Posts Tagged ‘content’

Content Calendars Aren’t Evil – They’re Just Abused

My friend Jeremy thinks content calendars are evil. I disagree: I think content calendars are useful tools, but they’re consistently and brutally abused to the point where they can seem evil.

Content calendars are here to stay

Like it or not, content calendars aren’t going anywhere any time soon:

Most companies are still trying to break outside the mold of corporate approvals. Legal and compliance loom large and it can take a long time to develop the trust needed for them to step back. Clients’ need to micro-manage content for fear of inappropriate content making its way online is another significant factor. Frankly, as an agency guy the risk of bypassing those approvals  is too high to be worthwhile anyway.

It’s important to keep one eye on the big picture. Avoiding planning and taking a day-to-day approach runs the risk of veering away from a strategic approach to content and towards a purely tactical, reactive approach. It’s all too easy to find yourself responding to day-to-day business demands (promote this or that sales message; promote this campaign, etc.) and lose track of the big-picture approach which is rarely so sales-driven.

Content calendars enable consistency across channels. Not that companies should ignore the differences between audiences on their different social channels (you’ve done that research on your communities, right?), but consistency can be helpful when coordinating programs.

So, the key is learning how to use them effectively, rather than become slaves to them. With that said, many people right now are either beholden to their calendars, or mistreat them to the point of abuse.

The Three Abuses of Content Calendars

1. Setting it and forgetting it

Too many people think that once they have a content calendar developed and approved, then they’re all set. However, a content calendar is really just a framework for the time period. Every piece of content should be re-evaluated at the beginning of the day when it due to go live, and again immediately beforehand.

Not every company has the resources to adopt a full always-on Creative Newsroom approach; but if you’re going to invest time and money in social media then you should take the time to ensure that what you’re posting is appropriate at the time and not just when you’re planning it.

2. Content calendar as a crutch

Real-Time Content

A content calendar isn’t the full extent of the content that you post. As I noted in a presentation at Social Media Week Toronto this year, companies should aim to leave room for 10-20% of their content to capitalize on relevant news, events and audience-relevant topics alongside their planned content.

3. Using the calendar as a hammer when you really need a screwdriver

Your content calendar is a specific tool for a specific purpose. It’s great for reviewing content schedules over time, and for seeing that bigger picture. Sadly, though, it’s also (as Jeremy notes) often used for copywriting, content editing and many other tasks. This can get messy and complicated, especially if you’re trying to coordinate multiple simultaneous calendars for multiple programs. Your content calendar shouldn’t be a one-stop shop for every content need – other tools make better sense and will drive you less batty in doing so.

This abuse extends to the software itself too. Excel is great for checking post lengths or combining copy with links, but if you’re trying to write content in excel or you’re trying to review creative assets through it, you’re in for a world of hurt. I’m yet to find an off-the-shelf solution that works for everything (although I do like Divvy HQ), so unless you can build your own tool then you’re likely to end up with a mash-up of various others.

Content calendars aren’t evil

All in all, Content calendars aren’t evil; they can serve a valuable purpose. The problem comes when people use the calendar for the wrong ends.

It’s like Carrie (pop culture reference, ahoy) – the poor innocent calendar gets pushed to the point where it breaks, and everyone thinks it’s evil.

Stop blaming the tool; start blaming the abusers.

From One to a Million: Managing Social Media at Scale

What if you had to re-examine your assumptions around social media? What if, instead of thinking about conversations in ones and twos, you had to think about them in thousands and tens of thousands? What if you had to manage dozens or hundreds of properties, and millions of fans? What would change?

Last weekend I presented a session at PodCamp Toronto entitled “From One to a Million: Managing Social Media at Scale.” The goal of the session was to prompt people to question some of the norms espoused by many ‘experts’, who have never had to manage social media programs at anything beyond a small scale. Norms such as the idea that you “need” to talk to every person who engages with you – something that is feasible at small scale, but infeasible when you get into the tens of thousands of replies weekly.

This is not to say that those norms are completely incorrect, but that there is a practical reality for brands operating at scale – structure changes, processes change and the norms have to change.

Key points from the presentation:

1. Structure: How do you structure to handle social media at scale?

Brands need to grapple with structural decisions at a global scale:

  • How much do you centralize vs decentralize control?
  • Do you house social within the corporate HQ or at the business unit level?
  • Do you aim for consistency and economies of scale or responsiveness at a local market level?
  • Do you impose social media on the enterprise or allow it to grow organically?

