Why Seeding Your Content is Key to Making it Viral

April 26, 2012

First Seeds Planted by Pictoscribe - Home again @FlickrIs great to see scientific research being done on social media, viral videos, and marketing in general (see previous post on the New Science of Viral Ads). Problem is, many research papers contradict each other. A recent study published on Marketing Journal titled “Seeding Strategies for Viral Marketing: An Empirical Comparison” (requires registration), by Oliver Hinz, Bernd Skiera, Christian Barrot, & Jan U. Becker, tries to get some of the contradictions resolved when it comes to what makes something “go viral“.

4 Critical Factors for Viral Success

According to the authors, there are four critical factors for viral marketing success:

1: Content, or the attractiveness of a message makes it memorable

2: The structure of the social network 

3: The behavioral characteristics of the recipients and their incentives for sharing the message

4: The seeding strategy, which determines the initial set of targeted consumers chosen by the initiator of the viral marketing campaign

The authors attribute the fourth component, Seeding Strategy, the higher weight. It’s all about who you are sending your video to, they say.

“Seeding the “right” consumers yields up to eight times more referrals than seeding the “wrong” ones” – Hinz, Skiera, Barrot, Becker

So how do you go about “seeding” it right? Here’s where many researchers disagree. There are typically three types of people you can target:

  • Hubs:  well-connected people with a high number of connections to others
  • Fringes: poorly connected people
  • Bridges: those who can connect two otherwise unconnected parts of the network

Network

Hubs tend to be better informed because of their social links and they can also influence their networks (hey, if I got this from Bob it must be good!). However, Hubs may not be optimal channels because if the person that acts as a hub doesn’t like or doesn’t agree with the content, they will not pass it on to their network. As big targets for new content, hubs are constantly bombarded with information and therefore may ignore or not see your new content which will prevent it from being spread.

Adoption of a new idea can then start at the “fringes” and make its way through the network. It has also been argued that fringes are more easily influenced than hubs and therefore may be good targets for spreading content. Bridges, for their ability to connect different areas of a network have also been targets because they can influence a portion of the network otherwise immune to the ‘viral’ content you have created.

The Optimal Seeding Strategy

In their research, the authors encountered four studies that recommend seeding hubs, three recommend fringes, and one recommends bridges. No wonder there is so much confusion when it comes to social media and viral videos! They then conducted experiments to prove those theories to the test to see which one would emerge as the winning seeding strategy.

The result was that “Marketers can achieve the highest number of referrals, across various settings, if they seed the message to hubs or bridges“. They also go on to say that “companies should use social network information about mutual relationships to determine their viral marketing strategy”.

Check out a summary of the study and results published by the authors on SlideShare (link below):

The Social Network

Understanding the social structure of potential networks is an important part when planning your social strategy. It pays off then for companies to mine the data they already have about their customers in order to determine the best people to seed your campaign. If high-connected people are picked to seed the campaign, the probability that it will spread is greatly increased.

Finally, it remains to be seen whether Facebook and other social networks will start playing a very active role in providing companies with detailed network information in order to help with their seeding efforts. Companies already have access to demographics, is just a matter of expanding the data set and, of course, avoiding potential privacy concerns.

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A Content Rules Cheat Sheet

March 15, 2012

Content Rules Book

Edit: The PDF is now back online, link at the end of the post.

Edit: The authors of the book asked me to make a slight change to the PDF byline. Will be uploading the updated version of the Cheat Sheet shortly.

Edited: In my haste, I neglected to ask permission from the authors to put this cheat sheet together. As per their request I am taking the link down.

I’ve got to admit, I am a big fan of the “Content Rules” book, by Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman. No, is not groundbreaking or earth-shattering content. Actually, a lot of the stuff you probably are already doing and it kinda seems natural once you read it. But boy, is it actionable. It consolidates a lot of what is out there about content marketing and delivers it in an easy to read format with no gobbledigook or too much fanfare. Yes, I think I like it more than a few other books out there because of the straight-forwardness (is this a word?) of the language the authors use.

