A lot of businesses and brands have an impulse to promote and sell. This impulse is born out of an entrepreneur’s love for the things that he or she has built. Having this impulse is completely natural and even good, but it can be difficult for brands to manage the selling impulse when attempting to package a brand message that is well equipped navigate all of the noise of the digital world and emerge as something that people want to listen to.
The selling impulse.
One of the biggest questions we hear on a daily basis is, “how can we promote our brand?” Makes sense, right? It sure does, but the problem is that many brands aren’t sure how to go about it.
The selling impulse pushes brands to want to publish content that is directly promotional, like “Our product is innovative, because xyz,” or “our services will help clients xyz.” There is no doubt that there is a time and place for this type of content, but attempting to shove the round promotional content peg in the square hole can be counterproductive.
In addition to their products and services, brands have something else to offer and that something is expertise. If you’ve been able to create something useful, innovative or interesting, chances are you have learned a few things on the way. These little nuggets of information are valuable commodities for a brand for three reasons:
- Awareness: People need to know about you and your product in order to care about it. Creating content that is useful and interesting can help create awareness for a brand without feeling like an ad.
- Credibility: Credibility is priceless. You want to be the go-to for information about the space that you operate in. Being credible online signals to possible clients, users or customers that you provide a superior product or service.
- Amplification: There is a ton of noise in the digital world. Thought leadership can help brands and organizations elevate their message above the fray. Thought leadership shows people that they should listen to you.
Crafting a thought leadership strategy.
Crafting a thought leadership content strategy can be an intimidating process, between generating ideas for content, producing the content and finally finding strategic placement for the content. One of the best things to do is to break down the task at hand into a few steps that will eventually become your strategic compass.
Understand the message.
This is an important step that is often neglected. It is natural to want to start producing content, but without a firm understanding of the message you are trying to communicate, your content will have little strategic value.
Many organizational narratives have several facets. It is important to distill your story in to two or three key points, which will serve as the basis for your content strategy. Trying to tackle too much at once can quickly leave brands with muddled messaging.
Using your brand or organization’s message as a jumping off point, ask yourself, “What am I trying to accomplish?” Be very specific and be cognizant of the selling impulse. Write down a few goals and try to avoid phrases like, “sell more x” or “increase downloads of y.” While these are important business and organizational objectives, you need to realize that thought leadership lays a foundation for those goals.
Once you have established your goals, it is time to generate ideas. Bear in mind that not all ideas will ultimately make good content. Once you have a solid list of ideas you can always combine concepts and sharpen your focus.
Target publications and get writing
Before you begin writing, you should have in mind which publications you are looking to publish in. It is a good idea to understand why you are choosing a particular publication before creating content. Equally, it never hurts to read several articles that have been published before in order to get a feel for tone and subject matter.
For your content to be valuable for publishers, it can’t end up creating more work for them. Make sure you rigorously edit your work. It always helps to have a second set of eyes take a look.
Keep in mind that you are typically not writing for an audience full of experts. For example, an intellectual property attorney would not want to submit a piece written for a peer reviewed law journal to a general interested technology blog.
Also, be sure to edit your work and to adhere to your target publication’s editorial guidelines. If an editor says the word limit is 800 words, then do not submit a piece that goes over that limit.
Good things come to those who wait. Understand that if you do not make it in a target publication the first time, you will have an opportunity to refine your approach and try again.
Appification Friday is a short weekly post about the apps that make our lives a bit easier.
All of you West Wing fanatics out there will get a real kick out of this app. Donna, a next generation productivity app, is named after the West Wing’s Donna Moss. Like her namesake, the app gives users an impressive array of tools to keep you on track throughout your day.
Donna is a virtual personal assistant. The app takes in a variety of information about your personal habits and provides users with information on when to leave for appointments and how to get there. The app also offers a wide range of other features and integrates with popular virtual meeting apps like Go to Meeting and Skype.
How does the app work?
Donna collects a ton of data about users’ habits as well as, traffic data, preferred modes of transportation, and also learns about your favorite places to meet. The idea is, the more you use Donna to set up your appointments, the more she’ll be able to help you by taking away the hassle of contending with annoying details. So for example, you set up a meeting at Joe’s coffee shop, located downtown, but forget and start heading to Joe’s Coffee shop uptown, Donna will set you straight.
