“What is our Twitter strategy?”
“Who should own social media?”
“Should we do something, or just wait this one out?”
I know, it sounds extreme, but I don’t think human fatalities are involved. Like the dinosaurs that roamed the earth for a little while after the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction event, we are living in the shadow of a Change. Whether this change was precipitated by Twitter, or Netscape Navigator, or Arpanet is impossible to tell, and would be too simplistic an explanation anyway.
In the last year or two, there has been a lot of worrying in our line of business about what social media means, which kind of agency (Advertising? Pr? MarComm?) is best suited to advise on social strategy, and which organizations it fits and which it doesn’t. I’m beginning to think these questions—while worthy, timely, tough—are not actually grasping the longer-term implications for the way we communicate, and the ways our organizations, communications, and natural imperatives are reshaping one another.
The formality of marketing communications—campaigns painstakingly, centrally conceived, produced, and executed over months and years—is giving way to more spontaneous, flexible, transparent, and short-lived brand expressions. Fewer people may be involved in the minutiae of their preparation and launch, but more (including the rest of us) are involved in their evolution.
The artifice of brands is being pushed aside to reveal the bigger, hairier complexity of the living organizations behind them—or devolving into smaller federated units. The fourth wall between brands, with their self-created fantasies (fantasies we choose to believe or not), and us is dissolving in the face of pressures on both sides.
The truth behind these changes is that people like to be people, not agents or consumers of brands… and they like to associate with other people. Brands and their communities are reconnecting on a scale not really experienced before, and that intimacy is frightening… not to mention awfully hard to manage.
But brands are the sum of experiences and communications; experiences and communications are increasingly digital; and digital experiences are becoming more social… so brands, whether we like it or not, will need to become more human, in both scale and idiosyncrasy.
I may have been among the last design students who had to buy a bottle of Plaka paint, and the novelty of the World Wide Web and its unique requirements didn’t require a fundamental overhaul of my idea of design practice. Lately, however, the tables have turned on me somewhat. Now I’m compelled to rethink my mental models.
But the changes in communication practice today are not simply an echo of those from the last decade, but in fact their emerging promise. This isn’t the tail end; Netscape Navigator was just the sonic boom. It makes me wonder what ideas and tools I should keep, and what new ones I need to adopt. The thing is, it’s not just how I have to change my thinking—no, we all have to, because the order we have grown accustomed to, the familiar relationships among organizations, brands, customers, and the specialists like us in the in-between spaces, is reaching its end.
Henry Ford once remarked, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said ‘faster horses.’” No one could have foreseen what the second century of the automobile would look like, and no one could have imagined what kind of change that innovation would precipitate—and we shouldn’t be surprised by what fundamentals truths it has helped us discover. But it’s tough to shift our mindset. We don’t know what to shift it to!
Try this experiment: imagine your organization ten years from now. If money was no object, and you had just the people and capabilities you wanted, how would it be organized? How would it work? How would it learn, analyze, create, and produce? What would be its place in the world? In this light, none of our sister professions has the answer, because we have to change with the entire system of people, organizations, economies, and technologies. A faster horse can’t win the Indianapolis 500.
The environment has already changed. We can see some organizations evolving to meet the requirements of our new conditions: some deliberately, and others instinctively. Yet many more haven’t noticed, or prepared themselves for the change. We’re thinking about what all this means at the ground level: what can we do to help our colleagues and clients stay on top of the game today, with an eye towards moving to the game of the (maybe already-arrived) future.
We have the tools, we have the ingenuity, we just have to give ourselves the permission to evolve.
(Credit where credit is due: Thanks Meg Fowler for the post title!)
“Well this feels entirely unnecessary.”
That sentiment seems so prevalent among my friends and various internet outlets that I can practically reach out and touch its tangible form. Google TV, like Apple TV before it, seems to have provided a bountiful fount of unsure head-scratching. I can sort of understand the sentiment, as the apparatus does not provide access to any new content or shows. Hence, it’s logical for users to wonder about what exactly the thing does, in fact, do.
I would argue that people are, much like my more tech-minded friends when the iPad was announced, looking at it wrong. It’s not about content (or specs). Those traits are irrelevant compared to what it is about: changing the otherwise God-awful user experience of watching TV.
Think about it. When you go to a friend’s house and they have a different media set up than yours, how often do you find yourself trying multiple remotes in a fruitless effort to get to a 900 channel guide with numbers that are about as consistent as the Boston road system? Navigating content on TV is reliant on a set of GUI principles that are a chore to learn. We only do it so successfully because the end benefit outweighs the training and/or acclimation time. Why do we constantly navigate through hundreds of shows and channels to watch the 5-8 shows on the 3-4 channels that the average person watches at any given time, ever?
If TV were a website, people would think it was awful. That’s what Google is trying to tackle.
Their device allows users to create a customized experience to streamline content access. Have a homepage with your favorite shows right in front of you every time you turn on the TV; a search bar conveniently accessible when you want to branch out; and aggregate all methods of accessing that show into one place. That show isn’t on your traditional Cable right now? Maybe it’s on Hulu or Youtube. Bam, suddenly you’re watching.
There’s also the open source development potential and introduction of TV apps that may go beyond the “Netflix and Facebook” offerings of current TV manufacturers. There’s a lot going on here that may, if nothing else, lay the foundation for the future of TV.
