Content sharing and the unintended audience

Anyone who has shared content on Twitter will have noticed that sharing certain kinds of information attracts followers like a flower attracts bees – or, in some or many cases, like dung attracts flies.

Content and the (un)intended audience

The thing about the followers you attract in this way is that they’re often a lot like you. They share your interests. But if your aim is to attract people who might one day buy something from you, you need to share information that’s not necessarily the kind of stuff you’re personally, or even professionally, interested in.

The right content to attract the right audience

Business content

For business purposes you need to share content that your potential customers are interested in – which also relates to something they could buy from you.

What’s the right content for your potential customer? The correct answer is:

it depends…

Who is your customer?

Don’t get me wrong: your customers may be people just like you. Suppose you’re a parent. You run into the fact that a lot of kids’ clothes just aren’t practical or fashionable enough. You design items that are (of course!) wayyy better than the rest and start trying to sell them to… To people like you. To parents who are dissatisfied with the clothes already available.

Then again, you may need to attract people completely different from you. This is where buyer personas come in. Well, nearly…

Analyzing your current audience

Suppose you analyze your audience, such as it is today. That analysis doesn’t necessarily yield an overview of potential buyers. What it does give you is some idea of the groups that are interested in whatever you say – or don’t say.

In the case of a company website, you might review your e-mail list and find:

  • your competitors eagerly following what you do, so they can copy the things you’re doing right and do everything you’re not doing.
  • smaller businesses relying on you for dependable information, which they use to serve their customers.
  • a host of people hiding behind Gmail and the like, which might be competitors, or potential customers… hard to tell.
  • your (potential) customers.

Now a mix of all of these groups is normal. It doesn’t hurt to have competitors watch you. If they don’t, it may mean you’re not interesting. Your competitors aren’t stupid. If they were, they’d be out of business.

If you have a host of competitors and very few potential customers, it’s a different game. You need to change the content you’re publishing. But change it into what?

Describing your customers?

Buyer personas are basically a detailed description of a couple of very different (potential) customers for your products or services.

How much detail should you put into a buyer persona? There are plenty of sources that’ll tell you what data you need, but there are many ways to Rome:

Way back in my time as an art history student, I wrote quality descriptions of the 200 paintings and drawings I listed for my thesis. The question “Why?” will need to wait for the right blog post, but something remarkable happened after I finished my thesis, which contained all of my descriptions. Two fellow students ran into a drawing which they were able to identify with absolute certainty using my description. This drawing had actually been called lost or destroyed by earlier sources.

This is the kind of description you need for each type of (potential) customers if you want to increase your ability to share content that will attract them. You need to add the kind of detail that allows your sales people to recognize their real flesh-and-blood customers immediately. Without that kind of information about your customers, you’re basically relying on educated guesses. Which may work, if your guesses are well-educated 😉

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Why all great content is useful

I’m convinced that all great content is useful in some way. But how would you define ‘useful’ in an everyday context?

Is a cat useful content for your garden?

Would you consider a cat useful content for your garden? Photo on Flickr | Chris Waits

Take a look around you. What could be useful about the things you see? In the garden (where I’ve spent some time of late), useful could take on any of the following shapes Continue reading

Perception, art, and the space between meanings

How much do we grow used to interpreting symbols around us? When it comes to understanding traffic rules for example, a red or a green traffic light is relatively easy to understand. Red means “stop”, green means “go”. The tricky bit is when your kid sees a green light but it’s for other road users.

Now arrows… arrows are tricky by default.

Perception: Meanings of an Arrow

Knowledge of specific conventions tell us what an arrow means.
[OCAL image]

  • It’s up to you to gain enough general knowledge about the world and our conventions to recognize the shape of an arrow, and to understand that arrows point in a direction,  that it’s the pointy bit that does the pointing, and that there’s a reason for it to point.
  • Your next hurdle is understanding that you need to look around you to see what the arrow is doing in its context – to find the reason for the arrow. Why is it here, what is it supposed to show you, is it even there for you – or for the car in the lane next to you?

Just to point my own arrow at a minor detail here: you’re an expert in a lot of ways without realizing it. You just read the stuff I wrote about arrows and conventions like traffic rules, and you’re still here. Now let’s move a step further.

The effect of learning in professionals

I’ve taken a quote from an interesting post about learning and its effect on us: “…once we have learned to see design, both good and bad, we cannot un-see.”

