How to Get Discovered by Brands (GUEST POST)

Get Discovered By Brands

This is a guest post written by Tamar Weinberg, VP of Customer Success of influencer marketing platform The Shelf, a tool that ensures that brands connect with the most relevant influencers. The Shelf’s technology includes patent pending brand and ecommerce indicators.

Get Discovered By Brands

Are you a blogger looking to be discovered by a brand for collaboration opportunities? We totally understand the challenges you’re facing.

I’ve worked with a sizable number of bloggers in the past, having written a book on social media marketing with an entire chapter dedicated to blogging. Many people start their blog and come to me immediately after two or three posts, thinking that money and recognition will come immediately.

It won’t.

There are over 200 million blogs—and that’s just one platform. However, even though the space is extremely competitive, there’s a lot of noise and not enough signal. For you as a blogger, that’s a great thing. Discovery will take time but it is doable.

My key piece of advice for all people trying to start a blog: keep at it. Work really hard and post consistently.

But more so, network! Let other people discover you by engaging on their content. And above all, keep your attitude positive and your head held up high. These days, engagement on blog posts is low. Blogs in 2015 don’t get as many comments as blogs in 2010. However, as you keep up on blogging, your social proof as a personal brand will go up. Your Twitter follower numbers will rise. Your Facebook Likes will increase. You will be recognized by people who will be interested in who you are and what you do.

Now you have an established following and brands are taking notice. A few have reached out to you and want to work with you–but you may want to work with others. One of the biggest challenges you will have is how to effectively pitch and collaborate with brands. I totally recommend making the first move.

As long as you have the social proof, you’re in a position to effectively pitch and build upon these brand relationships that benefit both you and your brand. Here’s how we suggest that you build the relationships:

Do Your Research

Look at what other bloggers in your niche are covering. Are they working with other brands that may be interested in your audience as well? If so, take a look at how they’re collaborating with these other brands and feel them out. Was it a giveaway? Affiliate offer? Sponsored post? Once you have a solid understanding of what type of collaboration they are working with, you’ll have a solid foundation for formulating your pitch.

Take a look into the brand’s marketing initiatives. Are they working on any existing campaigns it may be helpful to align with? It may help to check out the brand’s social media channels where you may find promotional materials that help you learn about current campaigns that are worth participating in.

Develop Your Pitch

On top of your research, you may already have a few brands in mind that you want to work with. They could be products/services that totally jive with your audience and your interest level. By now, with both of these, you should have a pretty solid understanding of the types of collaborations that have been done before with the brand and other bloggers, if at all. (And if not, just make the first move and ask!)

Why does your blog align so well with their brand personality? It’s helpful to communicate this particular point in your pitch. To stand above the crowd, you may wish to get creative and offer some other ideas on other types of collaborations.

After you’ve jotted down your thoughts, create the pitch: include a short overview of who you are, how the campaign benefits the brand, and any deliverables you’ll give them. Make your email short and sweet, and if you’d like, include a media kit so that the brand knows about your audience, your social followings, and your positioning in the marketplace.

Be in constant contact

Assuming your pitch is good, those brands should be able to get in touch with you quickly. If they schedule a meeting or phone call to discuss the scope of the project further, take it. Be open to hearing as much as possible from them so that you fully understand their objectives so you know exactly what they’d expect from you and how you could realistically help them. By having this meeting, you should be able to get all the information you need to craft a formal proposal with requested compensation.

If they didn’t get back to you, try again. I hate to say how many times I’ve dealt with people who are good people but are just bad at responding to emails. Maybe they were reading your initial contact while under the covers at 11pm. Maybe they were in a meeting. (Maybe they suck.) But don’t be afraid to try again and be politely persistent until they respond. In fact, if you’re passionate about them, show them you’re already engaged with the content. Feature their brand in an article. Tag them on social media. Engage with their posts and show them your love of the product.

And if you’re already in communications with them, that’s a tipping point! Your blog has now become a professional medium, and it is important to be professional with your communications with these brands to keep these collaborations coming. This is the best step toward a long term relationship that benefits everyone and puts you in a great light.

Initially, it will feel like quite an intimidating process to be involved in this next step with brands. But at the end of the day, the brand gets visibility and you get some benefit through product, payment, and affiliation as well. After all, you’re an influencer. It would be silly not to interact with people who had the If you don’t have the courage to reach out, the opportunity may never present itself.

Four Personal Branding Secrets from Joy of Painting’s Bob Ross

Bob Ross

One of my pleasures — I wouldn’t even call it a “guilty” one — is recording The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross on my DVR, and then taking a nap while I watch. Bob’s voice is so smooth, so relaxing, I’m often asleep before he finishes showing all the colors across the screen.

If I could make three or four of them autoplay in a row, I’d slip into a coma.

