Why Blog? (And How to Get Started)

Why should B2B companies blog?blogging-645219__180

Because blogging is a marketing and communications best practice.

And yet, it is difficult to convince businesspeople why they should blog. The most relevant reasons are that blogging freshens your company’s website and attracts visitors to keep your company top of mind for your potential customers and search engines.

This was true several years ago when admonishments for blogging in B2B marketing began and it remains the same today.

Blogging also:

  • attracts more customers
  • demonstrates expertise for becoming a trusted source
  • positions your company as an industry leader
  • inspires conversation
  • provides reference material when engaging in sales
  • establishes an independent publishing forum
  • offers more online reputation control
  • enhances social media presence
  • generates content for re-purposing (more on that later), and
  • encourages the customer journey.

Why Companies Do Not Offer Blogs

So many potential benefits from blogging and yet, many companies are not making the commitment. Based on the feedback I receive, here’s why (long with my response):

1. Company management is not convinced. The above list should help.

2. Lack of time. Blogging requires discipline. Regular submissions to attract and maintain readership require that blogging becomes part of bloggers’ work schedules and not an additional project that will lengthen the workweek. Let’s face it, most professionals have long given up on the 40-hour workweek so adding another responsibility will likely be unwelcomed.

3. Lack of money. If time is an issue, consider hiring a professional writer who understands your industry. While it may seem like resources are scarce, it is likely the money is there but priorities need reconsideration. Offering blogs and other great website content is more important than advertising. Think of it this way: if advertising attracts potential clients who find no substance, you’ve wasted money. Conference booths, snail mail marketing, giveaways and other tactics might need to be placed on the back burner.

And remember, you can get the most from your blogs by repurposing content (more on that below.)

4. Lack of topic ideas. To find subjects for blogging, start by asking employees in contact with customers, including sales, field and customer service staff what concerns are customers expressing. Ideas can also be found from the media and joining LinkedIn Groups and “listening” to conversations. 

How to Get Started

1. Make a list of ideas.

2. Develop an editorial calendar. Look at the next 52 weeks and assign blog topics, always making sure to first create a bank of “evergreen” topics in case the intended blog is not ready. Be sure the blogs are substantive with original unique content. Do not copy other writers’ work!
3. Establish a blog promotion plan and continually look for new ways to market the blog. Poorly promoting blogs is one of the major reasons why people think blogging does not work. Posting on social media is a good place to start, but there are other ways including offering to post as a guest blogger.

Finally, do not forget to re-purpose blog content. Ways to repurpose content include:

  • Using blog text to update the website. Personally, I have found that blogging causes me to think of new ideas that should be added to my site.
  • Modifying the blog for email marketing and newsletters.
  • Pulling parts of blogs out for developing eBooks, white papers, longer articles for third party publication, etc.

I hope this post inspires your company to get started. More great blogging tips can be found here. 

Got questions? Please ask in the comments section below or send an email to annmarie@lipoldcommunications.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Facing the Insurance Quality Content Dilemma – Part 2

CC0 Public Domai

Last week, I wrote about the choice insurance marketing and communications executives often face when looking for public relations and marketing services. They can either rely on insurance subject matter experts who are not effective communicators or public relations and marketing firms that do not understand insurance.

Then the question becomes, how can insurance industry companies deal with the Hobbesian choice?

The answer is hiring the rare find: a communications firm that understands insurance. Too often, however, insurance industry public relations and marketing executives either cannot find this rare breed or do not have the resources to acquire such talent.

As a result, insurance company marketing and communications personnel, along with vendors that offer industry services, end up exploiting and frustrating internal subject matter experts or hiring public relations and marketing companies that provide assistance on the cheap.

_______________

The best Search Engine Optimization approaches
in the world cannot overcome fluffy content
that lacks substance.
_______________

The first approach can become a human resources problem. The second approach could risk your company’s online reputation by publishing materials that will actually turn potential customers away from your business.

This is happening more than the penny-wise and pound-foolish financial professionals want to believe. They don’t understand that potential clients have become more sophisticated and expect more from content, such as insight and problem-solving strategies. I used to write such content full-time as a journalist, but few publications can support expert reporters.

Once potential customers decide to ignore your company’s marketing emails and social media posts, reversing this rejection becomes very difficult. Reputation damage is much more expensive and difficult to overcome than establishing a credible presence in the first place.

Budget Restraints

But Annmarie, you say, true insurance experts who are also schooled in public relations or journalism can be expensive. Sure, they cost more, but you will not be paying for them to become educated about insurance. Further, the expertise of a quality professional should be reflected in the content and marketing strategies.

With a minimal budget, focus on quality over quantity. I have long told my clients that it is better to publish less often and offer higher quality than to publish a lot of junk. What you want is to see your company’s name associated with must-read content.

This means re-evaluating all the marketing and communications channels and even cutting back in some areas.

Begin by maximizing the company website. There is no point in investing in social media and other digital marketing approaches if the content bread crumbs will just lead to a unappealing website. The best Search Engine Optimization approaches in the world cannot overcome fluffy content that lacks substance. Then there are the ever-changing Google algorithms that strive to reward the best content available and punish those offering content garbage.