It’s easy to point at stuff you’d like to learn – but you can’t point at things you’re trying to forget AND succeed at forgetting them. What if you told someone “Right now I’m trying not to think about those purple bears over there, hanging out on the beach drinking pink-and-green cocktails with fake strawberries on straws in them. And they’re wearing high heels, which is no joke for a purple bear on a beach.” Check out the size of that arrow 😉

The author of the quote goes on to list examples of how designers, artists, and other professionals cope with the gap between their trained professional self, and their untrained clients. Like I stated in an earlier post: un-learning is possible, but it takes a conscious effort. It’s a lot harder to forget or ignore specific bits of knowledge that have become entrenched in the corners of your brain, than to focus on learning them. (The one example I’ve run into of people being unable to step away from what they’ve learned is not so much designers but IT professionals. We’re all guilty of being an expert at something.)

Perception, art, and the space between meanings

Some things mean everything to us, and nothing to the person standing next to us. This is particularly clear when art is concerned. A piece of art is filled with meaning by the artist. Compositions as a rule don’t drop from a handy cloud. Details don’t miraculously pop up in a painting. A work of art is constructed, and its details are where the artist put them for a reason.

The way we perceive any piece of art is defined by our personal experience. Our general knowledge of the world. Our knowledge about other works of art and any convention we have grown used to. If our personal knowledge overlaps to a great extent with that of certain artists, we’ll perceive their art much the way they intended. On the other hand, if there is little to no overlap – say you’re admiring a 16th-century Italian painting and you’re

  1. unfamiliar with classical mythology, and
  2. not a religious person,

it’s going to take some explaining to get even a rough sense of what you’re looking at and what story the artist wanted to tell in that painting. That artist was creating a work of art with a specific audience in mind. I guess it’s safe to assume you’re not the audience he (probably not she) was thinking of at the time.

Read more:

Do you watch (your) kids learn about the meaning or meanings of the things around them? What do you make of perception, art, and the meanings of familiar symbols?

Blogging impressions: how to change your journal into a blog

This post is about me. And perhaps it’s also about you… When I started blogging I refused to explore the question who I was going to write for in detail. So now maybe it’s time to make up for that.

Who am I trying to reach? Who is my audience?

Well, for starters:

  1. People who have a brain, and are not afraid to use it. If that’s you, consider it a compliment 😉
  2. People who like to learn, and who don’t mind reading stuff that’s about different topics so long as it’s written for non-experts.
  3. People who share one or more interests with me.
  4. Experts who like to extend their own thinking on various topics.
  5. In other words, I aim to blog for people with room in their heads for new ideas or new takes on things they know (although, if they read a lot, I may not always be able to surprise them). I blog for curious people.

Change your Journal into a blogI’m writing for people who are, in a way, like me. It’s quite possible that I’m writing for me. Which I reckoned was fine when I started blogging. After all, I’m my own best-known audience. I know what I like. If you blog for a specific audience without doing research into your intended audience, chances are that you’re blogging for you. If that wasn’t your intention, all I can say is: Oops.

Does all of the above mean you’re looking at my journal right now? Yes and no… So how do I write my posts for you on this blog of mine?

How to change your journal into a blog written for an audience

Unless my planning gives me a topic to write about up front (I’ll admit I’ve been too busy lately), I start out writing about something that’s either fascinating me, or frustrating me, or worrying me, or…
I start writing and keep writing for a while, exploring the topic as I go.
Until the bloggers’ inquisitor drops in. I keep this creature outside on a leash for my ‘raw’ draft so it doesn’t chew on the furniture or drool on my keyboard while I’m busy.

The blogger’s inquisitor is that nagging feeling you may know – that may creep up on you when you’re writing… asking:

  • Why would anyone be interested in your problems?
  • What’s in here that could actually solve someone else’s problems?
  • After all you’re not so unique that you could be the only person in the world who has this issue. Are you?

Turning…

At this point I snap out of journaling mode and start writing for YOU:

  1. Sometimes it’s a simple matter of pasting “you” where I was (yes, and the verbs too).
  2. Sometimes it means I look at the issue I’ve described in a whole new light.
  3. And I start describing details of what you might run into.
  4. Then I add tips to counter some of those issues.
  5. A key issue is that I can’t pretend to have an answer for you if I don’t have one. But as a part of my blogging activities I can look for an answer and present it to you in my resulting blog post.
  6. Or I can think about what might work for you, even if I don’t know if it would work for me.

Think about it for a minute. There’s a HUGE difference between a journal and a blog.

What is a journal about?

A journal is essentially about you. It’s where your write about stuff you run into. In the case of an online journal, it allows your readers to recognize, sympathize – sometimes have a lot of fun reading about your musings. Some of your readers may take heart in the fact that you’re experiencing the same problems they’re facing.

What is a blog about?

A (business) blog is – has to be – about your readers. Whatever you put in should be written to benefit them in some small way. That doesn’t mean you should leave out your point of view – that’s the point of it being your blog – right? I’d say it’s impossible to leave yourself out – but you can suppress your presence to the point of squeezing the last bit of life out of your blog. Please don’t.