Bob RossI’ve been watching the show for over 25 years (it started in 1983 and ran until 1994), because not only is he fun to watch, but because Bob teaches us important lessons, even if we never paint a single canvas. (Also, he filmed his shows at my alma mater, Ball State University, so I feel a sense of obligated pride.)

Lately, I’ve been watching and relistening, because a lot of what he says applies to personal branding and networking. Here are four lessons we can all learn from Bob Ross, he of the happy trees.

(Why four? Because if I had an odd number, one would be left out.)

1. Everyone Needs a Friend

Bob never paints just one of anything — one mountain, one cloud, one tree. He paints a happy little tree, and then he declares, “I think he needs a friend. We’ll put him right here.”

Everyone has a friend in Bob Ross’ world, and so it goes in our own. If you’re going to become an entrepreneur or grow your personal brand, you’ll need friends. We all need a network of support.

Whether it’s family and friends, community groups, colleagues at the coffee shop, or your online social networks, you need people to help you out. People who can shield you from the wind and give you someone to talk to when you think you’re out there all on your own.

Make connections with mentors, mastermind groups, networking groups, and professional associations. Find your tree friends and your support will be stronger just by having them around.

2. There Are No Mistakes, Just Happy Accidents

Bob never wanted people to worry about their quality of work when they were learning. The great thing about his method, he said, was that if you make a mistake, you just scrape it off and try again.

Even so, the mistake was still a learning experience. You learned from it, so you could do it better the next time.

As you grow your business or personal brand, you’ll make plenty of mistakes and bad decisions. You’ll start down the wrong path, spending hours or days on a project or problem, or in a business relationship, only to find you made the wrong choice.

So you go back and start all over. You scrape off what you did, and do it better the second time.

In the end, you fixed the problem, it looks good, and now you know more than you did before.

3. In Your World, You Do What You Want

Bob Ross - In Our WorldBob never worried that much about colors. Purple skies, green oceans, or on a recent show, everything — clouds, grass, even the water — was a different shade of brown.

One of the things I appreciate about owning my own business is that I get to do things the way I want. I hire who I want, I work when and where I want, and I take on the clients I want. The only thing I need to worry about are the results, not the process.

I’ve had employers, like my stint in the state government, where the process was more important than the results. As long as I was there from 7:30 to 4:00, it almost didn’t matter what I got done.

Sure, I had tasks that needed doing, but we weren’t beholden to shareholders, clients, or anyone who gave us money. As long as we all trudged on the same treadmill, the bosses were happy. That was a paint-by-numbers job if I’ve ever had one, and there was no room for experimentation or change.

Now that it’s my own world, the only people I need to keep happy are clients. And as long as I deliver what and when I promised, they’re happy. They don’t care if I work between 8 and 5, or if I’m working at 2 a.m. at home, or 2 p.m. in a coffee shop.

4. It’s That Easy

Every time I watch The Joy of Painting, I think I could actually paint like Bob. He describes different techniques, and occasionally murmurs, “It’s that easy. Just two hairs and some air. It’s that easy.”

When I see the outstanding work my friends are doing, I know I’ll never be a painter. But when Bob does it, I believe I can do it too.

Not only is his confidence in me contagious (he’s like Mr. Rogers for grown-ups), he shows that his method isn’t as hard as some of the more traditional methods.

He also explains that there are plenty of classes, resources, and even certified instructors who are there to help you out.

So it goes with entrepreneurship. While it can be difficult at times, it’s not like you’re recreating a multinational corporation from scratch in six months. Start small, start with what you know, and make sure you learn along the way. There are plenty of classes, resources, fellow entrepreneurs, and even certified instructors who are there to help you out.

Bob Ross may not be one of the best painters of our day, but I think there’s a reason his show is on 21 years after he died. His lessons and his techniques are applicable, not only to create your own art, but creating your own business and your own personal brand. Start watching him on your local PBS station or on YouTube, and see what gems you can pick up from Bob and his happy little trees.

Tax Deductions You May Miss as a Freelancer or Entrepreneur

Income Tax Monopoly Square

If you’re a freelancer or small business owner, and you’re only using the 1040 form to do your taxes, you’re doing it all wrong.

You’re missing out on some very valuable deductions and expenses you could take, and if you’re not using a professional, you’re leaving money on the table. If you find you owe taxes each year, you’re definitely not doing it right.

My advice: find a tax professional you can trust and talk to them about using a Schedule C with your 1040.

Income Tax Monopoly SquareThe general rule of thumb is, if an activity costs you money to do the thing you make money at, you can deduct it. For example, I make a few bucks as a travel writer for the state of Indiana. This means I can deduct any expenses related to my travel-writing trips, such as mileage and hotels. A writer friend makes money from, and is taxed for, his book sales. This means he can take deductions for any readings and book signings he drives to, especially if they’re overnighters.

You’re going to be taxed on your income already, so you might as well reduce the amount the government takes by declaring each and every expense related to it.

Here are four important deductions you may be missing as a freelancer, independent professional, entrepreneur, or small business owner.

