Posts in Category: Content Marketing

Hashtags 101

If you have ever used social media, you have most likely seen the “hashtag.”

hash·tag /ˈhaSHtag / noun: (On social media sites such as Twitter) a word or phrase preceded by a hash or pound sign (#) and used to identify messages on a specific topic.

In 2009, the hashtag impacted society like an atom bomb, quickly changing the course of the modern language. Ever since Twitter strung together the disconnect of key words with the hashtag, people have been able to easily search for key words or phrases that would open up connections to other relating articles or tweets. People’s thoughts and opinions were soon connected into a web of hashtags

  • Hashtags can stand alone as their own sentence: #TGIF (thank God it’s Friday)
  • Hashtags can also be used to suggest emotion: #lol (laughing out loud)
  • Or sarcasm and humor: #sorrynotsorry

The symbol became so widely used, that in 2012 the American Dialect Society declared it Word of the Year. It became so overused by nearly everyone that it was officially declared comic (well, not officially…just satirized perfectly by Jimmy Fallon and his pal Justin Timberlake).

The hashtag has become so immersed in our culture that even brides make it their top priority to create the perfect wedding hashtag (i.e. #WeSaidIDoOnJune2, #SallyandSamTietheKnot). A personalized hashtag creates a folder of photos and updates about the topic or event.
Companies have also caught wind of the hashtag. It has quickly become a popular marketing tool and is now present in various media outlets. Television shows will hashtag character names, movies will hashtag titles and events, and restaurants will hashtag special offerings. The symbol can stand as a marketing/branding/PR technique to promote campaigns while also allowing followers to interact with the company by posting pictures or voicing their opinion. And while this phenomenon first took place on Twitter, other platforms like Facebook and Instagram have joined the hashtag conversation as well.

Greenville, SC, used hashtags as the cornerstone of their plan to elevate the perception of Greenville and highlight recent changes that have been made to the city. By encouraging the use of the hashtag #YeahThatGreenville in partnership with a website of the same name, they took the combined forces of Greenville fans and residents to spread the word that Greenville is hip, young, cool and the place that everyone wants to be.

Yeah That Greenville

Psst…the Customer Owns Social Media

{ Film is not dead } 006

There’s been quite a lot of discussion among marketing and PR professionals lately about who has bragging rights, I mean ownership, of social media. In other words, who is the best of the best at making it happen for their clients and who should be the big SM Master in Charge.  I’m kidding on that last one.

Does Your Marketing Have Game?

UNC Tar Heel Woman's Basketbal vs Francis Marion - 11/5/09

March. Madness.

Around these parts, it’s a pretty darn exciting time, especially if you happen to glimpse a ‘Cinderella’ team that comes from nowhere and goes either all the way or far enough to make you remember who they are and why March Madness is flat out awesome.

Even if you’re not an avid fan, you’ve probably completed a bracket at least once, ahem…won or lost a few bucks on it, and caught the Final Four at a bar with your friends.  It’s fun.

And, it’s EVERYWHERE. It’s a meme that small and large businesses alike jump on and take advantage of.

It’s March Mattress Madness! All new low prices, take advantage now of your slam dunk of savings!!

As I tune in and out of the madness (yes, I do enjoy it!), I’m struck by the sheer number of marketing messages reworked into a March Madness premium ad spot. It’s all basketball, NCAA, or sports related, regardless of the product.  What makes me smile even more is that not only do these spots have game; they have context.

Does Your Marketing Have Context?

Obviously, there are few small business owners, or the marketing firms that work with them, with the NCAA March Madness budgets peppering the line-up. However, that shouldn’t stop any of us from not only recognizing the context within which we’re marketing, but the strategy that goes with it.

That means going well beyond your big idea and your target market. It means digging into the context around you both.  What’s happening in their world? Is it March Madness? Is it daylight saving time? (Somebody throw me an extra hour, would ya?)  Is it SxSW?

Homeless Hotspots Fouled Out

If you missed the tweets, updates and hullabaloo last week, over 20,000 techno savvy and marketing types descended on Austin, TX for SxSW: Interactive (I’ve always pined to go to the music festival myself).  Aside from the rain and long lines, one of the PR misses at SxSW was Homeless Hotspots.

Based on what I have found online, BBH (a New York interactive agency) contacted Front Steps, a homeless shelter in Austin, TX to contract with their residents in order to provide human hotspots throughout the Sx conference.  BBH didn’t just pluck random folks off the street, they went through an organization.  They also went along with the Front Steps recommendations on what to pay these individuals who volunteered for the job.

Whatever your thoughts about the validity or moral issues associated with using the Austin homeless to serve as 4G Hotspots, the bigger hole in that doughnut is the fact that a certain context was lacking when executing the strategy.

The context, admittedly based on what I’ve read about SxSW participants and not from actual participation, is full of lofty ambitions and ideals, high on networking and connections, and entrepreneur mindsets and for the most part, a big PARTY.  For many related to SxSW, whether they attend or not, times are tough. The money isn’t flowing as it once was. Folks are working hard to make dreams come to life.

Sounds like a perfect bunch to interact with the homeless population in a meaningful way, right? Why not set up the context for Sx attendees prior to arrival?

A friend of mine gave me the Homeless Hotspot card that was handed to her as she walked down the street (among the MANY items shoved at you).  It had no context other than another card being pushed at you by a guy or girl in a branded t-shirt.

Why not provide some advance context to set the reception for the message?  I’m betting that would have won fans early on and rather than making this campaign about BBH, or had bad it was for the homeless people participating, made it about HOMELESSNESS!

Tell the Story

Woven throughout the March Madness spots are short vignettes on NCAA athletes, dispelling the myth that all they care about is going Pro, or that they’re just dumb jocks. Their personal stories are woven in.  BBH would have done well to do the same here, in advance of the conference.  Play to the ideals of attendees and their insatiable thirst for a good story.

The Homeless Hotspot participants have lives and stories. Tell them. Give a face to homelessness.  Videos anyone?  There are some great videos on YouTube, but not by BBH.  Sadly, these videos materialized after the roll out.

Interview the participants; highlight their locations and their stories and why they want to be your hotspot. Better yet, give the participants their own cameras and shoot a day in the life of a Hotspot video prior to the event. Use blogger and media relations to connect the dots and tell additional aspects of the larger story.

Set the context before people bump into it. Rather than focusing almost exclusively on the big event or big day with your marketing campaign, lay some groundwork in advance so that folks are ready when the big message hits.

Basketball Image via Flickr

Hotspot Card Image via Erica Allison (given to her by a friend).

Recycling Content? Upcycle for Added Value

Convertible Tie Clutch

The successful content marketer knows a thing or two about recycling or repurposing their content.  It’s where you take something that worked well for you, like a white paper or a blog post, mix in some new content and produce something fresh out of it.  You’ve probably even done it with someone else’s content, piggybacked off a blog post or something.  There’s so much good content out there and so many people who haven’t read it or seen it, why not?

According to my friends at Wikipedia, “In the strictest sense, recycling of a material…produces a fresh supply of the same material.”

Recycling content – whether it’s ours or someone else’s – allows us to use something that we think is really awesome and try to rework it into something fresh.  Here’s the thing. I don’t think we’re doing such a good job of it.  Not consistently anyway.

Maybe it’s me, but lately the recycled content, mine included, is leaving me feeling less than fresh after reading it.  Perhaps even more important, I didn’t feel like my problem or issue was solved or that I benefited from the effort.

Take a moment to think about it from your audience’s perspective and their view of your marketing efforts, particularly your zest for recycling.  Yes, they may not have heard or read it before, but if they stick around long enough, they’re going to pick up on your recycling efforts. If your content isn’t fresh enough, provides a benefit or a solution, then they, like me, will grow bored or worse, move on.

What’s happening is that rather than recycling, we’re really downcycling. Rather than taking an original work and adding to it to make it better, we’re creating something of lesser value, based on the original thread or concept.

Why not try something new? Try Upycling.

Upcycling takes recycling to a whole new level. A product or material, like a CapriSun juice pouch or Skittles candy wrapper, products made famous by TerraCycle, is made into something of higher value.  The purse or wristlet made with the original materials is far more valuable than the used wrapper on its own, even if that wrapper is recycled.

