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Building a Content Platform

December 8, 2011 5 comments

Blogging

Yesterday, I discussed content as a platform. Today, I’m going to provide tips for building your content platform.

The 90-9-1 Rule

The 90-9-1 Rule is more of a benchmark, but it states that 1% of the online population is highly participatory (producing original content), 9% participates some of the time (usually curating content – taking an action with the content from the 1% such as commenting, sharing, reposting etc.) and 90% “lurk and learn” or do not participate (they consume the content, but they don’t take an action with it).

It stands to reason then that the 1% are the most influential people on the web, followed by the 9%. But, what about those that produce original content AND curate? They reach influence at scale.

Some brand publishers are already doing this; I touched briefly on the subject in my post, “The Valuation of Content”. The Huffington Post sets the bar with a mix of original content from its editorial staff, curated content where they write two paragraphs and link to another publisher’s content and content from third party bloggers. But, this alone, isn’t enough. They have treated content as a platform, using a social layer to encourage their audience to participate.

Optimization for Participation

One quick look at The Huffington Post homepage, and you can see they’re serving up, not just the latest content, but the most popular, the most discussed, “Hot on Facebook” and “Hot on Twitter”. Dive into an article, and you’ll find it’s easy to comment on posts and share the content through social media.

What does this mean? The Huffington Post are experts at getting their audience to participate, and effectively making content go viral. Their content gets engaged with, curated and broadly syndicated by its own audience because The Huffington Post makes it easy for their audience to find great content and engage/curate/syndicate.

How Can Brands Build a Content Platform?

Ten Tips for Building a Content Platform

  1. Don’t be a used car salesman (i.e. a good content strategy focuses on building a relationship and trust with the audience)
  2. Identify what kind of content your target audience finds valuable
    • Is there a reoccurring complaint about your product/service? Offer up a piece of content that helps them troubleshoot the problem.
    • Are they looking for guidance regarding a topic in which you’re company has domain expertise? Offer up content that can help them (e.g. tips for managing personal finances, a guide to eco-friendly living, considerations when selecting a safe car for your teenager, etc.).
  3. In what format do they like to consume that content (e.g. video, text, photos, slide presentations)?
  4. Where do they like to consume that content (e.g. YouTube, blogs, Instagram, Slideshare, Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Tumblr, etc.)?
  5. Select a product/platform on which to build your hub (WordPress, Facebook, Google)
  6. Add a social layer (commenting and sharing functionality), if it doesn’t already exist. A great tool to incorporate here is Disqus, which is a comments community, serving as the comments engine for over 1MM sites and has almost 60MM users.
  7. Produce original content that meets your audience’s needs.
  8. Curate content that adds value to your original content and to your audience
  9. Engage with your audience, as they comment and share on your content
  10. Listen and improve

The image below represents the type and amount of content you should produce against the 90-9-1 rule. In the end, you want to product content that instigates your audience to take an action, including creating more content for you. As a brand, you likely won’t be able to produce enough good content yourself, in-house. And, it’s not your job to either. But, if you use content as a platform for your advocates to create more content about your brand, then you’re reaching scale both in volume of content and syndication of your content.

Live Entrepreneurially: Harnessing Luck

December 5, 2011 Leave a comment

luck is in small things(42/365)
This is part 2 of 2 of the “Live Entrepreneurially” series. In part 1, I wrote about finding purpose. Today, I’m going to explain how preparing with purpose can harness luck. Instead of presenting the ideas here as theoretical, I’m going to use examples from my own career.

I’m not a marketer. Yet, my last two jobs have been in marketing. Why?

