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Social Media and Audience Development
Sep 16, 2010, 11:54 CDT
- Member Type(s): Expert
- Title:Executive Vice President
- Organization:PR Newswire
- Area of Expertise:
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Tuesday, April 16, 2013, 9:33 AM
Image via Velocity Partners. Click to access a great deck about content quality.
Content marketing is the outgrowth of a number of long-terms trends in the communications business: the ability of anyone to be a publisher; the shrinkage of traditional media; the questionable effectiveness of online advertising; the changes in search.
But, ultimately, it is about producing content that is exactly what your audience wants to read, exactly what they are looking for, the answer to their search for information.
Commercially produced content has rarely been any of the above. Traditionally, it has garnered views by trying to be in the right place at the right time so the viewer/reader sees it in spite of the fact that he or she is really looking for something else.
Sponsored content, advertorial, paid content, pre-roll -- whatever you call the output of marketing and PR, it has no doubt been considered B-list, isolated from the somehow purer editorially produced content or the presumedly more valuable organic search result.
So content marketing is about moving up to the A-list, not trying to hitch a ride on the coattails of the seemingly more popular. It’s about being the destination, not hanging around in the same neighborhood.
Which brings us face-to-face with the issue of content quality. It is the prerequisite, the precursor, the minimal requirement, the absolute starting point for content marketing. Because, let’s face it, marketing content traditionally just hasn’t been that good, focusing as it has on tweaking the reader’s wallet rather than his or her interest.
I’ll be the first to admit that I think journalist-produced content written for independent publishers is going to be better and more interesting to me than something that comes out of any organization’s marketing or PR department, but there’s also no reason that has to be the case. Good writers aren’t that hard to find, and neither the number of opportunities nor the salaries paid by the media are going to make them inaccessible. Photos, videos, and other types of images are easier to produce than ever.
And when you have good writers, good photographers, good videographers, you have to turn them loose. Carefully crafted, on-point, closely controlled organizational messaging isn’t going to work in content marketing, just as it doesn’t work in social media. Take advantage of the diversity of voices and styles within your organization, don’t squeeze them.
And, finally, produce content for your reader, not for your boardroom or your attorneys or for the search robots. Create stuff you’d want to read, want to see. Or … go back to buying banner ads.
Author Ken Dowell is PR Newswire’s EVP of social media & audience development.
Got some good content? We can help you do some interesting things with it. (And if you don’t have any, we can help you with that, too.)
Wednesday, April 3, 2013, 1:23 PM
While participating in a Business Development Institute/PR Week panel discussion last week on the relationship of earned media, content marketing and SEO, I was asked by the moderator whether the opportunity for PR in earned media is growing in importance.
Unfortunately my answer was a less than definitive “yes and no.” Because it really depends on your perspective, who you’re representing and what level of visibility you have in the media.
If you are working with a widely followed company or easily recognized consumer brand you may well have a pretty good track record of media coverage. And you are now facing the economics of news. That means fewer outlets, fewer journalists and in most cases a smaller audience.
I don’t think PR professionals in that situation are thinking about the earned media opportunity being more important. More likely they are concerned with shrinking reach and are likely to be considering redirecting at least some of their resources elsewhere.
If you’re a small company in a B to B business, if you’re in an obscure or unfashionable industry, you aren’t getting headlines in the daily paper or mention on the nightly news anyway.
So if you’re representing that type of organization you may have a different perspective. The opportunity for earned media has become broader because the media has grown its own long tail. A long tail that consists of hundreds of thousands of Web sites and bloggers. They may not have a lot of followers or subscribers and may be pretty obscure but if your business is chasing a small narrowly targeted following there could well be a pretty good fit.
Wednesday, January 9, 2013, 12:25 PM
Emerging naked from a roaring fire with a baby dragon on your shoulder is one way to get people’s attention. Thankfully, there are some easier ways to capture your audience’s attention, which we discuss here today.
Last week, I published part one of this two-part post on capturing audience attention. Today, I offer my thoughts on approaches that rely on utility and relevance, rather than diversion, to garner the attention of your organization’s constituents.
Creating great content that will capture attention and truly engage audiences is a new imperative for communicators. But how exactly do you do that?
