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Your Best Content May Be Right Under Your Nose

November 8, 2016

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A version of this article originally appeared on PRDaily.

Escher's Relativity.jpg

Content marketing has become one big M.C. Escher painting – people create content about how to create content, which creates more content, forcing more content about creating content that rises above the content everyone else is creating.

8 Super-Simple Tools You Can Use to Create Better Content

“How To Create More Content In Less Time: A Science-Backed Guide”

“13 Tools to Automate Your Content Marketing”

“15 Habits of Highly Effective Content Marketers”

Here’s what drives me nuts about this. Your priorities are backward. Brands are making the same mistake that newspapers and other media publishers have made. As Quartz put it in a recent article, “humans are losing the battle against Kardashian-loving algorithms for the soul of new media.”

“Analytics and algorithms have emerged as key weapons in capitalism’s brawl with journalism across the web. And the struggle has real consequences for all of us.”

This has led to media publishers cutting journalistic staff in favor of algorithms that optimize their web content based on clicks. The AP is using artificial intelligence to automate some of their stories. Facebook famously let go of the human editors curating their Trending Topics section in favor of the newsfeed algorithm. You see, when you’re only concerned with optimizing numbers on a spreadsheet, the machines will always win out. And while that approach may drive more clicks, that’s about all it does. It doesn’t build brands. It doesn’t drive customer loyalty. It doesn’t create advocacy. And it reduces content to its lowest common denominator.

Don’t let your brand make the same mistake. Don’t build a content strategy just to drive more clicks. Build one that will build your brand, help your customers, and increase your employee’s morale. Unfortunately, most brands get overwhelmed by all the content marketing best practices, tools, and gurus and totally miss the resources right under their noses.

  • You are already creating the content your customers want most – you’re just not using it. In the rush to create more memes and GIFs that will drive more clicks, brands are forgetting about the content their customers actually want. Your best content doesn’t come from Photoshop, but from your own offices. Your customers want to hear about your brand’s history, how your products are being used, the “why” behind business decisions, your causes, your culture, etc. If you’re a tool brand, why are you trying to out-GIF your competition? Why aren’t you talking about how your tools are used? About what they can create? This content already exists. It just needs packaged for public consumption.
  • You already have hired most of your content creators – you’re just not activating them. From R&D to customer service to operations, your brand is loaded with expert sources. These sources can give your customer insights into your brand, into your products, and into the category they literally cannot get anywhere else. You tell me what’s more “valuable” – another Valentine’s Day meme or a story about how your latest product was developed? You’re already paying these content creators. Why not leverage their expertise?
  • You already have most of your assets – you’re just not using them. If you’re a car brand, share photos of cars. If you’re a tool brand, share pictures of your tools in action. If you’re a restaurant, share photos of your food. It’s why Honda’s Instagram strategy is all about sharing photos of cars. And why Stoli’s is about bottleshots. And why GE has created an entire magazine that dives into all the aspects of the company’s business. This isn’t rocket science, but it does require access, creativity, and storytelling.

So take a look at your content strategy. Are you creating and sharing content for your brand? For your customers? Or are you doing it for the clicks and likes? While you’re spending all your time and money on external experts, influencers, and content creators, you might be surprised to find out that the insights, products, and content your customers actually want have been hiding inside the walls of your company this whole time. You just need the right people who can tap into these sources and tell the right stories. You know what? I did hear that there may be some journalists out there looking for a new career now…

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Create Better Content by First Creating a Better Relationship with Your Lawyers

July 10, 2016

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Legal would not approve using this screengrab of Tom Cruise from “The Firm.”

Using Google Images can cost you thousands of dollars. A Jewel-Osco ad about Michael Jordan resulted in a decade-long lawsuit and millions of dollars in legal fees and settlements. A Tweet triggers a $6M lawsuit. With every high-profile lawsuit, #socialmediafail hashtag, and cease-and-desist letter, we know lawyers and general counsel become more and more likely to pull out the red pen and cut anything that could be considered a legal gray area.

And so on we go, back to our desks to create content that will get approved. If it also happens to be funny, profound, engaging, or interesting, well, that’s an added bonus. The most important thing is getting it past Legal, right?  Wrong.

How did we let things get to this point? How did lawyers gain so much control over what we do and the content we create? How they did go from “General Counsel” to “What I Say Goes”?

It’s because they’re speaking a language that’s totally foreign to us. We accept their feedback because we are completely and utterly unfamiliar with things like copyright laws, regulatory guidelines, and legal precedents.

You see, their job isn’t to create engaging content. It’s not to accumulate likes, shares, or follows. It’s not to make something go viral. It’s to protect the interests of their organization. That’s it. That’s what they care about. No lawyer has ever been fired for saying “no” to a Facebook post. So, put yourself in their shoes – what incentive do they have to let you take any risk?

