10 Steps to Building a Culture of Content in Your Organization

April 10, 2014


Photo source: Graham Lavender on flickr.

Introduction

Note: This post was originally published on LinkedIn.

While Marketing is the voice of many organizations, a lot of subject matter experts reside elsewhere. They reside in Engineering, Product Management, Customer Support and Sales. Look at the last ten posts published on your blog. If more than half came from Marketing, then ask yourself why there aren’t more posts from the folks building, selling and servicing your products or services.

By extending the list of contributors on your blog, you present a broader range of perspectives and knowledge. At the same time, you create a stronger sense of trust from prospects and customers. They’ll respect and admire the collective expertise that your organization exhibits.

To make this happen, you’ll need to establish a culture of content in your organization. Here’s my 10-step plan to do just that.

1) Explain the Big Picture.

I tell my colleagues about the power of content and give examples, such as HubSpot and Marketo. I explain how those companies grew their businesses via content: ebooks, blog posts, SlideShares, white papers, etc. Next, I talk about personal branding and how important it is to be published online. If search engines don’t find you, then you don’t exist.

2) Gain Executive Buy-In.

It’s easy when you have executive buy-in from the start. It’s trickier when you don’t. Tell executives about other organizations in your space and show them how they used content to grow their business or cause. Employees take direction from above, so this step is crucial to gaining employee involvement.

3) Utilize Extrinsic Rewards.

For each blog post published, I reward employees with a $25 Amazon gift card. It’s a small token of appreciation for their effort. As employees publish more and move beyond the blog (to other forms of content), the extrinsic rewards are elevated.

Photo source: Richard Bao on flickr.

4) Reinforce Intrinsic Rewards.

Extrinsic rewards are important for establishing contributions early on, but they’re not sustainable over the long term. Intrinsic rewards come from the enjoyment and achievement sustained from the core activity performed. Once employees buy in to the intrinsic rewards (e.g. visibility and personal branding), they’ll contribute without the need for extrinsic rewards.

5) Convince Everyone They’re a Writer.

Photo source: Mike Licht on flickr.

“I don’t write well” is a comment I often hear. Not true. There’s a writer in everyone. And everyone has knowledge and expertise to share. Your job is to serve as mentor, coach and editor, to bring those words to life. I’ve given an employees an “outline template” to help them plan out their blog post. I then offer to write the first paragraph to get them started.

6) Look for Content Opportunities Everywhere.

My top source for blog post ideas is our company intranet. There, employees use an Activity Feed to post what they’re doing. I’ll chime in, “Sounds neat. How about writing a blog post about it?” As I chat with colleagues by the coffee machine, I also look for interesting stories, especially those involving customers.

7) Share Successes.

One of my colleagues landed a speaking appearance from her very first blog post. A regional user group discovered her blog post, found it interesting and invited her to speak at their next meeting. I was sure to tell that story to the entire company at the next “All Hands Meeting.” If there’s someone on the fence about participating, hearing successes like this may push them over the top.

8) Recognize Contributors.

I use this slide at company meetings. It contains the profile photo of every person who published a blog post. When I receive the first submission from some employees, they’ll comment that they wanted to have their face appear on this slide.

9) Find and Empower Evangelists.

You’ll find a few employees who jump on the “culture of content bandwagon.” Enable them to become evangelists for the cause. Show them your editorial calendar and ask them for suggestions. Let newbies know that they can lean on these evangelists for help, advice or tips.

10) Evangelize, Evangelize, Evangelize.

My colleagues are beginning to think that I’m addicted to content. And they’d be right. I consume a lot of content (OPB = other people’s blogs), which gives me ideas on how to better create our own content. As the facilitator for your organization’s culture of content, you’ll need to serve as principal evangelist. Find your ABE Lincoln = Always Be Evangelizing.

Conclusion

Whether you work for a commercial business or a non-profit, content can create wonders for your cause. It helps you get discovered and builds trust with customers and constituents. It’s hard to scale your content solely within Marketing. Establish and foster a culture of content and you all win.

For a look at our culture of content, have a look through the DNN blog.

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10 Indisputable Reasons Communities are the Center of our Lives

March 20, 2014

Communities are the Center of Our Lives

communities

Photo source: Steven Warburton on flickr.

Note: I originally published this post on the DNN software blog.

