My Truly Social Tip this week is about one of those investments: Hub content on YouTube. Take a watch and see what this is and why it's so powerful.
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There are, literally, hundreds of marketing tactics and platforms now and most companies don't have huge marketing budgets that allow them to invest in everything. YouTube allows you to compete on equal footing with even your biggest competitor.
In a recent Last Week Tonight, John Oliver flies all the way to Russia to meet with Edward Snowden, whistleblower, for an exclusive interview. Only...the interview turns into a poignant lesson about audience development.
First off, I should reveal that I have a bias. I think that Snowden was heroic for exposing the truth. He took a huge risk and threw away his career and freedom to reveal the truth to the world. I was a fan when the news first came out and I became even a bigger fan after watching CitizenFour.
So, unlike the people who LWT interviewed during the segment, I DO know who Edward Snowden is and what he did. But even though I know respect what Snowden did, I am in the audience of people who do nothing to change it. I don't even change my own behaviour!
That is why I found Oliver's advice to reframe the argument so incredibly brilliant. And one that Snowden should definitely heed.
Reframing is one of the most elegant tools in the Audience Development box. Your message not getting through? It's probably how you are framing it.
Global warming? That sounds too nice. Try climate change. Want to scare people away from public health care? Reframe the bureaucracy as a death panel. It's not a diet. That sounds awful. It's a lifestyle change. That sounds way more do-able. Need to sell some old stuff? Label it as retro.
You may think reframing is a fancy word for spin - and some of my examples toe the line - but the difference is that this isn't about tricking someone, it's about intentionally put the audience at the center of the argument. John Oliver's suggestion that Edward Snowden reframe his arguments to focus in on something everyone can understand - in this case Dick Pics - is about simplifying and personalizing something very complex and foreign to the audience.
The more complex your message is, the more important it is to ground it with something your audience is familiar with. Don't lie. Don't spin. Just empathize. Put yourself in the shoes of the recipients and find common ground.
The next time you find your important message falling on deaf ears, reframe it in relation to something your audience cares about.
Now that we've established the growing power of the digital influencer and their ability to engage your audience on a deep and meaningful level, let's dive into why they've become such powerhouses.
There is a new influencer in town. She's part celebrity, part media, part spokesperson and nothing like you've ever dealt with before.
Okay, maybe I'm overstating it. Some sales are driven through social media channels. I know I've bought books and songs and contributed to Kickstarter campaigns many times because a friend shared a link and I thought, "Hey! That's awesome! I should buy that!" I've even tipped a bigger purchase in favor of a friendly recommendation on a social network. But I can count on one hand the number of times I've bought something pushed to me by a brand I follow on Twitter/Facebook or the like.
But that's not the point.
The point is that social media is a teeny tiny reflection of what happens in day-to-day life. In Jonah Berger's Contagious, he makes the salient point that only 7% of word of mouth happens online (other studies say 5%). I'm not sure if all of that even belongs to social media channels, either. I'd guess a bunch of it happens over email and private chat.
There are hundreds of ways that your customer will find you (or not find you) online and offline. However, when it comes to spreading a message, word of mouth has always been the most effective way of marketing messages spreading. But these messages become ineffective when they aren't authentic. But the most salient point here is:
You cannot force word of mouth.
It doesn't matter the media or the amount you spend on it...some stuff just doesn't spread. And though marketing impressions make a brand awareness difference - whether it's a billboard or a paid tweet - it's never guaranteed to work.
So I'm continually bowled over when I hear people complain about how their social media marketing doesn't work. Usually a few questions helps me realize what's really going on:
What's really going on here is that companies think that paying for marketing is some sort of silver bullet. It's not. It never was and it never will be. Hell, some super bowl ads go unnoticed - and that audience is one of the biggest captive audiences in the universe!
You are probably asking yourself, "Okay then, why would anybody in their right mind pay for marketing?"
Good question. I sometimes wonder myself because not everyone is ready for it...and sometimes they are too late for it.
But why pay for marketing when the results aren't guaranteed? Because, like I said before, there are hundreds of ways your future customers will find you (or not find you) and it's better to be findable than not. And good marketing means that you will be more findable AND have more credibility (if the branding is done right) when people do find you. And all of that helps with what you want: sales.
