Your Audience & Customers Define the Value

When it comes to traditional marketing, companies are so entrenched in having to define their value statements, and defining them in their marketing messages they don’t even realize that with today’s new technologies and mediums to communicate in, it’s really the customers who are defining what the value is of their products. While company executives are so focused on “features” providing what they perceive is value, they never stop and think about what the person who is plunking down their hard earned dollars to buy the product or service truly perceives as value.

The same can be said of any type of content you are producing for consumption on the internet. In the end it is the audience who is going to decide the value. While you are thinking these are great tips on how to change a light bulb and that’s the value, the audience perceives something else as more valuable about your content. It could be that the tips save them valuable time and money, something you likely hadn’t considered. While you might be thinking certain points of a video you produced about how your product works is the value, the audience viewing it find more value in how it saved them a ton of time figuring out how to integrate your product in with something they are already using, making both products exceptionally useful to them.

value-of-goldOnce your audience finds value in the content you are providing, when they truly believe this content is worth its weight in gold, that’s when it has the potential to spread like wildfire. It may not hit the front page of Digg, but if one loyal audience member finds true value in your content they are going to spread it out to their friends by sharing their experience with it. People love to relate the experiences and those experiences, if valuable, are powerful marketing agents all on their own. The notion of “look what it did for my friend Suzie” after Suzie has explained the value she found is a very persuasive tool, and then all of Suzie’s friends relate it to their friends. If these friends are in social networks like Facebook, MySpace, or an Ning network out there, the potential for the content going from reaching just a few people to instead touching thousands is great.

This is why marketers both online and offline need to stop thinking of themselves as the “be all end all” decider of what is of value in marketing messages. Instead of consistently trying to push messages on an audience or customer base, they need to start sitting back and listening to the current conversations going on about what they are marketing and how those current messages are being received and interpreted. By listening to the conversations marketers can learn a lot more about their demographics and how they think, instead of just assuming because they are a certain age bracket and sex or race they act a certain way. Things change in the real world and the internet and the social media platforms that have been created offer marketers access to a huge , unself-conscious and very brutally honest, focus group.

Let’s face it the way traditional marketing, that of continually pushing the message that’s been carefully crafted, has changed. Audiences become banner blind, they fast forward through commercials on their Tivos, they channel hop on the radio because they do not find these messages or this type of content of any value. Marketers in today’s world of instant soapboxes (blogs) and the world’s fastest telephone chain (Twitter, Facebook & even email) have to now understand what the customers are deeming as value and create content focused on that value, not the values they crafted in a sterile office space to make CEO’s and senior management feel better about themselves. Whether companies like it or not, customers are now defining a lot of what a brand, product or service means.

There’s a Lot More to Social Media than Just Putting Up a Profile

A lot of companies these days are hopping on the social media bandwagon with the mistaken notion that it’s free, quick & easy. Little do they realize being successful in social media requires a lot more resources, time & hard work than what the media portrays. There’s a lot more to being successful in social media than putting up a profile on every social media platform there is. if-you-build-it-they-will-comeJust because you built it, doesn’t mean “they will come”, far from it.

While it does make sense from a reputation monitoring standpoint to secure your brands identity on every social media platform out there before some “squatter” comes along and scoops up the account in hopes of reaping a huge financial reward, that doesn’t mean instant success. Just because you put that profile up there doesn’t mean it’s going to rank in the search engine results for a certain keyword or even your brand name, either. There are some few instances where just putting the profile up will garner a ranking, and sometimes in the top 10 (especially for non-competitive terms), but usually that’s fleeting, eventually that profile will settle out to much lower in the search engine rankings. Likewise, just because you put the profile up doesn’t mean you are going to automatically acquire 1,000 friends overnight, unless of course you are Oprah. Unfortunately for common folk and businesses it just doesn’t work that way, there’s a lot of hard work involved.

There’s a reason why the word “social” is put in front of media. Having a successful account or profile on any of these platforms requires you (the account holder) to be social. That means getting out there on that platform and having conversations with people, being honest and transparent about who you are and why you are there, promoting your profile on your blog or website to encourage interaction, interacting and sharing with people in that community and most of all listening. These actions are what will bring your profile the power to rank in results or become a power account on a social media site.

In this big internet world there are a lot of social media platforms out there and it certainly is time consuming to be social and active in every one. In fact trying to be active on every social media platform might just be a total waste of time and resources, something no company needs in today’s economic environment. This is where some of the hard work comes in. To get the most out of your efforts in social media and see more success, its wise to be most active where your audience is holding the conversation, not active in a “popular” platform. The key to this is actually knowing who your audience is and where they are holding a conversation. Some companies believe that their audience is the same both offline and online, but they shouldn’t assume. A lot of times companies can see a dramatic shift in audience demographics when switching communication mediums because of the way it is consumed. This is where a lot of research comes into play and strategies need to be planned – not easy work by any means.