While a longer book review is in order, I just wanted to share something I’ve created with you. The book is based on 11 content rules:

  1. Embrace being a publisher
  2. Insight inspires originality
  3. Build momentum
  4. Speak human
  5. Reimagine, don’t recycle
  6. Share or solve, don’t shill
  7. Show, don’t just tell
  8. Do something unexpected
  9. Stoke the campfire
  10. Create wings and roots
  11. Play to your strengths

As you might imagine, each rule alone is not much and anyone can do it. Heck you are probably already doing a handful even without knowing. But, like a good superhero story, when put together they unleash the power of great content creation.

For those of us who read the book and keep coming back to it for additional insights, I have created a “Content Rules Cheat Sheet“. Is basically the list of rules put together nicely in a PDF that you can download, print, and peg to your wall/board/monitor/etc. Use it as a reminder and as a checklist. Give to the new intern to make a few copies and spread around the office and present your team members with a copy printed in nice paper. Click below to view and download it.


How to Build a Content Development Plan for Your Site

March 13, 2012

Note: this is another great guest post by Brad Shorr. See his bio at the end.

Have you ever visited a website that looked like a teenager’s bedroom – content strewn about everywhere, overflowing with information yet impossible to find what you’re looking for? This often happens when a firm fails to make a long-term content development plan a component of its new site launch.

The consequences of haphazard content development are quite serious:

  • Interested prospects can’t find what they are looking for, so they click off the site.
  • Prospects who are ready to buy get confused, frustrated, or lost on the site – and fail to convert.
  • All visitors leave with an impression that the firm is as disorganized as its site.

Here are ways to prevent these things from happening.

1. Long-term Focus

Most Web development projects are obsessed with the immediate future: We have to get the site launched on time; we have to get it done within budget.

In terms of content, avoid the very strong temptation to cram everything you want to say into the initial launch. You won’t have enough time, and you won’t have enough money. Instead, identify the content you must have for launch, and then schedule the content you want to have for future phases of the project.

2. Go from General to Specific over Time

The most important content to present on the initial launch of a business site is the overview. Give prospects and customers the big picture: what you do, what problems you solve, what benefits you offer, and why people should buy from you.

If you do nothing more than get those simple points across, you’ll have a manageable number of pages to produce for the launch, and you won’t obscure the message with distracting details. And as a consequence of that, you’ll have a site with content that effectively supports lead generation.

3. Logically Layer On the Details

Develop a more detailed picture of your firm over time by adding new layers of content. For instance, consider a restaurant supply business. A simple, long-term content plan for its products could look something like this:

  1. Launch Phase: One Products Overview page with a brief summary of all product groups.
  2. Second Phase: Build out Product Group pages with more detail on Furniture, Bar Supplies, Kitchen Supplies, etc.
  3. Third Phase: Build out detailed Item pages for the 10 most popular items in each Product Group.
  4. Fourth Phase: Build out detailed Item pages for the next 25 most popular items in each Product Group.

4. Content Categories and Subcategories

The above tip refers to content depth, but let’s take a minute to consider content breadth. For a launch phase, these content categories are generally indispensible:

  • Products
  • Services
  • About
  • Contact

From here, much can be added in future project phases. Here are a few ideas to get you thinking about the possibilities.

  • Category: Testimonials
  • Category: Case Studies
  • Category: Careers
  • Subcategory of Products: FAQs
  • Subcategory of Services: Important Resources
  • Subcategory of About: Charitable Giving

Creating these additional content sections requires a lot of time and creativity. If information is thrown together at the launch phase to meet a tight deadline or budget, entire sections may well come off looking extremely lame. Again, it’s preferable to think long-term and patiently roll out new content based on a plan.

Key Takeaways

By mapping all this out in advance, not only will content be delivered to visitors in logically organized and digestible chunks, designers and programmers will be able to build proper layouts and navigation into the site from the beginning.  Over the long-term, your site will be as clean as the bedroom you see to the right.

This point cannot be overemphasized. Content should drive any web development project! If designers and programmers don’t know where the content is heading, they can only guess at how much room to allocate for future navigational links, where those links should go, and what they should look like.

Quite often, this is why a mature site has navigation that appears haphazard and cramped, that has crucial call to action blocks hidden in obscure corners of the page. The firm boxed itself into a corner as it added content and did not have the resources to rebuild the site from the ground up. Not a good situation to be in, but one that is all too common.