There’s no right or wrong answer; the decision depends on objectives, on your broader business structure, on the scale of your social media activities, on your business’ culture and on the resources you have to hand, among other things.

2. Community Management: How do you go from 1:1 to 1:1,000,000?

Community management at scale requires brands to reassess the norms they hear espoused daily. I offered seven pointers for scaling community management practices:

  1. Moderate to deal with trolls (with an affectionate prod in the slide at Scott Stratten) – if you operate a social media program at scale without moderation, you’ll spend your life dealing with trolls and spammers
  2. Embrace proactiveness – don’t wait for people to come to you; use analytics and insights to drive proactive content to answer questions ahead of time
  3. Recognize you can’t talk to everyone – at some point you need to prioritize or you will drown
  4. Respond publicly when possible (and when appropriate) – answering publicly lets other people (a) see you being responsive and (b) see your answers and possibly answer their own questions
  5. Help customers to help customers – successful companies in the social support space leverage customer forums to help customers answer each others’ questions, and step in when questions go unanswered at first
  6. Build an army of advocates – educate, empower and reward your biggest fans for engaging for you
  7. Know your customer – know who they are, what they want and how they want it to serve information most appropriately for them

(Check out my related post on tips for scaling customer service)

3. Content Strategy: How do you stay engaging while driving business results at scale?

Content strategy is a shiny object right now (in a stroke of amazing timing, Edelman appointed Steve Rubel to the new post of Chief Content Strategist yesterday – congrats Steve). I offered three broad categories of ways to resist the myriad pressures that face social media teams within corporations, and to stay on strategy:

  1. Know your objectives, and use them as a decision making framework.
  2. Know your channels, your audiences and the difference between them.
  3. Execute with rigor and optimize relentlessly.

4. Measurement: Turning a challenge to a competitive advantage

Measurement has historically been a pain point for many PR practitioners, but it’s a point of passion for me – I truly believe that effective measurement can be a differentiator for companies’ social media programs. When you begin to activate social at large scale, statistical analysis of content and program performance can yield invaluable insights.

I’ve in the past on ways companies can improve their social media measurement; this time around I offered another five tips:

  1. Focus on the right things – measure the right things for the right audience to meet their objectives.
  2. Connect your metrics with your objectives – don’t measure share of voice if you’re looking to improve the responsiveness of your customer support, for example.
  3. Know what the numbers mean – do your research and don’t let companies lead you down the garden path with made-up numbers and meaningless multipliers.
  4. Generate and drive insights throughout your program – look at your foundational always-on activities (your program is always-on, right?), at point-in-time campaigns and at the broader conversation ecosystem for insights.
  5. Use full-program measurement – set measurable objectives, use insights from past programs to fuel program development, course-correct throughout and measure results to drive insights for future work.

This was the first time I had presented this deck. I would have loved to have another 15 minutes longer to incorporate more practical pointers, but this provides a solid high-level overview of how to leverage these four elements of a program both at scale and more broadly. I’d love to know what you think, though – let me know in the comments below.

Six essential shifts in social media strategy

We’ve reached a critical point in the evolution of social media as a business tool. Gone are the days when the GMOOT (Get Me One Of Those) approach will get you anywhere – simply having a Twitter account, or a Facebook Page, isn’t enough. We’re at the point of social media saturation, and something’s got to give.

So began the session description for my recent presentation at BlogWorld New York. The crux: that the days of social media as an experiment are over – it’s time for a more mature approach to social media within companies in order for social media to be viewed as a sustainable communications and business function.

Unfortunately, we’re also at a point where pursuit of the shiny object has reached an extreme, and that this pursuit is conducted within an increasingly transparent fishbowl while armchair critics circle, waiting for the next “fail” from companies.

In this environment, where transparency and scrutiny are paired up with a shift in focus from experimentation to results, and yet where the allure of “the next big thing” persists, companies need to structure and approach social media differently.

