3 Ways to Get Smart on Content Marketing

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by information overload?  Content is the new black, but the sheer volume can sometimes make it difficult to keep up.  Because there are only so many hours in a day to read all the tweets and posts swirling around in cyberspace, here are three great ways to stay focused:

1.     Scan the Socialscape. The beauty of the web is that you can access great people you may have never otherwise heard of.  The bane of the web is that there are so many of them. Concentrate your time on a handful of experts who continuously deliver great ideas and unique perspective. Here’s a short list of people who add value to our day:

  • @charliecurve Hello Hello, it’s Charlie Wollborg.  He’ll not only share great tips on social media and self-branding, but he also serves up a healthy dose of motivation daily.  A self-proclaimed troublemaker and renowned idea generator, Charlie is also a driving force behind Detroit’s social media scene.
  • @unmarketing Scott Stratten is pretty much awesome covered in awesome sauce. He’s a nationally recognized author/speaker who is known for his sometimes humorous, yet always engaging style.  If you haven’t yet read it, Scott’s book Unmarketing is a how-to guide on integrating social media into your marketing plan.
  • @marketingprofs Ann Handley is the Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs, an info-packed site that consistently delivers great insight, downloads and well, content.  Ann recently launched Content Rules with co-author @cc_chapman – a must read for anyone responsible for producing content.
  • @juntajoe Joe Pulizzi is a content marketing evangelist who founded Junta 42 and the Content Marketing Institute – both valuable resources for all things content.  In his spare time, he also writes one of the subject’s most popular blogs, just authored Get Content Get Customers and speaks worldwide on the subject.  Seriously, you can find just about any content you’re looking for in Joe’s vast resources.
  • @chrisbrogan Chris Brogan is probably more well known for his personal brand than his successful company Human Business Works.  He offers great insight on a variety of topics: business, marketing and the social web.  But more importantly, Chris sheds a bright light on the people side of business and how you can use social channels to build business relationships.

2. Virtual Conferences. Can’t attend every conference?  No problem.  Many are streamed live online or you can follow the event discussion and comments on Twitter by its hashtag.  Some of our favorites include:

  • @futuremidwest is now in its third successful year and it’s the region’s largest digital business conference.   You can expect to learn not only about upcoming trends at FutureMidwest, but how to successfully put them into practice.
  • @tedx events are independent offshoots of TED, a conference that brings together people in technology, entertainment and design.   TED’s mission is to create “ideas worth spreading” and TEDx lives up to that mantra on a local level.  The format is a series of short talks by pretty brilliant folks; you can find many of them on YouTube or the TED website.
  • @sxsw SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST is the annual spring mecca for music, film and interactive devotees in Austin.  This year’s show offered a ton of both professional and social activity on Twitter.  Anyone worth following will be at this conference so look for some great ideas to surface afterward.  Or you can just read SXSWORLD, a great digital publication on their website.

3. Vendors. Social channels offer vendors a new way to ply their wares and many are doing it by spreading their knowledge.  Offering whitepapers, e-books, webinars and newsletters will not only showcase a company’s smarts, but also helps them develop a pipeline of qualified prospects.  Even if you are not currently in the market for their services, you will know who to turn to when you are.  A couple companies we’ve learned from include:

  • @hubspot is a marketing resource that happens to offer a software platform that will help optimize your content.  On their website, you’ll find whitepapers, research, webinars and even free tools to help you evaluate your inbound marketing.  Check out HubSpot’s Website Grader to see how your site measures up.
  • @zmags is one of the leading providers of rich media marketing software.  Their site has insightful webinars, research and whitepapers on how to effectively deliver online and mobile content – Read On with zmags!

What about you?  Do you follow any of these leaders?  Feel free to share who you follow to get and stay smart on content marketing.

Bridging the Digital Divide

While social media has presented marketers with dozens of options to connect with customers, how well are they connecting inside their organization? Some companies have dedicated resources (either internally or externally) that specialize in all things social; others add it onto an existing job description – either in marketing or media.  The reality is social/digital marketing is a cross-functional discipline and finding any one person or department who can pull it together effectively can be a difficult task.  Consider these points:

  • Legal. Creating a social media policy helps establish boundaries for tweeting and posting that help, not hurt your company.  The attorneys also come in handy for reviewing a client’s social policy, which may differ from your own.   You can find some good guidelines from Social Media Explorer.
  • HR. While legal sets the policy, HR needs to enforce it.  That requires consistent monitoring of all social channels and dealing quickly with any situations that arise.  And if there is a disgruntled employee spreading bad vibes, you need to step in quickly and find out why.
  • Media. Social can help amplify existing media plans in broadcast and print.  Careful planning to integrate online and offline activity will boost results much more quickly than work done in silos.  Listen to some great insight from Scott Monty, Ford’s Social Media Director, at BlogWorld 2010.
  • Marketing. This is perhaps the most important area that can benefit from building a digital bridge.  Often, those well versed in social media do not have a marketing background.  Conversely, many senior level marketers may not be in their comfort zone with the ever-changing digital world.  How can your company adapt? By building internal partnerships that combine the best of both social and marketing.

