How to Use Storytelling on Your Social Media Campaigns to Increase Your Engagement

Every so often, I will feature guest posts from writers who actually have important and interesting things to say. Patrick Bailey is a professional freelance writer, working mainly in the fields of mental health, addiction, and living in recovery. He wanted to write about storytelling and social media, so I let him take a crack at it. At 1500+ words, I think he knocked it out of the park.

Patrick Bailey, a writer who specializes in mental health, addiction, and living in recovery. He wrote this piece on storytelling in social media.Even before civilization came to be and nothing was in print, humans were hard-wired to listen and tell stories. Stories became the backbone of many ancient cultures because they were passed on from generation to generation through verbal means. Traditions were built through sharing stories. Stories were written as books, and they became the time-enduring classics.

Now, we have the capacity to share and record stories in the digital world. With the use of the Internet, blogging became an avenue for ordinary people to share their stories whether it was something personal or related to their business. After blogging, social media became a tool for people to share the mini-stories of their lives.

That is just one side of the coin — in fact, there are many facets of storytelling that shows how much power it holds to influence others. In marketing, storytelling plays a big role in capturing the minds and hearts of readers and viewers.

What is storytelling in social media?

Storytelling in social media is quite different when it comes to those found in books, magazines, or even blogs. Since people have a shorter attention span when browsing through their social media feeds, it is important that our stories are concise yet captivating. Here are some of the characteristics of an engaging story in social media:

  • Stories should start with an attention-grabbing headline or first statement. The stories you post in social media should be interesting from the beginning. This is the hook that makes readers or viewers stay engaged.
  • Stories should be concise. Unlike blogs, people don’t have the patience to read page-long stories about you or your brand. It is important to be concise and only state important details in your story.
  • Stories should be accompanied with other multimedia forms. Although text can be engaging in itself, it is proven that multi-sensory experiences in the digital world can help users retain far more information: Include images or videos with your story.
  • Stories should have a strong call-to-action at the end. Before even creating a captivating story in social media, you need to think of your primary goal why you are setting up the campaign in the first place. Do you want people to visit your website? Do you want more email subscribers? Do you want them to purchase your product? Think about your goal and start making your story from there.

Now that we understand the characteristics of an engaging story in social media, how can we create one from start to finish? Here are some steps you can take.

Think about your audience persona.
Some stories may be interesting for a particular group, and yet some wouldn’t really bat an eye on the same topic. When formulating your story, think about the type of audience that your platform or business serves. This is called your audience persona, which means personifying the archetype of audience that you may have. Think of your audience persona based on the following characteristics:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Cultural background
  • Where they live
  • What they do
  • What their problems are
  • What they look like
  • What things do they need

These considerations can help you create a story that will be interesting to your target audience. Without building an audience persona, you may end up formulating a story with full effort and no engagement.

Remember the rules of capturing attention.
One of the most popular copywriting formulas called AIDA, which stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action. These four pillars of effective copy can also be incorporated into storytelling. Now that you have established your audience persona, it is important to place yourself in their shoes. What would be a story that can capture their attention?

Many marketers would go for the first-person story technique. They can talk about their personal struggles which make them relatable to their target audience. This is very effective because people want to know others’ story and how they have succeeded.

For example a company called Mountain Springs Recovery focuses on addiction rehabilitation. They use storytelling campaigns through testimonials of others’ struggles in rehabilitation and how they have succeeded through the help of the company. This is a great way to tug to your audience’s heartstrings and make them read the rest of your story. Other attention-grabbing techniques include:

  • Sharing a short case study of your previous client. Ask permission from a previous client to tell their background and how they have achieved success through your business.
  • A story about someone who benefited from your business’ advocacy. If your business supports an advocacy (e.g., helping cancer patients, providing scholarships, etc.), share a short story of how these people have benefited from your business, and how others can support them by supporting your business as well.
  • Your own before and after story. If you are a professional who has experienced the same problems as your target audience, you can use your own story as a marketing tool. For example, a fitness coach can post his or her before and after results while sharing a story of their struggles and triumphs in the weight loss journey.

Remember what your teacher taught you.
Do you remember in literature class when your teacher would remind you of the parts of the story? Mostly, an engaging story or a narrative would include the characters, setting, plot, conflict, and resolution. You don’t have to elaborate too much when creating your social media posts. All you have to do is to keep them present when thinking about your story. Make it clear by introducing the main characters of your story (Is it you? Your client? A person you know?), where and when it happened, the premise, what the problem is and how the problem is solved.

Remembering these elements can help you create a formula that would always be engaging to your target audience in mind.

Experiment with multimedia.
Engagement is not just about using one form of media. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest or Twitter have different tools to help create engaging stories.

This is where you can start experimenting. If you already have a small audience you can work on, try to create different types of content. Start by crafting your story accompanied by a photo, and in some instances you would want to shoot a video.

When you create social media accounts, engagement is counted as the amount of views, likes, shares, and comments in your content. If you notice that one form of media is more effective than the other, you already know what format of stories you would want to post in the future.

