Looking at Social Media

Keeping crap out of your Linkedin feed

If you walk into a business event with a thousand people and you stand in a corner the entire night not engaging with anyone, the event is useless to you. Same with social media platforms. You only get the value back that you put into the participation.

The input on my concern about Linkedin’s future has created a massive response in the past week. More than 30 comments in my Linkedin post and a couple hundred direct messages and emails. All of the input is consistent.


While comments range from power users who say the will continue to be power users, to those that say they are leaving Linkedin altogether, but the consistently say that the level of SPAM is increasing, which makes the platform more difficult to use. So today I’d like to talk about techniques to eliminate the SPAM and make Linkedin useful for you. Linkedin-icon
If you walk into a business event with a thousand people and you stand in a corner the entire night not engaging with anyone, the event is useless to you. Same with social media platforms. You only get the value back that you put into the participation. 


Step one, when you join Linkedin, do not automatically add everyone from your contact lists until you’ve taken time to go through those lists and weed out useless contacts. If you don’t feel you have time to do that, don’t make those connections. Several respondent in the discussion said that when they joined they started getting all these requests to connect from people they said they didn’t know. But I had one of them check one of their contact lists (in this case, Yahoo) and he discovered all the names of the people asking for connections. He had no idea those names were in his list.


For the record, I did not add my lists to Linkedin until about 5 years after I joined and had gone through hours of cleaning up those lists.


Step two, actually look at the profile of the person asking to connect. Do you actually know them? Do you want to have them in this particular virtual community? If the answer is no, then you don’t have to accept it. But before you say know, check out their profile by clicking on their name in the request. This might be someone you want to connect to or it might be a fake profile. Here’s how you know:


Linkedin has a standard request and whenever I connect with someone I try to change it and make it personal to let them know why I want to connect. This doesn’t work when I use the app, because it doesn’t give me that option, but from the desktop I always state my case. If someone doesn’t make that effort that’s strike one. So next I go to their profile and if they don’t have a picture that’s strike two, if they do have a picture and it looks too slick (which happens more often when I see a picture of a young, pretty girl, I do a Google image search to see if they are that person. Many times, they have stolen the image from someone and in most cases, that’s where I stop altogether and delete the request. If they pass those two tests I look at who they work for, where they went to school, what their experience is and if it would be advantageous to both of us to connect. Fake profiles usually list the workplace generically (“a direct marketing firm”) and their title is just as generic. If they are not interesting or are just too generic it’s strike three. They are out.


That is not a foolproof system, however. I recently was approached by someone who claimed to be interested in investing in a client. I went through the basic vetting process and everything clicked. We began a conversation on Linkedin and certain forms were filled out. However, my intuition started tingling and I decided to check it out a bit further. The photo was right, the job description was right… but his email address was off. It was exactly the same as the legitimate company, but he added a dash between words to go to a fake site.


So that’s step three: Don’t be gullible. Take the time to look into the people who you are getting involved with. It really doesn’t take more than a few seconds.


 Linkedin and all the other platforms are not magical. They don’t operate without personal effort any more than a ream of paper can produce a great novel until you pick up a pencil and start writing. If you follow those three steps, you will dramatically see a reduction in your SPAM almost immediately.


The next and last installment will be how to get more legitimate contacts through a content strategy.


A Linkedin power user growing dissatisfied with the social network

This is a real problem that could damage the effectiveness of Linkedin and maybe they should start thinking about what to do about it.

Last week I published an audio interview with IdaRose Sylvester about her doubts about the value of Linkedin. She echoed some of the concerns that I expressed although I'm not about to give up on the platform as yet. She introduced me to Todd Herschberg, a former Linkedin Open Networker (LION), who she said might have had a different perspective. Not quite. In fact he agrees with her more than me.


In this 20-minute interview, we got even deeper into the problems of Linkedin which focus primarily on spam and fake profiles that are proliferating on the platform. This is a real problem that could damage the effectiveness of Linkedin and maybe they should start thinking about what to do about it.  Here's the interview.


 



One businesswoman looks at Linkedin

The rising SPAM flow in Linkedin is causing some of the more valuable members to flee to other platforms.

A couple of weeks ago I provided my input on the benefits and weaknesses of Linkedin and promised insights from others. The first to respond was IdaRose Sylvester of Silicon Valley Link. IdaRose is an incredible international networker, an angel investor, former analyst and business consultant and is exactly the kind of person you would expect to be a power user of Linkedin... but she is not. And for good reason. 


As I mentioned in my post, the rising SPAM flow in Linkedin is causing some of the more valuable members to flee to other platforms. We recorded the interview. Check it out.


 



Is Linkedin a valuable business tool or a spam bucket?

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We are starting a new series today discussing Linkedin, looking at where it is as a social network, its strengths and weaknesses and how to best use it as a business and individual. Linkedin continues to grow in popularity as a business tool for finding talent, business networking and B2B marketing. The bad news is that it looks like it’s hitting a plateau.


At the end of 2012, Linkedin was growing at almost 100 percent quarter to quarter. That boosted its stock stratospherically and with good reason. As of the end of last quarter that growth had slowed to less than 35 percent and continues to drop. That growth decline looks like it began with the steady introduction of marketing tools, specifically lead generation, near the end of 2012 and took a major plunge with the launch of their expanded marketing platform in February.


