Weaving Influencers into a Content Strategy

By definition, content marketing means working with owned media. Media you own (or largely control) can include properties such as a company website, microsites, blogs, and social media platforms. The idea is you build it and hope that they will come.

Often, they (i.e., a target audience) will come, enticed by compelling, well-crafted, search-optimized, useful, funny, clever, delightful content. And sometimes, all best efforts to the contrary, more reach and more subject matter authority are required to meaningfully connect the message to the desired audience.

This is where an influencer strategy often comes in for many content marketers. Influencers are domain knowledge experts in a field. That field could be enterprise software, beekeeping, baking, or national defense. No matter the topic, the influences are the go-to subject matter experts. Their writings, videos, tweets, and/or blog posts enjoy broad followings with what’s likely your target audience: the people who follow that given topic.

Influencers can be leveraged in a wide variety of ways. They can be interviewed for your own owned media (e.g., an e-book or a blog post). They can be briefed on company news in the hope that they will share it with their networks, which is good old-fashioned PR, updated for a world in which journalists no longer have a corner on the media influence market.

Influencers can also be commissioned to create and share content on a relevant topic with their followers, providing ethical guidelines and disclosure protocols are followed. A large technology company recently commissioned a dozen technology influencers to create a total of 120 pieces of content (mostly blog posts) which enjoyed, in aggregate, over a million views. In B2B, that’s paid media reach for an earned media investment — not too shabby.

The basic steps for connecting with and working with influencers are fairly simple, yet frequently overlooked by harried, deadline-driven marketers.

This checklist should help.

Identify the influencers
Media, analysts, researchers, and academics are all obvious choices. So are the people active on social media with the biggest and most passionate followings on the topic in question. They post frequently and reliably on the topic, and their messages are amplified by readers and followers. Find influencers via search, hashtag research, or through social listening software. Influencers can also be located the old-fashioned way: who’s quoted in articles, cited in research? Those are the names to get.

Weave an introduction into the initial contact
Genuine influencers are frequently courted and receive a great many “asks.” Don’t assume influencers you reach out to know your company/product/strategy. Provide background information, with an offer of more. They’ll want to know who they’re dealing with. Communication is a two-way street.

Craft narrow, highly specific requests
Influencers are often asked for quotes, or to respond to interview questions via an initial contact email. Nothing wrong with that, but a response is more likely if that ask is laser targeted. Instead of requesting a quote about “content marketing,” go straight to the specifics. “What are three best practices for using curation in content marketing?” or “What’s the difference between content marketing and content strategy?” Providing direction is more likely to elicit not only a response, but a good response.

Deadlines matter
Always, always, always provide a deadline for response. If there isn’t one, make it up. There’s a world of difference — and responsiveness — between asking someone to do something whenever, and requesting that they do it by close of business on Thursday.

Ask for everything upfront
Need the influencer’s headshot? Bio? These aren’t afterthoughts — they’re part of the content plan. Request all deliverables upfront. It’s polite, considerate, and saves everyone a lot of time and email traffic.

Be easy to work with
Really, this is the cardinal rule of everything stated above. Are you requesting a call with the influencer? Providing three or four available timeslots in the initial request makes their life much easier than throwing the ball into their court with a “When are you available?” So does providing options, e.g., offering to conduct an interview either by phone or by email — their choice.

Follow-up is essential
It’s not just what an influencer contributes, content-wise. Distribution and amplification are huge components of an influencer strategy. Ensure the influencer has access to all published artifacts (e.g., the interview, the e-book, the webinar link). Mentioning their contribution or participation on social media makes them more likely to reciprocate and broaden the reach of that tweet or post. Using their Twitter handle or favored hashtags also helps get the message to their following.

Working with influencers needn’t be difficult or complicated. It’s easier than it ever was not just to find the important voices in the field, but to easily connect with them, too. The rest is basic Golden Rule territory: do unto influencers as you would have them do unto you.