So at the end of the day, don’t be lured in by the promise of quick, easy and cheap or that phrase from Field of Dreams – “If You Build It They Will Come“. When it comes to social media and being successful it takes a whole lot more than just slapping up a profile and saying “Hey I’m here!”, most of the time an audience will say “So what?! So am I!”. Remember the most important person in social media is the end user, to be successful in social media that means providing them something they feel is valuable – that even includes your profile on a social media platform.

Making Your Content Portable For Your Audience

At the beginning of the week I wrote a piece for Search Engine Watch entitled, “Do You Know Where Your Audience Is?” Knowing this is a piece of the social media puzzle that can decide whether your strategy is going to be a successful venture or a failure. There are a few other pieces to that puzzle, but generally, knowing where your audience is is foundational to any social media strategy.

moving-menIt affects even how portable you make your content. What I mean by making your content portable is making it easy to share, making it easy for your audience to move it across one social platform to another. If your audience finds your content valuable they are going to want to share it whether its through social bookmarking, social news, email or twittering, people want to share great things they experienced. Content that has value can create buzz and word of mouth without the author really realizing what’s going on. If it’s really valuable to the audience and there’s no way to share it, that content might not take off, however just the opposite can happen. If you believe you are always putting out valuable content and you want it shared and you have too many options to share it, this can be a turn off as well as confusing to your audience.

Lets take for example a blog, there are a few ways a blog can be shared. The blog itself can be found to have a lot of great content, and people who just get to your blog via a twitter link, Stumbleupon or a link through email might not be quite that educated on RSS. So having a dozen or so of ways to subscribe to your blog by RSS can be confusing and a turn off, rather than a turn on to people coming to your blog. If you use Feedburner or other like services to handle your subscriptions, take a look at your audience – what are they using to read your blog and choose those top 3-5 icons to show for RSS subscriptions. While you may think you need every single RSS aggegator listed, your audience is likely telling you differently, listen to them, they understand what’s valuable to them. For the most part, Google Reader has become the giant here, people share blogs and blog posts through the “share” option in Google Reader as well as porting out their list of blogs so their own readers (if they own a blog themselves) can keep up to date on what they view is valuable.

Then there’s blog posts and making them easy to share. Again, just like having too many aggregator icons listed, having too many social bookmarking and social news icons in a drop down or spread across the bottom of your posts can be a real turn off. Look at your analytics, listen to your audience, what are they saying about how they found your content? Is your content the type that would really get traction on Digg? Is your audience even on Digg? You’re audience might be on a very niche site like Boudica, which caters to women and not on Digg. In this case having a sharing option for Boudica or sites like it, just might be the better option. Generally the audiences can cross platforms and if your audiences feels its good enough for Digg, they’ll get it there. The point is make it sharable for where your audience hangs out, not an audience who isn’t interested.

When making your content portable, it’s also important to keep in mind, content doesn’t always equal text. Content that’s valuable to your audience can take the form of pictures, podcasts, videos or even slideshares. Making these types of content easy to share is just as important as making your text content easy to share. Make it easy for your audience to embed things, provide the embed code or the link code and well as the sharing buttons you’ve decided are valuable to your audience. Don’t forget to also provide ways to share through email and social networking sites – if your audience is there.

Don’t stress that you need to have every way to share out there. Yes there are plugins for blogs that can list all the popular sites, and are easy to install, but is your audience on those sites? Are you loosing out on having your content on a site where your audience is because you are focusing on where someone else’s audience is? Before you decide to plaster your content up with a million “submit to” buttons, analyze your audience and listen to where they want to submit your content first.

You Need a Hook to Get Your Press Release Noticed

fish_and_hookThere was a time where announcing that you’ve hired a new employee was enough to get a mention in the newspaper. Announce that you launched a new website, it could get the local news station to your office for an interview. Back in the day, those were hooks that could catch a reporter’s attention enough to bring them in and have them talk to you more about you and your company or organization. “Back in the day” was 2003 when I’d do public relations for my clients and getting the press interested with them was part of what I did with my web design firm. Still I always need a hook, not just “We Launched a New Website”, but something more.

Today, it’s not just the press you need to bring in, its your audience. Clients, fans, evangelists and even detractors are all online all craving for reasons to care (or not care) about what’s going on in your company that matters to them. Just sending out announcements that you’ll be appearing here or there, that your are adding a new product line or you’ve changed the name of something really isn’t enough to get your audience to care ….. unless they were involved or responsible for your actions.

