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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I've read more than a few articles that sensationalize the large dollar amounts that Digital Influencers are making. I've also overheard many people having conversations about this that indicate they think this is frivolous. I want to tell you that when I hear anyone snicker at what Digital Influencers are making, I automatically think:
- That person is out of touch with the reality of marketing today - these kids in their bedrooms with their iPhones making videos are who people listen to (especially Millennials, who everyone seems to want to reach).
- That person is going to regret their dismissal of Digital Influencers when they are priced higher than the current market rates for other forms of advertising.
Just because you don't understand why this is happening doesn't mean it isn't happening. And it's only the beginning.
Doing The Basic Math
The simplest way to describe the value is by presenting the basic math. When you work with a Digital Influencer, you are getting more than someone sitting in their bedroom for a few hours recording and editing a video. You are getting video production/editing/direction, talent, natural amplification AND celebrity/influence.
If I was to conservatively price out a basic YouTube video looking for 100,000 views (equivalent views to a mid-range YouTube influencer with around 200,000 subscribers), it would look like this:
Scripting/production/shooting/editing - $5,000 (for really basic stuff) Hiring basic talent (with charisma) - Average $250/hr - ACTRA says you have to pay for a full 8-hour day - $2,000 Boosting - Assuming the CPV (Cost per View) is $0.05 = $5,000 for 100,000 views Influence/Celebrity - hard to price this, but Kim Kardashian makes $100,000/hr for appearances and Snooki makes $25,000. Neither of them show up on the most influential list. Let’s be conservative, though, and say $10,000 for the appearance.
That nets out to a very conservative estimate of value for a YouTuber with 200,000 subscribers (and ~100k views/video on average) to $22,000 per video.
And when I say that I was being conservative about this estimate, think about the costs of a 30-second TV spot - which is reaching fewer and fewer people (and, in my opinion will continue to decline in relevance...if there ever was much anyway). According to the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the average cost of a 30-second spot on television in 2011 was $354,000. That's a pretty penny.
So, when Jerome Jarre, who has 7.2 million followers (and rapidly growing) on Vine is reported to make $35,000/vine, I say those brands get a helluva deal! Don't tell Jerome, but he should be making $500,000+ if he was charging for just the boosting capability (his vines see >10million unique views)!
I guess the $1,000,000 offer he turned down was a good move after all:
The Bottom Line
When you hire a Digital Influencer, you aren't paying for the few hours they take to record the video or the quality of the camera or editing work. You are paying for their SOCIAL CAPITAL, which in their world is VERY tangible.
You can see their subscriber numbers and the way their audience is deeply engaged in everything they do (from what they are wearing to who they listen to and beyond). They've spent years building deep trust with their audience by investing in them and being open and transparent. According to a study by Variety, Digital Influencers rate higher than Hollywood celebrities in influencing purchases.
To dismiss them for being too young or their work being too fun/easy or their content being too casual is to completely miss the reality of the situation: your brand should have invested in digital content years ago. Just one 30-second spot would fund anywhere from 1-10 YouTube stations for a full year (depending on your production investment + complexity). That sort of investment would mean a smaller long-term investment, bringing that efficiency that many companies look for today.
The building your own audience ship hasn't sailed quite yet, though. Condé Nast, under the amazing leadership of Dawn Ostroff, is investing in a better digital content strategy on YouTube and it's really paying off. Their audience is growing rapidly as are their organic views. Much of their content is modelled on the types of videos the audience enjoys: entertaining, funny and authentic.
I still believe that working with Digital Influencers is one of the strongest short term marketing tactics you can deploy today and going forward, but it's also important you learn from them and invest in becoming an influencer yourself.
Let me know how you are investing in an audience below.
[title image credit: Thinkstock]
Oh companies. Relationships are SO much easier than you make them. In fact, there are only a few things that you need to do in order to make your customers significantly happier. Or rather, there are a few things you must stop doing and saying that will change your customers' experiences drastically.
I've compiled a short list for you (though there are more). Here are some things you need to stop doing and saying:
1. "It's our policy."
Now, you may use this and think: "Why is this wrong? It enables a fair way to treat customers across the board."
