Category Archives: Social Content Marketing

4 Archetypes of Top Social Media Influencers

Did you ever wonder what traits are associated with the top influencers in your industry? An examination of the top social media influencers led to the following 4 archetypes. 

sample social media leaders

Attributes of Social Media Influencer Archetypes Match Strategy Effectiveness

In the same way that social media influencers are told to make their  content informative, instructional, entertaining and inspirational,  we can easily identify social media leaders that excel in these attributes. Although marketing scholars would argue at this point that a rigorous discriminant analysis would then be required to demarcate each attributes’ contribution to audience growth, this exploratory analysis will first consider what we know of these social media influencers.  There are limitations, however, to consider when drawing conclusions on whether these archetypes can be confirmed from a subjective evaluation technique. 

First, much of the background on the popularity of social media influencers was gleaned from Klout scores, which many will debate is a suspect tool in which to affirm influence. Second, the dominant attributes assigned to each social media influencer were decided from content revealed in social network endorsements, the sampling of twitter dialogs and my own personal perceptions of these social media influencers’ ability to draw a large following after reading their books and attending their conferences. 

That said, a sorting of social media leaders having expert-level Klout scores into categories reflecting their most dominant attributes revealed the following two dimensions as a framework for classification: 

  • A communication style ranging from a predominantly insightful to a predominantly engaging way to connect with their audiences.
  • A rapport building purpose ranging from being predominantly educational to being predominantly inspirational.

Combining the two-axes then gives us four archetypes of social media influencers: Analytical Pundits, Mentors, Evangelists and Motivators

social media influencersPlacement of Top 100 Social Media Influencers 

Analytical Pundits Thrive on Education and Insightfulness

Most in the field of social media would likely attribute the popularity of David Meerman Scott, Sarah Lacy and Danah Boyd to how well they educates us.  In essence, we count on these social media influencers to interpret the industry’s technical makeovers and their impact on our marketing practices.

Some like Lee Odden accomplish this by leading the way on predicting how changes in technology will affect our search engine marketing strategies. Others like Brian Solis provide deeper insights into how social media is reshaping our social business practices. 

Common to all of these analytical pundits is a drive to be the first to interpret strategic meaning to technical developments and changes in user behavior. And as their fans, we trust in the accuracy of their judgments while anxiously awaiting their take on industry shake-ups or their predictions of what technologies will really materialize in the future. 

Mentors Thrive on Helpfulness and Engagement

Mentors among these social media influencers, on the other hand, serve a different purpose. Though not always as insightful as their intellectual counterparts, their influence scores are among the highest. These folks are seen as being educational and engaging. The latter is an especially distinguishing attribute as very few analytical pundits have active dialogs with their fans. As noted in the engagement statistics below, analytical pundits often have ratios of followers-to-following averaging around 20:1. To the contrary, mentors have ratios typically less than 2:1. 

Social Media Influencer StatisticsEngagement Statistics Associated with Social Media Influence Archetypes

Highlighted in this category are social media influencers like Kim Garst, Marsha Collier, Bryan Kramer and Darren Rowse. They all show dedicated commitment to their many fans. Jay Baer, for example, regularly dives into LinkedIn discussions and blog posts with tips for the blogger as well as words of encouragement.

Following the LinkedIn recommendations supporting those listed as coaches, it’s clear that fans appreciate their help and responsiveness. Their twitter feeds show an extremely highly level of dialog beyond just thank you’s.  Kim Garst, in particular, will respond and even converse with her nearly 300K followers on what is going on with their lives. Mentors like Jay Baer seem have a genuine passion to teach us tricks of the trade through their engaging podcasts. These behaviors are not as prevalent among the other 3 archetypes. 

Motivators Thrive on Engagement and Inspiration

In this next group, these motivators often take the route of staged performances and air time to launch their audience exposure. In even the most mundane of industries, it is hard to imagine social media influencers reaching the top of audience exposure without at least some flair for comedy or lively interaction.  From Joe Pulizzi’s infamous orange suit to Andrea Vahl’s “Grandma Mary” alter ego, many social media influencers capture their audience’s attention through entertaining chats, webinars and posts. 

The key to gaining influence as an entertainer, however, is to make sure the style fits your personality. Many social media influencers turn comedian at conferences and on podcasts only to annoy the rest of us that would rather they stick to their flair for educating, coaching or inspiring. But some are naturals. The ever ebullient Gary Vaynerchuk is perhaps the most popular of my students because of his candor, comic wit and sarcasm. Just like Robert Scoble’s knack for “off-the-wall” technical discoveries, Vaynerchuk and others have capitalized on their gifts to connect with today’s Millennials.

Others like Dave Kerpen, Jessica Northey, Brian Carter and Lou Mongello seem to have personalities that especially resonate with those needing a dressed down version of the scholarly type mentioned early. Common to all is a personality that attracts fans proud to reveal their lighter side. From Jessica’s roots in country music to Lou’s background with Disney and Dave’s wedding in a ballpark, these social media influencers convince us all that work should never be dull.

Evangelists Thrive on Insightfulness and Inspiration

But there is a reason why Robert Scoble, Guy Kawasaki and Gretchen Rubin have established arguably the greatest amount of trust with their fans. Evangelists often take the route of “inspire” first and “teach” later.  A typical trail of tweets from Cali Lewis or Sarah Evans for example, will help balance your info-overload with what matters in life just like one webcast from Mari Smith can recharge your day.

Many of the other archetypes attempt this, but typically fall flat. Instead, their sporadic use of inspirational quotes comes off as a ploy to boost their following. Evangelists, on the other hand, have a life story to share that resonates with our own struggles to succeed. 

I suspect that Mitch Joel, Joel Comm, and Beth Kanter also raise the bar in excellence by sharing their life stories. But they do it while weaving in their tips of the day on how to master social media. And unlike the motivator’s route, their twitter streams seem to appeal more to those seeking inspiration from someone they trust. In the process, this trust leads to followers wanting their interpretation on a variety of life matters.

What Makes for a Strong Social Media Influencer

From just exploratory research, it seems that social media influencers follow one of four fairly distinct paths. Granted some will say that Joel Comm can be entertaining, inspiring and educational. But most that follow him will likely credit his success to being a great evangelist. Similarly, few would attribute Gary Vaynerchuk’s success in garnering 1M+ twitter followers to his visionary ideas on where social business is heading. 

Successful social media influencers have obviously mastered the art of mentoring, motivating, analyzing or evangelizing to their audiences. But some have done it more through insightfulness than engagement. This most likely has to do with their introverted or extraverted behavioral styles. Either could work provided they avoid staging an unnatural behavior. 

The same applies to their motives. Many with Klout scores in the 80′s have earned their reputations from educational advice, while others have taken the route to inspire us. But just as I may not want Jay Baer as my lifestyle mentor, I would not want Ann Tran to explain why Jay’s perspective on sideways marketing has merit. 

So as many of us may be discouraged to take the route of a motivator or analytical pundit just to fit in, recognize their are 4 distinct paths to influence. And no one path leads to higher results when evaluated across the top social media influencers. But like strategy development and many other business concepts, it probably makes sense to pick ONE. 

So have  I missed any additional attributes that would separate some of these social media influencers from the crowd? Which of the archetypes do you feel will gain the most traction in years to come?

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How We Teach MBA Social Media Marketing Courses

Are you wondering how social media education is handled in today’s MBA social media marketing courses?

MBA social media marketing courses

MBA Social Media Education Beginning to Mature

For many professors teaching social media, we have witnessed the evolution of social media education from one of teaching tactics and technology to applying more strategic frameworks centered around the 10 E’s of inbound marketing.

Strategic Approach to MBA Social Media Marketing Courses

Using relationship marketing as an academic foundation for justifying MBA social media marketing courses, a typical social media curriculum lays out the strategic guidelines to follow when going mainstream with inbound marketing.

That means sequencing the topics in social media courses in line with the steps involved in launching social media marketing initiatives and social business infrastructures. One way to manage the progression of these planning steps in social media marketing education is to follow the ten topics outlined below.

Social Media Marketing Courses

Educating Targets with T-R-U-S-T-E-D Content

The start of any social media marketing planning has to include a roadmap to educating target audiences. As any potential consumer or buyer will gladly let us know, no one wants to be sold. If prospects are conducting their own research online rather than contacting sales personnel, the job of marketers is to educate them in the hopes of moving them further down the sales funnel and getting credit for problem solving in the process. The better the education, the greater the opportunities to showcase expertise. The goal here is to gain credibility as a subject matter expert by offering T-R-U-S-T-E-D (timely, relevant, useful, situational, transparent, engaging, and deliverable) content.