I’ve been hearing about the rapid expansion of spam in Linkedin for several months (We plan a live discussion of the topic of Linkedin spam soon, so watch this space for details). I also noticed a significant growth of spam in my own inbox recently.  Several major influencers told me that they had already given up on Linkedin because of the crap flowing steadily to them, joined by malicious code and sophisticated investment scams (which I almost fell prey to and will be talking about in the live discussion).


Linkedin will need to address these issues soon if they are to stop the bleeding, but there are some simple techniques you can use to minimize the flow of unwanted material and keep this platform a valuable source of information and connections. Come back next week and we will let you in on a few of the secrets we’ve discovered.


If you can’t wait that long, click here, fill out the form and get a free consultation.


Journalism at the Crossroads: a panel discussion

A couple of months ago I published the results of a survey we did about trusted communications and discovered that corporations, in electronics B2B industries, are more trusted than journalism. That ignited something of a firestorm in my inboxes, both pro and con. 


The conversation evolved into a proposed panel discussion that we concluded this morning, involving Lou Hoffman of The Hoffman Agency, tech journalist John Blyler, and Bernard Murphy of Atrenta. We think it's worth a listen.


 


Don Tuite (that's "toot") retires and the changes in journalism continue

Don Tuite formally announced his retirement on April 17 in Electronic Design magazine and it is a bitter sweet moment. Don and I converse regularly on social media and we both live in Redwood City so he's not leaving my life at the moment, but I remember when he first came to Electronic Design after many years as a working engineer. 


We had a couple of phone conversations about clients and stories he was working on when we both discovered that we were in the same town. From then on, Don had an open invitation to come down, have coffee, walk in our nearby park, and even take one of our team on a flight in his private plane (which she called the thrill of a lifetime since she had always wanted to become a private pilot).


The conversations about technology, politics and social change is what I really enjoyed about Don's visits and calls. We never stayed on the subject very long. Once we got the business done it was on to other topics. It was the discussion of how media was changing, however, that got me thinking about my own public relations business and what value it had, and eventually brought me to the place that I knew I had to shut it down, fire all the clients and start focusing on what was needed to be said, not what a corporate committee wanted to say.


Most of the other marketers journalists I talked to during that time didn't have a lot of good things to say about me and what was forming in my head, but Don was one of the few who were not judgmental or dismissive. As a true scientific mind he response was always "you might be right."


His final column rightly reviews the changes he saw in the past decade and reminds me of the discussion we had a decade ago about Marshal McLuhan and adds the work of a mathematician that fed into McLuhan's work... something I never knew. It was a good justification of my decision.


So I get what the rest of you don't, the opportunity to continue my relationship with smart man and a good guy. Congratulations Don. Looking forward to what you're are going to do with your time.

Why do you exist?

I've written on this subject before but it bears some repeating.


Explaining what you do, who you are and how you do what you do is not as important as being able to explain why you exist as a company. That seems fairly simple but I find very few companies that can do that well, if at all.


Of course you know why your company exists. You've been eating, sleeping and bathing in the reason for a long time. To you it is fairly obvious now. The problem is, you are not explaining well enough it to the market. Before anyone will care about the who, what and how, you have to explain the why in terms they understand.


We've been working with several companies dealing with this issue. They are not seeing the sales or leads they expected from their program. They blame the sales automation program, or the marketing department or "the stupid customers." In reality, when you take a look at their content, they are ready to work with people who have already bought their product or services, but there is nothing about why potential customers should consider using them, instead of whoever they are using now or someone else.


This sets up a crap-shoot decision for the customer and the vendor only wins if the customer roll a hard eight.


It all boils down to the quality of your content. The moment you decide that the reason you exist is obvious, you are ready to take that first step to insolvency. Focus on the why. Everything else will come out of that.


Drop me a line if you want to know more.

Using technology to create a new generation of leaders

A couple of weeks ago I was tooting our horn about winning a Customer Experience Recognition Award (CERA) at Information Development World (IDW), but a new video interview popped up last week from the conference that I thought rated another blow of the horn.  


I'm being interviewed by Al Martine, Director of Operations & Business Development at TechWhirl and the manager of the awards program.  We talk about the unusual nature of the program at first, but then we get into why the project that won the award is important.


There is a serious impediment to growth across all organizations that comes from the legendary "but we've never done it that way" crowd, but also from the attitude of "this is how we've always done it" crowd. They aren't always the same group of people.  The team at the Cultivate the Call had to overcome both in bringing the program to life.  That took some guts.


Here's the interview.  Click on the interactive links below the vid for more information.


   

Information Development World: You need to be there.

Last week I had a brief but productive conversation with Jill Rowley about content and social selling and she said something very profound.  She pointed out that her driving force, social selling, is still in its “1.0 stage” and remains largely undefined and that content marketing, which should be entering the 2.0 stage still remains largely undefined.  that is problematic for her because sharing good content is crucial to success in social selling.


That’s why I was extremely excited when I received an invitation to be an official participant, as an Information-development-worldinfluencer, at Information Development World coming to San Jose, October 22-24, organized by Content Rules and the Content Wrangler.  This is the first big step toward making content development a serious profession.


