dimanche 31 août 2014

The Power of a Positive Attitude

The Power of a Positive Attitude image Fotolia Positive Attitude 300x211

Twenty years as an Executive Career Management Professional, Certified Professional Resume Writer and a fearless networker, combined with my previous law enforcement career, has afforded me the opportunity to meet many people. Upon meeting a person for the first time, I can quickly assess their attitude. First impressions count! During a few split seconds, people make a judgement of you by your poise, handshake and verbal introduction.

So many people fail to ignite my intrigue and enthusiasm to advance the introduction into a business relationship. The lack of positivity, drive and determination is highly apparent in many cases. If I was in a career influencing position, my attention would not be grabbed. After all, who is going to hire a person with a questionable attitude and demeanor? Very few!

There is a direct correlation between a positive attitude and the time it takes to land a new job, no matter what function or level. I see it every day. My intuition acquired through my two distinct careers allows me to make this assumption and 90% of the time I am correct.

How can you go about changing your attitude? There are a number of ways.

Surround yourself with positive cheerleaders who can excite and invigorate you as you face and resolve the various challenges of a career transition. Visualize where you want to go and leave no stone unturned in your quest to accomplish your goals. Consciously resist negative thoughts and think of the other side of the coin.

Don’t set goals that are too ambitious; be realistic, as setting lofty goals and not meeting them will cause you to beat yourself up. You build self-confidence by setting and achieving realistic goals.

How is your attitude? Are you ready to conquer rejection, experiencing more downs than ups? If not, consider hiring a career coach; an expert who can steer you through the adversity!

The Power of a Positive Attitude

BYO Workstyle: People Bring More Than Devices to Work

We’ve been talking about trends like BYOD, user-centered IT and the consumerization of IT for years now. But most of the discussion has been about devices, security and compliance.

Important topics. But they kind of miss the point.

People today have a digital lifestyle that works. They store content in the cloud, share and remix it with friends, and crowdsource answers on Facebook and LinkedIn. It’s the modern lifestyle we’ve all come to expect – connecting, communicating and collaborating anywhere, anytime on any device.

People aren’t just bringing iPhones to the office, or storing work files on Dropbox. They’re bringing a more engaged and productive lifestyle to work.

It’s what I call workstyle.

Here’s why you should care:

Workstyle Is Here – With You Or Without You

A recent IDG Enterprise report found that 90% of employees use consumer cloud services at work. But 41% of these services are being used without IT approval.

IT either helps businesses adapt to new workstyles or people ignore IT policies to make work happen the way they want and need.

Organizations surveyed by IDG Enterprise anticipate that leveraging consumer technologies at work will create a positive impact on user satisfaction, productivity, process efficiency and collaboration, and business agility.

But the evidence is already in. Companies that have embraced better workstyles improved productivity by 15%, reduced call volumes by 26%, increased sales wins by 12%, and improved customer satisfaction by 25%.

Millennials Demand a Better Workstyle

Today, Millennials make up 36% of the U.S. workforce. By 2025, Millennials will make up 75% of the global workplace. As the first generation to grow up using computers their entire lives, it’s no surprise they expect the same technology experience at work.

But more importantly, Millennials want a better workstyle. According to the Intelligence Group, 88% of Millennials prefer a collaborative work-culture rather than a competitive one. And an equal number want “work-life integration.” This isn’t the same as work-life balance. For Millennials, work and life are inextricably intertwined.

A Better Workstyle Engages All Employees

According to Gallup, disengaged employees outnumber engaged employees nearly 2 to 1, costing the US economy $450 to $550 billion per year.

Gallup studied differences in performance between engaged and actively disengaged employees. Those scoring in the top half on employee engagement nearly doubled their odds of success compared with those in the bottom half.

And what if your employees are interacting directly with your customers?

According to Gallup, only 41% of employees felt that they know what their company stands for and what makes its brand different from its competitors.

A better workstyle is essential to increasing employee engagement and understanding of your company’s brand.

Workstyle Connects You With Customers and Partners

Customers and partners want to engage with companies and brands they admire. They want to connect, communicate and collaborate in a robust community.

Businesses that adopt a workstyle compatible with their customers’ lifestyle drive significant business results. According to Gallup, customers who are fully engaged represent a 23% premium in terms of share of wallet, profitability, revenue and relationship growth. While actively disengaged customers represent a 13% discount on the same measures.

Workstyle Is a Massive Opportunity

McKinsey Global Institute says a better workstyle can unlock between $900 billion and $1.3 trillion in value.

McKinsey is usually pretty well informed but even if they’re off by 50% we have a huge opportunity in front of us.

A connected and collaborative workstyle is one of the most effective ways to engage employees, nurture strategic partnerships and stay directly involved with customers.

We need to move beyond BYOD, consumerization of IT and user-centered IT to focus on a better workstyle that delivers business results.

Improving your workstyle isn’t optional. It’s critical to building and maintaining competitive advantage.

BYO Workstyle: People Bring More Than Devices to Work

Brands are Heading Back-to-School

Sorry folks, there’s no denying it anymore: Summer is officially coming to a close.

What once felt like an endless highway now feels like an unrelenting headache as cottagers clog the highways to and from the city en route to their final long weekend getaway.

People are losing the SPF as they try and soak up as many rays as possible before sunshine turns to snow and we all start wondering about what the wind chill will be.

It’s the time of the year where we trade bug spray for hairspray, shorts turn into jeans, and your mindless summer magazine is swapped out for that heavy English lit novel.

It’s true – back to school is right around the corner – and brands are eagerly embracing this popular marketing season to send kids off with a splash.

However, it takes a lot more than simply pushing seasonal product sales and promoting 99 cent binders that’s causing brands to stand out.

Indeed, it’s all about content –snappy, visual and digital content – and brands are recognizing this in their back to school strategies.

So, how are some brands rising above the din of back to school and going beyond classroom creative?

GAP Kids Class of 2014

This is Gap’s latest iteration of its Casting Call program, where parents can submit their children to be featured in Gap’s marketing efforts. This recent installment gets parents to submit first day of school photos via Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter. After submitting, parents are emailed a 15-second video that looks like a Gap commercial, shareable through social media.

What’s notable about this campaign?

It’s leveraging something that’s going to happen regardless: Back-to-school photos are bound to take over social media this week and next – so why not turn this craze into a branded back-to-school experience?

Target goes back to school with a cause

Target turned its back-to-school campaign into a meaningful cause – while simultaneously raising awareness of its Up & Up brand. Target gave one Up & Up brand school-supply product to a student in need for each Up & Up school supply purchased within a notable back-to-school shopping period – July 13 to Aug 2.

What worked? It gave the brand something authentic and meaningful to engage its community with rather than plain product conversations.

Express Yourselfie

JCPenny celebrates self-expression and being one-of-a-kind in this years’ back-to-school campaign. Consumers can visit JCPenny’s online hub and create a personalized emoji which they feel resembles them, customizing it with accessories and hairstyles. After posting this emoji beside their selfie within the online gallery, consumers can then explore shopping suggestions based on their personal style. Although product-focused, this campaign softens the pitch by centring the product around the consumer’s voice & personality.

Who have you seen heading back-to-school in style? Let us know in the comments below.

Brands are Heading Back-to-School

The Dotted Line Required for Social Business Success

As leaders embrace the importance of culture and community in building a brand the focus and value of a brand is now shifted to the place it’s supposed to be, the people! The word “Social” in social business is the major change that leaders and brands must embrace which means a new focus must be made on improving who, how and why we communicate.

Before we get into designing a culture that embraces this shift in communication and collaboration we must first understand the technology and innovation that are driving this change. Technology and innovation won’t fix culture or communication problems but in order to architecture a culture that solves these problems we must understand the technology currently powering the digital world of work.

Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s the latest and great technology, the box cell phone and color printer that my Dad had were only available at his work. Times have changed thanks to social, mobile, analytics and cloud not only do the employees have the latest and greatest technology but also in many cases they’ll have created a connected ecosystem empowering them to be more productive on their smart phone then any cubicle or office ever would be. So how does this new connected employee change the way a company culture is built?

Digitally connected and technology driven employees affect on culture:

First off the culture must be built to embrace this new innovation by creating security and technology policies that protect the brand while still allowing the employee to utilize their technology to be more productive. Companies that tried to fight this created what is known as shadow IT or what I like to call it, “Put too many useless policies in place for no reason so productive departments and leaders did whatever they needed to, to get the job done!”