Think about it. You get frustrated by wasting your time on shallow content produced by novices. What makes you think your potential customers are any different?

Evaluate the website and ensure that everything adheres to what I call The Credibility Factor. That means:

  • getting rid of all the fluff and telling your potential customers what they need to know to ease the buying process. Simple websites are more effective than fancy and complicated ones.
  • considering the structure and how often a viewer has to click to find what they really want to know.
  • looking beyond the latest and greatest in design and stick with what works.

Once the website is scrubbed of hype, begin planning magnetic content. That means:

  • creating an editorial calendar.
  • approaching internal subject matter experts and freelance writers with the topics and schedule.
  • producing several evergreen pieces first — just in case the schedule falls through – and it will.

Now that your company’s website is top notch, your content rocks and your blogging schedule is consistent, return to social media one venue at a time. As you offer online content breadcrumbs, you want them to lead to your company’s website and ultimately its call to action piece.

For commercial lines customers, you’ll get better results from LinkedIn and Twitter than Facebook. Make sure you have maximized both before moving forward to Facebook. As a tip, I am amazed at how many visitors I get from Google Plus. Be creative on how to use other social media sites. Personal auto and homeowners’ insurers can benefit from Pinterest and Snap Chat with the right approach.
_______________

Get rid of all the fluff
and tell your potential customers
what they need to know to ease the buying process.
_______________

Once you have established substantive content, you can repurpose it as the core of what must be a fascinating and engaging video.

Personally, I am not a fan of videos. Since younger audiences like to watch videos, I am including them.

Here’s why I give them a lower priority. First, I can read faster and would rather not spend two-to-three minutes on a video. Second, videos tend to be very superficial. Video production is not cheap and it requires another set of expertise to be effective.

And finally, please do not produce another boring “teaching” video that mimics a typical classroom experience. The video must personify your company’s brand and insurance is already considered boring enough.

Do you agree with my blog or would you care to share one of your own best practices? Please let me know by responding in the comments section or contact me directly at annmarie@lipoldcommunications.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Facing the Insurance Quality Content Dilemma (Part 1)

CC0 Public Domain

CC0 Public Domain

Insurance marketing and communications executives face a Hobbesian choice when looking for public relations and marketing services. They can either rely on agency counterparts who do not deeply understand the intricacies of insurance or internal subject matter experts who know insurance but are not professional communicators.

The dilemma is the direct result of two primary factors. First, there are few professionals who offer insurance expertise and possess audience-focused communications training and experience.

Second, effective marketing heavily relies on producing magnetic and substantive content. Amidst intensifying online competition, the C-Suite asks their internal marketing and communications departments to become publishers of brand journalism without the additional resources to support the effort.

Often, the C-Suite commonly does not want to accept that publishing is expensive. But it is, which is why so many newspapers and magazines, even those offered online, no longer exist. In a world of free content as a marketing approach, there is no option to sell advertising to underwrite the expense of professional communicators.
_______________
Without understanding the audience,
inbound marketing will fail.
_______________

Those who appreciate and understand insurance tend to be professionals whose aspirations didn’t include becoming writers. Experts in claims management, underwriting, risk management, actuarial, statistics and other disciplines often despise writing. They began their careers not knowing that branding and digital marketing would introduce the publish-or-perish mentality that academics have struggled with for decades.

Such professionals are being asked to work beyond their skill sets while trying to maintain their core competencies through endless hours of continuing education. So it is not surprising that producing content by writing white papers or blogs becomes a hassle amidst their already busy days.

These experts find the writing process to be quite frustrating. After staring at a blank screen for seemingly hours their material is often unorganized or too complicated, making it difficult to read and understand. As a result, the marketing and communications department must invest in heavy editing and re-writing. It’s a time consuming and difficult process that can breed resentment on both sides.

Further, this approach is likely more expensive. Asking highly-paid professionals to write diverts their time and focus away from meeting client needs or rainmaking. Unfortunately, the C-Suite often does not take all these factors into consideration.

Lacking Insurance Expertise

The other option is to hire public relations, marketing and other communications firms. Usually, these well-intentioned companies lack deep and thorough insurance expertise.

The reality is that it takes years to understand the nuances of insurance. The industry not only has several disciplines, but several functions and a multitude of insurance lines.

Workers’ compensation, for example, involves understanding different subjects including health care, the claims process, return-to-work and disability coverage. Additionally, each state has its own regulations and expectations. Personal auto, the largest property/casualty insurance line, focuses on consumers so the approach is different compared to commercial lines such as general liability or business interruption coverage.

Further, the traditional insurance paradigm is evolving to a data and analytics model. Insurance executives, who tend to be conservative in nature, are still learning to maximize predictive modeling so it extends beyond underwriting and pricing to addresses claims management practices and marketing techniques. Forward-moving insurers are focusing on obtaining business intelligence through predictive modeling, which is quite difficult to understand without insurance expertise.

Other disruptors, including artificial intelligence, changing regulations and policy sales via Internet are also having a great impact on insurance companies and the vendors that serve them. Vendors that want to expand into the insurance industry also struggle with understanding what insurers really need, industry nomenclature or the right point person to contact.