That communication breakdown is why I recently moderated a panel discussion for the Public Relations Society of America’s (PRSA) Pittsburgh chapter where I debated these topics with three intellectual property attorneys from The Webb Law Firm. I wanted to find out how content creators, PR people, and marketers can improve their relationships with their legal counsel. Here are three key takeaways for anyone creating content for their brand:

Do your own research. Your in-house legal counsel probably aren’t experts in copyright, intellectual property, or trademark law. Your job is to help educate them. Come to the meeting armed with knowledge about what is and isn’t allowed, what other brands have done and what the legal precedents are. Or, find a contact at a local law firm that does focus on these topics and connect them with your lawyers.  Demonstrate you’ve done the research and you’re comfortable enough with it that you can have a conversation about the benefits and risks.

“No” doesn’t have to be the end of the conversation. When asked a specific question, lawyers will give a specific answer. A question like “can I just take photos at this next event without needing to track down signed photo waivers for everyone?” will always result in “no” for an answer. However, by following that up with “but what if I posted a film and photography notice with all of the appropriate disclaimers at all entrances to the event?” you’ve now provided a potential solution that allows for compromise.

Resist the urge to make user-generated content more than it is. A celebrity’s video goes viral and she’s wearing a shirt with your logo on it? Retweet it but don’t imply that she endorses your brand because of it. A fan uploads an Instagram photo of him drinking your brand’s beverage? Like it, comment on it, but don’t download it and share it on Twitter with your own take on the photo. Brands get themselves into trouble when they try to modify external content, share it across channels where it wasn’t posted originally, or imply endorsement. The safest thing to do is ask for permission, attribute it correctly, and stay within the same channel (that way, you’re protected by the terms of use for that platform).

With a little research and a lot of empathy, you can help turn your brand’s lawyers into a content creation resource, rather than an adversary.

For more information on content curation and whether or not you can fall into legal trouble, take a look at The Webb Law FirmPRSA’s informational guide about copyright or visit lawyer, blogger and speaker Kerry O’Shea Gorgone’s blog that discusses legal issues social media marketers can face.

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Create Content for Humans, Not Machines

June 14, 2016

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Let me preface this post by saying that I’m the current Director of PR and Content Integration at an agency. I’m telling you this so that I can tell you this – I really hate content marketing.

Well, let me rephrase – I hate what marketers have done to content marketing. Content marketing used to represent the new era of marketing – a less offensive, less intrusive, and more useful way of advertising. Brands realized that interrupting what their customers were doing only to shout at them with CTAs were getting their ads blocked and fast-forwarded with increasing regularity.

The content marketing revolution was upon us! Brands came to understand that if they started creating really useful and entertaining content, people would not only stop avoiding it, they would even (gasp!) search it out. This led to brands creating everything from full-blown magazines to films to video games to how-to videos. Life was good. Brands stopped shouting at customers and started delivering more of what their customers were looking for.

Unfortunately, just as marketers did with commercials and TV, spam and email, banner ads and the Internet, we’ve reduced content marketing to nothing more than yet another way to score some impressions, views and likes. Rather than solving problems, telling stories, and collaborating with our customers, we’re poring over analytics and algorithms to figure out ways to optimize clicks and shares.

Engineers, analysts, and data scientists have wrested control of content marketing from the creatives, writers, and storytellers. We’re letting Facebook’s, Twitter’s, and Google’s algorithms decide what to create and when and how to share it. And like a Las Vegas casino, those algorithms are put in place to help the house, not you the brand, and surely not the end user. And so on we go feeding the machine, creating and sharing more and more content, all in an attempt to get these algorithms to smile down upon us with the occasional huge payout.

Las Vegas slot machines.jpg

CC BY-SA 3.0, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5709790

We’ve even gone so far as to remove humans entirely from the process. Chatbots are taking over customer service (oh good, the digital version of “Press 1 if you are having an emergency”), blog posts are being written by machines, even native advertising is being standardized and placed programmatically.

Here’s the problem. In our big data haze, we’ve forgotten the whole point of content marketing. How much of the content we create anymore is truly for our customers? How much of it actually builds our brand? How much time and money are we spending on creating content that serves another platform’s goals more than our brand’s business goals?

Creating content for a social media platform is a lot like feeding the slot machine – put in a lot of cheap coins to trigger an algorithm and hope for a jackpot. Instead, let’s start creating content for people, not machines. Let’s take back control of our brand’s story from the social platforms. Let’s get back to creating content that benefits our customers. Let’s get back to using data to enhance our decision-making, not make decisions for us. The data that we have access to now is exponentially more powerful than it was even just a few years ago, but rather than using that data, we’re just abdicating our decision-making to it. Data should be used to help us identify what our customers actually need, not just what they’ll click the most.

