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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Top 25 Social Media Books from an Academic Perspective: #19 Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook

Speaking as a practitioner, I would venture a guess that social media pros rank Gary Vaynerchuk’s book in the top 10 of their preferred social media resources. His energy and expertise make this a fun read. Like his prior book, Crush It!, some of my students rave about his blunt and inspiring writing style. As an academic, however, I find it difficult to justify its very narrow coverage of social media strategy topics.

Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook ranks as top social media book

Gary Vaynerchuk as author of top social media book

The book, in my opinion, does qualify academically as a supplementary reading for undergraduate level and MBA programs. The recommendation is based on the following:

  1. Gary is a real pro when it comes to advertising and social engagement. You can thoroughly trust his expertise in a broad range of media tactics. His own wine related video blog is testimony of his great success in social media
  2. The book is written in a very practical and transparent voice that strikes a chord with young students. Gary’s wit and cheeky barbs add a lot of reading excitement. 
  3. The critiquing of numerous mini-cases across each of the major visual platforms lends itself well to concept understanding. He also wraps up every social media case chapter with key takeaways. 
  4. The book is highly current and relevant to visual media.

What keeps the book, however, from qualifying higher as a primary text for MBA social media courses is the following.

  1. The subject matter is too narrow to cover more than one or possibly two classes. 
  2. Like Michael Stelzner’s primary and nuclear fuel tactics, Gary’s jab and right hook examples are merely “mindset tactics.” This may serve well in select skill based exercises, but hardly qualifies for knowledge based exercises required in strategy development.
  3. Although the brand examples of what works and what doesn’t work are very pictorial and explanatory, it is difficult to frame the critique. Some are critiqued for advertising effectiveness (e.g., need bigger logos, etc.), while others are critiqued for engagement. It would have helped if the cases were used to exemplify one aspect of “jab, jab, right hook” at a time.
  4. Fitting exercises, quizzes and essays to the concept of ”jab, jab, right hook” would be a challenge. It is not clear from the examples what constitutes a good jab and right hook. i.e., As convincing as the concept may seem, it lacks a framework and baseline for critical thinking exercises at the MBA level.  

Overall Evaluation of Social Media Book

Category: Recommended supplementary reading for MBA/undergraduate in social media marketing or IMC.

Social media book evaluation

Evaluation of Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook as top social media book

So what is your take on this book being qualified for higher education? Please share your own criteria or what disagreements you have with this book’s academic influence.

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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?

Top 25 Social Media Books from an Academic Perspective: #20 Social Marketing to the Business Customer

Continuing our countdown on the top 25 social media books that could qualify for classroom reading, number 20 is Social Marketing to the Business Customer by Paul Gillin and Eric Schwartzman.

Social Marketing to the Business Customer ranks as top social media book

Paul Gillin and Eric Schwartzman as authors of top social media book

Gillan and Schwartzman do a great job translating the impact social media strategies have on key account lead generation and B2B relationship building. 

The book, in my opinion, qualifies academically for undergraduate level and MBA programs. The recommendation is based on the following:

  1. The authors provide an easy to digest, but strategically insightful, orientation to the social platforms, tools and technologies required for lead generation, sales nurturing and relationship building. Topics are organized in a “ready-set-go” fashion where sections progress from preparing a social business (ready) to understanding platforms, search and tools (set) to campaigns, conversion and measurement (go). This makes it well aligned with a typical class roll-out. 
  2. The book is written in a language and style suitable to buyers. For example, many flow chart examples are given on the social funnel that makes it easy to conceptualize the lead nurturing process. 
  3. Too many books written by social media evangelists today dwell on platform popularity, storytelling, imagery and other hot topics often at the expense of laying out broad social strategy initiatives across the entire enterprise. This book nails the concepts in the right order of social business development and without sensationalizing topics for the sake of entertaining or inspiring readers. 
  4. Sections on understanding search and choosing specific B2B platforms are especially informative and explained succinctly for students needing to absorb the entire concept in about 12 hours of B2B oriented class time. 
  5. Both authors have extensive experience in the field. This is reflected in their consistent use of relevant cases and best practices for B2B social media.

What keeps the book, however, from qualifying higher as a primary text for MBA social media courses is the following.

  1. The restriction of topics to B2B covers only about a third of the course requirements for a Social Media Marketing or Content Marketing course.
  2. The concepts are becoming somewhat outdated as a 2011 release. Lacking is a more recent perspective on search algorithms, mobile responsiveness and advocacy strategies. At the tactical level, more could be updated on the current use of marketing automation software and Google+ (e.g., hangouts on air for B2B).  
  3. The ready-set-go approach does take away some of the dialog energy. The first part (Setting the Table) – although very meaningful – provides a great deal of information on policies and social organization development that is meant more for buyers and other practitioners. As a 25 year marketing executive, I love this approach. But from the standpoint of students anxious for hands-on understanding, these dryer subjects at the beginning set a low expectation on course excitement. 
  4. A further drawback of this ready-set-go approach is the challenge for professors to incorporate critical thinking exercises wrapped around each stage of development. i.e., relevant exercises would be highly skewed towards the second half of the book.