Meanwhile, each insurance line faces its own struggles. Auto insurers are excited about telematics when a great deal of consumers want to maintain privacy. Then there are “preoccupiers” such as Uber and Lyft and driverless cars.

_______________
…the C-Suite commonly does not want to accept
that publishing is expensive.
_______________

Then there is the problem of truly understanding the needs of each customer type. Insurers are vying for a greater piece of the growing demand for cyber coverage, for example, when policies are inconsistent and buyers – and even their agents – are struggling to know what should be included in their coverage. The market potential for cyber insurance is enormous, but developing the right policy per each specific customer profile remains a challenge.

For business insurance, a smaller company that lacks a risk manager or a really awesome agent or broker will purchase based on price. Larger companies see the value of services and are sophisticated enough to know that price is just one part of the equation. They want to know how an insurer’s services will support risk management, claims processing and other areas. They also need to be sold on the technology designed to better serve them.

Another limitation is that marketing companies often approach digital marketing from a business school rather than a journalism school approach. They lack professionals who understand how to effectively produce materials because they are not trained in first rule of journalism, which is to understand the audience. I often encounter companies that do not want to invest in determining customer needs and pain points. Without understanding the audience, inbound marketing will fail.

So what is the solution? I’ll address this in my next blog. You can follow it by pressing the follow button on the left hand side.

In the meantime, please offer your comments below.

 

 

Tips for Hiring and Working With Freelance Writers

By Petr Kratochvil (Public Domain)

By Petr Kratochvil (Public Domain)

Finding a freelance writer who will truly meet an organization’s needs requires a lot of consideration. Like any other profession, freelancers vary on experience, professionalism, expertise and quality. At the same time, those looking to hire freelance writers have to be clear on their expectations.

A quality writer can help boost your content marketing efforts and search engine optimization. As I promised in an earlier blog, I am offering my thoughts on hiring freelance writers. This perspective is based on my experience as a paid writer and public relations professional for more than 40 clients during the past 25 years.

Here’s what you need to know:

• Be clear about your business objectives. I’ve had potential clients who wanted an article, a blog or web text only but when I asked them the ultimate goals, they could not be identified. As a result, I worked with some of them on business plans, marketing plans and value propositions so they could re-think what they really needed. Be wary of writers who will do a job without understanding the purpose or desired results.

• Finding the best writers requires some research. If you enter “freelance writers” on a search engine also add the desired subject expertise.

• Look for writers with proven publishing success. Always examine the writer’s content, which in this day and age should be easily available online.Here are some questions to ask yourself:

☐ Do I like the writer’s style?
☐ Is there evidence of quality content that will draw readers to your business?
☐ Where has the writer been published?
☐ Are there online references? If so, are they specific about what they like about the writer?
☐ Can the writer show evidence he or she can handle the assignment? Writing news releases is easy. Producing magazine features, booklets or annual reports requires specialized experience.

• Only hire writers who ask about your audience. If writers do not ask about the intended audience, they have missed the most important element of effective communication. It shows their priorities are more focused on producing work and being paid than meeting their clients’ needs. For some clients, I have provided some informal market research and customer interviews so everyone better understands the intended audience and their needs.

• Check out the writer’s LinkedIn profile. Does the writer’s network include an impressive array of professionals? Are any of them in your network?

• Know the assignment details ahead of time. Can you provide subject matter experts or will you also be paying for research? When is the assignment due? How long is it? What’s the re-purposing plan? What is the corporate style? Is this a one-time only project? Know this ahead of time instead of making vague inquires.

• Do not expect writers to start work immediately. The best writers are busy. Ask when they can be reasonably available to start and finish your project.

• Be sure you can be available to answer questions and help the project move forward. Often, writers will not realize the full scope of a project until they are fully engaged in it. They will likely have follow-up questions, necessary to complete their assignment. Quality writers will also offer advice on editorial packaging.

• Ask how they want to be compensated. By the word? By the hour? By the project? There are pros and cons to these approaches for both the writer and the customer. Some writers will even barter for products or services.

• Compensate fairly. I remember one potential client who wanted to pay me $10 per hour. I declined. Not only was that less than the minimum wage after I pay taxes, but I had not worked for so little (practically free) since I was in college writing articles to build my portfolio! Proven publishing experience and expertise should translate in a better product that is less hassle to produce. Reliable, quality writers that make your life easier are worth their weight in gold.

• Pay in a timely fashion. Payment in full within 30 days is customary, but everyone appreciates being paid sooner.

• When the project is over, ask them how it went. Finding a writer you enjoy working with is not just a matter of professionalism but personality. Ask the writer for feedback on their experience can help you decide to hire them again or clue you in to internal issues that hampered progress. Offer them the same courtesy. Let the writer know if you intend to hire again and explain why.

What other tips would you offer to someone looking to hire a writer? Please share in the comments section below.

To Write Successful Marketing Content, Think Like A Journalist

Courtesy of Mike Lincht NotionsCapital.com via flickr.com

Courtesy of Mike Lincht NotionsCapital.com via flickr.com

Online content marketing is an essential way to reach potential customers. This approach has certainly worked for my clients and my company.

