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Before You Commemorate the Anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, Ask Yourself These 5 Questions

October 28, 2013 satellite image of Hurricane Sandy taken from a NASA satellite

October 28, 2013 satellite image of Hurricane Sandy taken from a NASA satellite

Next week is the anniversary of Hurricane Sandy. With all the hype around real-time marketing and newsjacking, community managers may find themselves compelled—by a client or colleague—to contribute to this news-driven conversation in social media.

When brands do this, it can come across as forced, at best, or offensive, at worst. The line between appropriate and inappropriate is a thin one, best evidenced by recaps of brands trying to commemorate 9/11 this year.

Real-time marketing requires a deft hand, balancing the benefits of participating in conversations your customers are having with the potential damage done by content that’s more concerned with the brand than with its audience.

More often than not, saying nothing is the best move. If you feel the need for your brand to say something about a news-driven event, head over to PRDaily to read this post written by a couple of my team members, Scott Smith (@ourmaninchicago) and Jeana Anderson (@jeanaanderson).

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Content Marketing That Wins: Making Brands, Readers AND Google Happy

Social Media Week Chicago Scott SmithNick Papagiannis and I had the opportunity to kick off Social Media Week Chicago with a presentation titled “Content Marketing That Wins: Making Brands, Readers, AND Google Happy” to a packed house at Morningstar in Chicago. If you missed it, we’ve created a Storify for the event hashtag and embedded the livestream and presentation below. Thank you to everyone who made it out and/or participated virtually – I’m really looking forward to continuing this conversation because content marketing has a lot of potential…if we don’t screw it up first.

Seemingly everywhere you look, there’s content marketing tips, tricks, and hacks. During Social Media Week Chicago alone, there are at least 16 sessions on the topic. But remember when content marketing consisted of publishing a blog post a week? Now, with consumers constantly bombarded with news and content via an ever-expanding array of media and social platforms, brands have been pressed into a “content arms race” that has them posting to blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Vine, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. every single day. They’re even using automated content creation and curation platforms to feed the beast and stay at the top of search rankings. But how much of this activity actually serves a brand’s business goals? Or truly engages consumers?

Just like the hammer in search of a nail, marketers are spending more and more of their time and energy reducing every conversation, article, and photo to a piece of data, all in an effort to maximize their ROI and deliver the most eyeballs at the lowest price. Instead of a world where brands are creating content that solves problems, adds value, or creates deeper relationships with customers, we are perilously close to a world where more simply equals better.

Here’s the thing though – we don’t have to do things this way. We have the data and the tools to scale actual conversations and relationships. We have the tools to talk with people directly now. We have the ability to precisely target only those customers who will care about the content. Content marketing gives us the opportunity to rethink marketing – let’s stop trying to game the system and optimize every piece of content and instead think about how to best optimize our relationships with our customers.

The big takeaway from our presentation is that content should be beneficial to your customer, reflective of your brand, and optimized for Google, in that order.

If you don’t want to watch the whole recording, you can check out the slides here.

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Four Ways Brands Can #Unplug

Digital Detox camp

Image courtesy of Flickr user davitydave

This post originally appeared in Ragan’s PR Daily. 

One of the world’s most connected men, Baratunde Thurston, recently took a month-long digital detox, chronicled in the July/August issue of Fast Company.

Thurston had grown increasingly exhausted with trying to keep up with all the Tweets, photos, status updates, check-ins, chats, and texts. He realized his always-connected lifestyle just wasn’t sustainable. Technology allowed him to create thousands of virtual relationships and conversations, but instead of adding value, they were actually stressing him out. He was spread a mile wide and an inch deep, connecting with everyone yet not really connecting with anyone.

Chances are, you’ve felt the same way. What once began as an easy way to connect with friends and family, meet new people, and share interesting stories and links has become an overwhelming source of stress. We struggle to keep up with the constant notifications and alerts. We have an irrational fear of missing out (or “FOMO”) on that party, that funny video, that witty comment. We want to be everywhere, but in doing so, we aren’t ever really anywhere.

The good news is the pendulum seems to be swinging the other way. People are now actively avoiding their digital lives in favor of reconnecting offline:

Paradoxically, as people are realizing this always-on, always-connected lifestyle isn’t sustainable, companies and brands seem to be going in the opposite direction. I remember when publishing one blog post a week was considered a best practice for brands. Now brands are expected to post 15 times or more every month, and be present and active on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, Soundcloud and Vine. There are even tools that will automate the whole process for you, enabling brands to do away with all those pesky human tasks like researching, thinking and writing.

Content marketing is becoming a numbers game that most brands aren’t going to be able to compete in, much less win.

Rather than trying to keep up with the Joneses and be everywhere (while simultaneously not being anywhere), brands should consider going on a form of digital detox of their own. Quitting everything for a month isn’t really an option, but there are several lessons brands can learn from the trend to help simplify things:

  1. Stop micro-measuring. Instead of focusing on the ROI of every piece of content, spend some time doing things that don’t have an immediate ROI. Ask your customers questions because you’re generally interested in their feedback, not because it will increase your engagement figures. Share something interesting that another brand created. Write a blog post about an employee who did something interesting.
  2. Prune your presence. You probably can’t just up and leave Twitter, but will anyone notice if you shut down your Pinterest page? Close your Vine account? Stop the weekly meeting to discuss your Tumblr editorial calendar? Is every single one of your online properties helping you achieve your business goals? Or is it there because you heard it was the next big thing?
  3. Learn the value of silence. Just because a royal baby was born doesn’t mean you have to offer your congratulations. If there’s a terrible tragedy, don’t feel the need to offer your condolences. Believe it or not, most of your customers aren’t going to get into an uproar because you went a day without a post. If you’re not going to do anything tangible to help, show some respect and be quiet.
  4. Take it offline. Brands should realize their communities live offline as well. Take some of your social media budget and instead of applying it to more content generation, syndication, or promotion, consider sinking it into some good, old-fashioned offline activities. Go to a store and talk with people about your products or your commercials or your ads. Take some of the products you’ve reserved for influencer outreach and give them away to people in the community. Really effective social media goes beyond content and builds real relationships with real people.