There are all sorts of wonderful things built into social media marketing that you won't have built into traditional one-way channels. There are:
- analytics - you can't really tell who paid attention to that television ad, but you can tell who watched your YouTube ad all the way through...and who liked it...and who shared it...etc etc. The data available on how people interact with your content is AMAZING.
- feedback - it's right there in the comments. It's also there on Twitter. Oh...and you can find out what people are saying on Reddit and their blogs and in forums and...well...that is invaluable. Read it. Report it back to your team. Improve your product with it. Respond to it with thanks. Hell, you pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to get this feedback from focus groups each year and here it is for you for free. Completely raw.
- relationships - you aren't going to strike up a conversation through the TV or radio. But that two-way conversation is built into social media platforms. It's really awesome. You can find out so much about your customers and start to really build a bond.
What really baffles me is the demands that brands make of social media marketing when they pay a fraction of the price to use it. They'll hire interns and junior staff to run it, they'll lowball agencies and consultants ("I pay you whatfor a couple of FB posts?! I can get my kid to do that!"), they get impatient and want instant results without being willing to invest the thought needed or take risks, they'll tack on a social media strategy (which has no strategy) to a made-for-television and magazine ad campaign thinking that it's yet another direct marketing channel (which is a limited medium, too).
All of this and the brands ask for stellar results. They look past the amazing insights and feedback and potential for relationships that no other traditional marketing medium every had and they say, "Meh. Social media doesn't work for me."
And completely miss the point.
You want to know the ROI of social media?
Number one. It's the ability to listen. It's priceless. Not with some damned tool that measures sentiment or finds influencers, either. Really listen.
Number two. Serendipity. It's opening yourself up to constant and amazing opportunities to participate and by participating, you will find numerous opportunities to lead the conversation and make a great impression. Oreo's dunk in the dark tweet is a great example of this. They are doing a really great job of being a relevant brand again by seizing opportunities like that. Do they do it every single day? Nope. But when they do, they nail it.
Number three. Community instead of merely customers. The difference is incredible. If you have patience and build a community instead of just a customer database, you will have finally tapped into that magical word of mouth network you wanted to buy a few months ago. But this time, it's real and authentic and it spreads.
(and there are dozens more...but you get the point, right?)
So PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF DOG stop thinking of social media as a direct marketing tool or some sort of silver bullet that will drive sales through the roof. Stop reading those case studies where Facebook...no...Pinterest...no...Polyvore...no Snapchat drove millions of dollars in sales from a viral campaign.
That's not the point.
[title quote attributed to Alexander Hamilton as well as Malcolm X in various forms, image bought from Shutterstock]
I've been trying to put my finger on the problem with so much of the social content brands put out into the world. Why does it seem so damned flat and soulless? Sure, they post the occasional uplifting quote I can get behind, but mostly I just skip over the rest. And it isn't just that it's too self-promotional (though much of it is "me me me"), it's something more.
And then today it occurred to me:
ENGAGING SOCIAL CONTENT HAS A POINT OF VIEW.
The un-engaging stuff (pretty much everything else) just follows formulas and schedules and feels as alive as a silk plant. They get so close, but when you lean in to take a sniff, something is off.
But the stuff that we connect with, the stuff that makes us cheer and like and share and remember the brand, that stuff has a point of view. And that point of view is something WAY bigger than the brand.
Oreo's audience was merely humming along with their 'cookies as a character' campaign until one day, they posted this:
...and all hell broke lose. They chose a point of view that was both unpopular AND wildly popular. They may have lost a few of their homophobic customers that day, but they gained a LOT of new (and renewed) customers who had long forgotten the brand.
And Coke, one of the most 'liked' brands on Facebook (baffling to me) has a dismally small amount of interactions with this type of post (which they do all too frequently):
But when it comes to this type of post...their engagement blows through the roof:
441 likes/53 shares (small from an audience of nearly 75 MILLION) compared to 5,081 likes and 274 shares. (though still lower engagement than I Fucking Love Science, whose most popular posts get tens of thousands of shares and hundreds of thousands of likes)
And though they aren't my cup of tea (so to speak), Red Bull has a VERY strong point of view and has built an incredibly loyal audience (and business) from it. And it isn't just about having a strong voice/tone. It's about knowing who you are and not being afraid to stand up for something you believe in. Standing for something.