This post originally published on iMedia

My Path From Film Critic to Digital Media Analyst – An Interview

Pivot_RebecaLieb-01Todd Wheatland just published a very in-depth audio interview with me that he conducted for the Content Marketing Institute late last year.

It’s not like me to post an interview with myself on my blog, but this one’s unusual in that I open up quite a bit personally, and discuss my path from film critic to digital media analyst.

You can give it a listen here (since I can’t figure out how to embed it).

Facebook: The Paid/Organic Distinction

When Facebook announced last week that it will soon become more difficult for brands’ page posts to appear in the news feeds of their friends, fans, and followers, the outcry was predictable. This was the latest move, many brands asserted, in Facebook “forcing” them to buy ads to reach their rightful audiences.

After all, the thinking goes, news feed post appear only the in the feeds of people who hand-raised to follow the brands. So any incidence of Facebook filtering, editing, or otherwise controlling which posts are seen, and by extension, which are not, is pay-to-play statement.

On the one hand, that’s true, in part. Facebook is a business. Its monetization model is ad sales, and that’s the way it works. Of course it wants brands to buy ads.

But what Facebook also wants and needs even more than it needs ad revenues is users. Facebook researched user complaints that their news feeds were ringing too commercial and promotional. Upon probing deeper, the company learned users weren’t complaining about actual ads so much as they were complaining about the brands that they follow on the platform. Posts were too click-here-buy-now, and loaded with promotional calls to action.

So Facebook will now institute a system that requires actual humans to check the quality of brands’ news feed posts for overtly commercial, promotional content. If the human factor deems posts to be to promotional, they’ll plummet like stones in organic results.

Quality score. Organic feeds versus paid placement. If this vocabulary sounds familiar, it should. By checking feeds for quality and determining whether or not they appear prominently (or at all) in users’ feeds, Facebook has just taken a page from Google’s playbook. Google, as you’ll recall, applies this selfsame human evaluation technique not to organic search, but to ads. Actual human beings evaluate search ads based on a number of criteria such as copy, landing page, call-to-action, etc. The ads that Google deems higher in quality are positioned more prominently (i.e., higher) on the search results page.

And of course, Google famously has algorithms to determine the relevance and ranking of organic search results. In no small part, these criteria center around content that is well-crafted and well-written, relevant, useful, shared (i.e., linked to), and credible.

There’s something fascinating about Facebook doing for organic what Google is doing for ads, isn’t there?

There’s also a lesson being reinforced here, namely, there’s a difference between organic content and advertising copy. Between owned and earned media (content and social) and paid media (advertising).

Media are converging, but the medium also determines the message. It’s fallacious to blindly accuse Facebook of trying only to sell more ads because they are trying to up the quality of the news feed. The same accusation was (and continues to be) lobbed at Google when brands’ organic search results suffer: “They’re just trying to make us buy ads.”

Both Facebook and Google aren’t going to turn away your money. But the fundamental reason brands are prepared to pay money to advertise on both these very different platforms is because of the size and breath of the audiences they can deliver to advertisers; audiences they wouldn’t be able to build or maintain without a steady stream of content those audiences are eager to return to consume again and again.

The takeaway from Facebook’s adoption of a quality score (let’s just use Google’s term for it) is that brands must learn to distinguish between advertising content and content marketing content. The latter is never overtly commercial in nature. It’s pull marketing — the marketing of attraction, rather than push, the marketing of interruption. Content requires very different skill sets and strategies than does advertising.

Facebook’s decision in this arena doesn’t just do its users a service. Ultimately, it’s doing a favor for brands, too, by helping them to make this important distinction.

This post originally published on iMedia

The Role Content Plays In B2B Social Selling

Social selling has become a hot topic.

Organizations in every industry are working feverishly to leverage social platforms and social networks for a number of reasons such as to:

  • Promote their products and services
  • Find leads
  • Connect and bond with prospects
  • Provide information
  • Generally push sales through the purchase funnel

All noble goals. Yet, the majority of organizations hoping to leverage social sales leave content strategy out of the equation. A fatal mistake.

