The Importance of Content Continuity

October 8, 2012

If good content marketing equates to telling a good story, then content continuity is getting that story to become memorable. Let me explain.

When you create a piece of content, why stop at the first distribution channel? Sure you can re-purpose the content so that it will be used at another channel but content continuity means more than simply taking the content and fitting it in another medium. It involves using that content and expanding it, working different angles, but keeping the core message intact. It’s not that difficult, but it requires some planning.

A good example might be that presentation one of your executives delivered at the trade show. The PowerPoint slides can be uploaded to SlideShare where people who didn’t attend the session can now access it (this is re-purposing the content). But if you take the presentation, and add a few more slides to it in order to emphasize a key message, or if you take that message and link it to a video or an eBook that reinforces the story, then you are creating continuity.

Why is this distinction important? First, because if you simply take the exact same message and just change the publishing format (from PowerPoint to video, for example) it may attract different readers but it doesn’t help promote or further expand the message, it’s just a rehash of what has already been said in another format. Second, if you simply repurpose content you already created then you may lose the opportunity to create important links between the multiple stories your products or services support.

So instead of creating pieces of content that stand alone, create a “content network” (for lack of a better term) in which each node reinforces another, where a story you started telling is continued and extended with the next piece of content.

Next time you create some content (eBook, whitepaper, blog article, video, etc.), don’t just publish and forget; think of it as part of a broader theme or story. Good stories don’t have to end and neither does your content (think of it as “Your Content – Part II”, like in Hollywood).


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.


How Viral Marketing Can Kill You

July 13, 2011

Flu Shots Sign picture from Confluence! by smilla4 @ FlickrViral Marketing, or the spread of ideas (also called Word of Mouth Marketing) is usually thought of as a good thing. You create a video or a campaign and everyone starts talking about it. You go home happy and maybe even get a promotion. But sometimes the “viral” element more closely resembles the bad kind, the on that kicks you in the teeth and puts you out in bed for a week.

Scott Stratton, author of “UnMarketing: Stop Marketing. Start Engaging.” tells in his book a personal account of how a viral marketing campaign went wrong. It is the best example I’ve seen so far of a)someone owning to his mistakes, and b)a marketing idea backfiring really bad.

The Start of a Good Idea

As Scott tells in his book, he was into motivational speaking and decided to put out a short video (this was in 2004, way before YouTube became the default video sharing site) in his website. It was really a rotating slide show with background music and some inspiring text on top, nothing fancy but was well done. You can watch it at www.thetimemovie.com.

His intent was to get people to watch the video, and contact him for a speaking engagement. Did he get what he wanted? Well, yes and no. He did get over 4 million views (yes, 4 million!) but… things didn’t necessarily work according to plan. Here’s why.

Breaking the Bank

After creating and uploading the video to his server, which was just a regular ISP that hosted his site, Scott emailed a couple hundred people from his list about it. Emails started coming back saying they were getting a “Page not found” error. Oops, what’s wrong? Well, his server had a monthly bandwidth limit, meaning only a certain number of hits to the page and downloads were allowed based on the plan he had at the time. That meant people were going to his site and because he had already exceeded his monthly allotted bandwidth, the server was denying visitors the video!

As he called the ISP and asked them to remove the bandwidth limit, the video went back online and people starting watching it. In droves. He got a $1,400 bill (a bit more than the typical $9 per month he had before the video went up) due to the hundreds of thousands hits he was getting on his video page. And that was just for that last week of the month! Ouch!

Engaging Viewers

Having put up a landing page to capture people’s email addresses was a good idea, but a friend pointed out that it was too confusing, there was just too much about him on the page and no clear call to action. With a quick redesign, he increased conversion from 8% to 24% and started amassing 4,000 new emails per day that he would later use for his newsletter.

Trying to avoid even more expenses (the scar left from the monthly hosting bill was still visible) Scott then decided against using an ESP (email service provider) and went ahead to email his newly acquired list using Outlook Express. Yup, not the full featured MS Outlook businesses use via an Exchange server, but the stripped down consumer version that used to come free with every new MS Office installation.

The process was simple, but time consuming. He would download the new emails captured by the landing page (19 hours downloads) and manually cut and paste each one into the email client. Out of frustration he deleted 140,000 email addresses. In the first couple weeks.

After also playing with free open source scripts to help get the email addresses imported into his email client, and not being able to do so, Scott caved in and went with Aweber, an email service provider which made the job of getting emails and sending out newsletters much easier.

Successful Failure?