About the Author

Brad Shorr is Director of Content & Social Media for Straight North, a Chicago Internet marketing firm. They specialize in niche, middle market B2B industries such as video broadcast equipment and gloves for electrical work. Brad is an experienced content strategist, SEO copywriter and blogger.

(Image Credits: Image 1, © Iriana Shiyan #39382212; Image 2, © Joseph Helfenberger #1106456 – Fotolia.)


When Inbound Marketing Goes Wrong

February 9, 2012

The fact that Inbound Marketing is taking over traditional marketing methods is not news. It seems that every eBook, blog post, and webinar is now touting content marketing and inbound marketing as the go-to strategies for the new marketers. Marketing is evolving, there is no denying that.

But for those out there in the trenches, trying to follow all the advice and get their marketing engines running it is not that simple. Sometimes, despite your best efforts you can’t seem to move the marketing needle enough.

Why Your Inbound Program Isn’t Working

Marketo‘s new whitepaper, “Amplify Your Impact: How to Multiply the Effects of Your Inbound Marketing Program“, takes a different route from others out there. I was pleasantly surprised when they decided to attack the core of the problem by saying “It can be common for organizations that implement an inbound marketing strategy to see an early lift. However, while early results are strong, the leads can dwindle to a trickle“. That’s not your typical Inbound Marketing whitepaper!

The reasons, according to Marketo, are many:

  1. Your aim is too wide
  2. Some prospects may find you, but many don’t know you exist
  3. Others may know your exist, but don’t understand what you do
  4. You aren’t reaching the decision makers
  5. Sometimes you can’t break through the noise
  6. Sometimes there isn’t any noise
  7. Inbound marketing has a diminishing return

Content developed for inbound marketing should be more focused on your prospects’ problems and concerns than on your product or solution – Marketo

For each problem listed above, you can find good examples that might reflect exactly what you are facing at your company. In some cases, a few tweaks may get you back on track but in other cases you should re-evaluate your strategy. They also list a few things other companies are doing that you should think about, such as:

  • Have a staff dedicated to inbound programs
  • Combine inbound AND outbound programs
  • Ensure you have nurturing programs too

The Right Marketing Program Mix

“Increased output is not directly linked to a greater number of leads or customers or higher profit. You need to strategically determine where to spend your time – especially if you have a limited amount of resources”

The quote above, from Marketo, is the key for your inbound marketing troubles. The combination of the right programs based on their effectiveness for your particular situation is what will generate the best results. And, according to Marketo, outbound programs have their place in your marketing arsenal. They explain that while inbound marketing supports your newly created content by sharing it on social channels, making it faster and easier for your content to be found, outbound marketing (paid sponsorships, banner ads, etc.)can help you further spread the word about the content and multiply the number of new views you generate (and thus the number of shares, likes, etc.).

The mixing of both Inbound and Outbound Marketing programs helps with:

  • Brand recognition
  • Making prospects speak your language
  • Capture your target

The last part of the paper touts the benefits of marketing automation (expected, since Marketo is one of the players in this space) to help with your nurturing campaigns. As Marketo puts it:

“The leads you’ve generated via inbound marketing are often still conducting research and evaluating their solution options. That’s where lead nurturing comes in — you need to invest in the process of building relationships with qualified prospects, with the goal of earning their business when they are ready to buy. Marketing automation helps you deliver relevant information over time to keep leads interested, engaged, and educated until they’ve made that decision”

Besides, marketing automation also helps to:

  • Raise open and click rates
  • Enables A/B testing beyond landing pages
  • Creates new landing pages easily
  • Shorten sales cycle
  • Lets sale show when their prospects are engaging online
  • Automates repetitive tasks
  • Delivers sophisticated reporting and analytics

The free whitepaper is worth a read. The part where they talk about inbound marketing campaigns gone wrong can give you some interesting food for thought and help you rethink how your own campaigns are being setup.

 


Your Content Marketing Mandate: Just Do It!