One approach is to be so brilliant that you can produce staff that is so good an audience will congregate around it. Since that option isn’t open to most of us, we need to think of quality in terms of who it is we want to reach. You can, for example, be writing on behalf of a accounting standards organization and you know you’re stuff isn’t exactly going to go viral. But, in this example, quality means producing content that will be informative to the professional accountant audience you’re trying to reach.
If you don’t have something that’s of interest, it isn’t going to much matter how you distribute it. But the definition of what’s of interest is in the hands of the audience, and your job in distributing information is in finding the appropriate audience, positioning your content to be discovered by the very people who would find it valuable.
The 3 S’s of Content Strategy
To do that, you need to take into consideration the three S’s of modern content distribution: search, social and syndication.
Search is still probably the ultimate consumer tool to filter out the noise and go directly to what you want. In fact, a whole industry has been built up around SEO. And SEO practice became so prevalent that the search engines, led by Google, tweak their algorithms almost weekly to neutralize the practice of manipulating headlines and keywords and links, etc. What would Google advise? Create good content and post it on good sites. Not a bad option.
Social replaces the diverted eyeball approach with the implied endorsement of being recommended by friends, followers or connections. It’s a kind of discover mechanism that does for content what talking to your friends and acquaintances does for say restaurant recommendations. My advice here is similar to what it is for search: Worrying about “optimizing” through use of hashtags or optimum time of day or repetitions is not going to be nearly as important as producing content that your audience is going to want to share.
Syndication is perhaps less commonly thought of, but it’s a powerful content discovery tool that needs to be considered in determining how you are going to distribute your content. Specific interest is trumping general interest for information consumers, and syndicators that address that need are going to get you where you want to go. (For example, the PR Newswire widget that is deployed on hundreds of websites and blogs worldwide delivers to each site only the content that meets their description of what their readers want to see.)
New media, new devices, new tools have opened up new opportunities in marketing and public relations to be publishers and talk with audiences instead of at them. But there’s a crowd of others doing the talking, and the listener is more and more fine-tuning the message stream. Only good content available in the right places will get through.
Image via i09.com
Wednesday, January 2, 2013, 3:44 PM
Professional communicators have traditionally based a lot of their activity on capturing what I would call diverted eyeballs, putting content under the noses of an audience that only sees it because they were really looking for something else.
Most advertising works like this. You’re reading a story in a magazine and when you have to turn the page, you get not the continuation of your story but a glossy full-color photo of a bottle of rum. Or you may be watching October baseball and, in trying to focus on whether that long fly ball clears the wall, you may or may not notice the name of the beer brand painted on the wall.
PR placement is a little more subtle, but nonetheless based upon the reader sort of accidently falling upon the mention. Maybe that involves an inch or two of commentary embedded in a larger news story, or a couple of sentences rewritten from a news release that fills a hole in a newspaper page.
The diverted eyeball strategy was justified by some audacious claims as to audience reach. That one-graph short on an interior page of the local newspaper raised claims of an audience equivalent to the circulation of the newspaper. Score a TV placement? That means millions, right? Because however many viewers Nielsen projects to have watched that station during that time period potentially saw the snippet of video or comment that you snuck in front of them.
Still working? Not so much. While the theory of diverted eyeball distribution made the migration from traditional media forms to online, it’s not quite the same, because the claims of audience reach are based upon a concept of a passive news consumer casually taking in whatever is hoisted at him (or her). It’s about starting the day by paging through the newspaper at the breakfast table and ending it sitting down with the family to watch the evening news.
That’s not what today’s news consumer looks like. Paging through the morning paper now might be scrolling through headlines from 10 news sources on Twitter. Casually perusing what’s on the next page is less likely than searching directly for the information you want. So with more paths to get information and more devices to access it, the role of editor or gatekeeper has, in many ways, passed directly to the information consumer.
What does that mean for the communicator? You’re not going to be successful riding the coattails of someone else’s quality. It’s up to you to produce the content that captures an audience.
Image via nicolemerrifield.wordpress.com
Friday, December 28, 2012, 11:14 AM
Virtually every discussion of modern public relations and marketing practice will, at some point refer, to the importance of quality content. It is the absolute baseline for brand publishing, content marketing, social media messaging and just about any other way an organization communicates.
