Who Should Rule, Content or Marketing?

Over on his blog, Nashville writer Jeff Goins questions whether content is really king.

Well, actually, no he doesn’t. he said content is not king anymore. It’s a “fat, dethroned monarch, dis-empowered of his royal ability to influence.”

Janus, the two-faced Roman god, should represent content marketing.

Janus, the two-faced Roman god, should represent content marketing.

Marketing — or as Jeff calls it, “relationships” — are the true king. Without relationships, without marketing, it doesn’t matter how awesome your writing is.

I used to be terrible at this. I thought all I had to do was be a good writer. But I was wrong.

I was scared. And lazy. I didn’t want to have to actually meet people. I just wanted to write.

But that’s not how the world works. So why would I think for one minute the Web would work that way? Yes, even in real life, it’s not just what you know that matters, but also who you know.

And even in business, the best way to promote an idea, product, or service is relationship. We all know this, because in this day of media saturation, we don’t buy what the ads tell us to buy. We buy what our friends recommend.

If I have to give an edge to either of them, I still side with content. Because hidden content can accidentally be discovered one day. I might write a post that gets picked up by search engines, and I could start being found for that topic.

But I could optimize and promote the bejeezus out of something really awful, and a lot of people could see it, but what do you think would happen if everyone showed up and saw — and said — how awful it was?

Still, it’s not a question of whether content or marketing is king.

Content Marketing Rules

This does not have to be an either/or proposition. You shouldn’t have to choose one over the other. And no, this is not one of those “why can’t everyone just get along” cop-outs that I detest. This is like arguing about whether peanut butter or jelly is more important on a PBJ.

Content and marketing have a symbiotic relationship. One cannot exist without the other. You can have great content, but if your marketing sucks, no one will see your stuff. And you can have great marketing, but if your writing sucks, no one will care.

There has to be a happy medium here. Or at the very least, we have to recognize that Content/Marketing is a two-faced king, like Janus, the Roman god of beginnings. You can’t have good marketing and lousy content, and you can’t have lousy marketing and good content. Without one, the other will die.

Content without good marketing is a private diary. Marketing without good content is spam.

I think once writers realize they need to market, we’ll see a bigger explosion in books and ebooks. And once marketers realize that content is not some throwaway afterthought, they’ll start seeing an explosion in sales and profits.

And if you want to learn how to do both, you can buy Branding Yourself or No Bullshit Social Media to see how.

(See what I did there?)

Photo credit: mscolly (Flickr)

Four Online Predictions for 2012

Okay, I’m going to jump on the trends bandwagon and offer yet another online predictions blog post where I polish my crystal ball and predict the future of social media. I think I have a decent track record going for me. In 2010, I predicted that Android sales were going to outpace iPhones, and I was only six months late on that (it finally happened earlier this year). Of course, I also said SMS would become obsolete, and that ain’t happening any time soon, so I’m batting .500.

Emboldened by my previous success — and with a promise to Allison Carter (@allisonlcarter) that this list will not mention mobile or geo-location networks — here are my four predictions for 2012.Crystal ball

1. An even bigger focus on quality of written content.

Thanks to Google Panda, the traditional SEO techniques of on-site optimization and backlinking is not as effective or important as it once was. Now, Panda measures things like bounce rate and time on site. In other words, if your site sucks, your rankings will drop. If your site is good, your rankings will rise.

Want to improve your rankings? Improve the quality of your content, especially your writing. The better your writing is, the longer people will stick around.

We’ll see a bigger push for web designers and bloggers to have better writing, not just a bunch of schlocky writing. So for anyone who has been in the quantity-over-quality camp of blog writing, you’re going to have a tough time of it in 2012.

2. Disruption will be the watchword, and the way to make money.

We’re already seeing how social media, broadband, and mobile phones are disrupting some middle men businesses. People are canceling their cable and satellite TV, and instead watching videos on Netflix and Hulu. We’re getting local news from local bloggers, or national news from each other, instead of TV news and newspapers. I even quit listening to local commercial radio, choosing instead to listen to an awesome public radio station out of Louisville, KY. Traditional media has been disrupted, but that’s not all.

We’ll continue to see more middle men being disrupted by fast phones and social media — look for advertising and PR agencies, publishers, banks, and credit card companies to take a big hit as people figure out how to circumvent these gatekeepers. Look for other people who figure it out to make a buttload of money being the disruptions, or taking advantage of the new disruptions.

(Case in point, Dwolla, which only charges $.25 per transaction for anything over $10 (under $10 is free), and is currently on course to move about $350 million per year.)