1. Mileage Related to Work

If you drive to client meetings, conferences, or other work-related events, you can deduct the mileage. However, this doesn’t include mileage driving to and from your regular work; you can only count special trips. Keep track of all your meetings in a calendar, and then list all the meetings and mileage in a spreadsheet. Turn all that in to your accountant and they can take care of the rest.

Erik, how exactly do you think I do this? —Cary, your accountant

Cary, I don’t know. Voodoo or physics or something? I’m a writer, I don’t pay attention to this stuff. This is why I depend on you. —Erik

I use Google Calendar and Google Drive, and I use Zapier to export all my appointments to a Google Drive spreadsheet. From there, I can clean it up, delete all personal/non-paying appointments, and then pop in the mileage for each appointment. This saves me roughly three hours from trying to do it all by hand.

Note: You can also take the mileage out of the company as non-taxable expenses. But once you do that, you can’t take it as a deduction on your personal return because it will be deducted on the business return. If you drive 400 miles to and from a conference, that’s roughly $200 in expenses. You can take the $200 in cash, or you can deduct it on your taxes. Ask your accountant which would work better in your favor. And if you pay for your gas with the company card, you can’t deduct your mileage either.

2. Cable and Mobile Phone

If you work from home, and you rely on the Internet to do your work (and who doesn’t?), you can deduct your cable/Internet costs. The same is true for your mobile phone. If you have a mobile number for clients to call, that’s another business-related expense, which means you can declare it. And if you keep a work-only landline, that’s also tax deductible.

(However, you can also keep your phone costs down if you use Skype as your primary means of communication. This also lets you keep a personal-only phone, and not have to worry about that second phone, or trying to total up the number of work minutes versus personal minutes.)

Remember, you’re not allowed to deduct costs if you’re reimbursed for them in any way. For example, if you work as a remote employee, and your employer pays your cable bill, you can’t turn around and declare it yourself.

3. Office Space

I found a low-cost office to rent, and it’s something I recommend, if it’s available where you live. In Indianapolis, we also have the Speakeasy, which is a shared co-working space. Other cities like Fort Wayne and Evansville also have co-working spaces. If you pay a membership fee or rent to be able to use that facility, that’s considered a deductible business expense. (Working every day from a coffee shop is not considered a business expense, however.)

If you work from home, it is possible to declare your home workspace on your taxes, but it can be rather tricky. There are formulas, and if you use part of a room to work, you need to measure the workspace, and there’s a formula to apply and more of that voodoo physics stuff Cary knows about.

It’s a bit easier if you dedicate one room, like a basement office, to your workspace. But if it’s the desk in a corner of the family room, that’s a bit more problematic. Talk to your accountant, but be prepared to justify it to the IRS, because this often raises flags with them.

4. Food and Entertainment

This is a tricky one. It’s not like the old days when you worked for a company, and you could expense big fancy meals with important clients. Deducting food costs on your taxes can be a problem if you’re not careful.

For one thing, says Cary, you shouldn’t buy food for “working lunches” on the company account. (My wife says the same thing, so this may not be a tax rule so much as a Toni-and-Cary-are-conspiring-against-me ploy.)

One reason is that you can’t deduct the whole meal, only your half. You can’t just take people out to lunch and deduct the entire meal on your taxes. It can also raise red flags at the IRS if they see a lot of entertainment expense deductions on your taxes. So keep this kind of spending to a minimum, lest you feel the cold, probing fingers of an audit.

The problem with doing your taxes yourself is that you may not know the latest rules about deductions and expenses. Basically, if you find that you owe money when you file your taxes, you need to speak with a professional. While you’ll have to pay the accountant, if you’re making a full-time living as a freelancer or entrepreneur, you could find your tax return is much bigger than what you could get doing it on your own.

Special thanks to my own accountant, Cary Hudson of Ashworth Accounting Services for helping with this blog post (and my business!). Cary is a CPA who lives and works in Carmel, IN. He specializes in working with small businesses for their tax and bookkeeping needs, and he’s saved me from hours of headaches for the last six years.

Photo credit: Alan Cleaver (Flickr, Creative Commons)

12 Marketing Strategies Defined

Salesology Cover

If you’ve ever wondered what all the different types of marketing — content marketing, inbound marketing, push marketing — actually mean, wonder no more. Here is the basic definition of what each of these are, and what they do.

Salesology Cover

Marketing Style

Definition

Content Marketing

Marketing

Digital Marketing

Marketing

Direct Marketing

Marketing

Inbound Marketing

Marketing

Internet Marketing

Marketing

Mobile Marketing

Marketing

Online Marketing

Marketing

Outbound Marketing

Marketing

Push Marketing

Marketing

Relationship Marketing

Marketing

Social Media Marketing

Marketing

Word-Of-Mouth Marketing

Marketing

 

When you get down to it, marketing is marketing. We can put all kinds of fancy names on it, or do some mental gymnastics to make it seem like one type of marketing is so much different from another. But all marketing does the same thing: convince people to buy your product. They just have different names to achieve the same goal. (And if we’re being truly honest, they’re not that different from each other.)

