Dear 20-Year-Old Me…

I met a group of college interns on the campus of my alma mater this afternoon. It didn’t take long for me to feel the distance of more than a decade away from campus. First, there is newness everywhere, restaurants, grocery stores, residence halls, apartment buildings, and brand spanking new, sleek computer labs that make the scary bowels that once housed the HUGE computers we fought over when I was in college seem more than a little gross.

Then, the strange realization that I didn’t even have a cell phone when I was in college, and these kids might not remember a time without theirs. But, more than anything, I realized how – as consumers of content – these writing students have very little idea how content is produced for the Internet, who puts it there, who pays for it, or why. Like other teachers of millennial students, I had to fight to keep their attention. If there was a lull in conversation, out came the smartphones.

I remember when DVRs first came out, and it was such a thrill to fast forward through commercials. I remember when we paid for our email service (AOL anyone?), and still had to put up with ads. I remember being plagued by pop-up ads, feeling interested and then annoyed when animated banner ads began to make it harder and harder to focus online.

Online ads have learned the art of camouflage. Does this mean that information consumers will become smarter? Surely they’ll eventually realize that content is sponsored. Here’s where my own bias about sponsored vs. unsponsored journalism gets me in trouble. I’m a brand journalist. A content marketer. I write quality content for brands all day. I always try to give readers something to walk away with besides just promoting the brands. Yet, I just skipped over all the promoted content on Mashable, turning up my nose because it was sponsored.

Screen shot 2014-04-15 at 3.56.58 PM The thing is, I’m not an English major anymore. I have to make money. As writers, we all do. Next time I see sponsored content, I’m going to give it a try, just for kicks. If it’s bad, I’ll pitch the company with my services. If it’s good, then I’ll walk away reminded what good brand journalism is.

We’re all fighting for attention, all the time. We’re all trying to get paid for the work we do, to support our families.

Dear 20-year-old me: You will end up selling out more than once. Get over yourself. Then, find a way to make it art. Loosen up!

 

 

Nostalgic Nerd Alert: #Pi Day, Socialmediaphobe Style

Pi Day

At my grandmother’s house, the weeks leading up to holidays involved many conversations about pie. Who would be coming to dinner was directly related to the quantity and flavor of the pies to be made. On Pi Day, I can’t help but remember those three days or so of preparation as some of my favorite memories. As a communications strategist, I can see how several of my grandma’s pie baking rules apply to content strategy.

  1. One pie is never enough. Engaging branded content should leave people wanting more. Content leads not only to “likes” but to followers; it increases your searchability; it helps people to know and trust you. You should leave them wanting more.
  2. Always have more than one flavor to offer (i.e., don’t bake 2 apple pies if you can make and apple and a cherry). Not sure whether you should be producing video, writing blogs, snapping pictures, or sending well-crafted Tweets? What most connects with your audience? Chances are, it’s a little bit of everything. With new algorithms being rolled out almost daily, it can be hard to keep up with new media trends. If you don’t have time to keep up with the latest research, hire a team to do this for you. It’s important to measure the outcomes of your strategy (i.e., did your content increase traffic? leads? sales?) quarterly to reassess its efficacy.
  3. Some people like it a la mode, some like it plain. Some like it hot, some like it cold. With content, it’s not just about what you offer, but where and how you post it. Find out when and where your audience likes to consume information, and make sure you have a presence there. Good news: like a day-old slice of pie that is reheated to taste oven-fresh, content can often be tweaked and repurposed.
  4. It’s better to have leftovers than to run out. I remember once being so busy handing out slices at my birthday party that we ran out and I didn’t get any. Since then, it’s always seemed more important for us to make enough and freeze the leftovers for a rainy day. Content can be similarly stored for times when business picks up, or when you go on vacation. Your audience doesn’t take breaks with you: be prepared by thinking and writing ahead.

Happy Pi Day everyone!

Sebastian Thrun: Failure Is Beautiful

Sebastian ThrunWhen Sebastian Thrun approached the podium at Cleveland Clinic’s Ideas for Tomorrow Wednesday, I was both intrigued and put-off by his saunter and his eye-wear. It’s not his fault – I generally approach fame with a certain sense of skepticism. But when one of his opening lines was: “I hope to show you how often I fail,” I was hooked.

It turns out Thrun and I have a common passion for entrepreneurism, for experimenting with new processes in order to change our industries significantly. But, thinking and creating without boundaries involves a great deal of risk taking.

Thrun gave us a chronology of his successes by highlighting his failures because he claims “there is no learning without failure.” Health-tech entrepreneurs often risk everything – investing countless time and money developing ideas that may never work. Or they’ll get their gadget to work on Wednesday – only to find that someone else brought it to market late Tuesday night. These challenges are part of the process of innovation, which Thurn describes as a process of testing and failing.

Process of Innovation according to Sebastian Thrun

Each failure brings us a little closer to our goal – even reshapes the end goal, transforming it into something we wouldn’t have dreamed possible at the outset. If you told me 20 years ago that by 2012, approximately 76% of people would consult the Internet, Dr. Google, before calling their physician I never would’ve believed you.  But then computers became smaller and smaller, information more and more easily accessible, and it’s changed not only the way we ask questions but the very questions themselves.

