Continuous Learning for Social Media Marketers: Have you watered your social lawn lately?

When I hear the word “continuing education,” I usually think of a doctor, teacher or lawyer. Someone with a license to practice a profession who needs to maintain a level of CEUs to keep abreast of what’s changed in their profession. And there’s a whole market of training firms and event planners that cater to these individuals with cookie-cutter training programs and test prep courses.

In the field of social media marketing, however, I feel like the rules for staying on the pulse of things are different. Actually, on that point, there really aren’t any rules… despite new social platforms and automation tools sprouting up like weeds in a flowerbed. And it’s not hard to see why:

Needless to say, we’re all officially addicted to our devices and online marketing will be here awhile. But how are we as professionals keeping on top of it all?

Yes, we have conferences. And workshops. And webinars. And plenty of social media “universities” that claim to certify you as an expert. But what happens a month later when Facebook launches a new algorithm, or Linkedin limits their group sharing features, or all your nifty Twitter follower tools get banned? It doesn’t bear much clout if you can’t walk the walk anymore. So who’s going to keep us on our feet?

If you’ve got it set up correctly, Twitter can provide an amazing stream of group consciousness, as well as Google News. The trick is following the right topics and influencers. Also, sites such as SocialMediaToday, Mashable, Forbes and HuffingtonPost are a great place to start. Have a question, Google it. Want to get more involved? Join a group or forum. The issue lies not with the amount of content, but how to find the right sources.

Remember, change is the only constant.

While it may feel like more of the “same old,” I have a word of caution: Don’t underestimate the speed of change in our industry. While the strategy is the same the technology is fickle… tools and platforms are continually evolving. We all want to have the greenest grass, the best online footprint, a stellar portfolio and project success stories. And the first step in doing that is knowing the latest tricks of the trade. This is not an annual or semi-annual professional development initiative, it’s daily regimen that demands us to watch, listen and learn from the people who are making these changes happen. Find out what other marketers are doing and how you can apply it, and remember:

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10 Years of Marketing: Highlights from 2003-2013

After scanning my news feed this morning to see all the resolutions and reflections of family members and friends of the past year, I couldn’t help but think about my own life in 2013 and where I’ve ended up.

Although many days I felt like I was being hit by a constant truckload of work, diapers and bills, 2013 definitely brought some amazing milestones:

  • My son had his first birthday and learned to walk.
  • I ran my first marathon.
  • I celebrated my fifth wedding anniversary and 10 years in a relationship.
  • We spent our first year in our new house.
  • I spent my 5th year working at the best job ever and passed the 10 year mark in the field of marketing.

And because this is a blog about marketing, I thought it appropriate to reflect on how the field has changed in the last 10 years and what lessons I’ve learned from working in it.

In 2003, the world of marketing was still primarily print. I was interning at Volvo under the VP of Marketing where my main project was to coordinate the production of a full-line product brochure. I learned how to work with an ad agency, arrange photo shoots, write product copy and work with a printer to produce the brochure. These were the days when websites were still fairly new, and people still relied very much on printers and creative agencies to help execute marketing projects. iStock Photo and iPhones didn’t exist, your corporate photographer was your best friend, and Adobe CS was the holy grail (and cost nearly as much).

The next few years brought a greater concentration on websites. In the past, websites were seen by marketers primarily as a platform to transform the company brochure into a digital format. Because Google was still catching on as the search engine to please, we were focused mainly on user experience, and how to get the most information to site visitors in the least number of clicks. In these days we called email campaigns “e-blasts” and CRMs such as Salesforce had begun to replace the company rolodex (aka Outlook).

Around this time in 2005, the male-dominated engineering firm where I worked as a Marketing Coordinator limited my role to “proposal writer” “document editor” and “notes transcriber.” Article and ad placements in industry print publications were still big for B2B marketing, so I spent a lot of time writing articles, maintaining project portfolios, pushing out contracts and proposals and hitting file, print, save. My boss was a grumpy micromanager who, for reasons unknown to me, did not like my work and I knew the only promotion I would be getting was to another department.

After realizing I was in a dead end job and there was more to learn in the field of marketing than the engineering industry could give, I took a position as Marketing Manager at a start-up healthcare association for physicians. The job title was alluring, but I had my work cut out for me. By this time, we were thick into the brave new world of digital marketing, where people were spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on fully integrated websites with built in communities, forums and backend databases. ROI became more tangible as pay per click became the new standard of advertising. Marketing research became more intelligent with better campaign analytics and demographic data. Social media was born and email marketing got bigger. We shifted from mass “push” campaigns to permission-based “pull” strategies.

It was in this period that I got my first taste of integrating CRMs, building website architectures, designing and managing online communities and digital content that ultimately gave me the experience that has allowed me to wear the many hats I do today. These days, my resume says I am a Director of Marketing but what that entails is many job functions within one: lead generator, community manager, email marketer, social media manager, SEO strategist, event planner, web developer, CRM administrator, blogger, graphic designer and more. To work in the field of marketing means you own any one of 10+ roles and to be successful means you need to know the ins and outs of all facets of each. And they are forever changing, pushing us to learn new programs, systems and algorithms every few months. We need to know why Google values and devalues certain website attributes and not others, what the latest social networks are and how to infiltrate them, and what features have been added that can make our jobs easier. And the beautiful thing is, once you think you know what’s going on, something new is released and suddenly you have absolutely no idea.

It’s an exciting field, marketing. And extremely humbling. I have always believed that when we stop learning we stop growing and start dying, and thanks to the field I’ve chosen, I will be learning for a long, long time. As I look forward to 2014, I can’t wait to see what the next 10 years will teach me.

My Twitter Marathon: 3000 Followers in 60 Days

Experience has taught me that sharing my goals for others to see is a great way to spur accountability and motivation (while keeping my social networks free of dust). For example, last month I ran 26.2 miles without stopping and Facebooked what every mile of it felt like. It was a pretty good plan until my phone died, but at least I was able to cross the finish line alone and miserable.

So here’s my share for this month:

My latest client has set a goal to hit 11,000 Twitter followers by Dec 31 (roughly 2,500 off from where we are now). The current strategy has been to host a series of contest giveaways to encourage Twitter engagement. For example, “What fall food are you #ThankfulThursday for? Tweet for your chance to win!” You get the idea. They also host user events across the country and post pictures and hashtags like a #kidoncrack. It’s obviously been working, seeing as they have over 8,000 organic followers. So they’re going to stick with it, and brought me on for a few hours a week to try a different approach.

Side note: I’m not-so-secretly calling this project “My Twitter Marathon,” because I’d rather run a mile for every minute I spend trying to figure out #what-the-hell-did-that-tweet-even-mean?

ImageOnward: So last week I followed the crap out of people using our target hashtags. The results were mediocre. We jumped by a hundred or so followers. Given that I need to gain at least 50 followers a day until Dec 31, that ain’t quite cuttin’ it. The good old days when you could work down a list and hit follow, follow, follow are unfortunately either over and/or just not working in this niche. So this week I’ve decided a different approach. I’m going to retweet the crap out of influencers using our target hashtags and see what cooks. If that fails I might just buy the darn followers [insert *gasp* here].

All joking aside, I can tell you what the partner of a budding digital marketing firm should say, and that’s “If you share valuable, high quality re-tweetable influencer content and thank the author with a @, the people will follow.” Duh… So that’s what I’ll do.

To my friends who actually like Twitter, do you have any other ideas for me? Either way I’ll keep you posted how it goes.

Over and out.

To create or participate? That is the question.

When it comes to building an online community, there’s no shortage of social platforms to choose from. We all know them and (most of us) already have them:

Facebook pages
G+ pages
LinkedIn groups
Ning groups
Blogs
Forums
Etc.

The rise of free digital media has removed almost every barrier to entry for marketers to build the right stage to shout their gospel. The tools are there and the effort is minimal. A few clicks, a name, a logo and its done, right?

I often wonder though, are we too focused on building our own communities and not enough on participating in others? While the creation of a Facebook, G+, Twitter, LinkedIn, and all the other “must have” network profiles is cake, the building and maintenance portion of the program surely is not. It can take months to build an audience from scratch and many of us don’t have that luxury of time. When the message is ready, wouldn’t you rather share it in a room with people already in it?