If you want to hire a marketer, hire someone who knows marketing. There’s no one method better than another, there’s no one special strategy that will be a magic bullet to your particular need.

And when it comes to online/social media marketing, you’d better make damn sure your marketing agency has extensive marketing experience, and isn’t just well-versed in using the latest shiny new social media toys.

Photo credit: James Prochnik (Flickr, Creative Commons)

12 Techniques to Improve Your Writing in 2015

Tom Waits in Prague, 2008 (Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

It must be frustrating for beginning writers who want to hone their craft, but aren’t given much direction beyond “write every day,” and “read a lot.” It’s been my experience that if you want to improve your writing, you have to start with one tactic and do it every day.

But which ones? What order should you do them in? Are they all important?

Here are the 12 big ones I see a lot of beginning writers need to work on. We’ll start simply and move from there.

Start with the first one, work on it all through January. Make it a habit, and learn to not only recognize it in your writing (and others’), but learn to recognize it before you put it down on paper. Practice the technique on everything you write, not just your “special writing time.” In your blog posts, your emails, your monthly TPS reports. Everywhere.

As you work these writing muscles, you’ll find you’re tightening your writing everywhere you put pen to paper and finger to keyboard.

  1. Get rid of That: This is the first place that I have most new writers start. This is one of the worst habits that we get into as writers, but it’s easy to spot and break. It’s not incorrect, but it makes your writing loose and clumsy. If you can strike it out, and not affect the sentence, do it.
  2. Avoid other filler words: This is much harder to do. I’ve spent the last 15 years of my writing career working on this particular habit, and I’m still not great at it. I usually take 2 – 3 edits before I’m satisfied with the final result.
  3. Eliminate adverbs and adjectives: Don’t describe verbs, use a descriptive verb. If you use words that end in -ly, chances are, you can get rid of them, and replace the offending verb too. Instead of saying someone “eats noisily,” say “they chomped their food.” So it goes with nouns. Rather than describing the noun, like “the thick hamburger,” rewrite the sentence to show how thick it was. This brings us to our next technique. . .
  4. Tom Waits in Prague, 2008 (Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

    Tom Waits in Prague, 2008 (Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

  5. Show, don’t tell: Eliminating adverbs is fairly easy. Eliminating adjectives takes a little more work. Instead of describing how thick a hamburger is with a bunch of adjectives, try this: “Jason always bragged about the size of the hamburgers at this place, but I never believed him until I heard my jaw pop when I tried to eat one.”
  6. Metaphors & similes: Once you’ve started down the slippery slope of showing-not-telling, start using metaphors and similes. They help you explain complex ideas or add punch to your writing. For example, Tom Waits’ song “Putnam County” is rife with powerful metaphors. He describes roads as “asphalt dance floors,” talks about women with “swizzle-stick legs jackknifed over naugahyde stools,” and how a band “moaned in pool hall concentration.”
  7. Practice Dialog: The ultimate in showing-not-telling. When our kids were little, we told them they would learn a lot more by listening to conversations than interrupting and asking questions. You can reveal ideas and thoughts to your readers without ever explaining a thing just by making them pay attention to conversations. Learn to master dialog.
  8. Stop talking to your reader: You’re writing to them, but don’t talk to them. Stop nudging them with parenthetical asides, like you’re sharing a secret (I know, I know, you’re probably asking “what do you mean?”) <-- THIS! This right here! Stop doing that! It adds extra words to the piece, and doesn’t actually help the story. Plus, it’s an amateur move.
  9. Write like people talk: Like Elmore Leonard said, if what we learned in school interferes with our writing, tough shit. It means to adopt an informal tone. Use contractions and end sentences with prepositions. It means to use words normal people use, not markety language or legalese.
  10. No more business jargon: Do you speak in business jargon? Do you say phrases like “we have to recontextualize mission-critical relationships?” If you don’t, then don’t write that way either.If you do, this is why no one likes you.
  11. No infinitives or gerunds: If you have a habit of ending words with -ing, edit and shorten to eliminate them. They don’t add to your writing, but their absence can enhance it.
  12. Avoid nonsexist language: I hate he/she and him or her, and s/he is not even a word. Nonsexist writing can be some of the worst and hardest to read. Instead, alternate between male and female examples and terms. If you use a “he” in one example, use a “she” in the next. Or, use the singular “they.” Writers shouldn’t be judged just because they chose one gender over the other, as long as they balance it out. If you alternate between “he” and “she” over your general body of work, you’ll be okay.
  13. Use specific examples, not vague generic ideas: As my friend and owner of The Geeky Press, Brad King, says “don’t tell me about a dog dying. Tell me about the day your dog died.” If you call yourself a storyteller, this is the way to do it. People respond to actual stories, not vague babblings about lofty concepts.