Someday, someone is going to make health as addictive as video games – and make it lasting – and I want to be there to see it happen. Industries are changed by people who are fearless. Failure teaches us an important lesson: hard work is no substitute for vision. You have to have vision when the experiment you’ve been working on, the app you’ve been developing for years, or the pitch you’ve been researching for months, goes wrong. Without vision, we’d all throw in the towel and learn to love a 9-5 job. “In all these failures,” says Thrun, “there is some beautiful insight that drives us forward.”

Let’s cling to the vision.

The Ingredients of Innovation by Sebastian Thrun

Photo of slide from Sebastian Thrun’s Cleveland Clinic Ideas for Tomorrow presentation

What makes your heart race?

“In order to find happiness, we must be a part of something greater than ourselves – something we truly believe in.” ~Paul Roestzer, author of The Marketing Agency Blueprint

What makes your heart race? For me, it’s learning new things, thinking and implementing new ways of connecting people and ideas that can – eventually – improve our quality of life. My integrated communications firm, i2i Communications, Ltd., doesn’t just offer solutions for small businesses to make a few bucks. We work together with our clients to decide how we can solve their communications issues within their budgets. Our passion is our purpose.

The art of strategy

Most brands think there are two ways to deal with all the content bouncing around on social media.

crown

Content is King

  1. The content-is-king and I-want-to-be-in-the-king’s-court strategy. These content obsessed curators share everything, duplicating the content on all different channels. They spend their days (and nights, because you wouldn’t want to miss out on a really awesome cat video) trolling Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube looking for trends. It doesn’t matter if the trend is at all related to their industry. They tweet from church; they tweet from stoplights. The trouble is: no one wants to read these messages, regardless of their length.
  2. The I’ll-speak-up-only-when-I-have-something-earthshattering-to-share strategy. These are the perfectionists that wait until the inspiration hits; the ones that wait until they have something worthy of the 5:00 news to share. They think their readers will appreciate quality over quantity. But, if you don’t share often enough to be top of mind, chances are that you won’t show up in the newsfeed at all.

I’m a writer by trade. I think of content as art. But even the most abstract artists have strategies. When I took my daughter to the art museum for the first time (she was four and a half), we wandered through the galleries talking about what makes art art. We decided that it’s art if it makes us feel or think. We don’t have to like it. We don’t have to understand it. But something about art sticks with us long after we’ve viewed it.

Good content strategy isn’t about just throwing darts at the wall and seeing what sticks. It’s about knowing your audience, what inspires them, what they want from you, and providing it. It’s about telling your story again, for the first time. It’s not just words either. More and more, it’s images and video.

chess game

But strategy wins.

What is your content strategy?

Do you have different purposes for each individual channel?

Do you have a main hub that links them all together?

The End of Free Facebook Marketing

Facebook is no longer a free mega-phone for your brand

Skeptics thought is sounded too good to be true. When Facebook rolled out its Pages for businesses, it seemed like every small business’s dream: set up a page to promote your business for free and have someone on your office staff manage it. Some brands did it well, hiring content specialists to maintain fan engagement. Others did what they could with the resources they had.

But gradually, what consumers see in their Facebook feeds has changed. First, I noticed that I wasn’t seeing the status updates of my closest friends. Let me tell you, if your BFF posts a comment about her cat knocking over the Christmas tree or her babe eating strained peas for the first time and you don’t respond, you are in trouble. Then, I saw fewer and fewer posts from brands, and more from curation sites like Upworthy.

Megaphone in black and white

Image from: Igor Klisov

Like most people, I don’t want to have to sort through hoards of advertisements to find the information I care about. But, the idea of organic reach is a thing of the past. Yesterday, I set up a Facebook page for my new business. Like many start-ups, I don’t have a ton of money to spend on advertising right now. I am not pretty, young, thin, and well-spoken (not all at the same time anyway) like Goldieblox inventor Debbie Sterling. I’m absolutely certain that a video of me sitting on the floor and telling people why I felt compelled to start my own communications and PR firm would not go viral. So, does a person like me invest in Facebook advertising? Not when every penny counts and there are still a ton of other ways to reach my audience.

Remember e-mail?

According to a channel preference survey from Exact Target, 91% of internet users are still accessing e-mail every day. A well-written e-mail pitch, especially if it’s targeted specifically to the consumer, still does the trick!

If you’re just starting out, chances are you don’t have access to a ton of consumer e-mail addresses. I have three recommendations:

1. Start a blog and pitch it like crazy to the content editing gods, other bloggers, your friends, and anyone who will listen. Keep posting this content in Facebook just as well – that much is still free.

2. Reach out and call someone. Cold-calling clients sounds daunting to Millennials who may forget how to speak, but it’s important to remember that businesses are built on relationships.

3. Use those feet to hit the street. Set up in-person meetings with prospective clients. Talk to them about trends in their industry, listen to their pain points and try to find a way in the front door. Just remember to take a business card with you when you leave so you can add them to your e-mail list!

Will you marry me? Text yes or no.

According to Mashable, a U.K. survey of 7,000 women found that 17% would like to receive marriage proposals online.

Call me old fashioned – or perhaps it has something to do with my only recently gained right to marry in a handful of states – but marriage is personal. Sure, it’s exciting and you want to share it with all your Twitter buddies. It just seems like you might also like to share it with your would-be fiance. As in, touch her hand, look into her eyes.

couple holding hands at sunset

Photo courtesy of archcapeinn.com

Smart phones and social media platforms will come and go, but with any luck and a lot of work, hopefully your marriage will outlast them.