Without “content,” all you have left in social sales is “social,” i.e., a platform, a forum or a social network. Devoid of content, all these channels amount to empty containers.

Researching social selling and working with a large global brand on social selling has helped me develop a short list of seven basic social selling content factors that can benefit any B2B (and not a few B2C) organizations.

1. Align Content To The Sales Funnel

Content can address every stage in the sales cycle, from awareness and consideration through purchase (and even post-purchase).

Assign relevant content types to each stage of the cycle and leverage content to help bridge buyer pain points and address their decision-making criteria. This might encompass comparison guides, tools and calculators or case studies and case examples.

2. Empower Staff To Curate & Aggregate

Content curation and aggregation are processes that aid in leveraging extant content in a meaningful way that’s both on-brand and relevant to campaign goals.

This can be particularly valuable if sales staff are empowered to share content with their constituencies of prospects and leads, provided they add value to the content they are sharing, and have access both to appropriate content and the tools with which to share it.

3. Listen & Respond

Social listening is a terrific way to know what kind of content to create. (And, content creation is the biggest B2B content marketing obstacle, according to Content Marketing Institute research).

2014-10-27_11-25-10

Content can be crafted to address common questions, obstacles to conversion, issues and resolutions. It also provides opportunities to jump into conversations about the brand, product or product category.

4. Apply Metrics

And not just sales metrics! Content effectiveness can be measured through each stage of the customer journey and sales funnel.

Examples include decreased cost per lead, shortened sales cycles, increased traffic, engagement (but only if you define “engagement”), or the frequency of inbound inquiries or referrals (just to name a few).

5. Build Social Sales Content Into The Overall Content Strategy

Not all, but most organizations are committing “content marketing” without first having committed to content strategy. Though the Content Marketing Institute’s latest survey found that 83% of B2B marketers claim to have a content marketing strategy, only 35% have actually documented that strategy.

2014-10-27_11-43-13

A documented strategy is what must underpin all content activity. It’s comprised of a thorough content audit, playbooks, assigned roles and responsibilities, an organizational chart, as well as tool and agency/vendor partner selection. Content strategy answers the essential questions: “what are we doing, why and how?” Don’t ignore it!

6. Train

Most employees who “do” content do something else with the bulk of their time. It may be sales, PR, social media, general marketing or something else.

Take the time to train these content producers on their content marketing roles and responsibilities. They are, after all, publicly representing the company, products and brand.

Great content doesn’t just happen, especially not on a consistent basis. Ensure they understand the value and potential of content marketing in general, and social selling in particular.

7. Hire Accordingly

Content is slowly but surely becoming part of company culture as organizations mature and embrace content marketing. More advanced companies are already showing a readiness and willingness to embrace content skills (creation, distribution, listening and responsiveness) as part of all kinds of job descriptions across departments and functions.

As social selling grows in importance, sales staff with content chops will have the edge over their less content-centric colleagues.

B2B organizations that try out these basic social selling tips should discover many benefits once the effects of implementation begin to show.

This post originally published on MarketingLand

How Much Does Content Cost?

How much does content marketing cost?

Tough question, right? So let’s break the question down a bit to try to simplify it.

How much does content creation cost?

shutterstock_206842363-1920-content-marketing-man-points

There are still no easy answers, are there? Yet it’s a question marketers persist in asking, in much the same way people were asking back in the day, “How much does a website cost?” (Once, when my interrogator wouldn’t take “It depends” for an answer, in exasperation I countered with, “Well, how much does it cost to buy a house?”)

But even a website (or a house, for that matter) is much more easily quantifiable than content marketing when it comes to breaking down budgets and expenditures. It’s difficult to impossible to conduct credible research in this area due to a list of variables and mitigating factors longer than your arm.

