6 Steps to Get Your Content Marketing to Kick *Bleep* and Take Names

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014 at 9:40 AM | Category: Content marketing, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog No comments

“Want to do an activity?” my son asks. Paul and I agree. He hands each of us a pencil and a sheet of paper face down. Zachary tells us to circle numbers in order beginning with one and working up as high as we can. And he’ll be timing us after we turn over our papers.

“Go!” We flip to see a page with numbers all over in no particular order. I’m scanning for the one … for the two … three … it’s taking too long to find the three … finally! Four …

Talk about feeling jumpy!

“Time’s up! How many did you find?” Zachary asks. Embarrassed, I found 9. Paul got 11. He gives us another sheet of paper face down. We’re to do the same thing except draw two lines and the numbers will appear in four quadrants. Look for the first number in the first quadrant. The next one in the second quadrant. And so on. After the fourth number, go back to the first quadrant.

He tells us to go. We flip the paper to see the numbers in four squares. Number one is in the first quadrant, two in the second, etc. Five is in the first, six in the second. You get the idea.

“Time’s up! How many did you find?” I felt better about my 20 and Paul’s 21. He explains how important it is to have a plan or goals so we can hit our targets faster and more effectively rather trying to do things randomly. Wow. What a powerful lesson and a great way to teach it to kids. (Thanks to Mrs. Brennan, our elementary school counselor for all 14 years!)

So what kind of results will a company get when it does content marketing without a strategy? Clearly not as good as it could with a strategy in place.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with the thought of doing a content marketing plan. Start small with these arse-kicking six steps.

1. Marketing goals. Identify marketing goals you want to achieve in six to 12 months. Examples:

    • Educate prospects and clients.
    • Build brand awareness.
    • Engage influencers and customers.
    • Generate new sales leads.
    • Support current clients.
    • Nurture leads.
    • Cross-sell and up-sell.

2. Target audience. Build one persona in your target audience with the following information. (Remember we’re keeping it simple for starters.)

    • Name.
    • Age.
    • Job title.
    • Company details.
    • Industry.
    • Pain points.
    • Character traits.
    • Likes and dislikes.
    • How the person prefers to get information.
    • Where do you find this person online?

3. Make a list of questions your prospects and clients ask. You’ll create content that answer those questions and know what content you need to help them move to the next stage.

    • Blog posts.
    • Podcasts.
    • Webinars
    • Guides.
    • Infographics
    • Curated content.
    • Tutorials.
    • Interviews.

4. Determine what types of content you will create. You can save a lot of time by spinning off content into other types that eventually get you the email address you want. Content types include:

For example, you’re planning to do a webinar. The contents from the webinar can be the basis for more content, such as series of blog posts, a SlideShare presentation and an ebook that requires filling a form to access it. (Gated content.) Now you have an email address to add to your growing email list. Next time you create new content, send an email to your list to tell them about it.

5. Make a simple publishing schedule. Don’t go nuts trying to create an editorial calendar. Instead, come up with a publishing schedule, such as monthly webinars, weekly blog posts and so on.

6. Make a list of where you’ll promote the content. Turn this list into a checklist that you can reuse each time you’ve created a new type of content. Here’s an example:

o  Email list. (One time with a second send to those who didn’t open first send.)

o  Twitter. (Two times a day.) Test different headlines.

o  Facebook. (Twice a week.) Test different images and introductory copy.

o  LinkedIn company page. (One time.)

o  LinkedIn personal account. (One time.)

o  Google+ company page. (One time.)

o  Google+ personal page. (One time.)

And there you have your six-step content marketing plan.

What about metrics? Yes, they’re invaluable. However, I promised a simple content marketing plan to get you going. You can add more as you find a routine.

So which approach will you take with your content marketing? The random one like the first worksheet — creating content on an ad hoc basis without considering your target audience’s needs and preferences? Or will you take the organized approach like the second worksheet — delivering the content your target audience wants and needs?

Now go create a kick-arse content marketing strategy!

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Is Your Company’s Content Cursed?

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014 at 12:33 PM | Category: Content marketing, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Tech, Writing 2 comments

Hank Stroll, one of my first clients and a dear friend, would occasionally reply to my email with a chuckle telling me I’m doing what his wife does. He explained that his wife and I sometimes had a tendency to talk about something and he’d have no clue what we’re talking about. Like he entered the middle of a conversation.

“Talk to me like I don’t know anything,” he’d write.

I fell victim to the curse of knowledge. And it’s everywhere. Maybe even in your company’s content. It could be the website or content marketing stuff.