MBA social media marketing education

Emotionalize Content with Entertainment, Inspiration and Visuals

Once the content is crafted along the pain points felt by targeted personas, its mark of distinction and usefulness has to be amplified over the ever growing noise from content info-besity. This means S-H-I-P-P-I-N-G (through surprise, humanizing, inspiration, playfulness, passion, imagery, narratives and generosity) your content with an emotional twist. Emotional connections not only create more engagement and sharing, they are critical to capturing attention. The goal here is to inspire or entertain audiences through humor, acts of kindness, heartfelt stories and a personality behind the brand.    

social media courses

Expose Content to Blaze a Trail of Trustworthiness

Now that our content is aimed at educating audiences around their pain points while making an emotional connection for a more trustworthy relationship, we are ready to expose it. Think of this next stage as having to R-U-N-L-A-P-S (RSS & other syndication, Unified keyword strategy, Native advertising, Link-building, Atomizing & repurposing, Pinning & posting, Social sharing) with your inflamed content in hand. A powerful storyline, comic surprise or passionate plea may make the content stand out. But unless it’s widely circulated, any intended emotional connection will be lost.  

Teaching social media courses

Key to this exposure is the suitability of the content for SEO, syndicating, social sharing, posting, social media promotion and link building. To be searchable, the content has to incorporate a unified keyword strategy that merits exposure on the search engine results page (SERP). But for maximum traction, the content should exploit every avenue for syndication much like that employed in news casting.

This means the content often has to be rescaled and repurposed to suit the requirements of its destination platforms. Native advertising in particular has shown great promise in promoting content. Especially when hyper-targeted or formatted as native advertising, today’s audiences often appreciate its contextual relevance. The goal here is to blaze a trail of trustworthy content at the top-of-the-funnel while earning new followers in the process.

Escort Prospects for Frame-of-Mind Connections

Once the content is jump started through search engines and social networks, you should be ready to E-S-C-O-R-T (establish trust, segment & sort, collect information, observe behaviors, respond personally and track & tweak) your prospects. This requires the repurposing and sequencing of content into middle-of-the-funnel pieces depending on our audience’s preferences for listening, reading and viewing.

And by creating the right eBooks, webinars, podcasts, videos or case studies, we can begin a frame-of-mind connection with our prospects. The goal here is to leverage social CRM, email 2.0 and effective lead nurturing strategies to ensure our prospects are greeted with the right content at the right time. But paramount to success are permission-based marketing practices backed by a provider that audiences know, like and trust.

social media marketing courses

Enlist Subscribers to Build Proprietary Audiences

A looming concern of brands and other firms is their vulnerability to social media platforms that continually change their rules. No longer can firms count on organically reaching their audience news feeds. Platforms like FaceBook have forced a “pay to play” avenue for fan exposure. This is pressuring firms to develop proprietary audiences that wean them off social networks. So while social media continues to be a primary source of fan and follower growth, firms are migrating these folks to their subscribed emails and blogs. The key to owning this audience is to get them to R-A-I-S-E (reach, advocate, influence, subscribe and engage) your content.

social media education

Engage Communities for Social Network Growth

An experienced social media marketer knows that fans and followers disappear without your relentless engagement. That is why many of them sponsor contest, events and games to keep their crowds involved. And this goes beyond customer acquisition. Customers need to be turned to fans who in turn drive even more customers. The key to developing the right venue and behavior to engage communities is to understand where they hang out and what they expect on their platform of choice. This means having an in-depth view of when, why and how you should embrace FaceBook, Google+, YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr. 

Encourage Influencers to Expand Reach and Credibility

Audience growth at any stage of social media development requires the help of key influencers who benefit from big audiences and credibility. Your job is to romance and engage them by identifying the key players from a field of subject matter experts, broadcasters, networking groups and the press. Many tools can help you discover those influencers that are relevant to your target audience and have the clout and reach to impact their social circles. But not unlike fans, influencers only stick around for as long as you provide value to them. A key influencer strategy is to co-create and promote content that helps them with their audiences.

Empower Advocates to Spread a Consistent Story

And much like influencers, successful social media marketers understand the power of brand evangelists and employee advocates. Empowering your biggest fans can trigger engagement with your target audiences while helping spread a consistent story. And by adopting a passionate culture within a well-coordinated social business, your employees can become your greatest advocates.

Enable Real-Time Experiences for Context Marketing

No doubt the exponential shift from desktop to mobile devices has empowered all of us to demand information on our smartphones, tablets and even wearable technology. And as big data predictive analytics and geo-located technologies continue to mature, audiences are expecting content to arrive in real-time and in the right SoLoMo (social, local, mobile) context. This means capitalizing on the mobile C-U-S-T-O-M-E-R experience gap using real-time marketing apps and behavioral data for mobile shopping and context marketing.

social media marketing curriculum

Examine Results for Continuous Improvement

Finally, as firms struggle to determine if their social media and content marketing efforts are worth the investment, tools are surfacing to help determine if social engagement really leads to bottom line results. From the latest in big data collection strategies and social CRM practices, we are discovering some meaningful ways to measure return on influence, return on relationship, return on involvement, return on content and social media ROI. 

So what other approaches to or aspects of social content marketing do you feel should be covered in an MBA social media marketing courses or social media education in general?

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Creating Timely Content for Situational Triggers, Urgencies and Routines

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High on the list of many content marketing plans is the timely sequencing of content across a target audience’s buying cycle. At the top of the funnel (ToFu), content marketers have an opportunity to encounter audiences right at the time they recognize a pain point. Known as situational triggers, these moments provide timely opportunities to post blogs and other ToFu content.

Encountering Ready Prospects

Consider the case of a cosmetic dentist. Many dentists wait for signs of aging teeth as the moment to present their message. Other see the value of encountering prospects the moment they detect hair loss, discover new wrinkles or experience aging ailments. Using this moment as a situational trigger, their content could be developed on the subject of anti-aging, which features smile makeovers as one of the anti-aging remedies. This assumes the content is not perceived as self-serving (about teeth) or biased (about the dentist).

Timely Content

Continuing the analysis across other targeted personas, moments of encounter could then be identified for audiences planning to walk down the aisle, perform on stage or mingle in high society circles. When timed to reach the audience as they experience these early awareness pressures, the content can then create an opportunity to influence the consideration and evaluation phases of the audience’s decision making as well.

Exploiting Urgent Situations

Besides triggers, another way to get your target audience to appreciate your timely content is to address urgent situations early in their buying stage. The following example illustrates how a real estate accountant educated his property management and HOA audiences on what to do with a recent county regulation. At the time when condos and housing associations were faced with serious economic issues, HOA boards were looking for sources of cash to offset foreclosures.

Timely content case

One method to solve this problem was to liquidate reserves applied against potential property damage. But when a county ruling restricted the use of reserves as a cash source, HOAs faced tough choices on how to the fund budget shortfalls.

A savvy real estate accountant used this opportunity to connect with an urgent pain point. Starting with what the ruling implied, and continuing through the decision cycle with alternative workarounds, timely content was aligned with the HOA’s frame-of-mind from awareness to decision. The accountant, in this case, was credited with providing an objective response to an urgent issue.

Timing Content with Audience Consumption Routines

Understanding the routine your audiences follow in checking their email, tweets or posts can make a difference in whether your content gets on their radar at the right time. Many tools like Klout’s scheduler shown below will let you know when your audience is most active across each day of the week. Their scheduler, along with that of Hootsuite, TweetDeck and others, allow you to tweet your content to meet these peak periods.

Timing Your Content

So what other ways do you know can make your content more timely? Are their opportunities besides triggers, urgent issues and routines?

 

Creating Relevant Content for Target Personas and Their Buying Stage

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One of the most common complaints expressed by brands and entrepreneurs is the inability of their email marketing to yield high open and click through rates. Invariably, the low rates are blamed on email content or messaging that failed to connect with the target audience.

The same holds true for content postings on blogs or social media. In a growing climate of info-besity, relevance is arguably the most critical attribute of any content intended to educate its target audiences.

content marketing

For content to be truly relevant, it has to resonate with a persona’s pain points or passions. A test of relevance could start with the following questions proposed by content marketing strategist, Joe Pulizzi:

  1. Who is the audience and specific buyer persona you are targeting for each piece of content?
  2. What’s the pain point you are solving for them?
  3. Is what you are saying really that important?
  4. Could they find the information elsewhere?

From Spending Motivations to Personas

But the process of first discovering the relevant personas is not as simple as framing clients with monikers like “Debbie Downer” and “Soccer Moms.” Unless the persona evaluation leads to distinctions on what topics intrigue each persona or where they hang out, the evaluation serves little purpose.

If, on the other hand, an examination is made of the audience subtleties that reveal distinct pain points or passionate interests, any blog post, webinar or mobile app aimed at these persona nuances has a chance of at least being viewed by a target audience. Where the rubber meets the road on delivering relevant content is when it reveals a rich enough insight into each personas interest that the marketer is credited with intimately knowing the targeted persona as well as speaking their language.

To do this effectively, the following audits and analyses should be conducted as a prelude to discovery relevant topics:

  1. An audit of the spending motivations behind current target audiences (i.e., Why was your offering selected?).
  2. An examination of distinct psychographic personas most associated with each spending motivation.
  3. An analysis of the traits, wants and passions associated with each persona.
  4. A translation of these persona attributes need oriented topics of interest.