I have an ongoing battle with both marketers and journalists about what constitutes content development.  Both consider it to be just another arm of marketing.  In truth, that is what much of it has been.  That is the problem with it.  If content is seen as an offshoot of marketing in todays media-rich culture, it fails.  And as Richard Edelman points out, that practice is backward.  Content and the strategy that creates it should drive marketing, not the other way around.  From the description given me of “InfoDevWorld,” making content the horse that pulls the cart is the intent of the event.


“Information Development World is the first—and only—conference dedicated to helping organizations create exceptional customer experiences centered around content,” said Adam Helweh, principal at Secret Sushi and one of the event team. “Our goal is to bring together the brightest minds in the content arena—content strategists, technical communicators, content marketers, product managers, customer assistance specialists, translators, localizers, taxonomists, and user experience professionals—to demystify the methods, standards, tools and technologies needed to deliver exceptional omni-channel customer experiences.”


Note that marketers are only a part of the process.


I changed my career path to content strategy 10 years ago, about 6 years before the phrase content marketing became popular.  I’ve got a good idea what it actually means and what needs doing, but I always need input. So I’m going to this thing, even though trade shows and conferences are my least enjoyable experience and I will be there every day, tweeting, blogging, taking video and generally making myself a nuisance asking very hard questions.


If you are involved in the development of content or using content, either as a corporate lackey or a media hack, I urge you to check this event out.  It’s time to define this thing and this event is step one.


Jill Rowley, social selling, and finding a kindred spirit

Last week I had the distinct pleasure of discovering Jill Rowley, who is known by many people as a #socialselling guru.  Until I listened to her on the #FridayHangout (another weekly event I am growing addicted to) I had never heard of her.  By the time the 45-minute session was over I came to a new appreciation of smart people in sales. 


There were many high points of the discussion, but when she said, “Sales people need to stop selling and start serving” their customers,” I actually stood up from my chair and shouted “YES!” while pumping my fist in the air.


The bulk of the conversation was around the need of sales professionals to be communication hubs for customers, not just a person pushing a product.  This philosophy has made her an in-demand thought leader in new media and a very unpopular employee.  That’s to be expected especially since the more established a company is, the less likely they know how to communicate in the 21st Century.


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Jill Rowley


I’ve said this several times before but Jill convinced me I need to keep saying it.  The customer today, whether it be in B2B or B2C markets, has more opportunity to ignore “the message” you keep trying to hammer into their head.  The more you try, the harder it is to get into their skull.  You have to earn the right by demonstrating you actually care about them and you do that by saying interesting things about what matters to them.  Believe it or not, the press release, product brochure and the email newsletter you send to them do not matter to them.  They only matter to you.


From Jill’s blog at a former employer (and I won’t link to it because I don’t want to give them any credit):


What Is a Modern Sales Professional?


▪ She’s an “information concierge” — she provides the right information to the right person at the right time in the right channel.


▪ She’s an “insights professional” — she teaches the buyer something he doesn’t already know.


▪ She’s a socially connected individual — she’s where her buyers are: on LinkedIn, on Twitter, on Facebook, Quora, Slideshare, Pinterest, and more.


▪ She has a personal brand — she’s a thought leader, not a product pusher.


▪ She’s a content connoisseur—she reads what her buyers read and shares that content across her social networks.


▪ She’s a challenger—she makes her clients think differently.


▪ She’s a mini marketer. 


In the circles I’ve been running in for the past decade, I can’t think of a single, employed sales executive that comes close to that description.  That frustrating fact is why I remain in the circles I am in, because that’s where Footwasher Media is needed.  But I sure would like having coffee with Jill and just drinking in the fact that there is someone out there that thinks like me.


There is also the fact that people like Jill need people like me.  As she said, sharing content is really important, but not a lot of people know what good content is, much less be able to create it.  Jill likes to share OPC (other people’s content).  I like to help people create engaging content.  If Jill and I ever join forces, it will be breathtaking.


The secret of inexpensive, inefficient press releases revealed

I'm going to save you thousands of dollars on a common marketing practice. And you probably won't like what I have to tell you.

I'm going to save you thousands of dollars on a common marketing practice. And you probably won't like what I have to tell you.


If you are like most companies, especially young start ups, there comes a moment that you believe you Wallet_Chain_iStock_000007692365XSmall
need to let your customer base know about your latest business deal, technology breakthrough, or product update that is industry leading and the quote says your “CEO is pleased to announce it”. The only problem; you spent your entire marketing budget on a trade show booth and brochures, so you don't have the money to put on a real marketing program to reach your customer base. That's the moment that you decide to put out a press release.