The last year I was in the film business I thought a lot about my intrinsic motivations and purpose, and how those manifest themselves in business and into a career. What aspects of previous jobs did I like / dislike? For example

  • I like high volume, high stress work environments. If a workplace is too slow, I get anxious and antsy and start working on side projects to keep myself busy. I need to feel productive
  • I have self-diagnosed A.D.D., so, to stay interested, I need either (1) one project that is progressing quickly and needs all of my attention, or (2) several projects that require less personal attention, but sum up to a high volume of work in aggregate. That said, I generally like having my hands in several different projects at a time
  • I love to mentor – maybe because I didn’t get a lot of direction when I was growing up
  • Also worth noting, while I like mentoring (or consulting) people (e.g. students, clients, team members, etc.), I don’t like holding people’s hands. This is because I believe time is my most valuable asset and I can’t stand when people waste my time. I expect people to be at least as passionate and resourceful as me. Otherwise, I don’t want them in the room
  • I like being in a position where I can influence the strategy/direction of a business

I have many more of these, but I’ll stop here. When I mapped these qualities against a growing interest in technology and social media and how they were affecting the way we communicate and consume content, I concluded that I wanted to start my own company and eventually move into venture capital to fund and mentor other entrepreneurs.  That’s when I started thinking about social TV.

President Abraham Lincoln.

“I will prepare, and one day my chance will come” — Abraham Lincoln

I started preparing – thinking about how the internet, mobile and social media were affecting content consumption and how to disrupt mainstream Hollywood. So, when opportunity presented itself and I was introduced to Avi Savar (Founder of Big Fuel) I was prepared. I connected with their Content to Commerce business model, helping brands connect with their customers through content, and the idea of helping them scale their business. And, so I was hired. And, I accepted because the job fit within the parameters of my purpose.

Six months later, when Big Fuel‘s growth leveled out, and I moved more into an account management role than a corporate development role, and my workload decreased, I got the startup bug again.

I got to work planning two new companies – one being a location-based network and the other a social business consultancy.

Again, opportunity came knocking, and again, I was prepared. I was introduced to WCG, which was building out its company much the way I was mapping out my social business consultancy. Had I not been working on my own company, and had developed my own point of view on the nature of the marketing and communications industry and how social media fits into it, I may not have gotten an offer.

I wasn’t looking for a job; I was ready to start my own company. But, the fact that WCG was building business very similar to what I wanted to build, and the fact that everyone I met at the company was smart and passionate, convinced me it was worth taking a shot on them. It never hurts to align yourself with good people and strong leaders, and I was impressed by Bob PearsonJim Weiss and the rest of the team. So, now I’m at WCG.

My last two jobs have been in marketing. Why?

Because technology, content and social media (three interests that fit within my purpose) are disrupting the marketing and communications industry. Brands and agencies need people that can help them navigate the new wild west, and I can fill that role. But, I don’t consider myself a marketer. I consider myself an entrepreneur-in-the-making.

As Tim Cook said, “We rarely control the timing of opportunities, but we can control the preparation”.

So, I will continue to prepare. And, I hope you will too. Find your purpose and prepare. Opportunity will come.

Addendum

On a side note, you don’t have to jump from company to company to find roles that fit within your purpose. Please take the time to read this short post by Steven Tomlinson, Professor at Acton MBA in Entrepreneurship, where he speaks about tweaking your existing job to make it more satisfying.

And, if you haven’t seen Professor Tomlinson’s TEDxAustin speech, I urge you to watch the video below now.

Practice Social RECIPROCITY, not Social MEDIA

August 17, 2011 Leave a comment
As Gary Vaynerchuk so astutely pointed out in this video, “social media” is a misnomer. The word “media” makes brands think that they can still push out their messages and advertisements like they have for decades through traditional media, but now they’ll earn some kind of positive, “viral” reaction just for doing so through social media. Not the case – not by a long shot.

Here’s what traditional advertisers and brands don’t seem to understand: social media isn’t about pushing out messages or distributing amazing branded content or even about innovation in technology. It’s about human behavior. It’s about creating efficiencies in, and scaling, basic human behavior. Or, as Ted Rubin so aptly says, “Please, please remember… Social media is NOT about tools or technology, but about PEOPLE.”

To paraphrase “The Thank You Economy”, it’s a big world out there, but social media makes it a small town. And, you better mind your manners.

I named my blog “Reciprocity Theory” because it keeps me focused on the human intuition that powers social media: RECIPROCITY.

People inherently want to do business with people (and companies) that they enjoy doing business with. If you’re going to spend the vast majority of your time at work, don’t you want to spend that time with people you connect with? Same goes for consumers. They want to buy products and services from companies that they connect with – companies that value their customers and show it. Social media empowers brands to connect with their customers in a scalable, yet personal way.

