Social Media is Not a Strategy

Let’s go back to grade school. You’re there in gym class, likely feeling inadequate as it is, when a game of dodgeball begins. After several minutes, the gym teacher states that everyone wearing blue can’t be hit with the ball. WHAM! Five minutes later, the teacher says that those same people wearing blue are all automatically out of the game – whether they have been hit or not.

Have you ever played a game where someone decided to make up the rules as they went along? It’s no fun and you’re not likely to win. And yet, this is exactly what happens in the world of social media. To be clear, I’m not talking about paid advertising on these platforms. There is definitely a time and place for that and it is a successful channel. I’m speaking of all of the efforts made to grow your audience on these platforms – only to find that the rules have been changed right in the middle of the game.

Many businesses were excited to learn that Facebook pages allowed them to communicate with their audiences in a place where they already lived. Best of all, this could be done completely at no cost to them. WHAM! Facebook decided that they actually wanted to make a profit and changed the rules. Suddenly, only 1% of these audiences were seeing posts and it was necessary to “sponsor” a post (read: pay for it) if they wanted to communicate with their hard-earned audience.

How about the big publishing companies and media outlets who were suffering because people were consuming their news on Facebook? When Facebook Instant Articles were announced, these companies were skeptical, but optimistic. WHAM! Facebook decided to prioritize video and publishers weren’t seeing the results they wanted. Recently, The Verge posted an article stating that publishers are now running away quickly from the Instant Article model.

Lest we just pick on Facebook, the same experience has taken place here on LinkedIn. I have to admit that I was sucked into the ability to write long-form articles such as this one. Initially, I was seeing remarkable results. You know what’s coming, don’t you? WHAM! LinkedIn shifted course and de-prioritized The Pulse and those of us who spent time building up our audiences were left in the dust. (For the record, LinkedIn recently stated that they are re-dedicating themselves to non-Influencer publishing, so all may not be lost).

If there’s nothing else you take from this article, let it be this:

Social media is a distribution channel, not a strategy.

If there is one marketing strategy you are pursuing, I hope that it is list-building. You can’t communicate with an audience you do not have. Resist the urge to put all of your eggs in the social media basket. Yes, you need to be there. Yes, it has value. But as I’ve demonstrated, the rules change quickly and without regard to your hard work and business needs. These platforms are in business, as most of us are, to make money. Never forget that.

Let’s Get Real, Marketers

stocksnap_rhcve50ejrContent Marketing World laid down some serious knowledge bombs that I’m putting to use immediately. I promise a full wrap-up soon, but one particular such bomb hit me hard. Mathew Sweezey (of “Marketing Automation for Dummies” fame) was, by far, my favorite session.

In the middle of a million tasty bits of advice, Mathew asked the question, “How many of you send an email to a friend or co-worker that is beautifully designed HTML?” Needless to say, no one raised their hand to that little query. So, why do we marketers send these things expecting responses?

Mathew explained that when we all look at our inbox, we don’t preview each one and decide if we’re going to read it. We scan our subject lines, delete with a fury, and then process from there. I work in financial services (insurance to be exact, try not to be jealous) and we are quite guilty of this gaffe.

When trying to retain customers, what will be more effective…a templated, branded email with perfect Shutterstock models or one that simply says, in plain text, “Joe, I noticed your policy is about to renew. There are some other options that are available since you purchased that might be a better fit and more economical. My contact information is below in case you’d like to have a chat.” Which is more real and authentic?

I noticed this principle in action in a very different environment last night. I have a confession to make. I’m a resale junkie. I can’t help myself. There’s nothing better than getting a great deal on things people barely used.

I belong to a Facebook garage sale group (okay, FINE, I belong to several of them). Most posts show pictures and explain details, including pricing. Last night, the following was posted: “I have a bakers rack, entertainment center, 3black and Decker weedeaters(need spokes and the piece to hold spools on), 6ft ladder, 20ft ladder, rakes, shovels, 2 folding camp chairs, doll crib, ride along alphabet train, step 2 kitchen, men’s northface coat, men’s under armour coat, ski masks, patio table and 2chairs and a pressure washer(needs a new wand). For sale. Let me know what everyone is interested in.”

The marketer in me was horrified. In my mind, I said, “You idiot! Nothing about pricing. No pictures. Who the heck is going to respond to you?” Yeah. So, 35 people have so far. As it turns out, curiosity took over and people wanted to find out more. And isn’t that exactly the difference between that fully-formed, beautifully designed email and the plain text version?

I hope this knowledge bomb smacks you in the face like it did for me. Let’s all go out there and get real.

Getting Started with Content Marketing

b3rmsmqi4qk-kate-serbinWhile content marketing may be the current buzz phrase, make no mistake, it’s far from new. If you have any doubt, check out this great video from the Content Marketing Institute. One of my favorite examples is the history of the Michelin Guide.