Notice how this was down for the case of a custom tailor. Starting with why target audiences pulled out their wallet, four spending motivations were discovered. Customers of the tailored suits were either seeking (1) perfection, (2) pleasing others, (3) prominence or (4) posturing. But when further examining the psychographic attributes of personas, twelve distinct personas were discovered, each with distinct traits, wants and passions.

social media personas

Although this seems like an overkill, a scan of the twelve personas should convince you that these folks don’t hang out in the same circles; nor do they expect the same lifestyle image from their tailored suits. Each one showed distinct enough persona traits and passions to warrant dedicated content topics especially at the top of the funnel.

From Personas to Pain Points

Continuing with the analysis, each persona attribute now allows a consolidation of needs traced back to the spending motivations. This begins the process of defining relevant content without having to build twelve different segment strategies. In this case, eleven topics were compiled for potential blog content that addressed the following pain points:

  1. Not fitting in desired social circles
  2. Inability to exude charisma
  3. Fear of embarrassment from inappropriate etiquette or attire

Topics were developed as a way to brainstorm helpful tips that address these pain points. But without knowing the personalities associated with each spending motivation, pain points are difficult to derive. Consider the case of an organic food supplier whose target audiences include chefs seeking worry free appetizers; mothers looking for nutrition for baby development; adults seeking hair and skin development; and those suffering from inflammatory diseases. The latter, in turn, consists of 3 personas: a Deprived Athlete, the Closet Bound and the Les Miserable.

Each of the personas has highly distinct pain points. For example, the Deprived Athlete is mainly concerned with high burst performance in high pollen conditions. The Closet Bound is concerned with disguising ailments. And the Les Miserable needs energy and lifted spirits to get through the day.

Collectively, the target audience (inflammatory diseases) needs relief and could perhaps benefit from natural remedies; but their specific pains points require very different content. For a more complete evaluation of more small business personas and the process used to derive relevant content, you can download the free eBook on 74 Personas for Small Businesses

Closing the Gap Between Relevance and Your Goals

The next challenge related to relevance, however, is closing the gap between audience relevance and your own content marketing goals. Too often, marketers drift too far toward a target audience’s pain points without envisioning the following:

  1. An accumulation of expertise perceived by the target audience from seeing your content.
  2. ToFu (awareness stage) topics that naturally lead into solution alternatives relevant to your value proposition.
  3. A trail of repurposed content that allows richer webinars, ebooks and other MoFu (consideration and evaluation stages) content.
  4. Topics that are readily discovered through search.

Instead, the targeted content often leaves a confusing trail of perceived subject matter expertise. And if the addressed pain points are scattered across too many disjointed topics, target audiences will struggle trying to grasp your value proposition as well as validating your understanding of their business challenges.  

Building Your Trail of Expertise

To do this effectively, notice how a real estate accountant considered their trail of expertise and customer orientation in line with one of their target audience’s pain points. Nine blog posts were aimed at addressing the needs of a property manager faced with the housing and condo meltdown in South Florida.

From the blog post titles, it is clear the accountant has an understanding of property manager’s cash flow problems. Finally, the content is sequenced along a consistent cash flow topic thereby allowing for the development of a more comprehensive ebook or webinar on maximizing property cash flow. This middle-of-the-funnel content entitles the accountant to an email opt-in, an option not available for less valuable blog posts.

relevant content example

Rather than chasing every pain point associated with the 4 audiences and their respective personas, the accountant focused on the residential property manager. By maintaining a consistent focus on their condo and HOA cash flow issues, the accounting firm validated their expertise while showing an appreciation of the property manager’s pain points.

And in the process, a stream of blog posts was repurposed into more valuable content. Without the trail of preceding blogs, however, the resulting eBook would likely have a low open rate as property managers had little chance to examine it’s the firm’s accounting expertise and knowledge of property management.

So to make your content relevant, start your process by asking why folks buy your product or service in the first place. From these spending motivations, find the subtleties in personas that reveal new insights on pain points. Then ask yourself what questions might be asked to resolve their problems.

While doing this, consider how the question could be diced into individual blog posts later consolidated into an ebook that addresses the problem more completely. This allows you to build a trail of trustworthiness posts for your audience to examine before digesting a more complete solution to their problems. 

 So what other ways can content be made relevant? Please share your own thoughts. 

Part III Blogging Tips: Blogging with Consistent Q-U-A-L-I-T-Y

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With your blog now tuned to target audiences and focused on capturing their attention, a remaining step is to ensure your content is backed by consistent quality

Quality Content

Quick and to the Point

As described earlier, the use of a conversational style and visuals makes a blog more scannable. But much can be done with writing structure to make it even quicker to digest. That is why expert bloggers spend considerable time on the first few sentences. This opening must spell out why the topic benefits your audience and what you plan to say.

The first point implies that the fewer points made the better. The concept works much like an ad. You have a limited number of seconds to convince your readers that the one pain point or passion they have will be well covered in your post. And there will be nothing else to distract them.

The second point means you have to “tell them what you are going to tell them”. Then “tell them” in the body of your post. And then “tell them what you told them at the end of your post”. Progression of the post should be quick and to the point if you want today’s reader to stick around.

To accomplish this, leading bloggers like Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman offer the following advice:

  • Use bullets and lists to edit out unnecessary words
  • Make sentences and paragraphs short (< 6 lines paragraph)
  • Break up text with headings and subheadings
  • Highlight key points in quotes or bolded phrases
  • Use easy to read fonts

Unbiased Content

What distinguishes true journalism from the average blog post is the information vetting process used to validate findings. Few would argue that traditional journalism is based on far more rigorous standards for source accuracy than what is found in the blogosphere. This does not imply you shouldn’t express an opinion. But it does suggest that readers appreciate content that is unbiased and backed by either well documented evidence or well respected insights.

So for content to be considered high quality, the information offered in your post has to be accurate and reliable. Among the best ways to accomplish this is through empirically tested results or the insights offered by recognized experts in the field. This is why leading bloggers regularly post interviews with leading authorities often in the form of a playbook of insights from many experts.

Survey results from your own client sampling can also remove this biased perception especially if the sample is large, representative and empirically tested with at least a reasonable methodology. This can be done without laying out the entire testing procedure in the base of the post. It merely requires a brief explanation or reference to the study background.

As an example, I released fifteen blog posts on ways to create entertaining content from a study conducted on viral videos. Each post made reference to the study posted on SlideShare and included the following closing paragraph on the study background. 

A total of 3351 high performing videos (> 50K views) were examined in this ranking of top YouTube videos. These viral videos included re-casted television commercials that were posted on YouTube as a social media video back channel. Statistics were then recorded on the number of likes, dislikes, comments and views, where an exploratory study was subsequently published with the Academy of Marketing Science and 2013 Cross-Cultural Research Conference.

Quality Content example

Actionable CTAs

Blogs are used primarily as top-of-funnel content. This makes them ideal for capturing audience attention at an early awareness stage. But much of that blog traffic may not return unless readers are encouraged to take immediate action after reading the content.  This requires that your blog content host actionable calls to action (CTA) such as:

  1. Registering for free webinars
  2. Downloading white papers, case studies, reports or eBooks
  3. Joining live events
  4. Following on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest
  5. Sharing with friends
  6. Subscribing to newsletters and blogs
  7. Offering comments
  8. Posing questions
  9. Requesting demos or more information
  10. Buying through shopping carts

These CTAs not only provide an avenue to maintain engagement, they help escort your prospects through the sales funnel. A compelling CTA, for example, represents an opportunity for you to analyze data from the downloaded content or subscriptions and measure which topics had the greatest impact on conversion. And by encouraging your prospect to take the next step, you stay in the loop. This allows another opportunity to demonstrate your trustworthiness while keeping the prospect from researching elsewhere.

Link-worthy Content

As blogs invite far more interest than websites for an audience to link their content to yours, it is important to make your content link-worthy. This goes beyond a desire to share your content. There must be something of value that adds to their own content.

This value could include a source of validation for some of their expert claims or positions taken on a subject. This is why the display of study results in your blog post from new empirical research can attract links. The same applies to ratings, top rankings and reviews that validate someone’s credentials. Finally, audiences often link to their own guest posts on someone’s blog as a way to validate their expertise or popularity.

Linkworthy Content

Image Intensive Content

A clear drawback of predominantly textual content in a blog post is its often overwhelming and impersonal appearance. Graphical and photo based imagery not only require less mental processing, they strike an emotional chord that even the best of written poetry cannot accomplish. Moreover, imagery allows you to mix up your content as a diversity tactic. Audiences often appreciate the change up.

It is no secret that images are the most shared media on the likes of Facebook. That in itself is testimony to its appeal as a content element. But the rise of photo messaging apps (e.g., Snapchat), mobile photo-sharing services (e.g., Instagram) and visual discovery tools (e.g., Pinterest) attests to how dependent social media users are on viewing something over reading something. Pinterest, in particular, has become one of the leading drivers of traffic to websites. Your benefitting from this traffic, however, assumes that your blog post accommodates photos to be pinned.

Besides photos, SlideShare decks can be embedded into your blog both as a site traffic builder and a preview of deeper content.  Notice from this example on my own blog where an embedded slide gives you a preview of the content from SlideShare right on the blog. A downloaded eBook, on the other hand, would not give you this built-in preview.