In my day job at DNN, I spend a lot of time creating marketing content around our online community solution. As a result, I read a lot of content on community management and speak to quite a few community managers.

One afternoon, I published a blog post about online communities, then left the office to run an errand. As I walked to my car, a thought occurred to me: while we spend a lot of time in online communities, we spend far more time in offline communities.

Consider an online enthusiast community (e.g. gamers, sports fans, etc.). Then, consider your family. We don’t call our family a “community” (at least I don’t), but there are similarities between our enthusiast “family” (of like-minded people) and our real family (of parents, siblings, cousins and more).

Let’s highlight ten “communities” that form the center of our lives.

1) Family

family photo

Photo source: User Kables on flickr.

As we exit the womb and enter the world, we’re welcomed by our first community: our family. It starts with our parents and extends to grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Down the road, a sibling or two may enter the fray. Our childhood is a series of “community events” and community rituals: gathering at the dinner table, elementary school graduation, grandparents’ fiftieth anniversary and so on.

2) Work

In a traditional office setting, our work community is the colleagues we see in the office every day. The community extends to remote offices, partners and clients. For some, the “work community” is a key reason for taking a job. For those who are self-employed (i.e. and work from home), there’s still a community of clients (note: the self-employed might have a few pets that sit to the side (or on top) of their desks).

3) Professional Associations

To quote the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), “A sense of community coordination is at the heart of the association profession.” According to their website, ASAE estimates that over 90,000 professional associations exist in the United States. Here in the Bay Area, I belong to the Silicon Valley Product Management Association, which holds a meeting every month.

4) Sports Teams

Photo source: Elvert Barnes on flickr.

I root for a mix of Bay Area and New York teams: the Sharks (NHL), Warriors (NBA), Yankees (MLB) and Giants (NFL). Every professional sports team includes a rabid community of fans. We gather at arenas and we gather online. Sometimes, we call in to sports radio stations after the game. We share a strong common bond.

5) Neighborhoods

The house we purchase or the apartment we rent comes attached with a community: the neighborhood. I’ll check in on a neighbor’s house when they’re out of town and catch up with them at a Labor Day block party. Our neighborhood uses Nextdoor, an online community platform. In our Nextdoor community, we converse about school events, list items for sale (or for free) and ask about plumbers and accountants.

6) Circles of Friends

We build and establish friendships through all works of life: school, work, play, etc. When we go out and have fun, we’ll invite a number of friends along. Sometimes, we’re the single common bond among these “friends.” We introduce them to one another. In that way, we serve to forge new connections among people, like any good community manager would do.

7) TV Shows

getglue

Photo source: Gino Carteciano on flickr.

Whether it’s 60 Minutes or House of Cards, we all have a favorite TV show (or series). Some lend themselves more to passionate communities (of fans) than others. My favorite series include Chicago Fire and The Americans. If I get a chance to catch a program “live” (in prime time), I’ll peek on Twitter to see what viewers are talking about. There’s also a service called tvtag (formerly called GetGlue). Services like these help build stronger bonds within a given community.

8) Alumni Groups

My alma mater has an alumni magazine. I receive the magazine a few times a year, along with separate mailings that urge me to donate to the university. Regionally, my alma mater has a Bay Area alumni group with a corresponding Facebook Group. There are events scheduled every few months.

I recently discovered a Facebook Group for my high school graduating class. It was fascinating to see familiar names and faces there. For past jobs I’ve worked at, I find numerous alumni groups on LinkedIn, where we can keep in touch.

9) Parenting Groups

Those of us with kids know how parenting can serve as a strong bond (with other parents). Parents of newborns will gather to talk about the shared experience of raising a baby. In elementary school, parents will volunteer on the PTA, as well as at school events and fundraisers. As our kids graduate to a new school, we’ll meet new parents and make new friends.

10) Politics

Some of us are far more passionate about politics than others (I consider myself less passionate). Regardless, we associate with communities. In the U.S., we might align with the Democratic or Republican parties. We might declare ourselves independents. Or we might align ourselves with the Tea Party movement.

Conclusion

If you work in online communities, take a step back from time to time and think about life in general. As you leave the office (or go offline), you’ll begin to see all the amazing communities that form the center of our lives. Go be a great community manager. Of life!

