Content That Connects – Building a Content Creation Strategy

CONTENTI think a lot about content creation. All marketers do. All marketers have always thought about words and images that connect with consumers- whether on a package or on TV or on the side of a horse drawn buggy.

 

But the absolutely ferocious, voracious need for content that brands have in the 21st century is mind- blowing!

Great content drives engagement and ultimately sales.  We need it. We need a lot of it. and in the typical manner, when a need hits the spotlight, brands are rushing willy-nilly to fill that void, sometimes at the expense of strategy and organization.

Let me give an example. Brand A embarks on a website redesign with a need for blog posts, video and some How-To’s or recipes. Brand A reaches out to everyone with a keyboard or camera and some skill in their network – bloggers, interns, employees, etc… and request content. Content of varying quality starts pouring in.

 

The streams of content, much of it time sensitive, gets uploaded to the website, blog, and social media channels haphazardly tagged and barely indexed. Some have typos. Content is written in a variety of different voices…only some of them the brand’s. Those closest to the brand struggle to take off their “sales person hat” in their writing. Very little of the content is repurposed.

 

Let me suggest a smarter way. Content development, like any marketing initiative should have a strategic focus. Take the time to develop a plan and execute it slowly. Great content written by professional content writers with the knowledge of keywords and some HTML goes a long way. With an understanding of the value of backlinks, search, how to edit a video for YouTube, what photos work best on Intsagram and how to use consumer networks to promote a post, great content creators develop end product that can be used in a multitude of ways- on blog posts and Facebook, as pins and tweets and discussed and promoted through brand advocates. Higher quality content, executed flawlessly goes further…less is more.

 

Building a content program that includes all of the various types working together under one theme goes even further. I’ve found the greatest success for my clients working from an editorial calendar to develop video, photo and written content around a theme, then repurposing it in creative and interesting ways across social media network while integrating it into marketing plans.

 

The framework is the key, but not the end all, because speed and timeliness makes a difference too. Editorial calendars in the digital world need to be flexible and strategic opportunities need to be exploited, so while I advocate a framework, I encourage flexibility. A professional content creation program requires a bit of art and a bit of science and a long term goal. Doesn’t everything?

 

professional content creationMaryanne Conlin draws on her years of blogging, posting, tweeting, shooting and editing experience to create great content for her clients and sometimes for herself.

 

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What Home Depot’s Tweet Tells Us About Staffing Social Media

home depot2Once again, a major brand gets in trouble over a tweet. In case you missed it, Home Depot posted an extremely offensive tweet yesterday which they of course then promptly took down and marshaled their PR force to apologize profusely across the media sphere.

Since the tweet was posted by Home Depot’s outside agency, you wonder whether the same people were deployed to apologize as posted the offensive tweet in the first place. It’s really a bizarre world that we live in now where brands pay outside agencies to handle their social media and then have to pay again to field a crisis campaign to apologize for their mistakes.

But, it’s really less a bizarre strategy than it is a result of the short-sighted way that social media is staffed. I wrote here about  lunacy of having interns and lower level employees be responsible for strategically deploying the brand’s message out to millions of consumers every day and in the case of Twitter, to thought leaders in those communities.

In no other part of marketing do we expect  entry level employees to  have the strategic experience to broadcast the brand message without supervision. It’s not fair to the employee and it certainly does very little to help the brand.

headshot newMaryanne Conlin is an award-winning social media expert and CEO of RedRopes Digital, a consulting firm focused on building strong digital brands. You can access her Sept 27 presentation at ExpoEast on Social Media Marketing for Socially Conscious Brands here  and connect with her on Twitter @maryanneconlin

Don’t Let An Intern Handle Your Social Media

internIn the early days of social media, when it was difficult to measure engagement levels and platform analytics were sketchy, it may have made sense to devote the least number of labor dollars on social media. No one really understood this new tool and what role it would eventually play in the marketing mix.

As the medium has evolved, though…management practices haven’t.

I’ve often heard the excuse that interns and lower level marketing folks are “digital natives” and take to the social media more easily. I think we can put that one to rest after almost a decade of social media.

But now, when the Internet is The Leading Influence in consumer purchasing choice… trumping all other sources, including advice from friends and family having perhaps your most important consumer contact handled by your least experienced person doesn’t make a lot of sense. In fact having your social media updating divorced from the brand management function, silo-ed all by itself or worse handled by one junior person who manages the function for a number of brands almost guarantees missed opportunities, garbled messaging and loss of focus.