The primarily goal of content marketing is to provide “organic” content — as opposed to advertising — to boost Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to attract potential customers.

While executives can get excited about the bells and whistles of technical SEO, the truth is that content remains king. After all, if the written material does not attract search engines to your website, what’s the point?

So it’s curious to me that so many companies do not make the necessary investment for unique and useful content that is more likely to garner the all-coveted higher search engine rankings.

You no doubt see the results every time you do an Internet search. Since anyone can publish on the Internet without editorial scrutiny or peer review, the cyber world is filled with a lot of distracting and frustrating written refuse. There’s too much content “noise” on the Internet: material that is too generic, doesn’t answer reader questions or even worse, is duplicative from other websites.

The explanation for Internet noise is simple. Content marketing is a form of self-publishing and yet, much online copy is not produced by publishing professionals.

So to become an awesome content marketer, you need to think more like a quality-minded publisher or journalist. Consider this: just as a byline is the journalist’s brand, the material your organization publishes reflects its brand. Some experts call this brand journalism.

Publishers and journalists understand they must thoroughly know their audiences to offer content so compelling that busy people will sacrifice their time to read it. Yes, I mean sacrifice. By publishing a piece, you are asking the viewer to read your stuff instead of doing something else.

Frankly, I am always amazed at the marketing hype that gets published by people who don’t want to spend their precious time reading the hype of others.

_____________

Is your company’s content so awesome
that someone would actually pay
for the privilege of reading it?
_____________

I’ve also been equally shocked by how many professionals I have encountered who are not well acquainted with their customers’ needs and situations. Such information is necessary for producing quality content that will best serve customers. Investing in interviews, surveys or focus groups is a great way to know your customers better. (And by the way, you’ll also get great content ideas.)

The key is to show – not just tell the customer – why your firm is unique and how that equates to better products and services. That means no direct sales material or the blah, blah, blah about your company’s greatness. Ways to show, instead of tell are: publishing expert advice and insight, providing testimonials and case studies that solve common problems.

Professionals with publishing backgrounds understand that to make money, they must produce material that is so credible, useful and compelling that a person would buy it (through subscription) or it will attract enough readers to sell advertising.

Ask yourself a question. Is your company’s content so awesome that someone would actually pay for the privilege of reading it? If so, they will keep coming to your website for more!

Your organization’s content should showcase your expertise and build credibility with your potential and current clients. This is another reason why I recommend a journalistic approach. Strict journalistic standards push out the hype and sloppy content because every sentence must be justified.

Such journalistic standards include:

  • Knowing the reader. This cannot be emphasized enough! 
  • Assuring accuracy. Fact-check and double fact check when referencing other authors or sources. That means that proper nouns must always be correct or they are factual errors. 
  • Clarifying the purpose of the article, blog or other material and ensuring it answers the famous: who, what, when, where, why and how questions. 
  • Being specific. Instead of writing, “according to a study,” you name the study, the organization that published it and provide a link. 
  • Anticipating and answering reader questions about the subject. 
  • Presenting material in its appropriate “editorial package” by considering the appropriate use of graphical elements such as bullets and art. 
  • Staying concise. That does not necessarily mean keeping material short. Search engines do reward thoughtful and longer pieces. Aim for smaller sentences, tighter and active wording (for example, overusing the phrase “of the”) and phrasing that compel further reading.

Applying such standards for producing unique and high-quality content takes a lot of time and adjustment. So what are you to do?

There are several approaches. You can:

  • Buy generic material about insurance that is pretty affordable, but since it is not original, it is more likely to be pushed down by the search rankings. 
  • Produce content in-house, making sure that you have an editor who will approach the article journalistically. 
  • Hire a freelance writer with a journalism background. Writers with solid reputations, years of experience and who know the subject matter (or know what to ask) will likely cost more. Just think of the time it takes subject matter experts, consultants and executives to produce well-written material. Compare that to the cost of hiring a seasoned writer. Besides receiving quality and unique content, you should also benefit from ideas for re-purposing, new stories, different angles and approaches and creative ways to present material.

Conclusion

Publishing unique and quality content is more important for boosting SEO than technical SEO enhancements. By approaching a subject like a journalist, you will enhance your organization’s brand to build trust and credibility that should attract potential customers.

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Is Twitter Worth the Effort?

Admit it! At some point, you have wondered if Twitter is worth the effort. You are busy. You don’t want to waste your time nor do you want a reputation for wasting the time of others. And here’s a dirty little secret: public relations are asking themselves about the value of Twitter.

A recent blog post by Danny Sullivan shows that tweets do not get as much attention as you might think because — surprise! — advertisement can get in the way. Sullivan is founding editor of marketingland.com. Given that he is actively engaged in social media and has 390,000 followers, you would think he would have an impressive impression rate.

However, using newly-released Twitter analytics, he saw a mere 1.85% impression rate, though he also notes that the analysis tool only measures tweets through Twitter’s own web site and mobile apps, so there might be some additional viewing. “But it’s probably not that much more,” he added.