The problem with trying to treat customers the same across the board is that not every situation is cut and dried. And, frankly, some policies are antiquated and outdated. The moment you have to let a customer down by saying "it's our policy," you are failing that customer.
And yes, I know that you don't want your customer service staff running all amok with bleeding hearts and breaking your bank, but that is why you need to train them properly and empower them to help your customers. A good customer service policy is to:
a. train your agents on multiple scenarios and then;
b. give them a buffer allowance each month and;
c. give them all sorts of ways to help the customer instead of shutting down the conversation.
If they have a certain budget to play with each month where they can make a decision on whether to give a customer a break or take a return marked "no refunds", they can use their training to decipher a reasonable response and then be empowered to make it. Here is an example:
A customer calls their cell phone company and says, "My bill is outrageous! I didn't realize that going over my data would cost me an extra $200! I can't afford this!" The agent then can walk through a customer's bill and figure out if the mistake was made in earnest and then either undo the $200 OR adjust the bill a smaller amount (maybe cut it in half), but talk the customer into a more robust ongoing data plan (which can help the company make the money up in the long run).
Of course, if a customer doesn't know what to expect, this is an issue in itself. Which leads me to #2.
2. "It was in your contract."
Newsflash: nobody actually reads contracts. I'm not sure why anyone uses a big long legalese document to give customers upfront information about a service. It's the worst way to present information in the universe. You may as well write it in Sanskrit on a stone tablet.
I'm not saying your customers have no responsibility to read what they sign, but when you are excitedly signing up for a new service or website or whatever, the last thing you do is to sit and read a long document. And the salesperson moving the sale through doesn't really give you much of a chance either.
Why not present limitations and terms and conditions in a readable, fun manner? A great example of turning boring, mandated information into something people will engage in is Virgin America's awesome in-flight safety video. Everyone knows that when those safety videos come on, our eyes glaze over and we focus on the book or magazine or anything else. But not when you are on a Virgin Flight:
Right? You don't have to go to that level of production, but why not make it readable and enjoyable? This way, you will never have to say, "It's in your contract." Your customers will know. In fact, they may even be able to sing it back to you.
3. "See our answer here [with link]."
Why not just talk to me? Seriously. If I ask something that is too long for a tweet, answer me with a few tweets. That's cool.
@myhandle: Hey cable company! Why am I on hold for over 45 minutes today? WTH?
@cablecompany: @myhandle Sorry for your inconvenience. Go check our outage schedule here: [link to website]
Grrrrrrrrrr. A wee bit of effort would help a whole lot here. I have probably already gone to your website to find your really hard to find number to call to be put on hold. I'm trying to use Twitter to get some answers and be more efficient. Don't make me click something else!
This would be better:
@myhandle: Hey cable company! Why am I on hold for over 45 minutes today? WTH?
@cablecompany: @myhandle Sorry for your inconvenience. I see you are calling from Toronto where there are lots of outages. Can I help?
@myhandle: @cablecompany Yeah. Do you happen to know what's wrong? When the cable service is expected to be fixed?
@cablecompany: @myhandle I just checked internally. It's a weather issue. :( It may take more than a few hours. Sorry! Time for a good book? :/
@myhandle: @cablecompany LOL. Okay. Maybe it's the universe telling me to hit the gym. LOL.
@cablecompany: @myhandle Hit the gym for me, too! Oy! ;) Sorry again!
Even if it doesn't go as smoothly as above, it's a MUCH better interaction. I can hang up the phone with a bit more information and reset my expectations. I also feel taken care of even if the representative couldn't give me a definitive answer.
4. [Insert Lame Company Excuse Here]
Just recently, we had a ISP tell us that their service was bad because one of their partners (the people who owned the fibre) were playing dirty.
Really? I couldn't give a damn. Fix our service. I don't need to get involved in your business drama. I've just paid you $300 to get my internet installed. I'm not your mediator. Guess what happened? We canceled, asked for a refund, then went to the partner in question. They seemed to have the upper hand and get things done. We wish we knew that in the beginning.
