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.

 

 

Before You Cut and Paste, Obey Copyright Laws

Digital media experts offer lots of advice on howLeader's Edge logo to successfully market online, but rarely do they emphasize the importance of avoiding copyright infringement.

That’s a shame because website owners who are caught re-using blogs from other sites or publishing photos without appropriate permission and attribution can suffer legal and financial consequences. And thanks to special software that finds reproduced images, it’s also easier to get caught.

As I cover in my Leader’s Edge article, Making a Lasting Impression, the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers (CIAB), which publishes the magazine, was reminded of this the hard way.

Stressed for time, an employee published a photo without getting permission, which goes against the CIAB’s policy. As a result, the photographer’s lawyer contacted the organization and offered a settlement fee much higher than the original cost of purchasing permission. CIAB enlisted an attorney to reduce the fee and settle the matter.

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Imitation (or duplication) may be the sincerest form of flattery, but if it is not done legally, the compliment can be costly.
_______________

Kudos to CIAB President and CEO Ken Crerar, who wanted the story told to prevent the same thing from happening to others. I wrote the article to be helpful to readers, so it also offers tips on how to secure permission with or without licensing fees.

The important point to remember is that posting a photo online is a form of publishing and the same laws apply as with print publishing.

Anyone publishing online needs to take care that they do not copy someone else’s work without obtaining permission. Since there are creators who make the effort to find copyright infringers and sue them, it’s worth combing through all publications and web publishing to avoid copyright infringement.

Imitation (or duplication) may be the sincerest form of flattery, but if it is not done legally, the compliment can be costly.

 

Website Writers, Developers Must Work in Tandem

Image H84.20196Developing websites is far different than even five years ago. Website technology and Search Engine Optimization (SEO), as examples, have changed considerably.

One thing, however, has not changed. Content is still king.

Too often during the website development process, however, business professionals first involve the designer or focus too much on bells, whistles and technical SEO without including the content writer.

This is a grave mistake. Involving the writer early in the process actually helps prevent unnecessary confusion and frustration.

Websites are a form of publishing. In traditional print publishing, the best practice is for writers to create the content first and then the designer develops the layout and chooses graphics that do not compete with text, but enhance the reader’s experience.

This approach also works well with web design because text – and how it is meant to be presented — can affect the site’s look and content placement.

Getting Started

The best way to approach a website is to establish its goals. Any writer or designer worth their salt will ask some of the questions below and offer to help clients answer them if necessary.

Questions should include:

  • What is this site supposed to accomplish?
  • How does the website work within the company’s overall marketing, communications and branding strategy?
  • Who are the readers/potential customers? Reader demographics, pain points and how readers will benefit must be established. Even basic market research can pay future dividends.
  • What is the overall message about the company and its products/services to the customer?
  • Does this message include the value proposition showing what makes the client unique?

The Designer/Writer Relationship

Introduce the writer and designer as soon as possible to encourage a creative partnership. The writer and designer need to have a shared vision so they can literally be “on the same page.”

During the development process, the designer should be concerned about the site map and material organization. As a natural part of the writing process, however, writers develop outlines similar to site maps to present content logically. Experienced writers will naturally consider the “packaging” of text and how to present it in user-friendly ways. Such writers can already envision reader-enhancing elements such as bullet points, sidebars, graphs, links, etc.

_______________

The writer and designer need to have a shared vision
so they can literally be “on the same page.”
_______________

When the site map or web organization is being considered independently from the writer, the text might not fit the site’s design. What can be very frustrating, even to writers, is once the site is laid out, words often read differently once online.

Here’s why: When text is written and saved as a Word document, it is being read for its own sake. But when it is placed within the context of visual content, it might not stand out as well.

I find this phenomenon to be more unique to websites than in print publications. Text on websites is competing with a graphical frame of navigation tools, links and other distractions that can carry a reader’s eyes to a different space. This differs newspaper or magazine articles because print advertising does not distract the reader to a new space.

When changes need to be made, it is less cumbersome and more cost-effective if the writer has full access to all of the content instead of changing text in the vacuum of Word files. That way, the writer can make sure that coded headlines or other graphic elements that include text are correct.

More On Graphics

Traditional publishing practice also discourages design approaches that also should be avoided on websites. Since many website developers are technicians and not necessarily publishing designers, graphic elements could be misused.

For example, pictures can be worth a 1,000 words IF they are appropriate to the reader and the text.

Let’s say a site is trying to reach executives who buy workers’ compensation insurance. Since workers’ compensation only covers injuries, illnesses and deaths relating to work, a picture of a person sweeping a non-descript floor doesn’t resonate with the viewer. If the picture shows occupational elements, such as a person wearing a work uniform and/or background of a work area reinforces the subject matter.

I know this sounds obvious, but if you look at pictures on websites, you will be amazed at how the chosen stock photography does not reinforce the message. What amazes me even more is how much stock photography features still poses when readers like to people in action.

