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Almost Timely News: Best Practices and Recipes (2023-01-08)

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The Importance of Best Practices and Recipes

A lot of folks like to crap on best practices. Quotes like “best practices copy yesterday” and “best practices are dead ends” and “best practices usually aren’t”. But let’s think about this for a moment. What is a best practice? It’s a methodology, a process, a practice that’s been proven to work for generating a desired outcome.

Strip away the jargon and the lingo for a moment and what does a best practice really resemble?

It’s a recipe, isn’t it?

A best practice is a proven way to get an outcome. A recipe is a proven way to get an outcome, too. Is it innovative? No. Is it new? No. Is it revolutionary? Probably not. Will it get food on the table? Yes, yes it will.

Have you ever stood around in your kitchen wondering what to make for dinner? You just sort of… stare. Maybe something will leap out, but usually you end up making mac & cheese or toast or pasta because you literally can’t think of anything else. If you’re in a relationship with someone, you’ve probably had the endless circular conversation “what do you want for dinner” at least once, right?

And a recipe solves that quandary. You pull out your recipe for baked tilapia or homemade burgers or quiche, and suddenly instead of standing around paralyzed by inaction, you’re cooking. If you follow the recipe, you generally get the outcome.

Have you ever given a recipe to a friend? Maybe you’ve put up a photo of a dish you cooked on your Instagram or Snapchat or TikTok and you’ve had friends say “OMG I want that!”, and ask you for the recipe. Do you just sort of mutter glittering generalities about the food, or do you hand them a recipe of ingredients and directions? Chances are you do the latter.

That’s the power of a recipe, the ability to convey knowledge to someone else in a compact form that helps them to succeed.

And that’s the power of a best practice. Properly written out – like a recipe – it lets you communicate all the necessary steps to succeed at something.

So, why the hatred for best practices? Well, it’s true that a commonly known recipe doesn’t offer any kind of competitive advantage. If everyone’s clear on how to make spaghetti and meatballs, then your Italian restaurant probably isn’t going to succeed on innovative fare if your feature dish is spaghetti and meatballs, right? But I suspect more that people who spend a lot of time criticizing best practices are either trying to sell you something or are deeply insecure and trying to protect their own recipes from becoming commonplace.

And that’s a silly point of view, because recipes evolve. Recipes vary. Maybe you have a gluten intolerance, but you still love the taste of a certain pasta sauce. So you change the recipe to a gluten-free pasta. You still get the outcome, just in a different way. Maybe you had a winning Twitter strategy but in the recent management change, all your influencers left for Mastodon. Can you adapt your recipe to follow? Probably.

That’s what separates the competent from the excellent, from the experienced. First you learn the recipe and practice it faithfully. Then you adapt the recipe to your circumstances. And at the peak of expertise, sometimes you throw the recipe away entirely because you know it by heart. Gordon Ramsay doesn’t have to look up a recipe for scrambled eggs. He’s done it so many times that he just knows it.

The same is true for best practices. In the beginning of your journey, you learn the best practices and practice them faithfully. You don’t vary, because you don’t know enough to know what variations make sense. Then as you gain experience and proficiency, you make changes to the practice as needed. Maybe you have a social media strategy that worked well on Instagram, and you’re looking at TikTok. Is TikTok the same as Instagram? No. But are there human beings on the other side of the device looking to be entertained, educated, or engaged? Yes. So you take what works from the recipes you know and vary them, make them work for the same humans on the other end.

And towards the end of your marketing career, after you’ve had a few decades in the office, perhaps you don’t need the recipes at all. A new social network pops up, and you just know what makes people engage, so you figure out the specifics of how the new platform works, but you engage people where they are, as they are, with the same level of success.

The most successful folks? They write their recipes down. They have their own cookbooks, whether or not they’re published. They have a compendium of tools, tactics, and techniques that they know inside and out, and that cookbook is their codex of awesome. That way, they can train successors so that their excellence can scale.

What’s in your best practice cookbook? At this point in my career, mine is about 230 pages long. It’s a compendium of ideas, frameworks, and practices that I keep – privately – that I know work, stuff I’ve used over and over again. What’s in your cookbook? And if you don’t have one, why not? What processes, what recipes do you know that generate results?

Here’s an example, a recipe for growing a following on a social media platform.

  1. Make sure your profile is optimized for topical relevance. Have keywords, images, decor, etc. That immediately communicates what you’re about.
  2. Identify a hashtag or other search method for people interested in your key topic of relevance.
  3. Follow those people.

That’s it. That’s the recipe. What happens, without fail on every public social media platform, is that anywhere from 10-50% of people will follow you at least for a little while to see what you’re about.

Now, there’s a more advanced version of that recipe. Step 2 instead says using the coding platform of your choice, extract the nodes and edges of conversations about that topic and derive a network graph of the people you care about according to the centrality measure that matters most to your goals, then create a weighted index of key measures to come up with a list of people to follow.