Community Management Blog Series

community management blog series

Colleague Clint Patterson published a great blog series on how to create sustained engagement in online communities. Check out Part 1 of Clint’s series, where you’ll find links to Parts 2 and 3.


Engage Influencers on Twitter in 8 Easy Steps

February 23, 2014

Your Guide to Engaging Influencers on Twitter

Twitter user

Photo source: User mdgovpics on flickr.

This post was originally published on the DNN Software blog.

Recently, I presented a webinar with Leadtail titled “How Top Marketers at Mid-Size Companies Engage on Social Media.” The webinar related to a Social Insights Report that DNN and Leadtail collaborated on.

In the report, we provided insights on how marketers at mid-size companies use Twitter: the links they share, the brands they retweet, the users they mention and more. Among the lists included in the report are the “Top 50 People Most Retweeted” and the “Top 50 People Most Mentioned” (on Twitter).

Prior to the webinar, I was reviewing the slides with Karri and Carter of Leadtail. We were looking at some of the “actionable insights” we included, on how brands (and people) can engage influencers on Twitter.

The Light Bulb Moment

As long as we’re including tips on how to engage influencers on Twitter, we thought, why not practice what we preach? We thought we’d reach out to the Top 50 List (on Twitter) and ask them how they like to be engaged by others.

We were able to hear back from these influencers quickly. As a result, we inserted a number of their tweets into the webinar slides. So we considered it a successful exercise in influencer engagement. From that exercise comes this eight step guide for doing your own influencer engagement on Twitter.

1) Build Relationships Before You Need Them

Credit goes to Ann Handley (@annhandley) for these words of wisdom (thanks, Ann!). The first step is quite easy: follow influencers on Twitter. The follow gives influencers an indication that you exist. Even influencers with 100,000 followers will check to see the “new followers” they’re getting. Some influencers “follow back” liberally, while others are more selective. Don’t expect an immediate “follow back.”

In the meantime, observe the sorts of content the influencers are sharing and publishing, as well as the nature of their interactions with other users. Occasionally retweet some of their tweets. Don’t retweet everything they tweet, as that can border on creepy. Look at the articles or blog posts they’re publishing. Tweet a link to the article, include some of your thoughts and be sure to “mention” their Twitter handle in the tweet.

Also, focus on sharing useful and relevant content on Twitter. As an influencer gets mentioned by you, they’re likely to “check out” your Twitter profile. In addition to your photo and bio, they’ll probably view your most recent tweets. If you can interest them with your tweets, they may decide to follow you back.

If you do receive a follow back, that’s great. Now, you can “direct message” (DM) the influencer and s/he can DM you back. This gives you a communications channel to the influencer, but I would not rely on that channel, as many Twitter users ignore DM’s (due to volume, spam, unsolicited offers, etc.).

Instead, take the follow back as a good sign, but keep doing useful things: sharing useful articles, sharing their content, replying to some of their tweets, etc.

2) Partner Up to Widen Your Reach

We used the “power of three” in our influencer outreach: Karri, Carter and myself. Each of us built relationships with some influencers. Now, it was an opportunity to make use of them. By pooling together our outreach, we tripled our combined reach. We took the Top 50 lists and divvied up the outreach across the three of us. But we didn’t seek to engage the entire Top 50 lists.

3) Identify the Influencers Most Likely to Engage

President Barack Obama

Photo source: User vox_efx on flickr.

If you’re looking to curry favor with U.S. President Barack Obama, you’re unlikely to do so via Twitter. By checking the President’s Twitter feed, you’ll see a lot of content sharing, a few retweets (mainly of the White House) and very few interactions with other users.

Now look at some of your target influencers. If they interacted with you before (e.g. retweet or mention), there’s a chance they’ll do so again. Check how often they interact with other users (count how many of their tweets begin with a Twitter user handle). Also, look at how quickly they respond. Some influencers are on Twitter all the time. They receive a mention and reply back within minutes. If you find a user like this who’s also interacted with you before, they’re likely to engage with you again.

Of course, if you “know” the influencer (perhaps you met them at a conference and connected with them on LinkedIn), that’s a good sign, too. With our outreach, we looked at a Top 50 list and determined the 10-15 people who were the most likely to engage with us.

Once you identify your “most likely” list, throw in a few “reach for the stars” attempts, because you could get lucky. While he didn’t respond, we did tweet out to Jimmy Fallon.