Essentially, focusing on the story format that your audience wants is the key to gaining engagement and social proof. As other people see that you have likes, shares, and comments in your stories, the more that they will be curious to see what your business is about.

Build trust — don’t rely on click bait.
Unless your ultimate goal is to get views for your business merely in your website or social media accounts, don’t exploit people’s attention through click bait. Clickbait is when writers over-sensationalize stories in order to get views.

It is best not to rely on this technique as it may cause people to lose trust in your business — resulting in bad comments, poor feedback, and eventually dwindling attention. Make sure your stories are genuine, and if you do promise something, be sure you can deliver. Do not simply make up stories in order to get future clients to sign up, then setting them for disappointment.

Utilize call-to-action buttons.
As mentioned earlier, an engaging story in social media must be built with a goal in mind. This goal is realized by creating a call-to-action. For blogs and websites, a call-to-action is usually done by posting a link or a sign-up form. However, social media is a little different because you can use buttons when you make sponsored posts for your stories.

A clear example would be Facebook sponsored posts. When you boost a Facebook post, you’ll notice that they will give you an option to place a button at the bottom of your sponsored post. Below your story, you can create a button that can make the users:

  • Message your Facebook page
  • Contact your business number
  • Visit your website
  • Shop in your built-in store

Whatever your call-to-action is, make sure that it is clear to your audience and they can easily access it through these buttons.

Create stories, engage your audience.
With so many businesses vying for people’s attention is social media, you can stand out by following these actionable tips in creating engaging stories.

Author Bio: Patrick Bailey is a professional writer mainly in the fields of mental health, addiction, and living in recovery. He attempts to stay on top of the latest news in the addiction and the mental health world and enjoy writing about these topics to break the stigma associated with them. Find him on Twitter at @Pat_Bailey80.

Building Authority Through Guest Posting

Every so often, I will feature guest posts from writers who actually have important and interesting things to say. And since this is a guest post about guest posting, I liked the whole meta vibe, and decided to publish it, especially since she’s a fellow word nerd.

Ellan DineenEllan Dineen is the Marketing Associate at Design Wizard. When she’s not hard at work in the Marketing Department, Ellan can be found en route to foreign lands with a book in her hand and a podcast in her ear. With a Master’s in English and Diploma in Social Media Marketing, she knows the importance of staying up-to-date with the industry’s latest trends and insights and is keen to pass these tips on to her readers.

Want to establish your online presence? Want to be the “go-to” expert in your niche?

It’s time you finessed this thing called guest posting.

Guest posting allows you to reach a wider audience by posting your articles on related authoritative websites. It strengthens your brand and gives you a massive boost in credibility.

Like with anything when it comes to digital marketing, however, there’s a right and a wrong way to do it.

In this article, we take a look at what you should do, what you should not do, and what kind of quality content you need to be posting.

Identify Your Value

You won’t be able to build authority if you don’t bring any value to the table. The only reason a website will allow you to publish an article on their website is because it offers both them and their audience a massive amount of value.

No value = no guest post.

There’s another reason why value is important. As well as educating audiences, solving their problems and positioning yourself as their go-to expert, the Google algorithm also prefers valuable content.

According to research, long form content gets more traffic than any other type. This is content that contains more than 1,000 words, and which offers in-depth, valuable and actionable information to the reader.

Each time you pitch an article to another website, identify your value first. This will make it so much easier for the blogger to say yes to you.

Don’t focus too much on your ‘tips and tricks.’ Show them how your valuable content is going to benefit their audience.

Ask yourself:

  • How is your content is going to benefit people?
  • What issues are you addressing and solving?
  • Are these issues that people care about?

Solid content by itself won’t work if no one can see where the value is.

Research The Websites You’re Targeting

You can’t build authority if you don’t do your research. Unless you know enough about the websites you’re targeting, as well as their audiences, your content might miss the spot.

Take a look at your target website’s audience and ask yourself some questions:

  1. Will they benefit from a link to my web page?
  2. Will my infographics be of use to this audience?
  3. Will this audience buy from me?

Find out who is engaging with a particular website and whether or not this is an audience who will appreciate your article and advice.

To build authority via guest posting, it’s also a good idea to take a look at the content a website has already published and stick to the format. For example, do they capitalize their subheadings, do they use images in their content and if so, how do they credit the images?

When you follow the format of a website blog you are giving the editor less work, and that is very hard for them to say no to.

A big no-no when it comes to guest posting is to fail to do your research. If you identify 30 blogs and send them generic emails with your pitch before doing any research, you’ll be wasting your time.

Always take your time to learn more about who you’ll be pitching to. Then, you can adjust your content and send out hyper-personalized emails accordingly.

Top tip: Avoid spelling and grammar errors in your emails. Use Grammarly and other tools to catch these mistakes before you click send.

Produce Your Best Content

It goes without saying that if you want to position yourself as an expert, your content has to be brilliant. Each time you produce a guest post, ask yourself “is this my best piece of content?”

To this end, you need to produce long-form content (1,000 words minimum) that offers unique insights to the reader. Your advice needs to be actionable, as different as possible to what has come before, and it needs to be of use to the target audience.