Slideshare Content

Talk-worthy Content

For blogs to engage with your audience, they have to invite a dialog. Some refer to this tactic as making your content REMARKable (by inviting remarks) or Talk-worthy.

This may not be the same incentive they have to share or link to your content. Share-worthiness and Link-worthiness have more to do with leveraging your bragging rights or backing your story. The intent of making your content talk-worthy, on the other hand, is to stimulate a conversation or invite feedback as a method to keep your readers involved.

Some of the most popular techniques for accomplishing this is to include open ended posts that fuel a debate. Rather than solving the problem, you could engage in a series of points and counterpoints enlisting your reviewers to share their own thoughts. More reputable bloggers often engage their viewers for crowdsourcing (i.e., the process of gathering content by soliciting contributions from a large sample of followers). But even a simple request for feedback or response to a poll can often spur a dialog.

Talkworthy Content

Your Voice

One of the most common responses offered by blogging experts on tips for drawing in an audience is to be authentic and enthusiastic. This starts with writing about something you are passionate about; but, more importantly, doing it in a voice that best reflects who you are. As leading blogger, Michael Hyatt, points out, many bloggers attempt to be someone that are not when building a blogging platform.[ii] Instead, he prescribes one of three possibilities (authority, empathy or transparency) to examine in defining your own authentic voice:

  1. The Sage. This is a recognized expert in the field who can speak with authority.
  2. The Sherpa. This is the trusted guide who has learned from their mistakes and who speaks with the voice of confidence and empathy.
  3. The Struggler. This is a fellow traveler who merely shares their own successes and mistakes as they embark on their journey. They have the voice of transparency as they tell it like it is.

Once you determine your role as Sage, Sherpa or Struggler, you have a clearer path as to how you want to solve your target audience’s problems. The Sage may entertain an interview or FAQ format while the Sherpa chooses a more talk-worthy approach where the two-way dialog permits more shared experiences. The Struggler, on the other hand, may elect to be more visual in their approach so the reader gets a more intimate look at what works and what doesn’t.

Regardless of the chosen role, upholding this authenticity requires that you stay consistent with the voice. Too often we read blogs written by someone with a low key blogging tone only to hear a motivational speaker when they are interviewed in a podcast. By resorting to these pumped-up impersonations, you run the risk of tarnishing the connection your readers, listeners or viewers may have had with your candor and personality.

Finally, consider how you will impart this voice. A great way to set the stage is to get personal with your audience. That is why the world famous Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond, has achieved astounding results on her blog. She started with a personal story.

So what are some of your additional suggestions for focusing your blogs on audience attraction?

Part II Blogging Tips: Blogs F-O-C-U-S-E-D on Audience Attraction

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This second of a three part series on blogging tips deals with audience attraction. Now that the blog strategy and selected topics are tuned for the right audience connection, another critical exercise is to ensure that your blog efforts are F-O-C-U-S-E-D on capturing the attention of your audience.  The next part of this series deals with creating quality content.

Social Content Focusing

Frequent Postings

Content consistency is paramount. That is why it is important to blog at least twice a week especially when starting out. If there is nothing new for readers to see, they will quickly lose interest and see you as disengaged. But beyond the retention of repeat visitors, the frequency of posts impacts the number of new visitors to your site as well. Each new post, for example, adds to the number of indexed pages recognized by the search engines. Fresh content also signals to the search engines that your authority on the subject is backed by frequently updated information.

This not only improves the chances of target audiences simply finding the content, a study conducted by Hubspot revealed the following impacts on lead generation as well:

  • An average company will see a 45% growth in traffic when increasing total blog articles from 11-20 to 21-50 articles
  • Companies that increase blogging from 3-5 x/month to 6-8 x/month almost double their leads.

Optimized Content

According to Lee Odden, author of Optimize, “Blogs are one of the most powerful publishing platforms that integrates the best of SEO, content marketing and social media optimization” (p. 147). As the centerpiece of content marketing, blogs can serve as an aggregator of all your content while exploiting the power of its search potential and social outreach.

Search is greatly enhanced by its text-rich content and ability to attract links. But this requires attention to the following opportunities you have to boost search results.

  1. Optimizing your blog domain URL, titles and page construction descriptions around key phrases relevant to your target population and the benefits you provide.
  2. Optimizing each blog post around keyword phrases you are targeting for persona pain points.

This last point refers to visible text opportunities as well as the hidden HTML text used in tagging and page construction. Each post provides an opportunity to exploit key phrases in the visible body of text where special attention should be given to the titles, headers and the first paragraph of the post. In addition, bloggers have ample real estate in their HTML meta tags for describing their content through title descriptions, tags, anchor text, and image alt text.

The key is to tag and categorize everything but without overdoing the process. If the algorithms sense that you are engaged in keyword stuffing, you can get heavily penalized in search results. Instead, focus on simply being the best answer to what your target audience repeatedly asks. The latest of search algorithms (e.g., Hummingbird) will likely credit your content to a popular search query and reward you with high search results.

This also implies, however, that your content cannot be too short as it provides few opportunities to demonstrate your authority on the subject. So despite the pressure to keep blog posts short due to overcrowded content, blogging experts suggest that posts exceed 500 words for searchability.

Cross-Platform Promotion

Blogs lend themselves well to hosting mid-of-funnel content often through registration pages, download links and embedded presentations. For example, you can make an audio version of your blog post for an upcoming podcast show.  This cross-promotion not only boosts the exposure of your other content (e.g., podcasts, webinars, videos and apps), it allows a top-funnel to mid-funnel connection with your target audience.

Cross Platform Social ContentThe same applies in the outbound direction. You can make you posts social by abbreviated them for microblogs, newsletter digests, weekly roundups, social media posts or social networking group discussions. A link to the more comprehensive blog post could then provide detailed information if needed.

In addition to cross-promoting, blog posts should be crafted with an intent to create multiple pieces of content often in the form of a blog series. Turning blogs posts into podcasts, slide decks, eBooks or white papers are just a few of the many ways to repurpose your posts. This saves on resources while providing an avenue to mid-funnel content in the process. An additional blog post – remember this for search potential – can then be used as an introduction to the deeper content. As an example, see how this is done on my own blog for showcasing eBooks and by the Content Marketing Institute for their podcast introductions.

Unique Content

But in order to deliver something of value to your target audience in your post, you need to offer something unique. If not, your audience will merely see you as a curator of others’ ideas. A great way to start is to look for original content. This could include recently surveyed information or breaking news.

But as blog experts will point out, unique content does not always have to be original. You can write about your unique strategies or experiences as well. Many bloggers merely provide a unique angle to widely discussed topics. If not their own, they invite experts to share their thoughts. Either way, by providing a unique perspective, you help your audience with interpretation and judgment.

I applied this to my own field when evaluating social media books to read. There are plenty of practitioners who rate their Top 10s; so I reviewed, rated and ranked the Top 25 social media books from an academic perspective. As acknowledged by bestselling author, Jay Baer, the countdown offered something new to the social media community.

Social Content Perspective

Another approach to making your content unique is to play the role of the contrarian or devil’s advocate. Readers then benefit from the counterpoints often giving you the credit for having a fresh perspective. And by building controversy into your argument, readers will often become more engaged as they feel compelled to share their own perspective.

Ironically, a fourth way to make you content unique is to back off on over addressing audience needs and focus more on injecting your own passions. After all, it’s how others respond to your ideas that count the most. Social media author, Jay Acunzo, puts it this way: “If you only think about your audience, you’ll likely start to sound exactly like all your competitors.” Ideally you want to blend you audience’s interests with your own. This can best be accomplished with a personal story relevant to your audience. 

Shareable Content

The key to making your blog shareable is to first make your posts easy to share. Most blogging platforms allow you to accomplish this very easily through plug-ins that include sharing across dozens of platforms. At minimum, your posts must be reach where your target audiences hang out. This could include relevant LinkedIn groups, Google+ communities and Twitter chats.

The more emotion felt from your post, the greater the opportunity to be shared. This could include the use of humor, heartfelt moments, feelings of astonishment or inspirational stories.

Another inducement to share is based on the passing of bragging rights. This is why articles on breaking news are key. Readers are often anxious to share what they believe to be an exclusive discovery.  

Shareworthy Content Marketing

To ensure your content is shareable with a relevant audience, it’s important to syndicate it through an RSS feed or through the many blogging listing directories, social bookmarking sites and news aggregators. Finally, you can post the blog outside your domain with the intent of creating a new audience. This can be done by featuring your posts as a guest blog on a high traffic site as well as posting on social networks like LinkedIn.

Eye Catching Title

Without a doubt, headlines are the most important part of your post. And to craft one effectively, you have to pique your audience’s curiosity. One way to do this is to distract them with a message that seems out of sorts. When asking my students what advertisement they remember on a highway sponsoring over 50 signs, they invariably recall two of them. One says “You Wife is Hot”. Reading further, the sign says “You Better Fix Her Air Conditioning”. The other says “We Buy Ugly”. Both represent anomalies that capture our attention.

Asking a question – especially if it’s provocative – can also pique your audience’s attention. At minimum, curious readers may enjoy the insights from a contrary position like “Will Instagram Disappear”? Leading blogger, Jeff Bullas, often uses negative terms in his titles. His post on “The Top 15 Social Media Marketing Strategy Mistakes to Avoid” has amassed nearly 3K tweets.

