What is Brand Content Supposed to Do?

AwesomeContent2

It’s primary mission? It’s prime directive?

Simple.

Inform, entertain or do both.

Brand content shouldn’t be about hawking products. Or services. It be showcasing them in a way that tells a compelling story about what the brand, product or service can do for its customers – whether they are businesses or people.

Content should be grounded in the essence of a brand, but not be about the brand.

Nobody (well, few people) want to watch a product demonstration video about software speeds and feeds. Better would be a video that shows how the software solved real business problems for real people. And done as a story with conflict, drama and a resolution.

The best content inspires action. It gets people sharing it. Clicking on it so they can learn more or participate. It should get them talking: commenting, liking and retweeting.

Too often brands think their digital content should be glamorized advertising. It shouldn’t be. People don’t want advertising. In fact, they actively try to avoid it.

But provide content that entertains and informs and you’ll have customers opting in to read, watch and experience.

Links:

Best Brand Content of 2013 (via Digiday)

The Best Branded Content of 2013 (via Contently)

 

All Media is Paid

MediaRelations

Can we stop pretending there are media categories called earned, owned and paid?

They are ALL paid.

And they always have been.

Earned media is pitching stories and concepts to existing publishers and having them write about your company, product or service. The idea was to tell publishers – be they reporters or producers – a compelling and interesting story and they would want to write or produce a piece about your brand.

It still works this way, in theory, but in an environment where PR consultants now outnumber journalists more than 3 to 1, the pickings are slim.

And pitching news stories is costly. Most brands hired PR agencies to help them break through the noise. That always cost money. Now, however, publishers are struggling mightily. They have entered into native advertising – a polite way of referring to paid content – in a big way.

Brands now have all kinds of opportunity for paid partnerships and sponsored content with publishers.

Call it “paid earned” if you like. And the best way to enter into this paid partnerships with publishers is produce content – worthy content. Content that speaks more to consumers than it does to brand messaging.

Owned media is a brands own publishing channels – websites, email newsletters, social media and blogs. It’s the content the brand creates – be it articles, infographics or videos – that it then self-publishes directly to its fans, followers and customers.

This is also a paid category. It cost lots of money to create digital content, especially the type of content people want to share and comment on. It costs money to build, maintain and manage digital properties like websites, microsites, Facebook pages, mobile applications and Twitter pages.

Now, however, social channels are requiring that brands pay for distribution. Facebook is the tip of this “paid owned” spear. Most brands are now getting about 2% fan penetration on organic content on Facebook. In other words, when a brand posts content only about 2% of their fans see it in their News Feeds.

Two out of every 100 people seeing your content is a lousy number. But Facebook now has many paid distribution options to get that content in front of more fans (and even friends of fans).

Owned media, especially social media, is paid more than ever.

Paid media remains paid media, but with distinct differences. Paid used to mean advertising.

Not anymore.

In fact, paid advertising has been losing its impact for years. People tune out advertising. The paid options that show real traction and interest are “paid distribution.” Using a piece of brand content – designed specifically for a target audience – and then paying to distribute it directly to them.

The effectiveness of “paid distribution” vs. advertising is that brands don’t pay for impressions – a vague way of kind of saying that someone saw your ad – they pay for an action: a view, a click or a read.

If you have a cool brand video why would you pay for an impression? The goal is to get people to watch it. That’s what paid distribution is all about: opening up your content to new, but targeted audiences.

———

Be it earned, owned or paid – ALL media is paid. To be a success, brands need to strategically design programs that tap into the paid aspects of ALL media.

Because if you aren’t, you aren’t doing media right.

Links:

Paid media becomes a mainstay of web series (via GigaOm)

The B2B marketing guide to paid content distribution (via B2B Digital Marketing)

Could your content go further? (via HubSpot)

What’s Wrong with Facebook? You Can’t Scale


Scale2

And that’s ultimately the problem with every social network.

The more friends you get. The more brands, bands, movies, books, groups, restaurants, and organizations you like – the less you’ll see of all their content – even if you want it.

You, my friends, have limits.

There’s only so much “content” that Facebook can deliver to you without it becoming a mighty waterfall of free-flowing content that would drown you and everyone you’re following.

Every social network faces the same dilemma. The more their users grow – the more they follow and friend – the more complicated it becomes for them to deliver you the right content. The content you want. Add to this mess the fact that most people are, well, people. So their content needs shift and change. That’s why Facebook is having a heck of job trying to figure out what you want.