The need for quality applies across the board, whether the content you are producing is called a press release or a white paper, sponsored content or a blog post. Quality transcends category.
But what exactly is quality content? Often that question is answered by what it is not:
- It’s not spam.
- It’s not jargon.
- It’s not solicitous.
- It’s not laced with tricks to attract search engine algorithms.
The don’ts are easier to point out than the do’s.
If we’re going to define what constitutes quality, let’s start at the simplest level. Quality content is well-written. That means it’s concise, clear and grammatically correct. I can’t recall reading anything that was so brilliant I could overlook the typos, mismatched tense and run-on sentences.
Secondly, quality content is honest. It is honest about what it is and who is writing it. If it is sponsored content, that is made clear, as is the author or authoring organization. If someone else’s ideas or someone else’s research is referenced, that, too, is appropriately attributed.
Beyond that, it gets a lot more subjective.
The Google Webmaster Blog talks about "unique, valuable, engaging." Other attributes that are cited by various Web authors include: useful, relevant, well-researched, credible, and easy to read.
I suggest that good-quality content has to be either interesting or informative. Entertain or educate. Great-quality content does both.
There are many ways to be interesting. For example, your content can be funny. Photos and videos can be interesting in ways that are hard to replicate solely with blocks of text. Great writing, especially if it is in a style and tone that is unique to the author, can in itself be interesting.
Content can be informative to a very broad audience, such as when NASA discusses some new information about the nature of neighboring planets, or to a very small audience, such as information about an innovation in industrial design.
Quality content doesn’t have to be brilliantly original, never-before-heard wisdom. It can add context or insight to information that is otherwise widely known. But it has to add to the conversation.
How good is your content? Try asking yourself whether it is the kind of stuff you would be interested in reading, and why. If your answer is affirmative, you’re on the right track.
Image via 100Kblueprint.com.
Does your content need some fine-tuning? We have some resources that can help:
Friday, November 9, 2012, 8:38 AM
Google is believed to make something like 500 changes to their search algorithms a year. In August and September there were 65 updates. The widely discussed Panda update has been supplemented another 21 times and the more recent Penguin update has already had two follow-ups.
All this is to improve the user experience. To deliver to the user through Google search the best quality, most authoritative and most extensively researched answer to their query.
If you think all the way back to Web 1.0, that’s pretty much what we went for. We went to sites that we trusted, that were widely known and popular. We used our computers quite literally as if they were electronic libraries or newsstands, choosing the publication and then looking for what we wanted.
It is really the search engines that changed all this by offering a path directly to the information we sought, an answer to the question we asked. Leave the browsing to Google!
But some funny things happened along the way.
Our query about a medical condition was not always answered by a doctor or a reputable medical organization, but rather might have prompted a couple shallow graphs from a freelance writer who got paid a few bucks by one of the so called content farms.
Our keyword query might in fact yield some document that was full of instances of that keyword but had no real information about the subject being asked.
We might get an answer that is written by a journalist who works for a reputable news organization but maybe we only see a couple graphs of that story that were extracted and “curated” onto a different organization’s site.
All of these are symptoms of SEO (search engine optimization), which might also be called GG (Gaming Google). It is the promise of SEO and its widespread adaptation that in fact screwed up the viability of the search engines and produced the need for Google’s 500+ tweaks a year.
Because while Google was offering the user a shortcut to the information it was indirectly offering the diverse world of content providers shortcuts as well.
It certainly seemed a lot easier to game your way to the top of search engine results than it did to build a reputation as an authoritative source. And some code to capture trending keywords and tag content with them seemed a quicker solution than finding great writers and giving them the resources to do extensive research.
So Google is now all about fixing the mess it was at least partly responsible for making. The search giant is now talking about good content, good sites, good sources.
I hope they’re successful.
Friday, May 18, 2012, 4:44 PM
The widespread perception that banner advertising is failing to deliver value and the growth of social networks into a key distribution platform for news are two of the current trends that will play a significant role in shaping the future of media.