It’s more common than you think. An email newsletter columnist submitted an article about companies that made the “best of” list. Each contained a short overview of the company’s business.

Whew, boy. They all spoke the same language: marketing-speak.

I visited the companies’ websites for more information to help me rewrite them to stick with just the facts. It wasn’t surprising to see the overviews came from the website — mostly the Home or About pages. (Good thing making this “best of” list didn’t require effective content, eh?) It also didn’t surprise me that most of the content didn’t clearly communicate what they do for clients.

They all suffer from the same disease I did.

The curse of knowledge.

I believe the phrase first appeared in the October 1989 issue of The Journal of Political Economy. Here’s how authors Colin Camerer, George Lowenstein and Martin Weber of “The curse of knowledge in economic settings: An experimental analysis.” described it.

The curse of knowledge makes personal expertise seem more widely shared than it is, making it difficult for people to convey their expertise to others and reducing the apparent need (from the perspective of the better-informed individual) for such a transfer of knowledge.

They studied the impact of the curse of knowledge from an economic point of view. Chip Heath and Dan Health explained it from a business point of view in “Made to Stick.” I bet you’ve seen it or lived it.

Many sensible strategies fail to drive action because executives formulate them in sweeping, general language. “Achieving customer delight!” “Becoming the most efficient manufacturer!” “Unlocking shareholder value!” One explanation for executives’ love affair with vague strategy statements relates to a phenomenon called the curse of knowledge. Top executives have had years of immersion in the logic and conventions of business, so when they speak abstractly, they are simply summarizing the wealth of concrete data in their heads. But frontline employees, who aren’t privy to the underlying meaning, hear only opaque phrases. As a result, the strategies being touted don’t stick.

In other words, the people who wrote the content for these companies were stuck in their heads. It makes it harder to separate their knowledge from the knowledge — or lack thereof — of the people visiting their website. They knew what their company did. They forgot to consider what their target audience knows or didn’t know.

This wasn’t a simple problem of using jargon and abbreviations. It was a problem of explaining what they do to someone who had never heard of the company. All of these were business-to-business professional services companies. (Noticed I skipped using B2B or BtoB?)

Although I work with B2B clients, not everyone reading this knows what it means. Yes, it’s common to me. Nonetheless, I still remember when I read it for the first time — and I’d like to think I read a decent amount of business articles — I didn’t know what it meant. Not just the abbreviation, but also what it means to be a B2B company.

Another example. A fan of a client’s product advised not using certain terms to describe the client’s technical app for consumers. What he didn’t realize is that most of the client’s target audience know, need and use those terms. If we use the app fan’s suggested terms, people will never understand what the app does. And they’d never find the company because they wouldn’t use those search terms.

Simple test to see if your content suffers from the curse of knowledge:

Have a family member or a friend read it.

Yes, even if they’re not your target audience. They can tell you if it makes sense or not.

Thanks to Hank, I learned early on to think about what the reader may or may not know. That doesn’t mean I’m 100 percent cured of this disease. I don’t think I’ll ever be. It’s impossible to escape my own head. (Dagnabbit.)

What do you think of the bolded text? Or do you prefer headings? Personally, I prefer the latter. However, some folks say they prefer bolded sentences and phrases.

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A Content Marketing Fail That Doesn’t Have to Happen

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014 at 9:16 AM | Category: Content marketing, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog 3 comments

As we planned to move back to Texas and buy our first home, Paul (rockin’ better half) and I decided to start fresh. We sold most of the furniture we had at our place in Washington, D.C. Although our new home was barren for a while, one of the first things we shopped for was a bedroom set.

I always liked the one my parents had that came with shelves and a built-in reading light. We found something similar, but excitement turned to disappointment when the furniture arrived. The set was fine as it was what we expected.

It was the color that was wrong. Since the floor sample was dark brown wood (the color of our D.C. furniture and we were darn tired of it!), we had to rely on a list to find out the other available wood colors and we chose a milk wash. I figured it’d be natural wood with a mix of white and blonde wood colors. Instead, the set had artificial-looking milk wash paint. We kept the set because it had everything except the right color. We searched all over the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex before making our decision and didn’t want to look again.

With businesses planning to increase content marketing efforts, they need a plan to ensure they deliver the right content to the right people at the right time.

Content Marketing Fail

A marketing company put me on its mailing list after I downloaded a free ebook or something. No surprise. The kicker was the email I received from the company a couple of months later.

Subject line: “Next Tuesday or Thursday.”

I see that you’ve demonstrated recent interest in our [product]. In order to help you discover how [company name] can benefit you, I’d like to setup a 15-minute call to go over your current marketing environment.