Documented Content

The fast growth of video for content marketing has undoubtedly created the most powerful means of attracting and engaging target audiences.  A challenge at this point, however, is to make the video searchable. One way to accomplish this is by transcribing the audio and posting the script along with the video. This will help the content get found by search engines. Once transcribed, the scripted version could be embellished with slides, diagrams, infographics and photos to make it more appealing as a blog post.

The same could be accomplished for audio podcasts and conference presentations. Recordings can be spelled out into scripted versions with embedded slides and audio takes. This not only provides an additional opportunity to release another blog post, it captures the attention of search engines recognizing the embedded link s potentially from high page ranking sources as well as the keyword rich text in the script. If permitted by the podcaster or presenter, the script could be optimized around additional search terms that further boost the page rank. 

So what are some of your additional suggestions for focusing your blogs on audience attraction?

Part I Blogging Tips: Blogs T-U-N-E-D for Audience Connection

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Are you wondering what it will take to stand out among 400 million registered blogs? By now, you have likely heard how the latest in visual storytelling, entertainment and inspirational content can set you apart. But there are a lot of basics to blogging that we often neglect. This blog series  describes what it takes to ensure your blogs are tuned to target audiences (Part I),  focused on attraction (Part II) and backed by consistent quality (Part III)

blogging

Getting your blogs T-U-N-E-D for audience connection implies that you are writing on burning issues relevant to your hyper-targeted audience. It also means that the content is new and easy to digest since the average time to decide on blog reading is under ten seconds.

Trended Topics

So one of the first questions to ask when researching topics for your blog is whether the topic is new and trending upward. To help in this effort, there are many tools you can use to gain insight about the latest Google and Twitter search queries. For example, I selected the domain name “blog.socialcontenmarketing.com” to host my blog based on what I found on Google Trends for search popularity as well as what Topsy revealed on the level of Twitter engagement for this term. Based on the results, it made sense to use the long tailed term as a common thread throughout all of my posts.

Trending terms for SEO

But tuning your blogs to trends goes beyond a mere search for SEO queries. Another way to ensure high trending is to tie their posts to current events. Just witness the many ways bloggers attempt to tie in Mother’s Day or the Super Bowl into their blog post storylines.

User Generated Questions

The second question to ask in tuning your content is whether the post is too focused on your own offerings instead of answered a user generated question. One of the best ways to have your content resonate with an audience is to address an issue that keeps them up at night.

For Marcus Sheridan, this meant preempting his target audience’s questions like:

  • What does a fiber glass pool cost?
  • Who are the best suppliers?
  • What are some of the shortcomings in pool life and installation?

To his pleasure, no one else seemed willing to address these issues for fear of competitive exploitation or the risk of creating a premature expectation with the prospect.

Like Marcus, a common practice followed by leading bloggers is to actually survey their customers on what they are most anxious about when considering a solution the blogger can address. Others examine the FAQs logged over time from their field sales force or customer support teams. 

Another approach is to observe the questions that come up in discussion forums like those found in LinkedIn Groups. Ideally, you want to answer aggravating questions that cost your readers time and money. This will further help in search results since questions on cost and aggravating pain points get searched very day.

Niched Audiences

Based on the exploding number of registered blogs, the route often taken by successful bloggers is to hyper-target their content with long-tailed topics. For example, to connect in today’s overcrowded blogosphere, you have to offer more than advice on ladies footwear. You have to offer tips specific to elderly athletic women’s footwear.   

Ideally, every post should be mapped to one of your target audience personas along the lines of the residential realtor example shown below. Starting with four targeted audiences identified by their spending motivations (sunbelt retreats, wealth management, life transition and temporary accommodations), sixteen personas were identified based on their unique habits and aspirations. This led to a clearer understanding of pain points that would not be recognized without dissecting the audience into distinct personas.

Pain points and personas

Persona Pain Points Identified for Residential Realtor Bloggers

The mistake made by many is to assume you can write for everyone. But imagine the interest an ROI Maximizer persona would have in first purchase handholding or the interest a Mobile Crew persona would have in high society acceptance. By targeting as niche an audience as possible, realtors have an opportunity to address a target audience’s biggest pain point by tailoring everything to help only them. And by writing the post as though it were solving a specific problem for a single person (i.e., singlecasting), readers will likely credit you with empathy, helpfulness and expertise. 

Evergreen Content

Once a blog topic candidate is considered, it is important to ensure it doesn’t date quickly. Known as evergreen content, some blog posts can be written once and re-run in the future without it being rendered obsolete. This is why blogs on how-to’s or foundational topics are more effective than news stories. Writing a blog on conservative politics, for example, could remain perpetually relevant. But a story on “Top Tea Party Members Likely to Shake Up the Republican Party” would not likely have any value two years from the post.

The timelessness of this content gives it a high search ranking and great potential for accumulating links over time. As a result, traffic to the blog will improve over time as the evergreen content continues to gain traction with its target audiences.  

Digestible Content

The final question to ask when tuning your blogs for audience connection relates to how easy it to digest. Blog readers like posts that are concise and to the point. This starts with putting aside your writing formalities and using a conversational tone. If you write like you speak, your content more often stays on topic.

Consider the use of visual components as much as possible provided that they are self-explanatory.  As discussed earlier, visual components like infographics are mentally processed much quicker than text. 

All this assumes that the reader caught the gist of your topic from a well-crafted title and an opening sentence question that sets the stage for what is to come. The title itself has to let the reader know how the post will benefit them. And if the title includes a numbered sequence like “5 Ways to…” or 7 Steps to …” readers gain an expectation for and sense of accomplishment from completion. 

So what are some of your additional suggestions for T-U-N-I-N-G your blogs for audience connection?

7 Ethical Dilemmas Faced in Content Marketing

With the rise of content marketing, brand marketers and advertisers have found a gold mine of opportunities for reaching and engaging their audiences. What’s more, consumers enjoy the power to invite their potential suitors.

But with this newly discovered consumer freedom to select what they read and who they befriend comes some new ethical challenges. No longer is the information vetted through high journalistic standards. Internet users now have to adopt their own filters for information. In addition, temptations still exist for advertisers to fake their endorsements and literally purchase favorable commentary.

Social Media Ethics

A growing list of ethical dilemmas continues with violations of misrepresentation, privacy, cyber bullying and general “creepiness.” With the arrival of broad reaching and relatively unrestricted social channel communications comes the price of consumer vulnerable to new scams and deception. This is why ethics in social media is now receiving a great deal of attention. At the heart of consumer protectionism in this arena is a concern for trustworthy advice and protection of privacy as it relates to the protection of an individual’s own credibility.

The following are several common ethical dilemmas faced when sales personnel and marketers engage in social media:

Invasion of Privacy

Actions that unknowingly infringe on the privacy of social networking participants should be considered unethical if it potentially harms an individual’s personal and professional credibility. This would include any non-permissive approaches taken by a marketer to disclose profile information as well as the sharing of sensitive personal information through channels that could exploit or otherwise harm the individual’s standing.

A questionable area to consider when evaluating social media ethics is the role of behavioral targeting. Consider the ways advertisers track where you shop and browse from “click-through” behaviors used in retargeting campaigns. An assumption here is that ad viewers will appreciate the the improvement in message relevance.

A similar question should be raised in the use of Custom Audience features that permit marketers to pass on their email lists to Facebook, who then matches these lists with their own user log-in IDs for further targeting.

Spamming

Over-promoting unsolicited messages is often viewed as unethical given the manner in which messages are broadcasted. Users are often deceived through a trail of spamming Twitter and Facebook links. The unwanted messages often clutter up opportunities for more useful information.

Public Bashing

Publicly disparaging others (e.g., your competition) in your social media dialogs is typically considered unethical. Such negative sentiment can quickly go viral without permitting fair rebuttals. These defenseless attacks will not only damage your reputation, they run the risk of libelous lawsuits if not properly founded. 

Dishonesty and Distortions

At the core of social media intentions is transparent communication. Dishonest claims or untruthful derogatory comments can jeopardize the long-term reputation of your company with an uncontrollable number of message recipients.

This issue has become especially contentious with the trend towards native ads. Although the FCC is likely to step into the arena, brand publishers have essentially been given a green light on disguising their ad content as publishing content. 

Distorted Endorsements and Improper Anonymity

A similar ethical violation involves the misrepresentation of your credential, affiliations and expertise. Many once reputable companies have been severely damaged with fake stories of consumers using their products. i.e., What may appear to be an anonymous testimony is instead backed by a voice with a vested interest in the sponsor.

Any practice of hiring folks to comment favorable or fabricate a story about your company’s offerings should be considered unethical. In a similar vein, overly aggressive employees have been found guilty of exaggerating competitive shortcomings. This activity is especially harmful if it catches the parent company off guard.  

Misuse of Free Expertise and Contests

With the growing use of Facebook contests and crowdsourcing for soliciting design ideas, contest participants run the risk of divulging their secrets with no reward. Oftentimes, design ideas are rewarded to the most profitable partners of the social network sponsor leaving many with unrewarded work. This abuse is especially unethical if the sponsor knowingly gathers superior design ideas from contestants they have no intention of compensating.