Instead, let’s think about a different strategy. In our agency, the brand team has social media site updating as part of their account management responsibilities. Immersed in the brand essence, they are fluent communicating the brand message through copy and images to a variety of audiences because they work closely with the client and creative teams to do so in a variety of different forms.

Mid-senior level managers are the only ones with the experience with legal issues that can crop up, wording that works or doesn’t work for the brand and a real understanding of the target market, through the research they analyze and use to develop all of the creative programs for the brand.  More experienced managers are focused. They work on one or maybe two brands, so are immersed in the brand(s)…unlike a social media intern or community manager who may work on 5- 10 brands performing one function of the marketing mix. Mid and senior level managers by stint of years of experience in marketing, can think strategically about posting and responding and creating community in the social space.

So, as we have more mid and senior managers do final edits on copy and review final creative and really write up any sensitive communication that needs to be explained to upper level management, shouldn’t we use those skills to communicate with the most important person in the mix, the consumer?

(And just to put a plug in for the intern – internships are supposed to be about learning from more senior managers. Get your interns involved in helping you do the tasks on your plate so they can learn. Having them take over the entire social media function doesn’t help the brand or the intern.)

(Photo credit http://blog.onthebar.com)

headshot newMaryanne Conlin is CEO of RedRopes Marketing, a consulting firm focused on green and sustainable industries, fresh produce, food, Hispanic marketing and marketing to Moms. You can access her Sept 27 presentation at ExpoEast on Social Media Marketing for Socially Conscious Brands here  Connect with her on Twitter @maryanneconlin

The Art Of The Hashtag for Brands

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I was reading this morning Mashable’s hilarious post about “Hashtags Gone Wrong”. While these are the most egregious (and hilarious cases) of poor planning, hashtag development doesn’t really get the same forethought as say, headline development, to the great detriment of the brand.

Although I was an early Twitter user, I accidently stumbled upon the first usage of hashtags in 2007 following #sandiegofire and have developed and used them frequently both personally and for brands with which I work. In my experience though, as I’ve found in so much of social media, the thinking that goes into developing hashtags has about as much relevance to strategic branding as taking the lunch order.

Yet another example of how social media tends to be developed around tactics without a thought about strategy in advance. (And we wonder why brands struggle with determining ROI?)

So, let’s discuss hashtags- what they are for and how we can use them successfully.

Hashtags serve two purposes

1)      As a tag or search term. A hashtag inserted into a post on any number of social media platforms becomes a “search term”. Users can “search” the hashtag to find similar posts.

I know, your initial thought is: great, I’ll think of a really unique hashtag and then everyone can find my tweets easily. Uh – magical thinking. The reverse is actually true. Using a hashtag that people are already searching means your tweets are more likely to be seen. Too many brands think that creating a unique hashtag for each promotion – that matches the ad headline, and the POP and the PR campaign is the way to go. Better to develop one hashtag that the brand can use all year and over time becomes associated with the brand.  Savvy brands use popular hashtags started by others to get your brand noticed when tweeps search a popular subject such as #Thanksgiving or #Fashionweek

2)      As a side comment. A hashtag can also be used to express a corollary idea.  This usage probably came about because of the Twitter 144 character limit. For example, the hashtag #fail is generally used instead of writing, “that didn’t work out to well!” or “what was I thinking?”. Using too many hashtags in each post though, just ends up making the post difficult to read and confusing.

To use hashstags effectively managers need to both understand the nuances of the various social media platforms and the brand essence…and be involved with the brand and the platform on a daily basis. Too often hashtags are created by those in the creative department with little input from those working the social media platforms. Community managers too frequently work on multiple brands and have the platform knowledge, but not always be privy to upper level management brand messaging, again missing the mark on truly great hashtags.

Creating great hashtags that speak to the brand’s message while avoiding hijacking therefore seems easy, no? Not really. The devil is in the details…and nuances and understanding the, sometimes perverse mind of each platforms’ users. But, that’s another blog post!

headshot newMaryanne Conlin is CEO of RedRopes Marketing, a consulting firm focused on green and sustainable industries, fresh produce, food, Hispanic marketing and marketing to Moms. See her at ExpoEast Natural Foods Expo in Baltimore, speaking on Social Media for Socially Conscious Brands, September 27, 2013 Connect with her on Twitter @maryanneconlin

Social Media Marketing For Socially Conscious Brands

Just returned from the Natural Foods Expo in Baltimore. What a great show! I’ve been attending the Expo West show for the last 5 years or so and have watched it explode until now it is bursting the seams at the Anaheim Convention Center. It looks like Expo East is headed in the same direction!

