Storytelling in the age of content marketing

Has content marketing changed consumers?

My version of the customer decision journey

My colorful version of the customer decision journey. Click to view McKinsey’s version.

The question popped into my mind while reading this blog post on Pamorama. Pam neatly shows two models for the process a customer goes through before (and in the second case, after) they make a purchase.

There’s quite a difference between the two models. But does that difference reflect a change in consumers? If so, did content marketing cause that change?

The pre-content marketing sales funnel

The pre-content marketing sales funnel shows a straightforward process with a beginning and an end. At the end, you’ve bought something. Congratulations! Goodbye – and you never hear from the (web) shop again.

When, if ever, did this sales funnel model match reality? Under what circumstances is there no contact between ‘shopkeeper’ and consumer after the purchase – or, would one map only this part of the process? Continue reading

How to leave your job in an orderly fashion

Writing as I am at a table in a home in the Netherlands, the abdication by our queen and subsequent coronation of her son is something which makes me wonder how you prepare your successor for a job you’ve had for a long time – possibly decades, although that doesn’t happen very often.

Leave Your Job In An Orderly Fashion

Harvest [click to view image by Vilseskogen on Flickr]

With many jobs, the role remains in some shape where the individuals leave. Unless we run a family business, we don’t (consciously) prepare our children to do our own job – to become our successors.

So how do we prepare our jobs to be taken over by successors we may hardly know?

How to leave your job in an orderly fashion

I’ve left a few jobs behind me over the years, though not one I’d done for 30-odd years. Even so I’ve learned a couple of things so far about handing over your tasks to your successor. Here’s my pick-and-mix harvest:

  1. Don’t postpone documenting your tasks until you can see the exit outlined. Make documenting essential procedures a normal part of your routine. It’ll give you something to refer interns or new coworkers to. If anything changes, you’ll be able to check (and show) quickly where your own tasks are affected.
  2. List every task you can think of and write down everything worth knowing for every task on your list. (check if current procedures are up to date)
  3. Make sure you distinguish between priorities #1 and the rest. Don’t pretend everything you do is equally important.
  4. Don’t believe for a second you’ll be able to document 100% of what you do, how you do it, and why you do it.
  5. Don’t believe for a second that nothing will or should change after you leave. You’ll give them a way to keep going without you, until they decide to do things differently.
  6. If you remember why you follow a certain procedure, add your reasons. Those reasons will help your successor understand why a seemingly dull task is important – and if they change anything, they’ll know what to keep or whom to check with before they skip that part.
  7. For preference, have your successor in place before you leave. If you can’t, haul in a coworker who’s not about to leave in the next month or so and have them perform the most essential task from your list. Then improve your documentation accordingly. Including: “If you’re not sure, ask Jake.”
  8. Depending what branch you’re working in (at your next job) give your successor anywhere from 2 days to 1 month to call you if they have any questions.
  9. Leave.

This is all under the assumption that you and your employer are on good terms when you leave.

A royal exit for everyone

Whether or not you were happy at the job you leave behind, don’t make enemies on the way out. If you hated everything about your job, smile on your way to the door. You’re leaving, remember? You can afford to give your ex-colleagues a final royal wave.

How have you left your previous job(s)? Have I left any important bits out?

Interviews as a time-saving part of your business content strategy

You may have noticed that bloggers like Mark Schaefer (@MarkWSchaefer) and Steve Farnsworth (@Steveology) interview subject matter experts on a regular basis. Interviewing experts has got some advantages to asking them to produce content for your blog:

  • You don’t ask much of their time – catch them at a congress if you want a video. Or ask them a specific question through any medium: e-mail, Twitter, or their own comments section.
  • Visiting your SMEs may give you some opportunities to get video footage. If you don’t have much time, pick up the phone and get a few short questions answered.
  • If there’s any writing to be done, you’re the one doing it. That’s an advantage if your SME is not used to writing for the audience you’re interested in.

Interviews can be a valuable part of your content strategy – if you decide to make the most of them.

Bits For Your Business Content Strategy

Bits of content for your business content strategy

SME interviews as part of your business content strategy

Remember those busy subject matter experts from my post about single versus multiple content creators? What if they’re your colleagues?

You could simply make a few phone calls or pick up your mini-cam and head over to wherever your SME is hanging out and interview them for the business blog or website. When you’re done, you tell them when you intend to publish.

Then publish and let your SME know, so that they can reply to any comments – if they want to. Or you can opt to have your SME post the video themselves in an online community. If you send them the video (or URL) via e-mail:

  1. Make sure your SME knows the procedure (see 2-5).
  2. Add instructions, starting with the publishing date. Inform your SME that if the video isn’t posted by [exact time on specified date] you will go ahead and post it yourself.
  3. Add a copy-paste text for them to use or edit.
  4. Check if it’s posted.
  5. If it’s not posted, post the video yourself and notify your SME. You can even invite them to reply. Add an example like “My personal favorite from this list is actually X.” This isn’t a must-do, but it can help.