Opportunism

In the spirit of providing social networking communities with contributions to their cause or business challenges, social media marketers are discouraged from providing content that subliminally heads readers down a self-serving path. Whether these actions are unethical or just plain “unprofessional” depends on the situation and degree of deception.

So which of these deadly sins concern you the most?

Building Engagement with Social TV

Contrary to popular opinion, the internet did not kill TV.  In fact, social media is spurring the growth of television to the point where Americans are watching more television than ever before. Just like it revitalized the dying world of email marketing, social media is transforming TV to become a new entity. This new Social TV refers to the technologies surrounding television that promote social interaction related to TV program content.

Without a doubt, social TV is going to explode as advertisers see a gold mine in target audience and extended program content with a more engaged audience. 

2nd Screen Back Channels

What is creating this marriage between social media and TV is the role that back channels or second screens play in engaging TV viewers on the web. i.e., Viewers of TV program content (including ads) are sharing their insights with their social communities.  Some research shows that at least 40% of tablet or smartphone owners are using their devices daily while they’re watching TV.

2nd screen

Nielson points out that 57% of TV viewers use the web simultaneously. Much of this time, they claim, is spent discussing the show or advertising they are viewing at the time. And since a lot of people multitask while watching TV, second screen app developers are jumping on the bandwagon of this huge market opportunity.

Global Audiences in Social TV

Besides app developers, TV advertisers now see a gold mine of opportunities stemming from this “social lift” in the form of social voting, better targeted ads and post-view content sharing. The latter refers to a whole host of social gaming and TV program features that go beyond the broadcasted content.

Advertisers are also focused on an engaged audience that they never had before. i.e., These new social impressions are amplifying their marketing messages with a more viral media than they could ever expect from even smart TV.

In his Social TV Book, Giacomo Summa attributes this growing interest to the following:

…Television’s influence on culture and society has been widely acknowledged for many years. On the other hand, with the diffusion of the web and of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, used in concert with television, the TV experience has become much more interactive and it is now impossible not to acknowledge that television has also become a driving force for social interaction. Furthermore, the parallel diffusion of internet videos and user generated content, fostered by YouTube in particular, has provided society with a different approach to media and television in particular: consumers have also become producers. Twitter and Facebook have influenced some of TV’s fundamental properties such as liveness, character centric storylines and flow and to what the YouTube phenomena means for television…”

-          Giacomo Summa, Social TV Book

Many analysts now believe that the social connection is becoming nearly as important as the content itself, in part because this back channel amplifies and spreads the content well beyond the life of a broadcasted program. In fact, the worldwide market for Social TV is expected to reach $250 billion by 2017! That is the same amount spent worldwide today on all television advertising.

World Social TV Market

Re-casted Commercials

In some cases, advertisers are leveraging the “second screen” to drive synched and deeper brand engagement. My own study of over 3300 commercials re-casted on YouTube, for example, showed nearly 2 million comments and 5 million likes registered across 3 billion views of these recast commercials. You can imagine the data gleaned from these comments that would never be disclosed in the best of focus groups or advertising round table discussions.

Recently, this second screen engagement has reached millions of viewers in a wave of movie trailers. The Game of Thrones trailer, for example, reached 22 million views in less than 4 months of its release.

Twitter and TV Advertising

Nearly all the major social media platforms are moving into this social TV backchannel (e.g., Twitter, Facebook and Google+) with Twitter accounting for 80% of the chatter. Following the massive amount of tweeting during Super Bowl commercials, Award Shows and Game of Thrones, social media fanatics are accustomed to being heard for the first time.

Shows are even known to feature backstage scenery, one-on-one dialogue with celebrities and other exclusive content for those engaged with their programs or ads. For more information on how Twitter, in particular, has spurred the development of Social TV, check out The Evolution of Social TV and Inbound Marketing.

Social Media Engagement and Research

But simply creating a Twitter hashtag or placing a Facebook “Like” button near your content is not what is stirring the enthusiasm across the broadcasting industry. Where many networks and advertising sponsors hope to capitalize on Social TV is in the area of advertising research and advocacy. It is here that extended second screen content is reexamined for a more targeted ad placement. In some cases, the resulting research has led to cancelled programs or drastic shifts in networks or programs featuring the ads.

For examples of how this is done, check out Professor Shawndra Hill’s The Value of Social for TV  well as Stacy Shepatin’s preview of her “Social TV” book. Stacy describes how the rapid growth of portable devices, social interaction and real-time program advertising feedback provides a level of advertising research never made possible in the era of Nielson Ratings and focus group research.

As both discussed further by Shawndra and Stacy, we not only have mastered the art of social voting on shows like American Idol, we have ways of correlating show and advertising popularity with the volume and sentiment of social commentary occurring before, during and  after show episodes. This drastically improves network show creation while providing advertisers with significantly greater amounts of target audience demographic and interest-based targeting. i.e., We are seeing an emergence of context marketing.

But even on a smaller scale of live engagement, viewer commentaries posted on Twitter, YouTube, Google+ and Facebook are now being data mined as ways of measuring social impressions. This data can give brands the ability to hyper target at an individual user level based on that person’s favorite TV shows and how they engage with them.

To some advertisers, this is even more important than the traditional TV ratings as it reveals more about viewer sentiment through comments. Encouraging to many advertisers focused on this back channel is the growing number of these comments that viewers now regularly post.

Social TV research also provides an alternative to the guesswork that goes into show releases. More importantly, it sets the stage for audience creation of future storylines and ad preferences.

Finally, social ratings are used in conjunction with TV ratings for advertisers to gauge how likely their program content is to resonate with audiences. In particular, they are now focused on social impressions that indicate an “engaged” audience’s likelihood to view and promote the content

Context Marketing through Social TV

And as advertisers garner more of these insights on their receiving audiences, they hope to capitalize on the emerging trend towards Context Marketing.

 “…In the social TV era, your ability to listen and garner feedback has risen to an entirely different level. Today, more than one billion people worldwide share their insights and opinions, clues to purchasing behavior, and likes and dislikes online. Instead of relying on episodic and delayed opinions, you can capitalize on trends by taking advantage of real-time interests, attitudes and desire…

-          Networked Insights,  Social TV Survival Guide         

Imagine, for example, knowing who the audience is through synced social media activity as well as what parts of the program content or advertisements appealed to them. Moreover, imagine content that is curated based on audience popularity as in the case where audiences even select your cast or story endings?

So how do you think social TV will shape our approach to marketing? Do you believe it will be effective in building viewer engagement? Will it force broadcasters and advertisers to rethink their target audience strategies? And will it allow greater context marketing? 

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S-H-I-P-P-I-N-G Content with an Emotional Twist

A growing body of research is supporting the need for content to strike an emotional chord if it’s to go viral. And from what some are calling content shock, we have more than enough examples to test this claim. In a nutshell, content that evokes “high-arousal emotions” is more likely to go viral than is educational content

But is your head spinning from the myriad of expert tips on amplifying, electrifying or igniting your content? If so, the following includes an academic perspective of what really qualifies as emotional content.

Wrapped ContentLet’s first start by calling it what it is: we are shipping our content through online channels. The reason for emotionalizing this content on its way for delivery is to get it ready for a surprise discovery or something that moves us. Once opened, it needs to get your audience excited enough to digest it, share it, remember it, and most of all, create one more sentimental attachment to you or your brand.

Shipping in a Bottle

Wheel of Emotional Content Attributes

Scores of blogs and articles have covered the subject of emotional content. And while some have justified a set of emotional stimuli from psychological studies, we seem to be left with a mixed bag of psychological stimuli, voice characteristics and media formats as a framework for studying viral content.

Add to that the myriad of expedited practitioner pieces on 6 ways to…, 7 emotions for…, etc., and you can see why content marketers lack a cohesive set of meaningful emotional drivers.

There is, however, a convergence developing between theories of emotional drivers and what is implied from viral video statistics. For example, content marketers and researchers seem to agree that emotions associated with viral content have the following attributes:

  1. They are either personal, visual or inspiring in nature
  2. They get our audiences to know, like and trust us
  3. They often entertain our audiences with humor, games or stories
  4. They can reflect positive or negative conditions (e.g., joy vs. fear )

Sorting out these characteristics for completeness and category distinction, an evaluation of viral content leads us to eight attributes of emotional content, the names of which are adjusted to spell S-H-I-P-P-I-N-G as a memorable acronym.

Emotional WheelSurprise Audiences with Flash Mob Spontaneity, Pranks, Serendipity and Bold Change

In almost all cases, content that goes viral has an element of surprise to trigger attention. By itself, however, surprise does not qualify as an emotion stimuli; but when combined with fear, sadness, anger, disgust or joy, it accounts for nearly every case of emotional content.

This “element of surprise” often happens as an unexpected twist revealed toward the end of a content piece. In perhaps its most effective setting, the element of surprise is cast in a monotonous public setting that challenges crowd routines with a “let loose” spontaneity. 

