12 Aug 2013, Ian Greenleigh
The best ideas in content marketing are connected by a simple imperative: be helpful, or be ignored. Utility is hard to drown out. I touch on this imperative in my book in the section “How to make yourself indispensible with social media.”
It’s odd how difficult it can be to follow one’s own advice sometimes. It would be so easy to fill this blog with barely disguised appeals to buy the book. But that approach only serves my interests, and for you to subscribe, stay subscribed—and hopefully, buy the book—I need to serve your interests.
I’ve posted many useful sections of the book online already, so I’m thinking of other ways to serve the interests of my readers. Today I’m going to try one idea I picked up from David Armano, who turns Quora answers into blog posts. I think the approach is brilliant, frankly. By answering questions within my area of expertise on Quora, I’m building credibility on that platform. Then, by posting those answers to my blog, I’m exposing that helpfulness to a wider audience and repurposing the content for another use—one that’s ultimately closer to my goal of building up a readership interested in buying books. And hopefully, the answers are useful to you. If they are, please upvote them on Quora.
Want more personalized social media or content marketing guidance from me? Register for Quora if you haven’t already. Post a question, then use the Ask to Answer feature to request an answer from me. I’ll post some of the questions and answers here. Alternatively, just email me your question. So, here goes nothing.
There are so many variables, but here are some of the major elements:
- Content creation (copywriting, image sourcing)
- Planning (strategies, scheduling, content sourcing from internal and external groups)
- Responding (addressing customer service issues, praise, other mentions)
- Outreach (working with influencers, prospects, existing customers)
- Reporting (monitoring your progress, justifying your efforts)
- Optimization (using data to do things better)
Yes, within reason. Actually, my handle (be3d) is shorthand for my Twitter philosophy, “be three-dimensional.” I think individuals like to meet and interact with other individuals on Twitter–they prefer the genuine article, the quirks, the entire package. There is a warmth to a genuine Twitter presence that invites conversation, and expressing one’s “inner thoughts,” provided that they aren’t vulgar or roundly objectionable, is a winning strategy.
The first step is to make the conversation about your users, not about you. This is simple, but it’s probably the number one thing companies get wrong. What connects your users/fans/prospects is so much bigger than your brand. What do they love, and love to talk about? The second step is to connect them to each other. If you can go beyond starting and chiming into conversations, but play the role of a true connector and facilitator, conversations will naturally start between people that share interests, goals, proximity, etc.
Personal. In my experience, people like interacting with people. They don’t like ambiguity in communications. They value being able to address, say a response, to an individual, not a corporate entity. They prefer to help people, not the companies they work for. There’s also an important element of accountability: a claim or offer can be traced back to an individual.
25 Jun 2013, Ian Greenleigh
Social media is a landscape that can only be navigated through relationships.
The fact that our access to people and information is now instant and global (or universal, taking into account Curiosity’s Foursquare check-in on Mars and tweets from the International Space Station) is a testament to the power of relationships.
News of the Arab Spring reached most people by way of the ripple effect across overlapping social circles: I follow Tyler, but I don’t follow Tariq. Tyler retweets Tariq, and now Tariq has entered my social circle. If I want to follow him and engage with him, I can make his place within that circle more permanent.
Even news organizations on Twitter are now in the habit of retweeting first-person sources, rather than providing their own content—this is a convenient way of getting to stories quickly while placing the responsibility for veracity on the original sources. Those original sources enter your stream, and thus your social circle, only because someone you choose to follow has chosen to relay them to you as part of her audience.
Ever see a bubble split into two bubbles? It’s like that in reverse. That’s the real “social media bubble.”