Did I miss anything? What other techniques have you done? What would you suggest for next year? Leave a comment and let me know what writing techniques you want to work on.

Blogging and eCommerce: Guest Post by Lloyds of Indiana

Lloyds of Indiana Photo

My partner, Paul Lorinczi, left Professional Blog Service in 2013 and went to work for Lloyds of Indiana, a former client of ours. I’m pleased to be able to share this guest post written by Garry Jones, owner of Lloyds.

Years ago, Professional Blog Service came to us and suggested we start blogging to support our eCommerce site. We are an online retailer of Print Finish Equipment. We supply print shops and small offices with things like binding machines, binding supplies, laminators, laminating supplies and some larger equipment like uv coating machines and the uv coating fluids that go with them. It’s pretty boring stuff, yet highly technical. We were skeptical like most people. You would not think that blogging would be worth doing, but it ends up being a primary driver of traffic.

Lloyds of IndianaProfessional Blog Service set us up with the Print Finish Blog. It was one of the best things we ever did. The Print Finish Blog is one of the biggest referrers of traffic to our eCommerce site. We offer tips on servicing laminating machines, how to best manage your uv coating machine, what uv coating fluid works best. We try to help people assess the cost of operating certain machines and their economic benefits for automating. See, many buyers are looking for in-depth knowledge of how their purchase could benefit or not benefit their business. Bombarding people with marketing material only will not help them in the end.

So, what is the benefit? The majority of traffic to the Print Finish Blog is through organic traffic. Since, people searching are using long tail keywords, the blog content gets good positioning in the search engines. While most of the content is non-marketing, the blog does provide links to the lloydsofindiana.com website. So, on average, we can get 25% of our traffic referred from our blog properties in addition to organic traffic. Often times, those blog visitors end up becoming customers. They tend to be buyers. The one constant that is true today as it was 10 years ago, buyers use keyword phrases, shoppers use keywords.

The Print Finish Blog has been good for business. Blogging for eCommerce can help find those buyers out there. It pays to become an authority in your space. Professional Blog Service helped us see the light years ago and it has paid off.

5 Social Media Trends All Writers Should Follow in 2015

Visual diagram of a social media campaign, with blogging at the center

This is a special guest post written by Hilary Smith, a recent graduate of Medill School of Journalism. Always one to help young writers, I’m pleased to offer this on her behalf.

As we approach the holiday season, we also come to the end of another amazing year of technology and the continued growth of social media. The year 2014 brought us the iPhone 6, but more importantly gave us new technological advances in brain mapping, better mobile collaboration and more agile robots.

Visual diagram of a social media campaign, with blogging at the center

Writers need social media. It may be a distraction, but it’s also the only way you’re going to build your readership. Unless you’re John Grisham or Stephen King.

Entering 2015, we need to pay closer attention to the hottest new trends that are forecasted to affect the Internet, especially authors, bloggers and other online writers. The death of Google Authorship can mean the rebirth of other new social media strategies that we can embrace to pump up our readership.

Here are five important trends that wordsmiths should follow for 2015:

1. Go Mobile or Go Home

Long ago, author and famed environmentalist Roger Tory Peterson wrote: “Birds have wings, they’re free, they can fly where they want, when they want, they have the kind of mobility many people envy.

Today we have mobility that can surpass our feathered friends when we can circumnavigate the globe in mere seconds with our hand-held mobile devices. Practically everyone today is carrying a tablet or smartphone so make sure all of your material is mobile friendly.

2. Million Dollar Eye Candy

Okay, I just made this one up but I’ve also seen it paraphrased online, “If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video offers a million more.

All of your posts should include a visually stunning, attention grabbing picture or embedded video to capture your audience’s attention. Social media traffic is heavy and it always seems like rush hour, so to get your reader to stop at your piece by giving them something appealing to look a first. If anyone still uses the Yellow Pages or reads a newspaper, it is the difference between trying to find a small amount of text or viewing a full page advertisement.

3. Don’t Be a Show-Off

French Philosopher Henri Bergson stated, “The only cure for vanity is laughter and the only fault that is laughable is vanity.

Don’t over-promote yourself or your material. Sure, it’s okay to be excited when your book first launches, but then you need to back off. Learn to become a teacher and advisor rather than a salesperson by giving free webinars and chatting it up in HangOuts.

4. Respond – But Stay Positive or Stay Silent

This one comes from my Dad and perhaps one of your parents, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

The same goes for social media, don’t show anger and resentment or respond to nastiness in any way. If someone blasts your work with something negative, ignore them. If they attack you a second time, block them. On the other hand, when someone leaves a positive comment, respond to it. Remember, you’re not delivering a sermon, you’re opening a dialogue.