By pairing a social media expert with an experienced marketer, both can benefit in a number of ways:

  • Knowledge Exchange. Both parties need to recognize that they can learn from each other.  A healthy respect for what each person brings to the table is essential. So check the egos and listen so you can learn.
  • Best Practices. In both disciplines, there is some key learning in each that needs to be shared, i.e. timelines, language, tone.  These need to be tweaked where necessary to form new, hybrid guidelines.  This is a test and learn proposition, so be patient as you are ramping up.
  • Improved Product. Any work that is created with both social and marketing objectives in place is going to spur engagement vs. wasted impressions.  And a customer who is engaged will feel valued, love you longer and tell more friends about you.

One thing that holds companies back from this partnership opportunity is that the participants may work in different departments.  But don’t let this stop you – it’s not that daunting if you think it through first:

  • You’ll need to decide whom each person will ultimately report to.  Ideally, this is someone with big picture thinking who can appreciate the end goal and customer benefit.
  • Tweak job descriptions to set expectations before you get started. It’s also important to clearly delegate responsibilities to avoid any miscommunications.
  • Compensate on results so that each party has a vested interest in working together.  It will break down internal barriers much more quickly.

So start building bridges and break down the silos inside your company.  Your customers will be glad you did.

Content Treasure Hunt

Got content?  You sure do…and maybe much more than you think.  Content is any relevant information your target audience finds valuable.  So whether you are B2B or B2C, content already exists in a number of places; you just need to know where to look.

  • Mission Statement / Core Values: Do you think your goals and values are worth sharing?  Many clients and prospects would love to get a better sense of your company’s internal compass.  Sort of like online company dating, it gives them a chance to know what you’re really like before they contact you.
  • Annual Reports: Dry, dry, dry…we know.  But there could be some great stats in there worth sharing.  Look at last year’s accomplishments (number of new employees or locations) that can demonstrate your growth and stability; or even the CEO’s intro letter that gives some insight into future company plans.  Reread this important document to see what data you can glean and spin into a social sound bite.
  • Competitive Comparisons: Talk about the competition??  Yep, you should.  You’re selling your points of difference to prospects every day.  Why not put it out there to a much bigger audience?  A well-crafted infographic or chart can effectively point out your competitor(s) weaknesses and play up your strengths.
  • Video / Commercials: Nothing says viral like video – it’s one of the most often shared pieces of content.  And brand loyalists remember your commercials, you know – the ones with the catchy jingle or clever spokesperson?  Dig them up, upload to YouTube then link through Twitter and Facebook.
  • New Product Launches: Psst…do you want to know a secret?  Sure you do – and so do your brand fans.  Let them in on upcoming news via a special email sign-up and these hand-raisers will love you even more.
  • Brand Love Letters: Speaking of brand fans, have you received comments or letters from your most ardent supporters?  Share these on Facebook or your website to show the world just how lovable you really are.
  • Guest Columnists: Do you work with industry experts or freelancers who can give a different perspective on your industry?  A fresh approach is worth sharing and it could be more potential business for both of you.
  • Employee Newsletters: Do your associates have a story to tell?  Chances are they do.  Whether it is supporting a cause or a suggestion that made the company more efficient or productive, you should share it.  Again, it gives some insight into your people and culture.  And customers like to do business with people they know and trust – it’s all about relationships.
  • Events / Sponsorships: You may already share the highlights about your sponsorship on your website.  But how about a journal from the road giving daily updates?  Make a fan page on Facebook or post on Twitter for real-time sharing.  You can also create a QR code that gives “secret” updates – an exclusive video or other insider news; distribute at events or through existing media channels.
  • Retail / Vendor Partnerships: Don’t just announce it…give more insight into why the partnership was formed and what it means for customers and prospects.  Interviews with key personnel, co-created content or shared best practices are all great ways to differentiate.
  • Product Reviews: If the feedback on your product is great, share the news.  And even if it isn’t, addressing upcoming enhancements will go far to keep customers on board until you do.  It’s important that they know you hear them and appreciate their comments.
  • Press Releases: Social is PR and you should absolutely be featuring these releases in your social as well as traditional channels.  You can’t reach the biggest audience if you are doing only one or the other.
  • Traditional Media: Have you created advertorials or infomercials that can be uploaded to your website?  You might need to freshen it up first to make it relevant, then post on Twitter and link back to it.

Is Content the New Media?

Not so long ago, marketing managers worked with their advertising departments or agencies to place media on the most popular channels for their target demographic.  Whether it was adult contemporary radio or the latest fashion magazine, consumers were fairly predictable in their media habits.  You just needed to know who had the largest audience of 25-54 year old women.  Then follow it up with some arm wrestling on price and you were done.

Technology changed that paradigm, even flipped it upside down.  No longer can assumptions be made about where and when a consumer will receive your message.  In fact, they may choose to not receive it at all.  In what seems like a nanosecond, consumers were opting in or out, downloading and sharing video, and influencing their social circle about their latest favorite product or store experience.  The conversation they were always having without you is now happening right in front of you.

How can you participate in this conversation?  You need to be relevant, you need to be timely, and you need to provide value.  And above all, be respectful: of their time (which you are consuming) and their point of view (which you may or may not agree with).  Listen, and then respond.  They need to know you are engaged; that you understand.  You might make a mistake, but that’s OK.  They’ll forgive you if you acknowledge it and move on (ask the American Red Cross: http://bit.ly/gDaodZ).  Just be there when they need you – with content that they want to use and share.

This means your media is now created by you.  You will become a publisher – of meaningful content that reaches a smaller, yet more qualified group of customers.  This is the new, consumer-driven media economy.  Do you have the right content marketing plan in place to participate?