Secondly many companies thought by adding a video conferencing unit in the conference rooms and providing laptops with web cameras they found the easy button to fixing collaboration problems. Collaboration isn’t just about improving how people communicate, it’s also how devices and files are shared, how content management systems talk to learning management systems and how chat clients connect with remote employees and external communities.

Thirdly when companies first embraced the idea of social media it was assigned to the marketing department or inherited by the PR team. Some companies understood the value of social media and social business collaboration tools and integrated these solutions within all “customer facing” departments increasing content collaboration and community engagement. But in this digitally connected and technology driven workplace we have today, being a social business is far more than just content and community improvements.

The Dotted Line Required for Social Business Success image digitalhand 300x300

What is required to implement a dotted-line culture?

Management buy-in and leadership support aren’t enough anymore because to implement this change and remove silos and collaboration barriers change must be adopted throughout every facet of the organization.

Companies must hire and fire for culture fit while also implementing training and rebranding of employees skill sets to make sure employees are given the support and tools required to do their job in a new way.

Managers must also be compensated in such a way that they encourage and lead their employees to do what’s best for the team, which might mean collaborating with other departments, or utilizing shared assets to complete a task.

Lastly leadership must create a culture that shows employees that not only they care about them today but also they care about their future and building and leveraging their personal brand. This isn’t done by providing free lunch or adding a Ping-Pong table in the lobby. This is only possible by establishing authentic relationships that together build a community and foundation built on trust and a shared mission that everyone’s role is vital for the company to be successful.

These things are only possible if the company embraces training not as something that is done once a year or part an employees’ onboarding rather a daily element of employee and company growth. The dotted line culture is not only a dotted line for communication but it is also a dotted line that is agile enough to embrace change and allow leadership to step up and focus on the success of the company rather than the success of their individual departments.

The Dotted Line Required for Social Business Success image When failures are transformed into

What departments have dotted lines?

When a dotted-line culture is invested in and given the time needed grow, it will operates less like a network of employees and more like a community of passionate people coming together for a shared cause and mission.

For this internal community to succeed it not only requires open and authentic communication with fellow employees but also the external customer community. This open communication allows for fluid feedback, improved customer service, real-time engagement and humanized connection that builds trust, respect and loyalty both between the customer and the brand but the employees and customer community.

Each company will require a unique management structure and communication flow but here are some examples that leverage this dotted line culture that can help paint the picture for your organization.

For the sales team to accurately understand the customer community problems and current engagement with the brand the social selling team must be actively communicating with marketing to understand business intelligence, customer service team to understand current open issues and marketing to understand the brand story.

For the community managers to fully embrace their roles as the voice and face of the brand they must be an active participate in the leadership discussion on business goals and strategy while also understanding the brand messaging being constructed by the marketing team and the product features and roadmap controlled by the product management team.

These are just a few examples of the roles and situations that require open collaboration and communication to effectively do their jobs. In many cases once the internal community is trained and embraces these new dotted line roles and responsibilities, implementing tools for social listening, video conferencing, content collaboration, customer service management and others becomes easy with most tasks and new procedures being automated. This social automation in combination with improved insights; machine learning and the always-connected employee not only will increase productivity but also will provide new analytics and intelligence allowing for the business to make rapid strategic decisions providing more value for the customer and better job security for the employees!

The Dotted Line Required for Social Business Success

Job Jargon of the New Normal

I love PR speak. Hey, I am an advertising guy. I have helped promote jargon (including job jargon) and word speak.

I started my career aspiring to be an Under Assistant West Coast Promo Man.

When corporate America fires people their PR machines fire up the corporate job jargon of today.

We have all heard the terms. Downsizing and right sizing while salaries for those at the top are supersizing.

“Honey and kids, sit down. My company just right sized me today. Where do you want to go out and have dinner? Sweetie, check the coupon drawer.”

What New Normal Job Jargon Really Means

I was connected to a new friend the other day. His job jargon was very direct. The company had a reduction of 5,000 people overall and that meant that 40% of the people in San Diego lost their jobs. That’s quite the hair cut, I thought.

He was in consumer electronics. He summarized his job as follows:

“I had a portfolio of products, some of which were growing at 400% a year and some declining at 400% a year.”

Welcome to technology in the New Normal. When was the last was time you saw a Walkman or bought a CD at Starbucks?

I asked my new friend what do you want to do in the future? ”Not what I did in the past,” was his answer. Smart decision.

I had a nice lunch with a great friend the other day. Her previous company was completing a move from California to the Midwest.

Is nobody coming home to California anymore, Joni?

We talked about the implications of mixing two diverse cultures from different parts of the country. She said everyone had received a memo saying that all benefits were being harmonized. What a lovely word: harmonizing. I am sure that it will not be music to the ears of some folks who will eventually have their benefits cut.

Where I live in Southern CA, there is a pharma company involved in a hostile takeover with a company from the East Coast. The Chairman of that company, who is worth a billion dollars, says the company they are pursuing is bloated.

No talk about his compensations being bloated or his company’s multibillion dollar debt being bloated.

The result was that 1,500 scientists will lose their jobs. The kind of jobs that are badly needed in Orange County (OC), the type of people that can afford to buy houses in OC.

I wonder if Mr. Bloat thinks about that when he helicopters with his friends to Montauk for the weekend. Does he worry the 1,500 who have lost their jobs? Not a thought in the world as the clouds go by.

I talked to a sales person this week about their goals and how they were evaluated. He worked for a company whose product had been surpassed by the competition. His company’s product was overpriced. The category wasn’t growing. The number of competitors had doubled. Yada, yada, yada.

He said the company had goals and stretch goals that came up from time to time. The goals were what you needed to meet to keep your job and receive a small bonus. The stretch goals were drinking the Kool-Aid goals. Sure you are great and can do it. Yea, yea, yea. Rah, rah, rah. You are thinking while you are laughing and smiling that you need to stop on the way home to have a shot of tequila.

He said that when evaluation time comes and salary increase time comes, then guess what goal comes out of the closet? Pop goes the weasel. You are not meeting your stretch goals. No more laughter in the lobby of your boss’s favorite hotel chain. Wonder if they got a room upgrade last night?

Avoiding the New Normal Job Jargon?

Yes, I hear a lot of job jargon in the New Normal.

The only way to avoid job jargon is to create your own language. That is hard to do. I don’t have any job jargon at Blank and Associates, but that’s because I work for myself. I can starve to death, or I can get fired. I decided the better choice long ago.

Job Jargon of the New Normal

What’s The Purpose Of Account Planning?

We talk a lot about account planning, particularly if our “territory” is one or a few large accounts. Generally, we wrap a lot of nice words around the reasons we do account planning:

Develop deep and trusted relationships in the account. Create a customer for life, through providing great, ongoing customer experiences. Grow the account. Become a strategic partner. Build additional business…..

The list can go on. All are important, but sometimes, I tend to be a little more crass.

I believe it’s my God-given right to 100% share of the account!

That means it’s my job to find all the opportunities I can compete for, or where we can help the customer. I have to find those opportunities and earn them by creating great value with those individuals in the account.

So a key purpose of the account plan is that it’s a structured prospecting plan. Our account planning has to focus on finding new opportunities within the account.

Let’s say we have a $10M account, and we want to drive 10% growth, year over year. That means we have to find $1M of business in the account. We may get some of it through upgrades with those we are currently doing business with in the account. But we probably won’t achieve all the growth we need to achieve by relying on upgrades and cross sell to our current customers.

We have to find new customers and new opportunities, so we have to have a prospecting plan within the account?

What are the other parts of the organization we should be working with? Who else might have the problems that we can solve? How can we leverage referrals from our current customers within the account?

Prospecting within the account is no different than prospecting within the territory–except the account may be our territory. We have to know how many prospects we have to contact to find and qualify a deal. We have to know the average deal size and our win rate, and our cycle time to develop a healthy pipeline for our account. If it takes 5 prospects to find a single opportunity, our win rate is 50% and our average deal size is $100K.

To make our $1 M in growth in the account, we have to close 10 deals, with 20 deals for a healthy pipeline (assuming sales cycle of 12 months or less), and we have reach 100 new prospects in our account to find and qualify those 20 opportunities.