Because if you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything.
And I see this happens to lost brands all of the time. You can smell a brand who is following a formula or just follows advice and 'best practice' guidelines. Their voice is forced and weak. They won't take a position. They are afraid of what others think. They define themselves by what they ARE NOT, but refuse to own who they ARE.
Each of us is standing in a spot no one else occupies. That unique viewpoint is born of our accumulated experience and perspective and our vision. This is your onlyness—the thing that only you can bring into a situation.
When you own that unique viewpoint, nobody can take it away from you. They can disagree. They can dislike it. But they can't deny that you own that space. And what will surprise you is that you will find new allies when you own your onlyness.
But how do you figure it out? Is there an exercise? A set of steps? A workbook? A tool you can pay $24.95/month to figure out your onlyness? Can you hire a creative agency to craft it for you?
Nope. You have to do this work yourself. It's your accumulated experience. It's YOUR point of view. You can hire someone to help coach you towards it, but you can't pay someone else to do it.
This is why, while social media gurus are a dime a dozen, social media is still so damned hard to do well. It's not something you can outsource, automate, hire an intern to do for you or even get your marketing team to create a plan for. If you are the founder or a senior team member, you need to be involved.
And for those of you who think this is lightweight and a waste of time? Keep trying all of that other stuff that isn't working while you lose market share and talent to that other company whose success you can't quite understand because your product is superior. I'll bet if you look real close, you'll smell something different. That's the scent of onlyness. They stand for something. They know who they are. They haven't read a best practices article in their lives because they don't have to. They inherently know what to post and come up with great ways to connect beyond pushing out messages. They probably even like to hang out with one another on the weekends. And they don't worry about who talks to the press, because everyone can articulate passionately what their brand stands for, who their customer is and why they love what they do. Nobody needs a laminated poster to remember the company's core values.
If you want to keep copying companies with mediocre results to keep achieving mediocre-er results, go ahead. And by all means, read more articles by 'social media gurus' who haven't ever built a community or a product. Continue to spend the time you need to figure out your onlyness on random useless noise making.
But you have a choice and it's right there in front of you. You can stand for something. You can lead and be the example everyone wants to decode.
Be the case study, not the company that reads it.
So now that you've been inspired to try your hand at social content marketing, and you understand your audience and what kind of content may appeal, it's time to plan out your content mix. Understanding the content mix that works for your audience is incredibly important and many companies get this very wrong. I break content down to four very general categories:
Product type content is the stuff that most people understand as self-promotional. These are posts about your product itself: the features, the benefits, the comparisons and the contrasts. It's the who, what, when, where and how of what you are selling. If you are doing content for a cosmetic company, it's the scientific study that shows a 25% reduction in crows feet. If you are doing content for a rockband, it's posting the concert dates and new singles. If you are doing content for a dental office, it's posting the specials on cleaning and whitening. If you are doing content for your consulting business, it's posting where you are featured as an expert in the Washington Post.
Product posts are the "me, me, me" posts. They are the ones that most resemble the traditional marketing one-way message, though many companies are trying to create interaction with these by adding a sharing, liking or commenting incentive (share to enter a contest, like to get a coupon, comment to let us know how you would wear this, etc).
These types of posts are essential for communicating what it is you are selling, where people can buy it, how they enjoy/use your product, when it is available or goes on special, who is behind the product (slightly crosses over to brand, which I'll explain next) and why people should buy your product. However, a content schedule made up of too many of these posts will not be interesting to anyone other than already devoted fans - and even they will be less and less interested as time goes on.
Brand type posts still relate to your product, but focus more on the "why" by empathizing with your audience and connecting with them on a more emotional level. Brand posts answer the question, "Why would YOU give a damn about my product?" but they don't list the features and benefits, they talk more about the customer and how they serve the customer's needs. This is where the content gets social. It listens and learns and evolves with the needs of the audience.