A huge no-no is to spend most of the article discussing things the reader already knows. The key here is understanding who your target audience is and what stage they are at in their journey. For example, if you’re writing an article about the do’s and don’ts of digital marketing to an advanced reader, don’t waste people’s time discussing what digital marketing is. They already know.

Your content needs to be readable, shareable and it needs to be as up-to-date and relevant as possible. This means understanding the latest trends and including links to recent stats and research (as opposed to information from 2014).

It’s also a good idea to write from personal experience. After all, you’re the expert here. If you’re writing about a subject you know intimately, don’t be afraid to write from your personal experience while making sure that your personal examples are relatable to others.

Your best content will need quality images and graphics, too. If you’re not sure where to source images from, you can use a tool like Pik Wizard. To spice up your graphics so that your content is as professional, engaging and eye-catching as possible, meanwhile, Design Wizard is your friend.

Absolutely do not go into this thinking that you can get away with posting below par content. Impressive content that educates, informs and engages people is the best way to establishing your authority and boosting conversions. The ultimate aim of guest posting is to grab more traffic from other sources and you can only do this by producing your best content.

Don’t hold back on the value factor. Yes, you’re doing this for free in the sense that you don’t get paid for a guest post. But the ROI will be worth it when you start to build your authority.

Moreover, the more awesome content you produce, the more chance you’ll have of securing a guest post with a super high domain website, such as Forbes or the Huffington Post.

Conclusion

All in all, building authority through guest posting comes down to identifying your value, identifying a related website’s audience – before producing as much valuable, usable content as possible that the audience can take action on. Focus on quality, not quantity, do your research and don’t hold back when it comes to value. Educate, inform but also engage.

Ten Social Media Promotion Tips for Audio Drama Creators

I belong to an Audio Drama group over on Facebook, and the question came up about “how do we promote ourselves?” As a long-time audio drama writer and fan, this is something I’ve talked to other theater troupes about, as well as authors, musicians, and visual artists.

Since most (i.e. none) audio theater groups have a budget to do a lot of advertising, doing a little DIY personal branding is going to make a big splash. It will help you find an audience, grow your network of listeners, and by cooperating with other groups, help you cast a wider net to find audience members who are already interested in audio theater as an art form.

Here are ten things you can start doing to grow your audience.

Decoder Ring Theatre cast - Audio Drama creators from Toronto, Canada

Cast of Decoder Ring Theatre, an audio theatre company in Toronto. They produced a few of my radio plays several years ago.

  1. Appear as guests on other podcasts. We are in the golden age of podcasting. The people who are going to listen to your podcasts are the people who already listen to podcasts. So find a way to get interview spots on other people’s podcasts to talk about your work. Check out iTunes and Stitcher for writing podcasts, theater podcasts, horror fiction and comic book nerd podcasts, etc. Reach out to those people and ask them if you can be a guest on their podcast. For example, I’ve been on Park Howell’s Business of Story podcast twice to talk about writing and storytelling. Who better to talk about how storytelling and podcasting than a bunch of audio drama actors? (Tell him I sent you.)
  2. Advertise on Facebook. Set up a Facebook advertising account and create ads to appear only to specific people who fall within a certain age range, gender, family status, work status, and so on. Figure out who your Typical Listener is (soccer moms in their 30s, college students, etc.), and start targeting people who fit that persona. Write some ads, set a daily budget of a couple bucks, and then post the ads. Be willing to spend $40 – $50 per month for 3 months as a test.
  3. Set up a co-operative catalog company. Not actually a company, but just a clearinghouse website that contains all the different audio dramas out there. Everyone who’s involved chips in a few bucks, and that’s how you pay for the Facebook advertising. Advertise that company, rather than individual productions, and you can advertise longer, reach more people with diverse interests, and increase each other’s audiences. Plus, a website this big (possibly with a blog) is going to start winning Google searches for keywords like radio theater, audio theater, and so on.
  4. Create an email newsletter. You can either create your own email newsletter, or create one for this co-op website. Feature one or two audio dramas per issue. Everyone who’s a fan of ANY of the dramas can subscribe, and then you’re reaching a combined audience of everyone’s listeners. (I recommend MailChimp, because they have a free option.) If you start your own newsletter, it’s still a good idea to feature other favorite audio dramas in addition to your own work. Do that for each other, and introduce new artists to your audience.
  5. Do giveaways for fans, and ask them to share your work. Hold random drawings for sharers, and give away small prizes. Ask them to share your new episodes and other content with their own social networks, especially Twitter and Facebook. Give prizes for the most creative, the biggest reach, and so on.
  6. Advertise each other’s work on your own podcasts. At the end or in the middle of an episode, during a “commercial break,” play a preview of someone else’s show. Sort of like Amazon’s, “People who like this also bought X” feature. People listening to your podcast may also like this other podcast. Again, do this on a cooperative sharing model, where you create a “ring” of advertisers. A shares on B, B shares on C, C shares on A, etc.
  7. Build a Twitter following. Do a basic Twitter search, and find your Typical Listeners. They’re the ones talking about horror movies or superhero adventures, or whatever you’re producing. They talk about it in their bios, or they talk about it in their tweets. Follow those people, and then put them in a Private Twitter list that you watch daily. Talk to those people, respond to their tweets, answer their questions. Build relationships with them. They’ll want to support you because you’re Twitter buddies.
  8. Follow certain #hashtag topics on Twitter. Is there something happening in the news that ties into your audio drama? Set up a column for that particular term and see if there are any tweets you can respond to. (Use Tweetdeck to easily see and respond to your lists.) Then, when it seems appropriate and not creepy, respond to a tweet with your own. Don’t be ham-handed and say, “Oh, we wrote an audio drama about that. Here it is!” Rather, just participate in the conversation naturally. If people are interested in you and want to know why you’re interested in the subject, they’ll check out your Twitter page. Hopefully you’ve got your audio drama and the website in your Twitter bio.
  9. Don’t forget the visual element. Audio drama may be for the ears only, but if you can add a visual element to your work, do it. If you do live recordings, create a video of those, and post them to YouTube. If you ever perform live in public, share it on Periscope or Facebook Live video. Take photos of people creating the audio drama, and post those to your Instagram account and Facebook, and turn those into stories. And if you’re a fan of the old radio technology, take photos or find others, and post those to Pinterest. Your content may not be for the ear, but there’s still a visual element worth sharing.
  10. Write audio drama reviews. Whether you post it on your own blog, or even if you started the co-op company in #3 and blog for it, review other audio dramas. These don’t have to be critiques and criticism, as if you’re a movie critic. Rather, write a review, where you discuss things that happened, what you enjoyed, etc. (Remember, you all know each other, so don’t be an a-hole!) Publish those reviews as guest articles in as many places as you can too, where others can read them.