Sure, there are definite long-term benefits of creating your own community. Content moderation control, for instance. Controlling the dialogue. The guarantee of always being heard. I don’t advocate we step away from building these communities from scratch, but when time and resources are of the essence, why not focus more on the communities in your niche that already exist?

Case in point: I have a client that recently launched a program from scratch. They have a website, a product, and only a few hours per week allocated to market it. A few months into the project, they hadn’t been meeting their lead goals and needed some help. I took a look at their offering… it sounded amazing. So why was no one biting? Then I looked at their marketing: posting daily to Facebook, tweeting 3-5 times per day, and posting daily to their LinkedIn company page. I looked at how many followers they had in each network and found they were reaching an audience of less than 100 people.

And there you have it folks.

With only 5 hours per week to spare, I offered a different approach. Within the first week, I joined over 20 high quality, niche Linkedin groups. More than half of them published my posts and I effectively reached an audience of over 50,000 people. This little effort took about 2 hours. The remaining 3 hours I spent reaching out to industry associations with large membership bases in our target market. Within the first week, I had set up a meeting with a chapter president who was so interested in the program, she promised to forward to her entire association board and chapter membership.

The bottom line: When time and resources are limited, don’t waste them building a community you can’t sustain. Spend your time reaching people who are already sitting in the room waiting to hear what you have to say.

Klout: The Online Standard of Vanity?

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the weight of Klout scores. With the gospel of influencer marketing pollinating the media, it’s hard not to. Like stocks and credit scores, it’s easy to get caught up in the rise and fall of where you stand in relation to others. But is there more to it that makes our Klout monitoring so addicting?

Many a marketing folk will tell you there’s no point in engaging with someone with a Klout score lower than 50. I’m writing today to tell you that’s b-u-l-l. For two reasons:

1) Many a great influencer was born offline.

2) Many a Klout master are just vain social media junkies with nothing of real value to add to the conversation.

Take this scenario:

Congratulations Sally totally-social-because-I-take-lots-of-pictures Stephens! Your Klout increased to 54 this week. You really elevated your game with that Instagram shot of your teacup yorkie paddle surfing. Nevermind the post-traumatic stress he’s had to cope with so you could find the perfect photo angle. You rock!”

Compared to this scenario:

“Sorry Mary too-busy-to-market-myself-today Moore. Your Klout decreased to 47. You were obviously too busy working or engaging in actual conversation to share your digital awesomeness this week. Boo for you.”

So Mary’s score sucks and Sally’s is on fire. Does that mean Mary doesn’t have anything influential to share? I highly doubt it. Maybe she just doesn’t feel the need to post her daily life on the internet.

My take: Klout is a great tool for finding new influencers, but not a great tool for weeding them out. There are many great thought leaders who still choose to conduct their daily activities offline. Just because they don’t create content in a digital form doesn’t mean it’s not worth finding. 

On a deeper level (and pardon while I get on my soap box), I often wonder if social monitoring tools reward the worst aspects of our nature. Are we really rewarding the right social behaviors when we expect people to pause, post, snap and check-in at every enjoyable life moment?

Case in point: I had lunch with a few girlfriends today. On the way to the restaurant, I thought to myself, “Hey! I’ve never been to this restaurant before. What a great opportunity to amp up my Yelp account with a check-in.” So I made a mental note to do that. When I got to lunch, however, I was so involved with the conversation with my friends and enjoyment of my lunch that I completely forgot to check in. Whoops, my bad. But then I thought: What if half-way through lunch I remembered and reached for my phone. I’d log in, take a picture, post a review, etc. My speedy check-in easily turned into a 5 minute ordeal of getting the right camera angle with the right filters. Not long after, I imagine my two friends looking at me as though I’ve interrupted the conversation with some sort of work emergency. “What were we talking about? Oh, it was nothing.” Good conversation spoiled. Social indecency strikes again. Maybe I’m glad I forgot to check in.

How often does this happen to you, in a business or casual setting? I’ve been on both the giving and receiving end of this behavior that inevitably causes good lunches to go bad. “Get off your freaking phone already!” someone is always thinking (and lately it’s been me).  I blame Klout. I blame Instagram. I blame Facebook. I blame all the digital networking platforms that make us feel social by rewarding unsocial behavior.