5. Greater Integration of Messaging

Our tools are not improvement to modern society, they are a challenge to it.” — Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations

Platforms like Twitter and Facebook naturally serve as great messaging tools, but when integrated with an event promotion strategy, social media can amplify your message and encourage attendee posts before, during, and after the event to create anticipation and buzz.

Another way to help boost your readership is through the use an “Influencer.” This is where focus is placed on key individuals rather than the target audience as a whole. By identifying those individuals who can influence your potential readers, we gain even further exposure by “piggybacking” on their popularity and exposure.

Much in the same way that Father Time gives way to the New Year’s Baby, stone tablets were replaced long ago with social media just as our bound and printed books are now available online. Don’t be a prehistoric penpal, engage with your readers successfully online through social media.

 

About the author:
Hilary Smith is a graduate of Medill School of Journalism, and specializes in telecommunications. She also covers social media, VoIP technology and globalization. You can find her on Twitter at @HilaryS33.

Screw the Long-Term Strategy! Smart Content Marketing is Agile

Newsjacking chart

There’s an old story about an architect who was hired to design an entire campus of buildings surrounding a large empty quad. When the buildings were done, the administrators asked the architect to lay out a series of sidewalks between buildings.

He decided to wait instead. As he waited, people walked between the buildings, finding their own way, eventually wearing the most efficient paths into the grass. Then the architect had the sidewalks installed on the paths the people had made, saying they were more efficient and useful than anything he could have created himself.

How many times have companies created a long-term strategy for content marketing or social media marketing, only to scrap the entire plan after two weeks because of a crisis or major event.

I’ve talked with companies that will schedule everything — blog posts, Facebook updates, and even individual tweets. I’ve seen spreadsheets of scheduled tweets, three per day, five days a week, which took days and weeks to create, all thrown away because of a change in a law, regulations, or even a CEO or CMO.

There are plenty of reasons to have a long-term strategy, but plenty more reasons to avoid the strategy and be more agile. Here are five ways you can be more agile with your content marketing.

1. Create a topic checklist.

Marathon Checklist signFor some clients, we’ll blog about particular topics each month, but the actual titles of the blog post are wide open. We’re more concerned about the general theme of the month, but we don’t script each individual post. For example, a men’s clothing line might have a topic checklist like this:

November

  • 2 posts on dressing warm for winter
  • 2 posts on hats
  • 2 posts on scarves
  • 2 posts on winter suits

The blog posts themselves could be about how to wear a suit in the bitter cold, which kind of hat to wear to the office, the proper way to tie a scarf, and what materials are warmest in the winter.

This method lets the content marketing manager decide what to write about, taking input from product managers, as well as PR and marketing staff. It’s also flexible enough to change if problems or news stories arise. For example, if hats became suddenly more popular, they could drop a couple posts on suits and scarves, and write more about hats.

2. Watch your analytics

Google AnalyticsGoogle has stopped telling us what keywords bring people to our blogs, but you can still get a good idea by looking at the pages that get the most traffic. If you spot a pattern, you’ll understand what people are turning to you for. This means you should put more energy into those topics.

Keep an eye on your Google rank as well. Use a service like WebCEO to find your true Google rank for certain keywords and topics. Write about the areas you want to shore up, as well as write more about the things you want to improve.

3. Answer customer service and tech support questions

People who ask questions are usually a smaller subset of people who have a particular problem. That is, if 10 people ask a question, there may be anywhere from 100 – 250 people with the same problem. Write blog posts and create videos to answer those questions. As people search for the answers to their questions, they’ll find your content and visit your site.

Search your email for questions that start with “how do I. . .” Talk to your customer service department to find out what people are calling about. Rewrite and publish FAQs and tech support knowledge forums into blog posts. Use screencasts and videos to show people how to complete a particular process or fix a problem.

4. Monitor the industry news

As David Meerman Scott says, newsjacking is about injecting your ideas into a breaking news story. It’s about becoming the “second sentence” in a news article.

Newsjacking chart

As soon as you hear about breaking news in your industry, write a response story that includes your take and your ideas on how it affects your customers and your industry. It should be the second sentence in your blog post or press release. At the very least, your customers will appreciate you alerting them to the issue. At best, journalists will see you as one of the authorities on it, and call you for a response.

Be a voracious reader of little-known and industry insider sites. Create RSS feeds of your industry’s thought leader blogs and news sites. Set up Twitter lists of those people and monitor them constantly.

Most importantly, be prepared to jump on those news stories immediately. Take a crisis communication approach: Be first, be right, be credible. That means writing blog posts as soon as things happen, or even assigning someone to be a dedicated content marketer whose primary responsibility is to write content. (This may mean giving them a “get out of meetings free” pass.)

5. Think like a beginner, or ask your beginning customers

You work in a particular field day in, day out. You’ve talked about your work so much, you’re sure everyone knows the most basic information about what you do. It turns out, most people know nothing about your industry, your company, or your specialty. They come to your website because they have those basic questions and they need answers.