Your company woes are YOUR company woes...and quite often they are the result of bad decisions/deals you've made (short-term thinking). Your customers don't care, nor should they. They just want to get the stuff they paid for. Don't make excuses. Fix it. If you can't fix it, own up to it and refund your customers. Apologize and hope that they will forgive you and come back when you've fixed your stuff.
The customer experience should be seamless and simple. The mess and duct tape and hoops behind the scenes? Invisible to the customer's eye.
It's late 2013 and 72% of customers expect a response within the hour on Twitter from your brand after they complain. And it doesn't really matter if it's during business hours or not.
I, personally, have a black list of companies I will no longer buy from after getting radio silence to a concern or complaint. I'm sure I'm not alone.
Even the most angry complaints can be handled. People are just upset and need to be heard. One of the best pieces of advice I ever heard was to respond to an angry complaint like this:
A. Identify B. Apologize C. Assist
@myhandle: @restaurant FU! I will never eat at your awful overpriced restaurant again!
@restaurant: @myhandle Oh no! What happened?
@myhandle: @restaurant After waiting for a table FOREVER, your server treated us like crap and the food was cold by the time it was served. Grrrr.
@restaurant: @myhandle Oh man, it sounds like you had the WORST experience. It's not what we aim for. Is there any way we can make it up to you?
@myhandle: @restaurant I don't know. I don't want to feel that way again. But I appreciate your response. Maybe it was just a bad night.
@restaurant: @myhandle I know you don't want to take my word for it, but it sounds like it may have been. Let us know if you want to try again. We'll set you up. :)
@myhandle: @restaurant Okay...well...I'll consider it. Thanks again. I feel kind of bad for being so angry now.
@restaurant: @myhandle I would have probably felt the same. Glad I could help.
Identifying completely diffuses a situation. Trust me on this one. Even if you can't help someone, just identifying and apologizing will help. And that customer will feel a bit bad for blowing up at you online. If they don't come back, they'll certainly tell the story differently. This time, you'll be cool...not a jerk that doesn't listen.
So there you go. Simple ways to respond to customers in a way that will help you build bonds and loyalty and probably a few more sales rather than letting angry customers fall through the cracks (and tell everyone they know about their awful experience). In fact, take some of that billboard and other outbound advertising spend and put it into your inbound/customer service channels so you can totally empower them. It doesn't have to be a lot, but I guarantee you that these interactions will benefit you far more than that extra month on the billboard.
[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.
...because all roads lead back to content.
Without content on Facebook, you have this:
Without content on Twitter, you have this:
Blogs, Pinterest, Instagram, Slideshare, Tumblr, etc all are merely content holders. Without content, you have tools. Without content, nobody has a compelling reason to click the follow/like button, let alone get interested in your product. Yes, you can listen and have conversations, but when someone decides to check you out...there is no reason for them to engage.
In my favorite analogy, the sad, empty wineglass at the top of this post represents a container without content and the happy, full wineglass represents content. In the same analogy, you want to fill that wineglass with something great, because bad wine will not bring anyone coming back for a refill.
What about PR? Advertising? Search marketing? Influencer marketing?
All of these roads lead back to an even stronger case for great, engaging content. You get good press? Great! What makes the person reading the article want to engage? You just paid for lots of advertising? What is that compelling thing that drives them to click? Where do they go? What do they see? Are you engaging anyone? And any good SEO expert will tell you that content that appeals to human beings will help you with your search results.
Truthfully, "content" is such a dry, bad word for such an essential, fantastic, nuanced thing. And it's often bundled together with the social media tools as something that just happens. Companies outsource it like it doesn't matter. It's an afterthought. An annoyance.
"But good content takes time! And it's expensive!" they might cry.
Yes, but not more expensive than the ads companies buy to try and capture attention. Think about it this way:
Company A hires amazing content people at a rate of $10,000 month. This content, underscored with a small amount of advertising (sponsored posts, etc) starts to gather attention. A small increase in followers at first, but then it fans out. Soon the company has 10x the followers and can cut back on their advertising altogether and continues to get traction from the great content it's produced over time.