I can then make specific recommendations as to how [company] can drive [benefit].

Would you be available next Tuesday at 10am PST or next Thursday at 1pm PST? If not, is there another time that works best for you?

I was shocked. Really. This email was asking too much too soon. I knew I hadn’t taken the right actions to arrive at this point in the company’s sales cycle.

The company lost my trust and respect. I won’t recommend its products. I return to the beginning of the sales cycle since the company has to regain my trust. While marketing automation can be powerful, this company clearly didn’t map the process.

Four Common Content Marketing Fails

Here are some content marketing fails that can be avoided:

  1. Serving up the wrong content at the wrong time.
  2. Creating headlines and subject lines promising one thing and delivering something else.
  3. Publishing content that leaves readers thinking: So what? What was the point of that? What did I gain from this? Thanks for wasting time I don’t have.
  4. Using a photo with a headline that doesn’t match what appears when people click through to the landing page.

Bryan Eisenberg shares great examples of broken marketing. Like he says, this is basic stuff that can be avoided. Before creating and publishing any content, ask yourself if it’s relevant and matches expectations. What can you do to set clear expectations? The furniture store could’ve done that by providing small samples of the wood.

And yes, we still have the bedroom set.

Share a time when you got something different from what you expected. What other ways do companies fail to match expectations in content marketing? Thanks for posting your thoughts in comments and sharing this article.

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Stop the Stupidity!

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013 at 1:02 PM | Category: Business, Life Tips, Meryl's Notes Blog 2 comments

football 300x230 Stop the Stupidity!I grew up playing all kinds of sports even football. The flag kind, but it was still football. You name it … I tried it at least once. Dang! How did you come up with hockey? In all fairness, hockey didn’t have many fans in Texas unless they were transplants. So youth hockey was nonexistent until the Stars moved to Dallas from Minnesota.

Because of sports, I developed a habit of exercising as a kid. Eventually, team sports faded and I relied on boring cardio machines and dumbbells to put the heart through the paces and keep the muscles from melting away. Really, I don’t mind because it’s guilt-free TV time.

Workout time is around the 1 – 2 pm zone. The time works great in that it provides the boost I need to end the workday strong yet early enough to finish before my youngest comes home from work at the company called school.

The stairmaster has a bent book holder that holds water and a remote without them falling off. (Thanks, kids!) It’s easy to access the remote as I often do. Not just to crack through the commercials but also to back up a whole conversation that I failed to grasp. Sometimes I can’t help think about client work that my eyes glaze while reading the closed-captions on the TV. I read the words, but the brain doesn’t compute that I lose track of the story.

Study says …

It’s easy to see why multitasking is dangerous when you’re driving a car and talking on a hands-free phone. And more so with texting and driving. Then how come many people still do it? According to Multitasking Is Making You Stupid:

“A study done at the University of London found that constant emailing and text-messaging reduces mental capability by an average of 10 points on an IQ test. It was five points for women, and fifteen points for men. This effect is similar to missing a night’s sleep. For men, it’s around three times more than the effect of smoking cannabis. While this fact might make an interesting dinner party topic, it’s really not that amusing that one of the most common ‘productivity tools’ can make one as dumb as a stoner.”

Whoa.

In my situation and at the office, multitasking is harmless … mostly. Staying focused on one thing — not talking and emailing, not chatting and working on a document or any other dual-activity — you do the task more effectively. The little interruptions like email notifications can disrupt the harmony of your focus.

As I write this, I’ve shut out everything around me. I’ve turned off my cochlear implant because one of the neighbors has construction going on. The hammering is distracting. My second monitor is blank so I’m less tempted to look at something like Gmail or Twitter.

When something else gnaws on your mind, it pulls away your focus on whatever task you’re doing. Bet many of you can relate to Avil Beckford‘s situation. I can. “I started to read a book, but I have been distracted, and to be honest, I cannot focus on the story,” Avil wrote. “The book is not boring, but for a few days, my attention has to be placed elsewhere.”

Stop the stupid-fying!

So how do you stop multitasking? Time Management Ninja lists eight ways:

  1. Do one thing at a time. (You’re just reading this, right? Nothing else?)
  2. Be present. (See comment in #1.)
  3. Finish before you start. (A challenge for … ooh … shiny.)
  4. Don’t let the small tasks interrupt the big ones. (Are you looking at your inbox thinking about answering the quick email?)
  5. Put down the tech. (The mouse or keyboard is OK, so you can scroll down.)
  6. Clean your workspace. (Mine is clean 98 percent of the time. A cluttered space always feels like a cluttered mind.)
  7. Make an appointment with your work. (My husband has to do this otherwise he’d be in meetings 10 hours straight.)
  8. Eliminate interruptions. (Email notifications, for example.)

