Blog Archives

Grow Your Social Media Audience Using Commun.it (Pt. 1)

Commun.it is a social media listening and publishing platform that I love because it allows users to dive deeper into their relationship with audience members from right inside the application.

Want to know how many times some has liked your Facebook post or retweeted a status update? It’s right there in their profile. Want to analyze why Commun.it recommends that you unfollow someone? Review when they last posted to that account, a month ago? Sorry Charlie, they’re fish bait now.

In this first review of Commun.it, I show you around some of the best functions: From how to set up campaigns to why the app’s pop-up and light-box bios windows of your audience members can help you make better decisions about how to grow your audience and reach potential clients.

Are you a Commun.it user? If so, I want to hear from you. What’s your favorite feature? What can’t you live without?

by Ed Carpenter — Contact me for help with your content strategy.

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Confessions of a Brand Journalist

Brand journalist or content marketer? Are they the same?

Are you a brand journalist? A content marketer? A brand marketer? Experts in the field have been busy deciding what you and I should be called. In recent weeks, an online debate simmered, nearly smoldered out, then rekindled. VIPs in the online marketing domain took off their logo-emblazoned gloves. Things got snarky. Challenges to duel were exchanged. Some had their name dragged through the mud.

brand-journalism-Trevor-McClintock-BelfastIt was entertaining, in an “inside baseball” kind of way, at least to online marketers. For everyone else, there was the kid-with-a-lightsaber-slicing-up-a-toy-aisle-at-Target video. They had a belly laugh, at least. I, on the other hand, have tried ever since to pinpoint why both sides’ arguments exasperated me. Why is there so much indignation about whether someone calls himself/herself a “brand journalist?” I wondered.

I concluded it’s because journalism has changed in America, and not for the better. Many of us feel it’s not living up to its name, or worse its purpose. As a former San Francisco journalist, I agree that’s a valuable debate — if 10 years too late.

But, if you want the truth, the debate about journalism’s flagging substance is a red herring. The debate we’re talking about is whether brand journalism is an oxymoron. It goes back to at least October, when Contently’s Sam Petulla sounded his barbaric yawp over the roofs of the blogosphere to demand that people stop using the term “brand journalism.”

I agree with the stance Contently has taken for a long time: There’s no such thing as brand journalism. The reason why is simple: If your purpose is to increase ROI for a business by obtaining more customers, you’re not in the journalism game. And calling your branded content “journalism” is detrimental because it may come across as deceptive to readers. Instead, you want to build trust by acknowledging your subjectivity and bias as a brand.”

More honesty

Shortly after Petulla published his piece, Jill Golden, a former journalist who’s now a content strategist with the NEA, weighed in along the same lines — but, I thought, with more honesty. “The word ‘journalism’ overstates, even misstates, what content marketing is, which is why ‘brand journalism’ is a disingenuous label,” Golden writes.

I understand Sam and Jill’s wish to draw a red line and their nostalgia for a better journalism. But theirs is a narrow interpretation of journalism, if they’re talking about independent, unbiased, no-advertising influenced or favoritism journalism. When we look around at journalism today, or, really, any day in the past for that matter, that’s a mighty tall pedestal. From its earliest days journalism has been a dog eat paperboy world and yellow was the color of its banner. Absolutely, we should hold public-service journalism in highest esteem, as the fourth estate. But as Nicole Jenet rightly wrote for ScribeWise, that’s just the tip of the spear.

You could argue that lifestyle journalism and sports journalism aren’t necessarily journalism … Don’t even get me started on “celebrity news.” But, readers are interested in those topics, they click on those articles and they regularly pick up the paper to read those sections. They help to fuel the business of journalism.

b2b-content-marketing-challenges-2011-300x241I want to be clear: Readers aren’t fooled by brand journalists, if we’re talking about writers who create stories for branded websites. With the word “brand” in their job description, assuming so insults readers, if anything. Readers know brand journalism doesn’t come from the Baltimore Sun or The New York Times (although, I believe branding in newspaper journalism isn’t as black and white as many of us like believe either). It comes from brands, whether that’s a multinational conglomerate, a public university, or a freelance graphic artist.

Lush Digital Media’s Sarah Mitchell agrees. In a recent post on Ragan’s PR Daily blog, she didn’t mince words when she wrote, “I believe what’s at the heart of this debate is a kind of elitist opinion that traditional media is better or more worthy than brand media … Quite frankly, brand journalism is saving traditional journalism.”

The question remains

And yet. And yet. Each of these arguments fail to get at what brand journalism is. We’re not even sure we’re debating the same term. No one defines it. Instead, we argue about whether the term “journalism” deserves some endangered species protection. Shouting “Free Willie!” and buying dolphin-free canned tuna sounds great, but it doesn’t lead us to common ground or even a common understanding. Before we get into that, let’s pause and review:

  • First, readers aren’t fooled by brand journalism
  • Second, journalism, at least the the vast majority of it, doesn’t deserve to be paraded on such a high pedestal, and
  • Third, brand journalism is a threat to traditional journalism (But that comes from unbranded brand journalism, such as that peddled by Chevron. (That’s a hybrid that’s not mentioned or recognized in any of the posts I referenced here or any of the related ones I read on this topic — so, of course, I plan to tackle that in a separate piece in the near future. Stay tuned.)