Painting the picture more clearly…

Compare writing to painting. Turning from journaling to blogging doesn’t mean you stop ‘painting’. All it means is you don’t do self portraits anymore – most of the time.

Your work still shows your choice of topic, your structure, your style, your preferred colors and details. It’s just that your readers are no longer inspecting every pimple on your nose anymore (metaphorically speaking – I hope). Instead, your readers are exploring the world through the words you paint onto the canvas of your blog.

Read more storytelling and blogging:

I hope you enjoyed this episode of Blogging impressions. You may find previous episodes here and here. And finally, leave your thoughts on journals, blogs and (your) blogging audience in a comment!

The usual suspects: why we don’t buy as readily as we sell

After my recent ramblings about LinkedIn I thought I might return to another topic of interest: marketing and blogging. There is a lot to be said for taking a marketing approach what you do on your blog. Especially if you’re wondering why some things you do just fall flat for no apparent reason.

Buyers Prioritization

You got yourself an audience, a good call to action to get your readers to join your subscribers list, you’re sending them information about your products/services… and then, well, nothing. Well, not nothing – but… You’re an expert. Surely everyone is going to want to buy the valuable stuff you have to offer? Why aren’t the %% higher than this?

In this post I’ll take a roundabout tour through marketing and then get back to your blog.

Marketing and the usual suspects

Purely from a marketing/sales view it’s a matter of buyer’s journey or even ‘buyer cycle’, which has phases to mark where on the road towards your first or next purchase you might be.

  1. If you’re in the right group of people (say busy working mum who loves high-heeled boots but won’t risk twisting an ankle again running after child no. 2) you’re a suspect. In fact we’re all someone’s suspect. We all buy something at some point.
  2. The moment you subscribe to anything, you turn into a prospect: someone who shows a definite interest in the kind of services/products a company offers. In some cases it means you get spammed daily – companies seem to think they need to haul you in NOW or you might end up buying a competitor’s product.
  3. Once you’re in their webshop…
  4. … loading stuff into your shopping cart (or taking similar actions) there’s an almost audible drum roll.

In many cases people never get beyond stage two. Why not? There are plenty of tips out there that focus on mending the leaks in your sales funnel, but I’m not going to discuss incontinent marketing processes here.

Theorize about your potential buyers’ priorities

Think about yourself as a reader of blogs (and a potential customer for someone) for a moment. Since I don’t know you, I’ll make up for this bit by talking about myself and pretending I’m a version of you. In this multiverse there must be a universe where I’m you 😉

You read and view loads of stuff every day, either for personal or professional purposes. Depending on your job and other interests, some topics matter a lot, others a little. There’s one topic that you’re mainly interested in because it affects your job. You don’t need to know everything, but you do need to keep up to date. So you read up online. After all what’s the internet for? Then you attend an webinar. From the moment you subscribe you get spammed by at least half a dozen companies trying to sell you stuff that’s related to the subject of the webinar. Preferably expensive and IT-related. Oh, great…

Enter the wonderful world of the ‘buyer persona’

Using a buyer persona (or several) means you basically assemble some characteristics into a credible theoretical buyer. Age, lifestyle, and depending on what you’re trying to sell you throw in a job title, professional issues – or health problems and family situation. It’s a lot like certain police series, where they try to narrow down the group of possible suspects.

In the case where you are the customer, companies are guessing what you might be interested in buying, and they approach you with information that seems relevant. Despite these efforts many marketers still can’t, or won’t, take into account your personal priorities (or your influence on your company’s budget, for that matter). Now, rather than veering off into a discussion about prioritization in this post, here’s a link if you’d like to read how Eisenhower prioritized his to do list. I’ll stick to reinterpreting this handy matrix around the question “to buy, or – to forget about it”.

Your priorities – and how they affect your buying decisions

Many of us – those of us with any savings in the bank, anyway – make buying decisions much like this:

  1. Do I need it? Yes. When? Now! Unless you’re broke you’ll have no problem spending money on things you really need, urgently.
  2. Do I need it? Yes. When? Well, let’s say within the next 3 months. Hmm, I’d better get some more information… and see if I can get a discount somewhere.
  3. Do I want it? Yes. Do I need it? Not really. How much does it cost?
  4. Do I want it? I might, if it’s fun. Do I need it? Nope.

Businesses put a lot of effort trying to close the gaps that make you hesitate. For example, many retail shops know their customers, including you, well enough to be just within the price range you had in mind 😉

Back to your blog’s usual ‘suspects’

When you’re blogging you may get a lot of visitors, but the ones in category 1 are a definite minority. You do need some casual visitors though – a blog that never gets comments, likes, or shares won’t appeal even to people who are looking for a solution to their problem, NOW. So you cater, in some ways, for visitors of categories 2, 3 or even 4. If that means your blog is more fun and less businessy, hey, what’s wrong with a readable blog? But do make sure that there is something for Number One.

