past that day. Business leaders recognize that people can say what ever they want independent of the companies’ participation or not in social media. Executives must recognize the power of the human economy and adapt appropriately. Even if it is for their own selfish reason.

Make It Happen,
Social Steve

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3 Steps to Fix Marketing Now

97% of marketing endeavors do nothing to move their audience. OK, that is not from a study. It is my own perspective. But consider the abundance of articles you see day in and day out noting marketing’s malignant state. For example …

Joe Marchese compares the state of advertising to the subprime debacle in 2008

• Joseph Jaffe hints to “The End of Advertising.”

90% of marketers are not trained in marketing performance, ROI

CMOs are missing the boat on what it means to be a modern CMO

• “While 74% of global businesses have a digital strategy, only 33% believe it’s the right strategy, and beyond that, only 21% – or less than one-fourth – believe they have the right people setting the strategy.”

needed marketing changeI could go on and on with the list above, but hopefully you have a bad enough taste in your mouth already. It would be great to talk about marketing innovation, but marketing innovation is an oxymoron. I’ll give you an example. I am an advisor to a new 1:1 brand/user content distribution company. We are a startup. How many CMOs do you think want a case study before proceeding? First off, every company that delivers case study has some spin to it. (If you want to gain some deeper insights into the flaws of case studies read what @augieray has to say about them.) And secondarily, don’t true innovators do something different rather than being me-too-ers.

According to Wikipedia, “Innovation is the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, in-articulated needs, or existing market needs.” And that is exactingly what marketing needs. A better solution to meet the new changing requirements dictated by audience behavior. Audience behavior that is defined by digital, mobile, social, and the ability to validate, refute, or ignore brand advertising and communication. Marketing has done an extremely poor job at keeping up with their audience’s behaviors and usage patterns.

So what are you going to do to fix this? I have three recommendations:

1) Completely change your marketing mentality from being a sales-tangent to focusing on customer relationship building. Marketing needs to lead relationship building and demonstrate brand worthiness in the form of delivering continued value and optimization of the entire user experience. If you build a strong relationship with your customers, they will be loyal buyers and advocates. If you merely concentrate on a sale you open the door for another brand to win over a fickle customer. This change of mentality will actually yield greater success of your sales objective in the long run. Don’t be so short sighted.

2) The CMO must change or the CMO needs to be changed. An overwhelming number of top marketing executives are not active on digital, mobile, and social channels that their audience engages on. How can the emperor understand the common people if he/she does not participate where the audience does and engage with them? How can anyone put together a digital strategy that yields success if they are not a regular user in digital? Far too many CMOs (or Chief Strategy Officers) do not have digital skill sets. Far too many CMOs/CSOs do not understand user digital behavior.

3) Move to a zero-based marketing budget. Just throw out everything you’ve done in the previous year unless you are certain that it has returned positive measureable results. If we agree that marketing needs a major facelift, how can all marketing line items you do year in and year out be correct. Start clean. Your audience behavior has changed so much, it warrants a complete revamp.

I know I have brought up a number of contentious recommendations. Change is tough. No one really likes change. But as the audience behavior has dramatically morphed over the past number of years, too many marketing executives have stayed stagnant. Too many believe they can just hand digital marketing over to a young digitally sharp user and think they have things covered. Well results say this is far from true. So while company marketing leaders’ skill sets have not changed much over the years, a significant void has emerged. And it is going to take some strong willed people to make changes that are required.

Are you ready to step up to what is truly required?

Make It Happen,
Social Steve

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