Like the West Wing Character, Donna has the capability to keep you from making a fool of yourself by being late or going to the wrong spot. Equally, the app saves you the trouble of having to get directions, traffic information and directions. Donna gets a big SparkWire two thumbs up.
Originally published on the PubliticsPR blog.
Recently, Digiday posted an article entitled “PR Nudges Its Way to the Content Table.” The article details the rise of paid content and how PR firms are well positioned, if they can figure it out, to really own the paid content game. Content has undeniably become a buzzword and something that certain brands are paying a lot of money for, but what does it mean for smaller brands that don’t have large advertising budgets?
Before we dive in let’s lay out a little context. The PR industry has been notoriously slow to innovate, while the media environment in which PR occurs has changed at a rapid pace. Until recently PR historically focused on earned media while advertising and marketing agencies took care of the paid side. Now, as Digiday’s piece argues, PR has an opportunity to jump in to the paid content game, which requires a healthy mix of media planning, buying and editorial chops. This is certainly an opportunity for PR firms to make a grab at a larger piece of the pie, but what will this bring to clients who are looking for attributable return on investment from the PR firms?
Larger brands will naturally have a better shot at capitalizing on paid content because they have more money to spend on expensive placement in big media outlets. Messaging is still important, but without access messaging goes nowhere. Many small brands and startups just don’t have the resources to use paid content on media outlets in any meaningful way, at least yet. So what is a small brand to do?
Like in any industry, PR can benefit from the kind of creativity that is born out of having to work with limited budgets. Paid content is just a single port of entry to get in the game. Earned and owned media are still a huge part of the PR experience, but firms are going to have to think differently about the way they do it. With the rise of paid content on one side of the PR equation, smaller firms will have space to innovate on the other.
Smaller PR outfits will have to look critically about their roles and suggest new ideas to clients. We as an industry need to look at communicating brand messages through the scope of an “any means necessary” philosophy. That means that while big brands are buying into paid content, small brands should ask their PR firms how to target messages to reach the right people in order to grow their businesses. If we look at PR this way, we will be able to grow with our clients as opposed to inadvertently stifling progress.
The bottom line is, PR needs a revolution not only for its own sake, but also for its clients sake.
It’s no secret, reporting news has changed drastically.
The (r)evolution of news reporting is perhaps most clear during disasters. What unfolds on social media during a major disaster is a mix of real time reporting, criticism of the real time reporting, correct and incorrect information. Saturday’s plane crash at San Francisco International Airport highlighted the full spectrum of what comes with real time news. Here are five things we noticed:
1. People don’t have to wait for the media to share their stories.
- Social media has made it possible for witnesses to share and speculate without having to wait for an interview. The result is a fire hose of content, which media outlets must rely on to keep up. Perhaps the most interesting eyewitness report came from Samsung Vice President, David Eun, who was on the flight.
— David Eun (@Eunner) July 6, 2013
2. Debates about real time reporting show up almost as fast as the actual reporting.
- Those on both sides of the real time reporting debate quickly point out the merits and pitfalls of reporting events in real time. Saturday’s events again brought this out. As with anything social media related, a healthy dose of snark tends to find its way in to the debate/reporting.
If we keep criticizing the people analyzing our use of social media, we’re never going to evolve. Stow the cynicism and have an opinion.
— Josh Constine (@JoshConstine) July 6, 2013
3. Frenzied updates taper off in to more measured reporting.
- The initial flood of updates often tapers off (see graph below) and gives way to slower reporting.
when news breaks, I think many are willing to put up with some uncertainty in return for live reports – as time passes that balance shifts
— Mathew Ingram (@mathewi) July 6, 2013
4. Side stories often develop.
- That is not to say that these side stories are unimportant, they are just ancillary to the main story. In the case of the San Francisco plane crash, several outlets reported that Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, was supposed to have been on the flight, but switched at the last minute.
— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) July 6, 2013
5. Traditional media are beginning to rely on content from eyewitnesses.
- We’re not talking just text updates anymore, we’re talking photo and video. Perhaps one of the most interesting developments has been Instagram’s new video feature. Instagram has provided users with the ability to upload 15 second videos, which provides a better platform for reporting news than Vine, which only allows for six seconds. During Saturday’s events, traditional media outlets were spotted asking Instagram users for permission to use their content. On a global scale, participants in the recent events in Egypt have captured interesting visuals on Instagram.