Here is a real-life example: Just For Laughs Gags on YouTube. Disclosure: my boyfriend runs their YouTube channel. They've actually never bought advertising, but they have amazing content. All day, Carlos picks the best of their content and makes sure it responds to the needs of their audience. They have over 3 million followers and get an average of around 1 million views per video. This didn't happen overnight, but it was the focus on great content and making sure that content gets in front of the right audience that makes them THE most popular comedy channel on YouTube. In the world.
A more attainable example is one of their content partners, Roman Atwood Pranks who I've written about before. This small team (Roman and his buddy Dennis) work hard to please their audience and have built it from zero with a very low-budget. No advertising, just plain content that people love. They have over 1 million followers and get an average of 750,000 views per episode. Some of their episodes are seen by nearly 14 million people!
So what happens when you don't focus on content?
Company B doesn't really have the time or patience to build an audience, but wants to get their new fancy video in front of as many people as possible. So they purchase $100,000 worth of ads (which guarantees around 1 Million views). Of those views, a teensy percentage sign up to follow their channel because they haven't created anything really worth following. Their content is sporadic and self-promotional. So six months later, when they need to run another campaign, they have to throw another $100,000 worth of ads to get it seen.
You recognize the companies who do this when you see this (low subscribers with high views):
(IF each person saw a video only once, Garnier Canada gets a 0.07% conversion on their ads, L'Oreal Paris gets 0.03% conversion)
Just For Laughs
...on a zero dollar ad spend (those subscribers are watching multiple videos as videos are posted daily at JFLgags and weekly for Roman, so the conversion is probably pretty high). Every time the channels with high subscribers upload a video, they get access to millions of people who have subscribed to their updates. Thousands of those people share the videos so they have access to even more.
So what is more expensive then? Great content, which may cost a premium to make (but doesn't always have to, but it does take many hours to get it right), but saves you lots of money in the long run? Or big ad buys that you have to purchase over and over again. Take a look at Garnier Canada's videos that don't have advertising behind them (hint for those who don't want to click. Less than 300 views.) to understand how little engagement they get from ad buys.
Great content can build relationships and real engagement that is lasting and is way more likely to get your potential customer from AWARE to ENGAGED to even EVANGELIZED (see the social engagement ladder here). It's worth the investment. In fact, you can't ignore it. All roads lead you there.
Yet another article has come out yesterday on how Facebook is a waste of time for marketers because posts only show up for 8-16% of their followers. As someone who has been in marketing for over 15 years (online marketing for 14 of those), these posts irk me. To me, they show a low understanding of how human beings engage with media and demonstrate that old perceptions of customer ownership persist, even through the Social Era.
General Facebook Stats
First off, here are some basic statistics on how people use Facebook. The average Facebook user has 229 friends and likes 40 brands. They spend an average of 1.5 hours/week on Facebook, accessing it from 7,000 different devices. 58% of Facebook users return daily. And 65% of people who like brands on Facebook do so for the coupons/savings they can access. (source + Facebook Insights 2012) There are 50 million Facebook pages that post 36 times per month - 2.5 million of those that are promoted through Facebook ads. (source) And 40% of people's time spent on Facebook is on their newsfeed, while only 12% of their time is spent on profile and brand pages. (source)
If you haven't figured it out mathematically, Facebook is NOISY for most users. I'm a super user (outlier), so I'm not the best example, but I have 3,233 friends (I try to weed them out to only people I've met from time to time, but it keeps growing), like 898 pages (don't know when THAT happened, oy), am part of 49 Facebook groups (some are SUPER active) and have a public page where I've grown 64,864 followers (who can comment, like and otherwise engage with my profile unless I limit visibility on a post). Facebook's Edgerank helps me a great deal. Sure, I don't see everything and I'm sure I'm missing all sorts of uber important life events and sales and launches, but it makes my experience on Facebook a little more sane.
My Mom, who defines herself as a luddite, has 174 friends on Facebook, 6 likes and is part of 1 group. She doesn't have a public profile, so doesn't have 'followers'. She still finds the amount of posts and news on Facebook to be overwhelming at times, so she created her favorites so she would always see what's happening with her family as we post items. She has created a filter ON TOP OF the Edgerank that Facebook provides to help her manage the posts from all of her friends.