So our account plan becomes a very focused prospecting plan. We know we have to prospect and engage those 100 new people in the account. How do we find those, how do we leverage existing relationships, how do we engage those new people in meaningful and relevant ways…..

If you want to be truly important and strategic to your customers, you have to have a goal of 100% share of the account (or approaching that). You won’t get that by farming and nurturing your current business in the account, you have to prospect and hunt.

Does your account plan have a strong prospecting plan that you can measure your attainment against?

What’s The Purpose Of Account Planning?

You Can Be a Customer Service Hero

You Can Be a Customer Service Hero image 06b6fdef d88e 4624 a3ba 49245a23a719 728 600x247

My 20-year-old daughter recently dropped her phone and shattered the screen. It happened as we were leaving a restaurant where we had lunch before taking her to the airport. She was catching a flight to the UK to spend a semester studying abroad.

We still had a little time, so we went to the phone store, hoping to quickly replace the phone. We explained the situation to the manager, who insisted that a technician would have to inspect the phone before it could be replaced. And, the technician had a full schedule and wouldn’t be able to examine the phone until later that day. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to wait. We asked if the manager would simply look at the phone as the damage to the glass was apparent.

However, the manager insisted that the technician had to check for additional damage to the phone before it could be replaced. She suggested that we try at another one of their stores in the area. We agreed since the phone had to be replaced, and the manager did call to make an appointment for us. By this point, our time was running low (and frustration level was high).

As we traveled to the second store, I called the company’s customer service line and explained the problem. The representative was surprised by the manager’s actions, and he called ahead to the store where we were headed and told them to expect us. We were instructed to find the manager immediately and she would take care of my daughter. And sure enough, she did. In less than 10 minutes we were back on the road with a new phone.

Even though the second store came through for us, how much better would our customer service experience have been if the manager of the first store had stepped up? She could have been our hero that day, but she blew it.

One bad customer service experience can erode even a faithful customer’s confidence in a company. The first manager dug in her heels and lost an opportunity. If she had even taken the time to look up our account, she would have found out that we had purchased multiple phones from the company over the years and that our monthly bill showed that she was dealing with a higher-level, loyal customer. Had she furthermore considered the value of our account by multiplying the monthly cost by the 24-month contract, she might have realized that we are worth thousands of dollars to the company. But instead, she refused to help, despite the fact that we had an emergency.

We should always be on the lookout for opportunities to be a customer service hero. Sometimes clients will call me, panicking because a speaker backed out at the last minute. If I am available to fill in I do it, or if not, I try to suggest someone else. The last time it happened, the client’s budget for the event was much lower than my usual fee, but the client needed help and I was available. That day, I was the hero.

Want to find more opportunities to shine? Don’t just look for problems or wait for emergencies – make it a point to give customers a little more of your time. Customers who receive extra will go away feeling that you are a hero.

So, tap into your customer service “superpowers” and become a hero, doing right by your customer!

Image via Shutterstock

You Can Be a Customer Service Hero

Lead Generation Tips – Leaving Prospects On Their Own

The latest lead generation strategies often favor a mix of inbound, content marketing while at the same time never fully taking an active sales rep out of the picture.

This works because most prospects nowadays don’t really like being led around their noses for a solution. They want to learn and figure things out on their own.

Is it really that simple though?

Lead Generation Tips – Leaving Prospects On Their Own image Self taught artist lo

The reality is that there are many different types of learners. Most of them may very well appreciate the approach that balances leaving them on their own while allowing you to intervene on occasion. What about the rest though? What about that prospect who’d rather entrust you to know everything about your product, your company, and your industry? Or reversely, what about the prospect who insists on themselves by rejecting any further content?

Consider them the two extremes of learning.Whether or not they’re good or bad, some prospects prefer learning that way. Adjusting your lead generation strategy can be difficult, but not entirely impossible:

  • What are they trying to achieve? – Some prospects have gotten by on their own. Others prefer looking for solutions that aren’t the norm. Others would rather get the answer straight away so they can apply it sooner. Instead of asking them what they want to know, ask them what they want to do .

  • Why do they like learning this way? – Never underestimate the role of emotions in a buying decision, even a B2B one. For some people, figuring out a puzzle on their own has its own pleasure. It doesn’t matter whether someone else already did it or put the answer online. Don’t be afraid of getting a little personal and ask why they prefer learning with the amount of content they specify.

  • How do you avoid putting pressure? – There’s no deal breaker than direct attempts to pressure a buying decision. Refusing to deliver more content or stopping to when asked are just common examples. In of itself, content is already part of the service you provide and attention is what they pay it with. Unless their attention is no longer valuable, don’t apply the pressure.

It’s true that extremes are an exception, not the norm. That doesn’t mean there’s no need to prepare in case a prospect falls under one or the other.

Lead Generation Tips – Leaving Prospects On Their Own

Keys To Being Social: Be Present

Are we in a race to be noticed?

Do we take time to really enjoy the moment we’re in?

Recently, during a Women In Business Today interview, Kittie Walker of Avidmode brought up an interesting point.

“Networking events aren’t speed dating.” Kittie Walker (24:22)

She makes an excellent point about having deep, meaningful conversations.

Of course, I had to apply that to social media.

I noticed a feeling that I’ve been behind on Facebook. I feel pressure to like and comment and I find myself scrolling – looking for things to like. So I like, and like, and like. Whew. I’m caught up.

What have I really accomplished?

I always go to my lists on Facebook first, primarily to notice posts from my family members. That said, there’s a feeling that I’m missing something. It dawned on me. I’ve become that jerk looking around the room for someone else to talk to while I’m in the middle of a conversation – the post right in front of me.

I don’t want to be that person. I didn’t start out as that person.

If there’s someone I’m truly curious about, I can always look up their name and see what posts I’ve missed by them. The last week or so I’ve just trusted Facebook to show me what they think I should see.

It’s not always easy to comment and, quite frankly, content creators and curators like myself, are always pushing our audience to read something then comment, but Kitty’s thought is in my head.

Isn’t it better for me to engage with this one person right now than to scroll-like-scroll-like?

And, if Person X always posts content you or I don’t like on Facebook then perhaps it is time to question the connection.

How does it make me feel when I’m ignored?

Am I really that busy or am I too lazy to read that article or watch that video?

These are real questions I have to ask myself.

Am I present or just online?

Keys To Being Social: Be Present

Community Content: Primed for Improvement

Community Content: Primed for Improvement image content primed ingoraphic blogpost imageAs you may have read last week in my colleague Brenda Todd’s post: Community Vibrancy – What Does it Take?, our team has been spending a lot of time studying communities – again! Our research in this area always focuses on two objectives: uncovering emerging approaches and determining alignment with best practices. One of the surprising findings in our recent research is the way that established branded communities are addressing or not addressing content. For the entire buzz about content being the key engagement driver for community sustainability, it seems practice does not always align with the talk.

Sad Social State

Of the 90 established brand communities that we studied, a surprising 98% did not aggregate content from their own social channels into their community. Best practice calls for the seamless integration of your social channels and online community. Integrating social content in your community helps to promote your community and attract new members. It also lets you leverage content from your social channels to meet community needs and respond to questions. What is almost as surprising is that 58% of the communities do not offer social sharing. Social sharing is a critical component to content marketing. Social shares of content via sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, Tumblr and other platforms help you to make the most of your content investment by expanding your content marketing reach. It’s a fairly easy function to add, and for community members who don’t want to develop content, social sharing provides them an easy way to participate.

Text Triumphs

One of the exciting developments over the last three years has been the increased ease in developing video, audio and graphic content. Community members have helped to ease the perception that everything must be studio quality and highly produced to be accepted. However, we were surprised to discover that 88% of the communities offered content only in text. That is not to say that some did not offer video or image libraries off property via a link. But when it came to content clearly developed for community members or content hosted within the community, text still prevailed. Perhaps this is reflective of the ease in developing text and the additional time and energy needed to convert information and insights into other formats or the growing practice of housing your knowledge portal outside of the community. Whatever the cause, this is clearly a case where communities do not seem to highly responsive to expressed consumption patterns.

Brand Bonanza

Perhaps our most surprising finding concerns the role of branded content in communities. In half of the communities studied, branded content dominates, with UGC representing 15% or less of the total content. This might be caused by the great difficulty in attracting and maintaining members interested in content creation. Brands have also been slow in adopting the curation of third-party content. No matter the cause, the high percentage of branded content can give the impression that the community is really just another brand website.