There are those who would love to win the lottery, and those who actually play it. That’s what this next episode of his viral marketing gone wrong reminds me of. Scott was trying to get speaking engagements and created a great video that went viral. The problem is that he never actually believed, or was prepared, for the number of speaker kits he received. Back in ’04 when you wanted to screen someone prior to offering an speaking engagement, you would ask for  a “speaker kit”, which consisted of a resume, pictures, and tape reel showing snippets of that person actually giving a talk.

So after two weeks of the movie going live, 50 requests came in. How many speaker kits did Scott have prepared for the eventuality? Zero. And he was personally doing every speaker kit himself (printing, making copies, punching holes, and mailing). About 785 speaker requests came in before he was able to work out a good process to fulfill them properly. Requests for one of his “Relaxation on Demand” CDs were so many he had to refund people’s money because he couldn’t have burned the CD’s (yes, he was doing it himself) on time… and people complained they just wanted the product!

So, in the end was it all a waste? I wouldn’t say so, since Scott was able to book over $100,000 in new business but he definitely lost some potential business. The worst that could have happened I guess is if his reputation had been ruined because of that, which didn’t happen.

A Viral Marketing Lesson

“Please learn from my pain” – Scott Stratten

What can we learn from Scott’s mistakes?

  • Define success: what do you consider success? How will you be able to tell whether your viral marketing campaign was successful? Define metrics that you’ll use to make sure you haven’t wasted your time or money.
  • Be prepared for the traffic: can your website, call center, sales reps, and other relevant operations handle the potential surge in traffic? Sure, today you have YouTube to host videos but make sure you have all pieces in place before you start the viral engine. You don’t want it to break as the user is clicking your “buy now” button or similar.
  • Collect and Engage: make sure you have a way to collect information from those interested in learning more about your products or services, and have a process that will make collecting such information easy on you. Tweak your landing page, and test different versions. Also have a plan for following up and keeping up the interest and dialogue.
  • Plan for the success, and for the failure: be prepared, and react fast. Whether your success is bigger than anticipated or the idea failed miserably, know how you will handle it and make sure your team (if you have one) is ready.

Failure stories abound on the Internet, I just had not seen such a detailed account of “I screwed up” from someone like Scott. For more info on his book, check out the link below.

P.S.: If you’re in San Francisco you should come to the San Francisco Marketing Book Club where we’ll be discussing UnMarketing during our upcoming meeting.

Amazon Link to UnMarketing

UnMarketing Book cover


The Fun Theory: How to Change Behavior

November 30, 2009

How do you change people’s behavior? Corporate America usually relies on some form of compensation system which basically uses a reward/punishment method that tries to coerce people into doing what the company wants. You have to fill out forms, get approvals, and meet goals otherwise there’s no pay raise or bonus. In other cases you try to get website visitors to navigate a certain path by placing links in strategically important places or enticing them with an offer. Books and theories exist on how to get people to perform their best or to change the way they behave (“Bringing Out The Best In People” comes to mind) but rarely we see those in action.

Volkswagen launched what became quickly a viral campaign with emails being forwarded, youtube videos with over 1 million hits and comments from all corners of the web. They call it The Fun Theory (www.thefuntheory.com) and the goal is simple: using fun to change people’s behavior for the better. The videos on their website (embedded below) are some great examples of what they mean.

How are you changing your customers and your prospects behavior? Can you make something fun that will entertain and educate them? And how about your staff or your company’s employees? Some food for thought.

 


Inbound Marketing Training for Free

June 21, 2009

Last week I attended the Inbound Marketing University, a free online program put together by HubSpot featuring talented well known professionals on blogging, SEO, social media, lead nurturing, email marketing, landing pages, and viral marketing.

Free Marketing Training from IMU

Free Marketing Training from IMU

After watching the classes, my take on the University is:

Positives:

  • Online archives from each class including slides available on-demand helps a lot when you have busy schedules like mine, and also allows watching at your own pace (i.e. fast forward the boring parts)
  • Quality instructors that have proven experience and really know the subject helped validate the quality of the program
  • Quick and to the point presentations (60 mins each) allowed you to get instant factual and actionable information

Negatives:

  • In general the content was focused on the basics, which is ok for a newbie but I was expecting some more “meat” and a combination of basics with advanced tips and techniques for those that want to take their marketing to the next level (the SEO classes were the exception, having a basic and an advanced class)
  • Too broad topics delivered with too narrow a focus. While corporate blogging, for instance, is a broad topic, the presentation focused on only certain aspects of corporate blogging, leaving a lot of stuff untold.

During the next couple days I’ll post specific review about each class so you can decide which ones to take and which ones to skip based on your experience level.