Our hearts go out to those who were involved in the San Francisco plane crash and any tragic event/disaster.
The Fourth of July is occasion to release all that pent up patriotism you’ve been harboring all year. Perhaps you’re planning a BBQ or maybe are just going to dust off the lawn chairs to take in some fireworks. Whatever the case may be, we here at SparkWire believe that good beer is an absolute must on Independence Day. So, to help you fly your Stars and Stripes we’ve put together a list of five awesomely patriotic craft beers that will add that finishing touch to your celebration.
- Anchor Steam’s Liberty Ale (California): This left-coast beer is the perfect refresher for any Fourth of July celebration. The ale is light and crisp with a well-balanced hop character. Did we mention, it was brewed to honor the bicentennial of Paul Revere’s famed ride?
- Stoudt’s American Pale Ale (Pennsylvania): Nothing quite says America like, well, America. Stoudt’s American Pale Ale offers up a beer that pale ale lovers will adore. A light bitterness and citrus undertones will pair well with the fat juicy burger you’ll be grilling up later.
- 21st Amendment Brewery’s … pretty much everything they brew (California): The 21st Amendment made a lot of people happy because it repealed that nasty 18th Amendment, which made that whole Prohibition thing happen. The 21st Amendment Brewery has a solid lineup of America themed beer including the Brew Free or Die IPA, Bitter American, and Fireside Chat. They all taste of sweet freedom.
- Samuel Adams Boston Lager (Boston): Named for a prominent Son of Liberty, the bottle features an entirely different Revolutionary dude (Paul Revere), which gives it a double helping of the American spirit. Boston Lager is a good all around beer, which goes with just about anything you can throw on the grill.
- Yards Brewing Company’s Ales of the Revolution Series (Pennsylvania): Yards Brewing Company has created a series of three cool beers that are based upon the ales the Founders drank while they were plotting the Revolution. Poor Richard’s Tavern Spruce Ale, Thomas Jefferson’s Tavern Ale and General Washington’s Tavern Porter all offer a little something for everyone.
Enjoy and drink responsibly.
It certainly seems like we can’t get off of our FWD.US kick, but can you blame us? The organization has provided us with an endless supply of stuff to write about. The advocacy group recently went to air with a new 30-second spot, “Emma.” The ad is a play on Emma Lazarus’ famous poem, “New Colossus.”
Reception to the ad hasn’t been particularly positive, with The Verge’s T.C. Sottek summarizing sentiment in calling it “tone deaf.” So is it an effective political message? It depends on the audience.
If the audience is the general public, then the answer is probably a resounding no. They took pretty striking visuals and a powerful poem and contorted in to a peculiar narrowly focused message, which is: “the point immigration reform is solely to fill a talent gap in Silicon Valley.”
If the target of the ad is Congress, then it might work slightly better. FWD.US’s latest spot may very well serve to remind lawmakers about what immigration reform can do for a powerful piece of the U.S. economy (we’re not so sure that’s what they were going for).
Either way, we’ll let you be the judge. Below is the original text of “New Colossus” and “Emma.” Let us know what you think.
“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Andrew Mason is a curious Silicon Valley specimen. Mason, who was relieved of his CEO duties at Groupon (the company he founded) back in February, has taken solace in the comforting arms of musical pursuit. After a few months of toil, Hardly Workin, the ex-CEO’s debut album of motivation business music, finally dropped.
The album opens up with a poppy bouncy pop guitars and lackluster vocals and continues on a winding road of, if nothing else, on key business advice buttressed by vaguely 1980’s soft rock instrumentals. The production value is undoubtedly high.
The arrival of Mason on the music scene has been met with expected snark on one end of the spectrum and tepid admiration on the other. It is hard to believe that Andrew Mason, a man with a penchant for shenanigans, could have taken seriously the task of creating an album of motivation business music post Groupon ouster, but as Mashable’s Seth Fiegerman argues, Mason could be dead serious.
Fiegerman asserts, “[the] first record is not a joke. It may be corny, derivative and awkward at times, but he is clearly striving to be serious,” which suggests that the content is useful, but the medium is somewhat unexpected and weird.
We here at SparkWire aren’t entirely sure if Mason is serious and we certainly found the album to be somewhat cringe inducing, but that being said, speculating about where Mason goes from here provided us with about an hour of fun. Here’s what we came up with in no particular order:
- Mason, encouraged by a handful of positive reviews and widespread attention from the press, decides to take his act to the next level and produce a full scale Avenue Q-esque stage show about how to make it in the tech world.