Attempts At Quantifying Costs Aren’t All That Helpful

There’s research out there. The Content Marketing Institute, in its latest study (PDF) of content marketing budgets for small businesses, states, “On average, 30% of B2B budgets are allocated to content marketing.”

Helpful, kind of, but there’s no breakdown of that self-reported spend. What one business may be spending on a clear content marketing line item (outsourced writing or design talent, for example), another might attribute to event marketing, which has plenty of content marketing potential and traction, but is highly debatable as a line item in and of itself.

The Custom Content Council publishes research around budgets as well. Its research looks at how much its members are spending on “branded” content. This primarily translates into advertorial, which is assuming other meanings as well, e.g. native advertising, a form of converged media (content + advertising). Such nuances of meaning are barely beginning to be accepted as industry standard, so it’s unlikely they’re crystal clear to every individual survey respondent.

This isn’t to cast aspersions on anyone’s research, but to frame the discussion. Let’s consider some of the mitigating factors in the “how much does content cost” question.

Why It’s More Difficult Than One Might Think

• Salaries: The overwhelming majority of organizations don’t yet have dedicated content roles or staff, but instead source content from a wide variety of internal sources: marketing, product leads, customer service, senior leadership, etc. When considering content costs, are content contributors’ salaries broken out in terms of time spent, or the percentage of their time dedicated to content?

• Freelance Creation Fees:  Unlike staff only partially dedicated to content, freelance fees are a much clearer line item. But if images are commissioned for advertising, then used in content (or vice versa), where’s the budget attribution? What about those press releases that were outsourced? Is it communications or PR, or is it content ? Even when outsourced, the lines blur around content budgets – or lack of same.

• Agency BillingsIf you accept the definition of content marketing that it’s owned media and therefore precludes a media buy, you can deduct media spend from content marketing budgets straightway (Or can you? We’ll get into that below.). That leaves agency creative, which is subject to the same blurred lines as are freelance creation fees.

• Software/Hardware Are marketers including their investments in the tools of the trade in their content marketing budget breakdowns? If so, which ones? The ones around creation? Measurement? Syndication and distribution? Recent research I just published breaks down eight use case scenarios for content tools, yet I don’t know that any of these are included (or not) in content marketing budgets or costs (amortized or not).

• Paid and Earned Media If you build it, they may come. Then again, they may not. With so many marketers jumping on the content marketing bandwagon, more and more of them are finding it necessary to invest in paid (advertising ) and earned (social and PR) media to draw attention to their content efforts, at least at the beginning to foster awareness. Where do these costs fall in the budget: content, PR, social, advertising, or all or none of the above?

• Converged Media While we’re on the topic of paid, owned and earned media, it’s clear the three are intermingling to form new types of marketing and advertising. We define native advertising, for example, as content + advertising (or owned + paid media). You can immediately see where the lines blur when content is created modularly for different types of media channels, or used in converged channels that create multiple attributions.

• Events (And Other “Generated” Sources Of Content): A corporate event, a conference, a trade show, a customer showcase – these are all marketing and sales line items, but they generate content, too. It’s not unusual for a single speech, for example to be blogged, tweeted, Slideshared, YouTubed – you name it. All are forms of content marketing, yet the core intent of the content wasn’t necessarily content marketing. Another content budget grey area – and yet one more reason why the cost of content will remain highly nebulous for a good, long time to come.

 

This post originally published on MarketingLand

Quick! What’s a Digital Newsroom?

27+Davis,+Bette+(Front+Page+Woman)_01

What’s a digital newsroom?

Seems like such a simple question, until you start pondering the potential answers.

The question arose the other day in discussion with an agency client. We were discussing the competitive landscape; how a variety of digital agencies, PR agencies, and the brands they serve are all beginning to establish digital newsrooms.

But what does that even mean?

Do these entities create news? Media relations? Branded content? Social media? Advertising? Native advertising? Brand journalism? Native advertising? Some, or all, of the above?