Multitasking is OK when you’re using less brain power. That’s why I love to fold laundry. It means more guilt-free TV! So what if a shirt isn’t crease-free because of yet another jaw-dropping moment on “Scandal”?

When do you multitask? How do you avoid it when you need to focus?

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Reaching Out to Readers on Social Media

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013 at 8:07 AM | Category: Meryl's Notes Blog, Social Media, Writing 10 comments

Welcome to meryl’s notes blog (this here place you’re lookin’ at) in Plano, Texas. We’re honored to be a stop in Eleanor Vincent’s WOW! Women On Writing Blog tour. We’re giving away a copy of her moving memoir Swimming with Maya: A Mother’s Story. Read on to see how you can win. If you want to keep up with tweets on this book, the hashtag is #SWMaya.

Swimming With Maya Cover Reaching Out to Readers on Social MediaReaching Out to Readers on Social Media by Eleanor Vincent

In an age when you can download a book to your e-reader in 9 seconds that costs less than the movie playing at your local Multiplex, what is the relationship between readers and writers? Judging from the 80-plus reviews of my book on the Swimming with Maya [affiliate] Amazon page,  it has the potential to be closer than ever.

In the nine years since the book was first published as a beautiful but pricey hardback, the landscape has changed dramatically. As I writer, I see this most vividly in the ease with which readers can now buy the book and communicate with me about how it has affected them. Blogs like Meryl’s make it even easier to connect directly.

The digital edition of Swimming with Maya has been downloaded approximately 20,760 times — that is ten times the number of readers of the hardback edition. Early in August, the book made the e-book edition of the New York Times bestseller list. Wow!

As I write this, Swimming with Maya in the 10th position on the Goodreads list of Bonds Between Mothers and Daughters.

Please visit the list and add your vote. This is just one way readers can weigh in directly!

When a writer has poured her life out on the page as I did in this memoir, it is gratifying to hear that readers are moved, or that their own lives have been changed. Not all readers react favorably, of course. Because of the immediacy of digital media I can hear exactly what they don’t like, which is valuable information.

If someone feels strongly enough to review my book — be it positive or not — I’m in the very privileged position of having readers who care enough to comment.

Like this recent review from my Amazon page: “What an incredibly powerful book. Both about the pain of losing a child and what it means to be human.”

Somebody really gets it! Swimming with Maya is a story about life — even though the trigger for telling the story was the death of my older daughter. It is about how life knocks all of us down and what it takes to get back up again.

Or this one: “I have a daughter who is like Maya was in many ways. Eerily, she is the same age now as Maya was when she died. This book made me realize how much I really love my daughter. I don’t think I will have any trouble showing her anymore. “

Affecting how someone relates to her daughter is about as high an honor as I can imagine. I was so moved by the recent batch of reader reviews on Amazon that I am responding to each one. I am sincerely blown away by some of the reader comments and touched that those 90,000 words I sweated bullets over for almost 10 years are out there in the world making a difference in people’s lives.

E-books are making books available to people who might never have had such easy access before. It’s a trend I welcome. Don’t get me wrong. If you feel moved to buy the paperback as a gift for yourself or someone else, I’ll be equally happy. Please be sure to write a review or send me an email. Readers and writers need one another — so keep the comments coming. And please enter to win a copy of Swimming with Maya.

Thanks to Meryl for hosting me today.

About the Author

Eleanor Vincent phot Reaching Out to Readers on Social MediaEleanor Vincent is an award-winning writer whose debut memoir, Swimming with Maya: A Mother’s Story, was nominated for the Independent Publisher Book Award and was reissued by Dream of Things press in 2013. She writes about love, loss, and grief recovery with a special focus on the challenges and joys of raising children at any age. Eleanor has been a national spokesperson on grief recovery and organ donation, appearing on CNN and San Francisco’s Evening Magazine. She has been featured in the San Francisco Chronicle, and been interviewed on radio and television programs around the country.

Called “engaging” by BooklistSwimming with Maya chronicles the life and death of Eleanor’s nineteen-year-old daughter, Maya, who was thrown from a horse and pronounced brain-dead at the hospital. Eleanor donated her daughter’s organs to critically ill patients and poignantly describes her friendship with a middle-aged man who was the recipient of Maya’s heart.