4) Define Your “Ask”

With few exceptions, you won’t facilitate business or transactions via influencers on Twitter. It’s challenging to get influencers to provide an action that directly benefits you. Instead, you need an arrangement that benefits both of you.

Often, that’s about inviting influencers into a conversation. Choose a conversation topic that interests them (or, if you have a pre-defined topic, use that topic to identify relevant influencers). In our case, the “ask” was pretty simple: share some tips with us.

5) Communicate Your “Ask”

Get this step wrong and your entire plan may backfire. To start, be open and transparent. That means explaining (in your tweet) what you’re looking to get and why. The “why” is important, since it provides influencers with the right context.

Next, communicate how you’ll use what they provide and whether there are any next steps. In our outreach, we communicated to influencers that we were compiling quotes to use in a webinar. For them, that signaled where their tweet may end up. This gives them the chance to decline the opportunity or, tweet back, but ask you NOT to include the tweet in the webinar.

Be sure to address the what, why, how and where.

Bonus Tip: If the first word of your tweet is a Twitter handle, insert a period (“.”) at the beginning, like I did in this tweet to Ian Gertler. If I did NOT preface the tweet with a period, the only people who’d see my tweet are Ian, plus my followers who also follow Ian (though I bet many of them do just that). By sharing your tweet with a wider audience, you may draw others into the conversation, such as Don Power, who’s influential in his own right.

6) Make “Digital Eye Contact”

When we ask for something in person, we always make eye contact with the person we’re asking. In the online world, I call it “digital eye contact” — looking directly at the person means being present and available. Don’t auto-tweet your “ask” at a scheduled time. Make sure you’re ready, willing and able to respond (quickly!) to any question or comment from the influencer.

If influencers respond and it takes you a day to get back to them, they’re less likely to take action. But if you reply back minutes later, they’re more inclined to give you what you want, on the spot.

7) Follow Up to Close the Loop

Circle back with the influencers (who participated) to show them how you used their contributions. When we uploaded the webinar slides to SlideShare, we tweeted to our contributors, pointing them to the slides in which their tweet was listed. In addition, we created a “story” of tweets using Storify and tweeted the Storify link to the influencers.

8) Continue the Conversation

The Twitter engagement could (and should) be the beginning of a long term relationship. Continue to read influencers’ blog posts and tweets and engage with them when appropriate. If you continue to provide value, there may come a day when the influencers come to you to ask for a favor.

Conclusion

Following this list will give you a strong chance of engaging with influencers in your target market:

  1. Build Relationships Before You Need Them
  2. Partner Up to Widen Your Reach
  3. Identify the Influencers Most Likely to Engage
  4. Define Your “Ask”
  5. Communicate Your “Ask”
  6. Make “Digital Eye Contact”
  7. Follow Up to Close the Loop
  8. Continue the Conversation

View the Slides

Feel free to view our webinar slides. The tweets from influencers can be found on Slides 30 and 31.


Steal These Community Management Tips from CMX Summit Presenters

February 8, 2014

CMX Summit

This post was originally published on the DNN Software blog.

Community Management Tips Learned from CMX Summit

The first ever CMX Summit was held in San Francisco. It’s “a new event bringing together the world’s greatest community minds to share unique perspectives, experiences and ideas all around community building.”

The event included a full day of captivating talks from community management experts. And as you’d expect when a group like this assembles, there was a lot community building among the participants. Let’s take a look at some community management tips that I took away from attending this event.

The Importance of Building Trust

Community managers should understand how the mind works. By understanding how to inspire trust, you can motivate community members to take actions aligned to the goals of your community.

Robin Dreeke

Robin Dreeke, photo courtesy of CMX Summit.

Look no further than the head of the FBI behavioral analysis program to help show you the way. Robin Dreeke ( @rdreeke) is a behavioral and rapport building expert (at the FBI) and author of the book “It’s Not All About Me: The Top Ten Techniques for Building Quick Rapport with Anyone” (here’s the link to the book on Amazon ).

With regard to community members, it’s pretty simple:

  1. Understand what they want
  2. Help them achieve it

Community Management Tip:

“It’s not all about me” is a perfect mindset for community managers . It’s not about you (the community manager) and it’s not about the community. It’s about “them” (your members). Have a single-minded focus on helping them. Your members will begin to trust the community manager, then the larger community, then your organization’s brand. Help them first and then they’ll help you.