Lots of interesting sessions and some innovative new products. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to be part of the program and talked about my approach to social media – Integrated Digital Branding, in this presentation. Thanks @momcentral for attending and the kudos after the session. A special thank you to the man in the back of the room who yelled out, “this is the clearest presentation of social media I have ever seen!

Kids Go Back to School While Mom Gets Down To Business

It’s been a nice summer break, but with August over and kids back in school, the focus for social media moms, primarily prolific bloggers, shifts back to business.  While mom blogs proliferate, many still serve as an online diary for friends, family and the odd reader who appears via organic search. These, while perhaps still in the majority, are not of interest, at least on a professional level, for those of us working for brands.

Those blogs that can deliver verified readership numbers are a different breed. Mom bloggers with any history usually have received multiple requests from brands for product reviews, blog posts and participation in social media events. And, over the last 5 years, more and more have expected to get paid when they provide readership via their blogs and networks of social media contacts. Not an unreasonable request.

Approaching mom bloggers and analyzing the ROI of working with one, though, is still in its infancy. In this era of big data this perhaps comes as some surprise. But it need not be difficult – just start here.

1)      Verify Readership – Bloggers who work with brands treat their publishing empire as such. They can provide readership numbers, impressions and a variety of information upon request. Many subscribe to data services and can provide access for you to their reports.

2)      Explore their Properties – One of the key benefits of working with bloggers is the ability to reach a very niche audience. Unlike larger publications, bloggers have much lower overhead and can support a quite robust following of an extremely niche market – perfect for smaller brands.

3)      Approve Content – Another bonus of working with bloggers is the ability to not only approve content but specify exactly what content is covered and what keywords are used.  While it’s important that bloggers speak in their own voice to their audience, most are willing to work with brands on editing and revising posts.

4)      Use Tracking Links – Developing specific tracking links for each blogger to use on all of their properties when linking back to content on your site allows you to closely monitor click-through and ecommerce sales.

Working with social media moms, of course requires experience and technique to maximize return, but these few simple steps can lay the groundwork for a robust marketing program.

headshot newMaryanne Conlin is CEO of RedRopes Marketing, a consulting firms focused on green and sustainable industries, fresh produce, food, Hispanic marketing and marketing to Moms. See her at ExpoEast Natural Foods Expo in Baltimore, speaking on Social Media for Socially Conscious Brands, September 27, 2013 Connect with her on Twitter @maryanneconlin

Does Content Marketing Measure Up?

tape measure

Image courtesy of http://imnotjustagirl.com/

Many content marketers have bought into an incorrect view that brands should be their own publishers. Why exactly does this make sense? Brands don’t usually try to be their own ad platforms…that’s what TV stations and magazines and websites are for.

In the same sense that you don’t want to host the majority of your ads on your own site (usually), you don’t want to focus your content marketing efforts on your own site.

The truth is you can’t really replace outbound efforts (i.e. paid ads) with inbound-only campaigns such as social and email. Relying on inbound efforts only is like never leaving your circle of friends.  Yes, brands should be publishers….but not exclusively.

Instead, one of the most effective ways to get drive traffic to your website and create brand awareness is to have content published on other sites. Like paid ads, content published on top sites draws consumers not likely or at least not always be captured by inbound efforts.

In a Venture Beat story last week CMO’s confessed their uneasiness with the actual effectiveness of content marketing. That’s easy to understand – what exactly is the ROI of an effort to attract 10,000 Facebook fans?

What’s easier to measure is a strategic campaign that produces several million impressions from content created by brand advocates on their own sites. Measurable like advertising – more engaging because it is content created by bloggers and website owners who already love the brand.

More on this in a future post  – because simply reaching out to brand fans without a specific message and target objectives wastes precious resources and while measurable…might not measure up!

headshot new Maryanne Conlin is CEO of RedRopes Marketing, a consulting firms focused on green and sustainable industries, fresh produce, food, Hispanic marketing and marketing to Moms. See her at ExpoEast Natural Foods Expo in Baltimore, speaking on Social Media for Socially Conscious Brands, September 27, 2013 Connect with her on Twitter @maryanneconlin

Missing the Mark With Millennial Moms

Photo courtesy Business Insider

Photo courtesy Business Insider

Earlier this year, while executing plans for a major food client, an opportunity to pair with a lifestyle mobile app came up.  The client reaction could be described as, “huh?”  A nudge and a resounding success later, it had the unexpected effect of  starting  us thinking more about targeting that consumer of the future, the younger, Millennial Mom.

