Stop Ignoring This Valuable Piece of Content

There has been much ado about content — from curation to evaluation – and the rapid rise of content management is no mistake. Content has become central to so many B2B brands.

When you build your content you need to focus on your boilerplate as well.

When you build your content you need to focus on your boilerplate as well.

But content isn’t just about the heavy lifting pieces of text around thought leadership or trends/issues. It can also come in small but significant pieces of text. Like your company boilerplate. Yes, your boilerplate should be a key part of your content strategy. Why? For two reason.

  1. It tells the story of who you are and what your company does that should be embedded throughout all that you write and communicate about your company.
  2. It’s everywhere (or should be). It’s that one paragraph you produce that gets shared everywhere: your website, brochures, social media, email and over the newswire over and over and over and over.

I’m not going to give you ideas on how to write your boilerplate. If you want that advice you should read these three posts:

How to Write an Effective Boilerplate — Diane Rose

How to Make Your Boilerplate Sizzle — Jeremy Porter

Build Better Press Releases — Stacey Miller

So, when was the last time your read your company’s boilerplate? Maybe now is a good time to read it again.

If you enjoyed this post you may also want to read these:

Keeping Your Messages Connected

Other Voices: Ann Handley, MarketingProfs

This post marks a milestone for the group at B2B Voices as it is our 200th since we launched four years ago. And to help us celebrate, I was able to convince Ann Handley, chief content officer of MarketingProfs, and co-author of the best-selling book on content marketing, Content Rules, to spend some time with us.Handley

You are clearly very busy. Tell me about how you process information and content.

I try to touch things once (email, social updates) when I can. I’m pretty controlling when it comes to my work, so I don’t outsource well or shortcut much. In other words, this is actually me answering these questions, and not a robot. Surprisingly, huh? (I’m kidding.)

I wish I could say that I have a secret weapon or cool tool that makes me incredibly efficient. But the truth is straightforward: I’m pretty disciplined in my approach, is all. The key is simply staying on top of things, and not getting too distracted while you’re doing so: For example, when I’m writing I shut off email so that the constant alert of incoming mail doesn’t divert me. Otherwise, I’m like the dog Dug in the movie Up. (“Squirrel!”)

There are so many comparisons of B2C vs B2B communications and how B2B seems to lag, particularly in social media. Do you think B2B communications is misunderstood? Or is it just that we are more focused on our work and approach?

I’m not sure whether business-to-business communications is misunderstood, or whether social media is simply misunderstood by B2B companies. I wish more B2B brands used social platforms not just as a way to amplify their content (to repost blog headlines, for example), but as true storytelling platforms. I wished they used them more thoughtfully: As a way to tell a larger story, and express their value and mission.

Here’s what I mean: MarketingProfs is a B2B training and education company, and we’ve found great success in using Pinterest and Slideshare as platforms to showcase our lighter side – through our Marketing Humor board or our presentation about how to ruin your presentation. Those efforts tell a small part of a broader story: We are approachable. We are human beings. We love what we do. We are serious about marketing, but we also think that marketing doesn’t have to be boring. (It shouldn’t be, in fact.)

What’s your biggest pet peeve when it comes to marketing?

How much time do we have…? Here are two:

1. People who don’t walk the walk.

2. Brands (and people) who speak Frankenspeak instead of using the language of actual human beings.

If you were advising a client and they could only use one social media platform what would you recommend and why?

I get this question a lot from people. But often the unasked question there — the question inside that question, if you will – is: How little can I get away with doing? Here’s the thing: Social media represents a rich opportunity to market in a whole new way. It’s not a task or channel, it’s a mindset.

I’d advise them to forget about social networks, and to focus instead on content. It’s more useful to focus more on creating great content for your prospects and customers (published regularly through a blog or similarly flexible content management system) and focus less on specific platforms. That can come later. Focus on your message and story first.

Data. More data. And more data. What do marketers need to think about when it comes to metrics and evaluation?

There’s no magic data elixir that applies to all businesses. If there were, I’d bottle it in beautiful packaging, set it in a velvet-lined box, and drive around the country, trading it out of the back of my car for ounces of gold.