As with creating valuable content for social media, with press releases PR people have to start thinking well beyond “I need to get Buzz”, to “why will our company’s audience care about this information”. It isn’t about that its new, or its got great features, it’s about how the audience finds value in the information you are trying to disseminate. Your audience isn’t just the media or industry “experts” anymore, it’s now your consumer audiences. No longer does your audience see the TV reporter or the newspaper journalist as the preeminent authority. The authorities now are bloggers, forum members, photographers posting their work on Flickr, it’s the people holding a conversation about you & using your brand with a hash tag in front of it on Twitter, and its those people active in a fan group on Facebook. These are the people you need get to care about what your press release is about and they really don’t care if your CEO is a keynote somewhere at an industry conference – unless you are Apple and it’s Steve Jobs at MacWorld.

The hook now becomes “how does this affect my life” or “why should I care”. If you’ve changed something about your company, products or brands after listening to the conversations in social media circles – that’s something your audience will care about. So rather than announces a product launch to the entire media like CNN and the NY Times, look to your audience first. Take the approach “We Listened, We Responded, What Do You Think?” with the bloggers or “community elders”. Give them the scoop first and fashion it in a way that it’s not the “normal spin”, that this is truly about your customers and audience.

At the end of the day, it takes a lot to change the mindset of entrenched PR Agencies, PR Specialists and marketers that there’s been a dramatic change in who people view as authorities. There’s also been a dramatic change in how audiences and consumers consume information and what they care about. Understanding both of those can dramatically increase the exposure of your press release and its success to the right targeted market.

So the next time your PR Agency suggests writing a press release about an internship, a keynote speaking event, or a new website redesign, maybe you should stop and think about your audience. Are they REALLY going to care? Then after you do that, maybe you should rethink who your PR Agency is.

Why Flogging is a Bad Idea for Companies

being-fakeThere’s a lot of definitions that float around about what a “Flog” is. Basically when it comes down to it, Flogs are fake Blogs. How they are fake can be a matter of subjection. However when it comes down to the bottom line, if you are the owner (or being portrayed as the owner by your agency) and you aren’t contributing to the blog itself and the community with which you are trying to speak to with your blog posts, its a Flog. Agencies that set up these types of blogs with or without their client’s knowledge are doing a disservice to their clients and could possibly harm the brands

Take for example the infamous Walmart Flog from 2 1/2 years ago, “Walmarting Across America”. When it was outted it hit the front page of MSNBC back in October of 2006, a firestorm of ethics errupted for both Walmart and for the company who started the Flog, Edelman. A sister of an Edelman employee and her photographer boyfriend were responsible for the posts and photos, problem was they weren’t “real” in terms of the typical person who would RV across America using Walmart as a rest stop.

Granted, it is now over 2 1/2 years later, but people are still pointing to this as the quintessential idea of a flog, but Walmart wasn’t the first to be outted for Flogging. Mazda seems to get that honor for its Flogging attempt back in November of 2004.

Media conglomerate & electronics manufacturer, Sony, has also tried its hand at flogging for retail promotions. Their “All I Want for XMas is a Sony PSP” blog didn’t get more than a few blog posts posted before it was outted for just being a very poor marketing piece put out by fake bloggers. The agency who set this flog up wasn’t even smart enough to put the domain’s registration under Sony or a different name. When this broke, a few weeks after Walmart’s, the ire of the bloggers across the globe who are transparent and truthful was raised.

Agencies that set up blogs without being transparent that it isn’t the real company writing the content, walk a really thin ethical line. Hiring writers to write content exclusively for the blog, that don’t work for the company and having the mindset that “its just content, content will rank”, isn’t the real purpose of a blog. The idea behind a blog is conversation and building communities. If you are just setting up a blog to gain a foothold in the search engine results on Google, Yahoo, or MSN for your client and have no intention of having a discussion about what has been written, essentially this too, is a flog. What agencies and companies who wander down this “fake blog” path tend to forget is that when a flog is outted its just as bad for the Walmart-sized brands as it is for the mom & pop retailer online, it just manifests in different ways.

For Walmart, it was losing the domain “Working Families for Walmart” (because they didn’t register it to start off with), the name under which the RVing Flog was registered to, and it being bought by the union group trying to unionize Walmart workers. For Sony, it was lower sales of the PSP that Christmas. What can it be for other companies? Well readers of blogs, and other bloggers have become increasing savvy over the last 2 years. They can usually spot a fake a mile away. Blogs with no comments, blogs with no readily identifiable authors, blogs with writers who don’t interact, are usually outted in some fashion on another blog. That blog who did the outting, well their audience now has put in their mind “fake”, “untrustworthy” or even a worse label, “Spammer” for the outted blog. Once those labels are applied, usually word of mouth spreads and the once promising “content” blog the agency launched in hopes of gaining a foothold in the search engine results, dies a pretty slow and painful death.

So is building a flog worth the time and effort you might get from a temporary boost in the search engine rankings? Maybe, at first you could be fooled into thinking so. However, once readers and active community participators realize that the blog is consistently about the same topic, the same products and the writers aren’t listening to the community and responding, sure enough, the efforts of the fake blog will be for not.