How do interviews save you time?

The time-saving won’t work if you spend an entire day on an interview then share the results only once.

You may want to share the original interview soon after it takes place. But every interview can be ‘mined’ for later use. You can structure the content you’ve collected soon after the interview to have bits of content ready which you can integrate into new posts or save for a content emergency.

  • You quote from the interview.
  • Top tips from your SME for achieving a certain goal.
  • Mining the interview to get ideas for related topics.

Getting strategic about your interviews

On the other hand, if you do a series of interviews in which you ask one or more identical questions, you can:

  • collect the answers as you go.
  • share the answers to a specific question in yet another piece of content. Or two. (Or three.)

This means you make collecting data from multiple interviews part of your business content strategy. I’ll admit it sounds like research 😉

This approach will let you (re)share parts of your content much later in a different context following the principles of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”.

Your content strategy – and the subject matter experts

Of late I’ve found myself thinking that blogging is the easy side of the content story. At least content strategy-wise. In this post I’ll explore a few pros and cons of having a single versus having multiple content creators on your platform (blog, community, website).

Content Strategy And Subject Matter Experts

The lone ranger content strategy model

Check out my blog right here or consider your own blog.

  1. You’re on your own, typing away about anything you like. No meetings, calls, discussions via e-mail to get your content calendar filled.
  2. It’s up to you to come up with ideas and to decide if you need a content strategy – or if having a content strategy would suck all the creative juice out of your blog.
  3. If you don’t come up with new content, there will be no new content. Search engines will lower the frequency with which they scan your blog accordingly.
  4. You’ll need to do research to get the facts right.
  5. You need – well – discipline to go through the entire process every time. Having a content strategy helps you by planning what you do and when. But it doesn’t help you with the other aspects of content creation.

This model is great for people who love to create content. It can also turn into a time-consuming habit.

Team content strategy: the subject matter experts (SME) model

O-kay, here we go. You have multiple players in this model. Anyone can contribute. That adds up, content-wise. In theory.

  1. You’ll need to schedule at first, so that all ‘your’ SMEs get used to posting on a regular basis. And remind them it’s their turn.
  2. Without a schedule, if nothing gets posted, it’s nobody’s fault. They all thought someone else might produce or find some fresh content.
  3. SMEs don’t exist for your convenience. They have their usual tasks that need doing first.
  4. It’s easier for SMEs to share a bit of content that’s already out there than to come up with something new.
  5. How does your content strategy fare? You may have great plans, but if content creation within your team is not part of the picture, you’ll depend upon existing content created by others inside or outside your organization.

With many potential, but few actual content creators, “what to share when” quickly turns into this choice:

  • share now, because it’s fresh or
  • share later, when it fits into our content calendar.

A lot of content goes stale after a while, so it’s often shared at once.

How to ensure a constant stream of content?

I’d opt for a combination of both approaches.

  • By all means get your SMEs involved in your content strategy – only the owners of a (personal) blog can risk running a blog by themselves.
  • Make sure you have plan B prepared – in case your experts forget to show up 😉

Note: If you’re interested in content strategy and related topics, stay tuned for my next post.

Using Twitter and Twitter tools for your (very) small business

How do you start on Twitter if you have (are) a small business? Over the past year or so I’ve tried a couple of Twitter tools you may find useful. In this post I’ll run through a few ways to optimize your use of them based on what I’ve learned.

To get the most from Twitter tools for your business, start on Twitter

Twitter Birds - Twitter and Twitter tools for small business

Chickadees – 1908, American Birds. [Click to view image on Flickr]

Focus your approach from the moment you start on Twitter:

  • On business. Private contacts can warp the results that some Twitter tools give you because they dig through your tweets and followers.
  • On getting relevant, local followers. Seek out potential allies and customers in your region who are genuinely interested in your branche – and share useful content.

Focus on getting the right followers on Twitter

Don’t worry about your follower numbers (yet). Instead, aim for a solid basis of relevant followers:

  1. Make sure your tweets are on-topic 80% of the time. People should follow you (back) for the right reasons, or they’ll add no value at all for your business.
  2. Put in the time to find potential followers. Search for relevant topics and use hashtags: #contentmarketing . Research those topics on different (week) days to get a general idea of who’s tweeting when.
  3. Follow 20-30 accounts every day for a couple of weeks.
    1. Why not follow more? Following a lot of people at once is like shouting you’re not interested in what they have to say. You don’t want the followers you get like this – the kind that don’t listen.
    2. If you do follow more accounts per day, do 2 batches a day. One in the morning, another in the late afternoon. Why? See A.
  4. Scan new relevant followers’ streams for tweets you can retweet. People appreciate useful content even if you didn’t create it – and content creators will like you for sharing their content.