Those were among the conclusions at the 5th annual I Want Media Future of Media Forum held earlier today at NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. Participants at the forum was primarily representatives of digital media properties.
What is broadly seen as a decline in banner, display and other traditional forms of online advertising will ultimately have the impact of mashing together commercial and editorial content as marketers turn their focus away for banners and toward content creation.
“Banner ads don’t work,” according to Jonah Peretti, co-founder of BuzzFeed. “As soon as a better mousetrap comes along, banners will go away,” added The Daily Publisher Greg Clayman. Clayman pointed to the full page “content” on The Daily as an example of a better approach.
“Advertising can be part of the content instead of something you’re subjected to,” Ben Lerer, co-founder of the Thrillist, suggested.
In general the panelists expect to see a blurring of the distinction between editorial and advertising content. This is something that is likely to happen more easily in the digital world than in traditional media. Michael Wolf, founder and managing director of Activate, commented that the notion of separation between church and state really comes out of the newspaper world.
Lerer summed it up as “It’s all about maintaining trust while making as much money as you possibly can. It comes down to quality.”
Most of the participants in the forum said that social has now become the primary driver of traffic to their content, replacing search. This was broadly viewed as a positive phenomenon that is going to result in better content.
Peretti said, “Social has become the new starting point for media businesses. In shifting from search to social you shift from thinking about keywords to thinking about what people share.”
So that means you have people in mind when you’re planning your content strategy, not what one participant termed “GoogleBot.” Both of these trends together suggest that media companies will be moving in the direction of focusing on quality of content, since that is what will bring the highest reward in terms of audience.
On the future of newspapers, Peretti, outlined the challenge as, the growth of the digital business has been too slow to offset the decline of the legacy business. He suggested that print is a moral issue (as in killing trees), something “we’ll look back on one day and say ‘I can’t believe we did that.’”
In some cases, however, there are bright spots for newspapers if they can offload the cost of print. Anthony De Rosa, social media editor of Reuters, saw a continuing role for small and medium sized newspapers because they are a niche. Many big digital media companies have attacked local and have all pretty much failed.
Jessica Coen, editor in chief of Jezebel, predicted that tablets will become the number one way that people consume media and Lerer added that “mobile is the biggest movement we are seeing.” He suggested that all media companies should be developing for mobile.
Thursday, May 17, 2012, 9:58 AM
“The traditional advertising model is completely torn apart.”
With those words, Jonathan Hunt, global marketing director of VICE, opened the panel discussion at Internet Week New York. The subject was content: creating it, curating it, marketing it and distributing it.
And the start of that discussion was all about the importance of quality.
“At the end of the day, good content is still going to win,” is how Jane Hu, head of programming strategy for YouTube Next Lab, phrased it.
“It takes a lot for a brand to create great stuff,” said Andy Wiedlin, chief revenue officer of Buzzfeed, because most advertising isn’t very good.
Good can mean funny. It can mean insightful. But, most importantly, it has to be interesting to the audience you want to reach. Thus, the first step for a brand in creating quality content is listening to your audience on the platforms you use, according to Blake Whitman, vice president of Vimeo. Whitman dismissed a comment from the audience that quality content doesn’t go viral. “The only virality we see on Vimeo is really high-quality stuff,” he added.
So the need for quality in content creation is a given, but that alone doesn’t capture the attention of your audience. The distribution discussion focused on social and mobile. Several panelists cautioned that social is not as easy as it might look.
“Social isn’t free. You have to seed it, promote it, distribute it,” said Wiedlin.
Katrina Craigwell, content lead for digital marketing at GE, added, “Anything you care about isn’t going to go without some paid distribution behind it.”
Whitman commented that you also need to “self-curate” because different types of content are needed to be effective on different platforms.
Not everyone agreed on whether mobile as a distribution platform is here yet, but it is clearly something that will be growing in importance.
“Mobile video isn’t there yet so you need some lower-fi content,” said Wiedlin.
Hu countered with numerous statistics from YouTube about video views on mobile, and concluded, “If you’re not creating content that can be consumed on mobile, you're missing a big part of your audience.”
Craigwell added that video for mobile will be a focus for her group in the coming year.