My 20 years of experience writing and distributing press releases tells me this is what you can expect:


It will take weeks to get it ready to go, and you will spend 90 percent of the time on the headline, the quote from the CEO (which is almost always the same) and the rambling paragraph at the end of the release called "the boilerplate." The release will end up to be a minimum of 3 pages long, single-spaced in 10 point type. If you are "web savvy" it will be stuffed with key words. If not, the distribution service you choose will identify the key words for you. Then you will look for a PR pro to reach out to the press on your behalf, all the while believing the entire process will cost a few hundred dollars. This when sticker shock kicks in: Cost of:



  • A real PR pro to use his contact base - $2000

  • Release distribution service to a nationwide circuit - $3,000

  • Man-hours of your team to write the release - 40 (your CFO can determine what that cost is specific to your particular company)

  • Printing 1000 copies of the release to hand out at the trade show - $2000 at Kinkos, including staples


Most companies, hearing this price tag and after the CFO has been brought back to consciousness, will find ways to cut the bill. The first thing to go will be the PR pro. He might be replaced by a 25-year-old publicist recently out of college, looking for full time work, who will spend 20 hours researching and bugging journalists she's never met to talk to your CEO. She'll do it for $500 and flirt with the marketing VP who will suggest the company hire her to be a receptionist.


The next thing to go will be the high-end, reputable wire service for a cut rate service that will do the job for $2,000 (or worse yet, you could go with one of the hundreds of free distribution services available) but with a less extensive reporting system, a less extensive distribution list. And upon reflection, maybe you only need 100 copies of the release for the trade show. So you’ve got it down below $2500, not counting the man-hours it took to come to this decision. If you choose to stop there you can guarantee that when you do the web search for the release it will show up on every news site in the world, including the weekly shopper in Akron, Ohio. But if that’s still a little pricier than you want, a little bit of knowledge about how wire services work can really cut the price.


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Every wire distribution service has circuits that restrict distribution to the San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York metropolitan areas. Pick one, because every news agency you really care about has a feed coming from those areas (including the shopper in Akron), but the cost is less than $500, including some analysis service add-ons. But you aren't out of the woods, yet.


Every respectable distribution service out there limits the amount of the news release to approximately 400 words. There will be a $50 fee for every 100 words over the limit.  Your approved draft is running at about 2500 words so your overage fee will be around $700. You are under $2,000, but we can tweak a bit more.


Even if your publicist gets a dozen journalists to talk to you (more likely it will be one) and even if you see it gets run on the websites of thousands of online sites, a careful perusing of your metrics after one month will show around 500 people will actually open up the release. More than half will be the marketing and sales people from your company and the marketing and sales people from your competitors. About a quarter of them will be click farms on the Indian subcontinent. About 15 percent will be spammer scraping the page for email addresses and about 10 percent will be actual journalists. An even closer perusal of the metrics will find one journalist will actually spend more than 5 seconds reading it. And within 6 months, a potential customer might also find it. That is what I discovered doing press releases and watching metrics of companies from billion-dollar multinationals to startups.


Sometimes, when it is actually newsworthy, the results are better, but that’s what you get, in general. So why go to the trouble if that’s all you get? Because it will boost your SEO, it will give you content for your website and it will make your investors and executives feel good about themselves because they see the company name on the interweb tubes.


But you say ego gratification is not worth that cost? So let’s cut it even more. Remember how I said you would spend most of the time on the headline, quote and boilerplate? Forget the quotes. All journalists (your target audience after all) know they are contrived. That will cut 200 words. Reduce the boiler plate to “For more information go to www…..” with a phone number. Make sure the URL goes to a landing page where you can gather information from whoever visits. That cuts another 200 words. Reduce the headline to one line (25 words gone). The lead paragraph should be no more than 50 words (cutting another 200). Stop talking about how you are an industry leader (real leaders never have to say they are) which cuts about 1000 words. Just give the basic information. That should take you below the 400-word limit.


Cut the publicist altogether, no matter how cute she is, but stick with a reputable service like BusinessWire or PRNewswire. You will look more professional. You are now under $1000 for the entire project and will get the exact same result you would have seen for thousands of dollars more.


Now go out and be that cheap, inefficient company we all know you can be.

Advertising: Still not working in the 21st Century

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Five years ago I threw out a statement in a blog about how Facebook gets content, that caused a bit of a stir.  I said, “Advertising doesn't work the way you think it does.”  No one commented on the focus of the post, just on that statement.  They didn’t like it.  They were mostly advertising people and a few B2B marketers.  A few things have happened in 2014 that makes me want to restate my position (not change it) and get a little deeper.


Advertising does not work the way you think it does, especially in the 21st Century.  


In the “Facebook Fraud” video, by Derek Muller of the science blog Veritasium, Muller makes the claim that pretty much all the business engagement you get from Facebook is bogus.  For the most part, he’s right because most people use Facebook as though it were a magic marketing box.  They believe that all they have to do is plug in pictures and content about their product and services and the world will be beating down they doors. 


Then came the story late in February of a fashion magazine publisher who spent the equivalent of the GDP of an African nation on Facebook advertising only to get virtually zero return in sales.  So Muller was right?  Nope.


Muller accurately states that Facebook advertising based on likes doesn’t worki, but he makes they wrong assumption that it’s the fault of Facebook.  It isn’t, though.  It’s the fault of the user.  