I can understand that a brand who thinks that every like is an undivided attention endorsement would think that 8-16% of their followers seeing their posts means that Facebook is ripping them off. But anyone who thinks a little bit and understands how this works should get that Edgerank IS FOR THE USERS not for the marketers.
How Edgerank Works
Edgerank isn't some plot against brands who don't pay for advertising on Facebook. All it does is favor posts that are popular and relevant, whether it is a personal profile post or a brand page post. It also understands what users have engaged with previously, so if you spend a lot of time liking and commenting on certain friends' posts, those friends (and brands) will show up more often.
Here is a frequently passed around definition of how Edgerank works:
"EdgeRank is an algorithm used by Facebook to determine where and what posts appear on each individual user’s news feed in order to give users relevant and wanted content.
The three variables that make up this algorithm are:
- Affinity Score - Facebook calculates affinity score by looking at explicit actions that users take, and factoring in, the strength of the action, how close the person who took the action was to you, and how long ago they took the action.
- Edge Weight - Facebook changes the edge weights to reflect which type of stories they think user will find most engaging.
- Time Decay – The determines the time passed, if they’re old they probably don’t appear."
And, yes, a brand page can use advertising to improve their Edgerank. That's how advertising works. You pay for the ability to cheat the system. As the saying goes, "Advertising is the price you pay for having an unremarkable product," but I would also add that advertising is the price you pay for an unfair advantage. It's the way of balancing the universe. You can pay to be at the center of it. ;)
Why Marketers Really Hate Edgerank
There are several reasons why marketers* hate Edgerank:
- There is no instant gratification - even if you are a content maestro, it takes time to build an audience without advertising. For my clients, I use advertising to underscore great content instead of in place of it.
- They think a 'Like' means the Facebook user is endorsing undivided attention - the truth is, there are all sorts of reasons why people like brands on Facebook and, since the average user likes 40 brands and has 229 friends, there is no such thing as undivided attention (or if there is, it's rare...and a bit odd). The reason your posts aren't showing up on their newsfeeds is because they aren't engaging with them.
- Marketing people aren't generally content people and vice versa - I sat down with a journalist friend of mine who has been hired by a big fashion retailer to do their content. She's really brilliant at it, but had very little knowledge as to how to use the tools and how to promote the great content she was producing. They wanted her to do both content AND marketing and didn't understand that those two talents are very different and usually require two roles. People conflate them all too often and though you may find the rare individual that can do both well, it's best that you split the role for maximum oomph.
- Most marketers are still stuck in the old one-way paradigm - helloooo! It's the social era! This means that even old one-way mediums (billboards, television, radio, magazines, etc) need to get more multi-way in order to survive. So stop treating the social tools as bullhorns. Seriously. This is why you are failing at them. Facebook should be 50% listening, 25% responding and 25% talking (more or less).
- Campaigns should be part of content, not the other way around - content done in brief spurts and ebbs and flows just doesn't work (see #1). It takes time to build an audience, engage them enough to keep them coming back and delight them to the point of wanting to share to their own friends (they have their own audiences and goals). I've talked about how content bursts with long silences between hurt your audience on YouTube, but it works the same way in many social mediums and Facebook's Edgerank is one of them.
Marketers have to learn to work with content people (photographers, videographers, writers, journalists, graphic designers, artists, etc) on their strategy. Creativity and strategy are intertwined. In fact, the strategic process should look something like this:
...and you should enter this loop at learning. (note: I usually remove the launching/promoting part until a few cycles of learning, planning, implementing, learning, planning, implementing...)
The beauty of Facebook is that it is inexpensive and content rich and sky is the limit when it comes to creating engaging content AND everybody is there, hanging out, looking for great distractions. In addition, I don't believe there are many brands that do it right, so you have every opportunity in the world to raise the bar. Don't blame the tool, especially when it's implemented features that benefit the users you are trying to reach. Take a closer look at your own content. Are you engaging? Are you creating content your fans would be excited to share? Are you creating value? Improving knowledge? Lives? Are you making your customers' lives simpler, less confusing, less alienating, more efficient, more meaningful and just plain better? Or are you just adding to the noise?