Overall Evaluation of Social Media Book

Category: Recommended primary reading for MBA/undergraduate in B2B marketing and a supplementary MBA/undergraduate reading for social media marketing or social selling. 

Social media book evaluation

Evaluation of Social Marketing to the Business Customer as top social media book

So what is your take on this book being qualified for higher education? Please share your own criteria or what disagreements you have with this book’s academic influence.

Top 25 Social Media Books from an Academic Perspective: #21 B2B Social Media Book

Continuing our countdown on the top 25 books that could qualify for classroom reading, number 21 is The B2B Social Media Book: Becoming a Marketing Superstar by Kipp Bodnar and Jeffrey Cohen.

The B2B Social Media Book: Becoming a Marketing Superstar ranks as top social media book

Kipp Bodnar and Jeffrey Cohen as authors of top social media book

Bodnar and Cohen do a great job translating the myriad of content pieces on social media into crisp “how-to’s” for B2B lead generation and lead nurturing. 

The book, in my opinion, qualifies academically as a supplementary reading for undergraduate level programs. Although somewhat dated in content, the book stands out in the following way:

  1. The authors provide a broad perspective of how a sorely neglected B2B domain can benefit from social media. 
  2. The “how-to” approach and helpful tips provides undergraduate students with a useful hands-on tutorial.
  3. Both authors have exceptional expertise in marketing automation and inbound marketing. 
  4. Unlike many other books that scatter their functional perspectives across many marketing objectives, this one is focused and organized around B2B lead generation. 

What keeps the book, however, from qualifying as a primary text for MBA social media courses is the following.

  1. The book lacks a strategic perspective suitable to enterprise-wide implementation.   
  2. As a 2012 release, some topics like storytelling, mobile marketing, visual intensity are somewhat outdated. 
  3. The book does not lend itself well to critical thinking exercises. It tends to be more tactical in nature. Strategically insightful case studies would have been helpful.

Overall Evaluation of Social Media Book

Category: Recommended supplementary reading for undergraduate social media marketing or social selling. 

Social media book evaluation

Evaluation of The B2B Social Media Book: Becoming a Marketing Superstar as top social media book

So what is your take on this book being qualified for higher education? Please share your own criteria or what disagreements you have with this book’s academic influence.

Top 25 Social Media Books from an Academic Perspective: #22 Launch

Continuing our countdown on the top 25 books that could qualify for classroom reading, number 22 is Launch by Michael Stelzner.

Launch ranks as top social media book

Michael Stelzner as author of top social media book

Stelzner’s book was the required reading for an NSU undergraduate class I taught in Social Selling (MKT 3240). It provided a fresh insight into the role that content plays in trust building.

The book, in my opinion, qualifies academically as a supplementary and primary reading for undergraduate level programs. Though lacking in some critical thinking areas, the book stands out in the following way:

  1. The author provides an easier to read explanation of how content fuels the selling process.
  2. His style is very personal and backed by his own hands-on experiences.  
  3. Using his Elevation Principle, Stelzner demonstrates very convincingly how content can be crafted  and sequenced to build a trail of trustworthiness.
  4. His many examples of content formats and media tactics are highly descriptive and convincing. 
  5. The blog style orientation of the book makes it an easy read for beginners in the field.

What keeps the book, however, from qualifying as a primary text for MBA social media courses is the following.

  1. The book is written much like a large recipe for blending content and social media. The “lists of” and “how to” tactical approach actually hurts the development of strategic and critical thinking exercises even at the undergraduate level. 
  2. Most of the case examples assume large brand resources. Examples more relevant to entrepreneurial businesses would have helped. 
  3. The book’s advisory style may be the preferred format for practitioners, but MBA academics tend to appreciate more of a case orientation and empirical evidence to derive their own conclusions.
  4. As convincing as the author’s primary and nuclear fuel insights are to real world situations, evidence of success is lacking outside of some vanity metrics captured for those in social media circles. 
  5. As a 2011 release, the book lacks a current perspective on imagery-intensive, SoLoMo and entertaining content.

Overall Evaluation of Social Media Book

Category: Recommended supplementary reading for undergraduate and primary reading for content marketing or social selling. 

Social media book evaluation

Evaluation of Launch as top social media book

So what is your take on this book being qualified for higher education? Please share your own criteria or what disagreements you have with this book’s academic influence.