Dozens of flash mob videos garnered millions of views when cast in unsuspected public settings including malls, train stations, airports, public squares and universities.  Consider how effective T-Mobile’s was in stirring hundreds of folks at London’s Liverpool Street station. The flashmob-style advert presents a strong case for public spontaneity as an audience engager. And by adding an “element of surprise” to the dancing euphoria, the video garnered nearly 4 million views.

In similar fashion, Banco Sabadell surprised a huge outdoor audience with well orchestrated music. Beginning with a small number of professional musicians, the audience was overwhelmed by an eventual full orchestra accompanied by a music choir.

Besides flash mobs, others have capitalized on surprising crowds with augmented reality. Check out how British digital agency Appshaker stirred up a crowd at a UK mall for National Geographic Channel. The passerby’s were invited to interact with wild animals and other fictional characters on a big screen. 

Augmented Reality as a “Delightful Surprise” to Attract Crowd Attention

Pepsi Max took this one step further in a public prank also created by augmented reality. Crowds, in this case, were shown aliens and heart stopping scenes through cameras disguised in bus shelters. And much like other crowd disturbing entertainment, the video went viral.

Pepsi Max

Pepsi Max Uses “Fearful Surprise” to Attract Crowd Attention

And this growing trend towards rattling crowds doesn’t involve just brands. A coffee shop in New York startled the wits out of unsuspecting customers witnessing a telekinetic tantrum. The video amassed over 55 million views in less than 6 months. TNT released in Belgium their staging of a big red push button in a normally quiet Flemish town square. The audience was shocked at what happened next.

Much like the impact of a flash mob scene, the button pressing consequences led to over 50 million views. This combination of surprise and fear attests to the impact that negative emotions can also have on viral content. 

Besides spontaneous public disruptions, another element of surprise involves an unexpected change of routine. In her most recent debut, Beyoncé rolled out her own album promotion. Much to the surprise of the press and her fans, she sidestepped traditional PR channels with her own Instagram album photos and music videos. It not only stirred emotions, it helped her create a more direct bond with her fans as well.

This technique bode well for the ever ebullient Richard Branson. In a daring move to challenge the mundane airline safety instructions we all dread, he surprised his patrons with an entertaining approach to the subject. Passengers were likely startled to see such an unorthodox approach to conveying serious safety issues. 

But the performance of the same video on YouTube demonstrates its high favorability. Since its release, DeltaPhilippine Airlines, Southwest and others have followed suit.

Now imagine the surprise to the viewers of Metro Trains Melbourne. Like Virgin Atlantic, they took a chance with their lighted hearted approach to safety. Their “Dumb Ways to Die” video reached 76 million views and 73 thousand likes. Both Metro and Virgin clearly demonstrate that audiences need stimulation. And one way to accomplish this is through the element of surprise.

Humanizing Your Brand with Human Speak, Personality, Empathy and Togetherness

Humanizing brands is nothing new, but it wasn’t as important back when brands controlled their own perceptions. With social media transferring control to consumers, however, open and honest conversations have taken over market-speak. And content marketers are quickly grasping that, without personality, brands will die on the vine.  

A look at Who’s Who in Facebook marketing validates the need for personality. With dozens of authors publishing in the field, three personalities always seem to stand-out (from left-to-right): the entertaining Grandma Mary alter ego of Andrea Vahl; the ever charismatic Mari Smith; and the  enterprising, but humble  Amy Porterfield. These ladies can really capture an audience. And they do it while still being themselves.

Queens of Facebook

Undoubtedly, brand personality requires more than one person’s voice. First, the values represented by the brand have to resonate with the target audience across every piece of content. If done effectively, a brand’s personality often reaches a sweet spot usually in one of five dimensions: excitement (Disney’s It’s a Small World), sincerity (Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches), ruggedness (Red Bull’s Give You Wings), competence (Chipotle’s Food with Integrity) and sophistication (Grey Goose’s Fly Beyond).

GE shows its personality through its technology. They consistently show how their technology changes the lives of those that depend on it. From stories of a Japanese doctor jet skiing across islands with GE’s medical equipment to Scottish islanders that harness the power of their tide-driven undersea turbines, GE’s personality is cast as a caring and innovative provider of life altering technologies. Notice how this was done, for example, in a story of a first time flyer travelling to an elite soccer camp in a plane powered by GE’s engines. 

Secondly, the voice has to be consistent across the enterprise. Here is where the rubber meets the road. Can a brand‘s personality be as consistently described and enforced enterprise-wide as Apple’s “making people’s lives easier” or Virgin Atlantic’s “vibrant, loose and fun image?” And is the voice a reflection of the founder’s personality and vision as in the case of Apple’s Steve Jobs and Virgin’s Richard Branson.

Besides personality, humanizing a brand also requires us to “speak human.” In his book, There Is No B2B Or B2C: It’s Human To Human #H2H, Bryan Kramer builds a compelling case that much of what we read is riddled with messaging that is too complicated and overly though out.

Instead, he argues in his “5 Basic Rules for Speaking Human” that content should “market to the heart, and sell to the head.” This means getting to the point in as few words as possible. It also means putting yourself in your customer’s shoes when crafting communications.

A great example of this empathy towards customers can be seen in TSB Bank’s story of the Reverend Henry Duncan, a man whose radical creation of a trustee savings bank resonated with ordinary hardworking folks. The stark contrast of Duncan and today’s global investment firm resembles that of George Bailey and Henry Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life. In so doing TSB humanizes their brand

Another example of empathy is displayed by Ram Trucks. Their story of how God made a farmer on the eighth day is done as a tribute to the hard work ethic and unique attributes of a farmer. The video generated over 17M views and 55K likes. 

Finally, emotional connections can be made through content when the audience is invited to play a role or belong to a community. Access to “behind-the-scenes” content, in particular, is a great way to build a sense of togetherness.

And by allowing users to help shape the brand through crowd-sourcing or their own content, audiences can earn bragging rights. Microsoft can attest to this audience role back when Windows 7 was introduced. Their infamous “I’m a PC and Windows 7 was my idea” campaign created an emotional attachment to a brand not well known for humanizing.

H2H

Inspiring Audiences to Overcome, Shoot High or Make a Difference

Much like entertaining content, inspirational messaging transcends the best of informative and instructional content. Did you ever notice how many tweets, posts, pins, videos or other news feed updates are intended to lift our spirits or encourage us to pursue a better self?  In general, most content of this type relates to:

  1. Overcoming obstacles
  2. Feeling spiritually lifted and grateful
  3. Aspiring for better self endeavors
  4. Pursuing dreams
  5. Discovering talents and gifts
  6. Eureka moments

Inspiration

Among the ways that inspiring themes lead to viral content is through messages of hope and encouragement. This is often done by allowing us to live vicariously through the lives of those experiencing far greater misfortune.

In “My Last Days, Meet Zach Sobiech,” I asked my students why they felt inspired from a video leading to Zach’s final hours. Most claimed it gave them a sense of closure with their own issues. Others implied it made them feel grateful and more willing to take chances in life. This may explain why Pfizer’s “More than Medication” surpassed 4 million views.

Other forms of inspiration include the many “no pain, no gain” moments of truth used primarily in sports content. Brands often capitalize on this technique to tap into our resilience and resolve. Perhaps no one does this better than Richard Simmons, whose promotion of weight loss programs over the past 35 years claims to have helped humanity lose over 12 million pounds.

In Nike’s “Find Your Greatness” campaign, the centerpiece of content features an overweight 12 year old, Nathan, toughing out a grueling and lonely jog. The campaign is not only meant to inspire everyday athletes, it supports their motivational hub for athletes looking to “share their progress and success through social channels.”

Another way that inspiring content taps into our deepest emotions is through reassurance. Dove does this very effectively in their “Real Beauty Sketches.” The tear jerking video went viral (62 million views) as women realized they are their worst critics. Backed by a statistic that only 4% of women worldwide consider themselves beautiful, Dove creates an especially strong emotional bond in their commitment to “create a world where beauty is a source of confidence, not anxiety.” 

Finally, inspiration aimed at pushing our aspirations can work well in audience reach and engagement when backed by personalities we admire. From Eureka moments of newly recognized talents to first attempts at fighting depression, inspirational content can create perhaps the most lasting emotional connection with your audiences.

Entertaining Audiences with Humor, Games and Animated Stories

Another way to spark emotional connections from content is through playfulness. Humor, in particular, accounts for a vast majority of viral YouTube videos.  Rooted in three theories, laughter is produced when we see something out of sorts, enjoy others’ misfortunes or release ourselves from inhibitions.

Playfulness

The incongruity theory of humor explains why we laugh at comic wit often expressed as irony or exaggeration.  Volvo Trucks featured Claude Van Damme performing a leg a split that separated two parallel moving trucks.  The video surpassed 79 million views as observers conducted a mental reality check. In a recent release, Southwest announced their $9,999 round trip to the planet Mars. 

Another great example of exaggeration includes the infamous case of Blendtec, where its founder, Tom Dickson, produced a series of videos exaggerating his product’s performance. In total, the videos garnered nearly 200 million views.