Abandoning Facebook would be like cutting off your nose to spite your face. It's a great tool if you understand that it isn't a billboard. And remember, it's much less expensive and gives you all sorts of ways to hear from your audience and understand who you are hearing from (which is very difficult with a billboard).
So stop writing 'woe is me' posts and start respecting the medium and your audience. Trust me, you'll change your tune.
* I really shouldn't lump all of us in the same boat. I love Edgerank and think it's a beautiful and user-centric feature for Facebook. It just makes me work harder to create engaging content and I love a good challenge. I know there are great marketers out there who get this, too.
First off, the title of this post is misleading. There is no formula, everything is social and it's not about the content at all.
But with that out of the way, there IS a different philosophy to creating social content and the key to uncovering it lies with a theory posited by Isaiah Berlin*, a philosopher in an essay called "The Hedgehog and the Fox" where he refers to a poem by the ancient Greek Archilochus, who describes the two characters as follows:
"The fox knows many little things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing."
Foxes are multidisciplinary, adaptable, self-critical, tolerant of complexity, cautious and empirical, while Hedgehogs are specialized, stalwart, stubborn, order-seeking, confident and ideological. While Hedgehogs look for evidence to support their beliefs and are highly susceptible to confirmation bias, Foxes tend to appear to the outside world as uncertain and a bit scattered.
Bear with me here. This matters.
Quite often, people seek out things like formulas and best practices and all sorts of ways to ensure the best outcomes. Books and posts and articles and infographics are gobbled up whole in order to satisfy an eager marketers desire to implement a 'highly impactful' content strategy. These types are Hedgehogs. They will see a popular 700x700 inspirational quote being passed around Facebook like wildfire and think, "A-ha! That's the key! We need to create more square inspirational quotes!" This results in something like this:
Not saying that these sorts of techniques are without merit. Hell, it's been shared 225x and liked 1,274x. I, myself, have deployed a few of these bad boys and achieved great results. But when analyzing any data behind the content I've produced, there just isn't enough evidence to support that a formula alone makes for good, sharable, interesting content. And formulas grow tired and have declining returns.
Hedgehogs use formulas and pump out content that satisfies formulas and when the returns on that content decline, they look around and find new formulas to mimic. This is not only unsustainable, but it's insulting to the people who are following your content. These messages speak to the choir (who will sing on key), but will rarely incite others to join in.
Foxes, on the other hand, approach content very differently. They may pick up ideas from what's hip and happening and learn from other successes, but they spend WAY more time figuring out what it is that their customers really care about and work on delivering THAT. This takes all of the multi-disciplinary, adaptable, self-critical, tolerance for complexity and empirical talent they have. They can't "plan" a calendar months in advance. That would be ludicrous and a waste of time. Their content morphs and bends with too many variables, the biggest of which is the needs of the audience itself.
I wrote about these Foxy creatures at length in my last post on content. It's not hard to find them, either. Just look at the YouTubers that are killing it with subscribers. Two of them stayed at my house last weekend and when Carlos asked them about their 'secret sauce', they looked at him puzzled. In their minds, there was no such thing as a 'secret sauce'. They just run around with a camera and whatever they think is funny, they record and post. When I told them there were some basic principles, they pushed back and said, "If you start using rules, you stop using your instincts."
IF YOU START USING RULES, YOU STOP USING YOUR INSTINCTS.
That is a phrase very much worth repeating. Whether it's Roman and Dennis of SerialPranksters or the incredibly funny Jenna Marbles or my personal fave Hanna Hart, there is no way you can decipher a formula for success. The only things they have in common is that they are naturally funny, have great instincts for what others will find funny and just keep producing. Sometimes they produce huge hits and sometimes they produce misses, but they are consistent and adaptive. (and uniquely themselves)
I've tried to explain to clients over the years that the best gauge of what will be well-received is something that they, themselves, would find entertaining or useful. But Hedgehogs have a very tough time shifting to this perspective.