Given this abundance of branded content we expected it to be current, compelling and engaging. But, in 36% of the communities the featured branded content was not current. By current, we mean four weeks or older. While this means that 64% of the communities are keeping their featured branded updated at least every two weeks, we did expect greater alignment with this core and long established best practice.

Despite these findings, is important to note that there are still many things that branded communities do very well. But if the purpose of a blog is to create a dialog that promotes an exchange of ideas and information, I felt it was important to not to only celebrate the successes but rather to highlight to community strategists where opportunities related to content can be found, perhaps in their own backyard.

I hope you will use the comment box below to share your ideas and observations on how your community is performing in the above mentioned areas and where community content can grow and improve. Together we can explore how to help online communities realize their full potential.

*Data drawn from: Community Vibrancy Study: Alignment with and Opportunities to Adopt Community Vibrancy Best Practices. Lithium/ComBlu June 2014.

Community Content: Primed for Improvement image Community Content Primed for Improvement Infographic by ComBlu 456x600

Community Content: Primed for Improvement

To Click or Not to Click – That is the Call to Action Question

Everything on your landing page leads to this moment – – > inspiring your reader to click that call-to-action (CTA) button.

Your landing page has painted a specific vision of the wonderful future that awaits the reader once they click that button. Now it’s up to your CTA button to seal the deal. Does the button make it easy for your reader to click, or plunge him into a morass of Hamlet-like indecision?

The CTA copy on your button, while short, directly impacts your click through rate (CTR). The placement and design of your CTA button also have an impact, but here we’re going to focus on the text.

Pairing Nicely with Your Headline

To Click or Not to Click – That is the Call to Action Question image To Be or not to Be CTA

Good CTA copy shares some qualities of a good headline. You want to keep it short, less than 150 characters. You also need to give the reader a good reason to click. The underlying question of every headline and CTA button is – why should this reader click? What’s the value of taking action to the reader? While your headline teases with possibility, your CTA button copy answers that call.

Let’s take a look at Copyblogger’s membership landing page headline:

To Click or Not to Click – That is the Call to Action Question image Call to Action AuestionA 600x206

And now it’s CTA button:

To Click or Not to Click – That is the Call to Action Question image Call to Action Question CTA2 600x126

The headline makes the promise – you can become a content marketing expert! How? The CTA button answers – join Copyblogger Authority.

What does this mean for your CTA button copy?

First, it means that your CTA button copy isn’t going to accomplish much on its own. From the headline, to subheaders, to body content, your landing page has to be building the expectation and anticipation of the real value your visitor will receive for taking action.

The CTA button is there to seal the deal, not to make it.

So your CTA button’s copy must align with the benefit promise of that page’s headline and copy. Ideally, you’ve clarified the interests and pain points of the specific audience for this specific landing page in order to write the rest of the copy. This is the same information to use when crafting your CTA copy.

Words, Words, Words

OK, let’s get to the actual words that work well:

Action-oriented verbs are always great places to start. However not all commands are created equal. Since you want your CTA copy to explain the value of the action, command words that describe that value will often do better than action words that focus on what the reader has to do. In one case study, changing copy from “Order Information and Prices” to “Get Information and Prices” resulted in 14.79% increase in conversions. In another test on a SaaS landing page, “See demo” outperformed “Test it out.

Why? Because the outperforming options told the reader what they’ll – well – get. “Order” and “Test” put the onus on the reader, on what they must do and not on the value they’ll receive.

So instead of starting with an action verb that’s commanding the reader to do something, select an action verb that gives them something. Compare:

Example #1: “Request a free quote”v”Receive a free quote”

Include numbers. Numbers make the benefit quantifiable, which makes it more credible and real in your visitor’s mind.

Example #2: “Receive your ebook filled with carb-free recipes” v “Enjoy these 27 carb-free recipes”

Use the first person. The CTA button is all about the reader taking action, so put the copy in her perspective. Numerous tests have shown that using “my” instead of “you” boosts conversion rates. Let’s refine Example #1 this way: “Receive my free quote.”

A CTA’s Most Important Words: “A/B Test”!

If there is one default CTA word, it’s “Submit.” It accurately describes any landing page situation; your reader is submitting information. When HubSpot looked at over 40,000 of their customers’ landing pages, they found that CTA buttons with “submit” underperformed those without that word.

CTA words that did even worse? “Download” and “Register”

However, in a separate HubSpot test of one specific landing page, it compared “Download Now” against “Get My Free Ebook Now.” The results…. “Download Now” had triple the CTR than the other option.

Now all the testing reviewed to this point told us that “Get My Free Ebook” should have done better.

What does this mean for your CTA button copy?

Test, test, test. Our touchstone for all landing page copy, including the CTA copy, is that it’s specific to the needs and interests of that page’s targeted audience. So all best practices notwithstanding, the best practice for any given landing page is the CTA button that provides the best results.

Start with these solid guidelines and then test the hell out of it. Even if you’re happy with the CTR on one page, test out if it could be better.

CTAs That Don’t Lose the Name of Action

Here is your cheat sheet so your CTA copy keeps the currents flowing towards action:

  • Fulfill the specific promise of your landing page’s headline; this keeps your CTA copy aligned with the vision of benefits presented throughout the page

  • Start with action-oriented verbs that describe what the reader will get, not what they have to do

  • Including numbers enhances the credibility of the copy

  • Writing in the first person helps paint of the picture of what the value the action-taker will get

  • Continually A/B test

What CTA button copy is working best for you? What changes have you made to CTA button copy that moved things up or down? Let me know what your CTA copy is doing in the Comments area below.

To Click or Not to Click – That is the Call to Action Question image blog banners04 600 2505

To Click or Not to Click – That is the Call to Action Question

Video Content Strategy: Making the Right Monetary and Time Investments

Video Content Strategy: Making the Right Monetary and Time Investments image VashiSharknadoPremierePro 300x190When it comes to editing, be it B2B video content, 30-second commercials, documentaries or feature films, it pays to be organized and to have clear goals in place.

I find myself constantly reading up on how other creative people do what they do because it helps me wrap my head around the next project I’ve got coming up. And sometimes the best advice and most valuable lessons come from unlikely sources.

Today, I’m offering up what I feel are some hugely helpful takeaways from the experience of one Vashi Nedomansky (from here on, I will refer to him by his first name because it’s a lot shorter than his last name and I feel the freedom to take that editorial license).

Who is Vashi, you might ask? Well, his most recent project that you might be familiar with was seen by 3.9 million U.S. television viewers on July 30th and subsequently aired in 86 countries around the globe. One month later, it was screened for one night only in more than 500 U.S. theaters.

It was Sharknado 2 . Trust me. Keep reading.

I know you’re asking yourself, “What does some crazy, absolutely ridiculous shark attack B-movie have to teach businesses about video content strategy?” The answer is: a lot. For our purposes, we’re going to focus on three key takeaways from a recent blog post written by Vashi.

#1 Equipment is not as important as the people using it

While Vashi edited Sharknado 2 and was not on set actually filming the movie, he points out that the flick was shot using a RED Epic as the main camera, the Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera as the B-cam, and several other pick-up shots done with the Canon 5D Mark III and Canon 7D.

Now, say what you will about insanely implausible B-movies like Sharknado 2, but the image quality of the shots is rarely if ever overlooked by the studio. There are sure to be some comical special effects, but when you watch the movie you will see an excellent image from a technical standpoint, plain and simple.

Rewinding to that list of cameras I gave you, let’s take a look at their price tags. The RED Epic rings in at (minimum) $15K+, and that’s without additional lenses. The rig used for Sharknado 2 likely cost at least somewhere north of $50K (my estimation, not Vashi’s). The Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera is much more affordable for your low-budget filmmaker at $2K, but again, top-tier lenses can add thousands, even tens of thousands, to that number. Next, we have the Canon 5D Mark III which clocks in at a little over $3K to start (also without lenses), and the Canon 7D at just over $1K.

What’s my point in all of this? Here it is: nine out of 10 people who watch Sharknado 2 would not be able to tell which camera was used for which shot. That doesn’t mean that the gear you use is not important, because it absolutely is. Specific cameras and lenses will perform better under specific circumstances, and there is never a single catch-all solution. But this goes to show that you can create compelling video content that looks great on a budget. You don’t have to spend buckets of cash on a RED Epic to make a great video.