Comment and win: The prize: winner gets a copy of Swimming with Maya. For a chance to win, please leave a comment about losing someone, what it means to be human or ask the author a question. You have until 11:59pm on October 30, 2013  to qualify for the drawing. The unbiased and robotic Random.org has the honor of picking the winner.

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Content Marketing Taken Over by Zombies

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013 at 4:32 PM | Category: Business, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Writing 5 comments

Newspaper Zombie 221x300 Content Marketing Taken Over by ZombiesZombies are in. I think its popularity started with PopCap Games’ “Plants vs. Zombies,” which took up many hours of what little free time I had. Now, I wasn’t the likely candidate to be a fan of the game because I’m so not a fan of horror. Yet PopCap created a cute and fun game.

Yes, I said cute in referring to a game with brain-eating creatures. C’mon. It has a dancing zombie with backup dancers. Admit it. That’s cute.

Zombies Everywhere

That’s the extent of my interest in zombies. I will not read “World War Z.” I will not view its movie. And I will not check out “The Walking Dead” no matter how many folks rave about it. I didn’t even want to check out “Under the Dome” knowing its author was Stephen King. (I read the reviews that said it wasn’t horror. Instead of the horror thing, I feared being left hanging. Sure ‘nough, it wasn’t horror and they friggin’ left us hanging!)

Anyhoo.

“But, Meryl! I don’t like horror either and I love the show,” friends said.

Thank goodness I have a trusty husband in Paul. I sent him on a dangerous mission: Watch “The Walking Dead” alone and report back.

He did. The man knows me better than I do. (Mostly.) Paul advised against watching it and explained why. He was right. Me no likey.

Like the popularity of “The Walking Dead,” marketers have jumped into content marketing in growing numbers like the multiplying zombies in “World War Z.”

Missing: Content Marketing Brains … If found, please contact your local marketer

Based on evidence of the quality of content — or lack thereof — out there … some marketers let the content marketing trend guide them rather than their brains. (Maybe zombies got to them.)  Like anything that catches on, folks hop on without giving a thought whether it’s the right thing, or doing any planning.

That’s happening with content marketing.

And a lot of content marketing is crap. (Please excuse my rare cussin’. This still calls for it.) Not only is it crap, but also it’s delivered to the wrong folks, at the wrong time, in the wrong place or all of the above.

Or they’re not doing true content marketing. They’re selling. Just look at these stats Steve Olenski found and shared in The Catastrophic Social Media Content Marketing Mistake Marketers Are Making.

Econsultancy Main Objectives for Paid Digital Media Sept20131 Content Marketing Taken Over by Zombies

Here’s his explanation why this is catastrophic:

It means that marketers are putting more emphasis on selling than they are at establishing relationships with consumers via branding.

It means that marketers would rather try and sell you something than say tell you a story.

It means that marketers are only in “it” to increase their bottom line.

What Content Marketing Really Is

Per the last bullet — Olenski knows the whole point is to make money for the business. He explains:

When I am asked for my definition of content marketing, I usually include the phrase “guns blazing” as in “you cannot go into a relationship and maintain a relationship with a consumer guns blazing. You have to engage, relate to, share relevant content with your audience and yes integrate your ‘guns’ AKA your product, into your overall content marketing strategy.”

It cannot be sell, sell, sell at every single turn.

And Michael Brenner makes these points about the future of content marketing:

Quantity content WITH Quality to support the growing information needs of our customers.

Brands will resemble publishers and assemble newsrooms and hire or train journalists who can tell stories and contribute to major publications.

Sponsored stories. Brands will continue to create more quality sponsored content that is buyer-centric and that removes the brand from the story. (Emphasis mine.)

Content length will continue downward as our real-time, mobile world seeks smaller, more “snackable” and more “shareable” content.

Good quality is always a must. But the rest of it (quantity, what to provide, etc.) depends on target market *needs*. Brenner reaffirms what Olenski said. I applaud his last point about content length. I don’t care how great a story someone tells. I rarely read a 2,000-word story. (Not counting books, of course.) I disagree with folks who say that a person should use as many words as needed to tell a story. Some publications can get away with it — and that’s because they know their audience and deliver what they crave.

Even though a lot of content is crap, there’s still a lot of it out there and some of it valuable. I’d rather have a buffet of content in small portions than eat one dish and get bored with it.