There was a time that you could flood a media channel with advertising messages and create a significant return on your investment if that investment was in the 100s of millions of dollars.  When the ‘net and social media arrived, the cost dropped to the 10s of thousands of dollars and the marketing/advertising world thought they had found a gold mine.  It hasn’t panned out and everyone wants to blame the medium and the agencies who helped you develop and disseminate content


When you could hammer your message into the skulls of the customers through a relatively few media channels, all of which were owned by a small group of corporations, you would be right.  Today, however, those customers have more opportunity to ignore those messages than ever before.  They hate advertising and they avoid it whenever possible.  If they liked your messages, they wouldn't buy streaming media devices, DVRs and initiate polo-up blockers on their browsers.  You can’t pound the message into their heads anymore.  You have to get them to ask for it.


Advertising can establish brand awareness… unless you don’t understand branding then it fails and most marketers, especially in B2B niches, don’t. Advertising also reinforces a decision a customer has already made, which is a double-edged sword.  If a customer has decided to buy your product it speeds up their action.  If the customer has already purchased the product and is happy about it, advertising makes them feel good about their decision and builds a desire to continue doing business with you.  But if the customer has had a bad opinion of you at the start of the decision process, advertising only serves to piss the customer off and makes them actively campaign against you.


The thing marketers want advertising to really do, produce sales, it doesn’t do very well at all, unless you are trying to sell boner pills or “natural” cures for obesity, and that only works on impotent fat people.  


Social media is not advertising.  It isn’t marketing.  It is communication.  It is conversation.  And no one truly likes to talk to someone who only talks about themselves.  That was the mistake the fashion designer made when he tried to run an ad campaign through Facebook. He only talked about himself and his product.  He paid anonymous people, unwittingly, in third-world click farms, to boost his profile on Facebook and then provided nothing but advertising messages that no one wanted to listen to about products they had no interest in.


Muller was right because social media is filled with narcissists who want to talk about themselves.  Some of them will actually pay people to boost their content, and when you pay people to listen to you, they will and smile.  But if you really want attention from your customers, you have to pay attention to what they say.  Tell them what they want to hear.  And if you do it well, maybe that might be willing to listen to what you have to say.


Advertising doesn’t work… the way you think it does.  Don’t change the medium you use.  Change the way you think.


95 percent of your marketing efforts are missing the target

For about 5 years I’ve been following a half dozen surveys about the investment in social media.  All of them say the same thing:



  • Spending on social marketing is up and continues to rise.  

  • Integration of social marketing into the overall program is lacking. (According to the 2013 Duke University CMO Survey, only 3.4 percent of B2B companies claiming their social media activity is integrated into their current programs.) 

  • Less than 30 percent of marketing executives actually ask for, much less use the data gathered from their social marketing effort.

  • Marketing executives are finding it difficult to quantify the results


But one study I found this month brought up something very interesting that demonstrate why the final three bullets are problematic.  The customer focus is completely off.


Engage Sciences, a company providing social analytics services, discovered that most companies put 75


content focus
Most effort focused on new customers



percent of their resources developing content directed at potential new customers, about 20 percent into branding and less than 5 percent into engaging with rabid advocates of their product.  Makes sense under conventional wisdom.  You spend money on advertising, market collateral, trade shows and that’s where you find new customers, right? Not according to their study.


Almost 100 percent of all new business comes from recommendations from the rabid advocates. around 4 percent comes from branding efforts and less than 1 percent comes from traditional marketing efforts.  What can we learn from this? Perhaps…



  • All the money invested in traditional marketing is pretty much a waste of time because it is not directed at the most valuable source of new business?  

  • Social marketing, where you can best reach and engage with your best marketing assets, is still poorly understood and woefully mismanaged?

  • B2B companies are clueless about marketing?


source of new business
Advocates deliver all new business



Maybe all three.


There is a simple fix for this.  First, you don’t really need to invest any more money in social media, but you should probably invest more in analytics and then pay attention to what they say.  


Second, you need to change how you create your content for ALL of your marketing.  The emphasis should be on providing solid data, not marketing messages, that your advocates can run with.  Start answering the questions the market is asking, rather than tell them the same tired superficialities that everyone else says.


At Footwasher Media, our primary work is showing clients that 20th century marketing doesn’t work in the 21st; that potential customers now have the ability to completely ignore the marketing messages you’ve worked out on whiteboards in committees or out of the fevered mind of the CEO; that they have the ability to connect directly with current customers without ever leaving the comfort of their office chair and discover the holes in those messages; and companies have more opportunities to discover their real worth.


Marketing executives and CEOs that cut their teeth in the business world before 2005 need to learn how to communicate with their market all over again.  If they don’t have the time to do that, they need to bring people in who understand how it works and let them do their jobs.


New Series: Six tips for getting your audience engaged

Content creation is a big problem for modern corporations.  Not only is it hard to find people inside of the company walls to create it, making it effective is almost impossible.  Sure you can publish something that gets lots of views, but most of those views go to spider bots, not human beings and when you look at the time spent by actual people, finding them spending more than a minute on your site is like finding gold in the kitchen sink.  But there are ways to fix that.


For the next couple of weeks we'll be sharing some approaches that will increase the involvement (also known as engagement) of your audience.  Some of these (like today's) may seem counterintuitive, but in the way the 21st century media works, it is crucial to learn how to create content engagingly.  Today's tip is:


Pursue brevity Chickenbrevity


Online content tends to be interruptible even when it is great content.  You have about 10 seconds to grab their attention until the next email pops up on the screen.  Some studies say 700 words for most blog posts, and 2,000 words for technical articles, is the upper limit of word count before readers lose interest.  Our experience at Footwasher Media finds it’s best not to push those limits, so my advice here is: The shorter your content the better your engagement will be. 