Spending time with speakers on the social media conference circuit, one often sees a big difference between their social media and in-person interactions. Though this is an effect that is present in our society in general today, it’s especially apparent in this circle. The most digitally outgoing people can seem reserved at mixers; folks who are “all business” online will often show an edgier side at group dinners. This isn’t disingenuous; it’s a reflection of a new reality in which social media helps us to grow into the people we want to be. People who get tongue-tied or sheepish but want to change themselves for the better can start with their social media selves, where it’s much easier to begin. It makes you wonder what skills are transferring from the digital realm to other areas of life. Does tweeting to thousands of followers every day make a person more comfortable speaking to a crowd of a few hundred strangers? Do a person’s interactions in social media make that person’s everyday encounters a little easier?
In my life the answer has been yes, and I know I’m not alone. Social media, then, is aspirational. It can help you become a better version of yourself.
20 May 2013, Ian Greenleigh
Woe to those that underestimate the power of Big Social.
I’ve seen the expression “wake the beast” used a lot in reference to social media, but the expression never fit—you can’t “wake” something that never sleeps, or more accurately, has never slept.
Social media has been big, powerful, and constantly active for a long time. It’s a largely passive landscape, in which a tiny minority of users actively participates, while the vast majority of users “lurk.” But the concentrations of activity can spring up organically, as when something goes viral, or they can be predictable, like the spike in tweets on US Election Day and during the World Cup.
It’s much more difficult to manufacture such activity levels, and harder still to concentrate that activity and direct it into real progress against a shared goal. In their short history, social media “victories” have been more accident than alignment, more carpet bomb than precision strike.
One of these corporate apology excerpts is not like the others:
At Gap brand, our customers have always come first. We’ve been listening to and watching all of the comments this past week. We heard them say over and over again they are passionate about our blue box logo, and they want it back. So we’ve made the decision to do just that – we will bring it back across all channels.
It is clear from the feedback over the past two months that many members felt we lacked respect and humility in the way we announced the separation of DVD and streaming and the price changes. That was certainly not our intent, and I offer my sincere apology. Let me explain what we are doing.
We have observed a spike in domain name transfers, which are running above normal rates and which we attribute to GoDaddy’s prior support for SOPA. Go Daddy opposes SOPA because the legislation has not fulfilled its basic requirement to build a consensus among stake-holders in the technology and Internet communities. Our company regrets the loss of any of our customers, who remain our highest priority, and we hope to repair those relationships and win back their business over time.
The first two apologies (Gap and Netflix, respectively) respond to the raw power of social media. Dissent gone viral, reaching a fever pitch. A familiar kind of outcry.
The third (GoDaddy) responds to something new. I call it Big Social.
Big Social is self-aware. It knows the extent of its access. It understands the influence it wields. It has learned how to carry itself with confidence, and how to direct fire with pinpoint precision.
It has a new set of expectations, and both corporations and political institutions are in its sights.
Political institutions, generally the enemies of access, are no longer able to ignore the role of social media in providing access to power and information. “I think we’ve seen really interesting early days here, but if we’re talking about networked democracy, you have to remember that it’s just in its infancy,” says Alex Howard, Washington correspondent with O’Reilly Radar.
Policy makers, particularly government officials and staffers, are overwhelmed by the incoming flood of messages as it is. That’s something that became quite apparent when email entered the picture in the nineties, and then the growth of other kinds of communications since then has only accelerated that. As some people have pointed out, notably Clay Johnson, what Congress actually needs is to grow bigger ears to be able to listen to all of that, and to know who in that huge amount of incoming requests, ideas, feedback, etc., are their constituents—the people that they are supposed to represent.