But the recipe at its heart is still the same.

One last thing about best practices and recipes… for those folks using systems and software like ChatGPT, Stable Diffusion, DALL-E 2, etc. You know those prompts you give the machines?

What do you think those are?

The best prompts are recipes for what you want the machines to do. Don’t believe me? Try this prompt in ChatGPT, one of my recipes:

You are a world class social media manager. You successfully create engaging content for platforms like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, YouTube, and many others. Your content specifically focuses on engaging audiences to comment on your content. Today, you will be writing promotional content for the Almost Timely Newsletter, an email newsletter published on Sundays by Christopher Penn. Here are the requirements:

  • The URL, https://www.christopherspenn.com/newsletter must appear in all posts
  • The social media handle to use is @cspenn
  • Use one or more hashtags such as #marketing #digitalmarketing #analytics #emailmarketing #newsletter
  • The benefits of subscribing to the newsletter include a roundup of key marketing news every Sunday, original thoughts and ideas for innovative marketing practices, a roundup of new job positions, and resources to help marketers succeed

Write 5 Instagram post ideas. Format the ideas as follows:

  • Suggested image:
  • Suggested image caption:
  • Suggested image type: choose album or photo

Here’s what it did:

ChatGPT output

The more clear you are in your recipes, the better results you get, whether you’re doing the cooking, someone else with the recipe is doing the cooking, or even a machine is doing the cooking.

Recipes – best practices – are the building blocks for success. Dismiss them at your peril.

Got a Question? Hit Reply

I do actually read the replies.

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ICYMI: In Case You Missed it

Besides the new Google Analytics 4 course I’m relentlessly promoting (sorry not sorry), I would recommend the piece on forecasts. It’ll give you something to think about.

Skill Up With Classes

These are just a few of the classes I have available over at the Trust Insights website that you can take.

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Folks who post jobs in the free Analytics for Marketers Slack community may have those jobs shared here, too. If you’re looking for work, check out these five most recent open positions, and check out the Slack group for the comprehensive list.

Free Book! Almost Timely 2022 Essays

I took all the letter parts of every Almost Timely newsletter from 2022 and put them together as a book. To my great surprise, it weighed in at almost 50,000 words, which is the average length of a business book these days.

However, instead of the usual price or filling out a form, I’m just giving it away, no strings attached. You can download it here in three formats, no registration or anything needed:

👉 Click here to download 📘 in PDF format

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What I’m Reading: Your Stuff

Let’s look at the most interesting content from around the web on topics you care about, some of which you might have even written.

Social Media Marketing

Media and Content

SEO, Google, and Paid Media

Advertisement: 2023 Marketing Planning Guide

I’ve just published a new edition of The Data-Driven Marketer’s Essential Planning Guide for 2023, free for a limited time. What is it?

It’s a quarter-by-quarter, week-by-week planning guide for you to build your 2023 marketing calendar around, based on when people are in the office or not. Each week of every quarter is rated whether that’s a good week for a big campaign, a neutral week, or a bad week.

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  • Use the Guide to move important campaigns out of weeks when people won’t be around
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Tools, Machine Learning, and AI

Analytics, Stats, and Data Science

All Things IBM

Dealer’s Choice : Random Stuff

Advertisement: Ukraine 🇺🇦 Humanitarian Fund

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👉 Donate today to the Ukraine Humanitarian Relief Fund »

How to Stay in Touch

Let’s make sure we’re connected in the places it suits you best. Here’s where you can find different content:

Events I’ll Be At

Here’s where I’m speaking and attending. Say hi if you’re at an event also:

  • Martechopia, London, March 2023
  • B2B Ignite, Chicago, May 2023

Events marked with a physical location may become virtual if conditions and safety warrant it.

If you’re an event organizer, let me help your event shine. Visit my speaking page for more details.

Can’t be at an event? Stop by my private Slack group instead, Analytics for Marketers.

Required Disclosures

Events with links have purchased sponsorships in this newsletter and as a result, I receive direct financial compensation for promoting them.

Advertisements in this newsletter have paid to be promoted, and as a result, I receive direct financial compensation for promoting them.

My company, Trust Insights, maintains business partnerships with companies including, but not limited to, IBM, Cisco Systems, Amazon, Talkwalker, MarketingProfs, MarketMuse, Agorapulse, Hubspot, Informa, Demandbase, The Marketing AI Institute, and others. While links shared from partners are not explicit endorsements, nor do they directly financially benefit Trust Insights, a commercial relationship exists for which Trust Insights may receive indirect financial benefit, and thus I may receive indirect financial benefit from them as well.

Thank You

Thanks for subscribing and reading this far. I appreciate it. As always, thank you for your support, your attention, and your kindness.

See you next week,

Christopher S. Penn


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