We recently completed a short project for a major technology corporation.  We advised them on the kind of content to develop for their community and they accepted most of what we suggested, but they balked at the length of the content developed.  We suggested content be no longer than 500 words,and  we counseled 300 was optimall.  We settled on several pieces between 500 and 700 words in length, but they insisted at least three pieces be more than 1500 words in length.  So we did an experiment. 
We did one post of a little more than 350 words on a particular subject directly related to a product line but never mentioning the product.  The post got a huge amount of engagement from customers including one particular influential engineer.  We took that conversation and wove it into a larger article (almost 2,000 words) that talked more specifically about the product. 


The result: shorter content got more views and better engagement.


So the lesson today is keep it short and to the point if you want to hold onto your audience


Trustworthy content is in the best interests of corporations... and good for professional journalists

Media houses assume they are still trusted and that their move to “communities” filled with sponsor-developed content has not hurt that position. That assumption is misplaced.

It’s time to wrap up this series on truth and trust in content.  Over the past few posts I’ve talked about how truth appears differently to people, based on their personal perspective, and to report truth you need to view it from multiple angles.  I’ve also showed how modern media lacks the resources to gather that information adequately and how corporations, once dedicated to limiting that access through their marketing, now find it in their best interest to increase the flow of trusted information.  


Let me set the table.


Content marketing is not SEO. Tara Meehan’s post in iMedia Connection demonstrated how companies measure social on SEO metrics of clicks and unique visitors in the form of likes and followers, neither of which has the value they did 5 years ago.  This decreased value in SEO metrics is exacerbated by companies buying fake followers and B2B publishers paying people to comment and like content to boost their engagement.  This approach ultimately fails after a certain period of growth because those companies don’t provide anything worth reading.


Trust thrives in social media Brian Solis wrote recently that trust is the the most important issue in Brian-soliscontent development but corporations that focus on search to bring people to websites, fail to engender trust because people don’t trust corporate website content.  People trust people they know so that’s who they go to first.  Search comes after social now and social is all about content.


Tech journalism isn’t what it used to be.  Tom Foremski wrote that tech journalism has devolved to be a practice of product announcements rather than why those products exist and how native advertising is destroying the level of trust for third-party media. He stops short of pointing out that tech publications are so short of writers that they can do little else and native advertising is paying the bills, but his point is that the current paradigm has reduced the value of tech journalism.


That’s why this is a great time to be a journalist.


Media houses assume they are still trusted and that their move to “communities” filled with sponsor-developed content has not hurt that position.  That assumption is misplaced. Few people trust journalists in general and B2B corporate sales staff are learning that what shows up in the press is much less believable because native advertising is becoming harder to differentiate from independent reporting.  Rather than wonder what the media will do to reverse that trend, corporations are learning they can do the job better by hiring or contracting with experienced journalists to do what they do best: find the news and report it accurately. Corporations have more relevant sources of content than the media.  All they need is the personnel to turn that content into trustworthy media.


Some technology companies have started putting journalists on retainer to develop engaging content that builds relationship and trust for the corporation.  Others are hiring them outright to run content programs.  They don’t need million-reader circulations because they know who they want to reach and it’s much lower than a million. 


That is great news for all the journalists who want a position that gives them the time and resources to do what they’ve been trained to do and be paid what they are worth.  As I’ve said, corporations are already finding the value in independent, in-house and consultant journalists and they are paying top dollar for them.  Working with this new breed of journalism requires accepting a level of ethics and independence of thought not normally found in marketing departments but is absolutely necessary for a successful outcome.  If we can’t be independent, what we create has no value to the sponsor or the reader.


 Traditional third-party media businesses are becoming the training ground for new journalists.  There will be an ongoing market demand for product-announcement venues that reach thousands of users so the online and print pubs won’t be going away, but corporations don’t need those venues to establish relationships and trust within their customer base.  They need people who know how to find truth wherever it is and report it, be transparent, and act independently for the benefit of the community.


Trustworthy content is the core of Footwasher Media’s business.  If you are interested in moving your business communications into the 21st century, contact us today.


 


Your content can be fictitious and be truer than your data sheet

hat you have to realize is that to your customers, your view of the truth is nowhere near as important as theirs is to them. That seems like such an obvious statement, and I bet you think you actually know what your customers consider to be true. But from what I hear from customers and from advertisers and from readers, very few companies and publications actually have a clue regarding what those audiences consider to be truth.

In my last post I talked about the importance of understanding truth from other perspectives, rather than focusing only on yours.  Today I want to give you a specific example. 


Dan Lyons over at Hubspot wrote a blog post last month about the use of content to build trust and relationship by demonstrating truth... even though it was complete fiction.


You can see the video content produced by Google India on the blog, but briefly it was about how two young people in Pakistan and Lahore transcended national bigotry, politics and xenophobia using technology.  But the story itself may or may not have been true because it was obviously staged.  You don’t actually have to have a true-life story to demonstrate truth.  It was true in that it demonstrated the power of a technology, but it’s essence was not to sell anything but to show that, properly used, technology can overcome bad human traits.  It put technology in an appropriate context for the audience and gives them a call to action other than just asking for a sales call.  It makes them WANT to USE the product... which they can’t do unless they ask for the call.=


Imagine.  Somebody actually wanting a sales call.