I hope you enjoyed this post. If so, please share it – or share your thoughts about marketing, blogging and the like in a comment. Thanks 🙂

Blogging impressions: audience matters

Understanding your audience can be a major issue if you own a blog. Do you ever wonder what your audience is telling you by ‘liking’ your blog? Do you have posts that are loved and posts that seem to be completely ignored?

Mark Schaefer recently wrote about the importance of comments on his {grow} blog. I completely get this. It can be hard to interpret (a lack of) likes. In this post I’ll explore how your particular audience affects your pattern of likes, the pros and cons of likes (not necessarily in that order), and next steps.

Audience categories and blog results

I’ve been building a little theory (okay, officially it’s a hypothesis – I know), and my latest two posts seem to confirm it – so far, so good I guess ;):

Blogging impressions: audience matters

Audience matters: Who’s here
– and why? [OCAL picture]

  • We get different kinds of people on our blogs, obviously.
  • Different people like different posts and topics, so multi-topic blogs get likes from people depending on whether they like the subject matter (and tone of voice) in a particular post.
  • Many people on WordPress.com are mainly interested in non-businessy topics. You can blog about business, but you’d better inject a healthy dose of humor and not get into detailed stuff that nobody wants to read unless it’s their job. Um, that could be me… although not between 10 PM and my first dose of coffee 😉

Here’s what you get if you try out different kinds of posts.

  1. Humor and personal touch 60% or over – business content 40% but preferably less: you get likes from quite a few WP users. They’re a friendly audience. And yes, I did make those numbers up 🙂
  2. Business content up, humor down: no likes or perhaps one from a fellow blogger who’s commiserating with you for having un unloved post. Or who actually likes it because they’re interested in businessy stuff too. Which makes them part of a minority within the WP community as far as I can tell.
  3. What may happen is that you don’t get likes on WordPress but your content does get shared thanks to your social media connections. In my case that’s Twitter.
  4. As bloggers, WordPress inhabitants like to read tips about blogging.
  5. Obviously, once you think about it, posts about content curation get snapped up and curated by people who are interested in content curation. I got ‘scooped’ a while ago with this post. Which also got some likes because it’s about blogging. Wish I could blog about that on a weekly basis but I do have other interests too 😉

A Lack Of Likes

If you have something like Facebook likes, the same problem you might otherwise have with WordPress likes occurs: you don’t know if they like you – or your blog. It’s nice to get noticed – I’m not questioning that – but if you’re looking for solid stats to check how your blog is actually doing in terms of ‘business’ it blurs a picture that’s hazy to begin with.

You could leave out Facebook likes and even turn off WordPress likes. But that basically means you have less ways left to get feedback. If you leave only comments, you depend on people to actually write something. To keep the level of spam down, you may well choose to have people add their email address. Let’s face it – you’re making it really difficult for people who are not on WordPress.com to leave any kind of response.

Your blog’s audience in business terms

Confusion on the matter of what a like means is something you get no matter where you blog. There will always be people who can’t comment or like unless they are on some shared platform. The people who tend to comment are often those who are used to publishing their stuff anyway, AND who are familiar enough with the subject to feel confident of not getting laughed off. That narrows down the number of comments you’ll get.

This means likes are potentially a valuable way to announce to new readers that you’re actually getting readers on your blog. What they are NOT, is proof that your readers are actually part of a selected audience that is sensitive to any kind of sales process you might be tempted to unleash on them.

Is the focus on personal stuff a reason to skip the WordPress.com experience?

That depends on your own take on these matters.

  • If you are completely sure you’ll be able to lift your blog from the ground in no time at all – if you’re an experienced blogger/writer, you don’t need to be in a blogging community;
  • Same thing if you’re the kind of person who can keep going for a long time without getting any kind of feedback at all;
  • Or if you have carefully built an audience – not necessarily a crowd of friends – on Facebook before starting your blog.

If, on the other hand, you’re just getting started and you don’t have a clue whether this experiment of yours is going to work out, I think .com is a great place to start. If you want your posts about business topics to get noticed, you’ll need to share those posts on social media. Which you need to do no matter where you blog – unless you don’t want readers?

If you’re feeling that you’re not really making any progress at all and you’re wondering what you got yourself into, you can blog about that too – and find that you’re not alone. As far as I’m concerned that is one big bonus in any audience – even though I prefer to think of them as ‘you’.

Note: I’ve just made a Facebook page and added a box to my blog. Good idea or bad? I’m not quite sure. I’ve been too active on Twitter and here on my blog to spend time on Facebook, so I don’t have a Facebook audience 😉

What do you think? After all, on this blog you’re the audience watching me perform. Let me know how you feel about ‘audience matters’!