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!

 

 

The art of strategy

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

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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!

Look Before You Leap: 5 Questions to Ask Your Organization Before Developing a Social Media Strategy

Jumping blindly on the social media bandwagon can be a frustrating waste of time and effort.  Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean you should dive in without asking a few questions of key management.

1.  Why do you want to use social media? Is it to keep up with competition, gain new customers, or build a community around your brand?

2.  What resources (time, money, people) do you have already that can be dedicated to this project?

3.  What sets you apart from other similar organizations?

4.  How do you feel about allowing employees to post on your behalf?  To you trust them to speak for your brand?

5.  What’s your goal?  Consider how you would measure ROI: visits to your website, an increase in donations or sales, new members, being part of the conversation?

Answers to these questions will help to shape your strategy – they are the beginnings of conversations about what you value as an organization, how social media can complement what you’re already doing, and who would be responsible for content.

Facebook Branding: Diet Coke

If you’ve known me for more than one day, you know that I’m a Diet Coke drinker.   Not Diet Pepsi, or Coke Zero, or any other low calorie knock-off.  The truth is, when I was young, my mother drank Diet Coke on occasion, but as a single mother, she couldn’t afford to buy it often.  Santa used to deliver cases of Diet Coke, with a huge red bow, under our Christmas tree.  By high school, with a job of my own, I’d buy Diet Coke from the vending machine for breakfast.  Am I an addict?  Possibly.  I’ve been trying to cut back and am down to 1-2 cans per day.  But, if ever asked, I will always state that Diet Coke is the nectar of the gods.

This week I’m looking at Facebook use from a public relations perspective.  Specifically, what does your Facebook use say about your brand?  Diet Coke’s Facebook page has more than 2.15 million likes and its posts average at least 100 shares a piece.  As committed to its fans as fans are to the product, Diet Coke posts on Facebook at least once daily.  Each post is of quality content that engages and encourages fans.

Several themes emerge from my audit of the Diet Coke Facebook page.

  • Create interesting content every day.  Diet Coke’s posts are creative – playfully transforming a very familiar label into art, and celebrating EVERY calendar event (from the first day of Spring to National Women’s Day).Screen shot 2013-05-15 at 12.10.17 PM
  • Use new media to honor your history.  Diet Coke has “Throwback Thursdays” in which it remembers the brand over three decades.  Lifelong fans remember the old slogans and branding, and for me at least, these Throwback posts bring me back to a time when I needed Diet Coke between band practice and my modern western civilization class, or when my love of Diet Coke landed me my first job (the hiring manager was drinking Diet Coke for breakfast during my interview). Screen shot 2013-05-15 at 11.25.29 AM
  • Integrate social media into your corporate social responsibility (CSR) campaigns.  Employing cross-channel communication, Diet Coke first held a photo contest, called #ShowYourHeart, asking participants to Tweet or post on Instragram their original pictures of hearts to increase awareness of women’s heart disease.

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The contest was so successful that the Company extended it, offering to donate $1 to women’s heart health programs for every picture sent after the contest ended.  The high visibility the Company enjoys on Facebook added to the success of this CSR initiative.Screen shot 2013-05-15 at 11.34.57 AM

  • Publicly thank your fans.  As if continuing to mass produce the world’s greatest soft drink (Hey, I admitted my bias in the first paragraph, though I must say that I am in no way being reimbursed for these comments. I still have to pay for my Diet Coke.) weren’t enough, Diet Coke listens to and recognizes its fans on Facebook.Screen shot 2013-05-15 at 11.51.44 AM

In fact, Diet Coke not only rewarded this fan by putting her picture in front of 2 million fans, the Company gave her Taylor Swift concert tickets!

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  • Lastly, one quick glance at the Diet Coke Facebook page and its spokesperson is no mystery!  Humanizing a brand in the age of social media – at a time when perhaps consumers have more power than ever before – is a necessity.  Humanizing the brand with the recognizable face of a well-liked, cross-generational superstar is frosting on the cake.

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Facebook PR: What does your FB page say about your brand?