Review of the first 5 classes:

Class: How to Blog Effectively for Business (GF101)
Professors: Ann Handley & Mack Collier, MarketingProfs

This was a basic introduction to blogging, so for those already familiar with what blogging is, there wasn’t much new content. From a corporate blogging perspective, I like that they brought up what I consider the two main issues in corporate blogging:

  • Do you have the time?
  • Do you have the people?

Often times we get directives from the top echelon asking us to setup a corporate blog for the CEO, a blog for every manager, and to churn content every day. Unless you have the staff available to create new content quickly, you will be stuck.

What was missing from the presentation was:

  • Rules and policies for company blog writers on disclosing company trade secrets, talking about products that are yet to be released, copyright laws, and abiding to the company’s employee handbook
  • How to blog with shareholders in mind (current and prospective)
  • Blogging about the competition (dos and don’ts)
  • Blog copywriting tips

Veredict: Unless you are new to blogging, skip the class and check out the resources below, plus do a quick Google search and you’ll find tons of more information.

For those interested in corporate blogging, tips for corporate blogs and some rules and policies, check out the following links:

Class: SEO Crash Course to Get Found (GF102)
Professor: Lee Odden, TopRank Online Marketing

Not only Lee Odden provided a quick basic overview of what SEO is and why it is important but he also went into some details on how to make the most out of Search Engine Optimization. What I liked best was the tips on tools you can use and where to find additional resources. SEO is such a complex subject that you can barely scratch the surface in one hour so knowing where to go for more information is invaluable. The links he suggested are:

Keyword Tools:

Additional SEO Resources Mr. Odden recommends:

Veredict: If you have never done any SEO in your life, his presentation is excellent. Otherwise, skip it and go straight for the Advanced SEO class (to be reviewed in my next post).

Class: Social Media and Building Community (GF201)
Professor: Chris Brogan, New Marketing Labs

Chris Brogan’s presentation was more of a theoretical overview of community building than tools for doing that. This presentation was a great disappointment for me, since I have read so much great stuff from his blog and was expecting a bit more depth in his presentation.

Veredict: If you are new to social networks, community building, etc. the presentation will probably give you some good pointers so you avoid common blunders when building your own community.

For more information about getting your company to successfully build an online community, I recommend the following for further reading:

Class: Successful Business Uses for Facebook and LinkedIn (GF202)

Professor: Elyse Tager, Silicon Valley American Marketing Association

Elyse makes some great points about using social media for your business, such as:

  • It’s free, but… : although you may not have a line item in your budget on how much you need to spend on Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, and other social media sites (they are all free), you do have to spend time (sometimes a LOT of time) working the social media space, which does translate into costs.
  • Commitment: you will have to commit to spending time developing your social media strategy; it doesn’t work overnight and require backing from your company willing to let you spend time doing it.
  • Set goals: this is important for any social media platform that your company is trying to use. Setup what your goals are for each platform (create connections, increase brand awareness, etc.) and measure it religiously.

Veredict: If you are new to using LinkedIn and Facebook for your business, Elyse’s presentation is a great starting point. For those that already use social media sites personally and just want to take it to the next level and include their business in the social media space, the presentation is a starting point, but it only tells you some of the basics.

Class: Viral Marketing and World Wide Raves (GF301)
Professor: David Meerman Scott, author of New Rules of Marketing & PR and World Wide Rave

David is a great speaker and has engaging stories, making his presentation one of the best of the series. He is also able to bring ideas implemented by Fortune 500 companies down to the level of small businesses, which is the best way to get actionable items that you can implement in your own business.

Some key insights from his presentation are:

  • Create buyer personas: what types of people are you trying to reach and what are their needs?
  • Earn attention: create something great and distribute it online to generate buzz
  • Nobody cares about your products: they care about solving their problems
  • Lose control: trying to control all your content will work against your attempts to get your ideas heard. Free content will get you farther.
  • New measurements: how you measure your success is now related to how your ideas are being spread (blogs, twitter, etc.)
  • Put down roots: and participate in the communities where your target audience is involved
  • Point the world to your virtual doorstep:  make sure you have an online presence that integrates with your other efforts in generating buzz

Veredict: this is a great class for those that want to learn more about viral marketing or that are trying to convince their companies to do it. For more great stuff on viral marketing, David Meerman Scott’s blog (www.webinknow) is a great starting point.

Next: Review of the final 5 classes:

Advanced SEO Tactics: On Beyond Keyword Research (GF401)

  • Calls to Action and Landing Page Best Practices (CV101)
  • Inbound Lead Nurturing (CV201)
  • Successful Email Marketing (CV301)
  • Analyzing Inbound Marketing (AZ401)

You can check out the presentation slides at: http://www.slideshare.net/HubSpot/presentations

The online recordings for the classes are at: http://www.inboundmarketing.com


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