It’s also why organic reach is plummeting for every content creator on the platform. There’s just too much content for every person.

Twitter is having the same problem – they just disguise it better. Twitter allows us to easily segment those we follow into groups a.k.a. lists. I have lists for news, sports, social media, books, co-workers, my team and many others. Without lists I’d be forced to try to keep up using my main feed. I follow so many people – too many – that my main feed moves to fast for me to even read.

Without TweetDeck and my list segmentation I’d be toast.

The solution is actually a simple one. And one that sends shivers down the spine of every social network.

Scale downward.

That’s the bitter pill. Less is more on social media.

Follow fewer brands, fewer friends and co-workers. Fewer news organizations. Clean out your friends and follower lists regularly. Be ruthless. Keep the ones that provide value. Be rigorous and you’ll get better content. You’ll have a better experience. You’ll be able to learn more, engage more, and your content will become more valuable.

But that’s not a message Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the rest can take to their stockholders.

But it is one that will be best for all of us. Be your own filter. Because right now Facebook is learning that they are a terrible filter.

Links:

A Chart that Explains the Reachpocalypse on Facebook (via Convince and Convert)

Don’t Post If You Don’t Have Something to Say (via Richard Nevins)

 

 

All the Fake News Fit to Print

InternetNews

Fake news is now a regular occurrence. A news story that’s just too good to be true rockets around the internet. Just a sampling from the last couple of months:

  • Catholic Pope Francis declares that all religions are true
  • North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un murdered his uncle by feeding him to a pack of 120 starving dogs
  • Sarah Palin accidentally flies to South Korean for Nelson Mandela’s funeral in South Africa
  • Facebook is banning all religious posts at the end of March

All of these “news stories” are patently false. Most fake news sputters out. But not as often anymore. Now some of them are being picked up by legitimate news outlets, especially on their social channels like Twitter and Facebook.

Take the Kim Jong Un fake news story. That not only circulated on FOX-News, the Daily Mirror, NBC News and dozens of other outlets, but these news outlets wrote their own news stories about it before it was finally debunked.

Being fooled by fake news is now a given for consumers. But here comes the media!

The problem for consumers (and now media companies) is the way many of us are now accessing the news.

Gone are the days when people read the print newspaper with their morning coffee or on their morning commute (take any subway in any major city and all you see are people reading devices. Nary a paper in sight.). Who tunes into the 6 p.m. local news cast anymore? Heck, most people are still at work or commuting home at that time.

The advantage of those news sources was the rigor of their fact-checking. Fact-checking, however, takes too long in the age of the tweet.

News now comes in two major flavors: Search and Social. And fake news thrives on the latter.

Social media is instant and rumors and speculation can spread like a virus. Your friends mean well, but often they post the photo with the political quote without checking if it is accurate. A quick search on Google (or at Snopes.com) can often provide you with the right information – but that takes time.

Some of these fake stories are manufactured by pranksters, but some of them are just poor reporting that spreads before it can be corrected.

Look at some of the “news” stories that raced across Facebook the last few weeks:

  • Sarah Palin opining on FOX-News that Flight 370 may have flown so high it went to heaven
  • Asparagus cures cancer
  • Obama has been caught using a stolen Social Security number from a dead man

While I wish the middle one were true, all of these “news” stories are fake. Sometimes I wonder if the majority of the news I’m reading and viewing on my social networks can even be defined as “news.” Much of it is disguised propaganda, opinion dipped in pseudo journalism, and facts that have been cherry-picked to make a point – rather than to inform.

Are we moving into the golden era of misinformation?

What do you think?

Should we be teaching people how to check the validity of news sources? Is fake news becoming a real problem? Have you been fooled by a fake news report?

Links:

The FAKE news story about Sara Palin and Flight 370 going to heaven

Kim Jong Un DIDN’T feed his uncle to the dogs (via Washington Post)

 President Obama stolen social security number DEBUNKED (via Snopes.com)

 

 

 

This Blog Post Will Forever Change the Way You Read Headlines

Headlines

My headline is an example of where online journalism is heading – or should I say “sinking.”

Once upon a time this kind of “link-baiting” headline was limited to, well, bloggers and to low-brow online publishers:

  • BuzzFeed
  • UpWorthy
  • Gawker, etc.