Suppose you get about 50 new followers every week, after two months you’ll have enough followers to look like you’re taking your Twitter activity serious – and to move on to your next step.

A small selection of useful Twitter tools

Before you try out any Twitter tools, check your Twitter settings. Notably your time zone. This should be accurate.

Now you can turn to a couple of Twitter tools to find more, relevant, followers.

Note: Twitter tools have a limited view of what makes other Twitter accounts relevant. They check bios and tweets for key words, number of tweets sent, and retweets. Twitter tools don’t cancel out the need to use your brain.

Tweriod

Tweriod will analyze your Twitter followers and come up with the times when most of your followers are active on Twitter.

  • To get the correct times, your Twitter settings must be correct. Tweriod doesn’t tell you which of your followers are just reading, tweeting their own content, or sharing other people’s content – just how many of them are online.
  • The free version will analyze a limited number of followers. For that reason, most of your followers should be relevant to your business.

Commun.it

Once you set a few key terms, and perhaps your website’s URL, Commun.it will give you a good sense of

  1. whether your followers are tweeting about the topics that you’re interested in
  2. if they’re tweeting about your business (website).
  3. who the main ‘influencers’ are among your Twitter followers.

You can use this knowledge to:

  1. retweet content that matches your followers’ interests;
  2. quickly check which followers you want to thank for retweeting your own content by mentioning them in a #FF or #FollowFriday tweet to all your followers. This may lead to some of your followers to start following these accounts. #FF tweets are generally appreciated for that reason.

Tweepi

Tweepi will help you:

  1. Unfollow. There are always Twitter accounts that you tolerate if they don’t annoy you on a daily basis. However, every once in a while you should muck out your Twitter stable. I’ve used Tweepi a few times and it works great.
  2. Follow Twitter users. I don’t use this option because I tweet about a broad range of topics. Having a good, relevant follower basis should help you get the right suggestions.
  3. Do a few more things I haven’t used it for because I don’t mind reporting Twitter accounts for spamming 😉

Tip: never resort to brainlessly (un)following every suggested account in the list.

IFTTT, Buffer and Hootsuite

  1. If you have plenty of content to share on a regular basis, but don’t want to spam followers with messages you mistakenly scheduled at the same time, try Buffer. Schedule to share messages a couple of times a day, and just fill up your Buffer whenever you get a mail saying it’s empty.
  2. If you want to share message X four days from now at 11.02 AM precisely, Hootsuite offers the ‘social media control room’ you need.
  3. For this blog, I use automated sharing by WordPress the moment I publish a new post. Plus an IFTTT-recipe which takes the change (my new post) on my blog and produces a new tweet ready in my Buffer.

Other Twitter tools

Don’t get me wrong, there are good paid tools out there that do a lot of things for you. But if you’re not ready to sign up for anything that will cost you the standard “Only 9 $ a month” these are a few money-free tools to get you started. This way, you can quickly get an idea of what you have, and where to take your (very) small business from here.

Read more:

What other tools have you found useful? Share your thoughts about Twitter tools & followers and social networks in general in a comment. Or find me on Twitter 😉

Why relationships deserve your time even if you don’t have any

A while ago I happened to read Mark Schaefer’s reply to a comment on his blog. He stated that nowadays there seems to be less time to nurture client relationships since the first few contacts are online. What are the consequences of our online quests?

Marketing concerns: points of contact

Network: How Are Your Business Relationships

Network: How Are Your Business Relationships?
– Cartoon by HikingArtist.com

From a marketing point of view, relying on face-to-face contact means you’re missing part of the client’s route towards making a buying decision – and you may miss out on a sale without even knowing it.

A lot of effort from (social media) marketing is aimed at going where your customer has gone. When you find them you don’t want to annoy them with pointless ads in a place where they don’t want your darn ads.

Content marketing is a way to patch up the hole in the long road of relationship building caused by the people’s access to online information. You want to be found before your potential clients create a shortlist that hasn’t got your name on it.

‘Online’ and the impact on professional relationship building

If you leave aside the commercial impact of having fewer meet-ups, there’s also a ‘human’ aspect that you need to address. Research and experience give you a good idea of what goes on in your client’s market. But to know instantly what’s in your client’s head even without having talked to them recently, you need to have a fairly complete understanding of your client’s personality and experience. It’s hard to really care about people you don’t know, and you’re at your best if you do care about them:

  • if you care you want to know,
  • you don’t care if you don’t know,
  • … it’s a Matrix again I think – feel free to sketch one 😉

All this means just one thing:

Your relationships deserve your time, even if you don’t have any.