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This Content Marketing Hazard Can Hurt Your Company’s Credibility

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013 at 9:40 AM | Category: Business, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Writing 4 comments
grape jelly geode This Content Marketing Hazard Can Hurt Your Companys Credibility

Ginormous “grape jelly” geode with amethyst crystals

My husband Paul and I finally took our sons to the much-lauded Perot Museum of Science and Nature. Lane, the new high schooler, wasn’t thrilled about going. (“Why did I have to come?” Grumble, grumble.) He’d rather stay home and play video games. His younger brother Zachary, the bookish one, couldn’t wait.

I didn’t have high hopes that Lane would find an exhibit he’d like. You know teens. They make up their minds they don’t want to do something and stick with it. The three of us went our merry way checking out the interactive exhibits with Lane tagging along. At the end of the day, Paul reported the gems and minerals (read: rocks) exhibit captivated our teen son. He’s always been fascinated with rocks. Every time he’d go to the museum with Grandma, he’d come home with a couple of rocks. (We also let him buy one — much, much smaller than the 5 1/2-foot one in the photo. — more like five centimeters.)

You have to applaud the museum curators. Unlike many businesses, museums have a broad target audience as people of all ages and backgrounds visit. They serve single adults, married couples with no kids, seniors. The whole gamut. Yet they curate exhibits to ensure visitors have at least one that grips them. The curators pulled off a biggie in finding one for the pickiest, disinterested teen.

Danger! Watch Out for the Crap Content Avalanche

Sharp content curators are like museum curators. They think of their audience when they curate and select resources. We may not be creating content from scratch, but it takes as much time and effort panning for in the massive content mine since content marketing became the hottest thing. Content marketing has been around for a long time. It didn’t have a fancy name until now. Props to Hank Stroll, one of my first clients, for introducing me to the secret of sharing valuable — not promotional — content in 2001. (Not a typo.)

Folks realize that content marketing works when done right (they forget about the “when done right” part), so everyone does it and most without creating a strategy. That’s why we’re flooded with content that provides zero, zilch, zippo value.

Because of this, most of the time when we click an interesting link, we hit crap. (Sorry for cussing — it’s the best word.) The biggest danger to content marketing is the load of crap content.

Insanity! Retweeting Blind

Dan Zarella explains part of the problem in New Data Indicates Twitter Users Don’t Always Click the Links They Retweet. He says that 16 percent of the tweets with links resulted in more retweets than clicks. In English: folks retweeted a tweet with a link without checking out the link! Yikes! These folks share unchecked links, and some could lead to tasteless or spammy content. (It has happened enough that I encountered malware.)

Why retweet without checking the link first? No one can judge content based on the painstakingly crafted titles or deceptive descriptions accompanying the links. Good social media citizens don’t waste people’s time with lousy resources.

Stop! Nix the Content Assembly Line

So what can we do about it?

Easy!

Stop. Creating. Crap. Content.

Stop spewing article after article, report after report, white paper after white paper like an automaton.

Isn’t your inbox flooded with email offers? You know the free e-book, free report, free webinar,  free here, free there, free everywhere. Free don’t mean a thing if the content ain’t got that swing.

I bet you’ve downloaded a lot of those complimentary offers and opened few. I have. They collect e-dust until it comes time to do a little file cleaning. Then I go Cyberman all over them and delete, delete, delete them. (Yes, I’m a “Doctor Who” fan.) The company producing the content also loses credibility.

Many well-known (and somehow respected) websites generate content with slick titles that mesmerize you. Yes, we writers all have off days. Me included. Nonetheless, these websites did it too often and onto my “don’t visit list” they went. Fool me once, I’ll give you a couple more chances. Fool me six-ish times, kiss my clicks and eyeballs goodbye.

Help! How Do We Build Great Content?

Think of the content process like a journey not the destination. A leisurely route not a shortcut. A marathon not a sprint.

Creating content that’s worth reading is only half of the success formula. Doug Kessler did a bloody fabulous job with the Six Principles of Great Content Brands. This rounds out the rest of the content success formula.

6 Ways to Build a Great Content Brand (the short version):

  1. Be the buyer. Know your prospect inside out (with clothes on).
  2. Be authoritative. Because beneficial and fascinating beat fluff, unless it contains marshmallows.
  3. Be strategic. Create a content strategy so you deliver the right content, to the right folks in the right place at the right time.
  4. Be prolific. Tap great writers and designers. (My fave, of course.)
  5. Be passionate. Great content is contagious when you care. (This post … yes?)
  6. Be hard on yourself. Rewrite, nix, exterminate and delete until you produce hot piping content goodness.

Content oughta be a great virus so that when we click links, they lead us to tasty content worth gobbling down. Meanwhile, I shall keep on curating through the mountain of crap for the diamonds worth sharing in the museum of social media. Who knows? Maybe I’ll find some winners for those finicky Lanes.