January 24, 2012

I’ve heard a few times now from companies that want to get their content marketing engine cranking but haven’t put anything out there yet because of one of the following reasons:

  1. We don’t have a marketing person or department
  2. We don’t have enough time to create content
  3. Our website sucks, we want to fix it first
  4. We are still researching topics for our blog posts
  5. We don’t know where to start

Any other typical reasons I missed? You have probably heard (or thought yourself) a few more, I bet.

A Simple Content Marketing Strategy

Yes, creating content is difficult. Creating blog posts, writing articles, shooting videos take time and effort. BUT (a big but for sure) you’ve gotta start somewhere!

So here’s my suggestion for those still on the fence or trying to climb what seems like a very tall content-marketing-fence: Just Do It! (sorry Nike!, don’t sue me for copyright infringement please)

That’s right, just type something and let it fly. Don’t waste time reviewing 5 times before hitting “publish”. Don’t wait three days for your team to give their feedback. Stop having second thoughts of whether anyone will like it.

You know why? Because if you are not producing any content now, anything (yes, anything!) you produce will be better than what you have today.

Yes, it’s that simple

Sure, you don’t want to publish crappy stuff. But you know what? If you add too much stress, too much “process” and too much thinking behind content creation you will set yourself for failure. Small companies or small marketing departments can’t afford to spend too much time on content marketing, I know that for a fact. There are lead generation programs, the new email marketing system being implemented, and something the sales department asked you to do (don’t they always?) a few times already.

So make your life easy and just start writing (or recording, if you will) and publishing. With time, you will be able to put more processes in place, get a good review and approval workflow, whatever you think is necessary to create quality content at your company. But, start simple. Unless you start creating something NOW you will regret not having done it sooner.


Content Marketing Starts With Your Brand

November 18, 2011

Branding used to be a high-level exercise bigger companies went through as part of their strategic marketing processes. You get an agency, brainstorm cute pictures, logos, and tag lines, come up with the visual guidelines, and move on. Every now and then you refer back to those branding guidelines that tell you the correct position for your logo and the approved color scheme.

Fast forward to today. You’re not doing passive marketing anymore, you’re actively seeking out, enticing, educating, and engaging your audience. You are creating content. Your colleague on the other side of the cubicle is creating content. Even the receptionist with her Facebook updates is creating content. Where is your brand now?

It Starts With the Brand

Content marketing experts tell you to find your voice. They tell you to be authentic, to show there’s a face behind the tweets, there’s people behind the whitepapers, and that there is a personality for your company. This is all good, and is all part of branding.

How is branding related to content marketing? When you think of your company’s brand (whatever size company you may be working for / with), you have to consider the following aspects of who your company is:

  • Purpose: why do you do what you do?
  • Values: what do you stand for and how you behave?
  • Promise: what differentiates you from everyone else? Why are you relevant?
  • Voice: how do you present yourself, your look and feel

If we put it another way, think about how your company behaves, how it is perceived in the market, and what it wants to stand for. For example, how is your company in relation to the following “attributes”:

  • Serious vs. Playful
  • Funny vs. Taciturn
  • Outspoken vs. Introverted
  • Analytical vs. Impulsive
  • Likes to socialize vs. Keeps to himself
  • Wordy vs. Concise
  • Courageous vs. Prudent

Looks like a personality test? Well, it kinda is. Your ‘brand’ has a personality, a voice, a look. When you create content, you have to keep those things in mind. It helps with maintaining consistency, in presenting a unified front whether is via an eBook, a video, or a presentation.

Your Brand and Content Marketing

If you are a one-person shop, going through this exercise is faster. It’s all in your head and you basically have to decide if your company’s brand will be an extension of your own personality and behavior or if you’ll give it a different twist. For larger companies this will involve getting leaders from all areas together to understand what exactly makes the company unique. It will also involve documenting your brand attributes and communicating it to the rest of the company.

If you are thinking about putting together a social media policy, for example, it would have to follow the brand strategy for your company. When hiring someone, the brand is an important factor to consider. The company’s culture will be extremely close to the brand as well and is what will ultimately drive the brand and sustain it.

So as you put together your content marketing plan and decide which angles to approach certain topics, think back to your brand. That’s the first step in creating the best content.

 


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