Sure, that video interview with your head of customer service may have taken a lot more time to create and probably won’t get as many likes as that cat GIF you shared the other day, but it was probably a hell of a lot more effective at telling your brand’s story and educating your customers about who you really are and what you can do for them. I’m guessing it’s also a lot easier to justify the time and expense of creating a customer service video than a series of cat GIFs.

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Stop Wasting Years of Your Life, Social Media Strategists

June 13, 2014

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This article originally appeared in PR Daily.

If you work in the marketing industry (“social media” is not an industry), you’ve probably either read or heard about this anonymous piece in Digiday and either scoffed at or empathized with the author’s plight.

If you haven’t, here are two of the most resonant points:

I sat in a brainstorm. We came up with a bunch of content ideas for our brands’ social channels—images, GIFs, and lines of witty copy. I went back to my desk, opened a container of leftover lo mein, and realized I’d wasted the last four years of my life.

And:

The underlying issue is that social departments place too much value on engagement. Those “likes,” “comments,” “shares,” “re-tweets,” and “pins” are the metrics that social content creators use to (1) judge success and (2) dictate what future content looks like. Here’s the catch. The people who are engaging with that content are predominantly worthless.

As someone who works at an agency that provides similar support to our clients, I empathized. I’ve been that anonymous author. I’ve lived that life. I feel your pain, anonymous author.

Here’s the thing, though: Empathy and pity aren’t going to solve the problem.

frabz-like-and-share-if-you-love-your-grandma-ignore-if-you-want-grand-dafc21Instead of going back to our leftover lo mein to come up with more variations of “Keep Calm and Carry On” posts while questioning our life choices, I figured it would be more productive to offer tips on how to get out ourselves and our clients out of this rut. (Unless your job and/or bonus depends on amassing more “likes,” fans, and followers—in which case, have I got a lead for you.)

First things first—stop taking yourself so seriously. You’re managing Facebook and Instagram, not performing brain surgery. Stop thinking your customers are waiting with bated breath for your content. They’re not.

Stop treating your social media like paid media, and start treating it for what it is—a place for brands to come out of their ivory towers and interact, listen, talk, and share with their customers. Experiment. Be on your customers’ journey with them. Try new things. Engage in actual conversations. Act as though you actually care about what your customers need and want rather than what will get the most “likes.”

“But,” you say, “my client/boss wants to see the ROI of our efforts and if I can’t show the numbers going up, our budgets are going to get cut/I’m going to get fired!”

Here’s where you change the conversation. Review the metrics you’ve been using, and throw them away. Build a new key performance indicator chart, one that’s actually tied to your business goals.

If your goal is to increase e-commerce sales, show how much traffic is coming in through your social channels. If your goal is to improve your brand’s online reputation, point to the quality of the search results. If your goal is to increase awareness, point to the total number of mentions across all media channels. If your goal is customer service, track how many cases you’ve resolved via social media. If your boss/client gives you a hard time about wanting to see more “likes,” comments, and pins, that’s because you haven’t given her any other metrics from which to judge success. Figure out what role you think social media should be playing for your organization and measure against that.

You also should work with everyone in the marketing mix. Figure out what role social media plays in that regard. Figure out how you can use social media to help advance the other areas. Figure out how they can help advance social media. As a component of marketing, social media does not exist in a vacuum—and neither can you.

Rather than fighting for more dollars, headcount, or attention, look at the bigger picture and take a realistic view of where social media can and should fit in. It’s quite possible you’re stuck in this never-ending loop of crappy content because you have a much bigger budget than that of other areas and your clients (internal and external) want to get their money’s worth.

Don’t be afraid to look at the bigger picture and say: “What if we took some of the money we have allocated to Facebook ads and reallocated that to PR so that we can get some more earned media coverage? That would, in turn, drive more social engagement, because we’d be tapping into those publications’ social media channels, too.”

Finally, be ready to find and create content that makes your brand/organization unique. Everyone and everything has a story, so instead of following some social media guru’s best practices formula for online content that will increase followers, friends, and comments, think about the story you want to share and the conversations your customers actually want to have.

When building your social media content calendar, create and share content about your organization’s history, or the “why” behind some of your business decisions, or your organizational culture, your causes, or new product uses. Maybe it’s just to ask them what they think; you might be surprised at what you find out. If you’re scared of how your “fans” will react, you have problems that go beyond social media.

The Digiday piece struck a chord with so many because we’ve let our excitement for these channels overtake our better judgment. All is not lost—let’s not resign ourselves to a fate of leftover lo mein and crappy content. Let’s admit our faults, adjust our mindsets, and push forward.

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