Back in the 1970’s, a Canadian named Moses Znaimer did something that nobody had ever done before. He took the medium of television, which had long been a great, mysterious and meticulous process reserved only for a select set of highly trained professionals, and gave it back to the people.
Through his little UHF station, CITY-TV, he turned the TV production process on its head, and made everything the studio. He showed audiences not only what was happening on the screen, but what was happening behind the scenes too. Lights and cameras and microphones were in the shot. The cameras moved and roamed and shook and zoomed in and out, and were taken from the pros and placed in the hands of the reporters and hosts. It was spontaneous and real. Moses Znaimer de-mystified TV, and the broadcasting world was never the same. The medium is the message, indeed.
Flash forward about 35 years and here we sit, firmly planted in a new era where media truly is in the hands of the people. Everyone now has the opportunity to be a publisher. So, one would think, with media being so accessible to all of us now, that more people would actually be publishing.
Yet most of us are not.
As much as the Internet as changed our behavior, it really hasn’t changed much at all. We just think it has. As easy as it is to just push a button and become a publisher now, most people still are not doing it. They know the process is not a great mystery any longer, and they are intrigued by the possibilities.
They WANT to publish, because they’ve seen the benefits publishing can bring to them and their business. But still, they hesitate. Why? Because the average person still thinks the so-called “experts” and “A-Listers” are the ones with all the control. They think that the people with the loudest voices know more, so they fall back to the role of passive consumer of media, because it’s the safest place to be.
The truth is, just because the mystery of the media process has been removed from the equation, doesn’t mean that you are ready to take the next step to become a publisher. Why? Because as comfortable as you are with the process now, you’re still not convinced you have anything interesting to say. You still would rather consume than create, even though you know that creation is the best thing for you.
But you DO have something to contribute. You are already interesting, by the very nature that you are the only one in the world who sees things from your perspective. And by sharing that perspective, you’re giving the world something very, very worthwhile.
So, with all the mystery out of the way, how are you going overcome your fears? How are you going to make the transition from consumer to creator?
Sometimes moving to a conversational medium can be hard. Transitioning style — blogs, videos, social networks updates, etc. — to serve stakeholder groups can be extremely challenging. This is a legitimate challenge of moving from traditional to conversational marketing. But some marketers ignore the relational value of social content, and abuse these media to posture, positioning for influence and popularity rather than serving. Posturing wastes corporate content.
Fellow blogger Rich Becker recently discussed the Fifth Estate, and how the PR blogosphere doesn’t act responsibly. That’s because many PR 2.0/social media influencers, just like their predecessors, believe that PR and marketing is about posturing. They are more concerned about looking good and maintaining influence than building real relationships or discussing industry ethics (see Becker post). God forbid if they took time to talk about anything other than themselves.
Let’s be clear. Blogging and creating content for popularity can make you “influential” by certain algorithms. And influence is the paper tiger that PR 2.0 social media types trot into the boardroom to close the deal. But that won’t build customer loyalty.
Content needs to serve stakeholders. For all intents and purposes, it’s a product you are creating for them. The correct use of content is to serve people, make their lives better. That’s the whole gist of positioning content marketing as the Serve strategy in Welcome to The Fifth Estate. Applied, if PR 2.0 bloggers had guts they would take up serious ethics issues like Weiner/Twitter use & Motrin, rather than getting flabbergasted by the latest Apple iOS announcement. It would better serve their clients.
Yes, there are other benefits, including thought leadership, SEO and customer loyalty (for nonprofits; donor, volunteer or beneficiary). This is the gravy received for doing the job right. That means make your readers’ lives better and easier through the content you are creating for them.
Today on Gaping Void, Kathy Sierra had a stirring post, “Pixie Dust & the Mountain of Mediocrity” to this effect: “If people love what a product, book, service let’s them *do*, they will not shut up about it. The answer has always been there: to make the product, book, service that enables, empowers, MAKES USERS AWESOME. The rest nearly always takes care of itself.”
Facebook has everything from video and pics to groups and questions. From a marketer’s perspective, perhaps the most attractive features are the robust activity stream and inbound Like functionality. But even if Facebook doesn’t have the function you need, a company or nonprofit can build a custom app for the social network. The only area where Facebook seems limited is mobile. In spite of 1/3 of its traffic coming on the mobile platform, Facebook loses a lot of its functionality on smaller screens and apps due to a text heavy interface.