And, yes, I’m guilty of reading ALL of them.

But I don’t read those publications for journalism or even for news. In fact, my skepticism meter is on high alert whenever I’m reading anything on Valleywag and its lot. Use these types of tactics and you begin to lose trust. That said these publications are masters of getting people to click through to their articles and stories. The magic, of course, lies in link-baiting headlines on trivial, but enticing pieces of content.

UpWorthy may be the king with recent headlines like this:

  • “The Only Thing Wrong in This Little Girl’s World is the People Who Won’t Accept Her for Who She Is”
  • “Here’s What Happens When Public Defenders are Overworked and Underpaid”
  • “This is Probably the Funniest, Most Effective Way to Deal with People Who Ignore Science Facts Ever”

Unfortunately, link-baiting headlines and the trivial content is infiltrating real news publishers. I’ve seen them on New York Times and TIME magazine. The latest guilty party and one closer to my geography is the Boston Globe. Or more correctly its sister organization Boston.com. Some sample headlines from Boston.com can’t really be distinguished from UpWorthy:

  • “5 Boston Characters More Disturbing than the Staten Island Creeper Clown”
  • “9 Hotel Nightmares That Could Happen to You”
  • “3 Reasons Why the Fashion Industry Needs a Makeover”
  • “17 of the Weirdest Things Seen on the T”

It’s shame to see the Boston Globe emulating the online equivalent of a supermarket tabloid. But expect more newspapers and legitimate news sources to follow suit as it becomes more about clicks and revenue and less about journalism.

It’s too bad because eventually people will tune out the link-baiting headlines.

What do you think?

Links:

A lot of Top Journalists Don’t Look at Traffic Numbers (via HubSpot)

Stop Link Bating Before It Ruins Content Marketing (via Mashable)

Content First, Website Second

ContentFirst

No one goes to websites anymore, except when they do.

Sounds nuts, I know, but let me explain.

I don’t purposely visit many websites anymore, especially websites that produce their own content. You probably don’t either. The idea of going directly to a website and exploring its content is becoming an old-fashioned notion.

That just isn’t how we discover content anymore. Instead, our content comes from search engines and social networks. We look for something specific and type the inquiry into Google. Or we browse our Facebook and Twitter feeds and a piece of content catches our attention. In both cases, we click a link to get to the content source.

That’s what brings us to the website – the content. We aren’t going directly to the website. A piece of content has taken us there.

There’s a third way as well – email and RSS subscriptions. But the same principle applies. A piece of content grabs our attention and click…

Once there, we read it. Or view it. Sometimes we’ll share it or like it or leave a comment behind.

I know that I rarely stay on the website after I’m done with the content that brought me there. I’d argue few of you do. In fact, the majority of people probably don’t even know what “website” they are actually on. That’s why you get more and more people saying things like: “I read it on Google” or “I saw it on Facebook.”

Would it surprise you to know that only 5 of the top 100 visited websites in the world could rightly be called content destinations (defined as websites that produce their own content)? And that the first one on the list doesn’t appear until #49 (it’s CNN by the way)?

Look at the top 10 websites (according to Alexa):

1. Google

2. Facebook

3. YouTube

4. Yahoo!

5. Baidu (the largest Chinese search engine)

6. Wikipedia

7. qq.com (a Chinese social network/messaging service)

8. LinkedIn

9. Twitter

10. Taobao (a Chinese consumer marketplace)

What do these websites have in common? They are sites that aggregate content – lots of content. They don’t create it, but provide easy access to it and a way for people to react with it. These are places where we can discover content and interact with it – all in the safety and comfort of being among our own peers and social circle.

So what does this mean for brands?

It means they should spend less time promoting their websites and more time promoting specific content. Websites are not destinations, but places for brands to collect and curate content. So treat them as such.

There is no way brands can’t compete with Google or LinkedIn on being web “destinations.” Few brand websites will ever be destinations so why invest in trying to do that?

Where brands can compete is in content. By creating compelling content, especially content with a smart distribution strategy that takes advantage of this new way that people find and discover content. Put your content where people are and where they can get and share it.

Face it, search and social destination sites need your content. So give it to them. But make sure your content drives home the brand message, the brand experience and gets people excited.

More content.

Less website.

 

Hey, Brands, Stop Talking About How Great You Are

Metoo

Let me tell you about an energy company I know called EnergyX.