The Branding Yourself cover. Cover design is just one important facet of writing books.If you focus on just two or three of these items, you can expand your audience of listeners and fans. Then, just be sure to use Google Analytics to measure traffic to your website, Twitter analytics to see how your audience is growing and how they’re engaging with your tweets, and then your podcast analytics to see if any growth there coincides with your new social media efforts.

Want to know about artist branding and social media promotion? Check out my book,Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself. The book is now in its third edition, and is published by Que Biz-Tech, an imprint of Pearson Publishing.

Erik’s Rules for Writing Short Books

A few days ago, I had to confront my elitist attitude toward books and whether or not I think a book can be anything less than 50 pages that gets spit out over a weekend.

It’s not.

But I also had to rethink my attitude toward any book that was not traditionally published, shorter than 200 pages, and didn’t take several months to produce.

I realized, thanks to my friend, Jim, that these short books — they’re called “novellas” in the fiction world — can actually serve a very useful purpose in helping someone develop their personal brand.

And that helped me to realize that I just need to get over myself and my attitude and learn to accept the newer definition of what a book is supposed to be.

BUT if you want to write a book, even if it’s a short book, there are a few things you need to do to make your book good, no matter how long it is. Otherwise, you’re just creating junk and you’re watering down what it means to write a book and to be an author.

1. A book does not take a weekend to write.
One does not simply "slap a book together." This is especially true if you're writing short books/You might be able to write the first draft in 48 hours, but it’s nowhere near ready. Don’t even think about publishing it. You’ll hear people brag about how they wrote a book in just a weekend or just a couple of days. Good books don’t take this long, so don’t ever be satisfied with the work you produce in a day or two.

This is supposed to be your major marketing tool, your calling card, your social proof that you’re an expert at what you do. You can’t produce that in just one weekend, and whatever it is you produce in that time won’t be good enough to serve that purpose.

2. Make it longer than 50 pages, please.
Expertise is deep and involved, and it has a lot to say. So your book, no matter the topic, should be more than 50 pages long. In fact, the deeper you dive into your topic, the longer it’s going to be. The broader and more general your topic is, the less there is to say about it. The more focused it is, the deeper you can dive.

For example, I could write a book about Marketing in general, and I would run out of things to say in about 30 pages. But I could write a book that focuses on content marketing for enterprise-level companies and come up with volumes of information — wait, I totally did that, and it was 236 pages long.

Dive into a niche, explore every important fact that you can, and add that to your manuscript. If your book is becoming huge and unwieldy, break it up into manageable sections, and flesh out each one thoroughly. Turn them into separate books and sell them as smaller volumes. Your book doesn’t have to be 300 pages, but it should never be shorter than 75. Otherwise that’s just a pamphlet.

3. Revise, revise, revise.
Honest to God, if you publish your first draft, you deserve any and all ridicule and shame because it’s just going to be bad. Ernest Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is shit.”And I’ll bet that’s what your first draft is. Listen, I’ve been writing for 30 years, and I still write shitty first drafts. So don’t fool yourself into thinking that yours is fine.

Revise your manuscript, then revise it a second time, and then you’re ready to start thinking about final edits and publication. You’re not there yet, but you’re ready to start thinking about it.

4. Take time between edits.
You need to wait several days between revisions. Reread your manuscript and make sure you’ve covered all the pertinent information and fixed all the errors you can find. That takes time. We all get used to seeing what we’ve created, especially if we try to revise right after we’ve written it, and so we gloss over actual errors. Our mind just fills in what we expect to see, not what’s actually there. But you’ll catch your errors if you can separate yourself from your work for several days.