Read the summary at The Community Manager:

Why Should They? Trust Strategies for Every Situation (by Ashley Hayes)

Build Your Community Around Rituals

Emily Castor

Emily Castor, photo courtesy of CMX Summit.

You’ve probably heard of Lyft, especially if you live in the Bay Area. Lyft is a popular ride-sharing service that’s grown its business via community building. In an article published by TechCrunch , Lyft co-founder John Zimmer said, “Building community is what drives me and makes me so happy to work on this.”

Emily Castor is Director of Community Relations at Lyft. She presented the Lyft story, which revolves around its community and the rituals that have emerged within it. Castor noted the importance of the pink mustache that’s attached to the front of drivers’ cars (side note: it’s intentionally shaped in the form of a smile).

Riders are invited to sit in the front seat. This alters the nature of the driver/rider relationship . It’s no longer vendor/customer: instead, it’s simply two people having a conversation on the way to a destination. Lyft drivers give a fist bump (to riders) to thank them at the conclusion of a ride.

These rituals help shape Lyft’s customer experience. In turn, it helps shape their brand and makes their brand unique.

Community Management Tip:

For online communities, seek and encourage similar rituals. Rather than be creator of those rituals, be the sponsor. #FollowFriday is a ritual that emerged on Twitter. What if your community started something similar?

Read the summary at The Community Manager:

Crafting a Self-Sustaining Community Culture: The Power of Ritual, Purpose, and Shared Identity (by Ashley McGregor Dey)

To Build a Sustainable Community, Have a Firm Foundation

Ligaya Tichy

Ligaya Tichy, photo courtesy of CMX Summit.

Ligaya Tichy provided community management insights learned from managing communities for Yelp, Airbnb and others. Oftentimes, community managers like to get deep into the trenches with tactics, metrics and the like, before taking a look at the big picture.

And that was my biggest takeaway from Tichy’s talk: focus on the key pillars of any community:

  1. Learning
  2. Play
  3. Support

Community Management Tip:

At the end of each week, assess the activities in your online community that week . Did you help members learn something new? Did you afford them the opportunity to have some fun? And finally, were they able to get answers to their questions, or resolutions to their issues? If you do this exercise weekly, then take action to address any shortfalls, your community will be the better for it.

Side note: there’s a fourth pillar I’d add, which is “recognition.” Being recognized (within a community of your peers) helps build a sense of reward, which creates tighter bonds within the community.

Read the summary at The Community Manager:

The Evolution of Communities – Social Design and Key Metrics for Every Stage (by Ashley Hayes)

Connect Individually with Community Members

Ellen Leanse

Ellen Leanse, photo courtesy of CMX Summit.

During the 1980’s, Ellen Leanse was a user evangelist for Apple and founder of the Apple User Group Connection. In other words, Ellen was a community manager before the term was coined. On her first day on the job, Ellen received a stack of papers well over two feet high. They were letters from angry customers.

Ellen jumped right in and started calling them. One of the customers Ellen called was Dave Lavery, a NASA scientist who would later play a significant role in the creation of the Mars Rover. Not only did Ellen address Lavery’s issue, but she continued to check in from time to time. “ It’s important to stay in touch,” Leanse said in her talk.

Community Management Tip:

This tip is taken directly from Leanse’s talk: each week, pick up the phone and call 3-5+ community members. Ask them how things are going and how you can make their participation more useful. You’re guaranteed to have a positive ROI from these calls.

Read the summary at The Community Manager:

Lessons from the History of Communities – Why They Matter Today and Tomorrow (by Ashley Hayes)

Conclusion

The first ever CMX Summit was splendid. If you were there, perhaps you had similar takeaways as mine. If you weren’t there, I hope you’re able to apply some of these tips in your own communities.

Community Management Blog Series

community management blog series

Colleague Clint Patterson published a great blog series on how to create sustained engagement in online communities. Check out Part 1 of Clint’s series, where you’ll find links to Parts 2 and 3.


How Mark Schaefer Made a Splash with Content Shock (And What You Can Learn From Him)

January 29, 2014

This post was originally published on the DNN Software blog.