- Aided by the introspective nature of the song writing process, Andrew Mason decides to dive head on in to a new venture.
- Mason goes hermit.
We’d love to hear what you come up with. Leave your suggestions in the comments below!
With a comprehensive immigration bill clearing the Senate, FWD.us has reason for cautious celebration. In its short life FWD.US has been a fascinating organization to watch and by many accounts one that has been somewhat successful in pushing immigration reform in Washington. The group also could provide a blueprint for what advocacy from tech startups could look like in the future.
The immigration bill now moves on to the House where success looks to be on much shakier ground. For its part, FWD.us engaged in an aggressive campaign to ensure the passage through the Senate using a combination of advertising and lobbying.
A recent piece by Mike Isaac of All Things D reported that “a source familiar with the matter said FWD.US spent upwards of $5 million on ads in support of immigration bill while opposition groups spent less than half (around $2 million).”
While FWD.us played hard in the Senate, it may have to play even harder in the House where passage of immigration reform is far from a slam dunk. To complicate matters, the group’s tactics have raised the ire of prominent members of the tech community including Elon Musk, who left the group about a moth ago due to ads like the one below.
5 Minute Analysis:
Going forward it will be difficult for FWD.us to balance political calculations with the views of its own members on certain issues. It is hard to attribute an exact degree of impact to any group; however, FWD.us seems to have moved the needle to some extent on immigration reform.
The Senate is one thing; the House is a whole different animal. Many members have constituencies that reside on the far ends of the spectrum. FWD.us may have to get even more aggressive to make it work.
The “social media is bullshit” line has always been a part of the web 2.0 world, sitting just below the surface like magma looking to creep up from its earthly prison. Now, the idea is starting to gurgle up from the depths accompanied by the idea that social media is dead with the help of detractors like Brandon Mendelson, author of a book aptly titled, “Social Media is Bullshit.” I submit in the spirit of full disclosure that I did not read his book, however, I did read a recent article by Mr. Mendelson, which can be found here.
I bet you are thinking, “Ahh here we go another social media apologist is here to defended social media against the onslaught.” Perhaps to the reader’s surprise, I am not here to disagree with Brandon Mendelson, but rather offer my take on coping with the possibility that social media is bullshit and is dying or in fact dead.
As inhabitants of a fast paced digital world, we are all in the business of declaring stuff dead at a pace that rivals bad TV medical dramas. The press release: dead. Journalism: dead. Even the Internet: declared dead, dead, dead at one point. This makes it difficult to keep up.
That being said, Mendelson is right in saying that certain pieces of the social media gospel are bullshit. For example, a “social media guru” tells you that he/she can guarantee your brand more virality than the bird flu in just a few easy steps. Mendelson is right to challenge this type of claim.
The problem here, for many critics and champions of social media is that, social media itself is a crazy broad umbrella and lacks a solid definition. Ergo, using the term social media in an unabashed declaration of piety to the cult falls short of anything meaningful. Likewise, using a weedwacker approach to critique in situation that requires a scalpel doesn’t work either.
So where does this leave us? Definitions aside, we can assume that most of the Internet is social in some way, given that the average Joe can add content just as easily as anyone else. Average Joe is also able to share and interact with content in ways that were not possible before. Really then, social media is a set of specific tools that work in different ways for different people.
Mendelson uses the example of Psy’s Gangnum Style to illustrate how “viral” success might not be what it seems. He aptly points out that a large marketing apparatus is behind Psy’s social media success, which is not something available to the small business owners. Psy’s marketing people used social media as piece of the puzzle, not as the whole enchilada.
To come full circle, for the average small business owner, this may seem like a shock. You may be thinking that social media really is bullshit and may actually be dead. You’re perhaps feeling betrayed by your social media guru. How do you cope? Well the good news is social media isn’t dead, just like the Internet isn’t dead. Rather, it is evolving at a blistering pace. Here’s some more good news: social media isn’t really bullshit either, the way some people present it is.
Ultimately, doing social media well, or more broadly, marketing a business well requires knowledge of not only how certain tools work, but also their place in the marketing equation. I have seen success with small business on social media, but because they have found a good balance and aren’t expecting millions of YouTube views for their misguided attempt at the Harlem Shake.