3. Citizen journalism will continue to grow and become more important.

Newspapers have taken a big hit in the last 10 years, thanks to online media — a disruption that’s been years in the making — but people still want local news. The newspapers that will survive and thrive will be the dailies in smaller cities, and the weeklies in small towns. In the big cities, we’ll see more citizen journalism as people report on their local stories. More Twitpics, more cell phone videos, more stories that are pieced together through people acting like their own journalists.

I would love to see some news-minded entrepreneur figure out a way to gather all of this content and monetize it. While that may not happen in 2012, look for online-only newspapers like The American Reporter to pick up the slack of the big city papers, and local news outlets like Patch to become more widespread and easier to use.

We’re going to see more news, commentary, sports, etc. covered up by real people, not professional journalists. I also think we’ll see smaller print newspapers get smarter about their online efforts, and even TV stations to continue to embrace the web. Could we also see someone start an Internet-only TV news style of website?

4. Teenagers will begin to leave Facebook in droves.

Their moms and dads are on Facebook. Their grandparents are on Facebook. The whole point behind Facebook was it was a place to go where you could be cool. And as everyone knows, it’s impossible to be cool when your parents are around. They’re moving to other networks where their parents are not. Even Ben Bajarin (@benbajarin) of Time Magazine is questioning whether it’s the beginning of the end for Facebook. (Hint: No, not yet. But don’t be surprised if it happens one day far off into the future.)

Where they’re all going is still unknown. MySpace is still popular among teenagers. YouTube is actually the second biggest network among teenagers (Facebook is still first). And the gaming console networks are seeing a big uptick. But when all the stats are showing that 1 in 5 teenagers are leaving Facebook, it’s time for marketers to stop with this “social media is for young people” nonsense and recognize that the parents and grandparents are embracing it more easily now.

Photo credit: JasonLangheine (Flickr)

How Writers Can Use QR Codes

What can writers do with QR codes? Do we even need them? When most writers still have that “I’m a writer, not a marketer” attitude, embracing something as 21st century as a smartphone, let alone a QR code, is going to be difficult.

But, if you’re trying to reach a particular kind of audience — let’s say a tech-savvy audience — or people who might not otherwise discover your work, a QR code could be a great way to market your work in some surprising and creative ways.

QR Code to my About.me page

QR Code to my About.me page

The whole point of a QR code is to reach a mobile audience. People who use their mobile phones to read articles and watch videos. People who use their tablets to read ebooks. Basically anyone not using a laptop or desktop computer, or reading paper-based articles and stories.

By tapping into the growing mobile market — and it’s growing fast — writers can get their words in front of a brand new audience, or at least an audience who can access your old work in new ways.

You can reach that mobile market in a few different ways, including emails, or making people tap long URLs into their web browser. But a QR code — that funny looking pixelated square — is something people can scan with their mobile phones to perform a certain action, like open a website or a video.

For writers, you can point a QR code at some of your work, and allow people to read it on their mobile phones. Here are a few places you can point them:

  • At one of your best articles or short stories: This should be the first place your QR codes should go. Point them at some of your best work, and then put the QR code on a business card or writer’s resume. Or if you’re at a conference, put it on a t-shirt. Make sure that your website is mobile-friendly. Best way to do this? Install WP-Touch on your WordPress.org blog, or use Blogger, Posterous, or WordPress.com for a mobile-ready blog. Warning: Do not just point a QR code at your main website. For one thing, it’s boring and unimaginative. Hopefully you’ve already got a short, and clever, domain name, so a QR code is wasted. But if you don’t have anywhere else to point it, at least make sure your site is mobile friendly. A site designed for a desktop is awful to negotiate with a mobile phone.
  • Your book page on Amazon.com: Have a book flyer or sales card? Put a QR code on it and let people scan it. They can make their purchase right on their mobile phone and have it shipped to their house or office.
  • A mobile-only video: If you have a book trailer, consider making one especially for mobile use, and maybe even specifically for QR users. Speak directly to the user — “Hi, thanks for scanning the QR code and checking out the video.” — and tell them what is so special about this particular video. (“I’m sharing three additional personal branding secrets you won’t find in the Branding Yourself book.”) Make sure the video works on your mobile phone too. Some videos can’t play on mobile phones, so make sure you choose the right format and size.
  • At your ebook: If you’ve got an ebook for sale, whether it’s on Amazon.com or another ecommerce page, write up a small card about the book, and put a QR code on it. People can read the ebook on their phone or tablet, especially if they’re using the Amazon Kindle app.
  • At a secret page on your website: One of the best uses I saw of a QR code was a friend who put it on a t-shirt that he wore to conferences. People who scanned the code were immediately taken to a hidden page on his website where they could find how to connect with him via Twitter, LinkedIn, etc., as well as some special information that wasn’t available on his regular website.