With Facebook’s robust tool set, applying the four social media strategies outlined in Welcome to the Fifth Estate is relatively straight forward. It’s important to note that any Facebook initiative should fit within a larger holistic online effort and your overall business & communications strategy. Here’s a look at each strategic approach.
Strategy 1: Participation
Always the bread and butter strategy, participation can keep an online effort alive and growing for months without any other effort at all. From a community management standpoint, participation is simple: Talk with other people on Facebook. This gets back to the timeless social media lesson that posting messages is not relational, and doesn’t help your nonprofit or company succeed. As Mitch Joel says, when organizations do this, they are trying to force an old marketing method into two-way channels.
Participation involves responding to user comments on a Facebook page, going out and talking to fans on their pages, and gasp, yes, participating in larger industry fora, including Groups and answering Questions. It means asking questions rather than posting statements, and genuinely listening. Encourage people to talk about the issues you share in common. When in doubt use the Pareto principle of 80/20, meaning, don’t talk about yourself or your organization 80% of the time.
Two examples of participation are Audi and LIVESTRONG (ugh, Lance). Audi uses its Facebook page on a level far exceeding its auto competition, even answering questions about common issues with its automobiles. LIVESTRONG’s use of Facebook to connect with cancer survivors and patients is astounding. User-generated conversation far outpaces LIVESTRONG discussion. Both pages have more than a million fans, in large part because user conversation is so highly valued.
Make no bones about it, fostering conversation has real marketing value for an organization. Beyond fostering stronger ties with fans, each interaction — either from you or them — is listed in the Facebook stream, and thus acts like a word of mouth referral to each users’ network. It is through such updates that an organization can be introduced to friends of fans, which have a higher likelihood of converting than an ad or another referral source.
Strategy 2: Serve with Content
Much has been said about content creation. In fact, entire books have been written on the topic (see Beth Kanter’s review of Content Rules). There are so many ways to provide content within a Facebook community, from extremely popular photos (tag away) and videos to notes and applications. It’s almost impossible to exclude any type of content as a possible tactic, even feature rich games or coupons for Places check-ins.
There are a couple of nuances to content provision. Whatever you decide to do, make sure it actually serves stakeholders with either valuable information or entertainment. This means don’t post your press releases, rather post information people will find worthwhile. Listening and participation are precursors to success, generally.
This brings up the second nuance. Facebook automatically licenses your content when you publish it there. Further, when you only publish on Facebook, you are not bringing people back to your site for further engagement. This should lead to an important conclusion: When in doubt publish content off site, and use links, applications or embeds codes in iFrames to share the content. This creates a call to action for further engagement on your site, as well as the ability to develop stronger ties with stakeholders there. It also ensures copyright ownership for your full content.
Strategy 3: Top-Down Influence
For many groups, Facebook success is not as easy as launching a post on their 1,000,000 person community page. They really need strong networks of influential people to carry the word for them, especially if they are at the beginning stages or have a weak participatory effort.
It becomes necessary to build relationships with influencers, people that the larger community trusts and responds to, from bloggers to active social network participants. As noted in participation, when they comment and add discussion to their stream about your topic of interest it becomes a powerful peer referral. Many organizations focus on big names, but these aren’t necessarily the most powerful within your stakeholder community. Research and find the magic middle, influencers who are accessible to the community yet are well referenced and hold weight.
Engage influencers on their terms. For example, if you wanted to engage and cultivate relationships with critical voices in the DC 2.0 community you should participate in the DC Tech group. It is worthwhile participating in conversations on critical voices’ Facebook walls. Finally, it may make sense to set up your own group of influential voices to strengthen relationships. Epic Change’s Stacey Monk did this to organize and activate the To Mama With Love effort.
Strategy 4: Empower Your Community
Empowering people can range from letting folks tell their own stories like American Express did with its Small Business Saturday Facebook application to crowdsourcing charitable contests like Lady Gaga’s recent Robin Hood contest for New York City homeless organizations. These were both high-end examples of empowerment, but it can be done with simple applications like Questions, or asking a question on your Facebook page.