Your book should get at least two revisions with at least three days between each one. A week would be better, if you can manage it.

5. Get beta readers.
Send out PDF copies to friends and ask them to read it. Ask them to find holes, typos, unanswered questions, and missing information. I know a guy who wrote a short book about college financial planning. After he ordered his first 30 copies from CreateSpace, someone asked whether it included information about 529 Savings Plans.

It did not. So he burned his first 30 copies, made the additions that ended up being another major section of his book, and ordered 30 more copies.

This guy had basically produced his book in a weekend, done some editing, and then uploaded it for printing. No beta readers, no expert input, no major time between revisions, and so he missed a very important part of college financial planning. This is why you need extra eyes on your work. Sure it’s going to add time, but your book will be better for it.

6. Hire a professional editor.
If you’re going to use this as a business card or a brochure, then it had better be great. You can’t have typos, you can’t have mistakes, you can’t have anything that makes it look half-assed and flawed.

There are people who say “perfect is the enemy of good,” but those are people willing to settle for “good enough.” And good enough is terrible. So do everything you can to make your book great.

That means don’t do the editing yourself. No one is good at editing their own work, even copy editors. Hire someone. For a 75 – 100 page book, you can find a decent copyeditor for a couple hundred bucks. Or you can find a great copyeditor for several hundred dollars. Even a recently-graduated creative writing or English major would be delighted to edit your work for $200, and they’ll do a fantastic job of it.

7. Get a professional cover.
CreateSpace has covers available, but you’ll be much better off if you can hire someone to do your cover design for you. If you’re not a graphic designer, this is not the time for you to take a stab at it.

Get someone with some decent design skills to put one together. It doesn’t have to be fancy or be a $5,000 masterpiece.. If you want some ideas, go to the bookstore and study the book covers in your particular field. Note the design trends, font choices, whether they used photos or illustrations and what kind. Get an idea of what you want your book cover to look like, and then ask your designer to create it for you.

8. Do not, do not, DO NOT screw around with font size and margins in order to boost your page count.
This isn’t high school. Those tricks you did when you had to write your papers to meet word and page count — lots of adverbs, squeeze the margins in to 1.5″, line-and-a-half spacing, 14 pt. type — only make your book look like a complete scam and like you’re deliberately trying to be tricky.

Real books are single spaced, 12 pt. type or smaller, and have 1″ margins or less. A few years ago, I met a guy who bragged about turning a 20 page manuscript into a 30 page collection of words — I won’t call it a “book” — and he advocated screwing with the fonts and margins to make the book thicker.

If you have to do that, just delete your work. Delete it and go back to the drawing board or the classroom, because you clearly don’t have what it takes to write a book in the first place. Because that’s not writing, and it doesn’t demonstrate expertise. That’s dishonest garbage. If you have to lie about how long the book is, I won’t trust a single word in it.

I’m learning to change my way of thinking and my elitist attitude about being a book author. But you have to meet me halfway. Anything that’s less than 30 pages, is poorly written, unedited, and is a stinking word turd is not a book.

Slapping a collection of pages between two pieces of card stock doesn’t make it a book anymore than me wearing bread earmuffs makes my head a sandwich.

So do the work, take the time to make it good, produce something of value, and make sure there’s enough in it to actually be proud of. When you look at it five years later, you don’t want to be embarrassed by a comedy of errors and bad writing that you could have easily prevented with just a little more time..

FL Entrepreneur Can Fulfill 12 Days of Christmas for 76% Less Than Leading Experts (PRESS RELEASE)

For Immediate Release
November 17, 2017

(ORLANDO)—Entrepreneurs know how to get things done with less money, fewer resources, and in a shorter amount of time. Humor writer and Florida entrepreneur Erik Deckers recently demonstrated that by hypothetically fulfilling all the items mentioned in the 12 Days Of Christmas. Deckers was able to find everything for $8,407, nearly 76 percent less than PNC Bank’s proposed cost of $34,558.65.

For the last 33 years, the PNC Financial Service Group has calculated the cost of every item of the classic Christmas carol. Deckers, a newspaper humor columnist and small business owner, decided he could do better. He did some basic Internet research and contacted a couple of friends, and came up with a figure much lower than PNC, and wrote about it for his latest humor column.

12 Days of Christmas. A real entrepreneur can fulfill this for $8400.“The swans and the dancers were the budget killers,” said Deckers. “PNC was spending nearly $13,000 for seven swans a-swimming, and another $13,000 on nine ladies dancing and 10 lords a-leaping.”

Deckers said he checked a bird-selling website and sourced seven swans for $3,050. He also contacted a friend who works in entertainment at Disney World.

“Based on her recommendations, I think I could get 19 male and female dancers for $50 each for a two-hour gig, plus a couple passes through the craft table,” said Deckers. “That’s $4,000 to PNC’s $26,000.”

Deckers also researched other poultry hatcheries for the geese, partridges, and French hens.