I am assuming that most of us are not doing nearly as well as Sullivan. His results also do not surprise me. Aside from the evil ad interference he mentions, I have to consider my own experience as a user. I have unfollowed those who bombard me with the same exact messages over and over. I guess I still wonder if overdoing social media will go the way of paper junk mail. I also don’t have time to check my Twitter feed much. It’s all I can do to keep up with email!

So what is the answer? Sullivan advises folks to keep on tweeting so the messages do get through, which has become a best practice in social media. You just never know when people will tune in to their feeds. He points out that Twitter acknowledges “that you may have to tweet 14-21 times in a week in hopes of reaching only 30% of your total audience.”

_______________
Right now I hear little concern about over saturating your audience with endless Twitter feeds or blog posts.
_______________

At the same time, we have to keep in mind that micro blogging is still a fairly new concept and more meaningful analytics are yet to come.

We still have a lot to learn. Right now I hear little concern about over saturating your audience with endless Twitter feeds or blog posts. I predict that once all the excitement settles down we will find there are more effective ways to use these tools to reach our audiences.

In fairness, Twitter has successfully drawn more attention to my blog. But as a business-to-business communicator, LinkedIn done a much better job.

My approach to social media is to not bombard my readers. I want to build a reputation for thoughtful content, which means I try to limit posts to topics I think would truly interest my readers. My hope is when they see a post from me, they will notice it because it is rare. I know this goes against the social media advice out there, but as a practitioner, I am doing my own experimentation.

Should you engage in Twitter? Absolutely! You really do not have an overall social media strategy without it. At the same time, be realistic about Twitter. It’s merely another way to reach your audience.

And really, I wish organizations would focus more on the content they are publishing than the means they are using to do so. Sometimes we can get so caught up in the latest and greatest that we miss what’s more important.

Keep your eye on the goal. Effective social media marketing means providing quality content to attract clients to your organization to ultimately build your customer base.

In my observation, publishing quality content in and of itself is fraught with challenges because either a) people do not want writing content as another job responsibility or b) companies do not want to pay writers to produce the unique and helpful information readers want.

So before you tweet again, ask yourself: is this information my current and potential clients need to know? Not sure? Then don’t post!

 

Is Freedom of the Press at Risk?

The Federal Communications Commission plans to visit news organizations to find unfair bias in news reporting.

This upsets every journalistic inclination I possess.

If you have as much trouble believing this as I did, then check out the article, The FCC Wades Into the Newsroom. Published in the Wall Street Journal, it is written by Ajit Pai, one of the FCC’s commissioners.

In it he describes the “Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs.” Called, CIN, he explained, “the agency plans to send researchers to grill reporters, editors and station owners about how they decide which stories to run.”

I’ve worked in newsrooms. I can just picture the scene. How can you be sure the FCC is more unbiased than the reporters? I admit most of my friends in media are politically liberal, but those I worked with industry media have tried to be balanced. Reporters do not care about color or creed. We just want sources who can offer information and insight.

But it gets worse.

The FCC, he said, says the study is an “objective fact finding mission.” The results are to be submitted to Congress to identify barriers for small businesses that want to go into media.

What barriers could there be? Anyone who can start a website can publish whatever they want. My WordPress blog costs me virtually nothing. It’s real cost is in my time.

_______________
Reporters do not care about color or creed.
We just want sources who can offer information and insight.
_______________

This raises another point I have not seen covered. If the FCC can start going after reporters about what they publish, what is to stop the agency from going after bloggers or others who publish or speak in any media? After all, the journalism profession does not require any special certification. I happen to have a journalism degree, but there are plenty of reporters who do not. In fact, until the 1960s, many reporters were not even college educated.

What about companies that use brand journalism as part of their marketing and communications strategy?  Could companies be judged as well?

Part of the problem is Americans are forgetting the lessons learned from history. Some of you know that genealogy is a personal hobby of mine. I have been learning about my ancestors in colonial Virginia and have enjoyed reading about their interactions with people like Patrick Henry.  It is helping me to appreciate the priorities in the Bill of Rights.

Freedom of the press, speech and assembly were put in the First Amendment because the English Crown tried to subvert the publications by patriots including Patrick Henry and Ben Franklin. The framers of the Constitution understood that democracy is impossible unless the people have liberties including freedom of expression. If the FCC starts investigating newsrooms, how is that any different from the British King getting printing presses destroyed?

The FCC is slated to start in Charlestown, South Carolina. The fact that they are starting there, when the major news hubs of the country are in Washington, D.C. and New York, is curious to me.  Is it because South Carolina tends to be conservative? I hope not, but the first choice of venue is quite interesting.

Does this upset you? Let me know!

 

 

 

 

 

Q & A with Social Media Bible Author Lon Safko

Social media expert Lon Safko

Social media expert Lon Safko

Lon Safko is a bestselling author of books including, The Social Media Bible and The Fusion Marketing Bible. Soon, Lon’s show, “Social Media & You…  Communicating In A Digital World,” will be featured on PBS. His career includes several other impressive achievements. You can learn more at http://www.lonsafko.com.