My presentation focused on six essential shifts that I see in how many businesses approach social media strategy. Of course, not all companies are in the same situation. Some with mature programs have evolved beyond this stage; some face just a few of these shifts; others face them all:

  1. Moving away from shiny objects and towards social business
    1. Asking “why” to understand demands
    2. Building a social media infrastructure to support the social brand
    3. Taking baby steps in implementation – from crawl, to walk, to run, to fly
  2. Setting better objectives for social media
    1. Setting SMART objectives
    2. Tying back to broader business goals
    3. Staying clear of the “how” and “what” when setting objectives
  3. Measuring effectively against those objectives
    1. Focusing on the right numbers for the audience
    2. Understanding what numbers really mean
    3. Avoiding made-up numbers
    4. Measuring to drive insights alongside determining results
  4. Breaking down silos and integrating across functions
    1. Approaching social media as an integrated function
    2. Breaking-down silos through day-to-day tactics
    3. Integrating through reporting structures, governance and social media organizational models
  5. Planning and executing content more strategically
    1. Considering content objectives
    2. Identifying appropriate content sources
    3. Fine-tuning execution via appropriate content volume, mix and format
  6. Engaging effectively to build relationships and communities of interest
    1. Embracing negative and neutral conversations
    2. Establishing processes to minimize risk

How about you – have you seen companies needing to make these improvements to their social media strategy?

For more on the topic, check out this excellent write-up of my presentation over at SmartBlog for Social Media.

Thanks once again to Rick, Dave, Deb, Shane and the rest of the BlogWorld team for the invitation to speak. This was my fifth BlogWorld presentation, and I always enjoy it. 

Where does content fit in Facebook’s new marketing model?

While marketers everywhere seem to be focused on Facebook Timelines for brands, the latest changes to Facebook’s advertising model represent just as significant a change for brands – if not even more so.

How so, you ask? Let’s start by

A marketer’s journey on Facebook: from engagement to advertising

Facebook has a saying that, “this journey is 1% finished.” Following that mantra, if you look at the changes Facebook has made over the last year as a continuum, the company has significantly tilted the scales away from engaging content – from brands creating communities with their customers – and towards paid advertising.

There’s nothing new in the fact that the vast majority of user/brand interactions come through the news feed.  The fact is that few people actually visit your page on an ongoing basis – even those who do visit once, rarely do again. For that reason, capturing peoples’ “likes” at that time has been critical for a while, so companies can continue to interact with people in their newsfeeds. This, on its own, means that anything Facebook does that affects content is hugely significant for marketers.

Mid-way through 2011, the company changed its approach to determining what people saw in their newsfeeds, with the result that the number of people seeing posts from brands dropped significantly – by up to 75%, in fact. While many marketers may be focused on the nice shiny number of total “likes” they have, the reality is that brands’ posts are only seen by a small minority of their fans.

Sound crazy? While impressions/reach aren’t publicly visible numbers, Fangager put out an analysis of the “100 most engaging brands on Facebook” late last year, showing that even the engaging brands generally had between 0.3% and 2% “active fans”. Here’s the top ten:

Disclosure: several of these brands are Edelman clients

The average percentage of ‘active fans’ in the top ten most engaging brands is 1.5%. If you go by the maxim that 1% of people create content; 9% comment and 90% lurk, those numbers multiply up to roughly 16% of people seeing these brands’ content (consistent with the numbers that Facebook discussed at their fMC event last week..

I’ll say that again – even if you’re on the high end of the scale, only one in five fans of your Page will see your content.

Enter Facebook’s new advertising products. Distilled down to two points, the latest advertising announcements from Facebook are:

Simply put, Facebook first degraded brand content over the last year, and has now released a advertising products to let companies pay to offset the changes they’ve made.

Let’s think about this in terms of customer touchpoints. Before the latest round of changes, if you set aside the Open Graph there were four primary ways to proactively reach your company’s fans on Facebook:

  1. Content (proactive and engagement-focused)
  2. Paid advertising
  3. Creative assets (via tabs)
  4. Apps

While agencies made money from all of the above, Facebook only made money off one of those. Combined with the new Timeline for brands, Facebook in one fell swoop has both expanded the overlap of advertising with content, and has reduced the impact of other creative assets (for example, you can no longer direct people to a default tab other than your wall) in one fell swoop.

Implications of Facebook’s advertising changes

I’m not saying these changes from Facebook are a bad thing. Regardless, we can’t exactly blame Facebook for making them – Facebook is a business and, as much as users may like it, engaging content on its own doesn’t generate revenue for the business.