What do you think of content marketing? What does it take to succeed?

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An Easy Way to Exceed Expectations

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013 at 8:06 AM | Category: Customer Service, Meryl's Notes Blog 3 comments

This fall is my family’s 14th and final year at the elementary school where all three of my kiddos attended for at least five years of their lives. It’s going to be tough to leave because many staff members are like family. Volunteering at the middle and high schools aren’t the same as at the elementary school. So I’ve been making an extra effort to be more involved because it’s my last chance as a parent.

A moment of insanity … volunteering to do the newsletter

I went a little crazy and volunteered to do the PTA’s newsletter. I knew I could do the newsletter, but the time commitment was a concern. (I know how to say no. Yes, really, I do!) It took a lot of time to do the just-released first issue, but it’ll go faster next time now that I have a template for it. (I hope!)

To my surprise, the raves started pouring in. I couldn’t imagine why because previous editors did a nice job with theirs. Folks said they appreciated the extra effort with the interactive features, such as linking to parts of the PTA website and adding bookmarks that you can click and it takes you to the related page. They also liked the editorial calendar with due dates, list of articles in past issues month-by-month and easy online access to the calendar.

One issue down. Eight more to go. I hope I can keep this up.

Lagniappe: Do more for others

Lagniappe [lan-yap] n. 1. Small gift given to customer with a purchase. 2. An unexpected bonus.

Employers and clients hire folks to do a job, provide a service or create a product. They also gain our expertise and experience even if it comes from an unrelated field. That’s part of providing good customer service. Part of our job is to speak up when a manager leans toward a decision that may not be the best one for the company. Sometimes you have to be proactive and say, “I don’t recommend this route because of XYZ. The better route would be LMN because … .”

You inform. You offer solutions. You explain why. You respect the final decision. That’s all you can do.

You can also look for ways to help improve the business. For example, one client’s website had a bug and his staff couldn’t fix it. I went in, played with it, harumphed a few times and finally fixed the little bugger. (Ha! I’m reading “Ender’s Game.”) What I do for the client? I’m an editor and writer. He didn’t hire me for web design or website management. (I got my start as a writer by writing about web design.) It’s a skill I happen to have that turned into a lagniappe.

It’s not just for surprising and delighting clients and employers. You can apply it to all parts of your life.

What’s your lagniappe? What are some ways to do a little something extra for clients?

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Why Relevancy Matters in Content Marketing

Thursday, July 11th, 2013 at 11:38 AM | Category: Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog 1 comment

Like most of you, I rarely pay attention to commercials. (What about during the Super Bowl? Nah. Not too interested.) I zip through them. (Thank you, DVR!) If I can’t skip the commercials, I use the time to catch up on reading or play Fairway Solitaire (darn you, Gutsy McDivot!) on my phone. But then I caught a woman talking with her hands. Stop. Rewind. Play. As a deaf person, I couldn’t help but be interested in what Mary had to say.

This speaks volumes about relevancy, or lack thereof. As you watch the video, think about what type of company could be behind it. (The video has subtitles, but you can jump to the script.)

What did you think when you found out the company? Watching this made me think about bullying and how deaf folks want to be viewed as a person like everyone else. Maybe it was a public service announcement or an ad for a nonprofit organization.

It took three views before I could remember the company behind the ad. First time, I couldn’t recall. Second time, right type of business, but not the name. Third time, I wrote it down.

Mary said that people who are deaf want to have friends and be treated with respect. Agreed. And then what? It had no closure, no real point. How was this relevant to viewers and the advertiser’s business? Buy insurance, get friends and respect?

Relevance isn’t just about the audience. There needs to be some connection between the content and the business. This video showed how the lack of relevancy made it harder to remember the company.

Granted, the company attempted to tell a compelling story … but the story didn’t go anywhere, showed no connection to the business and failed to be relevant to the audience.

This video reiterates the importance for marketers and advertisers to create content that’s valuable and relevant to their business and, most importantly, to their target market. An Ascend2 “Email Marketing Strategy Outlook Report” survey says that most effective tactic to achieve email marketing objectives is “creating relevant and compelling content.” And yet it’s also the most difficult tactic to execute.

Why does it matter? When something isn’t relevant, it won’t connect with the audience and be memorable. It also affects a company’s reputation. Content marketing is rife with examples of irrelevancy.

What did you think of the ad? Can you recall a time when you came across something that was not relevant to you? What other ways do companies fail to be relevant? Please let me know your thoughts in comments. Love hearing from y’all!