14 Mar 2013, Ian Greenleigh
The democratization of influence, and the falling costs of audience acquisition, can actually work in companies’ favor. Social media has created an army of citizen influencers—otherwise normal individuals that wield huge social footprints and outsized influence. They discuss and review films, music, products, and everything under the sun. They have earned the uncompensated attention of thousands of subscribers, fans, and followers who tune in by choice—not because they have no other choice. Advertisers have traditionally measured their ads’ effectiveness, in part, by how many sets of eyeballs they reached (for many companies, this is also the primary means by which they attempt to evaluate social media efforts). But eyeballs that are there because they want to be there—interested eyeballs—are much more valuable. Consumers don’t need any prodding to tell each other what they’re buying, using, and wanting to buy. Brands are a big part of how people view themselves, and how people want others to view them. All consumers, to some degree, see the brands they purchase as a reflection of who they are, but Millennials take this association to another level entirely. Edelman Digital found that Millennials are likelier to share brand preference online than any other personal identifier—including religion and race. This generation feels empowered, too. The same study reveals a strong sense of self-importance unique to the Millennials:
We also found that 76 percent of Millennials think they are highly depended on for their opinions.
Put this in your pipe and smoke it
During one my more colorful phases, I took to smoking an old-fashioned tobacco pipe (maybe it made me feel more like a writer?). Problem was, packing a pipe that stays lit for more than a few minutes is more difficult than it looks to the novice. I could have driven the mile and a half back to the tobacconist and sheepishly asked him how to actually make use of the tobacco he sold me, but stubborn pride prevented me. Naturally, I took my query to the web. On YouTube I found hundreds of videos, giving me exactly what I was after. I sorted by popularity and went through the top three at my own pace (all were in the hundreds of thousands of views), positively over the moon that I was able to learn this way, instead of having to request the tutelage of the grizzled tobacconist in front of all the good ol’ boys that hung around the shop. The guys in the videos used different brands of tobacco, and they either talked about why they favored their brand, or the tin labels were clearly in the shot. After combining some of the finer points of all three pipe-packing methods, I visited the tobacconist again, and bought several of the brands featured in the videos that helped me most. These video stars weren’t compensated by the brands they featured, and it’s doubtful that they even received the products for free. They were just sharing what they knew, and what they liked, in a way that helped hundreds of thousands of people who were just starting to develop habits and brand loyalties that may stick for life. I still wonder, how many tins of tobacco were sold as a direct result of these homemade videos? And do these brands have any idea about the videos, and what they’ve done for their brands?
11 Feb 2013, Ian Greenleigh
Hi, readers. Before you dig into this excerpt, I wanted to let you know about a few things I’ve done recently. I wrote a guest post for Brian Solis called “The diffusion of brand, ownership, and experience.” It’s pretty high-level, but I think you’ll dig it. Also, I interviewed Don Tapscott, author of Macrowikinomics, Grown Up Digital, and Wikinomics. Lastly, I was featured in a short video about consumers realizing the value of their own data, which I embedded at the end of this post, since it’s very much related. That’s all for now. Enjoy the excerpt!
Consumers have escaped the channels that marketers built for them. Before the internet and social media, if we wanted information about a product before purchasing it, or about a company before doing business with it (or working for it), our options were severely limited. If our friends and family had no experience with what we were considering, and journalists weren’t covering it, print, TV, in-store and radio ads filled in the rest. In other words, marketers accessed consumers while consumers accessed content. Businesses were able to minimize the extent to which off-brand and unflattering messages reached consumers. They owned or rented almost all of the real estate in the media landscape, and they perfected the art of wooing a captive consumer audience. The internet, social media, and smart mobile devices gave consumers new avenues of access to information.
Reality began to intrude on the space previously occupied by squeaky-clean marketing facades—consumers were talking to each other, finding alternatives to overpriced or ineffective products, pouring sunlight on business practices that were previously hidden. They began to trust the opinions of total strangers more than the words of advertisers. Some consumer cohorts, like the Millennials (Generation Y), began to trust total strangers more than their own friends and family.
Consumers today can choose where and how to access information and communicate. One’s immediate circle rarely holds all the answers, and for the first time ever, it’s easy to find answers outside of that circle. Not all of the information is accurate; much of the content shared and created lacks substance or is plainly offensive; many consumer complaints are unfounded. But as a whole, we see consumers exercising options that are themselves new—as if all around the world, we’re discovering new superpowers and we’re excitedly learning to use them.