While having a Facebook page for your organization is a start, truly making the most of the time you spend marketing on Facebook involves more than just setting up a page.  Over the next few days, I’ll be taking an in-depth look at the Facebook use of different organizations, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and Diet Coke, looking specifically what perceptions of their brands can be taken away from their Facebook use.

You might not think that each time you post on Facebook you are contributing to the public perception of your brand, but social media use is public relations.  Whether you’re trying to reach out to prospective consumers or long-time clients in social media, it’s important to keep the bigger picture in mind.  What is the overall feel of your Facebook page?  What does your “About” page say about you?  What kinds of items do you post, and how frequently? Are you forwarding content along to your followers or creating your own?  Everything from your cover photo, to your status updates, to the number of comments gives viewers a sense of your brand – so be sure to be strategic and intentional in your choices.

For example, beginning with the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, the Facebook public gets the sense that this organization is for and about kids.  All elements of this cover photo – the picture of the child at play, the green grass and blue sky, and the logo with high-fiving kids – are hopeful.

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The organization’s description on the “About” page is well-crafted and brief, and practically unnecessary because you get very good sense of the hospital’s brand by scrolling through its posts.  On Facebook, Cincinnati Children’s showcases its programs, posts links to its blog (written by both patients and staff), videos of physician Q&A sessions, recognizes donors, gives updates on road closures that might make driving to the hospital difficult, and posts health-related articles.  Screen shot 2013-05-10 at 6.36.17 AM

This Facebook page is both useful and uplifting, and not just for people living in the Cincinnati area.  The hospital also posts learning activities, family hiking ideas, and ways to encourage early literacy.  And pics of smiling patients with therapy dogs are loved by social media users.

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What does your Facebook page say about your brand?

Virality Is Not Accidential

Your Facebook feed is full of videos shared or liked by your friends.  Internet videos are showing up on CNN as news stories.  Everyone and their cousin’s cat has created their own Gagnam Style spoof.  What’s all the fuss about? Do you remember American’s Funniest Home Videos? Back before the Internet boom when we’d all gather around the television at night and watch complete strangers make asses of themselves?  Viral video is a lot like that, only instead of being chosen by a panel of judges, they are chosen by crowds.  Of all the millions of videos on the Web, a few rise to the top, and when they rise, they create such a buzz that it’s all anyone can talk about – for a week or two anyway.  There are varying definitions of viral, but about one-third of advertising executives say that to classify a video as viral it must have at least 1 million hits in a short time period (Eckler & Bolls, 2011).  Viral videos are short.  According to a study by Forrester Research, the average video is 1:42 minutes long, with more than one-third of videos under 60 seconds.

What makes a video go viral?

  • Ingenuity – Viral videos contain content that is new, either meaningful or funny (Eckler & Bolls, 2011). Viral videos show you a different way of looking at an issue, and give you hope:
  • Emotionality – If a video is to go viral, it must have some emotional draw.  Blogger Chris Atkinson says viral videos “should be arresting enough to elicit a physical reaction from the viewer (tears, laughter, goosebumps, gasps, etc.).” Viral videos make you laugh when you least expect it:   Viral videos contain an emotionality as contagious as the common cold: 
  • Creative disruption – Viral videos contain creatively disruptive content, according to blogger Christie Archer, forcing people to see things from a different perspective or surprising them with the unexpected:
  • Influencers – Videos don’t go viral on their own. Made by identifiable organizations or individuals, these creative videos are pushed to credible cultural influencers, who then amplify the publicity like this: 

Viral video production: Do potential advantages outweigh costs?

One advantage of viral videos is that the buzz generates more pull of content, and there’s less intrusive pushing by advertisers (Truong & Simmons, 2010).  People want to see what the fuss is about, and, like a good Super Bowl commercial, people tune in and expect to be moved by viral videos.  But, do viral videos really sell products?  They seem like a great tool for non-profit organizations seeking to change attitudes, or brands seeking to humanize or change brand perception in some way.  While counting the number of views is easy, measuring the impact of viral videos in the marketplace seems more difficult and is an area of future study.

My personal viral favorites

  • Viral videos inspire creative reactions: 
  • Viral videos make you cry, get you noticed, and make you famous: