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?

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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!

When strategy matters: Defining successful communication campaigns

This week I’ve been thinking about how we define success in our communication campaigns.

A successful campaign is one that achieves its objectives.  This emphasizes the importance of thinking about evaluating our campaigns when we are in the planning stages. One of the companies for which I’ve done consulting work is often so busy trying to align campaign objectives with their strategic goals (because this alignment makes the board happy) that they don’t always think about aligning the outcomes. Thinking about desired outcomes very early in the campaign design process seems essential for reaching those outcomes.

Sure, we have great art, and maybe we have a fabulous story to tell, but to what end? What do we want the audience to do?

At the outset of campaign design, I like to list my desired outcomes across a page and then brainstorm ways that those outcomes can be measured. Thinking about the evaluation of the campaign at this stage helps me to hone my messages and keeps me focused. Here’s an example of my outcome and measurement brainstorming:

Evaluating campaigns

This was created as part of my graduate studies in risk communication at Johns Hopkins University and is not endorsed by Cleveland Clinic

The High Cost of Ignoring Social Media

The rise of social media has changed not only the speed of news, but also necessitates a change in PR strategy.

The traditional press release announcing that your company was well-prepared for a disaster and able to minimize its effects might not reach all reporters in a timely manner.  First, press releases take time to prepare (hopefully you’ve mocked that up ahead of time as part of your crisis communication planning and just have to fill in the blanks).  Second, traditional releases may ignore or undervalue citizen reporters who use social media.

According to the CDC, not engaging with publics on social media can have the same negative effects as not returning a reporter’s call.  If your agency isn’t representing itself on social media, chances are high that someone is commenting on your disaster somewhere in cyberspace, and the CDC warns that citizen reporters and possibly even mainstream reporters will seek out content on social media whether or not it is an agency-sanctioned source.

Establish Credibility Before a Crisis.  It’s important to establish your agency’s credibility on social media, with official Facebook and Twitter pages that contain your logo and contact information.  Your social media credibility should be developed before a crisis if possible, with regular updates to your Facebook and Twitter feeds.  This will allow reporters (both citizen and traditional) to gain a sense of what your agency is really about and have a way to contact you with questions.

Listen, Listen, Listen! It’s important to monitor conversations about your brand or agency online.  This will allow you to address questions or correct assumptions as they come up.

Be Careful What You Tweet: You Can Now Search for Every Tweet in History

ImageI won’t say I told you so.

But, according to Mashable, it’s now possible to search for any historical Tweet.

That’s right.  The Tweet you accidentally sent while at happy hour with some friends about how much you wanted to quit your job.  That Tweet about your mother-in-law sent after too many servings of Thanksgiving turkey.  That picture your teen took that made her look 20 years older and sent to the Twitterverse.

So, I won’t say I told you so.  I will say: be careful what you Tweet.  Everything we post online is a reflection of our values.  It’s permanent.  Nothing is anonymous anymore.

And, if you’re nervous, take a deep breath.  There are some 450 million Tweets created every day.  Searching it will be difficult, just not impossible!

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 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?