#2 Find a structure that works for you and embrace it

According to Vashi, The Asylum (the studio behind the Sharknado movies) produces about 50 full-length features each year, and hasn’t lost money on a single one. That’s because they have a very organized process for production and post-production that guides everyone from start to finish and allows them to be as efficient as possible with their resources, including the most precious ones: time and money (take a look at his blog post for more information on how the post-production workflow was set up).

Businesses looking to build video content strategies need to find the processes that works best for them, put them in place and work to educate employees on how to use those structures. It’ll take some trial and error, but you’ll get there.

#3 It always takes longer than you thought it would

This one isn’t meant to sound negative, but it often takes brands a while to realize how much time and effort goes into video content. It’s absolutely an investment worth making, but you need to understand what that investment entails and plan accordingly. Educating your staff is a big component of that.

In his blog post, Vashi mentions that Sharknado 2 had eight acts that were about 10 minutes long each, and that he typically focused on one act per day throughout the six-week post-production process. An entire day was taken up by just 10 minutes of footage. And don’t take this to mean that those 10 minutes were finished in one day. It was just what he focused on for that day.

Each editing job will vary in terms of shot complexity, amount of footage, pacing needed to tell the story, etc. Often you’ll find yourself up against tight deadlines and you simply have to get the job done, but whenever possible, give yourself as much lead-time as you can to avoid major issues.

If you keep these three things in mind, you’ll start to develop a more efficient way of creating quality video content for your business, something that is completely attainable yet rarely realized by the majority of brands today.

Video Content Strategy: Making the Right Monetary and Time Investments

How Inspired Branding Built the Most Valuable Brand–The British Royal Family

When Kings and Queens could simply say, “off with his head,” the problems were solved. However, when King John signed the Magna Carta and his powers were limited for the first time, he had to start thinking about “hearts and minds.” For a few hundred years, the British Royal Family was often not good at dealing with their power, and many continued to rebel while some were even executed.

When in the Mid-18th Century the power was even more limited, and essentially eliminated by the 19th Century, the image was all and had to be cultivated. Most other Royal Families failed to create an image or inspired branding that went beyond their actual powers and were swept away by external forces or pushed into minor roles in their countries. The British Royal Family was different.

How Inspired Branding Built the Most Valuable Brand–The British Royal Family image Untitled5

By the time the Kings and Queens of Britain had become figureheads, they had seen many Royal Families toppled, and more were to come. So, in those long ago days—before anyone talked about “branding”—they invented a Brand. Their Inspired Branding came with all the logos and graphic design we now take for granted. A complicated brand identity was developed to go with it, from Coats of Arms to Royal Seals and Warrants.

However, the Inspired Branding only worked because the imagery was in place.

There are several key components of the Royal Brand with each one deliberately developed:

  • Keep alive magical stories from the past—from King Arthur to Queen Elizabeth—plus more recent stories such as King George V with his consort, Queen Elizabeth, living in London during the Blitz and visiting bombed out families following attacks.

  • Follow a tradition of Honor and Service, from Queen Victoria to Queen Elizabeth.

  • Coopt the troublemakers, such as Princess Margaret or Prince Harry to make them lovable. Serious threats, such as Princess Diana, have to be almost sanctified.

  • Develop lots of beautiful pageantry and ceremony, even if some have to be made up. Many of the ceremonies we have seen on TV are 20th century inventions, choreographed for the cameras.

  • Use the multiple family generations to appeal to different targets. Babies, produced regularly, are essential.

  • Carefully pick the members of the extended family who are popular or telegenic to boost reach of the Brand.

  • Create apparent transparency while maintaining mystery.

  • Use the Brand to sell appropriate products, from Burberry to Range Rover—or even roofers.

How Inspired Branding Built the Most Valuable Brand–The British Royal Family

Economic Times’ Employee Social Media Contract Negates the Right to Speech!

“Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions” – William O. Douglas.

Compulsion and Control have always been seen in a negative light. For a company of Bennett & Coleman’s stature to take over the identities of their employees and use it as the company’s sole property through social media is perhaps one of the most ridiculous actions within the backdrop of corporate responsibilities of an employee.

Since the dawn of Social Media, the freedom to speech has been seen in a new light. Creating earned media, blogging, self-publishing, viral news have all been a part of exercising the role of a citizen journalist. This freedom is the one reason that the world has been attracted to the most social form of media and relied on it for voicing opinions which they have otherwise been restricted to do through other forms of media. This has sometimes been wrongly put to use considering the disruptive human mind but has mostly been a great tool.

I make a firm point about the freedom of speech particularly in this story because this is now being violated by another media company, Economic Times, where employees are being forced to sign a contract with the company which states:

“Recognizing the growing importance of social media, you and the company are mutually desirous of creating a user account by the name of “The Economic Times/ET” on the Facebook/Twitter/Google+ websites/mobile platforms (the ‘user account’). It is understood that you shall make regular posts on the user account which will involve various material and works created by you, while in contract with the company.”

The word ‘Desirous’ is simply outrageous considering it is a forceful contract and journalists have been vary of signing it. One of them who spoke to us off the record said,

“The policy is suffocating, and I didn’t realize they would have the right to publish anything via my account.”

Stealing Identities and Opinions?

This is a strong case of stealing an identity of an individual and using it as company property in order to garner more reach for the brand. On moral ground this is strictly not acceptable.

Social Media is simply the art of connecting and building relationships online between brands and consumers, publications and readers and among various communities. If this is treated as a vehicle to take over employee accounts and use it for brand benefits, the sole purpose of expressing individual opinions through social media stands questionable.

However, this is probably not a one of a kind employee contract in the world.

We also spoke to a lawyer who has shed light on legal grounds. Dushyant K Mahant, Founding Partner, Mahant & Mahant Advocates said,

“A company is well within its rights to secure the content originating from their employees while using resources of company. At the end of the day, user is a face of the Company online. There have been instances when after an employee leaves, the Company claimed right and title to the twitter id which the user made and used while employed with the Company. The id also had initials of the Company.

In any industry, however, there cannot be a blanket ban from posting some content which the user wants to share. If an associate of mine finds some interesting article from other law firm’s blog, I will encourage her to circulate it. This is healthy interaction. After 1947, India has become a free Country, last I checked.

A policy restraining Journalists from posting content from a rival publication can be only termed as absurd and gross non application of mind. Moreover, when the Company reserves the right to post anything from user’s account, it only means that Company will be spamming us. I will not follow any such user who behaves like a bot online.

All this cannot be termed as healthy as it is completely one sided favoring the Company.”

The fact that sharing content on Facebook and Twitter is inevitably a part of human nature (users share what interests them the most), be it in form of a news, picture or video, being restricted by the company, leaves me to a conclusion that this is the only thing that can be worse than a hash-tag contest to gain eyeballs on Twitter and Facebook.

We will keep updating this story as we continue to get quotes and news updates.

Economic Times’ Employee Social Media Contract Negates the Right to Speech!

The 5 Types of Writer’s Block in Marketing – and How to Overcome Them

The 5 Types of Writer’s Block in Marketing – and How to Overcome Them image bigstock Stressed Student Or Businessma 54684917Writer’s block is a phantom that can haunt or even halt productivity. Some say it doesn’t exist, some say it’s an entirely real entity, but the truth is it’s both. Writer’s block is a living paradox that exists in the dead space between thinking and acting. You know what you have to do, but you can’t seem to do it. Denying writer’s block, though, only prolongs the impasse; to defy it, you have to face it head-on because it’s all in your head. Fortunately, writer’s block only comes in a few forms, and when it suddenly appears, you can identify it using the list below, and break on through to the other side…

1. Self-Doubt Demons:

This is probably the most common manifestation of writer’s block. You feel like you can’t write at all because you fear that what you might write won’t be good enough. You don’t trust your creative abilities and so you spiral into a vicious circle of self-doubt. It’s a problem of expectations verses reality.

Don’t fret, this is actually pretty normal, especially in content marketing where Aberdeen research shows 92% of marketers believe creating high-quality content to be either valuable or very valuable to their organizations, but only 54% of the same group rank themselves as effective or very effective at achieving this goal. Perhaps self-doubt is one of the contributing factors to this discrepancy.

The means to exorcise the self-doubt demon form of writer’s block, however, is to simply understand that everyone has off days, or doesn’t always perform as expected, and in turn, regain the confidence and courage to push on and put pen back to paper.