Zappos is the pinnacle of reciprocity. They have built a billion dollar company by developing a culture focused on delivering happiness. They deliver happiness to their customers, sure. But, they deliver happiness to their employees and partners first. Every year, every employee and vendor gives their honest assessment of the company, and all those perspectives – good and bad – get published publicly in their culture book. The company truly listens to, and cares about, its people and partners, and that culture of caring – of delivering happiness – trickles down to Zappos’ customers. It’s a reciprocal effect of epic proportions. (Side note: if every business and marketing professional read Tony Hsieh‘s book, “Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose”, the world would be a better place…honestly).

I always say that small to mid-size companies are better structured than large companies to take full advantage of social media’s power. That’s because social is a real-time medium, and practicing social reciprocity means trusting and empowering your team to make decisions in the customers’ best interests, in real-time. That starts in the c-suite. It starts with the company’s visionary. Only s/he can decide to reinvent the company’s culture and make customer caring and innovation a priority, and hold his/her team accountable for developing that culture. That’s easier to do for the owner of a local coffee shop or president of a privately owned, boutique hotel group than it is for the CEO of a publicly owned, Fortune 500 company. But, that shouldn’t stop the latter from trying! Because the effects of social reciprocity are well worth the efforts.

I discussed the ROI and opportunities presented by participating in social media here. Ultimately it comes down to what Ted Rubin likes to call ROR (“Return on Relationship”). “Relationships ARE the new currency”, says Rubin – “honor them, invest in them, & reap the benefits!”

Social media isn’t so much an investment in money, as it is in time and relationships. Care about your customers. Develop a corporate culture that cares about its customers. Then, use social media to practice social reciprocity.

Defining ROI of Social Media by Identifying Opportunities with Social Media

August 8, 2011 Leave a comment

There is a lot of buzz about social media.  There is also a lot of noise. So, I’m never surprised when brands are confused and misguided about what the value is of participating in social media and how to begin.I came from the movie business where the trades analyze box office numbers like sports stats. The whole industry has become focused on opening weekend, and if the movie doesn’t perform, it’s likely not going to be given the opportunity to develop an audience. It’s all about creating excitement and anticipation before the movie’s release vs. allowing the content to gain positive word-of-mouth and momentum after its release. It’s all about winning the sprint.The social media industry as a whole is following a strikingly similar approach.

In the startup world there are rumblings of a bubble. It’s sexy to invest in social media startups in hopes of getting in on the next Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn or even Groupon. The problem is that many investors trying to get into the industry don’t know what to look for, and so many entrepreneurs are, as Charlie O’Donnell so adequately stated in his newsletter a few weeks ago, “solving to get funded” instead of building products that are creating value by improving the lives of the greater population. It’s about the sprint, and the finish line is getting funded by a VC. While any VC or entrepreneur worth their salt knows it’s really about the execution, and that is akin to running a marathon several times over.

In the marketing world, we are reporting on the most-viewed, viral branded videos. We’re creating badges for every action and trying to figure out which new check-in or check-out startup we should use on the next campaign.  We’re confusing brands about what’s important and valuable – probably because this is all still so new that we are, in part, figuring it out as we go.

So, I have a challenge for everyone: keep it simple and focus on the longview.

Here’s what I mean by that:

Social Media Is Not New
Instead of trying to give you a lesson in the history of social media, I’ll just refer you to a series of posts by Mark Suster. Honestly, he explains it better than I could. Here are Part 1 – Social Networking: The Past, Part 2 – Social Networking: The Present and Part 3 – Social Networking: The Future.

What it comes down to is that there is a common thread between the technologies from thirty years ago, and the ones today. What has changed is that the internet is now ubiquitous and the platforms more sophisticated in enabling people to connect with each other, and find, filter and share content that they find relevant and valuable.

When analyzing new technologies, focus on those that solve a real problem for a large audience (broad or niche) and create a community (i.e. a network or fan base) around that product/service.