 I got hip to Lon three years ago when I was writing an article on how actuaries — and everybody else for that matter — can use social media to market their businesses. Since then, Lon has been an influential colleague and friend. Lon graciously accepted my request for a Q & A and here it is!

Annmarie: How did you get into social media?

Lon: It was September 2006. I heard of the term and didn’t know what it was. I started asking around. My techie friends didn’t know what it was and told me not to pay any attention to it or the term, “Web 2.0” because neither meant anything. I didn’t believe that answer.  I knew right then, it was going to be disruptive technology.

Throughout my career, I have been able to recognize these disruptive technologies before most others.  Because of this, I have been called a futurist. This led to my having 18 inventions in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. and more than 30,000 of my personal papers are part of their permanent collection. I knew social media was going to be one of those technologies that would change our lives.  

I’ll admit I did not know the extent of how disruptive it would become. I started watching it and by spring of 2007, I was hooked. I then began pitching the concept for a book, first, to my existing publisher, Pearson, then to all of their labels, such as Wharton, Peachnut, Sam’s and Que. There were blue-sky meetings after blue-sky meetings. Finally, I went to John Wiley & Sons. They totally got the value of social media even back then. The rest is history.

Annmarie: What do you like the most about social media?

Lon: The ease of communication. I can find whatever information I need at the click of a button. I can casually follow what my friends and family are up to. I can learn from people in the industry and it all comes to me with no effort. I can listen to one or to many and I can just as easily speak to one to or thousands.

Annmarie: What do you least like about social media?

Lon: The responsibility. Maybe it’s more me, because I am expected to be on every platform. It takes a LOT of time. Monitoring conversations, watching Google Alerts and HootSuite, answering email, posting to Facebook, updates on LinkedIn, tweeting on Twitter, checking my Second Life property, tweaking my SEO, keeping Google Hangouts working on my Mac…  It’s a full-time job.

Annmarie: It does take a lot of time, even for those of us who are not doing everything. So how do you keep up with such a quickly growing industry?

Lon: I use social media. Really! With all of the information that streams in all day, I can simply glance at all of the content and keep my finger on the pulse of the industry. Ten or 20 years ago that would have been impossible. Now it’s much less work and often, fun.

Annmarie: How do you advise people getting into social media? What baby steps should be taken first and then where does someone go from there?

Lon: First of all, don’t be intimidated by it. Just like anything that we don’t understand, it seems scary or overwhelming. Take it one tool at a time. I suggest that people use what I call the Trinity of Social Media: blogging, micro-blogging, and social networks.  If you can do just those three things, you have 90 percent of what you need.  
_______________

Google Juice and Link Love are the two most important criteria
that all search engines use to rank your site.
_______________

You, more than anyone, understand the power of blogging. It sets you up in the search engine as a perceived industry leader because of your insights. You get Google Juice or indexed content, which contain your industry keywords, and Link Love or external reputable links or links back to your blog site.

Annmarie: True enough. But tell me, since Google has changed its algorithms, what is the best strategy to be found?

Google Juice and Link Love are the two most important criteria that all search engines use to rank your site. Micro-blogging is Twitter. I don’t call the category Twitter because there are other micro blogging platforms such as Yammer for an enterprise Twitter type solution.  

Tweeting is a great way to you and your brand out in front of your prospects and customers multiple times per day. If you can Tweet only three times a day, Monday through Friday, you get your brand in front of your prospects 15 times a week. And, assuming you pay particular attention to making your content have a strong WII-FM — What’s In It For Me — or a IDKT —  I didn’t Know That value. They will welcome your next message and your brand.  

Add social networks: Facebook, LinkedIn, and others. Facebook has 1.2 BILLION users. The New York Times only has 1.2 million subscribers. If I told you I’d give you a free ad in the Times, you’d jump at it. Then why aren’t you strongly participating in Facebook and LinkedIn. I love LinkedIn. It the largest on-line database of professionals in the world!  Connect and communicate with them!

Annmarie: What would you say are common actions even social media experts miss?

LON: STRATEGY!  Can you tell this is important to me?  Everyone’s talking, but doesn’t have a reason. That’s why fewer people are listening. Facebook is NOT a strategy. Twitter is NOT a strategy. Blogging is NOT a strategy.  

You have to first define what you want to achieve, then ask how can I use say, Twitter, to accomplish that objective. Then ask, how can I use Facebook to accomplish that objective? Then repeat for each of your objectives by asking how communication tools will achieve those objectives. All of these answers become your tactics, and the summation of all this becomes your overall strategy. That’s what my newest book, The Fusion Marketing Bible, is all about.

Annmarie: Sometimes it’s difficult to sell social media services because there are still a lot of executives who are not convinced of their effectiveness. What do you tell them?

Lon: They have to get into the 2000s, peacefully or kicking and screaming is OK too! There’s no going back. Social media is here to stay. I can cite some examples from above; take out a very expensive ad in the New York Times and possibly reach 1.2 million or participate on Facebook and reach 1.2B. Pay tens or hundred thousands of dollars on a direct mail campaign that ends up in the recycle bin, or post three Tweets a day and get noticed by tens of thousands of prospects a week for free. Spend tens of thousands of dollars on newspaper advertising or blog and draw attention from around the world.  