It’s more important to figure out what marketing metric matters to you: It might be sales, but it might be something else, too: Customer engagement or sharing metrics, or the length of time between a lead generated and a sale. In other words, it depends.

But at a high level, look at your lead generation, sales, and sharing metrics. Those are ones that will give you a pretty solid sense of how well your marketing is driving business.

We’ve seen a real evolution of how people interact, communicate and share information in the past five years. What strikes you as the most relevant change for B2B companies during this time?

I’ll share the change I like best: I love the way that some B2B companies are embracing social media and content for what it is: An opportunity to connect in unprecedented ways with people who they are selling to.

I especially love it when I see B2B companies take that opportunity to lighten up a bit. I wrote about a few of those companies on American Express’s OPEN Forum recently. (The OPEN Forum platform itself is also a great example of a B2B company embracing the opportunities inherent in social media and content, by the way.)

What’s the biggest challenge ahead for communicators?

A big challenge for forward-thinking communicators in 2013 is how to produce the kind of messages and content that truly engage. While most companies understand the notion that they need to be producing content, many are still producing drivel. Producing enough content, and producing the kind of content that engages, are still major challenges for B2B marketers.

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Think of your marketing through this lens: Is this marketing truly useful? Will my customer thank me for it?  I believe that last question is the Holy Grail for marketing. It’s what I hope all companies aspire to, and it’s a fundamental theme that I focus a lot of my work around.

Finally, it was good seeing you, so when are you coming back to London?

It was so great to see you, too. I love London! Soon, I hope!

If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy some OtherVoices:

R “Ray” Wang on customer engagement

Michael Pranikoff, PR Newswire on B2B digital communications

A Q&A With Jeannie Walters, Founder, 360Connext

A discussion with Mark Ragan, Ragan Communications

A brief interview with Kipp Bodnar, publisher at SocialMediaB2B.com

SXSW: When Creative Content Projects Go Awry

Sometimes all you need is 15 minutes.

In a mini session at SXSW Interactive yesterday, Craig Peters, CEO of Awasu Design, provided some great tips to keep creative content projects (digital or not) on track. As this has become an increasingly important part of what we do in this era of branded content, I paid close attention.

The premise is this: We act like our clients (and even if you’re in-house, you most definitely have clients) know all about the steps involved in launching a website, developing a video, whatever. Why should they? And so then we’re surprised when we go through the wireframes in a roomful of people, and things start going badly. We may get the “product” produced in the end, but can be left with a sense that the overall engagement wasn’t what it should have been.

Complexity of the engagement story can vary. This example is fairly simple. Courtesy Awasu Design.

Complexity of the engagement story can vary. This example is fairly simple. Courtesy Awasu Design.

Peters, in “How Design Leads Set Up Projects for Success,” simply contends that we partake in a little storytelling for our own projects. Ever deal with “swoop and poop,” in which a well-meaning exec drops in on a project to provide that’s either off-base or inappropriate for the project stage? That doesn’t have to happen if you lay out the story of the project for all the stakeholders at the beginning, letting them know what’s going to happen and how we’re going to get there.

Of course, he has a couple tricks to help, which is nice. These include neat little one-pagers describing said wireframes and other parts of the project (why we do them, what’s going to happen, etc.) as well as a variety of timeline formats that visually and creatively tell the story of the engagement. I’ve provided samples here for your enjoyment.

One-sheet overview of a wireframe explaining what happens and why. Others can be created for stages like mock-ups or usability testing. Courtesy Awasu Design.

One-sheet overview of a wireframe explaining what happens and why. Others can be created for stages like mock-ups or usability testing. Courtesy Awasu Design.

One more day for me! Love to hear your own SXSW experiences, either here or via twitter.

Aaron

How to Share a Great Story

I believe very strongly in an approach to campaigns that my agency, Weber Shandwick, calls Content Fusion.  It basically says instead of starting with, “Hey, we need a news release about X,” we should start with the story and THEN determine the all the ways in which we can tell that story effectively.  It works like this:

  1. Every company (or brand) has stories to tell.
  2. Every story can be told in a variety of formats – video, text, images, audio.
  3. Every formatted story can be carried in a variety of content vehicles – news releases, blog posts, ads, bylined stories, etc.
  4. Every story ultimately finds a home in a variety of destinations – including “owned” spaces like your website, “shared” spaces like your Facebook page, and “earned” spaces like a news site or third party blog.
  5. Social sharing and compelling content should lead to conversation that refreshes the story and continues to spread it through the online ecosystem.