The legacy media-based model of paid placement has clearly been disrupted and its value is being questioned. What has emerged from that is a growing emphasis on content marketing and specifically what brands see as a big part of their future communications are video, social and mobile.
Wednesday, April 4, 2012, 3:23 PM
“EPIC 2015″ is a look into the not-very-distant (anymore) future of media and information.
We are now in the aftermath of Web 2.0. The promise of interoperability and information sharing has been realized. It has raised enormous opportunities and some equally enormous concerns. Here are some of the conflicts that will shape where we go from here:
Big Data vs. Big Government
Big data is big news right now. If you missed this discussion, you might think it is about big databases, big servers, big analytics. It’s not. It’s about you and me.
The importance of big data is that it is perceived as a way to identify how people behave, and thus predict what they are going to do. What’s pertinent in the business world is what they are likely to be interested in buying. This is the promised land for marketers. It also has more than passing interest for all those online properties that built a big audience and now are trying to figure out how to make it pay.
The premise here is that carefully targeted messaging is better than traditional approaches that were, by comparison, mass scattershot communication. Can’t argue with that.
But there is one flaw in the plan: Nobody asked you and me what we think about this. A lot of us aren’t so interested in having our behavior analyzed and predicted. In fact, we might not be any more interested in this than we were in having hawkers call us at dinnertime to sell us aluminum siding.
So that’s where big government steps in (think of the “Do Not Call” registry). Government has a lot of things going against it: It’s slow; it’s generally behind the times from a technologist’s standpoint; and nd it has enormous baggage, an archive of rules and regulations, some so old they were originally drafted on parchment and intended to protect the guy who needed a musket to score his next meal.
But government has got the big hammer. And when it comes down in the form of “do not track,” “do not sell,” “do not even store” data that has not been permissioned by every individual covered, a lot of the industry that has been built up around converting big data into targeting marketing gets crushed.
Google vs. SEO
Search is a primary means of distributing information. It is distribution that is owned by the audience. We like that. Google dominates, so we want to make Google happy. Or, at least, we want to curry favor with its algorithms.
So what should we do, Google? We only get a few scraps from Google about what they think, but we know they don’t like too many keywords, they don’t like too many links or too many links above the fold, they don’t like to see your stuff in more than one place, etc. Basically they don’t like SEO at all. “Create good stuff, put it on good sites and we’ll take care of it,” is what they seem to be saying -- that is, when they choose to say anything at all. Fair enough.
The only trouble is, SEO tactics often work. In fact, sometimes they work so well they become a life-and-death matter for an online-based business.
SEO is really about gaming Google. No wonder Google hates it. One suspects the tech monolith is dreaming of squashing the whole SEO industry with its enormous boot. But the thing is, the harder and more puzzling SEO becomes due to Google efforts to eliminate it, the more businesses need it because of the fact that it’s now harder and more puzzling.
I don’t see the end to this one. This is the digital equivalent of the Hundred Years War, meaning the conflict is likely to be around for at least another 18 months.
The Media vs. the Media
Okay, that is a little confusing. Think of Media with a capital "M" as media organizations, newspapers and their digital descendents, wire services, broadcast outlets, etc. And think of media with a lowercase "m" as all the different vehicles for storing, delivering and providing information.
If you’re a big-M guy, you’ve got to be a little ticked off. You pay all the bills to create the best content you can, but your P+L is hemorrhaging, and all the buzz, not to mention eyeballs, is going to the aggregators, the curators, the sharers, the linkers, the little-m guys.
NewsRight is the latest venture by the Media to try to get the upper hand here. It’s hard not to sympathize with them. If you think of a good book, you want to think the rewards from the sale of that book go to the author. Most of us think the primary beneficiary of a great song should be the person who wrote and recorded it.
The cost of big Media became disassociated with a good portion of the revenue it generates when the Media lost control of the distribution of its content. I don’t think that’s going to prove easily reversible. Search and social are now fundamental to the distribution of information. Both work within the context of the free flow of information.
So the Media find themselves in a position of inadvertently limiting and potentially reducing their audience by seeking the just reward from their product. I’m not sure that moving in the direction of having fewer people seeing your content is the best thing for the future of the business.