Just as a person may have to unplug once in a while to build deeper, more meaningful connections, brands have an opportunity to start doing the same. You may just realize that those clicks, impressions, and likes you’ve spent so much time measuring are actual people who want to talk with you about your brand.

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Eight Conversations Your Customers Want to Have With Your Brand

A brand’s customers represent some of their best resources, yet most brands leave them on the bench

My last post criticized the content that a lot of brands share via social media – the incessant begging for likes and shares, the linkbaiting, and the meme-jacking that brands have adopted in their constant quest for “engagement.” Instead of following some guru’s best practices formula for social media content that will increase your followers, friends, and comments, try to have the conversations they actually want to have. You might be surprised at what you’ll learn and how it can transform your business for the better. The fun, informal banter still has its place, but make sure you balance the small talk with some actual substance. After all, you’re not in business just to amass likes, followers, and fans are you? Next time you’re working on your social media content calendar, start thinking about some of the conversations your customers want to have –

  • Your history. Over the last ten years, I’ve talked with hundreds of clients who have some amazing stories about how their organization/brand/company began and how it got to where it is today. You know that boring “About Us” page you have your website? Breathe some life into that content and make it a story. Believe it or not, your fans are interested in hearing about the history of your brand – why do you think brands like Coca-Cola, Porsche, and Mercedes-Benz have created entire museums dedicated to their history? For those brands that can’t create their own museums, Facebook’s timeline feature allows you to share that history virtually. Look at what Manchester United or Ben and Jerry’s are doing with their timelines for an example. Go and talk with people who know your brand’s history. Listen to the stories. Collect old photos and videos. Share those stories with your fans. 
  • Ideas that didn’t make the cut. Your cutting room floor is a gold mine for social media content. Share those ideas that were discarded and explain why they weren’t implemented. Too expensive to make? Too niche? Too controversial? You might be surprised to find that your fans and followers love them even though your creative department didn’t. Ideas and products that might have been killed before are now becoming alternate endinghugely successful products, and breakout hits because brands now understand that going directly to their fans are often better indicators of success than surveys, ratings, and focus groups.
  • The “why” behind business decisions. Did you just have to lay off some employees? Get out in front of the story and explain why. Talk about the numbers behind the move. Share the long-term view. Be empathetic. But most of all, be honest. Customers understand you run a business and that there are often tough decisions to be made, but they won’t understand why you would be all cloak-and-dagger about it. Talk openly and honestly when the going gets tough and though it might not be intuitive to you, they’ll love you more for it.
  • Challenges. Your social media fans are more than clicks, likes, and followers – they’re potentially important team members that you’re ignoring. Got a product or business challenge you’re struggling with? Open up your data and bring your customers into the process. You might be surprised to discover the value they will bring. Interestingly enough, brands can look to the government for guidance on this as Challenge.gov is a great example of how to create content and get your customers involved.
  • Your culture. Your customers want to get to know your brand, your real brand, not the one ginned up by marketing, but who you really are and what you’re all about. They want to understand your culture, your work environment, the way you do things. Why do you think shows like Undercover Boss, The Pitch, and Restaurant Impossible are so popular? Why do you think Zappos gives tours of their headquarters? Why do you think virtual tours of company offices are so popular? They pull back the curtain on the brands they buy from.
  • New product uses. When you think of the Porsche 911, you probably think of the iconic sports car that rich guys only drive on Sundays. However, did you know that it’s actually a car that thousands of people drive every single day? A car that takes kids to school? A car that has four-wheel drive that you can put your skis on top and take to the slopes? A car that can fit all your groceries and golf clubs? So Porsche went out and asked their customers how they use their Porsche every single day. (disclaimer: my agency created this campaign).
  • Requests for feedback. How are we doing? What could we be doing better? What do you love about us? What words come to mind when you think about our brand? What do your friends and family think about our brand? Just like that annoying guy who won’t shut up at the party, most brands never stop sharing content long enough to simply ask their customers for their thoughts. Sometimes all it takes is a “what questions about our products/services do you have?” to get the ball rolling.
  • Your causes. What does your brand care about? Customers want to know that your brand is about more than just profits. Go beyond just writing a check and a photo opp. Panera uses their website and social media to tell the story of their passion – feeding the hungry of America. (disclaimer: my agency created this campaign). Does your brand contribute money to a local or national charity? Do they volunteer? If so, make sure you get someone there to capture these stories to share them.

Great content marketing shouldn’t only be about determining what content will lead to the most likes, comments, or followers. It should be about creating and sharing content that tells your brand’s unique story, creating conversations with your customers that lead to greater customer loyalty. You may not want to have these conversations. You may not be ready to have them. You may be scared at what your customers might say. You may not know how to react. That’s too bad because avoiding these conversations is no longer an option. If you aren’t ready to have these conversations, don’t you think that’s telling you something? Shouldn’t this be an opportunity to fix what’s broken internally so that when your customers demand to have these conversations (and they will), you’re ready for them?

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