“Real” newsrooms aside (à la New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and other news outlets), the term “newsroom,” like so many digital marketing terms, means many things to many people.

Conduct a search on Google and some media relations sites rank high, such as the  Intel Newsroom. So does Red Bull’s Content Pool, constantly updated with a rich variety of extreme sports material, much of it premium and available for license to commercial media companies for a fee.

The Cisco Newsroom also ranks high for the term newsroom – it’s a hybrid technology news and company news site.

Other tech brands run what you’d consider more traditional newsrooms.  Dell’s Tech Page One is branded content – but also the only branded content site that has passed Google News’ rigorous hurdles for qualifying as “real” news and making it into that feed.

Marketers at one major brand I know of were touring digital news publications last year, studying how their operations worked, in advance of setting up their own newsroom operations, while a direct competitor was hiring seasoned journalists to do exactly that in-house.

Those same journalists are also decamping to PR firms, which are setting up their own newsroom operations. Weber Shandwick’s mediaco and Edelman’s Creative Newsroom, which both launched last year, are newsrooms staffed by former newspaper, television and magazine staffers, as well as digital and content strategists, planners, analysts and syndicators. They’re creating not just “news,” but also content for owned and social media, as well as multimedia production.

Agencies can get hyper-specific with the definition and focus of a newsroom. Deep Focus’ social media newsroom Moment Studio creates Facebook content for Pepsi and Purina.

Adidas recently announced it will establish video “digital newsrooms around the world” for its shoe brands to tap into trending topics and real-time marketing.

Clearly, there’s no one definition of a digital newsroom, there’s not even a single defined purpose or function. Unless you’re an actual news organization, the purpose – even the reason for being – of a newsroom is governed by one principal only: content strategy.

This post originally published on iMedia

Photo Credit: The Front Page

Micro Content, Maxi Effect — How Shifts Toward Visual Content Will Impact Marketers

The written word seems to be on the decline, at least in the online space. Articles and white papers have morphed into blog posts and status updates. Hashtags, acronyms and emoticons stand in for sentences. OTP, BRB, LMK, OK?  :-)

How low can you go? In a year or two, 140 characters — a miserly allotment now — will seem a luxury, a vestige of an era marked by logorrheic verbosity.

If you doubted it before, believe it now: a picture really is worth the proverbial thousand words. Maybe more.

Opinion? Sure. But the facts bear this out. Facebook keeps redesigning to feature bigger, bolder images. Oh yeah, and the company bought Instagram for a cool million. Videos now auto-play on the platform. Yahoo, meanwhile, snatched up Tumblr. Twitter continues to make images and videos a more prominent part of the user experience. And don’t forget the increasing popularity of Pinterest, YouTube, and SnapChat — you can easily see where all this is going.

Research, too, bears out the hypothesis that visual (and audio-visual) content is subsuming the written word. As an analyst, when I ask marketers about the types of content and media channels they’re leaning toward in the future, all forms of written content are on the decline, from press releases to blog posts.  Investment is around multimedia and images.

Content types

The chart above highlights the reason behind this shift in the we communicate online: mobile. Simply put, no one’s about to read War and Peace on a smartphone. Mobile means a lot of things, but mostly it means that screens are getting smaller. The smaller the screen, the pithier information must be in order to be comfortably communicated and absorbed by its target audience.

Ease of use is key here as well. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter don’t create content, rather they enable its dissemination — and if no one updates their status, then these platforms don’t stand a chance. Clearly, it’s a lot easier to upload that shot of your Hawaiian vacation (or delicious lunch, or mischievous puppy) than to narrate in detail why such things are interesting — especially while using your thumbs and combating auto-correct.

Content Strategy Implications

That content is becoming shorter, less verbose and more visual obviously has tremendous ramifications for content strategy. Here are three major points to bear in mind.

Please read the rest of this post on MarketingLand, where it originally published.