Once they hear the facts, the decision becomes quite easy. Then you have the difficulty of implementation and commitment.

Annmarie: What is the greatest barrier to implementing a social media program?

Lon: First, being convinced that social media marketing is a good idea. Then it’s making a commitment, creating a sound strategy, understanding all of the tools, creating sound objectives, developing the tactics, and then, most of all, a committed implementation. They have to stick with it.  

It really doesn’t happen overnight; neither does traditional marketing. The key difference is social media has no media buys. Both traditional and digital marketing require time and creativity, so that cancels out of both sides of the equation. So, what’s left is cost. And social media has little or no cost to implement. That makes it my choice.

Annmarie: How do you think social media will continue to change our lives?

Lon: Communication. Different forms or platforms will allow it to communicate more easily and people will have more fun doing it.

Every time we create a technology for communicating, we quickly figure out how to use it for marketing. Pinterest is a great example of this. It’s fun to pin pictures, but it’s more fun to make money by having your products pinned.

These are the most exciting times I have seen in my lifetime. Computers were cool in the late 70s and early 80s, but they took two decades to catch on. Social media has changed all of our lives, worldwide in as little as five years. And, it will continue to change how we market, sell, communicate, and connect.

Annmarie: Thanks for sharing your advice with my readers.

 

To Build Credibility, Stop the Nonsense

Don’t you just love it when the basics of effective business practices win out over marketing ploys?

One basic is credibility. Every company needs it to build trust with potential and current clients, but few do a great job achieving it.

To me, credibility is saying what you mean and meaning what you say. For effective business-to-business brand advocacy, you need a credible product or service. You also need written material that reinforces it.

Companies cannot risk losing customers by telling them “it depends on the meaning of the word ‘is'” as politicians do with voters. (I dare say that if ObamaCare were offered by the private sector, there would be a ton of lawsuits, but I digress.)

Developing quality content comes down to this: write only what you would want to read. Like your readers, you are busy. You don’t want waste precious time wading through marketing hype to get your questions answered.

If your text is has more words than meaning or does not help the customer be ruthless and cut it.

This is really all you need to know and you probably already knew it.

Yet amazingly, too many companies still serve up marketing nonsense for reader consumption. Even worse, the so-called experts advocate disingenuous tactics for building readership. Don’t let them distract you from your goal of writing truly useful text.

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Dictionaries offer definitions of credibility,
but to me, it means saying what you mean and meaning what you say.

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Call me old fashioned, but I never practiced or advocated for so-called strategies like using Google analytics to find key words and then stuffing them into copy. This was never worthwhile because words are for people, not machines! (And as any English teacher will tell you, redundant use of words is just bad writing).

The ultimate goal of web text, and any marketing material, is to gain satisified customers. Back in the day when webmasters were the ultimate purveyors of content, they argued it was better to boost hits to attract people to the content.

I would insist it was other way around: awesome content — which is informative, helpful or interesting – attracts and retains readers. Who cares how many hits you get if the content does not build brand credibility or help sell products or services? My blog does not reach millions but it does reach enough of my potential customer base to keep me busy.

Thankfully, Google’s recent algorithm changes are doing a much better job at discouraging marketing hype. Google is also rewarding longer content as well. This means that organizations can no longer get away with producing cheap, generic content to the ever-growing number of people who only rely on the Internet – as opposed to print — to find out information.

Google’s algorithm also discourages the practice of inserting hyperlinks to material not truly germaine to your topic. To the reader, unnecessary links are empty promises.

Hubspot, which offers software to generate web traffic, does a great job covering this in its “2013 Marketing Predictions: Hits & Misses.” You can find at http://www.hubspot.com. I love what its report said, “Don’t game the system, don’t write for the algorithm, don’t try to be sneaky – focus on helping the people you are trying to reach.”

To this I offer a heartily, “Amen.” Hubspot recommended that marketers focus on quality content (thank you very much), in-depth articles, and social recommends” – that is, the more likes your material earns, the more Google will notice.

Toward Credible Content

Producing material of journalistic quality will encourage reader trust. Today, that is called “brand journalism.” To offer brand journalism, you have to think like an editor and view the customer as the audience. You need to anticipate business problems — what is keeping them up at night — and offer ways to help.

Even before “brand journalism” became a term of art, publishing quality content that readers could trust was always effective.

I had a client who self-published an article on a PDF about ten years ago. Ever since, searchers who enter the subject term in the search engine will still find it on the first results page. He is now nationally known for his expertise. Keep in mind this happened while word stuffing was a common practice and before Google’s developed a finer text sifter.

Quality content also fills an information void. There are fewer journalistic publications, whether on paper or online, because publishers cannot afford reporters. Your organization can fill this information through brand journalism. That is, producing trustworthy articles, blogs, web content, etc., that will keep the readers for coming back for more.

Before producing written material, companies should make sure they live up to their promises. If customer service is lame, even great content will become meaningless now that people can complain online for the world to see.