The nice thing about QR codes is that you can point them anywhere you want. When you want to change pages, just edit the QR code. No need to create a new one or get rid of anything with the old code on it. Just go to the place where you created it, change the destination URL and you’re set.

You can put your code just about anywhere it can effectively be scanned, and point it anywhere that makes sense. On your business cards pointing to your book pages. T-shirts to your About.me page. Book covers to mobile videos. Anywhere you can think of, you can point it. Just don’t point it at your regular website, or put it on a highway billboard.

Watch Scott Stratten (@unmarketing) talk about QR codes and how they should and should not be used.

PR & Marketing Agencies, Know Your Stuff Before You Offer Social Media

I’m both heartened and worried by the number of PR and marketing agencies that are offering social media.

I’m heartened, because it means the business world is that much closer to accepting social media as a real form of communication. It means they know it’s going to be around for the long haul.

I’m worried, because a lot of these agencies don’t even understand social media. They just threw their new junior account exec at it because she has a Facebook page and they think that means she knows enough to run a large-scale campaign for them.

Make sure you know your stuff, AND that it works.

Social media is not an entry-level position, people. It’s not something you turn over to the brand new employee who has never even run a traditional campaign. And it’s definitely not something an agency should try to learn on a client’s dime.

NOTE: This is not to say that entry-level people shouldn’t do social media, or that PR or marketing agencies shouldn’t get into social media. They absolutely should. But, your social media experience needs to be more than resuscitating the nearly-dead Twitter account you started six months ago with the “Still trying to figure this twitter thing out. Does this make me a twit?” tweet.

I’ve seen a number of agencies now that are starting to offer social media as part of their service offerings, but I think they’re out of their element, and are only going to screw it up.. For one thing, their Twitter accounts are less than six months old. The agency accounts have fewer than 500 followers, and the employee accounts are all hovering around 100, and are filled with retweets from the agency account.

That is not social media experience. Not enough to start providing services for clients.

Strong social media experience means running campaigns where you can measure the ROI and show how much money you made. Strong social media experience means having more than 2,000 followers, because you know the ethical way to break past Twitter’s 2,000 following cap. Strong social media experience means you have a blog that’s more than a year old, and it’s filled with new social media knowledge and opinions, because you publish 2 – 5 times per week, not per quarter.

Look, I know how to write a press release, and I know how to pick up the phone and individually pitch journalists and bloggers. (Jason Falls would say that puts me ahead of the game for knowing that.) I even know how to do good TV and radio interviews. But that doesn’t make me a PR expert.

If I wanted to open a PR agency, I could probably do a passable job. I could fool a couple of small clients, and learn on their dime. But I wouldn’t be giving them the best I could be (or, if I was, the best I could be wouldn’t be good enough).

If you’re in PR or marketing, and you want to offer social media to your clients, you need to do a few things before you ever you’re ready to start:

  1. Put together a team of people who are responsible for social media, not just one person. You at least need someone who can write and someone who knows how to read analytics and research. You also need one person who will be responsible for it all. This is not a time for committees and democracy. You need a social media account executive to take charge.
  2. Understand that social media is as much about sales and customer service as it is about marketing and PR. If you’re going to manage social media for a client, you need someone who can sell and deal with problems.
  3. You need to invest heavily in the ongoing education of your social media team. Require them to read industry blogs, read or listen to social media books, attend social media networking meetings, and pay for any learning they can get their hands on. I met an advertising agency that pays its staff to read books and give book reports to the rest of the agency at a monthly meeting. They pay $25 per book read (they even have a copy of Branding Yourself (affiliate link) in their library).
  4. Send your social media team to at least one conference a year, if not two or three. Better yet, have them learn enough so they can present at those conferences. The great thing about being a presenter is you have to know more than your audience, which means they have to stay on the cutting edge.

If you’re going to do social media, do it right. You can’t sign up for a new Facebook account and pronounce yourself a social media consultant any more than you can record a video on your mobile phone and call yourself a video production house. Take the time to learn as much as you can before you offer it. Don’t feel like you have to rush. There are plenty of clients available, and they’ll still be there in a year or two when today’s agencies are being fired by their clients for bad social media execution.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on Amazon.com, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

Photo credit: Inky (Flickr)

Can Your Company Survive Without a Corporate Blog?