The same goes for upcycling your content.  Rather than merely recycling it, why not add to it for increased value.  Rework it into a new thought, offer new opinions, ask new questions, based on your original content, or someone else’s in order to create more value.

Content is certainly king, but don’t let it become king in name only.  Give it real power.  Make your content valuable.

Make it surprising.  Make it actionable.  Make it useful.

Upcycling takes thought, creativity and an understanding of what your customer finds valuable.

Think about it. Those candy wrapper purses and bags meet a need, but they do more than that.  They connect the dots for the customer. They provide function, form and the unexpected.  They also provide us with the opportunity to be a part of a solution, and to benefit from it in the process.

What better way to tap into your inner artist than to Upcycle your content? What better way to engage your customer?

I’d like to think a few of my “top posts” hit the mark in going beyond the expected, but there’s always room for improvement.  Take Focus on Content for Real Influence as an example.  It was one that got a lot of traffic and comments.  I recycled a concept when I wrote that post. I had read both Jay Baer’s post and Mark Schaefer’s post on Klout.  I took their ideas and mish-mashed them with my own to create that post.

What could I have done to Upcycle it?

  1. Use it as a base from which to measure other posts, pick two of my own and then use the six metrics I offered to evaluate my relative influence.
  2. Turn it into an evaluation tool that others can use.
  3. Rework it into a video post (you know I love those)…a man on the street video asking random people what makes them take action.
  4. Host a podcast. Interview three influential bloggers on influence…or interview three consumers on influence.
  5. Interview three small business owners with active marketing campaigns and get their take on influence and content. Turn it into a blog post or a case study.
  6. Keep a running log of what posts or content influenced me over a five day period and deliver the results via my blog.
  7. Get my friend Nathan to write me a jingle based on the concepts of influence! 😉

The point is I, and many of us who use content to market, need to put on a thinking cap more often.  Put down the recycling box and pick up the hot glue gun.  Get creative. Go crazy. Upcycle.

Convertible Tie Clutch Image found via Flickr, Groundsel.

What do you think? How can you Upcycle more than you Recycle?

Strength in Numbers: The Benefits & Challenges of Collaboration

Working Together

Collaboration: the act of working together to achieve a common goal.  If you’ve ever done it or experienced the results of it, you know instantly what I’m talking about.  Whether it’s two people or two firms, when you saddle up together to get the job done, you’re collaborating.

As a small business owner, of a business of one, I often bring in subcontractors to create my team…the “group” in Allison Development Group, if you will. That is not collaboration. That is contracting with others to create a project team.

True collaboration, in my business, is when I work with a contemporary or equal to either go for a bigger project or accomplish a goal that I am unable to do alone.  I may combine my zen for analytics and content marketing with the skillful storytelling of a seasoned PR Pro to create the perfect package for a larger client.

Collaborating with others can be a real plus when you’re a business of one.  It can also bring a unique set of challenges that if you’re not prepared, can make your experience less than pleasant and leave you with the impression that you should go it alone in the future.  The problem there is that you may not realize the full potential or benefits of collaboration.

The Benefits of Collaboration

  1. Expand your reach. You may have the skills to tackle the big jobs, but not the muscle.  By collaborating with a colleague who has complimentary skills, you both can go for the bigger jobs, with equally big results.
  2. Scale your business. If you’re a solo shop like me, collaboration allows you to test deeper waters without bringing on a full staff.  You are able to see what it might take to work a larger number of projects or a project on a grander scale, minus the additional payroll.  If the bigger project is something you feel comfortable doing, and you produced positive results through collaboration, planning for business growth takes on a new understanding.
  3. Experiential learning. Everyone brings something different to the table. When you collaborate, you get a sneak peek into someone else’s operations and ways of doing things.  Take advantage of that and learn something new.  I’m confident the same thing will happen to your colleague.
  4. Deepen your network and relationships. Each and every time that I’ve collaborated on a project, I’ve gained a new friendship and greatly enhanced my professional network.  When you spend months working together, you’re bound to create lasting relationships or a network from which you can tap into in the future.
  5. Complete your picture. Even though you have some really amazing skills; you don’t have ALL of them needed for EVERY project.  Your colleague in collaboration can complete your skill set…be the yin to your yang or the peanut butter to your jelly.