To build public credibility, identify topics that will interest potential clients and produce copy the media would publish. If the piece is really hot, see if an outside publication would like to publish it first. If a reporter calls you for an article interview, your credibility goes up. If the whole piece is published, credibility goes up even more!

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Ultimately, what customers say about your company is more important than what you say.

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So next time you read your organization’s website, put on your customer empathy hat and ask yourself if the text succinctly answers what readers want to know. Are the words empty or are they are building credibility for your company?

Anyone can say their firm produces quality whatever or the best service – and they do and will. Does the copy say what you mean? Is it accurate? Does it not just tell but also show the readers why it is so great?

Does it mean what you say? Can customers count on the truthfulness of the words? Does your firm’s value proposition reflect the realities of customer service?

Ultimately, what customers say about your company is more important than what you say. When happy customers endorse your offering, credibility and sales should go up.

It all starts with awesome content about a quality offering.

How do you ensure meaningful and credible content? Please share at will!

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Annmarie’s Top 10 Most Popular Blogs and Why

When it comes to business-to-business marketing, blogging is considered a must for what marketing experts call “inbound” marketing. According to Hubspot.com, the goal of inbound marketing is to convert strangers into customers and promoters of your business.

My blog has been very successful at inbound marketing. I like to think of it as encouraging potential clients to come to you instead of the other way around. That’s different from traditional marketing, which is when you reach out directly to customers through emails, brochures, cold calling and, well, you get the idea.

Hubspot publishes that since 2006, inbound marketing has been the most effective marketing method for doing business online. Inbound marketing, however, is not easy. It requires strategic thinking to figure out what kind of quality content will attract potential clients to your website and, ultimately, to boost your business results.

Blogging is a primary tool for inbound marketing. Effective blogs should incorporate the idea of brand journalism.

What is brand journalism? It’s a newer term of art that describes what successful public relations professionals have always done. That is, providing useful and quality content to attract readers to your brand. I did this years ago for a client’s newsletter. I produced newsletters that had more focus on news readers can use instead of marketing hype. As a result, potential customers approached my client for its services.

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Effective inbound marketing is both an art and science.
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When it comes to successful blogging, brand journalism and inbound marketing, I have an advantage. Since I have a journalism background, I am used to thinking about information through the lens of what will attract and retain readers. I also write about technical subjects in a non-technical way to reach broader audiences.

If you are thinking about blogging, you should be clear on the purpose of your blog. Mine is to reach insurance professionals looking for writing and public relations services. That is why you will find a mix of insurance information and marketing advice in my blog posts. (For more on successful blogging, please check out the “blogging” tag.)

Effective inbound marketing is both an art and science. There is a lot of great advice out there on anticipating search terms, considering search engine algorithms and profiling potential customers and readers. Since I am too busy servicing my clients, I just stick to writing what I think will interest readers. (For more on knowing your audience, click here.)

So why has my blog worked? To determine this, I reviewed the 10 most popular blogs I’ve run since I started blogging two years ago. By offering what has worked for me and why, I am hoping my blog can inspire greater blogging success for others.

1)   Discovering the Power of F#. This blog is based on an article I wrote for Contingencies magazine. It generated most hits, was the most tweeted, reached readers from all over the world and helped me to reach a new market. Why it works: Everyone is looking for innovation that will boost their competitive prowess.

2)   Workers Need to Know the Truth About Workers Compensation. Why it works: It offers practical advice and information non-workers’ compensation experts need to know.

3)   Ten Ways to Improve Workplace Safety. This blog consistently attracts readers every single day. In fact, if you type “ways to improve workplace safety,” my blog is the third on the Google page. Why it works: The title mirrors wording that searchers are likely to use and delivers on its promises.

4)   Why Injured Workers Hire Attorneys. Why it works: The title is search engine friendly and the information usefully distills research by the well-respected Workers Compensation Research Institute to make it practical for employers.

5) 21 Lessons From My First Year of Blogging. Why it works: Because it provides helpful insight for new and future bloggers.

6)   Converting the CEO to the Cause of Workers’ Compensation. This blog was shared and commented on extensively in workers’ compensation LinkedIn groups and is the top Google listing for “convincing the CEO about workers’ compensation.” Why it works: Convincing the CEO to invest in workers’ compensation programs is a major pain point for professionals in the field. The blog offers internal strategies on how to convince the CEO that workers’ comp initiatives are worth the investment.

7)   Reduce Claim Filing Lag time Through Effective Employee Communication Plans. Why it works: Employers are always looking to save on workers’ compensation dollars and claim lag time is a key cost driver. Again, writing headlines that will match search terms is key. Type in “how to reduce workers’ compensation claim lag time” and my blog is the sixth in the list.

8)   What Employers Should Know About Workers’ Compensation Predictive Modeling. Why it works: Employers have heard of predictive modeling, but they need to know how it will affect them.

9)   Opening A Window Into Health Care’s Future. This blog covers an article I wrote for Leader’s Edge magazine that covers the future of health care, its technology, the ethics involved and implications for ObamaCare. Why it works: People like to read cutting edge information and the subject has universal appeal.

10) Ten Attributes of Quality Content. Why it works: People want to write better content and this blog offers ways to do it.