"I would find my PRODUCT entertaining and useful. It's the BEST!" they answer.
This is where the self-critical aspect comes into play. Most Foxes will say that they are really bad salespeople, but in actuality, they are great salespeople...especially in a cynical world. They don't think of themselves or their product as "the most amazing whatever". They never stop wanting to improve and, as a result, end up growing rabid fan-bases because of their humble approach and customer empathy. Many beloved brands I've studied carry the self-critical gene: Zappos, Threadless (their motto was actually, "We are never good enough"), Etsy, and Southwest Airlines...just to name a few. They are more focused on their customer's happiness than their own any day and it shows with loyalty and sales.
But back to content. There is no secret because 'secrets' and 'formulas' and 'best-practices' belong in the realm of Hedgehogs. But if you are a stubborn Hedgehog, and you admit it, there ARE a few ways to become more Foxy:
- put down the content calendar and just hang out with your customers (AND your competitors' customers) more. Not with a clipboard taking notes or with the desire to convince anyone to try your product. JUST CHILL and absorb.
- stop thinking of your audience as content consumers. They do not live for your 'sharables'. They aren't sitting with index fingers hovering over the like button, eagerly awaiting your next witty post. They have lives and you are a small, teensy part of their daily thoughts. If they don't think of anything else other than you, you have a bigger problem on your hands.
- go to a movie, read a book, subscribe to blogs, skim through magazines -- outside of your industry and outside of your comfort area. Embrace diversity and different points of view. Have conversations with people you would never dream of having conversations with.
- think really hard about what you are truly passionate about. What makes you laugh, cry, sing...what inspires you. What are you drawn to? Think about this honestly outside of the context of your business. Do more of that. Learn how to trust your instincts again and when they lead you astray...
- don't fret. Some things will work and some things won't. But keep going and learning from those mistakes. Take criticism with a grain of salt and start to learn what is constructive and what is not. Being experimental and open doesn't mean you have to bend with every whim either. You'll learn over time and hone that instinct beautifully.
The 'secret' to great social content is about a new approach to thinking. One that is service-oriented and empathetic. A question I always pose to people I work with on content is, "Is this going to make people feel better? Smarter? More in control of their lives? Help them look good to their friends? Help them make more friends? Give them tools to grow? Save them a headache? Time?" If the answer is no, you are really just adding noise. If a tv, paper or magazine constantly put out content that did nothing but serve their own interests, they wouldn't last long. Every brand has to think like a newsroom now (while every newsroom has to think like a brand, really).
So the secret? Think like a fox, stop following advice and tap into those instincts.
* credit where credit is due: I read about Berlin in Nate Silver's awesome book The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail-but Some Don't - where the theory inspired this entire post. And I can't help but point out that I did not gain inspiration for a post by reading a social media book, but a book about statistics, predicting outcomes, sports and politics.
It usually starts something like this:
Hey! Everyone I know is on Instagram! We should start an Instagram for the company!
The suggestion in itself isn't wrong per se, it's just not made with much of an understanding of how these social platforms work. It takes less than 5 minutes to set up an Instagram account (if you have an iPhone or an Android). That's the simple part. But then the real work begins.
People who rarely use social networks love platforms…even when they, themselves, admit to not having enough time to use them. That's pretty much what they see: platforms and the numbers. "Why aren't we on Pinterest/Foursquare/Tumblr/Google+/You Tube/Instagram/etc?" they'll ask. They'll tell you about all sorts of other companies who have set up multiple accounts on multiple platforms and how they read about it on Mashable. They'll hint at being concerned about your expertise or ability to execute because you haven't created accounts everywhere. They may even say, "It takes 5 minutes to set it up!"
But what people who don't use social networks much fail to understand is that picking a platform means that you need to create ongoing content for that platform. Content requires a strategy and ongoing production of said content. And monitoring, measuring and tweaking of that content (and strategy). And community management of the inbound reactions to that content, especially if, heaven willing, you do a great job of the content and your account on said platform gets very popular. And all of these things take a lot of time and deep understanding of your audience, your competitors, your product, the overall trends, current events, knowledge of the industry (and surrounding industries), analytics, what are best/worst practices, gathering of ideas, photoshop skills, camera skills, editing skills, a good eye for a shot skills, writing skills, translation skills, people skills and technical skills.