People like contests, especially when they are win-win and don’t have much down side (unlike Pepsi Refresh losers). This is a great way to galvanize a community, too.
But be aware that empowerment and crowdsourcing take significant work. It is a prerequisite that you have a highly engaged community via participation otherwise you will launch an effort to deaf ears. More sophisticated efforts also tend to blend the content and influence strategies.
Further, it takes a lot of management resources to effectively run a crowdsourced effort, much more than you would think, and many of the results are lacking in quality. Do this with open eyes. The scale and results can be magnificent, but so can the pain.
Moving from marketing to an entertaining delivery of useful information creates a much higher likelihood of successful communications between an organization and its stakeholders. Like gamification, storytelling entertains the online reader/viewer/listener, earning their interest. Compelling stories convert dry boring content into worthwhile time expenditures.
Success assumes a few of things: 1) That the storyteller understands what compels its stakeholders; 2) the information presented in the story is useful; and 3) the return on investment for an organization is asked for in a tasteful manner. Meeting those three fundamental building blocks empowers an organization to make storytelling work.
There are many approaches towards storytelling. Personification, third person storytelling, embedded journalism, and metaphors are just four ways to enliven content. Here’s a deeper look:
Personification: The old blogging method of personal storytelling can drive great interest. Well executed, the person and their audience can share experiences together (Example: Beth’s Blog). People want to understand how attending that event made you feel, or how that new technology changed your perspective. By sharing an event, an idea, or reflection, we identify with or at least imagine commonality about conceptual material, and content becomes interesting. There are certainly dangers to personification, including nihilism, over-reliance on opining, and personal branding that negatively impacts the organization.
Third Person Storytelling: This gets back to the basic elements of storytelling a la the original oral tradition of tales like Beowulf and the Odyssey. Third person storytelling is really good for causes and consumer facing companies that resolve problems. Showing how people’s lives have become better or enriched as a result of touching an organization is powerful. For many organizations, this is told via case studies, but there is nothing wrong with enlivening a story by weaving narrative elements into it or discussing trends (Example: Shel Israel).
Embedded Journalism: This approach seeks to provide a journalistic view into an organization or related external events and happenings. Similar to trade reporting, embedded journalism relies on facts, the ability to answer the 5 Ws in any good story (who, what, when, etc.), pyramid style structure, and a general tone that instills objective view points (Example: Invisible People). Of course this is the weakness of embedded journalism: By acting as a member of the Fifth Estate, companies and nonprofits immediately are suspected for pushing their wares and solutions. This means fact telling and objectivism has to be held to a higher standard.
Metaphors: Infusing metaphors into content empowers people to more easily imagine data and hard concepts. By using common metaphors that almost everyone has experienced, the ability to identify with the concepts behind a story become much more personalized. The long journey to successful metaphorical writing can involve wrong turns, potholes and flat tires, over-complication of storytelling route (plot), and more. But with practice, this can become one of the most powerful methods of communicating complicated concepts (example: Copyblogger).
What are some of your favorite storytelling methods?
Yes, there’s an issue of strategy and best practices. The resources and “how to produce” online content argument that most online communicators discuss are accurate. Yet, after a while it gets beyond technique and capacity. The reason most organizational content fails lies in the fact that they are marketing initiatives.
It’s marketing! People don’t want marketing schtick! Consider that amongst today’s youth aged 12-17, only 6% are interested in interacting with brands on Facebook (source: Forrester). Further, marketers’ rush to add hoards of followers to establish credibility has flown in the face of what peer-to-peer trust is all about, and thus many of these “big accounts” lack the influence they desire (source: eMarketer).
This is a timeless issue that dates back to newsletters and press releases, the predecessors of online content. Marketers that produce marketing schtick bore people to death. This decades old misstep finds its basis in two key failures: 1) Not understanding stakeholders and 2) Sacrificing information quality to push marketing goals. Organizational selfishness — short-sighted, unintentional or purposeful — kills content. As a result performance suffers.
No one wants their content to fail. In many ways, reversing this very common problem requires a change in ethos. Marketers need to create compelling content — specifically, interesting and factual stories. They need to adapt best practices from the journalism field, and bridge the gap between corporate interest and market needs for valuable information.
