6 Content Marketing Guidelines for Being Human

One of the cardinal rules of social media is “be human”, which is general advice suggesting that companies interact with their customers using a human voice and personality, rather than a faceless, monolithic voice of an organization. In theory, it’s the difference between talking to a neighbor and talking to the Borg.

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That same advice is unevenly applied to digital marketing, but no place is it more absent than in content marketing. Most content marketing is soulless garbage, gussied up with a pretty infographic (often filled with meaningless data) that accomplishes nothing except prove that content by committee is a disaster in the making.

The content you create should be a reflection of the person who wrote it, and should speak to your audience as if it’s a conversation between two people, because it really is. Rarely have I ever seen a crowd of people read a blog post together. Chances are, you’re not reading this with three other people next to you right now. This is a conversation between the two of us.

What does be human mean in the context of your content marketing? How do we translate a working strategy in social media to content marketing? Here are 6 ideas to consider:

1. Decide what you want your company’s brand to inspire in terms of feeling. When people hear from you and the problems you solve, what feelings should they inspire? Mitch Joel loves to cite the Harley Davidson brand, which lets a 43 year old accountant get dressed up in black leather and ride through a town and have everyone be afraid of him. On this blog, I want you to feel smarter just for being here, that sense of excitement that you’ve found an advantage, something other people don’t get. I write so that it sounds like we’re conspiring over a cup of coffee. What feeling do you want to inspire?

2. Speak with a dedicated, focused voice. Your blog or newsletter may have multiple authors working on the content, but put a voice behind it, something that has a particular tone and tenor that matches your company’s brand. If you’ve decided to be professional, then photos of your staff in your newsletter pitch-drunk at the latest company gathering might not fit. If you’ve decided to be casual, then having starched collars and three-piece suit photos wouldn’t fit either. Your voice, your imagery, everything, should reflect what you’ve chosen to be.

3. Pick a persona and use it. This can be an actual member of your staff, or it can be a fictional construct. If you choose the latter, clearly define its personality and how it will behave. This persona should be who your emails are from, and should be a consistent presence in email, on the website, on the blog, and in social media. I’ll say this: this is much, MUCH harder than it sounds, because you need someone to curate and regulate that persona based on very detailed rules. It’s easier to use an actual human being.

4. Be consistent in your content. People love predictable and routine. We humans are creatures of deep habit. Whenever I’m speaking publicly, one of my questions I ask the audience is when Seinfeld was on. More than a decade and a half later, people still remember, because it was valuable content published at a predictable time.

5. Add value and give first. Unless you go to a lot of Tupperware parties, generally speaking, your friends and colleagues don’t try to sell you something all the time. You shouldn’t either. Chances are, your actual friends look to do nice things for you first and unsolicited. Treat your audience as well as you treat your friends, and offer value first in your content.

6. When you do sell, pitch personally. Instead of having the generic press release or standard sell in an email, look at using your persona’s social capital to make a personal pitch every now and again. Think about every form email you’ve ever received and how it looks. Think about every pitchy blog post you’ve ever read. Now think about how your actual friends ask you for help. See if changing formats to ask like you would ask a real friend makes a difference.

These 6 ideas are just the start of transforming your content marketing program from just another ineffective broadcast medium into a true communications channel that delivers value to both you and your audience. Try it today!


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The secret of future SEO

SEO tricks continue to get devalued. Google keeps getting better at picking up tricks and rendering them valueless.

So how do you know what’s a trick that is a waste of time or at worst will get you penalized?

Here’s a simple rule.

Anything that can be repeated and scaled can be automated.

Anything that can be automated can be detected and discredited by Google.

It’s very easy to buy into a bot network and spam links across the web. Google caught on and has applied massive penalties to people who do so. It’s very easy to hire massive numbers of people through services like Amazon Mechanical Turk or Fiverr to mindlessly create links in blog comments or social networks. Google can catch those, too. It’s very easy to buy an absurd number of press releases and stuff them with links. Google caught on and slapped penalties liberally to companies that behaved badly.

If you’re considering a marketing tactic, if it can be automated and scaled, it can be caught by Google. They have more robots, more machines, more Ph.Ds, more networks, more everything than any one SEO company or marketing department.

So how do you know what won’t earn you a punishment from Google?

Google values what doesn’t scale. Google values great content, which is exceptionally difficult to scale. Google values innovative ideas, and heaven knows innovation is a struggle. If it’s unique and difficult to do, Google will probably value it. Being a great content provider? Hard to do, even harder to scale – ask anyone with a successful website or team blog just how difficult it is to consistently crank out great content. Being an innovative developer? Very hard to do, exceptionally hard to come up with consistently great new ideas, and incredibly hard to scale well.

Do what’s unique. Do what’s hard to replicate, hard to scale, hard to automate. And every proposal, pitch, or offer you get that says they have an easily automated system to do X, you now know to be a trap just waiting to happen.


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Much more than a third of your advertising budget is wasted

In a recent Wall Street Journal report, the allegation was made by the IAB that 36% of digital advertising traffic was fraudulent, driven by bot networks, fake websites, and hacked computers. I don’t doubt these figures for a second, because the measurement system by which payment is made for advertising is the click, and clicks are easy to generate and automate.

What’s more important, though, is that even a third of your ad budget wasted in digital is significantly better than traditional and offline, where you have absolutely no idea how much your budget is wasted. When you put up a billboard on a highway, you’re making some very broad assumptions about who drives by that billboard, and who has time or interest to read it. There’s a good chance, unless you’ve got a recognizable brand with an immediate call to action (fast food chain of your choice, next exit) that the ad won’t do much good.

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Even in digital advertising, an awful lot of advertisers spend an awful lot of money trying to sell me something I already own. On the gaming blogs I read, Blizzard continues to try to sell me the Reaper of Souls expansion for Diablo III, and I already own it – and because it’s all online, they know it, they have my data and purchase record, and they still show me ads for it.

John Wanamaker is often quoted as saying that 50% of his advertising budget is wasted, he’s just not sure which half. I’d venture to say that advertisers waste far more money on bad targeting than they do on fraud. By no means is fraud a non-issue – it clearly is. But if 50% of your budget is wasted on bad targeting and 36% on fraud, then you’re really only getting 14 cents on every dollar working for your business. I’d say there’s some room for improvement there, wouldn’t you?

Let the ad networks fix the fraud problem (they will, it’s in their best interests to do so) – as marketers, we need to fix the targeting problem.


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