“PNC was spending $180 on French hens,” said Deckers. “I found five of them for $7.75 apiece. That’s $38.75 total, with two hens left over for Easter eggs next year.”

Deckers admits this is all tongue-in-cheek, and he appreciates PNC’s annual efforts. But he also wanted to show that small businesses can achieve nearly the same results as large corporations, especially since they don’t have the same resources.

“There are plenty of entrepreneurs in this country who are doing great things on shoestring budgets,” said Deckers. “We don’t all get millions of dollars from venture capitalists, and we don’t have the huge budgets of the corporations. So we get things done by being resourceful and calling on our professional networks for help. I thought this was a great way to remind people of that fact.”

About Erik Deckers

Erik Deckers has been a newspaper humor columnist since 1995, and has owned his own small business, Pro Blog Service, since 2009. He recently published the 3rd edition of his book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (Que Biz-Tech), with co-author Kyle Lacy. The book is available on Amazon.com, and at Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million.

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Photo credit: Xavier Romero-Frias (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)

A Simple Content Strategy for People Who Hate Content Strategy

There’s a great scene in John Cusack’s Better Off Dead where he gets skiing advice from Curtis Armstrong: “Go that way really fast. If something gets in your way, turn.”

I can think of no better advice to give someone who wants to do content marketing, but hates content strategy: “Create content for your customers. If something unexpected comes up, deal with it.”

For one thing, too many people put a lot of stock into developing complex content strategy. They draw up battle plans and strategies that would make military planners weep with envy. They overanalyze, overplan, and create year-long calendars of what they want to say on a particular day at a particular hour when Venus is in Gemini.

It’s quite a sight to see a spreadsheet with 500 or more tweets scheduled over a 12 month period.

It’s heartbreaking to see someone’s look of emotional devastation when the entire calendar has to be deleted because of a fairly minor change to the business, their industry, or industry regulations.

(You could hear the screams two counties over.)

A content strategy shouldn't look like a military strategyOver at Contently.com, Joe Lauzakas wrote about the importance of content strategy in Ask a Content Strategist: My Boss Wants Me to Write Blog Posts Without a Strategy. What Do I Do?

He cites all kinds of important statistics like, “According to a 2017 Contently survey, 98 percent of marketers believe that “having and following a content marketing strategy is important for content marketing success.” and “Per CMI’s 2018 B2B Content Marketing Trends survey, 62 percent of content marketers who rated themselves as very successful or extremely successful have a documented content strategy.

And he’s not wrong. But those strategies don’t need battlefield maps and years-long spreadsheets. You should be able to articulate your strategy in less than 30 seconds or on a single piece of paper.

Here’s a quick and dirty content strategy that should see you through an entire year, never need revising, and cover nearly every contingency.

1. Pick 2–3 main benefits of your product.

Or 2–3 services you provide, or 2–3 verticals you serve. These are the three things you’re going to write about the most. In fiction writing terms, this is your A story, B story, and C story. That is, you’re going to write about your main point (A story) the most, second main point (B story) second most, and so on.

Think of a sitcom: the A story takes around 13 – 14 minutes of a 22-minute episode, the B story is going to get 4 – 6 minutes, and the C story is going to get the remainder.

Your content should get this same kind of attention. The thing you’re known for the most should get two-thirds of your attention, and so on.

And if you focus on the services or verticals, you should still write about the 2 – 3 main benefits you offer each service/vertical. For example, if your main clients are lawyers, mystery shoppers, and dachshund wranglers (a dachshund literally just walked by as I wrote this), then you need to talk about the 2 – 3 benefits that lawyers, mystery shoppers, and dachshund wranglers will get from your products. Now you’ve got anywhere from 6 – 9 running topics for blog articles.

Nearly everything you write about should stick to one of these three benefits. You can occasionally deviate from it, writing about company history, special awards, or notable events. But otherwise, everything needs to focus on your 2 – 3 regular topics.

2. Pick 3 or 4 THEMES for your content strategy.

These are the kinds of articles you’re going to write; they’re going to fit into one of these themes, but still focus on one of the categories mentioned above.

Let’s say you own an IT consulting firm, providing computer networking and troubleshooting to small businesses. You could pick a theme-based calendar as follows:

  • Week 1: Write a how-to article.
  • Week 2: Write a client case study.
  • Week 3: Write about computer security.
  • Week 4: Write about IT industry news.
  • Or if you’re a dachshund wrangler, your content calendar would look like this:

    • Week 1: Write a training article.
    • Week 2: Write a story about your own experiences and adventures (a personal case study).
    • Week 3: Write about dachshund health and diet.
    • Week 4: Write about the dachshund wrangling industry.

    Next, come up with a Twitter schedule to tweet about these four themes on a rotating basis. Or you’re going to skip the case studies, and tweet curated articles about topics 1, 3, and 4 once per day (Don’t forget to tweet and post updates about your own blogs too.)

    Just keep it loose and flexible. If you have some breaking industry news that has to publish in week 2, swap it out with the case study that month. And if you ever have a major emergency or important announcement (like a product launch), that supersedes everything. You don’t have to make up the missed days, just pick it up the next time it comes around.