I get asked, however, whether this works for B2B or just for Coca-Cola?  And if it does work for B2B then does it only work in theory or can you actually get the organization to embrace this approach?

First answer:  Yes, it works brilliantly for B2B. Look at the pick-up of this video about 3D printing.  Only it’s not really about 3D printing is it? It’s about people. Content Fusion is only as good as the story.

Second answer:  To do this well, the organization’s marketing and communications leaders need to empower people to think outside their “lanes.” If a client comes to me needing a media relations solution, which I still hear all the time, then we’re already in trouble.  There’s nothing wrong with media relations at all – it’s critically important for most organizations. But now we’re already in a box. We’re already cutting ourselves off from two-thirds of the possible destinations for our story.  We’re also probably not being given the budget to create compelling content because you wouldn’t go to all that work and investment just for media relations.  It only makes sense when you have the whole online ecosystem to work with.

I get excited when a client says something like this:  “We have a problem.  We need to launch into a new market space, and we’re not known for that, and the influencers and potential customers might view our intentions with some skepticism. What should we do?”

Or this:  “We really need to build our reputation for understanding how the consumerization of information technology is disrupting businesses and how to harness that disruption for good.”

Give us a communications or a marketing or corporate reputation challenge and give us the freedom to literally architect a solution and see what we come back with.  Hopefully we’ll come up with an amazing story, package it in multimedia fashion, publish it from Sharepoint to YouTube (or whatever is appropriate), and support it with paid search or social ads plus some good media relations work to ensure it’s seen, then finally we’ll listen to our audiences to discern how they’re engaging with our story and be prepared to respond or adjust fast. That’s how it works.

Content Management Lessons Learned

Please, no more references that content is king. I’ve lived in London long enough and have read my children’s school lessons to know that kings don’t last and the rule usually ends poorly. Yesterday, I spoke at the Financial Services Social Media conference organized by Haymarket Conferences in London and presented on the belief that content is an asset. And even assets are protected and valued by kings.

You have many choices to shape your brand with content; which is right for you?

You have many choices to shape your brand with content; which is right for you?

Content that is valued by the end user, organized well, made shareable and pulled together in multiple formats can shape opinions and drive conversations. But this isn’t an easy task. In fact, it’s one of the more difficult things to manage since so much content about your brand is published out of your control by the news media and on social media. And to add to this challenge you have to get through the never-ending sea of content that comes your way. Yet, done correctly, you can use content to drive the messages that you want to be discussed by others.

More and more we are seeing content take over as the key driver of branding and communication. With more ways to share information today it’s critical that communicators understand the value of content and why it needs to be constantly looked after. I ended my presentation with a list of lessons learned and here are some of those key points:

  • Don’t separate your content from your brand: When I was growing up the warning was, “You are what you eat.” The same can be applied today to brands in terms of content, “You are what you publish.” If your content is not reflecting what you want your brand essence to be than you are not only wasting your investment in branding, you are actually confusing your stakeholders. If you want your company to be known as the greatest at “xyz” then your content needs to be about “xyz”. This will require you to think differently not only about what you publish, but what you read, how you write, what you retweet and how you think.
  • This is not a one person job: No one person can manage all that is said by and about a brand. If you’re trying to do this, stop. Make sure you actively reach out to the people who can give you the most help, whether in HR, products, research or marketing. The bigger circle of influence you can create the better you will be at developing checks and balances for ideas.
  • Repetition is not just okay but required: Social streams continue to grow with more content. More platforms are being developed. More brands and people continue to use social networks. All of this means that if you are posting your content once you are not grasping the power of social sharing. My suggestion is that you review your distribution strategy (if you don’t have one, develop one) and start to put it to use. You can accomplish this by staggering the times to post to networks, re-posting content with unique headlines and, most importantly, re-posting your content later when news happens (making sure it’s still relevant of course).
  • Maintain a consistent presence: The Internet doesn’t sleep. News doesn’t sleep. You have to sleep — at some point. Think about how you can develop a plan where your content lives online every day of the week. If you are thinking in a “Monday through Friday” mentality that may be a very safe way to let your audience know when they can reach you. Just keep in mind your competition will take care of them on the weekends. I don’t mean you need to work 24/7 personally, but as an organization you need to think of ways to feed content around the clock.
  • Leverage partners and vendors: Your company buys a lot of products and services from vendors (or you’re a vendor with lots of customers); are you leveraging them to help you share your stories? There is a clear win-win here for you both and if you have not built those bridges to your most relied upon external resources you are clearly sitting on the sidelines waiting to be put in the game.
  • Measure your success (and failure): This is pretty easy to explain — you need to know what works and what doesn’t. If you don’t have a measurement dashboard in place you are just guessing, and guessing is not a strategy.