Brand type posts are answering how you are making your customers’ lives simpler, less confusing, less alienating, more efficient, more meaningful and just plain better. If you are doing content for a fashion retailer, this is where you focus on the outcomes of looking and feeling great wearing the clothes (quite often done visually and in a fantasy setting). If you are doing content for a public figure, this is where you showcase the issues and ideologies that people can connect with in order to support that person. If you are doing content for a sports team, this is where you can connect with the audience's competitive instincts, providing tools to help them show their team colors.
Brand type posts are still product related, but they speak to how the customer connects to the product rather than the awesomeness of the product itself. These posts evolve over time as you interact with the audience and understand what makes their lives simpler, less confusing, less alienating, more efficient, more meaningful and better. They can even help you improve your product. This will give your audience a feeling of personal investment in the product, which will lead to a deeper relationship and long-term loyalty.
Lifestyle type posts don't directly relate to your product, but they do speak to your audience. They are posts that recognize memes, holidays, current events and pop culture. These posts connect to your audience by recognizing what else is going on in their minds and show that your company gets the audience.
When Oreo posted the gay pride cookie, the image went viral because of many factors, but the biggest was that they took a risk. Oreo took a risk with a holiday that divides many (as gay rights is widely contested), leading to a wide number of supporters and detractors discussing and sharing the ad. The image itself was fairly innocuous with the rainbow colored filling between the iconic chocolate wafers and the word 'PRIDE'. It didn't say, "support gay rights" or stand up for anything in particular, but a family focused company giving any recognition to the gay community was enough to set the right wing audience off, which led to setting the left wing audience off to counteract the ire. The next thing you know, a cute, sleeper campaign turned into national news and Oreo cookies were top of mind for people again.
Lifestyle type posts are simple to fall back on. There are severalsitesonline that list all sorts of fun holidays (i.e. Talk Like a Pirate Day on September 19, or Best Friends Day on June 8) that could tie back to your product easily or creatively or speak to your particular audiences. However, don't overdo these as they could start to look like desperate attempts at content ideas and pandering. Memes can be a clever way to connect with your audience, but make sure the memes are known enough and current. A 'yesterdays' meme will make you look out of date (posting a Harlem Shake video today, for example) and a too obscure meme may go over the heads of your audience and may offend. Many brands do well aligning to pop culture, but be careful with the rights to images.
Unless you can be creative about it like Oreo (without looking like a copy cat), it's probably best you keep these posts a small percentage of your content. Occasional Lifestyle type content posts will pack a good amount of punch if you post them sparingly. They tend to get shared quite widely as people can use them to communicate their endorsement of the holiday or meme by simply posting to their own walls.
Community type posts focus on your customers and audience. These content posts highlight customer stories, ideas, feedback and lifestyles.
An example of a community post for a fashion retailer would be street style photographs where their customers talk about what they bought and what they are wearing. When doing the Justin Trudeau leadership campaign, we collected supporter stories on how people came to meet and support Justin. We used these stories in a post, and interviewed and highlighted the really unique ones, posting them to the blog, Facebook and Twitter. These posts weren't the most shared or liked, but they were meaningful and encouraged more people to share their own stories. Many cosmetic brands will hold contests for their audience to do makeup tutorials. Mac did a wonderful 'Face Off' campaign for Halloween in 2012 where they posted some amazing Halloween makeup tutorials and invited budding makeup artists to submit their own. The results were incredible and some of their most popular posts (good example of using lifestyle - Halloween - and combining it with community).
Community type posts are very good at involving your customers in the future of your brand, but don't get too complex. One of my clients was asking for their audience to submit a big design project, which required too much work. When they reduced that ask to a before and after photo, they got many more submissions.
Community type posts most likely won't be your most shared or liked post, but they empower your customers to be involved with your brand, which is important for relationship building.
THE CONTENT MIX
These four classifications aren't black and white. A product post can have lifestyle and brand type elements. Community posts can also be brand. The mix also varies depending on your audience and your own goals. Oreo Cookies, for instance, do almost exclusively lifestyle posts (that have a brand bend) and people love them, but this approach wouldn't work for everyone.