Big Technology vs. Big Technology
Does big technology eat itself? What I’m thinking about here is Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and others. We all think we know what these companies do, and probably have a short but sweet description of how we use them. I buy presents on Amazon, search on Google, talk to friends on Facebook, network professionally on LinkedIn and so on.
Well, it seems like the Earth has started to turn the wrong way. Amazon is making devices to browse the Web, Google built a social network, Facebook created a feature than looks like Twitter, and my LinkedIn home page is starting to look like iGoogle or My Yahoo.
It’s as if Tony, the guy who runs the best pizza shop in town, stepped out in front of his store and saw people going into the nail salon on the corner and the dry cleaners in the next storefront, so he decided to focus his future business development on cleaning shirts and providing manicures. Just make the best pizza, Tony, please.
Can all of these companies go after everything they see each other doing without losing their focus on what they do best -- and why their customers come to them in the first place? A few years down the road, will we be able to describe in a few words what each of these companies does, or will we need a couple pages of PowerPoint with bullet points to figure it out? And if we do, what happens to these tech giants?
Tuesday, October 11, 2011, 10:46 AM
If you set the clock back 18 months and think about what Facebook looked like to marketers at the time, you see nothing but opportunity. The social network was growing by hundreds of millions of users. Usage stats showing frequency of visits and time spent on the site were no less impressive.
It was hard to not reach the conclusion that Facebook was becoming the greatest marketing platform known to man -- and the barriers to entry were all but non-existent. Numerous options were available for creating brand pages and the expense was and is minor. The brand page was starting to look as important as, if not more, than a website.
So in the past 18 months, the number of brands on Facebook has exploded, ranging from large consumer-products companies to small storefront businesses. Numerous service companies sprung up to provide this service, and many have been wildly successful.
Meanwhile, Facebook is still growing and adding substantial numbers of new members. But during the past few months, we’ve started to see some news about Facebook that falls outside the usual "getting bigger and better" storyline.
Last month, Mashable quoted a study showing, among other things, a 14.8% decline in messaging to friends in the U.S. (4.5% globally) and a 12.7% U.S. (3.1% global) decrease in searching for new contacts.
Are these two trends related?
I think so. With no particularly compelling statistical proof available, I think first of my own news feed. Over several years of using Facebook, I have rather liberally clicked the like button for brands ranging from favorite musicians, sports teams I follow, and the makers of various types of products and services that I use and, well, “like.”
Over time that made a big change in my news feed. The messaging about what friends were on vacation where, who had what for dinner, or photos of the children of family and friends seemed fewer and far between. Why? Because the brands I was following were pushing 5, 10, 20 messages a day and starting to dominate my page.
This sort of commercialization of Facebook has taken it in a direction that is different from why many of us started using the service in the first place. It’s not surprising to me that the decline in usage is most pronounced in the U.S., because that is where brands really began to embrace the service. And I think this was pretty apparent in Palo Alto as they planned and began implementing the changes announced last month at f8.
I see those changes as Facebook returning to its roots, which could be described as friends sharing life experiences. Thus the changes to the news feed.
A picture of someone’s kids invariably draws five or six “how cute” comments and sharing news of a great lunch at a new food truck is likely to prompt a whole stream of comments about food trucks. Conversely for many brands, their 5, 10 or 20 item stream of posts might in many cases produce 0 comments.
So, by using this level of engagement to sort the order of the news feed, your FB pages start to look more like they did before the onrush of brand messaging, which has now been pushed further down. Similarly, the timeline and the new apps are intended to focus on sharing life experiences, even down to what song you are listening to or what you are reading.
Does this mean that brands are getting pushed out of Facebook or deemphasized? Hardly. I would expect that, in the coming months, we’ll see a timeline-like reinvention of the current brand page. And the apps will offer opportunities for at least some types of brands to integrate themselves into the sharing experience.
But I do think the changes send a clear message to marketers. To be effective, you have to use the platform for what it is. It is not a publishing platform and it does not replace your website. It is not a way to supplement your blast-email lists.
Facebook is a social network, designed not for pushing information, but for having conversations. It is for two-way communication and for engaging your audience. The extent to which you achieve that is going to determine the value of the platform to your brand.