Insights for Content Marketers

I consider 2014 “The Year of Content Shock and The Conversation that Ensued.” Mark Schaefer is Executive Director at Schaefer Marketing Solutions, where he provides marketing consultation to businesses. He’s the author of the {grow} blog, along with a number of books.

Photo: Mark Schaefer on Twitter (@markwschaefer)

Shortly after the New Year, Schaefer published a blog post, “Content Shock: Why content marketing is not a sustainable strategy.” The post received 400+ comments, along with thousands of tweets and hundreds of articles. This week, Schaefer followed up with a new blog post to address all of the dissenting opinions.

My Quick Take on Content Shock

Content Shock
Image via Mark Schaefer.

Too many dissenters took a “black and white” view of Schaefer’s piece. Either content shock will doom us all or it won’t. In fact, this was my original interpretation. As Schaefer’s follow-on piece notes, however, we don’t live in a world of absolutes – there’s grey matter in between the black and white.

As a content marketer for a “small” brand, you’re not doomed to hopeless failure. In fact, if you’re a small fish in a big pond, Schaefer prescribes the following:

“If you are facing a possibility of content saturation in your market, you need to be thinking of ways to change the game.”

Mark Schaefer’s Winning Formula

Mark Schaefer
Image via Schaefer Marketing Solutions.

Schaefer Marketing Solutions operates in a highly crowded space. First, consider their direct competition: individuals and agencies who offer similar consulting services. They’re blogging and publishing books, too. On the agency side, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of agencies with far bigger budgets.

Next, consider the “indirect competition” – the rest of us who are publishing related content. Whether it’s social media marketing or content marketing, Schaefer competes with HubSpot, Marketo and KISSmetrics for attention and readership. It’s not a zero sum game, but it’s competition nonetheless.

So with the two blog posts alone, let’s consider how Schaefer combats content shock for his own business.

Find a Timely Topic

While some trace “content marketing” back to the age of cavemen, it’s hard to avoid the fact that the discipline and the term are getting a lot of buzz in 2014 (and, earlier in 2013). We’re all talking about “content marketing” – but more importantly, brands are putting serious dollars behind it. I’ve worked with journalists in past jobs and many of them (today) are heading up content marketing at B2B brands. So January 2014 was a good time to introduce “content shock.”

Take a Well-Reasoned Stand

Taking a stand garners attention. Taking a well-reasoned stand gets attention, but also drives dialog and conversation. If you wrote a blog post about “Why World Peace is Overrated,” you’re taking a stand, but you’ve lost credibility with most people in the title alone. Schaefer presented a well-reasoned argument that combined with a timely topic and a little controversy, generated a firestorm.

Side note: a search on Google shows that the original Content Shock piece has 12,500 inbound links pointing to it!

Be Open, Inviting and Genuine in Your Interactions

If he had enough time in the day, I bet Mark Schaefer would reply to every single blog comment and every single tweet. If you look at his blog posts, he gets rather close to doing just that. It takes a lot of time for Schaefer to respond to people.

blog comment

But consider his competition: other marketers, agencies and vendors like Marketo and HubSpot. They might have bigger budgets than Schaefer, but some of them do NOT interact as much – or if they do, they don’t do it in the inviting and genuine style of Schaefer.

Advantage: Schaefer.

To combat content shock: having a plan in place to genuinely engage with the readers of the content you produce. Schaefer, “predicted” all of this (in a sense) with an earlier post  that he published, “How to beat Hubspot at its own game.”

Follow Up

Sometimes, it’s not enough to reply to comments and engage with your readers (and dissenters). If you were fortunate enough to have your content spark a conversation, then take the time to carefully review all of the input (both in favor and in opposition of your stance) and follow up. Your follow-up should summarize the dialog, then provide your response. Just like Schaefer did.

Conclusion

So how can smaller fish survive in the larger content pond? Consider what Mark Schaefer did:

  1. Find a Timely Topic
  2. Take a Well-Reasoned Stand
  3. Be Open, Inviting and Genuine in Your Interactions
  4. Follow Up

What are you waiting for? Go do it!


5 Completely Surprising Marketing Tips Learned from Fifth Graders

January 21, 2014

fifth grade classroom

Photo source: User Michael 1952 on flickr.

This post was originally published on the DNN Software blog.