And remember, these four classifications I've outlined are very top level and only to be used as a guideline for your initial content planning. As your content evolves, you will break down types of posts even more finitely. Decotheca, a client of mine who provides design inspiration and guidelines for Canadians who are designing or redesigning their rooms and homes, have focused most of their energy on brand type posts, but have broken these posts down to: DIY projects, Design Style Overviews, Color Inspiration, Design Terminology, Accessories, etc. When assessing content, we look at the type of post and the type of content of each post to determine how to adjust and balance going forward. Currently people love the DIY projects the most, but overdoing these would reduce their effectiveness.
But I recognize that sitting down in front of a blank calendar to create engaging content can be daunting and I've found the four types of content to be a good exercise to get started. From there, you should let your audience and their engagement and feedback determine how it evolves. Your content planning will move from a daunting, laborious task to a fun and learning experience.
The overall purpose of content marketing is to build and connect with your audience, get feedback to improve your product, grow loyalty though involving your customers in your evolution and then help your loyal, loving audience spread the word for you, bringing in a larger audience. Ultimately, this leads to you being top of mind and increasing your sales or supporters.
When I was in university, I did some volunteering for the political party I most admired. I put signs on my lawn. I called. I handed out leaflets. I knocked on doors. I felt engaged. But something happened over the years. Year after year, I lost interest in Canadian politics. And I'm not alone. Voter turnout in Canada declined terribly since a pretty good number 1988 (75.3%) with only a slight improvement in the last election (61.4%). Still, considering how quiet Canadians are about politics compared to our southern neighbors (57.5% of population voted this last election), it's not awful. But I have noticed a general apathy amongst the newest voters that is troublesome. In fact, it's their disengagement that is leading to the majority of the decline in voter turnout. My son, who will be 20 in March, hasn't voted in a Canadian election (though he could have) and is much more engaged in US politics than he is in his own Canadian politics.
But I completely understand where he's coming from. I was glued to the web from the Primaries in this most recent US election. Part of it had to do with my previous involvement in the 2008 election (I volunteered and donated to Obama's campaign while living in San Francisco), but that wasn't it. I was also completely enrapt with the whole circus of it.
Some of that circus was painful to observe. I wasn't a fan of the political ads and smear campaigns. But I did love the passion that practically oozed from the voters. And the passion I was most enrapt with was from the nerds. And the king of those nerds was Nate Silver and FiveThirtyEight.
Of course Harper Reed, Josh Thayer, Mark Trammell and the rest of the Obama nerd core were pretty amazing to watch, but I had FiveThirtyEight consistently open in a tab for months leading up to the election and I may have been more engaged there than I was in Facebook. And of course, there were the debates on YouTube and the exciting election hashtags on Twitter and the neverending stream of self-appointed pundits on Facebook, but nothing made me feel as good or as concerned as the graphs on FiveThirtyEight.
I love data and have heard multiple explanations of what is behind this simple chart, but I'm still enthralled by it. It's math. It's logical. It's straight forward. But wow, it's stunning and magical.
And what is the most stunning and magical part about it is the story behind the project. Nate was a baseball stats nerd (I used to think that sounded really boring, but then I read Moneyball and watched the movie, and realized there was nothing boring about it) who turned his formulas to politics when he got interested in the 2008 election. He built an application and a website and, ultimately, a huge following of people like me who relied on his math to give us some insight into the election.
He wasn't paid to do this. He wasn't employed by any campaign. He just got interested and built something really really amazing that he probably had no idea would blow up so much. Of course HE was fascinated by it, but did he know where it would lead? He didn't buy Google Adwords or run a Facebook campaign or put banners on sites all over the web. News about this amazingly geeky and potentially accurate site just spread through the networks organically. And now he is king of nerds.
This is why I love the web. And democratization. Because people build stuff out of passion. And I love US politics because it makes people so passionate they want to do this. And nerds are SUCH great builders of interesting stuff out of their passion.
We are still just over 2 years away from another Canadian election. This is plenty of time to build the type of passion for our politics that we could birth our own Nate Silvers. And hint. Hint. ThreeZeroEight.org is available (.com is being squatted by a reseller). Just in case you read this and think, "Hey! I love Canadian politics and I could totally do this!"