If you are a foodie like me, you’re quite familiar with the Michelin star that is awarded to the best restaurants in the world. This system was invented by a tire company. Let that sink in for a moment. Their ultimate goal was to get people on the road travelling to new places – and as such – increasing their need for new tires.

Unlike traditional direct marketing, the revenue stream isn’t as simple as “send an offer, measure results.” Content marketing is a long-term strategy that takes dedication and commitment from the upper levels of your organization. There’s little doubt the Michelin Guide has been a home run for a tire company. It took some serious gumption to create this strategy and stick with it for the long term.

Those of you in smaller companies or leaner marketing departments may be getting pressure to start developing content or posting to social media without having spent a substantial amount of time preparing to launch. I caution you to resist that urge.

In today’s digital world, content has the same goals as Michelin had when it got started. However, it’s also become a complex beast. There’s a lot of bad content out there and much like in the direct mail days, it’s necessary to find a way to cut through the clutter. Finding that path takes research and planning. Search engine optimization and distribution strategies are absolutely key.

So, how do you get started the right way? Particularly if you have a small staff and/or budget?

Keyword Analysis

1.      Do an in-depth analysis of your current traffic through Google Analytics. What keywords are people using to find you today?

2.      How much overall volume does Google estimate those keywords bring in monthly for all searches? Use Google Adwords Keywords Planner to find out.

3.      How much competition is there for those keywords?

4.      What is your competition doing? Use a tool like SpyFu to find out.

5.      Are there any long-tail keywords you can own?

6.      Is your business based on a certain location? Use a tool like GoBabl to find out what people are talking about near that location. Identify influencers for future use.

Brand Documentation

1.      Gather up any branding guidelines you have today. If you don’t have them, get started now. You should have your logo available in different formats (for instance: vertical, horizontal, full color, black and white) and identify any rules surrounding that logo. Is it acceptable to do a “knock out” of your logo to a color not in your logo?

2.      Identify your color palette (down to at least 6 colors) and document them in PMS colors, hex and RGB formats.

3.      Document what your “brand voice” is going to be. This is the way in which you will talk to your customers and prospects. Keep in mind that this needs to be viewed from the standpoint of your audience. While you might want to have a young, casual tone – is that how your customers want to be spoken to?

Many people find it helpful to create a persona for their brand. Create a picture and profile for your voice like it was an actual person. It’s easier for marketing departments and freelancers to quickly step into this voice if it’s relatable. What would your brand watch on tv? What kind of music does it like? Really have fun with this and spend a lot of time developing your persona. Even give it a name. It’s easier to ask the question, “what would Sarah say” when you’re creating content than it is to consult a dull, bulleted list.

Customer Analysis

1.      The ultimate goal of this step is to come out with an equally in-depth persona (or personas) for your customers and prospects. In many instances, you will end up with several. Most businesses sell to multiple vertical markets or have a couple of levels of approvals to get through to seal a deal (for instance: the marketing manager might be your first contact, but you need to get the CMO on board to get the sale approved).

2.      Survey your current customers. Ideally, you will segment these customers into groups – such as A, B and C customers. I firmly believe that when it comes to marketing, you are what you eat. You may have been catering to a certain segment, so that’s what you’ll find when you look at your customers. In your analysis, you may find that what you thought were your “C” customers actually have more potential. Be sure to ask what they search for to find you. You’ll want to tie this back to keyword volumes. Your “A” customers may be wonderful, but if you already own 80% of that market share, there isn’t much growth potential.

I recommend doing the surveying on two levels. Use a tool like Survey Monkey to develop a survey that you can send electronically to your customers and prospects. However, it’s vital to pick a few customers in each of your segments to actually call on the phone. Unless you are an experienced surveyor who is skilled in both linguistics and statistics, odds are, you’re going to skew your digital survey. By picking up the phone, you will get stories (and stories lead to future case studies) and learn what their pain points really are. You may find out information that helps you stem some attrition. Getting new customers is the main goal of your content strategy, but goal 1B should be to create loyal brand fans who love your product and company.

3.      Round out your customer and prospect personas based on the information you gathered. This is another place that GoBabl is helpful. Plug in some keywords you heard or read during surveying. Search on their companies too. Search some hashtags they might follow. You can get very in-depth during this research. The more you can step into your audience’s shoes, the better.

4.      Identify customer and prospect pain points and how you solve each of them.

Budget Allocation

1.      Get a number upfront. There is a misnomer that content marketing and social media are free because the platforms don’t generally cost money to join. You will find along the way that you need access to the premium version of certain online tools as you get more sophisticated. You will, more than likely, need to explore marketing automation options as well. Content sent directly onto a blog platform with no distribution mechanism is unlikely to produce the results you want. No matter who small your budget is, it’s best to know it right up front.

As you can see, preparing to start content marketing and social media marketing takes a lot of upfront research and planning. It’s tempting to sit down in front of a blank page and just start typing what comes to you. However, once that train leaves the station, you’ll find yourself unable to go back and lay the foundation properly. Set yourself up for success and do that groundwork now.