So, What’s the Value of Social Media for a Brand?
The most valuable thing that a brand can do in social media is leverage its platforms to listen to, and communicate with, their customers to create an owned advocacy network where a brand’s most avid advocates can

  • inform the brand directly on valuable improvements that the brand can make to its product/service
  • help other customers solve issues that they’re having with the product/service
  • gain exclusive access to content that the advocates crave and can use for their own social activities (participating in forums, blogging, etc.)

This is valuable because

  • customers transform into advocates with an emotional connection to the brand
  • brands can implement the insights from their advocates into product/service updates, improving their brands in a meaningful way
  • advocates earn a real voice in the brand’s development and identity, which only deepens their connection with the brand and makes them want to participate more, leading to more insights and more positive word-of-mouth and content (and high search results) for your brand
  • less money and time spent on a customer service team because your advocates are already answering many of the questions that a customer may have. And, they may be answering those questions in a clearer and more timely fashion than your customer service team would

What Does This Really Mean for a Brand?
A tectonic shift in the way a brand manages its business. It must start behaving like a transparent startup, and that directive has to come from the C-Suite down. The value can be tremendous. Social media gives brands a channel to encourage innovation informed by its greatest advocates. It eliminates the guess work when thinking of improvements to your product/service – just listen to your advocates and you know that there will be a consumer base that appreciates the updates.

Bob Pearson describes this phenomenon well in his book “Pre-Commerce”, as does Gary Vaynerchuk in his book “The Thank You Economy”.  I highly recommend both reads.Warren Buffett Says
I’ll leave you with two Warren Buffett quotes:
  • “The business schools reward difficult complex behavior more than simple behavior, but simple behavior is more effective”,
  • “There seems to be some perverse human characteristic that likes to make easy things difficult”.

Well, essentially, the same goes for social media. The press and ad agencies and VCs and startups generate a lot of noise and make social media sound a lot more complicated than it really is.

Focus on the simple behaviors – the basic actions that people take online. Understand why people take those actions and empower them to do more of it, while providing them value with your brand. And, remember that it all starts with listening.

A Brand’s Journey to Discovery

May 26, 2011 3 comments

Previously, I wrote an introduction to the Reciprocity Theory – my theory that brands must earn their seat in the conversation by becoming a Valued Community Member (VCM). You can read that post here.  In this post, I’m going to describe how a brand can identify the types of content to produce and curate, based on the ways that audiences discover brands online, so that the brand can become a VCM.

First, let’s recap that in order to become a VCM, the individual/brand must produce or curate Valued Original Content (VOC). According to AOL’s study “CONTENT: What Drives Consumption?”, the formula for VOC is:

Unique Content + Quality (trusted, fresh, relevant, authentic) Content = Valued Original Content

Now, let’s discuss what kind of content a brand should be producing.

In its study, AOL broke down online activities into two buckets:

  • Content Activities; and,
  • Communication Activities
Below is an infographic from the study:

The following are my assumptions and interpretations of the infographic above:

  • “Seeking/getting info” refers to search (through a search engine like Google or Bing, or within an experience such as within a news site or social network)
  • “Seeking/getting info” is not mutually exclusive with “Entertainment” or “Shopping”, as the former can lead to the latter and vise versa
  • “Social Networking” refers only to the act of communicating with individuals in one’s network, not the act of discovering or sharing content. The latter is reserved for “Entertainment”

Just as there are two main online activities that audiences participate in, there are two main ways for brands to be discovered by their audiences. I call these the “Discovery Points”, and they are:

  • Passive Discovery; and,
  • Active Discovery

Passive Discovery

Passive Discovery addresses audiences in their passive state – i.e. while they’re participating in the following activities (defined by AOL):

  • Social Networking (which = 15% of online activities); and,
  • Entertainment (i.e. video, games, music) (which = 16% of online activities)

It helps me to think of these as activities that you participate in while sitting back in your chair.

You enter an experience (Facebook, Twitter, your favorite news site or celebrity gossip site, etc.), and passively browse, discover and consume the content that is featured that day or in that moment.

In Passive Discovery mode, the VOC is lifestyle/interest focused.

Now say you discover something interesting, and you want to learn more about it. How are you going to discover more information or find more related content?  You enter Active Discovery mode…

Active Discovery

Active Discovery addresses audiences in their active state – i.e. while they’re participating in the following activities (defined by AOL):

  • Seeking / getting information (i.e. search) (which = 26% of online activities); and,
  • Shopping (which = 11% of online activities)

It helps me to think of these as activities that you participate in while sitting forward in your chair.