As I said last week, truth is relative to everyone.  What you have to realize is that to your customers, your view of the truth is nowhere near as important as theirs is to them.  That seems like such an obvious statement, and I bet you think you actually know what your customers consider to be true.  But from what I hear from customers and from advertisers and from readers, very few companies and publications actually have a clue regarding what those audiences consider to be truth.


In a report published last April, DemandGen Report published their 2013 B2B Content Preferences Survey stating that while 92 percent of respondents said they were willing to accept vendor generated content as trustworthy, they are less likely to accept white papers and e-books as trustworthy content.  Why? Because a white paper is supposed to be an objective approach to solving a problem and will have no sales messages, but when was the last time you saw something like that?


The survey say that 72 percent of the respondents said sales-heavy content was a problem for trustworthiness, and 64% wanted B2B vendors to stop producing text-heavy pages and small print.  The majority (57.8%) of respondents agreed that B2B vendors focus too much on product specifications and not enough on the ability to solve specific business problems. 


The first step for any marketer in our new world of context-based, trustworthy content is to realize that what you see as true, is not to your customers.


 


Before you can tell the truth, you need to know it.

For our second part of the series on truth in media I think it’s important that we define the term. 


Truth is multifaceted and largely determined by perspective.  This is a crucial understanding of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, which says what you perceive from where you stand may not jive with the perception of someone standing right next to you.  Media, from the beginnings of the oral tradition to mass media of the 20th century was designed to create a common perspective for large groups of people and take away some of the debate over what is true.


The media of the of the 20th century was controlled by a relatively few corporations and individuals and reached millions of people.  That made it possible to maintain a certain control over a specific message and establish a few facets of truth as common to the masses.  This was the basis of McLuhan’s concept of the “media is the message.” Large groups of people could be convinced of a particular facet of truth simply because the message was drilled into them from a relatively small number of outlets. Truth became “obvious.”


The 21st century changed that paradigm.  Individuals, through the internet and social media, became members of the media.  They could publish their own perspective to a small group of people.  The masses are broken into virtual communities defined more by their perspective of truth rather than geography, culture and even race or religion.


The corporation or organization that doesn’t realize this to be the new way of perception will be very frustrated in its attempts to push its version of reality/truth if it continues to follow the 20th century practice of driving the message until it is perceived as true.  It is imperative that the message incorporates as many facets as possible into its message in order to gain the trust of its market.  Let me elaborate with a story.


A company has a new product that it has created and wants to promote it to its market.  The teams in charge of developing this product has invested a great deal of time, expertise and effort into creating this product and they believe everything they say about it.  They have even validated their message by investing in market research from a large analyst company.  They launch their product into the market, sure that they have done all that is necessary.


Shortly after the launch, a customer has problems with the product and calls technical support.  After many frustrating sessions he opts to return the product, but since technical support could find nothing wrong with it, the company refuses to take the product back.  After all, he’s just one customer and no one else has complained.


It turns out the customer is a fairly well-respected technical blogger and he starts writing a series on his experiences with the company.  A journalist at a major newspaper starts reading the blog and writes a story about it.  The news spreads like wildfire and multiple other customers who have not been as vocal start chiming in.  By the end of 6 months the company has lost billions in market capitalization as its stock plummets.  The company ends up publicly apologizing and delivering an adequate product.


That’s not a fiction.  That actually happened to Dell Computer.  The blogger and his site “Dell Hell” still exists and has been since 2008.


All Dell had to do was consider, just for a moment, the perspective one customer considers as true and realize if there is one, there are more.


Every customer you have has a perspective different from your company.  Every employee has a different perspective from your company.  Every competitor has a different perspective from your company.  That is the ultimate truth in business communication.  If you are not making an attempt to listen to those perspectives everyday and considering how you can positively respond to them, you do not know what is true.


Trust is the new currency in marketing

Recently read a post over at Hubspot (that I can't find right now) about how companies are lowering their investment in communication tactics because they are disappointed at the  results.  The author blamed the decline not on the efficacy of the tactics, but on how poorly they are implemented by the companies.


I can't say I disagree with him entirely.  Most of the marketing communications plans I see are more checklists than plans (press release, check; trade show booth, check...) While there is tremendous investment made in the marketing infrastructure, I see almost no investment in content and content is the gas that makes the marketing machine go.


Few companies I talk to believe they have great content, and when we review what they have we tend to agree.  It’s the same press releases, the same marketing brochures, the same white papers, and the same contributed articles that everyone else produces... and they read almost identically to every other companies content creating absolutely no differentiation.  The excuse is they lack the budget and resources to create any content, much less effective content, and when they try to bring in resources to do just that, it is the smallest investment possible.  I've even had several potential clients ask for us to create it for free because it would be good "exposure" for us.