Call it a rant, but I want to start a movement that rewards quality relationships built offline equally as online. That rewards good content in any medium. And that most importantly rewards those who have the patience to enjoy life’s moments without feeling the need to have the world continually comment on them, or define themselves by how others perceive them.

End of rant. Goodnight.

Did you thank your marketing department today?

Imagine a fisherman on a boat in a pond. He casts the bait and waits, hoping for a bite. If he’s lucky, the pond is stocked full of fish ready to take the line. If he’s not, he’ll have to work a bit harder for the catch.

In the world of business, things don’t operate so differently. We have a CRM waiting to be stocked, a Marketing team doing the stocking, and a Sales team ready to make the catch. The only question is, how much bait does Sales need to catch the big one?

To my understanding, the amount of bait you need to catch a fish depends on how many fish are swimming near your boat and how hungry they are, which are conditions primarily generated by the Marketing department. If Marketing is doing it’s job right, Sales will do less selling and more catching, because the right fish are swimming by at the right time.

Makes sense, right? We all want leads delivered on a silver platter. The only trouble is, many businesses can’t always afford to have their marketing department nurture and qualify leads for Sales as well as they’d like. Or they don’t always have a clear process defined between the two roles. I’ve worked with companies both large and small, and it’s universally agreed that the line between Sales and Marketing gets a little fuzzy from time to time. At what point does a lead get passed to Sales? How do you know when it’s “qualified?” When do you stop nurturing and start selling? Knowing the answer to these questions will ultimately determine if your Sales team will be sitting in an empty boat or taking home the big catch for the company to enjoy.

(Pardon my art).
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5 Keys to a Successful Content Marketing Strategy

In the era of online marketing, it’s generally accepted that good leads begin with good content. At the risk of using an old cliché, content is king. Why? Because similar to cash, it’s the universal currency for generating demand in the digital world.

While most businesses understand the need for good, shareable content, they don’t always have the budget to support in-house creatives and copywriters. The good news is, all you need is a good content strategy and a system for collecting and sharing it.

Case in point: This year, our marketing department was tasked to grow event registrations by over 50% from last year. A hefty order from our company President, but as the Director of Marketing, I was up for the challenge. In lieu of using a “dialing for dollars” campaign, which is flawed for a number of reasons (not a believer? read this fine piece on the shift toward permission-based marketing), I opted to develop a content marketing strategy that would essentially a produce a content schedule to promote our events, and, in turn, generate leads.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Develop a list of topics around key product or service areas.
  2. Identify subject matter experts (internal or external) on topic areas.
  3. Create a Content Contributor Program that clearly conveys  “what’s in it for me.”
  4. Sell the program to your SMEs.
  5. Collect, package and post your content.

Keys to success: Of course there’s a lot more that goes into it that a few bullet points, but hopefully you get the idea. The key to remember is that when you’re creating your content piece (whether it’s a blog post, article, white paper, infographic, etc.) it needs to be “shareable” for your niche.

Shareable: What exactly does that mean? Well, if you’re a consumer product company, shareable would most likely be a piece of content with strong imagery, such as an infographic or slideshow. If you’re a service company operating in the B2B industry, a white paper on best practices or a “how-to” article might make better sense. Regardless of industry, the key takeaway is you need to think about what your target audience wants to see and interact with. It’s all about them.

The second piece of advice I have for a successful content marketing strategy: Make sure you’ve set up your lead collection system properly. If you don’t have a system to collect, nurture and qualify your leads, you may as well throw the whole initiative out the window. Ask yourself this: Are my calls to action in the content piece clear? Where am I pointing people to? If you’re promoting a webinar using a white-paper, make sure you link to the webinar registration page within the white paper! Sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how easy it is to forget the proper placement of links in your content.

Next step: where are my leads being funneled? Once they download the white paper, are you collecting their information? Once they reach the webinar page and sign up, how are you collecting the registrations? You’ll want to make sure all lead information being funneled properly in your CRM with an accurate lead source, so you can run reports on anyone who has shown interest in your content that might be a good candidate for follow-up.

Need additional clarity, advice, would like to share something that I missed? Hit me up in the comments section below.