You’re seeking specific information (more reports on an interesting piece of news or gossip, related content from a publisher you just discovered, information about a product or service that you just discovered, etc.).  You actively search, discover and consume this content.

And, thus, in Active Discovery mode, the VOC is product/service focused.

It’s important to note that Passive and Active Discovery are not mutually exclusive, but rather, when coordinated properly, they create a reciprocal ecosystem of content where each guides audiences into the other, as demonstrated in the below Discovery Map.

Now, different products/services follow different purchasing frequencies. For example, you may buy a box of cereal every week, but buy a new cell phone only once every year or two, and lease a car only every three to five years. How do you conquest audiences, so that when they arrive at the “Purchase Point” (the point at which they need to purchase a product/service in your vertical), they choose your product/service over your competitors’?

You must win “Share of Voice”, “Share of Conversation” and, ultimately, “Share of Mind”.

I’ll be covering this in my next post.

Social Media and the Reciprocity Theory

April 23, 2011 3 comments

This post originally appeared here on Big Fuel’s blog Content to Commerce.

—————————————————————————————————————————-

 rec.i.proc.i.ty / [res-uh-pros-i-tee] / n.

mutual dependence, action or influence

http://www.merriam-webster.com

Newton’s Third Law of Physics

I constantly contextualize and visualize information; it makes digesting that information easier.  Thus, I often think of social media in the context of Newton’s Third Law of Physics (for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction).  And, I refer back to this image of two ice skaters pushing against each other.

So long as the force that each skater is acting upon the other is equal, they maintain a balanced relationship. But, as soon as the force of one exceeds the other, the relationship is thrown off balance.  In other words, the skaters’ relationship is mutually dependent, or, reciprocal.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the core motivators that drive participation and action in social media. What is influence, really, and why the desire to become an influencer? What drives a piece of information or content (the two being synonymous on the social web) to go viral? And, how can a brand leverage social media to reach its audience and see a real ROI?

This notion of social reciprocity has struck a cord with me, leading to the development of what I call the Reciprocity Theory.

The Reciprocity Theory

At its core, the Reciprocity Theory believes that social motivation is based on each person’s desire to

  1. be recognized as an individual, and
  2. belong to a community

It’s the yin and yang of the social being. Why do we join a social network like Facebook or Foursquare? To be part of a community – even if that community is just connecting online with your offline friends.  Why do we share content on Twitter and YouTube?  To share in common interests and knowledge. Of course, as I was thinking about this, I had to visualize it, so I drew a venn diagram:

Taking a step back, I immediately thought: here’s the root of influence – at the intersection between the individual and the community. Influence is earned by being a valued member of the community. And, how does one become a valued member of the community? I backed into this answer…

The Valued Community Member
In their study “Content- What Drives Consumption?”, AOL concluded that audiences want valued original content. And, the equation for valued original content is:

Unique Content + Quality (trusted, fresh, relevant, authentic) Content = Valued Original Content

Thus, in order to be recognized as a valued community member, an individual must produce or curate valued original content. Provide value to the community, and your influence will grow. It’s reciprocal.

And, here lies the essence of the Reciprocity Theory. Whatever you give to a community, you earn in return.  It’s reciprocal and, potentially, infinite – as long as you continue to provide value to the community. So, the reciprocity venn diagram became an infinity loop of sorts.

Simple enough, right?

But, what about brands?
Looking back at the reciprocity venn diagram, another thought occurred to me: where does a brand fit into this? How does a brand reach their target audience?  If a brand interjects itself with traditional, antiquated messaging and advertising, then it will throw off the balance and the individual and community will retract. The individual and the community will continue their relationship, but the brand won’t be a part of it.

So, how can a brand earn a seat in the conversation in a world where the individual wields more power than the brand? The brand must do exactly that: earn it – by respecting the relationship and becoming a valued community member.

In my next post, I’ll be discussing how a brand can become a valued community member and start to see a real ROI for its participation. If you’re interested, please follow me on Twitter for updates.

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