No matter what you do in the communications mix, you need to figure out how you can take control of your content management. If you can develop this asset for your brand and harness its power you too will become a valuable asset.

If you enjoyed this post you may also want to read:

What drives your social media strategy?

Tuning into your industry

Social media management

Blogging isn’t supposed to be easy

 

If You Want to Succeed Online Connect with Your Audience

What if you posted content and no one cared?

If you want to be good at social media in a B2B environment you need to be able to connect with your audience. Passive, one-way conversations don’t work in a social media setting; even if you’re trying to just fill an SEO need. If you really want to communicate your message and make a difference with your communication efforts you have to connect with your audience. This means that you need to plan accordingly for each platform, not only for the content you choose to post but also how they work (e.g. Twitter is more real-time than a LinkedIn group).

Here are some thoughts on how to make those connections.

  • Ask questions that create a dialogue among your followers. If you wonder why no one responds to your posts it may be because they feel you’re not interested in their opinions. The easiest way to get over this is to simply ask a question and seek feedback.
  • Get others to share content and ideas from and about you. There’s nothing wrong with reaching out to your followers to offer support; that’s why it’s called “social” media. Just be careful that you don’t over ask and remember that you’ll need to likely return the favor some day.
  • Bookend your content around topics. If you have news around a product or service you can build further awareness and credibility around what you’re doing by posting third-party content around your news. This can help eliminate the “look at me” image you may be giving by just posting your news release, and in addition helps to show you are part of a broader industry news cycle and on top of the trend.
  • Take the discussion offline. It’s always helpful to network offline and discuss how to create and leverage content to build connections. If you’re not going to at least one conference a year you need to change that. You should also leverage LinkedIn and connect with people in your industry or field. In fact, you should connect with all of us here at B2B Voices: Aaron, Arik, Kate and me.
  • Benchmark against others. There will always be someone doing something better than you or different than you, so follow them and see what you can make work for your brand.

These are just a few ideas on how you can make your brand more valuable to your stakeholders. What is important is that you find a strategy that works for you to make those valuable connections. I’ll be speaking on this topic in June for a panel at the B2B Corporate Social Media Summit in London and will update this post.

 

If you enjoyed this post you may also want to read:

Navigating the Legal Road Map of Social Media

What’s your “I” in social media?

Four spring cleaning tasks for B2B communicators

Why LinkedIn’s Company Pages Now Matter More

Do most online communities fail?

Avoiding the one cup approach to social media

 

Navigating the Legal Road Map of Social Media

Navigating the social landscape brings a number of challenges. What content should you publish? Do you use platforms like StockTwits that target investors? Do you create private or public LinkedIn groups? And what about those influencers?

Know your way around the law and social media

Know your way around the law and social media

One thing we also cannot forget is collaborating internally. I’ve blogged before about making sure you have talked with InfoSec so both of you understand each other – your goals and their risks. Another department to work with is legal. Mashable has a new post on the five predictions for social media law in 2012. If you haven’t read it you need to, but don’t stop there. If you are continuing to try to convince legal about mapping out the opportunities and value of social media you should do the following:

  • Understand the concerns: Is legal worried about intellectual property? Privacy? Reputational risk? If you don’t know – or just think you know — now is a good time to sit with legal to discuss.
  • Find a legal champion: Someone on the legal team may already use social media (e.g. LinkedIn). Discover who you think may be someone that can help you understand the concerns before you go into a formal meeting.
  • Do your research: The Mashable post is helpful and a good start, but dig deeper. You should have a firm grasp of the concerns and issues so that you can alleviate the risks and make everyone more comfortable.
  • Find working solutions: There are always ways to be more flexible, so be prepared to work with your colleagues and have a variety of idea.
  • Create a dialogue: You can start with the Mashable article and forward it to your legal team. If you start positioning yourself as someone who understands their concerns they will be much more open to listening to you.