In that sense, Clay Shirky was right: Everyone Is a Media Producer. Creating compelling content begins with understanding the fundamental shift and interconnection between the Fourth and Fifth Estates. The influx of millions of new content creators, most of them lying in the niche communities of the long tail has increased demand for online eyeballs. This in turn creates an increasing sense of information overload anxiety for readers who have to choose from a wide variety of traditional media, new media from professional content creators, corporate and nonprofit produced content, and yes, amateur media.
This produces incredibly competitive content markets! Right now only 20% of marketers believe that corporate sources are perceived to be more valuable than traditional media (source: Content Marketing Institute). How will companies and nonprofits differentiate in such a field?
Success requires evolution and becoming better storytellers. This does not mean just pulling heart strings. Tell the truth! Deliver facts, show deeper insights into the value your organization creates. Learn media best practices and how to deliver a story in a compelling fashion. Create content that works in or includes a variety of media. Or if stakeholders have demonstrated interest in your initial efforts, diversify with mobile and traditional media products.
Point being, it’s time to stop treating content like marketing, and start developing media as a product for stakeholders. Shockingly, they may actually be interested in it. That’s what journalists and media producers do (even the embedded corporate and nonprofit ones)… Produce worthwhile content.
Sometimes blog content doesn’t resonate as well as one would like. It can be hard to pinpoint why. There’s an editorial mission in place, regular posts are published everyday, and you seem to be talking about what matters, but no one pays attention.
There’s nothing worse than feeling like you’re stuck. That’s when examining mechanics means the most. What are some ways to strengthen content to increase reader attention? Here are four ways to jump start your writing…
Slow Down Production, Focus on Quality
A current conversation amongst leading voices has reinvigorated the old quality versus quantity debate. Mitch Joel says dilution of content to achieve frequency (and therefore attention) doesn’t help. Richard Becker recently began compiling research of 250 blogs from the 2010 Fresh Content project. Becker’s research demonstrated that BOTH consistency and clarity were necessary for success.
Publishing crap content five times a week or twice a day won’t make your situation better. Half baked content gets one quarter of the attention that a fantastically well thought out blog post does. You do the math.
Ideally, a blog needs three posts a week to maintain enough presence to achieve a top ranking or become a leading vehicle for thought and conversation. Slow down production and refocus on creating outstanding content. You can always increase frequency once the blog is back on track.
Stop Talking About Yourself (or Your Organization)
It’s been said here before. It will be said again. No one cares about you. They care about themselves. Frankly, overusing first person pronouns makes you sound self promoting and egotistical, and if it’s an organization it reads like corporate messaging. In fact, the narcissistic compulsion to consistently talk about me, myself and I (or we, our and us) becomes a detriment to building readership.
Instead of waxing your own car, get right into what’s in it for the reader. If your opening paragraph mentions the first person more than once (if at all) and doesn’t have a clear thesis, know that it’s a failed post right out of the gate. Focus on the reader and what’s in it for THEM, not how smart you are.
And if you are hiding behind the personality argument, please, please consider what you are saying. Good writers know their personality comes through sans self talk. It’s called style. Do an intentional edit to weed out the first person as much as possible.
Secondly, because of the disconnect with the community you’re dictating to your readers and stakeholders what you think matters. That may be OK if your primary goal is journaling; however, this post seeks to increase traffic, not wax poetic.
Don’t treat your readers like “consumers” of bubble gum! They invest time and in some cases social capital to read and spread the word about your writing. Do your homework. Read your stakeholders’ conversations and content. Listen to them, understand what they care about so you can offer relevant content.
Sometimes an editorial mission can create too much latitude for the writer, and it becomes necessary to refocus on content that readers actually want. Go back through your Google Analytics data and see what’s been working. Focus on trends instead of individual posts. A combination of analytics on unique visits, time on page, and conversation (via PostRank) should reveal an interesting picture.
For example, in the past few months on this blog you like four types of posts; strategy-oriented pieces, online content best practices, timely event-centric pieces, and discussions about the ethics and issues surrounding the growing social media bubble. You don’t like pieces about the environment, causes or entrepreneurial leadership.
Take the findings to heart, and adjust your editorial mission as necessary. Wash, rinse, repeat.
How do you strengthen your content during down periods?