    Or publish two articles that week. There are no rules to this!

    Don’t forget to connect to people who have IT or dachshund wrangling questions (item #4). Communicate with them like real people, and answer their questions. Don’t pepper them with an all-news format. That’s boring and people hate it.

    3. Commit to using all content

    Lauzakas’ article also said, “According to SiriusDecisions, 65 percent of all content that brands produce goes unused. There are a few big reasons for why: content is hard to find, unknown to users, irrelevant, and low quality.”

    First, I’m not going to say “produce high quality content” because that’s stupid advice. I shouldn’t have to tell you that. It’s like telling you to “drive safely” because I think you’re going to go careening all over the road. (You’re not, so the advice is pointless. You’re not going to intentionally produce shitty content, so telling you to write good stuff is pointless.)

    But I will say that it’s absolutely necessary that you commit to using any piece of content you produce. If you write an article, publish it. If you write a tweet, post it. If you produce a video, put it on YouTube. And then promote it.

    If you don’t use it because it wasn’t good enough, then that’s on you. That’s not a lack of a strategy, that’s because you’re not willing or able to, well, produce high-quality content.

    4. Create a basic human-centered social media promotion strategy

    This isn’t that hard either. As Jason Falls is fond of saying, “Share good shit.”

    These days, social media seems to be more about blasting out one-way marketing messages that don’t engage anyone. But you need to rethink that, since it’s clearly not working.

    Think about your TV viewing habits. Do you fast forward through all TV commercials? Of course! We all do! We hate ads. And that’s how people feel about your marketing blasts.

    Stop treating Twitter and other social channels like an advertising medium. Stop posting “hey, read this!” messages over and over. There are Twitter bots that do nothing but post article after article after article, sending over three dozen tweets in a single day that aren’t engaging or interesting. (And if it’s real people doing this, they should be ashamed of themselves.)

    Instead, communicate with people. Talk with them. Have conversations. Ask and answer questions. Share their posts. Treat people like people, not like advertising viewers. Then, when you do occasionally have something of your own to promote, they’re more likely to read it and share it themselves.

    Guidelines, Not Strategies

    To be honest, this is the kind of content marketing strategy I use for all my clients. We focus on a few recurring topics and themes, we use all blog posts that we write, and we promote everything. We even have a basic calendar that says “we’ll write X number of articles about this topic, and Y number about that topic.”

    Other than that, there’s no need to create a complex content strategy. Remember, if you can’t articulate your strategy in less than 30 seconds, or on a single page, it’s too complicated.

    Photo credit: Ipankonin (Wikimedia Commons, GNU Free Documentation License)

    Don’t Ignore Written Content Marketing for the Sake of Video

    Marketers everywhere have begun singing the praises of video so loudly, they sound like Oprah at Christmas.

    “You need a video! And you need a video! Everyone needs a video!”

    Sure, it’s the new and exciting way to share information. Everyone who’s got a mobile phone has the means for creating, distributing, and watching of all sorts of video content. I watch Netflix while I eat breakfast. My kids watch comedy videos throughout the day. And we’ve all used YouTube as a search engine to solve a problem — I changed out my air conditioning filter a few weeks ago, thanks to a South Korean video.

    Except video is not, and should not, be the final word when it comes to content marketing.

    The written word should still get most of our attention as content marketers. If you’re going to add video to your marketing efforts, then you need to increase your overall content marketing creation. Don’t replace written content with video content and hope for the same engagement rates.

    For one thing, gathering information by video is time consuming. If people want to do a lot of research about a major purchase, videos will help, but your customers still want written specs, performance details, and product information. And they want to be able to look details up quickly, rather than watch 87 minutes of video to find one specific detail again.

    (Think of it this way: if you want to know the horsepower of your car, are you going to Google it or watch a 10-minute product video and hope you catch it?)

    For another, video viewing is not going to replace reading. We’re not going to stop reading books in favor of watching someone read them to us on video. If that were the case, the audiobook revolution would have been massive, and brought about a faster end to bookstores.

    We’re also not going to stop reading news articles online in favor of videos of those same articles being read to us. And before you say “but TV news!” keep in mind that most individual news stories only get 20 – 30 seconds of airtime. And that there’s also a more thoroughly written version of each story on a news channel’s website.

    In other words. . .

    Video Will Never Replace the Written Word

    A shoulder-mounted RCA VHS video camera. Not suitable for video content marketing, no matter what happens!

    I used one of these in high school. We thought we were hot stuff then!

    So before you outfit your entire company with GoPros and YouTube accounts and flood the world with your video masterpieces, consider these four problems with video.

    1) Most of us do not do well speaking off the cuff in front of an audience. We stammer, stutter, and lose our train of thought when we’re having a normal conversation, let alone if we’re in front of an audience and are not 100 percent prepared. And there are a lot of videos where people just hit record and started talking.

    Don’t believe me? Pick a topic — how the original Star Wars trilogy is an allegory for today’s American political system — and record yourself talking about it for five solid minutes.

    “But that’s not how I’d do it!” you protest. “I’d prepare and practice and make sure I got everything down just right.”