Still, companies (and community managers) do need to pay attention. Here’s what I think we’re likely to see:

  1. Staffing – community managers/analysts: Companies will need to apply new rigor to their content to optimize its performance in Facebook’s new ad products. While the more socially-advanced companies with significant investments are already doing this, this will become important for all companies with paid investments in Facebook. For those with smaller social media teams, that means community managers will find that stats and analysis are even more important skillsets, and that partnership with measurement teams is critical.
  2. Processes – integration and an “and, not or” approach: Success in this new Facebook will depend on even tighter integration between community managers, content teams and paid media in order to find the right balance of engagement, business results-driven content and advertising.
  3. Users – seeing more push-focused content:Yes, companies could promote engagement-focused content, but given that brands will be measuring the effectiveness of their advertising in driving business results, and weighing the opportunity cost of increased Facebook investment against other paid media, users are likely to see more push-focused posts with a clear call to action being published by brands for this purpose.
  4. Lazy – some companies go the paid route: Some companies will choose to take the easy route out. Rather than optimizing their content to increase engagement in order to drive reach, they’ll simply choose to go the paid route, investing in reach generator and the new premium ads to increase the visibility of their content. Whether this will be cost-effective remains to be seen.

4 Ways To Improve Your Social Media Content Strategy

Lots of people spend lots of time nowadays thinking about how to build up channels/audiences/communities (choose your buzzword as appropriate) through social channels. Relatively few, however, seem to apply similar rigor to the process of communicating with those people after the fact.

With a few degrees of variation, most people will suggest you look at around a 90/10 ratio of engagement to static content on social channels. That means, if you post 20 tweets (for example) per day, you have roughly two opportunities to insert your own POV into the stream.

Are you making the most of the static content you post on your channels? Are you using each piece as an opportunity to move towards achieving an objective, or are you just throwing words out there for the sake of posting something?

Here are four ways to begin to improve your social media content strategy.

Set Goals

Launching a new social channel, or campaign on a channel, isn’t the end of the planning process. You should know, clearly, what you’re trying to achieve through your social media activity, and bear that in mind at all times. Sometimes high-level business goals may be a bit abstract, so distill down from those:

Business objectives –> communication objectives –> social media objectives

Tweak these depending on where social “sits” in your organization, but make sure these ladder up, and make sure the content you’re posting does the same.

Optimize

Are you optimizing your content based on previous results? If not, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity.

Content creation doesn’t just mean throwing out posts randomly. Just as media buyers analyze which versions of ads convert better than others, you should take the opportunity to look at the types of content that:

  • Generate more engagement
  • Lead to more click-throughs
  • Lead to more conversions
What type of content works best? Is it UGC-focused content? Links to third-party sites? Opinion pieces? What time of day works best? (Visibli and RowFeeder are two great tools for helping with this)

Think “Search”

What are you doing to ensure you “own” the first page of search results when you make an announcement? Think beyond your marketing terms, and towards what people are searching for. Create useful, interesting content that targets those terms, and publish it at the right time.
Why does timing matter for search? Because in today’s fast-moving environment, if other influential online sites get out of the gate with their content ahead of you, they’ll become the go-to source and they’ll claim your spot in the search results.
If you’re currently losing this battle, take a look at what the other sites are doing better than you.
Remember – you have the advantage – you know what’s coming down the pipe, and you know when it’s coming. That means you should *always* be able to beat them to the punch.

Use Multimedia

Multimedia is such a 90′s term… everywhere except search. Universal search is meaning that different forms of content are being displayed next to each other in search results. That means you’re not just competing for the top-ranked text; you’re competing for the top-ranked image too, and the top-ranked video. Not everyone has cottoned-on to that yet – take advantage of it and think beyond text when you’re planning-out your content.
There you have it – four tips for optimizing content. What other tips would you add?

Feeding The Social Media Beast

Ever felt a “need” to be active on Twitter? Do you feel guilty for not publishing to your blog for a few days?

Hungry dogSometimes there can almost be a compulsion to keep feeding your social media accounts. Go away for a week and watch your blog plummet down the AdAge Power 150, your visitors fall and your RSS subscriptions drop off. Stop tweeting and watch the online discussion around your brand diminish.

So as a business, how do you deal with that time when you just don’t have any content to post?

Personally, I agree with others who have argued that the volume of content isn’t as important as the quality of content and its relevance to the audience.