2. Creativity Congestion:

What happens when you’re on a highway with too many cars and not enough lanes? You can go from 65 to a standstill in a matter of seconds. Like highway congestion, creativity congestion happens when you have too many ideas or concepts and not enough avenues to express them all at once. For marketers, in particular, it’s easy to have too much going on in a given moment to focus on any one thing. In fact, research from MarketingProfs and the Content Marketing Institute highlights that the average B2B content marketer uses six social media channels, and the majority of B2B content marketers (over 57%) all actively employ ten or more different content types. Pair this with best practices like aligning content to specific stages of the buyer’s journey – which Aberdeen research shows to yield 73% higher conversion rates for those who use this tactic, verses those who don’t – and it’s clear how such considerations can congest your flow of creativity.

Just as highway backups break up after the bottleneck, to get by creativity congestion, you have to focus on one lane, namely just what you’re writing in the moment, and make solid progress before beginning to expand on other ideas.

3. Apathy Apparitions:

Whether you’re writing a novel for a publisher or a highly technical one-sheet for sales, you still have to feel invested in your work. In this apathy-induced form of writer’s block, you feel like you can’t write because you can’t feel anything in what you’re writing. Sometimes it’s just a bland day, sometimes it’s a seemingly bland topic. Whatever the cause, you’ve lost that writing feeling…

To fight this form of writer’s block, you have to search for a feeling that will inspire you. On a recent webinar, I heard Ann Handley recommend getting over this blockage through more empathic writing; in other words, looking at your writing from the reader’s perspective. Try focusing on pain points and challenges faced by your buyer personas to remember why what you’re doing matters to them. If you can’t find a feeling of your own, try things other people may be feeling. Music is another great way to get hooked on a feeling, pick up good vibrations, and kiss the writer’s block goodbye, but whatever it takes, in this case, you need to actively bring back that writing feeling.

4. The Tension Tar Pit:

You could also call this form of writer’s block death by deadlines, or getting cooked by pressure, but overall, this tension tar pit happens when you get stuck in stressful conditions and can’t freely create. The more you struggle with the stress, the deeper you sink into feeling trapped or hopeless. This can be worsened when the stress isn’t just an internal deadline or expectation, but an external trend or condition. For 45% of marketers, for example, their top two reported pressures are the increasingly competitive business landscapes in which they operate, and the increasing customer demands and requirements they face.

When you find yourself in a tension tar pit, just as you would in a real tar pit, it’s best to just stop everything, relax, and compose yourself before you sink any deeper. This may mean stepping away for a minute, taking a walk, grabbing a coffee, or whatever it takes to stop your mind for enough time to pull yourself out of this sticky situation. When you break free from the stress, then you can break through this form of writer’s block.

5. Running on Empty Information:

On the surface, it would seem like there’s really no excuse for this form of writer’s block. When you feel like you can’t write because you don’t have enough information, the simple solution, of course, is to do the necessary searching, testing, and research to get the information you need. However, it can get complicated when you don’t feel confident in the information you have at hand, or in your ability to convey that information.

Think of a car with an empty tank sitting at a gas station – there’s plenty of fuel available, but you still have to actively fill it up. Similarly, having plenty of information available isn’t going to get your writing in gear again until you’ve internalized it. Whether that means talking through the information you’ve found with someone else, reading an explanation from a trusted expert, or trying to connect new facts to familiar experiences, you have to process what you’ve learned before you can confidently communicate it on a page. Once you’re confident in the information you have and your ability to convey it, this specter of writer’s block simply disappears.

Even with these tips, writer’s block can still be a speed bump in your creative process, but it doesn’t have to be a stopping point. Do you have any tricks to conquering writer’s block of your own? Please share your own insights in the comments below.

For more information on how the Best-in-Class get over writer’s block and produce compelling content marketing, download Aberdeen’s free report, 5 Habits of Highly Effective Content Marketers.

The 5 Types of Writer’s Block in Marketing – and How to Overcome Them

How to Write a Good Blog Post

How to Write a Good Blog Post image how to write a good blog post

Have you been told you need to blog, but you struggle to know how to write a good blog post? Do you feel like you’re starting from scratch while your competitors are leaps and bounds ahead of you in the blogosphere?

You’re not alone.

The first step to any successful content marketing strategy is a good blog post. Each blog post you write must get found on search engines, engage the reader, and offer something interesting. With all three of these ingredients, your blog gets found, read, and shared.

But blogging isn’t as easy as it might seem.

With 6.7 million people writing blogs and 12 million people using social media networks to blog the competition in the blogosphere is fierce. Crafting original content on a regular basis might seem close to impossible, but it’s not.

There’s a reason 77% of people online still read blogs. It’s because they are searching for information that hasn’t yet been created.

As you stare at a blank screen in front of you, consider these steps for how to write a good blog post.

1. Understand Your Readers.

The first thing you need to know is who is reading your blog. How to Write a Good Blog Post image buyer persona templateUnderstanding why they searched for your blog and how they found you is important. This understanding will guide your blog post writing so that you deliver on the information your reader hopes to glean from spending their time reading it.

Create a persona for your reader. Outline what the person reading your blog looks like, struggles with, and desires out of his or her relationship with you. Then, outline where he or she is at in working with you. Is your reader ready to buy? Is your reader just starting out in the process? Perhaps your reader is already a customer?

Understanding what brought your reader to your blog enables you to write something worth reading. It gives you the makings for a good blog post.

2. Start With the Headline.

There’s an art and science to writing strong headlines. Business coach, Michael Masterson, developed one of the best formulas for creating strong headlines that we’ve seen. All you have to remember when creating your headline is the 4 Us:

  • Urgent – Incorporate a sense of urgency into your headline to make the reader eager to know what you have to say right away.

  • Useful – But be useful. Offer something of value, so the reader knows that you’re going to answer his or her question in the post.

  • Unique – You must also stand out, so be unique. Make your headline intriguing and personal to your business.

  • Ultra-specific – Finally, be ultra-specific. Get down to the nitty gritty to explain what it is your blog post will cover.

When you create your headline before writing your blog post using these 4 Us as your reference point, you give your reader an outline of what to expect. These 4 Us also help guide your writing. It makes pulling the blog post topic together much easier in the following steps.

3. Open Your Blog With an Attention-Grabbing Story.

Before you jump into the meat of your blog post, you need to hook the reader. This happens in your introduction.

How to Write a Good Blog Post image first book e1408802927557

Storytelling is one of the best and easiest ways to capture the attention of your reader and earn his or her trust. Write a story about the topic at hand.

You can also ask a few questions to encourage your reader’s personal story to form in his or her mind. For example, the story at the start of this blog post asked you some questions. You probably answered yes to a few of those questions, which showed you that we understand your problem and that we have the solution to help.

4. Make Your Blog Easy to Skim.

Web readers rarely spend a large amount of time on one website. Sometimes a web reader is looking at your blog on his or her smartphone. Other times, your reader is busy and just wants a quick answer to a problem. No matter what’s the cause for the rush, web readers often skim a blog post to get the key points and then move forward.

Most web users don’t ‘read’ content word for word. They scan content, looking for elements of web pages that draw their eye and for keywords that connect with what they are interested in. As a result the way you design your posts can be the difference between someone actually ‘reading’ your post or just glossing over it. – Darren Rouse, ProBlogger

There are a few ways to make your blog post easy to skim.

  • Start with an outline. Write out the key points you will cover in bullet points or a list. Use these to organize your content so that it’s easy for the reader to move from start to finish with a good understanding of your thought process.

  • Use visual appeal. Don’t be afraid to bold, italicize, or underline certain parts of your post. This makes important points jump off the screen. It also guides your reader on the key points of the article making it faster and easier to read if he or she is in a rush.

  • Include images. Ever heard the expression, “A picture says 1,000 words?” There’s quite a bit of truth to that statement. Images can tell a bigger story. When used in your blog post, you share emotion, information, and facts in a format that’s easy to digest.

Reading a good blog post shouldn’t be a chore. Keep it straightforward so that your reader can get what he or she came for quickly and easily.

5. Tell the Reader What to do Next.

At the end of your post, tell the reader what they should do next. For example, do you want your reader to contact you? Do you want him or her to download a copy of your free report? Say it.

People like to have some direction. Don’t leave your reader guessing. Tell him or her how to get more information from you.

Now it’s our turn.