The theory of superiority explains for the sudden glory we experience in witnessing others’ inferiority or misfortunes. In its most common form, it includes bungled behaviors, macho moments gone bad and society satires. T-Mobile capitalized on this form of humor in their royal wedding spoof. Using a host of royal look-alikes, they parted a shot at haughty royal etiquette with playful irreverence.

This style of humor is also supported by the relief theory of humor that explains why we laugh when letting loose of our inhibitions. Several videos exceeded 10 million views when accompanied by unruly behaviors or the violation of sacred taboos. IKEA is known for their edgy content that makes us laugh when parents act out.

Other have taken the route of explosive behavior from intimidating icons in their approach to this style of humor. Consider how Snicker’s Mr. T,  Nike’s Clay Matthews, and Reebock’s “Terry Tate Office Linebacker” videos reached millions of views as these icons disrupt peaceful settings.

Playful content can also be created through gamification, or the use of game thinking in non-game contexts to solve problems and engage audiences. According to Gartner, more than 70% of the world’s top 2,000 companies are expected to deploy at least one gamified application by the end of this year.

Foursquare, in particular, brought attention to this concept with their rewarded badges. Since then, rewards have extended to everyday activities like ordering food or watching movies. 

Much of the gamification is being used for motivation. In a recent blog post, Lee Odden points out that:

“…People are relying on this technology for feedback and motivation. Examples: Alarm clock app that donates money to charity every time you hit the snooze button. Nike Plus app notifies your social networks that you’re going for a run; and when anyone likes your update, the app plays applause. Or Gym shamer, which posts when you don’t go to the gym…”

-          Lee Odden, TopRank

So far, the concept shows promise in stimulating audience engagement especially when applied to tasks we normally dread (e.g., managing email overload, fitness, diet and medical checking). A growing trend is to create fun out of safety issues. Besides the Virgin Atlantic and Metro Trains examples cited earlier, Volkswagon created this fun initiative that encourages folks not to speed.

Another growing trend in playfulness is the use of 3D animated stories. Especially when applied to holiday fun, this use of mini movies has worked well for LEGO® and Coca Cola. But John Lewis took it to a new level in their viral Christmas advert “The Bear & The Hare.” Reaching nearly 13 million views, the storied content extends to their website with behind the scenes content and other entertaining features.

And most recently, Caterpillar entered the foray of fun with their “Build For It” branding campaign. The viral video shows the lighter side of the heavy machinery company by using their equipment to play a game of Jenga with 600 lb. blocks. 

Finally, brands are now sponsoring content that allows a more immersive experience. In Pepsi’s “Now is What You Make It” interactive film and TV commercial, they allow fans to create their own experience by selecting additional interactive content as the video progresses. 

The recent $2B Facebook acquisition of Oculus Rift suggests that an even more immersive experience may be in the making. The 3D head-mounted display could potentially take virtual reality gaming experiences  to a new level of content interaction.

Oculus Rift

Facebook’s Oculus Rift Acquisition Brings 3D Virtual Reality to Gamification

Stir Passions with Solidarity, Puppy Love, Pleas & Awe 

In 1975, an unknown actor and film producer shocked the world with a $225 million film that later produced five more successful sequels. In the film, a kind hearted debt collector named Rocky Balboa overcomes all odds as a prize fighter. To this date, the infamous “Gonna Fly Now” song is used by many to fuel their passions.

Emotions are often aroused when our favorite teams are competing or when we show allegiance to our country.  This sense of pride and solidarity transcends beyond almost every other form of emotional connection when it is felt personally. Both Coca Cola’s “America is Beautiful” commercial and Budweiser’s 911 tribute are great examples of how content can go viral when it taps into sentiments of allegiance. 

On a softer side, hearts are often moved from the display of puppy love or family connections. Hallmark has done this for years in their sentimental displays of family affection. Especially when reflecting on nostalgic moments or the impact made by those that passed, these emotional connections can significantly stir emotions.

And when adding a touch of humor to the sentiment, as in the witnessing of child innocence or puppy love, audiences get a dose of laughter and family joy. Budweiser’s “Puppy Love” commercial reached over 50 million views by featuring the strong bond between a dog and horse.

Others have taken the route of stirring emotions through compassionate pleas. Last year, Christina Aguilera made a plea for the hungry and homeless during her mission trip to Rwanda with the World Food Program. In a similar vein, Hope for Paws used their footage of a homeless dog living in the streets as a plea for animal rescue. Both went viral as dramatic displays touched the hearts of thousands.

But passionate feelings are not restricted to heartfelt moments. Content is often staged in performances that feature musicals, performing arts, drama or moments of awe.  Our own study of viral videos showed how theater, choreographic beats, mini-drama and musical interludes impact audience engagement through emotional connections.

Similarly, passions could be stirred as we marvel over the spectacular. In our blog “Top 15 Top 15 Viral Video Engagers: #2 Astonishment,” exceptional reach and engagement was noted when audiences were spellbound. Like Apple’s “Think Different,” the marvel is often centered around those we admire.

Heighten Emotions with Imagery 

Creating these moment of awe, however, normally requires superb photography and video performances that allow audiences to marvel over greatness, beautiful nature or  masterful craftsmanship. Ideally, the imagery taps into a deeper sense of admiration we have for extraordinary talent or our Creator.

AstonishmentFew would debate that smart businesses are incorporating more visuals into their content plans. The rapid rise of visual social media through Pinterest, Facebook/Instagram, Tumblr, Vine, Snapchat and Vine are testimony to the appeal that imagery has over textual content. An estimated 90% of information transmitted in the brain is visual; but, more importantly, visuals are processed 60,000 X faster in the brain than text.  This gives our content far greater opportunities to stand out from content noise.

Imagery, in particular, is unique in its evoking feelings of serenity, provocation or deep sentiments. And when extended to videos, they take on multi-sensory aspects that often have a compounding effect on emotional arousal. Our earlier blog on “Top 15 to Create Engaging Content” demonstrates a number of ways that concept imagery, in particular, arouses these emotions.

Imagery

Using Narratives to Shape Stories of Quest & Rebirth 

Perhaps the greatest attention given to emotionalizing content by brands has been in the crafting of compelling brand stories. Our 3 part series on storytelling demonstrates how brands can create H-E-A-R-T-F-E-L-T elements, emotions and impacts especially when the narrative reflects both the values of the brand and the targeted audience. 

The trend towards storytelling has especially been noticed among brands seeking to distinguish themselves in an overwhelming sea of content. Two areas in particular, visual storytelling and mobile storytelling, have been widely discussed as brands see promise in both apps and videos enabling them to portray their sense of purpose to targeted audiences.

Although 7 types of plots are mentioned among storytelling researchers and practitioners, most viral videos featured over the past year include stories on:

  1. Changing the World (e.g., Upside: Anything is Possible)
  2. Enterprising Quests (e.g., Johnnie Walker – The Man Who Walked Around the World)
  3. Heartbreak to Triumph Endeavors (e.g., Duracell: Trust Your Power

In their heartfelt series of raising olympians, P&G’s “Thank You Mom – Pick Them Back Up”reached over 20 million views as it captured the gut-wrenching trials of young athletes determined to go all the way.

Displaying Generosity in Contributions, Kindness & Causes

One of the greatest methods agreed by most content marketers to stir emotions is through generosity. And this starts with generous contribution of content. Let’s face it. Audiences love to be rewarded. It’s a sign of our attention to them as well as their reward for spending time with our brands.

Consumers are quite accustomed to receiving free content. In a recent piece on FREEmiums, we point out how free content is key to advancing prospects through a social sales funnel. But more importantly, audiences delight in knowing they received a gift.

The same applies to thoughtful gestures as when WestJet surprised their arriving passengers with Christmas presents. The video reached over 35 million views in less than 3 months as the previous unknown airline expressed an extreme act of goodwill.  

Most recently, TrueMove H Thailand released this amazing commercial centered around their theme ”Giving Is The Best Communication.” The video brings many tears to eyes as a benevolent citizen is paid back in his time of need.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLq_Vp5z9D4

TVC Thai Life Insurance shared a story of a generous citizen whose efforts to help others paid off with their emotional responses. The video surpassed 17 million views and earned over a 100,000 likes.

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uaWA2GbcnJU

Finally, Duracell demonstrated their generosity through community kindness. In their “Moments of Warmth Powered by You,” they surprised patrons of a bus shelter with hand powered heating.  The gesture not only resulted in Duracell’s video reaching 1 million views in only 2 weeks, their benevolence was especially appreciated by winter worn Canada residents. And it resonates well with the Duracell brand message of being powered by a human connection: “…In Canada, we have cold winters, but we also have each other…”

Conclusion

So with the alarming levels of content hitting the internet, it is clear that content marketers must find a way to distinguish themselves by emotionally amplifying their content. This will likely shift the bulk of content formats from one of instruction and information to one of entertainment and inspiration.

Heartfelt Content

And to do this effectively, brands and small firms have to show their true colors while surprising us with playful content, awe inspiring imagery, sentimental pleas or passionate performances. Add stories of generosity or triumph; and you may find the key to establishing emotional connections that get your content to go viral.

So what other ways do you think content can strike an emotional chord with targeted audiences?