So, here are a few thoughts on what you can do when your content well appears dry:

  • Re-assess your content
  • Listen to consumers
  • Converse with people
  • Ask what people want
  • Experiment with new ideas
  • Mine your internal resources
  • Wait for useful content

Re-assess

Take advantage of the extra time you have right now to take a cold, hard look at what you’re doing online. Is it working? How do you know?

Take a look at the kind of content you’re posting. Is one kind working better than another? Is one medium reaching more of your audience than another? Could you experiment with something new? Perhaps there’s a potential source of content that you haven’t yet tapped.

Listening

Social media doesn’t have to be all about broadcasting your content (frankly, it shouldn’t). While you’re in this lull, consider placing additional focus on listening. What are people saying about you? Are they discussing your product or company? Are they complaining? Complimenting you? Inquiring? Who is saying these things?

Take the time to reassess where you are against the baseline you set at the outset (you did do that, right?)

Converse

This sits nicely alongside your listening. When people talk about you, do you respond? Perhaps now is a time to get the buy-in you need to start. Maybe it is; maybe it isn’t. Think about it.

Ask

When was the last time you asked the people who care about your company what they want from you? Have you ever done that? You may be making assumptions. Remember – building strong relationships with customers (and I don’t just mean in an online forum) means making it about them, not just you. Ask for input, and ye shall receive.

Experiment

One of the great aspects to social media (to online communication in general) is that you can experiment at little cost. Maybe it’s a new promotion; a new contest; a new feature on one of your social networking properties. That means you can test out ideas, stick with what works and discard what doesn’t. Instead of searching for that big idea to kick-start things, consider trying out a whole bunch of small ideas to see what works.

Plan

Do you have a content plan? How are you using each of the channels on which you have a presence? If you don’t have a plan for them, consider creating one now.

Mine

Just because you work in communications (or marketing, or whatever function you’re in), it doesn’t mean you can’t look elsewhere for help. Whether you’re communicating online or offline, you probably have a wealth of resources right under your nose. Ask around within your organization. Does your customer service, IT or product function have information that you can mine? You don’t know? Ask. Some of your biggest resources may be sitting there just waiting for you to find them.

Wait

You want to be heard. You want to build your community; to get results. Remember, though, that people may not want to hear you as much as you want to be heard. Don’t get me wrong – results are absolutely critical, but spamming people when you have nothing to say won’t help you to get those results.

As I mentioned earlier, look to speak when you have something to say rather than for the sake of it. If that time isn’t now, then wait.

What have you done when your company or your client struggles to find useful content? What would you add to the list?

(Image: Shutterstock)

Building Blog Readership: No Shortcuts. Content.

I spotted a question on LinkedIn today about how to increase traffic to your site. The person posing the question threw out a couple of ideas – social bookmarking and link strategies, for example, and a few people answered with a tip or two.

Most of the tips, while valid to a point, missed the mark in my opinion. They all missed the basic point – the key to building readership for your site is good content. Indeed, one of the answers gave a caveat, “…but this requires a lot of work and will also require that you be able to create quality content regularly…”

My advice: if you don’t want to work and create quality content regularly, don’t start a blog.

Shortcutting causes erosion Social bookmarking sites can boost your traffic, no question. I frequently see a jump when someone submits one of my posts to StumbleUpon. However, this is usually a temporary jump – it’s rarely (if ever) sustainable. Most of these people arrive at your site, read the page (quickly, too – traffic from these sites doesn’t stay long on my site) and leave. What’s more, you need people to vote your content up to start with.

Other people suggested putting your site’s URL in your email signatures (I’d do it on every social networking site you’re on, too). Again, this may drive a few people. SEO is important too – do your utmost to rank highly on the topics you’re writing about.

Still, all of the tips in the world won’t help you if your site is populated with garbage.

To attract – and retain – readers you need to consistently produce stuff that people want to read/watch/see. Decide who you’re writing for and write for that audience. If you’re not producing targeted stuff that grabs people, all of the other tools will only ever produce temporary spikes in traffic. Over time, good content drives people to your site and keeps them coming back. That’s what gets you ranked well in search engines, that’s what gets people to Stumble/Digg/etc your posts and that’s what gets people to link to your site.

Content 101 aside, all of the other tactics – bookmarking, linking, SEO, “top 10″ lists and more – are great ideas. But, like Hertzberg’s Hygiene Factors, without good content all the rest is useless.

What do you think? Aside from posting great content, what have you found to be the best way of generating traffic for your site?