Recently, I served as “teacher for the day” in my daughter’s fifth grade classroom. My guest appearance was coordinated by a great organization, Junior Achievement, who “teaches young people about money management and how business works.”

With a lesson plan provided by Junior Achievement, I taught five, 45-minute lessons on topics related to business and entrepreneurship. I know about raising fifth graders from the one I have at home, but spending a day with a class full of them gave me further insights on their attitudes and inclinations.

Before long, these fifth grade students will grow up and become part of the target audience for your marketing. Here are five surprising marketing tips based on my observations.

1) Forget about social media marketing.

I asked students to name examples of businesses. Here’s the list compiled by this Silicon Valley-based class:

social media top of mind with fifth graders

Perhaps they were too young to name Snapchat? The point is, fifth graders are on the bleeding edge of technology. They used iPods as toddlers, then graduated to iPads. They may not be using Facebook, but their siblings and parents are. So they’re aware of what it is and what it does.

That being said, forget about the social media marketing you’re doing today to reach their parents. Once these kids enter the workforce, social marketing will no longer be relevant, because another form of advertising will have emerged.

2) Invest in billboard advertising.

T-rex billboard ad

Photo source: Eric Fischer on flickr.

We did a lesson on advertising. The fifth graders were given a business scenario and asked to work in teams to devise a business, then create an advertisement for that business. Before they started designing, they were asked to name examples of advertising.

Many of the students mentioned billboard ads that they see on Highway 101 in the Bay Area. They were able to recall the messaging contained on those billboards in impressive detail. Out-of-home advertising works! It’s effective because of the captivated audience it commands. So as these fifth graders grow into adults, think of ways your own marketing content can be delivered to a captivated audience.

3) Decrease your online marketing budget.

If you think about standing up in front of a fifth grade classroom for an entire day, it can be worrisome: will the students have any interest in what I’m saying? To be honest, I noticed that some of them “tuned out” during segments of the lessons.

But what got them to pay attention, engage and interact? Activities. The Junior Achievement lesson plans pair verbal instruction with a fun activity that reinforces that instruction.

Online marketing is great. It’s cost effective and it’s measurable. But to make a deeper connection with your  marketing, consider programs that include face-to-face interactions. The fifth graders are kind of expecting it.

4) Tomorrow’s workers won’t be motivated by gamification.

Many of the day’s activities came in the form of games. The fifth graders would high-five each other when they rolled a six, but what got them most excited were forms of peer-to-peer connections and recognition.

WHITE PAPER: How Community Managers Can Use Gamification to Create Sustainable Engagement

We did an exercise in which two students were named partners in a popcorn and ice cream business. The two partners stood at the front of the classroom. Next, they called up classmates (one by one), assigning them to assorted roles within the business (delivery people, business analysts, attorneys and ultimately, a CEO).

Students were most excited when they were called up to the front of the room. The selection and “job assignment” (in front of the entire class) gave meaning to the activity. It made them feel rewarded. How do you “gamify” experiences for tomorrow’s workers? Make it less about points and badges and more about peer-to-peer relationships and recognition.

5) Make them wait for it.

child using tablet

Photo source: User nooccar on flickr.

Today’s generation of kids live in a world of instant gratification. With timeshifting and on-demand consumption, they get what they want, when they want it. Remember how Thursday nights on NBC were called “Must See TV?” Today’s generation calls it “I See TV” (“When I Want It”).

So first, make your product, content and experiences great. Then, act differently with it. Don’t give it to them right away. Make them wait. Make them go through hoops to get it. Why? Because when they do, they’ll cherish it. They’re so used to getting everything right away, that making them wait adds to the enjoyment.

Conclusion

Today’s fifth graders are tomorrow’s customers. While I enjoyed my time in the classroom, I also considered it a form of market research, in better understanding tomorrow’s buyers. Hopefully, I learned from them as much as they learned from me. And, I hope this post served to spur forward-looking thoughts on how to do marketing in the future.


A Portrait of The Marketer as a Young Man

January 11, 2014

young marketer

This post was originally published at Medium: A Portrait of the Marketer as a Young Man.

Introduction

Recently, I read a great post on the Kapost blog by Anne Murphy. Anne’s post was titled “3 Things You Can’t Learn from a Content Marketing How-To Article” and included a paragraph titled “How to Write.” Anne wrote:

“For 18 years, I lived with one of the best writers and editors I know. Her name is Nancy Murphy. I call her Mom.”