They are a real company, but EnergyX isn’t their real name. You’ll see why so enough. They are a public company with about $400 million in revenue. They employee 800 employees and have technology products that can only be described as cool.

It’s why I keep up with their news.

But it’s a struggle.

Why?

Because they are one of the dullest companies I’ve ever seen. EnergyX’s content is terrible. The presentation of their content is terrible. Their social media is terrible.

Go to its website and you’re greeted with a big feature banner. It reads “EnergyX Expands European Footprint: Acquires Leading Demand Response Providers in Country Y and Country Z. Read the press releases!” I’m serious – in the age of interactive media, EnergyX wants you to read a press release.

Unfortunately, when you click to do so you aren’t even taken to the relevant press releases. You go to their press release page and are served up ALL of EnergyX’s press releases – in the order they were published by date. EnergyX makes me – the reader – try to figure out which press releases are the right ones (the correct press releases are seventh and eighth ones on the page).

Likely no one does this. Why in the heck would they? All that work to read two poorly written, cliche riddled press releases that describe EnergyX as “a leading company in blah, blah, blah” in the first sentence.

No thanks.

EnergyX likes to talk about itself. A lot. And it thinks because they are interested in EnergyX that everyone else is, too. They are wrong. Rote news about acquisitions, new customers and product upgrades aren’t interesting. Few people get excited about a news release with a headline like: “EnergyX Announces Investment in Software Company: Adds Licensing Rights for Key Energy Intelligence Software Functionality.”

Zzzzzzzz.

What’s maddening is that energy is hot right now. It’s a booming industry with lots of innovation. Think of the topics! Climate change. Global warming. Energy prices. Fossil fuels. Rising gas prices. Home heating. Alternative energy sources. Solar. Nuclear. Wind. There is a ton of news, trends, and content about energy and EnergyX is stuck talking about itself like that boring guy at a cocktail party who keeps droning on about how interesting he is.

EnergyX needs a digital content strategy. They need to learn how to be storytellers – multimedia, interactive storytellers. Forget the press releases. Launch a content hub. Write about issues. Write about trends. Write about the problems its customers face. Excite people. Move them. Compel them to act. Get them emotional. Get them caring. Tell real stories with real people and voices. Make it visual! Photos and videos. Make it engaging and gripping.

Stop being boring. Stop taking about yourself.

Don’t be EnergyX.

Why Brands Are Starting to Hate Facebook

FacebookIsland

Yes, I get it. Facebook is HUGE.

It’s THE social network. Nothing else comes close.

Yet it seems like they are clueless when it comes to working with brands. With understanding how marketing actually works within large enterprises (the tension for example between communications/PR and advertising). Facebook also seems perplexed about what marketers really want to be able to do with their Facebook communities.

It’s unfortunate because it started out so great. Facebook gave brands free range to build interactive communities on its platform.

Come on in!

Use our stuff!

Let us help you!

Brands grew their Facebook communities to hundreds of thousands, even millions.

Brands created awesome content (and admittedly some not so great content). But brands were learning and moving forward. They were experimenting with new ways to deliver content. New ways to engage with fans. They tried product giveaways and sampling right on Facebook. Some brands even launched new products from the platform.

Remember all the talk about Facebook Stores? Direct selling right from a Facebook!

That’s all ancient history now.

Facebook is now a gated community. Exclusive and expensive. All those fan communities brands grew? Well, they now have to pay to talk to them. And not any real  strategic or smart way. Facebook makes you pay as you go. Because, you know, that’s how annual marketing budgets work…

Not.

Posting content on Facebook now reaches a small fragment of brand fans. So small that brands should begin to wonder if it is worth posting anything that doesn’t include paid distribution. The organic reach is limited. Very limited.

And remember applications (i.e. Tabs)? They have become secondary. They are difficult to find and they don’t appear on News Feeds. Again Facebook pushed them as the way to go and now has abandoned them.

I get it. Facebook doesn’t want News Feeds clogged with advertising and marketing.

So penalize for that type of content. Create editorial standards. No overt advertising. Just quality content. Allow that type of brand content  to thrive because people enjoy it and want it.

Facebook needs a plan for brands. A real plan.

The question is will they get one before brands give up on the platform.