Ask your salespeople to explain their sales pitch, and look to your FAQ. Come up with lists posts like “Five Things to Consider About _____,” “Five Things to Avoid When Buying _____,” or “Five Reasons You Need _____” to answer those beginning questions.

Many of my clients are surprised to see these beginning posts are some of their most-visited posts. They figured “everyone” knew all about the subject, but it turned out no one did. I’ve helped clients scrap entire content marketing strategies because they had to take it back to the beginning.

Rather than spending a lot of time and effort creating a content calendar, leave yourself open to serendipity and happenstance. An agile content marketing approach lets you change directions and go with the flow when responding to events as they arise. It lets you provide more value to your customers and clients than a fully-developed and strictly-followed content calendar will ever do.

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Five Steps for Surviving Google Authorship’s Death

I was pretty pissed when Google canceled their much-loved Authorship.

For one thing, they did it less than a week before an advanced content marketing seminar I was leading, which killed about 25% of the entire presentation, which sent me scrambling for another solid 15 minutes. I mean, I had a great graphic with Chuck Norris, bacon, and a cartoon of a bear riding a shark, and They. Killed. It.

Second, this was the one thing that was going to make honest writers out of all the meh-diocre hacks and spammers. Rather than allowing anonymous drones to fill up the Internet with less-than-acceptable articles, the good writers were going to be rewarded with high search engine ranking.

And now they killed it. Killed it dead. Deader than any show Ted McGinley joins.

Google search results for Ernest Hemingway bloggingBut as I’ve had time to grieve and process my feelings, I’ve realized that Google Authorship’s demise does not mean the end of quality writing or content marketing. Yes, it will mean we all have to work harder, but it’s not impossible.

Google Authorship played a very important role in SEO: it drove people to Google+. If you wanted to take advantage of Authorship, you had to link to the network, and use it properly. But not enough people embraced Authorship (or Google+), and so they shut it down.

That doesn’t mean we’re going back to the SEO old days, where keyword stuffing was all the rage. Google is is putting extra nails in that coffin with their Panda 4.1 release.

If anything, they’re still beating the “write better” drum, and giving favor to small and medium businesses that make content creation one of their top priorities.

So if you want to catch Google’s attention, do it right the first time.

It’s Still About Personal Branding

Ted McGinley from his appearance on Happy Days.

Oh, the stories this guy could tell. If only he’d keep up his blog.

Authorship did one thing: it put a writer’s picture on the Google search results, and included the author’s name. That’s it. Yes, that was helpful because it added a semblance of trustworthiness and credibility to the article, but just because your face appeared next to a result didn’t mean it was any good.

It also told Google who the good authors were, in the hopes that they would give preference to those writers who did it right and followed all the rules. But they still have ways of knowing. They’re just not going to show that favoritism via photos and names.

Google has also killed the benefit of guest blogging, especially for backlinking purposes, which has all but eliminated the dearth of guest posts appearing everywhere on the Internet. So it’s actually become a viable personal branding strategy again, even though it’s finished as an SEO strategy.

This is where being a good and connected writer, or hiring them, comes in handy.

According to CNBC’s article, “Want to lift your Google ranking? Hire writers,” writing guest posts in places with high visibility adds to your reputation and credibility as an expert in your industry.

Writing is a central part of Jamie Walker’s job. Her San Francisco-based start-up SweatGuru, which develops Web-based software for fitness instructors and personal trainers, counts on Google for over half its traffic and has virtually no marketing budget. Instead, Walker is frequently penning blog posts for the Huffington Post and the site SheKnows.com, offering advice to yoga teachers and techniques for running. It’s about establishing herself as an expert, without pushing SweatGuru’s products.

I’ve said many, many times before, I think “write good content” is a galactically stupid strategy (it’s a way of life, not a checkbox you tick off or a thing you decide to do, as if it’s optional). But, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. If you’re writing for highly-visible sources like Huffington Post, that’s not a place to drop your Buzzfeed-quality articles. It needs to be some of your best work, because that’s the first thing people are going to see. That’s what will win converts to you and your brand, not pumping out a lot of low-quality work just to meet an artificial-yet-ineffective deadline.

You need to write well, because Google will reward it. People will read your work, share it, and spend more time on your site, which are all factors in Google’s search algorithm (along with 200 other signals). Don’t settle for good enough, because people will ignore it in favor of stuff that’s better.

If you can’t write well, learn it. If you can’t learn it, outsource it. This is not a place to cheap out or screw around. If your business depends on the quality of your content, make sure it’s the best damn content you can put out there.

While you’re creating that top-notch content, don’t forget these four other tactics.