Not only did Mom help shape Anne’s writing, but she (Mom) taught her that “good writing takes constant work.”

Today, I’m a marketer (at DNN) who does a lot of writing. My degree is in computer science, not history, communications or political science. I spent the first 14 years of my career in Information Technology (IT). So how did I come to be a marketer? Anne’s post inspired me to consider my own journey.

Careless Mistakes in Second Grade

If there’s such a thing as a crisis in elementary school, then I was in one. Both of my parents had been called in to a meeting with my second grade teacher, Mrs. Trout. I had been making careless spelling mistakes and the pattern was only getting worse. Spelling errors were understandable, but Mrs. Trout was concerned about my consistent pattern of carelessness.

I took that meeting to heart (well, as much as a second grader could). I addressed the carelessness and improved my spelling each year. In fact, by the time I reached fifth grade, I’d be entered into the grade-wide spelling bee.

This second grade crisis helped shape my marketing. It’s put a certain lens around everything I do: writing an article, reviewing an email promotion, writing a webinar description, reviewing a white paper, etc. I have an ability to catch my own mistakes, as well as spot errors in others’ work. I harken back to my days in second grade and know why.

Editorial Independence

The Call of the Wild

Image source: User cdrummbks on flickr.

I’ve now reached fourth grade. We read Jack London’s “Call of the Wild” in class and I was writing a book report at home. My dad briefly looked over my work and thought that I wrote the report all wrong. As he tells the story, I became very upset, insisting that I had written the book report according to specifications.

Based on my strong insistence, my father allowed me to proceed and I handed in the book report “as is.” It turned out I was correct: I received a good grade on the report. From that moment on, my dad gave me full editorial independence in my grade school writing projects.

This feeling of independence can be empowering. If every sentence I wrote could be inspected for corrections, the experience wouldn’t be as enjoyable. And while editorial oversight is important and necessary in many contexts, the independence is one reason I enjoy blogging so much.

Reading about Sports

Also in fourth grade, I developed a love of sports. Starting in high school and continuing into the present day, I read a lot of sports articles.

Best American Sports Writing

Image via Amazon.

I like to read the beat writers who cover my teams and I love human interest stories (i.e. long form articles) related to sports. I adore “The Best American Sports Writing” series. My dream job? To be the beat writer for one of my favorite teams.

I’ve tried my hand at sports writing. At my current job (and at past jobs), I’d write summaries of company softball games and soccer games and share them. My colleagues would tell me that I missed my calling as a sports writer.

Because of all the reading I’ve done, writing about sports came so naturally to me. As I sat at my keyboard, words would emanate and flow like those of more experienced sports writers. It’s similar for the B2B content I write at work: I consume so much of other people’s content that it helps inform and guide my own.

The High School Poetry Magazine

For a high school English class, I submitted a poem that depicted a cold, wintry night from the view of my bedroom window. My English teacher liked it. She managed the school’s poetry magazine and encouraged me to get involved.

So I wrote more poems, attended a poetry conference or two and helped assemble the school’s magazine. I’ve come to realize that marketers are much like poets: we need to assemble words in a way that makes an impact with our audience.

So when I compose tweets, Facebook posts, subject lines, calls to action and promotional copy, I look back to my high school days and realize that my dabbling in poetry helped a great deal.

But Where’s the Beef?

Where's the Beef?

Image source: User xxxbadfishxxx on flickr.

There’s a difference between eloquence and substance. At an early age, I discovered that I had a knack for putting words together. But I didn’t receive consistently high marks on my papers, whether it was AP English (in high school) or Literature Humanities (in college).

The issue? I was missing the beef (i.e. substance). This realization helps inform my B2B writing. Whether it’s a blog post or a white paper, I try to spend as much time (or more) researching as I do writing. The content must be well planned, well researched and well thought out. Words can always sound good, but they must be backed up with information and insights that provide value to the reader.

Conclusion

It’s been fun to consider how childhood events and developments helped shape the marketer I am today. When I graduated from college, I never considered the possibility that I’d be in marketing. I wonder what I’ll be doing ten years from now. Perhaps you’ll find me online, reporting on last night’s Yankees game.


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