In one of those marketing illuminating moments, we realized that while most of our programs targeted moms 25-54, when we looked around and started asking our brand advocates and digital vendors about the average age of the moms we were reaching, it seemed heavy on the 35-54 and light on the other end. This didn’t seem to be a prescription for exponential growth.

As I wrote about this month, in MediaPost, we’re remarkably better informed on the psychographics of our online target market these days than their actual demographics. At the same time there are some significant differences between Baby Boomers/Gen X-ers and the Millennial generation that follows – the new cadre of moms we’ll be targeting for the next 10 years or so.

More culturally diverse, living a wider variety of “family” lifestyles and more often the family breadwinner than older generations, they also are more collaborative decision makers when it comes to buying the family groceries. This last, I suspect has to do has a lot to do with growing up online where eliciting the opinion of 20 different people can be accomplished in record time.

So, while it’s easy to connect with Millennial moms, it’s not so easy to engage without better insights into their needs, wants and lifestyle. And Millennial Moms do feel neglected by brands, as this study shows. So, take some time to learn more about the moms with whom your brand connects – it just might surprise you.

headshot new Maryanne Conlin is CEO of RedRopes Marketing. Connect with her on Twitter @maryanneconlin

Social Ads – What Next?

 

socialfun-300x225With the recent news about both Pinterest and Tumblr pursuing an ad model…or at least a model that brings in money, I’m starting to think about media ad allocation in the social space. To date, there have been only a few big players, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, YouTube…and a fairly clear understanding of how advertising on each of them impacts a brand’s advertising goals.

As a marketer really, really neurotic about objective based marketing, I’ve tested and tested advertising on the Big 4 and have a good feeling for the target I can reach with each and how to most effectively reach that target. Adding in two more platforms starts to make it a little fuzzier.

Social ad dollars, in general foster fewer click through than banner ads and other ad vehicles on publication sites, but much better brand engagement.  In other words, I know what I am looking for when I place an ad on Facebook or promote a tweet on Twitter.  What I’m not sure about is how much overlap there is going to be on Tumblr and Pinterest or if either of those platforms are going to add a lot of incremental value.

I’m planning on recommending tests on both for some of my clients, but I’ll be looking hard for metrics.

Just sayin’

 

 

professional content creationMaryanne Conlin is CEO of RedRopes Digital. She likes to crunch numbers about any social media platform…and think really hard about the value.

Measuring Social Media ROI- Not So Hard

chartOver and over I read about the challenges of measuring social media impact, which I find curious, not so much that it isn’t difficult but that so many companies implement social media programs before figuring out how to measure them.

There are a dizzying number of social media measurement tools on the market from high end suites like Radian6  to free tools like Socialmention, plus of course the analytics offered by every major platform (now including Pinterest). Data is not only available, it’s overwhelming.

Unfortunately, social media planning in too many companies has all the hallmarks of….wait for it…

Ready. Fire. Aim.

Sounds familiar? We’ve all been there. Too often marketing programs morph from internal discussions and end up in that weird space of a tactic in search of an objective.  In social media that seems to be the rule rather than the exception.

With all of the digital tools available to reach out to consumers online, it’s actually rather easy to measure a social media program, as long as objectives are in place first.

Let me give a few examples.

Do you want to drive traffic to an ecommerce site? Facebook ads have been shown to do that rather well.  Start your social media program with building up your Facebook presence. Identify your target fan and spend the time to engage with them. It takes some planning and a strategy document and some testing, but it is a better use of your social media dollars than a scattershot approach of a little bit on a lot of platforms.

Want to increase consumer awareness of your brand? Focus on influencers. Build up your Twitter following, reach out to influential bloggers. Build up your website content to drive consumers back again and again to see what’s new.

The list goes on of tactics that will meet any marketing goal.

But before you do any of the above – set objectives. Do you want to measure website visits? Are you looking for impressions? Use marketing metrics that you use for any other program – then develop the right social strategy to meet them.

It’s not so hard.

headshot newMaryanne Conlin likes likes to crunch numbers on just about any social media platform, but prefers to know what she is trying to find before she starts.