The Challenges of Collaboration

  1. Who’s in Charge?  Regardless of the equanimity of the relationship, someone has to be the leader. Someone has to get the work and someone has to sign the checks.  Remembering that and knowing that the relationship must be honored is critical to achieving positive outcomes.  This one is especially important to the client.
  2. Communication Confusion.  Communication between the collaborators and with the clients can get easily confusing if channels and protocol are not mapped out in advance.  The leader of the team must clarify with the clients what roles the team members play and direct how communication is to be handled.  The team members must agree in advance how reports are handled, how each member communicates with the client, and the frequency of updates within the team.
  3. Expectations and Work Product. The collaborative team may get along like wildfire, but when the rubber hits the road, the work product may not be a match.  Ideally, you’ve seen each other’s work or are at least comfortable with the experience in key work products before pursuing work together.  It’s a good idea to provide samples of your work and strategies before pursuing new work together. When you do get the gig, review expectations and deliverables right away.
  4. Let Go of that Ego.  Surprising as this may seem, egos can get in the way in a collaborative process.  What helps is to recognize that benefit listed above…the one that says you complete each other’s pictures.  It’s true. Each one of you is super, talented, smart, beautiful, and, not quite perfect.  Together, you can be pretty darn close to perfect and that could mean really excellent results for the client.  When you check the egos at the door and keep your eyes on the prize, your team will rock the house.

Collaboration is indeed an awesome thing, but it’s not for everyone.  When you’re used to working alone or interested more in the glory than in the goals or the work, collaboration isn’t going to be for you.

If you are ready to grow professionally and to learn from someone else, and want the chance to go for something bigger, then collaboration might just be for you.  Give it a try.

Let me know what worked for you in your collaborative efforts. What benefits or challenges would you add to the list?

Image via Flickr

Content 411: Blog Comments vs. Blog Content

I just read a very cool piece by Christopher S. Penn on mining your blog comments to better understand your content and more importantly, what your readers think (and say) about it!  As you know, I love to look at data and interpret it to figure out if I’m on track or if I’ve fallen off the rails.  This was a treat of the first order! It was not only fun, it was very enlightening.  And, I got to play with a Wordle…who doesn’t love that?

Listen Closely…it’s Your Content Talking

The ever generous Christopher S. Penn suggested that you copy and paste your blog comments from your last 10 posts and then whip out the wordle and see what happens. The Wordle site I was visiting gave me the option of plugging in my RSS feed or, pasting gobs of text into the feeder in order to pop out my wordle.  I did both.  I wanted to see how my blog content that I generate compares to the comments that you generate.  The first one is the RSS feed from my blog.  Here’s what my content has to say:

Listen Even Closer…Your Customers Are Talking

Now, compare it to the wordle I did using random blog comments.  In other words, here’s what YOU had to say on my last five blog posts.

Did you just say what I think you said?

This isn’t an exact science of course, at least not with my copy and paste skills, but it does give me a quick and dirty look at how my content measures up to my audience.  From the two wordles, I can see that we both talk about Analytics, People, Tools, and Google. Looks like we’re reading from the same sheet of music on a few topics. Whew!

What if the two wordles had been worlds away? What if your comments had been way off and completely opposite from my content? What would have that have said about me or my blog? These are excellent questions to ask ourselves and could tell us any number of things: that I’m writing the wrong stuff; that I’m writing for the wrong audience; or, that I’m not listening to my community or my customer.  The bigger question is: What would I do about it?

To Wordle or Not to Wordle…

You don’t have to use a wordle to determine if you’re content is reaching your audience. We’ve discussed in the past three or four blog posts a multitude of ways to check in.  The main point is to check in.  Don’t assume you’re writing for the right audience or that your audience is digging what you’re writing.  Find a way, anyway, to figure it out.  If all else fails, just ask them!

What do you think? What did the wordles tell you? Will you try it out? I’d love to see your results. Please share the links here if you do it!