    I know you will. Which means it will take 4 – 6 hours to produce a five-minute video. Now squeeze that time into your normal workday of meetings, writing TPS reports, and doing your actual work.

    Meanwhile, I wrote this blog post, including edits, in about 90 minutes. I could write four blog posts in 6 hours.

    2) A visual element is not always helpful. A lot of video content is just talking head videos of someone straight staring at their camera, usually on their laptop, and talking to us for three to five to ten minutes at a time.

    Why the hell are we watching this? What are you actually doing that’s so interesting that I need to stop everything I’m doing and stare at my phone to watch your mouth move?

    Are there graphics? No. Special effects? No. Is their kid going to run in and do something awesome? No. It’s just that person’s head, talking, for several minutes without doing anything else.

    This is an inefficient use of your viewers’ time. Your video can easily be replaced with an MP3 and nothing will change. There’s no actual visual value that requires the amount of focus we usually put into video viewing. This information could be shared in a podcast or a blog article instead, rather than us taking the time to watch you talk.

    I started listening to the audio tracks of TED talks for this very reason. When I realized the talks are usually nothing more than someone standing on a stage with a few slides, I found I could listen to them in the car during my commute. Nothing changed, the information wasn’t any different, and my life wasn’t better or worse for having done it.

    Here’s a good rule of thumb: if we can listen to your video without missing anything important, you didn’t need to make it a video. Consider making a podcast instead.

    Photo of F. W. Murnau, noted German film director.

    Photo of F. W. Murnau, noted German film director.

    3) A lot of videos have poor production values. Most mediocre video content is usually shot on a mobile phone, and it shows. The lighting is poor, or the lens is dirty, or the person forgets and holds the camera vertically, so we all have to turn our heads 90 degrees just to see what’s going on.

    And the sound is all tinny, like the speaker is in a giant coffee can, or sitting in the bathroom 20 feet from the microphone.

    If you want to make good — and I mean good videos, not just “barely acceptable” ones — you need to invest in a good DSLR camera, a decent lavaliere/lapel microphone, and a tripod. And you need to get very good at using them. That means hours of practice, learning how to use the equipment properly.

    Sure, you can make an okay cell phone video, but if that’s your company’s video marketing strategy, just shut the business down now and send everyone home. Otherwise, you need to hire a dedicated staffer whose sole job is to make videos, or you need to outsource your video production work to professional video marketers who know how to do this kind of thing quickly and efficiently. (For one thing, they can produce your 5-minute video in an hour or two.)

    4) Short videos are inefficient. This is the biggie: The average person speaks at 100 – 150 words per minute, but the average adult reading speed is 300 wpm. (It’s also 450 wpm for the average college student, and 575 for high level executives).

    That means a 300 word video will take 2 – 3 minutes to watch, but your average customer can read that same 300 word article in 30 – 60 seconds. Meanwhile, your college student will read it in 45 seconds, and your executive will read it in nearly 30.

    This article clocks in at roughly 1600 words, which should take approximately 5 – 6 minutes for the average person to read (3+ minutes for our average college student, slightly less than 3 for our executive). But if I read it to you in a video, you’ll have to watch it for 10 – 16 minutes.

    Now, imagine reading 12 1000-word articles in your favorite business magazine versus watching 12 videos of the same word count. That’s 24 – 48 minutes of reading versus 120 minutes of viewing.

    Videos are great if you can add strong visual elements to them, like Moz’s Whiteboard Friday videos. There, Moz president Rand Fishkin lays out the latest research and developments in search engine optimization, using a whiteboard to illustrate his point.

    But without the whiteboard, he’s just another Wil-Wheaton-with-a-handlebar-mustache lookalike talking to a video camera, and the information is much less enjoyable to watch or easy to absorb.

    Bottom line: I don’t want to watch someone talk to me for 5 minutes when I can read that same block of text in less than 2 minutes. Combine that with bad production values, poor sound, and lots of hemming and hawing, and you can understand why “Just flip on your phone’s camera and start talking” is bad advice.

    By all means, use video in your content marketing. It’s important, it’s helpful, and it’s the wave of the future. But just for God’s sake, do it right! Get proper equipment, learn how to use it, and write scripts of your talk beforehand. Practice and prepare. And if you need to, join a Toastmaster’s club and improve your public speaking.

    Just don’t half-ass your video content because someone told you it was as easy as putting your phone in selfie mode and talking into it.

    When it’s done properly, video content is a beautiful sight to behold: explainer videos, demonstration videos like Will It Blend, or even entertainment videos, like JW Marriott’s amazing “The Two Bellmen” series. Even videos of you giving a talk at a conference are great uses of video.

    But don’t expect video content marketing to replace written content marketing anytime soon. Don’t fire your copywriters and replace them with GoPros and Quentin Tarantino wannabes.

    Video will expand over the coming years, and we’ll be able to make it look better more easily and for less money, but don’t stop focusing on improving your writing skills or your written content.

    Photo credit: Darian Hildebrand (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)
    Photo #2 credit: Subject: Friedrich William Murnau (Photographer unknown. This photograph is in the public domain in the United States and Russia.)