Creating content for a brand (company, organization or individual) is like running a news room...but even more complicated because it needs to be interactive. You need to plan out a certain amount of content (ideally daily for weeks in advance) for each platform like you would for each segment, then you also need to be on top of current events and issues to be able to switch it out on the fly to seize opportunities in the moment. You need to keep people entertained and continue to grow with your audience. You need to be relevant and entertaining, but create enough deep engagement that you are building a solid loyalty base.
In addition to this, you need to achieve your own goals through the content. If you are selling something, it's number of sales leads. If you need sign ups to your app, you need to drive people to your site (off of whichever social network) to sign up. If you are raising money for a cause, you need to compel your followers to go and give money. There are several things you need to balance: building an audience and driving people to your goal (often off-site) and the two are mutually dependent. If your content isn't entertaining, you'll lose your audience, and have nobody to build loyalty and long term sales with, but if you only entertain and never convert them to buyers, you are wasting your time. And the balance is tricky.
And I haven't even started to talk about how each platform needs to be approached from a different angle with unique content strategies. Cross-posting content between platforms rarely works. There are different rules (Twitter, for instance, is limited to 140 characters, while blog articles can go more in depth to make a point). There are different tones (Tumblr is fun and casual with a hipster flair for design, while Google+ takes a more information sharing and analytical tone). There are different audiences (Pinterest is dominated by women, while Reddit is male-heavy). There are different functions (Foursquare is great if you have physical locations to promote, while Quora is a fantastic way to show your expertise in an area). Different platforms work better with different media (YouTube is all videos, while Instagram is all images). And some platforms are richer than others (Sure Twitter allows for posting images and video, but the real time rapidity means you should focus on the text, while Facebook posts thrive with images and other 'sharables' and text falls flat).
All of this is to say: content doesn't just appear magically out of thin air with a wave of a magic social fairy wand. And there have been many of my colleagues beating this drumfor years, but their message is more and more prescient over time as every brand is expected to be on practically every platform, but have no idea what that means.
Why they hire interns or outsource to people to create this crucial content that is SUCH a crucial part of their marketing and customer relationships is beyond me. But part of it is education and part of it is the plethora of 'gurus/ninjas/polkaroos' who know the buzzwords and how to copycat content, but not how to create relationships. People, you get what you pay for. But why should I be surprised? Companies spent decades outsourcing their customer service - the point of the best opportunity to create a lifelong loyal customer and evangelist - and have focused on new customer acquisition over the more lucrative current customer retention and growth opportunities for as long as I've been on this earth.
What I mean to say is: CONTENT IS IMPORTANT. And there is a specific skill and finesse to doing content well that may seem like magic to most people. It requires left/right brained people with sharp critical thinking skills. The type of people who have big libraries of books (that they actually read) and are constantly checking their mobile phones for the latest news and world events. This person consumes more content in a day than most people consume in a year. S/he has so much knowledge in her/his head from so many different industries and disciplines that s/he will connect dots you would NEVER think to connect and sometimes the connection is only clear in her/his head (but it is usually innovative). This person studies people and networks and gets giddy when the data uncovers counter-intuitive evidence. Her/his instincts are sharp even though s/he can't fully explain where her/his idea comes from. This is not a full or completely accurate description of this person. But it's a start. And that person should really be internal to your organization.
The thing is, it IS magic, but in the Arthur C. Clarke way ("Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."). It rarely takes years of school to hone this skill. It's not brain surgery or rocket science. But it does take years of life* (and some severe ADHD). And most of all, it takes a huge amount of respect...for the customers, the importance of content, the brand and the media.
There is a magic content wand, but most of the world are Muggles, and those of you with the magic should understand that it's not so simple to describe magic to a Muggle. (so if you circulate this post, remove this last bit)
* I, by no means mean years as in one has to be older to be good at this. I know lots of 20-somethings that have 'the knack'.