Blogging is only one component of a good inbound marketing campaign. Now that you know how to write a good blog post, it’s time to discover where that fits in with your big-picture content marketing strategy.

Download your free copy of our report, How to Run an Inbound Marketing Campaign. In it, you’ll get a roadmap of all of the ingredients you need to attract a flood of new business for you and your customers.

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How to Write a Good Blog Post

Do Content Marketers Need To Have Writing Skills?

Do Content Marketers Need To Have Writing Skills? image marketinglikeanewsroomIn my recent post on the top skills for content marketing strategists, I listed 7 skills you should look for when hiring a content marketing strategist.

The post was inspired by both my own challenge of filling the role inside a large enterprise brand.

It was also based on the large number of times I have been asked this question, especially recently, by mostly large brands.

I think there are many different ideas about what a content marketing strategist or content marketing team lead is or does in a corporate brand role.

What about journalists?

There were a few comments in that post that questioned whether content marketing strategists should have writing skills. Janette Lonsdale simply stated that content marketing strategists should have writing skills.

Gordana Stok went a little further and asked why writing skills weren’t on my list. She felt that the ability to take a story idea, interview stakeholders and put pen to paper should be on the short list of important content marketing strategy skills.

First, I appreciate every comment I get. And actually appreciate the friendly challenging ones the most. So thank you Janette and Gordana for raising this question because I think it is a really good one.

I also believe that all businesses need to bring in qualified journalists to join the content marketing team. When the budget is there for deep, original content, journalists should be deployed either on staff or as part of an outsources news room. Same holds true for photographers, designers, videographers, and other talent.

But my post was about the skills needed for the content marketing strategist or team lead.

Do Content Marketers Need To Have Writing Skills? image NYT Journalists 1942Large brand vs. small business

I mentioned above that the context for me was large brands.

For smaller or even medium-sized businesses, content marketers need to wear many hats.

So in addition to the 7 skills I mentioned, writing is something I would look for in a smaller business setting.

It’s all about the mindset

In the post I included “Inbound Marketing Mindset” as one of the skills needed.

This includes understanding how to use digital platforms and analytics to gain reach using content. Hubspot calls this DARC skills (Digital, Analytic, Reach, Content) and this philosophy guided most of my hiring.

So not writing skills specifically, but an understanding of how to use content to drive business results.

Where’s your social proof?

I also included “Social Proof” as one of the skills. This could include experience building a social following with writing skills.

But I was saying that I looked more for the desire and willingness and passion to contribute to online conversations in any form.

In fact, I required my former team to write . But I did not hire them based on any past writing experience – only the attitude, if not the aptitude, for contributing in some way.

Do content marketers need to have writing skills?

For large brands, I would say not necessarily. Especially if you need a dynamic business person who can lead change in the organization.

I have seen a few brands struggle by trying to turn former journalists into content marketing strategists. Do they have a place on the team? Absolutely. Do journalists have the ability to strategically run and manage a content marketing team? Yes! If they have a good portion of the other skills I mentioned.

I think if we’re talking about a small or midsize company, or an agency, then the strategist should be able to point to some writing experience.

Now if we broaden the question to content marketers in general, I would say writing skills are a huge plus. I would prefer it but until content marketing becomes a mature discipline inside large brands, I think we need change agents over writers if I had to chose.

Now tell me what you think?

Here are the 7 skills I mentioned in that original post +1 bonus skills if you missed them:

  1. Digital Strategy: Experience and ideally management of the resources responsible for the publication of a brand’s content through social channels. More than just a community manager, you need someone who understands the channels your audience is using, knows the nuances and context for each, and knows how to maximize your company resources to drive impact across digital channels.

  2. Project management: Editors are project managers with a deep understanding of what your brand should be saying and how it should be saying it. I think you can teach editorial skills and you can train someone on your brand voice. But they need to have the ability to manage a plan and define a continuous publishing schedule (vs. campaign-based mentality).

  3. Analytics:

  4. Business Acumen: (Translate content marketing results into business outcomes)

  5. Content Strategy: (Combine original, curated, licensed and syndicated content to maximize reach).

  6. Inbound marketing mindset (Earn audience attention through search and social and convert it).

  7. Social Proof (the ability to build a social following through content)

(Bonus) A Sense of Humor: life’s too short to not have some fun.

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Do Content Marketers Need To Have Writing Skills?

Graduates: How To Answer Those Weird And Wonderful Interview Questions

I’m sure you’ll all be aware of the increasing competition between uni leavers to get a graduate job and believe it or not the poor recruiters are having a tough time differentiating you all as well. You may have been to a couple of interviews already or you might be a bit of a newbie to the career world – but there will probably come a time where you get asked the most bizarre question ever during an interview and find yourself wanting the ground to swallow you up!

When I was applying for a job – I went to an interview and got asked “If you were a kitchen utensil what would you be?” After going rather red to say the least – (and if I’m honest thinking to myself what kind of daft question is that) I somehow thought of an oven as I like to be at the centre of the action.

It can be really off-putting having a curve ball thrown at you like that and if you’ve just read that question and thought I would have no idea how to answer that – then have a look at my top tips on how to tackle weird and wonderful interview questions!

1) Answer The Question

So imagine this… you get asked the most random question ever and you end up burning bright red from embarrassment and sitting there like a lemon not saying anything. This is actually the worst thing you could do – make sure you say something – even if you don’t think it’s quite right. They want to see how you deal with pressure and if they ask you what fruit would you be and why and you sit there silent it’ll show that you’re not the best under pressure – which is usually pretty important for a lot of employers because, like it or not, the working world isn’t always stress free.

Graduates: How To Answer Those Weird And Wonderful Interview Questions image question112) Research

You need to make sure you prepare for that slightly uncomfortable feeling you’ll get when you get asked a weird interview question so have a look online and see some of the weird questions that you might find yourself being asked. You probably won’t get asked the majority of them however it helps you to prepare for your reaction to a random question. This way you can keep your nerves at bay as much as possible because you’ll feel nice and prepared. It’s better to be prepared than feel like you’ve no idea what to expect – and sitting there, dwelling on the whole situation!

3) Keep Calm

In order for you to answer the question in the first place you need to try and keep yourself calm – a lot of these strange questions require you to think on the spot. If you’re sitting there in a massive tizzy then you’re probably not going to think of an amazing answer. So take a deep breath and try to think clearly – this way you’re much more likely to give a decent answer. If you’re struggling to keep calm then have a look at our post that helps you deal with interview nerves. Remember they’re testing how you react under pressure – so prove to them you can handle this rather horrible situation.

4) Keep It Relevant

I know the weird question may have taken you off guard a little bit – but it’s really important to link your answer with the job role. Make sure you’ve had a look at the job spec when you’re preparing – this way you can drop those buzz words in wherever you can! For example if they’re looking for a self-starter make sure you show this by talking about your ability to work independently. So remember no matter how much a question takes you off guard, keep on topic!

5) Justify Yourself

Your interviewer may ask you a logic question like “Would you rather fight a horse sized duck or 100 duck sized horses?” In this instance you need to take a second to actually imagine 100 duck sized horses! So take your time and think about the best way to answer this question. After you’ve thought about it make sure you show them your way of thinking – I’d probably say that horses have a tendency to kick so I would prefer 100 horse sized ducks as they would probably be less vicious. This way you show that you’ve broken down the question and justified the answer – remember there’s no actual wrong answer as long as you explain yourself!

So there we go – five tips to answer those weird and wonderful interview questions that may be thrown at you. Remember to stay calm and always answer the question clearly – good luck!

Graduates: How To Answer Those Weird And Wonderful Interview Questions

How to Reignite Your Business’ Online Image

Most business owners have experienced a “slump,” or when nothing seems to be working out for them and cash flow is at an all-time low. Whether this slump is caused by a natural disaster or daydreaming employee, the general mood of your office is pretty clear: Lethargic, unenthused and disappointed.

If that’s the atmosphere of your business, how do you think customers react when they consider whether or not to buy products?

A company’s negative (or positive) vibe can easily leech into its outward representative of itself, or image. To make sure this image isn’t destroyed by some sort of business crisis, there’s one rule companies need to follow: Never let the bad infect online marketing.

Online Marketing: 5 Ways it Saves Companies

If you’re ever in a circumstance where your business is struggling, the last thing you want to deal with is a negative rapport with customers, bad reviews and an all-around drop-off in online activity. Why the third? Because followers and web visitors are what make your online assets visible.