Video script

My name is Mary and this is my aha moment.

I think we spend too much time fingerpointing and saying, “Oh, that’s their problem.” It’s just so awful.

Deaf people are just like people who can hear. They want a family, they want friends, they want the opportunity to go out and experience various things and they want respect.

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The Trouble with Tribble-ish Content Marketing

Thursday, June 6th, 2013 at 8:53 AM | Category: Content marketing, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Social Media, Writing 3 comments

star trek kirk tribbles 300x221 The Trouble with Tribble ish Content MarketingBack in 2001, I connected with a fellow from InternetViZ and interviewed him about email marketing. A few months later, a client closed his business. It was one of the primary sources of my writing income. That taught me the importance of having a variety of clients instead of one or two that make up the bulk of your income.

Discovering content marketing

I came to a crossroads in my writing career where I had to decide whether to get more business or let it wither away and be a corporate woman for life. Not wanting to give up, I started writing an email asking people if they needed writing support to help their business.

While writing this (I still remember it as if it happened yesterday. And goodness knows I’ve written many emails.), my stomach knotted and I debated whether to do this. Finally, after re-reading the message many times, I hit “Send.” (Good thing Gmail and its “undo” feature didn’t exist or it may not have made it.)

Gulp.

The fellow responded and connected me with his business partner, Hank Stroll of InternetViZ. I’ve worked with Hank ever since. (He’s in Minn. and me in Texas. We met in person in 2007 and it was like old times. Still is.)

Little did I know he would launch my career in content marketing long before this fancy name came about. He figured it out — before most people did — that companies could better connect with clients and prospects through email newsletters and valuable content instead of marketing their stuff.

The content marketing secret’s out

Now every marketer is in on the secret and trying to churn content. (A lot of content is crap.) Multiplying like the “Star Trek” Tribbles. Even as a writer for more than 10 years, I get stumped for fresh ideas. How many articles have you seen that give you ideas for content? Zillions.

I blog less often than I should. However, I’d rather not blog than recycle something that others have said many times, many ways. Like “Green Eggs and Ham” — these articles have been delivered on a boat, with a goat, in the rain, on a train. OK, more like in a blog, on a SlideShare, in a video, in a tweet.

Finding a fresh take on popular content topics

So how do you provide a fresh take on a popular topic you need to cover? Yes, there’s a catch. It means reaching a smaller audience.

The secret: Write about the topic with a specific focus.

Let’s say you need to write about content marketing. Here’s how you’d get specific:

  • 7 Ways B2B professional services companies can use content marketing.
  • How content marketing boosts your luxury car dealership.
  • Content marketing lessons from a information technology research firm.
  • Is content marketing worth it for the oil and gas industry? Yes!
  • Team up marketing automation software with content marketing.
  • 5 ways to promote your tech support services with content marketing without sounding like an ad.

You get the idea. True, not many people will seek articles on oil and gas and content marketing. The magic comes in feeding search engines by having the keywords in the headline and link, such as http://www.rockingB2Bprofessionalservices.com/blog/7-ways-b2b-professional-services-companies-use-content-marketing.html (This is a fake link. Any resemblance to real links, living or rotted, is purely coincidental.)

It may not mean much traffic for the article. (This is where social media rocks. Link to the article from social media and email newsletters.)

This link  boosts keyword power for “b2b professional services” especially if the company’s other content uses those keywords in other blog posts and page headlines. While few may search for “b2b professional services content marketing,” “b2b professional services” in the headline and link pump the site’s keyword muscle.

This narrow focus content approach …

  1. Lets you produce fresh content for your website. (Search engines <3 that.)
  2. Strengthens keyword power for your site.
  3. Allows you to give away your expertise for free — which builds credibility and trust.

“But, Meryl. Doesn’t adding keywords like this come across as phony and smart search engines will catch on to such tricks?”

As a writer, I’m more sensitive to keyword fakery in web content. You probably have lots of stories you can tell about your business. Turn your story into an example and those keywords will fit naturally. Don’t force it. Just write conversationally. Edit and tweak. Repeat. (Not too many times, though!)

Watch self-mentions

One more suggestion: Skip mentioning your company, product or service in these articles.

Competitors and fans of competitors won’t link to your article. In searching for articles on niche topics for clients, most of the good ones mention the company, product or service. While a competitor or its fans may not want to link at all, they may be more willing to share because it’s important to them to be a trusted resource. (Great article on this: Why You Should Link to Your Competitors.) When an article promotes something, then that’s a little much.

How do you find content ideas that have been rehashed many times?

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