If you have a lot of clients you may be able to buy some marketing tool to support this kind of online/offline relationship building. But not everyone has a lot of clients or the access to such a tool (and tools can’t solve every issue). Fortunately you can look at what you would have done in an offline relationship – rather than viewing social media as a megaphone you shout your message down.

You do need to plan when you need to meet up and what you’ll share at what stage in the relationship. Another thing you want to know is if your online content has inspired the trust you want to inspire in your clients. And: what can you expect from them at what stage?

Invest time in your relationships. Risk really getting to know each other. There are probably worse things in life.

Read more:

How do you view the time and effort you invest in your (business) relationships?

Hat tricks in business: why change is an unwelcome guest

My earlier post about change management sparked a few interesting comments. Change isn’t always welcomed by the people who ‘ought’ to change.

Why do people treat change like an unwelcome guest?

Change: do you take things as they come? [Click to view on Flickr]

Change: do you take things as they come? [Great photo by Anders Young on Flickr]

People in a business environment are mostly employees, and a smaller part of the group consists of managers, senior managers…

You could argue that change in business means some can’t keep up, and dysfunctional employees or teams show up like a sore thumb. You could even add more (possibly quite cynical) reasons for individual employees to reject change.

Take an employee’s view of organizational change for a moment. Having change thrust upon you for no (apparent) good reason doesn’t help you embrace the process. Especially if you don’t see that there’s anything wrong with you or the way you do your job. But there’s more.

Hat tricks in business

Consider a magician’s classic hat trick in a business environment. Some enthousiastic individual bounces into your office, or cubicle, or wherever, and pushes the hat under your nose. A rather pungent animal smell wafts out. What can you expect? Will you find a cute (but slightly nervous) white rabbit? Or will you end up pulling an unkempt smelly goat out of the hat? Or… worse?

Keep this situation in mind. Now let’s push two distinct groups into the spotlight – call them ‘change advocates’ and ‘bean counters’ – and compare their actions and motives.

  1. Change advocates are convinced that changing [fill in favorite topic] will improve your organization.
  2. Bean counters are convinced that cost cutting will improve your organization’s balance sheet.
  3. Change advocates tell you to work differently in order to achieve more.
  4. Bean counters tell you to work more efficiently so they’ll need fewer employees.
  5. Change advocates believe that a tasty carrot will convince people to change, and say that working differently will make you (feel) better.
  6. Bean counters are of the stick persuasion and say:
    1. If you don’t work more efficiently we’ll fire you.
    2. If you do work more efficiently we’ll wait a bit longer then fire the other guy. Possibly. Unless you grow slack. (If this sounds like Dilbert: I think I swallowed the book a couple of years ago. Have been unable to locate its whereabouts.)

The rest of us are, in the average organization, probably somewhere in the line of fire between these two world views.

Change projects gone cost-crazy

One thing which happens to projects started with the best intentions is that they are interpreted as a way to cut costs by financial teams. Assuming you are in favor of a specific change: if you don’t prepare for this eventuality you could lose control over your project.

How on earth will you combine change and finance without forfeiting every last bit of trust? I would say by starting early and taking the financial side into account from before the word “go”.

  1. Your project plan or business case should show clearly what you intend to achieve and what is out of scope. Prepare a document listing potential side-effects and answer a couple of questions. How likely is it: that this side-effect will occur? That it will lead to a substantial cost reduction? How likely is ‘finance’ to pick up on this possible side-effect and treat it as a fact? How could this impact your project? Evolve a worst-case scenario and look for counter-measures.
  2. Double-check if your plan aligns with any of the plans laid out for your organization as a whole.
  3. Reality check. Meet up with someone outside the financial team, but with a similar professional profile. Risk aversity is a major requirement. Test your plans on this individual to make sure you’re prepared for attempts to hijack a project started with the best intentions.
  4. Make sure you get 1, 2 and 3 sorted out before you enter the bean counters’ den. Otherwise expect fur to fly and the result to be either
    1. some bit of shared Cheshire Cat wisdom on the lines of “if you don’t know where you want to go, you can pick any direction you like” – and your budget slashed, or
    2. your project turned into a cost-cutting tool. A rather ineffective one since you didn’t start your project with the intention to cut costs. And one that will leave any number of employees extremely distrustful of change initiatives in the future.

I hope you enjoyed this post – one triggered at least in part by the comments on my previous post. Have you encountered any ‘hat tricks’ in your organization – or have you seen business change at its best?