The question remains. Should we stop using the term “brand journalist.” Is “content marketer” the right term, as Contently proposes? All brand journalists are content marketers, after all. All content marketers are not brand journalists, however. Farmer’s Insurance’s “Must Have Apps For a Safe Road Trip” and Nike’s debut of its Lunar Vapor Trout cleat in Oregon Ducks’ colors just before the NCAA Championship are content marketing. But they aren’t brand journalism. Want an example of brand journalism? Look no farther than your alumni magazine.

Distilled to its purest form

Brand journalists rely on background reporting, multiple sources and interviews, vetting, genuine quotes, and a news structure — often the inverted pyramid. A brand journalist doesn’t rely on a team of marketers to polish the edges of a story until it glistens like Mr. Clean’s countertop. In fact, that undermines the brand journalism. Instead, a brand journalist depends on openness, trust, and honesty. I like to say that a brand journalist tells no lies, which some might argue is a generous interpretation — being that it is marketing. It’s not that brand journalists are independent and unbiased, but readers know where we come from and we are careful to distinguish what we do from the marketing we grew up with: the marketing that told us Camel Cigarettes made you a man and Dr. Pepper was healthy.

the storyBrand journalists depends on real people to tell personal stories about a brand, whether that’s a hospital, a haircare product, or a neighborhood farmers’ market. Distilled to its purest form, a good piece of brand journalism is a personal endorsement, infused with the tension and drama of good storytelling. I don’t know if “brand journalist” is the best term for what I do, but I know that “content marketer” doesn’t convey the proper techniques or expectations to patrons.

Where do I come down on the question of brand journalist vs. content marketer? You don’t have to guess. A brand journalist uses his/her journalistic training to develop and craft stories in a way that many, no most, content marketers don’t or can’t — simply because they don’t have the background. When I say I’m a brand journalist, you know right away that I bring a depth of experience and training to content marketing that allows me to visualize a story from a journalist’s perspective. That’s not the end all be all; it’s not even better, necessarily. What’s better depends on your product/service, your marketing strategy, and your relationship with your customers.

And yet. And yet. If we can agree those two things — brand journalist and content marketer — aren’t one and the same, then maybe we can begin to have a debate worthy of the respected names that have weighed in and that many of us look to in the industry for best practices.

by Ed Carpenter | WebContentInsider.com »email WebContentInsider@gmail | Twitter @EdInOakland

Don’t Skip These 3 Critical Steps to Building High-Quality Content

I’m just going to say it: A majority of online marketing content is fundamentally flawed. That’s because it’s being created to achieve shortsighted goals based on clicks or because the person or organization creating the content doesn’t understand the business, school, or nonprofit it’s been created for.MarketoonistContent

When I think of the first, I think of cat videos. Sure, we all get a chuckle out of them, but who do they serve? If you’re PetsMart or the SPCA, these videos are rich content for your customers. For everyone else, it’s click bait. While cat videos might increase your clicks or grow your “readership” (I put that in quotes because cat videos aren’t likely to help your business, school, or nonprofit), they’re bad marketing.

The second type of content is worse, in my option, because it reputes to provide value but doesn’t — at least not content created with long-term brand recognition in mind. In a new The Brand Journalism Advantage podcast hosted by Phoebe Chongchua, I highlight the three most important building blocks to creating high-quality web content. Sadly, these steps are completely ignored by many organizations.

Identity, beliefs, values

As I explain in the interview, I tell anyone who will listen that meaning in life starts with three things. Those things apply to web content as well. You need these three building blocks to tell your best story, whether that’s your personal story, the story of your startup, or the story of your latest product or service. You need them to humanize yourself, your organization, and your audience. You need IBV:

  • Know your identity
  • Know your beliefs
  • Know your values

“Of course, I have those,” you might respond. Do you? Do you know them? Have you written them down? Does everyone in your organization know them? Does everyone believe them.This is a step in the content development process that is often skipped. But I think it is the most important. Take Apple Inc., just because everyone knows them.

What is Apple’s identity? It’s a technology company based in Silicon Valley, the cradle of world’s high-tech innovation. Remember when Apple changed its identify from a computer technology company in 2007? Can you say iPod, iPad, iPhone?

What are Apple’s beliefs? It believes “technology should just work.” That means it should be intuitive. It believes technology should inspire. It believes technology is hip or cool or tight, however you care to phrase it.

The difference between knowing it and knowing it in your bones

What are Apple’s values? It values design, so much so that it is integral to its products from the outset. It values simplicity. It values imagination and creativity.