Does your company need a corporate blog if it’s going to survive the next 10 years?

Maybe not.

Will your company thrive and grow if you don’t have one?

Maybe not.

A corporate blog is a great way for companies to share information with their customers and vendors. It’s a great way to promote their products, answer customer questions, make special announcements, and even sell to new customers.

A corporate blog will help your company appear at the top of the search engine rankings — there are roughly 88 billion Google searches per month. How many of those are you missing out on? — and will give you a place to send your customers when you interact with them through social media marketing. (Uh, you are using social media to talk to your customers, aren’t you?)

People are reading blogs whether they realize it or not. In fact, Technorati estimates that 76% of active Internet users are reading a blog of some sort or another. I think that number may even be higher, because so many websites, online newspapers, and landing pages are actually blog posts, and not regular html pages. People visit the blog thinking they’re finding a page or article, but in actuality are reading a regular old blog post.

The great thing about blogging is that anyone can do it. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Fortune 500 company with a marketing budget measured in the hundreds of thousands, or a one person operation whose total sales are measured in the tens of thousands. At its very core, its very essence, a corporate blog is just a company talking to its customers about the things that matter to the customers.

The blog is the great marketing equalizer. It levels the playing field between big and small companies. I’ve seen small companies with more passion than money turn out great blogs that are well-written and well-received. I’ve seen huge companies with lots of money and personnel that create crappy blogs that are poorly written piles of jargon-filled manure.

A corporate blog can cost thousands of dollars in design, content creation, and web hosting, or it can be one of the many free options hosted on someone else’s server. The expensive blogs don’t always do better, and the free blogs are not always lacking in quality.

What matters is the content and whether you’re creating enough of it.

So will your company survive without a corporate blog? Maybe it will.

But it will certainly be outclassed and outpaced by the companies that do have one.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on Amazon.com, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

Photo credit: Coda (Flickr)

Four Ways a Corporate Blog Can Help Your Company Increase Profits

A corporate blog is more than just a company diary where someone from marketing talks about the latest trade show. A corporate blog is a support tool that can lighten the load of several different departments within your company. Here are four ways a corporate blog can help your company.

1. Reduce Marketing Costs and Improve Reach

In the past, Marketing put a lot of time and money into developing, creating, and printing new sales literature and brochures. But once the specs changed on a particular product you got a new area code (it happened to my company in 2002), or you made an egregious error (guilty), the remaining 8,500 copies of the brochures were rendered obsolete, or you had to hand correct every single one of them with a black marker.

A blog can replace a lot of sales brochures and literature, introducing customers to the new product, letting them read the new specs, and finding out the latest features and prices. A blog will also let you show new photos and video demonstrations, tell people about the upcoming trade show or the show you just finished, or even post a video of the CEO talk about the product and what it means for the industry.

By turning to electronic publishing, you can reduce printing costs, reduce costs per lead, and ultimately, costs per sales.

2. Serve as a Newsroom

The PR department spends a lot of time chasing down the industry media or traditional media, trying to get them to talk about your latest product or service. The problem is, the media isn’t always willing to listen, or they can only publish on their own schedule, not yours. But by posting news articles to your website, you become the news source, not the traditional or industry media.

A blog will let you disseminate the latest news to your customers, helping your most loyal customers not only read what you’re up to, they can share it with their readers, which promotes your news as well. The media can use your blog as an information-gathering source as well. This lets them see what you’re doing, rather than waiting for a press release. They can find your press releases, product photos, and HD video clips, and get everything they need with ease. They can also get further information and details without calling your PR person while she’s on vacation and unavailable.

3. Sell to New Customers

Corporate blogging can greatly benefit the sales department, because salespeople can talk about the benefits of the new product, use blog posts to answer frequently asked sales questions, and preemptively overcome any objections potential customers may have.

While this won’t answer every question and objection for every customer, you’ll find that it cuts down on the time per sale. When I started selling on the Internet in the late-90s, I found I had cut my time per sales call down from 40 minutes to 10 minutes just because of the information I was putting on my website.

Again, this is where video demonstrations can be invaluable to potential customers. This also helps improve search engine rankings, so your site is more easily found during web searches, which means more customers could find you, which in turn means means more sales.

4. Provide 24/7 Customer Service

If you have a product or service that has frequent questions, don’t just rely on an FAQ section. Turn your blog into a knowledge center, and ask your customer service reps to write posts that answer those frequent questions. Make them as easy to find as possible (proper keyword tagging, links from the FAQ page, or even listing them in your “popular posts.”