That all said, is Google TV going to be successful? Doubt it. Highly, highly doubt it. It’s just too expensive given how much money people already pay to simply watch things in their living room. If a family has already shelled out the upfront and reoccurring costs for a TV, cable service, and game console, they’re simply not going to want to drop $300 for a device with benefits as ambiguous as these.
Still, I think it’s cool. I also think its principles will be something our grandkids take for granted. When they look back at how TV is now, they’ll be the ones scratching their heads.
A couple of months ago, I wrote a post on why website owners must actually care about their audience to produce truly great content — whether they’re writing to market their business, establish leadership in their industry, connect with a nonprofit audience, or build a community of like-minded people.
If your goal is to sincerely meet the needs of the people who consume what you write / display / share (rather than to force them to accept whatever you have to offer), you’re already well on your way to getting it right (check out the post to find out why).
Then Tamsen wrote a great post offering tips for cash-strapped marketers, which got me thinking.
When I’m talking to folks who have few marketing dollars, what do I most often recommend in the way of low-cost strategies? Social media comes up quite often, since the tools are generally free to use — but blogging specifically gets a nod most often.
Blogging offers an opportunity to connect with your target audience through shared knowledge and shared stories, AND build SEO equity into your web presence with a wealth of content.
And blogs are easier than ever to set up (with the wide range of platforms available, at every possible level of sophistication) and easy for readers to consume (on your website or via an RSS reader). It also doesn’t hurt that search engines love their orderly, chronological setup, and (ideally!) frequently updated content.
If you’ve already got a blog on your website — or your blog IS your website — you know all of this.
However, even if you care about giving your readers the best information and ideas possible (and you should!), it can still take a bit of time to build up a consistent readership, and develop a solid foundation of SEO-friendly content.
That’s why I’m going to give you a few quick-to-implement tips that will make the content on your blog work harder for you.
1. Use tags and categories to help your readers — and Googlers — find the content they want
Tags and categories give your readers a way to find the content on your site that is most relevant to their needs without having to read every post from start to finish. Which is good… because they won’t!
Tags and categories were originally created to increase the usability and organization of content-rich sites, but search engines soon began paying attention to how bloggers labeled their content, and used those labels to generate more accurate results.
What types of terms should you be using? Well, categories tend to be more general, and tags more specific. Say you’re a nonprofit communicator writing about your organization’s activities. You might use categories like “outreach” or “community projects” or “donations at work” to classify posts about the work you do, and then drill down a bit further into your content with tags that mention the name of a specific issue you’re addressing, a specific project, the name of your team member heading up the project, or the city or neighborhood you’re working in.
But before you choose your categories and tags, remember to consider your audience, and…
2. Use terms your readers actually understand to refer to your subject matter
One of the biggest temptations content creators face in ANY area is the tendency to use a lot of jargon. After all, you know what the words mean, so why wouldn’t you use them? And yes… the possibility exists that many in your target audience will be very much in the know. But what if they don’t know? What if you’re using proprietary terms that they might not be familiar with?
Think about the last time you had to explain what you do or what you offer to someone who was completely new to it — and then use those terms to categorize and tag your content as well. That way, people looking for relevant content in search engines will find you — and those already perusing your blog won’t feel out of the loop.
You might even consider offering an FAQ if you can’t help using a lot of specific terminology. Then, when you use a complex or relatively obscure term, link to a further explanation of the term you used elsewhere.
3. Set up a simple editorial calendar to ensure you’re offering content at a consistent pace
The words “editorial calendar” might sound a little official — you’re not trying to publish “Vanity Fair” here! — but planning your content a couple months (or more!) in advance can save you time and effort, and ensure that you’re delivering an appropriate range of content on a solid schedule.
Decide how often you’re going to have time to write, and what content matters most to you: concepts you want to cover, subjects you’re passionate about, products you want to address, events you should write about… it’s up to you! Then, whether you decide you have time to write once a week, or five times a week, you can space the content you want to cover out over that timeline. Set yourself some handy iCal or Outlook reminders (or a flurry of Post Its, or notes on your existing calendar), and you’re all set.
If you’ve got a team of people working on your blog, an editorial calendar keeps everyone informed about who is writing about what, and when they’re going to do it… which prevents doubling up on a topic, or ignoring certain topics altogether.
You may well get inspired at points and decide to ignore a chosen topic, have a timely piece of information that needs to be mentioned now, or run out of time on a day you’re scheduled to post — but having a structure in place ensures you stay (mostly) on track.
A consistent output of content (even weekly short posts!) also goes a long way towards keeping your readership engaged. It also ensures that search engines will look favorably on your frequently updated, original content, and rank it favorably in their results for relevant searches.
4. Create content for people at every stage of relationship / engagement with you
People are going to discover your blog at different points in their relationship with you, and you want to make sure you’ve got something to offer them at each stage.
For your first-time readers, don’t forget to include:
For readers just getting to know you, be sure to:
For readers considering a deeper relationship with you (whether that means engaging with your services or products, or for nonprofits, donating or volunteering) and your existing community of users or supporters, you can:
Including different types of content for different levels of engagement is a great way to make sure everyone that arrives at your blog finds something that speaks to them. You might even consider creating a static post at the top of your blog with a welcome, and links to specific content for each level.
Remember — the more time you take to plan how you produce your content, the easier you make it for people to find the information they want, and the more thought you put into meeting the needs of your readers, the better response you’ll receive.