Because I'm going to stop being apathetic myself. This is an amazing country that we have LOTS to be proud of. And rejoice over. And vote to maintain and grow. And hell, maybe I'll crack open my old statistics text books and try to figure this stuff out myself. Because Canadian politics needs more nerds.
There IS a FiveThirtyEight for Canada...I'm not sure why I failed to look up the full number:
Followed! It looks super promising. You can also follow Éric on Twitter.
[cover image: Nerd by Bayat on Flickr]
So as any of you who visited HPC yesterday know, it was attacked by a malware hosting site. I'm not sure how they do it, but somehow they get in and implant iframe code to serve up malicious software for unsuspecting visitors. I think it may have been a security hole in WordPress combined with my own laziness around passwords (now fixed). Either way, it wasn't a good day and I spent many hours cleaning out this bad code and trying to figure out what the heck was going on. Many hours were also spent by Ivan Storck (of Sustainable Websites - my host), William Dodson (from OBX Designworks) and my friend Mathieu (developer in Montreal) in helping me through this. By the time we got all of the malware attack cleaned out, Google had blacklisted my site (which led to a series of blacklisting by all the sites using Google's indexing API). Yuck.
I wasn't attacked personally. This happens randomly all of the time. Somehow there is money to be made in ruining the internet. However, I find it very odd to think that one would wreck the very thing that provides them with a steady stream of income. I compared the action to the self-replicating Smith on the Matrix. (spoiler alert) Imagine if Smith would have won - he would have taken the machine down and everyone would have died. There would be no point in him existing anymore.
Which brings me to my point: where did we go wrong in the world to encourage the Smiths? The malware hosts? The scammers, spammers, frauds, grifters, etc? Those that would pollute the very environment they need to exist in? These people are obviously gifted with the ability to problem solve, code, think up elaborate schemes and strategize. If they used this talent for good and not for evil, imagine how AWESOME the world would be!
It's a tragedy of the commons, where selfish thinkers abuse the common space for their own gain. Of course, this thinking - if truly strategic - assumes that not all will follow the selfish path. The tragedy occurs when everyone thinks selfishly and the commons is ruined and unusable, leaving nothing for anyone to exploit any longer.
If instead human beings thought truly strategically - and this is the basis to my favourite book in the universe The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation by Matt Ridley - and contributed to the commons, we would all thrive! But this selfish, short-term thinking hacking away of small pieces of the pie happens and we all suffer...including the hackers themselves eventually.
This happens because - as Ridley says in The Origins of Virtue - the system is set up to encourage such selfish, short term thinking. Narrow view competition, multiple times removed culpability and a focus on short-term rewards have encouraged this. For instance, there are corporate structures, with their quarterly reporting (short-term view) and lack of social responsibility (the responsibility is with the shareholders who are far removed from the decision making as well as the consequences of that decision making). Copyright and patents also contribute to the attitude. I would argue that almost everything about surviving in modern society has to do with removing ourselves from responsibility and giving us the individual task to survive one day at a time (but that is a different post).
Thus, we encourage a great deal of tragedy in the commons themselves, costing billions of dollars in security, fraud protection, insurance and damages every year to those who try to live their lives on the up and up.
So, how do we stop this insanity? Like Peter Parker in the picture - whose tragedy was focusing on his own selfish needs resulting in the loss of his uncle - we aren't recognizing the long term consequences of our actions. I really think this needs to be forefront in our discussions around this stuff. We also need a good dialogue and understanding of the butterfly effect - how one action leads to effecting so many others. It may seem small and insignificant to cheat here and there, but it adds up and changes the system we are part of. And finally, and I know this type of thinking isn't popular amongst Americans, we have to imagine how we can contribute to the commons to mutually benefit (instead of one or two people benefiting, leading to the suffering of others). It's not socialism, it's smarter thinking. Just think of the costs we will save on our taxes alone when we don't have to pay for the inefficiencies of a system full of people trying to cheat it.
We do have great power here. These tools can be used for great things. Solving hunger, poverty, creating peace, boosting economies (in countries where most of the spammer/scammer stuff comes out of), finding cures for bad diseases and all of the other social pitfalls we've created by thinking too short term for our world. So...where do we start?