  1. Write guest posts on influencers’ blogs and outlets. The more visible the outlet, the better, just don’t do it for the backlinks. If anything, stick a single link to your main page or Twitter page in your bio. Google won’t even count it, but stick a rel=”nofollow” tag in there so they know you’re not trying to be tricky. But don’t put your best eggs into that basket. Save your best content for your own blog.
  2. Join an allied industry group on LinkedIn where you can serve and provide value. Do this in addition to joining your industry’s groups. Write information for the allied group, not your industry group. Don’t worry about trying to impress your colleagues, focus on impressing your potential customers. Your industry colleagues won’t hire you, allied group members will.
  3. Curate insider information. Curation should only take up 20% (1 day out of 5) of your total content marketing. It should not be your entire strategy. This means you need to find the best and hardest to find information, not the Mashable article that everyone’s already read. Share that information with your allied groups so they can do their jobs better.
  4. Embrace social sharing. It may be old hat, but there ain’t no hats like old hats. The best way to get people to see your content is to share it on social media. They’re not going to stumble upon it by accident. There won’t be a grand awareness of your latest article. And the social media fairies won’t sprinkle it with their magic dust into your networks. You have to tell people, several times in fact. Post it two or three times over two days. Remember, not everyone is on Twitter at the same time. Once in the morning, once in the afternoon, and possibly once in the evening or the next day at lunch time. Google still pays attention to social sharing signals, so the more your content is shared, the better.

Authorship may be gone, but if you’re an effective content marketer, that shouldn’t matter. If you’ve already been doing it right, you’re still able to keep doing what you’ve been doing. It’s like taking a nail gun away from a carpenter. As long as he’s still got his hammer, he can keep working.

If you’ve still got your blog or website, you can keep working too.

Five Lazy Words To Cut From Your Marketing Copy

Take what you need sign taped to a telephone pole

Many marketers suck their readers into the bog of humdrum with over-used words and industry jargon, hoping no one will notice they’re just coasting on properly spelled words and grammatical sentences. It’s a sign of writing laziness to trot out the same old phrases and buzzwords, using them just one more time, in the hopes of getting out of yet another copywriting jam.

These words aren’t even buzzwords anymore. They’ve had the buzz driven right out of them. They’re words that every good copywriter must stop using if they want to stand out from the rest of the crowd.

Needs

Take what you need sign taped to a telephone poleNeeds is the marketing equivalent of “stuff.” It’s so overused, government agencies are going to start using it. That’s nearly as bad as when your mom joined Facebook.

  • Check Teacher’s Pet for all your back to school needs.
  • Steve’s Auto Parts has all your automotive repair needs.
  • Visit Cackling Larry’s for all your old-timey gold prospecting needs!

This is the cardinal sin of copywriting. Never, ever say “needs” in your marketing copy. If you have to, torpedo the entire paragraph and rewrite it. If you can’t think of another word, switch careers.

Solutions

“Solutions” fill “needs.”

Need I say more?

Storytelling

“Storytelling” took off soon after the phrase “content marketing” did. And as the content marketing industry has become populated by the creative writing set, the word has become overused, even if the method has not.

I won’t go into the problem of blog posts written by “storytellers” that look less like stories and more like school papers or technical manuals, except to say this: if you call yourself a storyteller, tell stories. That’s different from Articlewriting, Blogposting, and Instructionexplaining.

Content marketers, stop saying you’re doing storytelling. Not everything is a story. You’re a writer, so write things. That’s a timeless, all-encompassing word that’s not in danger of becoming trendy overused jargon.

You’re not a storyteller unless you go to festivals wearing a black turtleneck and tell stories in that funny poetry-reading voice.

Rich

Content-rich, visually-rich, keyword-rich. It used to be an effective word, but it’s been so overused, it’s eye-rolling-rich. We say it when we should just say “full of” or “better.” But I’m even starting to see it to mean “meets the barest definition of.” As in “this book is word-rich.”

Why not say heavy, appealing, replete, full, packed, stocked, gorged, or my personal favorite, chockablock.

If I can get anyone to use the phrase “keyword-chockablock,” I will have lived a complete life.

King

Prince Willem-Alexander at the 2008 Beijing Olympics

That’s then-Prince Willem-Alexander at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, going for the gold.

Content is king. SEO is king. Social media is king.

The phrase “_____ is king” is as ubiquitous as those damn Keep Calm and blah blah something clever blah t-shirts. Someone’s going to say it, then thousands of people are going to repeat it, to be followed by many more thousands going, “nuh-uh, the thing I said was king is still king.”

Nothing is really king. It’s important, it’s crucial, it’s essential, it’s even critical. But it’s not “king.” The only King is Elvis. Also, King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands.

And please, for the love of God, do not replace “is king” with mission-critical.

The world is filled — FILLED! — with overused jargony phrases that make me want to tear an Oxford English Dictionary in two. But these are the five I think we should do away with immediately. If we can start here, we can improve content marketing for everyone, making the world a bright and happy place.

(While we’re on the subject, I’m not real wild about “content” either.)

Photo credit: Itzok Alf Kurnik (Flickr, Creative Commons)