People being born today are digital and social natives, but perhaps more importantly, they are the first fully-empowered generation of consumers. What will they do with their new superpowers, with their new-found access and influence? We’re just beginning to find out, and luckily for those of us who study this kind of thing and businesses that are looking for new avenues to growth, the results are constantly coming in, billions of data points at a time.
Charles Angoff said, “History is a symphony of echoes heard and unheard.” The present and future are symphonies of data.
23 Jan 2013, Ian Greenleigh
In my job as a B2B marketer, access is the name of the game. It’s what everyone’s after, at first. Our job is to create great content that gets people to engage with us, or to create that “positive familiarity” that warms up the call from the salesperson. We’re going for that moment of recognition: “Oh yeah, I know you guys. You put out that video about the future of the Facebook-enabled toaster oven. Sure, let’s talk.” Or something like that. The same forces are at work with business-to-consumer companies, too, except it’s the familiarity is geared to influence the moment of a consumer’s decision, whether online or in the aisles. One of the best ways to gain access to prospects is to write about their industry and challenges, and to mention their companies in the content. It’s a strange thing to say, but companies have egos, too. This angle shouldn’t be used wantonly, or in every piece of content you put out, but it does work when the tactic is used in a way that doesn’t alienate the rest of your audience for the sake of that single prospect. It also works well with existing clients.
A few years ago, I attended a conference in Las Vegas. It was the first conference I attended while working for Bazaarvoice, and I was going, in part, to prove to my then boss that conferences could help generate great content that would have an impact on the business. Normally, we’d only send salespeople or product marketers with deep knowledge of the technical side of our products (not a content guy like me). In retrospect, I’m a little embarrassed about how little I knew about what Bazaarvoice actually did at that point, but for some reason I didn’t think I would be put on the spot about it. When I arrived, I saw that one of our clients was presenting. This was a multibillion-dollar Fortune 500 company, and yet our relationship with them wasn’t very mature yet—that’s marketing-speak for they weren’t using many of our products, and we weren’t getting paid very much (relative to their market cap). Fortunately, the topic was interesting to me, and I thought it would be interesting to our blog’s readers as well. I sat anonymously in the audience and took notes. I didn’t know the presenters, and I didn’t have time to introduce myself before the next session.
Later that week, back in Austin, I posted a recap of that session to our blog. I had a few back-to-back meetings, and when I got back to my desk, I saw that Bazaarvoice had been mentioned a few hundred times on Twitter in the space of two hours (this doesn’t happen often). The tweets were from employees and divisions of the company whose session I wrote about. That alone may have been enough to secure me a ticket to the next conference of my choice in the eyes of my then boss. Then I checked the traffic to the post. Through the roof—more traffic that day than any I could recall seeing, ever. A new email notification popped up on my screen, from the salesperson assigned to the account. He had forwarded me a thread that was sent to me by his internal champion at the company. It showed the extent to which the post I had written had wound its way through some of the highest levels of this organization. People there were proud that their colleagues had done so well in their presentation, and it made the company look really progressive. The last message in the thread was a note from our internal champion to our salesperson, thanking us for the coverage, asking if they could set up a meeting soon to talk about expanding the relationship.
This event recap model worked wonders for us again, a few times. After a Facebook executive spoke at our annual conference, I wrote a post about the ideas within his talk. I never directly sent him the link, but within a few hours of publication, our site’s servers were on the brink. Facebook, which (humorously) has a Twitter account with over 5 Million followers, tweeted the piece and posted it to its own Facebook wall. It was one of the highest traffic days in Bazaarvoice history. Companies have egos, and that’s great news for marketers.