 ­­_______________
Readability is not just a matter of how clearly the text is written…
_______________

Readability is not just a matter of how clearly the text is written, how easily it can be understood or even sentence length. Design plays a larger role and can distract the reader away from even the best content. White space is great, but too much white space between paragraphs can interrupt text flow.

Type size and its typeface are extremely critical or the words can become too “noisy.” Some fonts do not leave enough space between sentences. Using reverse type (white on black and other variations) can be very powerful, but too much is difficult on the eyes.

Also, remember to verify the viewabilty of the most important content. Take a look at your site through several browsers and devices to ensure the most important content is not buried, especially when considering viewing from mobile devices.

Keep in mind that people still print off information to read, so how it looks after being printed is also very important. Continuing to focus on the site’s goals and keeping them “top of mind” is essential. It’s too easy to get into the “weeds” of details, go down a tangential rabbit trail and lose direction.

And finally, choose website designers and writers carefully. Readers and search engine algorithms favor quality. Unique design is more memorable. If you hire based on the lowest price, you are more likely to see common designs or content that looks too similar to your competitors. In the future, I will write a blog on how to hire creative talent.

How will you approach your next website differently? Please share in the comments section below.

Like this blog? Then you’ll also enjoy my recent
Leader’s Edge article on digital media marketing.

How Different Generations Consume Content Online

Think the younger generations consume the most online content than baby boomers? Not true, according to a fascinating study published by Social Times.

The study also shares when different generations go online, the types of devices they use and how they share content. Good stuff! Check it out by clicking the link below!

How Different Generations Consume Content Online [Infographic] | SocialTimes.

Leader’s Edge Feature Offers Digital Marketing Insight and Advice

Leader's Edge logoQuestion: When there is so much Internet noise, how do you make sure your company stands out? Answer: Digital marketing.

As I explain in my recently released Leader’s Edge article, “From Buzz to Bucks,” digital marketing encompasses everything from social media marketing to links, search engine optimization (SEO), video, advertising and other channels.

In general, the insurance industry is behind other sectors when it comes to mastering digital marketing. Digital marketing is not a replacement for all traditional marketing techniques, but it a crucial part of a marketing plan.

The article includes interviews with digital marketing experts and agents and brokers reaping positive results from digital marketing. Their advice can help nearly any company. There is also a sidebar devoted to determining return on investment (ROI) and another covers social media.

Some Digital Marketing Tips Getting started in digital marketing is just like any other form of marketing or public relations strategy.

  • Define your customer, their interests and pain points to develop appropriate messaging. I don’t believe you can know enough about potential or current customers. 
  • Surveys, focus groups and asking readers for follow-up are important tools for better knowing customers. A lot of companies skip this step to their peril. Don’t make that mistake. Hiring an outside firm is a good idea to assure objectivity. At the very least, make sure sales staff keeps track of lead origination. They should be asking – and keeping records — about how customers heard of the company, what prompted them to contact the company and content of interest. 
  • Also, take a close look at your website. Since about half of viewers use their mobile devices to look up information, at the very least, the website needs to be responsive so it’s easy to read and navigate.

_______________
I believe that any new marketing strategy should be approached humbly…

_______________

  • Make sure call-to-action buttons are well placed to transform readers to leads. 
  • Re-evaluate your social media strategy. Are you on LinkedIn, Facebook, GooglePlus and Twitter? If so, post on a regular basis to keep your company top of mind. If not, get signed up! 
  • The secret to great SEO has much more to do with content than fancy programming techniques. Make sure the information is written for readers as search engine algorithms try to mimic what people want to read. Speaking of search engine algorithms, Jayson DeMers, one of the experts quoted in my article, published a piece on Entrepreneur this week explaining how Google’s future algorithm change on April 21st will “revolutionize the way mobile friendliness is determined.” It’s worth checking out. Regardless of algorithm changes, quality content continues to be more important than ever. (Please see the “quality content” tag on this blog to learn how to produce it.) 
  • Make sure your material meets your customers’ needs. 
  • Re-evaluate your website and other content for SEO. Do not stuff content with searchable words. Search engines hate the practice and give sites that do it lower rankings. 
  • Blogging is another way to provide quality content. It requires a time commitment, but regularly introducing quality content – at least once per week — through blogging is very effective for boosting SEO and keeping your company top of mind. Post it on social media sites including LinkedIn. 
  • Take the best sentences and points and feed them into Twitter. To ensure originality and be rewarded by search engines, avoid companies that sell pre-packaged content. Yes, it’s cheaper, but it might not fare as well with search engines. Quality content can be developed by company subject matter experts, guest bloggers and freelance writers. 
  • Graphics play a critical role in presenting content. The right picture can be worth a 1,000 words. Since many people prefer to get information by watching rather than reading, video also plays a role in digital marketing as well.I believe that any new marketing strategy should be approached humbly because the arena continues to evolve. Each company should track every tactic they pursue to see what is most effective. For example, an agent or broker who sells both personal and commercial lines might find that Facebook postings are more effective for selling personal lines and LinkedIn works better for commercial lines.

    Which digital marketing tactics are working at your company?
                 

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!

 

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.

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

_______________

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!

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

_______________

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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