To make sure you’re always building up a solid image and stick to positive messaging, here are 5 guidelines for maintaining your online marketing campaign:

  1. Scheduling: How far in advance to you plan out your public relations, social media, blogs, and other online publications? In the event of a crisis, these things may be the last thing on your mind which can lead to a downward shift in activity. The quick fix? Work a week or two ahead! Any marketer will tell you it is much easier to focus on creating awesome content when they have the time to work in advance.

  2. Frequency: To follow up with scheduling content and posts, it’s important to follow through by interacting with followers, readers, likes, shares, and comments. Don’t let a slump distract you from what’s important (i.e. your customers).

  3. Controlled Media: Businesses control their own social media and content marketing. What does this mean? They are in a perfect position to control news. (No – not like 1984.) This allows companies to explain the situation and positively brand themselves at the same time.

  4. Long-Term Benefits: Social media and content marketing, especially, take a long time to build up. Why sacrifice weeks or even months of work if there is a business-related problem that’s out of your hands? Once your marketing is where you want it, it will be much easier to brand your company (see #3).

  5. Continued Interaction: Nothing says “we messed up” like radio silence from a business undergoing a disaster. As always, the best approach is to connect with your audience and see how they feel about a situation. It’s always better to be transparent, something that is much easier to do if you have impactful online marketing strategies in place.

What do you think? How else does online marketing benefit businesses?

How to Reignite Your Business’ Online Image

Back to SEO Basics: Why Relevant External Links Matter

As a knowledgeable and methodical webmaster, you know that optimizing your website is a constant effort and that the World Wide Web is always evolving. You may have spent several hours adding and updating Meta and titles tags, keyword-rich content, H1 header tags on top of pages, quality web content, alt tags for photos, and even building inbound links. One thing you’ve certainly learned through all of this is that in order to rise and remain at the top of SERPs — all is never enough.

Linking Out

Certainly one commonly overlooked, and sometimes feared, tactic is hosting external links to relevant websites within your own site’s content. You may already know that having authoritative sites that include a link back to your website can help generate traffic, leads, as well as increasing your rankings on SERPs. But, if we’re going back to basic, how exactly would linking out to other websites help you? And with the onslaught of websites that have fallen off the grid post-Google updates (Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird) for suspicion of trying to “game the system” – why on Earth would you want to risk having your website get penalized?

The answer is very simple: user experience. Search engines want you to provide relevant resources on your website that enhance your visitor’s experiences while surfing the web. Your dynamic content and lists of helpful resources will all add a great deal of value to your website in the eyes of your visitors…and the Googlebots.

Natural vs. Spammy Links

So, how can you distinguish between “natural” and “spammy” external links? It all depends on what you feel is useful and relevant to your website’s categories and topics. For example, if your website is geared towards sports, it would make sense to link out to other authoritative and relevant sport sites and pages that can enhance your visitor’s experience; whereas including a link to a dentist’s office would seem out of place (unless somehow the connection is legitimate). Of course, you also want to protect your visitors from sites that involve online gambling, payday loans, pharmaceuticals, or adult-oriented content. For more information on Googlebots and how they ‘see’ your site, check out our creative video on How Google Crawls the Web .

External links can also come in several shapes and sizes. Surely one of the more well-known tactics is to develop useful content that contains natural links out to other related sources and websites. Accepting authoritative guest posts is also a way to keep your site updated with unique content. Other examples of external links can be found in:

  • Resource Lists

  • Unlinked Brand Mentions

  • Infographics

  • Press Releases

  • Blog Feeds

  • Scholarships

  • Other relevant News and Updates

Back to SEO Basics: Why Relevant External Links Matter image Matt Cutts

Matt Cutts @mattcutts

Google’s head of Webspam team, Matt Cutts, continuously prompts webmasters to reevaluate the quality of their sites. However, Matt himself has admitted, “The web changes, it evolves; in particular, webpages that have gotten a lot bigger, there’s more rich media and so it’s not all that uncommon to have aggregators or various things that might have a lot more links.”

Now, let’s take a look at what some other industry experts are saying on this topic:

Expert Opinions

Back to SEO Basics: Why Relevant External Links Matter image Rand Fishkin

Rand Fishkin @randfish

Even way back in August of 2008, a long-time proponent of link building, Rand Fishkin of Moz created a list of reasons webmasters should link out to other sites. His list included the notion that by not linking out to other relevant authoritative websites “you could be costing yourself a small fraction of potential link juice…Readers and web visitors can derive value from the links you point to, and they can help to prop up the credibility & association of your own site.”

The following year in February of 2009, Fishkin wrote, “I (and many other notable SEOs) have seen very compelling evidence to suggest that not only does linking out NOT harm a site’s rankings, it appears to carry some positive correlations with ranking, trust, etc. on both a page and domain-wide level.”

Now after several major and minor algorithmic updates and a recent suspected site penalty that Google placed on Moz in July of this year, Fishkin continued his support of external links by adding, “In terms of Google ruining natural linking, I suspect that’s an unintended side effect of their efforts here. They’re trying to do a good thing – to show which links are causing them not to trust websites. But when they mark editorial links as inorganic, they inadvertently scare site owners away from making positive contributions to the web with the accordingly correct citation of their work. That’s how you get a Google-shaped web, rather than a web-shaped Google.”

Other supporters of linking out to external sites, like UK-based The SEO Company, states, “We believe that linking to useful websites doesn’t ‘leak’ traffic – quite the opposite in fact. Offering useful links actually makes visitors more likely to return to see what other interesting websites they might find in the future, a model that sites such as Digg and Fark are built around.”

Back to SEO Basics: Why Relevant External Links Matter image Elisa Gabbert

Elisa Gabbert @egabbert

Some experts don’t even see link building to be of any concern to Google in the near future. Earlier this year, well-known internet blogger and author Elisa Gabbert reasoned that “As people continue to find more creative ways to build links, Google will have to work harder to sort ‘good links’ from ‘bad links.’ And I predict that the next iteration of Google (or whatever search engine replaces it) won’t revolve around links – at the least, they’ll have a lot less weight in the algorithm as a ranking signal.”

Back to SEO Basics: Why Relevant External Links Matter image James Agate

James Agate @jamesagate

A recent 2014 Link Building Survey conducted by James Agate of Skyrocket SEO clearly demonstrates that, despite all of the confusion, links still matter with link building yielding the highest percentage of monthly spend in the $10-$50k range; which is up more than triple the amount within this bracket from last year. Agate concludes, “the fact remains that if you want to score big with decent organic search visibility then you need links.”

Back to SEO Basics: Why Relevant External Links Matter image Kaila Strong

Kaila Strong @cliquekaila

Want even more proof? Our own Kaila Strong, Senior Director of SEO Services, recently conducted a survey across several link builders in the industry on The Best Link I’ve Ever Built! . Based on the huge number of success stories, we can say with much certainty that link building is NOT dead!

Quality Checklist

Whether you stand on either side or somewhere in the middle, it’s still important to ensure that quality information is being provided on your website that is useful and beneficial to your visitors. Therefore, before linking to another website, you should consider the following list of qualifications:

  1. Is the link commercial in nature or does it offer a true benefit to your audience?

  2. Does the link make sense to you as a visitor to your own website?

  3. Is the other website relevant to the context of the proposed section or page?

  4. What is the current domain authority and page rank of the external website?

  5. What is the current domain authority and page rank of your website?

  6. Would you consider the other website to be “spammy” in nature? (Porn, Pills, Payday Loans, Online Gambling, etc.)

  7. Do you commonly link out to external websites like the one in question?

  8. Finally, does linking out increase engagement or interest from other participants and contributors?

Be the Authority

Overall, links are very important factors in keeping the World Wide Web spinning. The primary reason for offering external links on your site has always been, and always should be, for the benefit and knowledge of your visitors . The whole notion of hosting external links in order to improve your SEO efforts should not be the sole purpose of engaging in this tactic. Yes you should do everything to improve your rankings on SERPs so that your visibility improves for people to discover your site through organic searches. However, relevant external links should be done in conjunction with everything else you’re already doing to achieve the status of being considered a true authority in your subject and help generate traffic to your site. If a link in question passes your quality control process and you feel that it would make sense to include it on your site – simply add the link and start connecting your site to the vast world of the interwebs.

Back to SEO Basics: Why Relevant External Links Matter