Content Distribution Starts at Zero

Startzero

You’ve just developed a great piece of brand content:

  • a video
  • a blog post
  • an infographic
  • a survey

How many people are going to see it?

Without a content distribution strategy you should expect exactly zero.

That’s right. Nada. No one.

Zero.

The days when you could post content on social channels and expect large audiences are long over. You need a plan. Without a plan you’re just relying on chance that your content is going to reach the right audience.

You need to start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Who is the audience for your content? (And please don’t say everyone. Prioritize your targets)
  • Where are your audiences? (What channels do they normally use to find content?)
  • What are the metrics that spell success? (What numbers do you have to reach to declare victory?)

Let’s get specific. You have a video case study that tells a powerfully emotional and visual story about how one customer is using your product to achieve their dream. In other words, the quality of your content is excellent.

You want your content to hit your key customer demographic: mothers between the ages of 30 and 45. In fact, you have created the content with this audience specifically in mind. You want views of the video to be the key measurement. You need at least 250,000 views within the first week to declare success (and impress your boss).

So start at zero and begin to design a distribution strategy to hit your number – and your target.

Let’s start with owned channels.

Your Facebook page has 350,000 fans – most in your key demographic. It’s a great place to start. But you know that a posting the video there will only reach a small percentage of your Facebook community. So you pay to augment the reach. The posting will now hit half your Facebook fans: 175,000 fans.

You also will post links to the video on Twitter where you have 12,000 followers – at least twice a day for three days. Each tweet will focus on a different aspect of the video and you’ll track to see which tweet works best. The tweet that works best will become a promoted tweet on the fourth and fifth days targeted at your followers and their followers.

You will also post the video on your corporate blog, which has 8,950 subscribers. A link to the video will go out in your corporate email newsletter which reaches 125,000 people.

Lastly, you post to your YouTube channel which has 1,090 subscribers.

Next we turn to earned channels.

You bundle the video with a strong news hook and pitch your targeted media. All the trade and business publications that you have developed a relationships with. Not only do you pitch the publications, but you pitch the reporters and editors. Will they tweet the link? Will they post to Facebook? Explore how you can work with them to embed the content on their channels.

Next come the bloggers. You have at least 10 bloggers you work with all the time. You approach them with a paid placement. They agree to write a blog post and embed the video. They will also tweet and post on their Facebook pages. This is a paid opportunity and they have to fully disclose the relationship with your brand. The overall reach of the bloggers is 750,000.

Now we go to paid channels.

You work with a distribution partner like Viral Gains to seed the video with dozens of media companies. Viral Gains agrees to send 100,000 highly targeted views to your video. You also work with OutBrain or Taboola to put a link to the video on articles and content on media sites that are related to your content. They agree to send another 100,000 views to your video.

Now you have a plan.

Through the paid distribution you are guaranteed 200,000 views. You have seeded the video on other distribution channels with a potential of 1.3 million viewers (not including the media pitching). Once you become more experienced in distribution you’ll have developed a formula to know your average returns on these audience numbers.

As you can see, paid runs across all the channels. That’s the way content distribution works now. It’s not advertising. It’s not a media buy. It’s using paid to drive audience and reach your targets.

You hit the switch on the plan.

A week later your video has 780,000 views and it’s still growing. There are conversations on Facebook, Twitter and on your key blogs about the video. Your audience is liking and sharing the content. Media are taking an interest.

Success.

And it all started at zero.

Links:

6 Turnkey Solutions for Content Distribution (via Mashable)

Facebook is Kinda Sorta Old

facebook_logo_gray

Facebook recently turned 10 years old. The most startling statistic about Facebook  out of that milestone was this one:

The average age of an American Facebook user is 41.

Try to wrap your head around that for a moment.

Facebook started out as a network for college students back in 2004. For its first two years, it was the exclusive playground of college students. Not until 2006 was the network opened to the general public.

So do the math.

Facebook started out as a network for 18-22 year olds in the United States. The average ago of users at the beginning was 20. Now 10 years later – really eight years later – it’s 41. The age more than doubled.

The average age went up 21 years in eight years.

That’s amazing.

While teens haven’t completely abandoned Facebook, Pew Research found evidence of teens losing interest in the platform.

One can see why.

Facebook is started to look more than a PTO meeting than the coolest place online.

Links:

Facebook at 10 (via CNN)

Teens Haven’t Abandoned Facebook (Yet) (via Pew Research)

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