The Apple’s of the world have IBV in their bones, from the employees who design the iPhones to those who package their computers in those oh-so-precise boxes. But what’s important, what’s key, is that EVERYONE knows this about Apple, even you do — although you might not have thought about it explicitly.

To be a good content creator you must understand these three traits about the person, product, or service you’re writing about to make a story sing. Rather than ask “What,” ask “Why.” That’s a much more important question. It gets at identity, beliefs, values. It’s infused with motive. And emotion resonates with people.

Learn more, including how I’d help save a financially troubled company in 30 days with just $1,000, a cellphone, and a laptop — all part of the podcast.

by Ed Carpenter — He’s a bad mutha … shut yer mouth.

What is A/B testing?/ ¿Qué es el test A/B?

Marketing Planet Blog

You are working on your first email marketing campaign and suddenly you come across something called “A/B testing. What it is? Very roughly speaking it’s “sending out two variations of one email and seeing which one is the one that gets the most clicks.” Well, it’s kind of like this. Why would you want to do such a thing? A/B testing gives you the chance to “perfect” your message to better increase the chances it’ll get opened, in other words, to optimize your campaigns. It keeps you from wasting time putting together emails that have little chance of getting opened. What can you test, you ask? In general, you can test the subject line, the “from name” info, the time of sending and the body content (within this area, colors, call for action, images, and more). Check your email marketing provider for details.
Step 1- Decide what to test. Will it…

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Are 75 Words Killing Your Website?

Gandalf, web content, road sign, obstacle

Content should be a road sign to “go,” not an obstacle.

Don’t waste the first 75 words on your homepage introducing yourself and explaining who you are and what you’re about. Readers won’t make it to where you want them to go. Imagine you’re visiting the website of a hospital. You don’t care about the CEO. You want to schedule an appointment, see what the office hours are, or connect with a physician about your ailment.

Save introductions for a side column or an “about” page. If you want more visitors and for visitors to stick around longer, that prime real estate should be about them and their needs not about you. The Internet is backward that way. What can I say? If it could, it would eat its salad before its entree.

A grizzle veteran of the Internet wars (akin to the “late night” wars) once told me that as content creators our goal should be to map the road signs for our guests. If that’s true, then introducing yourself on the homepage tells visitors to “Stop. Do not pass.” at the precise moment we want them to “go” and find the product or service they came for.

Out with obstacles

If you’re a business: long introductions can kill sales. You don’t want to plant obstacles in customers’ paths. The more hurdles customers’ have to overcome to find a product the more will lose their way or give up. What if you’re not a business? The rule still applies.

If you’re a university or nonprofit: publishing the dean’s or executive director’s message on the homepage is a “No, no.” Prospective students and clients who visit the site know they’re unlikely to ever meet or interact with one of these top administrators. They want to know about the students and faculty in the school’s programs and the good works the nonprofit does.

Offer visitors a road sign

If you’re a city, county, or state: skip to the services that people want like paying parking tickets, filing a home remodel application, or tracking down a phone number or email address. Visitors will come away feeling that a bureaucracy can be a breeze, which means they’ll be more likely to come back. When a city was founded and why it’s so great is interior page information for “about,” “history,” or “visit us,” pages — or, even, fodder for the chamber of commerce’s website.

Too often, I see homepages filled with distractions, false links, and barriers fit for a Tough Mudder. Think of it as bad customer service. Instead, let the first words on your page be about the top tasks and topics visitors come to your site for. Intuit what visitors need. Everyone is flattered by that kind of attention. Do they want to search? Get married? Make a reservation? Offer them a road sign.

by Ed Carpenter — He’s a bad mutha … shut yer mouth.

How Social Can Help Your SEO

Social media risingDuring a recent OakTech Talk seminar with Beth Kanter, author of the “Networked Nonprofit,” someone asked whether their nonprofit had to be on social media. Well, you don’t have to do anything. But whether you work for a nonprofit, private university, or small business, you have a valuable message to communicate to clients and customers.

Kanter’s advice: Build your social network. But don’t try to do everything. Strategically choose what’s likely to be most beneficial. Stay with it. Measure it. Learn from what it has to tell you and what questions it raises. Who does your brand engage? What type of content resonates with readers?

Meet your readers where they are

There are many advantages to being on social media, not the least of which is that you can reach readers, clients, customers, and investors where they are—rather than depending on them to find you online. Now a days, being where readers are means better search results. That’s because search engines in recent years began including results from Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms. Driving readers from social media to your site improves your search engine score and improves your rank in the search engine algorithm. The more your social media posts are discussed and shared the better for your search results. So, if your “How Social Can Help Your SEO” post goes viral on Twitter, you can bet Google, Bing, and Yahoo! search will take that into account when someone searches “SEO”—placing your site nearer the top.

by Ed Carpenter — He’s a bad mutha … shut yer mouth.