 For content to be effective it must be intentional. You have to know not only where you are going, but how to get there.  If you believe a sales pitch is the best way about reaching your goal, you have ignored the path and all you are doing is wandering in the wilderness.  The beginning of the path is establishing trust. I have not yet found anyone who disagrees with that statement, but I've found very few marketers who have the time to work on that first step, much less an understanding how to start.


For the next few weeks, we will be exploring the path of truth in marketing communications and why any deviation from the path will spell doom for your efforts.


You have to collaborate with your customers to be found

Much marketing strategy in almost every industry is sheer guesswork and, in the past, that was the best you could do. Hummingbird changes that. The web is now more collaborative then competitive and your content strategy must have an element of collaboration in it.

The major update in the Google search algorithm, Hummingbird, is not only going to affect the SEO/SEM profession and the online media industry, as I wrote about last week.  It's going to have a major effect on branded content development within corporations.


As things were under the old search technology, the branded content movement put current and former advertisers in direct competition with the media supporting their industry for audience engagement.  A reader could put in a few keywords and would find links to both media and corporation content and the reader would have to guess at which was the most appropriate.  That won't work anymore.


As I have been saying for several months, keywords mean nothing now.  The context of the searcher means everything.  Google has been collecting data on users for over a decade now and the Hummingbird algorithm takes all of that into account, along with the data of each user's sphere of influence that ranges from family members to everyplace they may have worked.  The contextual web we've been talking about for several years is here.  Time to get with the new paradigm (and I highly recommend you pick up "The Age of Context" by Scoble and Israel as soon as possible).


So when a searcher types in a word in the search bar, Google isn't going to be looking for that word.  It's going to be looking at that word on the basis of what the searcher has looked for in the past, what has been shared/liked/plussed, what has been discussed, what has been dwelt on for several minutes and then responded to.  Searchers are not going to be typing in corporate messages, or tag lines or product names in the beginning.  They are going to be moved to concepts.  Similarly, if an online publication keeps it's content from being readily available on the web, the searcher isn't going to find it, as I said last week.  The searcher is going to find the content that the publisher (be it media group or corporation) makes available widely and with knowledge of what the market is searching for.


I realize this is a very hard concept to get.  A company I'm advising right now about content development gave me a list of subjects they want to make content about. I asked them how they knew the customers wanted to know about these subjects.  "We have no way of knowing that," was the reply.  This same company had been given an overall grade of C in a study on the best uses of social media.  They are using every single, potential avenue for pushing out content, but they are not taking advantage of the measurement tools to adapt their content to what their audience wants.  In some cases, they don't even have the options to comment or share content available to their audience, which means they actually don't know what the audience wants.


Much marketing strategy in almost every industry is sheer guesswork and, in the past, that was the best you could do.  Hummingbird changes that.  The web is now more collaborative than competitive and your content strategy must have an element of collaboration in it.  You have to start paying attention to the context of your customer base because one of your competitors is going to figure that out really soon and is going to bury you.  


Google algorithm changes game for sponsored content sites

Last Friday I posted about the major overhaul in Google's algorithm that is going to cause headaches for SEO consultants and practitioners.  Over the weekend, as I was thinking about it, I realized it is going to cause even more problems for media companies and corporations moving to a branded content methodology.  


Lots of media companies, including UBM, Extension Media, Hearst Electronics, Open-Systems and Tech Design Forum are moving to a curated community model where editors spend most of their time managing the content of the community rather than developing original content.  It sounds like a great idea because the plan is that the best stuff (most read, most shared, most commented on) will rise to the top of the community and the least engaging will drop to the bottom.


The problem is that most of that content has been vetted by marketing and sales companies to make sure the messages get across, and not according to what customers are actually looking for.  Some media companies, like UBM, actually put filters on the content so it doesn't show up in Google searches, only within the medium's sites.  The content on these communities is not going to be found easily, if at all, unless the searchers are in those communities.  And that is getting very fractured right now, especially in the semiconductor realm,


This week, Ed Sperling dissolved his partnership with Extension Media creating sponsored subject portals within Extension, and has moved them under his own brand, Semiconductor Engineering (www.semiengineering.com).  Ed was one of the first to jump into the sponsored content concept in this industry (which Footwasher Media helped him understand, ahem).  He was followed by Kevin Morris' Tech Focus Media, The Curation Company, UBM, Hearst and a host of smaller operations.  They all develop content, they all have different means of developing content, but they are also not funded by advertising.  They are sponsored by large companies who get to have input into the subject matter produced.  Most of these sites make it easy to see who is funding them and once you see that, you can see where their influence is.  Some, like SemiWiki, don't really let you know who is funding them, but you can guess from the tone of the articles.


The problem with these highly focused sites is their audience is very focused and, therefore, very small.  The audiences for Hearst and UBM are potentially very large, but they run into the same problem as the smaller sites


 


To be successful online, a publication has to engage the audience, which means the readers/viewers have to be willing to read the entire article, or a large portion, comment and share.  If they don't the content will not be searchable in Google unless the content contains the exact terms that the audience uses in search.  For a company like UBM that filters much of it's content from Google, the audience has to rely on the UBM internal search engine, which even UBM'ers say sucks.


Then there are the branded-but-independent corporate sites.  That's another post, coming soon.


Are you trying to make sense of all this communication theory.  That's our business. 


Contact us and let us help.