14 Nov 2012, Ian Greenleigh
The quickest way onto someone’s radar is through their ego, to reimagine that old phrase about the connection between heart and stomach. We like to surround ourselves with people that make us feel good about ourselves. Hollywood stars have their entourages, but those of us a bit closer to Earth start relationships with people that reinforce our self-image. There’s nothing inherently bad about having an ego and doing things in service of it (as I’ve written elsewhere, “the concept of ego really gets a bum rap”). Whenever we praise and compliment, bestow awards and recognition, quote, link to, retweet, or even merely follow someone, we are dealing with their ego, intentionally or otherwise. But appealing to another’s ego can be a perfectly tasteful and legitimate way of advancing our own interests. Consider the following two requests:
- “Could you meet me for an hour each week to discuss my career trajectory, give me expert advice when I need it, and serve as a reference when I’m looking for a new job?”
- “I’m really inspired by your success, and I’d love to follow in your footsteps. I’d be honored if you would act as my mentor and work with me to help me shine, too. It should take no more than an hour a week.”
Most people would be more likely to accept the second request, because it paints the same activities as an extension of their personal success, instead of a request for work with no pay, which is the way a cynic might describe it. This concept applies incredibly well to the world of social. It’s hard to believe at times, but the best way to start a relationship with someone that has hardly noticed you yet is to ask for something. The perfect access-granting request is for something that is low effort on their end, of significant value on your end, and…
- Makes them feel good about themselves
- Makes them look good to others
- Is public-facing (like a quote)
- Helps them, even in a small way, get more of what they’re after (like publicity)
Not all of these conditions need to be met to make the request successful. A lot of it depends on the context, the person’s familiarity with you and/or your work, and the person’s view of themselves. All of the conditions above offer something called “ego capital,” which is the element that makes something appeal to the ego. Almost anything can be made more powerful with the help of ego capital: marketing, sales, job searches, even relationships. There’s an important distinction between ego capital and flattery. One of the more common definitions of flattery is “insincere or excessive praise;” in other words something that is over the top by its very nature. (That’s the definition evident in the famous idiom, “flattery will get you nowhere.”) Ego capital may harness the same dynamics, but it can be used in a tasteful, genuine manner—unlike its flamboyant cousin, flattery. Flattery is ego capital gone wild.
1 Oct 2012, Ian Greenleigh
Undercover Boss is a British-born television show with derivative versions in the US, Australia, Norway, Germany and Canada. The premise is simple: Top corporate executives go “under cover” as low-level employees to “examine the inner workings of their companies.” Filled with front-lines revelations, tough lessons, and buckets of tears, the executives leave their adventures in the real world with a new understanding of the day-to-day realities of the people that keep their companies humming. There’s something special about the show, as evidenced by the US version’s Emmy nomination and the fact that it “ranks as the biggest new series premier since 1987,” according to CBS.
The experience is often very humbling. The C-suiters routinely appear inept at performing simple tasks, or clueless about things like how their products are actually made. But if we’re to take them at their word, it’s all worth it. Why?
There are financial awards for companies appearing on the show. Essentially, the companies profiled are getting free advertising during prime time to the tune of more than $12,000,000, as one estimate suggests. Another analysis shows that many of the companies see a stock performance bump after appearing on the show. But a lot of the “free advertising” is unflattering, and it seems unlikely that the share price spike is a safe enough bet for the TV appearance to be calculated for this potential benefit.
No, these big shots are looking for something else: an escape from the echo chamber. Like Shakespeare’s King Henry V, who donned a disguise to walk among the his soldiers and get the unvarnished truth about their readiness for the next day’s battle, many powerful people know that their “10,000 foot view” of reality is colored by career-minded “yes men,” corporate groupthink, and their distance from the front lines.