If you enjoyed this you may also want to read:

What’s your “I” in social media?

Why LinkedIn’s Company Pages Now Matter More

Are You Using StockTwits?

Do we need a social index for businesses?

When it Comes to B2B Content, Don’t Go it Alone

One of the most often asked questions when I speak is around content — “Where do you find so much information about your company to post?” The answer is easy: That much content doesn’t exist. What B2B companies fail to realize is the power of partnerships and connecting with other users for content. Shannon Paul also makes a good point about B2B content:

Many folks in the B2B space often blame the lack of social media content opportunities on the fact that what they do doesn’t directly impact consumers, but I don’t buy it.

Finding good, original content can be difficult. So stop trying so hard. Instead, focus on ways that you can find content from others and collaborate with others. Here are ways that have worked for us:

Find internal champions who will send you content proactively and make sure you give them their just internal rewards for helping out.

 

My inspiration partner happens to be 8 years old and drinks hot chocolate.

My inspiration partner happens to be 8 years old and drinks hot chocolate.

Identify the key content aggregators in your industry and work with them. This takes time and effort but will pay off in the long run.

Experiment with content on platforms and times to find what interests your audience.

Finally, don’t be boring. Any company can post a news release or a research report. It’s up to you to make it interesting and fit within your brand standards. While you want to be taken serious as a brand, you should also find ways that capture people’s attention, and sometimes that requires a little bit of fun.

If you enjoyed this you may also want to read:

You are What You Read

Social Clutter or Social Clarity?

Content Curation: What Does it Take To Be Successful?

Is Motivation the Key to Success?

Social influence matters! No, it doesn’t!

World-Class social practices for B2B companies

What’s your “I” in social media?

Content Fusion: How Stories Are Shared in a Social World

It’s become apparent for some time in the world of professional communicators that traditional ways of thinking about how we package and share content – or, stories, if you will – are inadequate for the Web. One of the very best videos to articulate the problem, Web 2.0 … The Machine is Us/ing Us, is now several years old. It also pointed to the solution.

Issues: Online, people simply do not consume much of their information in linear form in a singular format in a singular vehicle the way that you might have consumed a traditional printed newspaper or sat down and watched the network evening news on television. Hypertext destroyed linearity, encouraging us to jump from story to story and to share stories more easily with each other. XML separated the form of a page from the content of a page, which meant that suddenly content could be syndicated in many places and be presented differently in each place. Witness Flipboard. Social media growth means most often the content I consume comes from friends or organizations I trust rather than traditional news sources, even if it was nevertheless created by those traditional sources.

Weber Shandwick, my agency, has introduced a new model for online storytellers, which every organization should consider themselves to be. It’s called Content Fusion, and it harnesses and works with this new freedom to separate content from format and channel.

Here’s the way to think about it: Every company has stories. Think about the stories you have to tell first.

Then, think about format. Some stories are better suited to text, some to video, photos, audio, or some combination.

Then choose content vehicles. Only now do we start to say, “Should this be a news release?” Or a white paper, a blog post, a podcast, a presentation… Probably a combination, because different people respond differently to different content vehicles.

Okay, now consider communications channels. They may be branded channels, like your website. They may be “earned” channels like the opportunity to place your story with traditional media, online or off. They may “shared” channels like Facebook, where you have some control, but you share it with your audiences.

Finally, prepare for and encourage conversation. Not only do your stories travel farther when shared by others (witness the power of “friends of friends” on Facebook), but they carry more credibility. Plus, the content can be reshaped in new and unexpected, mashed-up ways.

Watch the YouTube video and tell me what you think.