Ask other customers to leave comments on individual posts about different fixes and solutions they’ve found as well. Incorporate their answers into the official blog posts to continue the discussion, and to make your customers feel like they’re contributing.

Finally, customers can search your website and find in-depth answers to questions they have. This saves phone calls about basic constantly-asked questions, which means you can help reduce customer service costs.

New Twitter Tool, Twylah, Promises Huge Things for Social Media

Twylah screenshot for Erik Deckers

Last Friday I tweeted: “I’m easily impressed. I’m not easily flabbergasted. @kabaim just flabbergasted me. Follow him and ask how he did it.”

Twylah screenshot for Erik Deckers

Screenshot of my Twylah page. Click to see a bigger version.

@kabaim is Eric Kim, founder and CEO of Twylah, the new Twitter tool that Eric says is going to change the way we use Twitter. Twylah (@Twylah)does all these amazing things. So many of them, in fact, that I’ve probably forgotten a few them here.

Imagine going to a website that’s laid out like a magazine theme for a blog. On that page are your tweets, categorized by the topics you tweet about most. There, a visitor can see those categories, and read more tweets within each of them. The layout page will pull out any photos you’ve included with your tweets, and then organize the rest in reverse chronological order.

This does a number of things for you, for the reader, even for search engine optimization.

    • It lets visitors experience your tweets visually, rather than seeing an entire timeline. Don’t like one particular category, like your 90 minute ongoing discussion with your project team about where to have lunch? Replace it with one you prefer. Want to highlight a Twitter topic from two months ago? Drop a less interesting one and replace it with the old topic.

Screenshot of Twylah tool for keyword Branding Yourself.

  • It can pull in tweets from weeks, or even months ago. This gives life to your tweets, beyond the typical 1-hour life expectancy that our tweets usually have.
  • Each Twylah page is a real web page. The links on them are shortened using bit.ly, which means they’re not only trackable, but they even count as backlinks to your real site. This will be a big help for anyone who needs an SEO boost.
  • You can direct people to your Twylah page instead of your Twitter profile page, giving people an expanded view of your bio. Now people can see if you’re a real person, and if you talk about what you claim to talk about.
  • People can even follow you directly from Twylah, rather than jumping back to your Twitter page to follow you.

 

These are all pretty cool features, and based on my scribbled notes, there’s a lot of amazing stuff that Twylah is going to do.

But, there are three things that social media marketers and practitioners need to take note of, because these things are going to be H-U-G-Efor social media professionals. Of course, these will not be included in the initial rollout of Twylah, but Eric expects them to be available around 6 weeks later. (I hope I didn’t just jinx that.)

Another look at the Twylah layout

Further down my Twylah page.

  • Users will be able to subscribe to a person’s categories of tweets. For example, if you’re following Douglas Karr, but only want to read his tweets about the Marketing Technology Blog radio show, you can subscribe to that category. Here’s the even cooler part: Those tweets will be emailed to you as a newsletter. Subscribe to several people and their categories for a bigger newsletter, and read their interesting tweets at your leisure.
  • Twylah will have an analytics package. Not only can you see how many times your stuff was retweeted, or how often you tweeted about certain topics/categories, but you can see how many people engaged with your tweets — retweeting, clicking links, etc. For example, if you tweet about the Android phone, you can also see the engagement with those tweets has gone up. If you also tweet about the latest Twitter meme, you may see that your engagement went down for that topic. Translation: You can adjust the topics, and even time, of your tweets accordingly, based on the engagement of your tweets by your followers.
  • Twylah’s analytics will also tell you what you need to tweet about and when, to help your engagement improve. Twylah will actually help you figure out when most of your network is actually using Twitter, and what sort of tweets interest them the most. What’s cool: This is especially useful for people who are very particular about following people with certain backgrounds, such as book marketers trying to build a following of independent bookstores.
  • Twylah will eventually aggregate the total engagement of different topics. Imagine being able to know which of Twitter’s trending topics are actually engaging the readers. Maybe the new iPhone 5 is one of the trending topics in July, and 20% of the people are engaging with those tweets. As an iPhone marketer, you would then know that you need to tweet more about the iPhone with links to important information, like nearest retail location.

A lot of these way cool Twylah features are still in the Alpha stage, while Eric and his wife, Kelly, are working feverishly to roll the beta out in the middle of February. If you want to be a part of the beta, go to Twylah.com and register. Also, ask Eric for a personal demonstration of Twylah.

You’ll be flabbergasted. I know I was.