Those who make important decisions based on a severely distorted reality will ultimately fail, so shrewd leaders place enormous importance on their backchannels to the truth. This is reflected in the rise of internal social networks like Yammer and Salesforce Chatter, which can facilitate enterprise-wide collaboration and that much-vaunted corporate “transparency.” These networks serve, in part, to break down rigid siloes and chains of command that can kill great ideas before they reach someone with the authority and resources to make them happen. On Chatter, for instance, a CEO can post a question to the organization, and receive answers from employees from across the entire company, at every level in the hierarchy. And yet, at many corporations, a direct email to the CEO concerning the same exact issue would be met with a layer of administrative scrutiny in the form of his or her executive assistant, where it may join a long queue of incoming messages, or die on the vine all together.
It’s worth noting, however, that employees don’t have quite the same enthusiasm for the potential of these tools. According to a survey from Deloitte, “As it relates to management visibility, 38% of executives think social media allows for increased transparency while only 17% of employees agree.”
Taking a break from writing this chapter, I happened to check my Facebook feed. On it, a friend had reposted her friend’s request for referrals to a freelance writer. This friend of a friend was a senior marketing executive at a major American auto manufacturer. Several hopefuls posted their interest on the thread, and I added a referral to someone I had worked with. Why did this executive feel the need to post his request to Facebook, and not simply scan his company’s database of proven copywriters? I suspect he’d say that there’s a world of knowledge and talent outside of his Detroit high-rise headquarters.
4 Sep 2012, Ian Greenleigh
A lot has happened in my life since I started writing The Social Side Door. I married the love of my life. I visited the beautiful island nation of St. Maarten. I helped throw a successful conference, and buried myself in a million interesting projects at work.
And now I’m ridiculously happy to announce: I have a book deal. McGraw-Hill will be releasing The Social Side Door in Fall 2013. I’m excited to join the ranks of authors like Mack Collier, Guy Kawasaki, Ric Dragon, Mark Schaefer, and so many others I respect.
There are too many people to thank in this post, but I want to make sure to let my readers know that your support helped me get here. I’ll still be posting excerpts from the book, but probably not as frequently.
Because I’m in no position to dole out writing advice this early in my career, I’ll leave it to someone who inspires me:
And remember that whatever discipline you are in, whether you are a musician or a photographer, a fine artist or a cartoonist, a writer, a dancer, a designer, whatever you do you have one thing that’s unique. You have the ability to make art.
-Neil Gaiman, from a keynote address to The University of the Arts, May 17, 2012.
22 Aug 2012, Ian Greenleigh
Traditional endorsements are specific and direct; I ask for a quote from my best customers, or I pay a celebrity to pretend they like what I sell. Or when I’m looking for a job, I ask my former colleagues for references (this has been updated with the advent of LinkedIn recommendations, but it’s the same practice).
Endorsements can also be tacit and subtle, too. This is the kind of social proof that typically exists in the social Web, and it’s critical to opening up side doors. After all, an endorsement doesn’t have to be explicit.
Some of the social proof signals that people rely on for mental shortcuts—whether they admit it or not—include:
- Number of social connections (Twitter followers, Facebook friends, etc.)
- Mentions and links in social content (tweets, blog posts, comments, etc.)
- Evidence of high traffic to blog or website
- List and RSS subscribers
- Klout score
All of these things are signals that convey information. Someone having a high number of Twitter followers or blog subscribers means, on the face of it, a lot of people care to listen to them. Social proof is the mechanism that kicks in once we see this, the feeling that we should give them our attention as well. If we were to evaluate whether or not to pay attention to someone by sifting through every social signal they emit, our social circle would necessarily be tiny.
Although they do make impressions on people, raw numbers aren’t the best indicators of importance. Subscribers, links, friends and followers can all be gamed. So can the algorithms that suck in disparate information and spit out Klout scores. The strongest signal when it comes to social proof is influence by association. This happens when someone that is already an influencer publicly engages with you. Maybe they retweet something you posted, mention you on their blog, or “love” your Instagram photo. In doing so, they pass on influence to you. Their audience is now aware of you, and aware of the fact that someone that influences them is taking the time to engage with you. If you’re on the influencer’s radar, so the mental math goes, you should be on their audience’s radar, too.