From the category archives:

Professional

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I’ve been a content marketing and social media professional for roughly the last six years. I was, and continue to be, excited about the potential of social media and content marketing to change the business world for the better. But these days, I cringe when I go on Facebook or Twitter. I find myself pondering a strange and uncomfortable question:

As human beings, are we ultimately unsuited to social media?

Self righteous indignation has become America’s national pastime. (Schadenfreude is a close second.) I’m not just talking about people complaining on Facebook about bad service. People really enjoy piling on when someone else makes a mistake. And a lot of websites and Facebook pages seem completely devoted to amplifying and broadcasting those mistakes.

Here’s an example: a few weeks ago I saw a status update from a young woman who said something disparaging about people who join the military. It was unfair, unwarranted, disrespectful and showed no gratitude for the sacrifice that the volunteer military makes to help keep us safe.

But ultimately, so what? I doubt more than a handful of people would’ve seen it if it hadn’t been picked up and spread. Of all the people I’ve met in my life who give less of a damn what idiots think of them, serving military personnel and veterans are at or near the top of that list. Regardless, one young woman said something stupid and thousands of people piled on, to the point where I was genuinely worried she might be getting death threats.

Is this really how we want to use a worldwide network of information and connection?

As for content marketing, we may as well replace the word “content” with “linkbait.” Yesterday, I saw a video showing people they were using little paper ketchup cups the wrong way. As I said when I shared it on Facebook, “If you’re creating content for people too stupid to use ketchup, how long are you going to stay in business?”

Marketers are seeing the value of content, but predictably have galloped right past the point of diminishing returns to the point of absurdity and eventually, destruction. How tired are you of headlines like, “This one guy did this one thing and what happened next is the most amazing thing that’s ever happened, and maybe somebody exploded, but actually they didn’t”?

Does anyone really think this is sustainable? Does anyone care?

We do know what is sustainable. We’ve known it in our hearts and in our guts, and we can finally prove it: giving your audience useful, interesting, well-written content that amuses and engages them while at the same time helps solve their business problems.

Why don’t more people do that all the time? Again, there’s a simple answer: because doing it is hard. But it’s the only thing that works if you want to build trust, build a reputation and build relationships.

I hope we can survive the coming backlash. Social media went through a backlash because it never lived up to the hype piled upon it by people who really didn’t know what it was. The same thing is happening with content marketing, and I’m afraid it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

If you want to do one thing to help, share good examples of useful, interesting content. The more we do that, the more we can all help prove that quality will win in the end.

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Today in North Carolina there was an Amber Alert for a one-year-old girl in a stolen car. The headlines in local media were along the lines of, “Search continues for missing High Point girl.”

I first saw the story on my iPhone, and I’m sure many others viewed it on a mobile device. To get the most potentially-important information, namely the description and license plate of the vehicle, you had to click through to read the story. I did, but I wonder how many others did.

The most helpful headline would have been, “Missing child in stolen white Suburban, NC license BJXXXXX.” (I’m not putting the actual plate number here as the girl has, thankfully, been found.) That would have provided useful information to someone who only read the headline.

In content marketing, we talk all the time about how to make our content easily consumable on mobile devices. Businesses are adapting their content for mobile consumption. It’s time for the media to do the same, even if just in cases of urgent need. A teaser headline may get more click throughs, but it may also make it more likely that vital information is ignored.

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A decade ago, I knew the names of some Internet millionaires, just like we all did. Today, I personally know probably a dozen or more; people who were part of a great idea at the right time and did the hard work and had the
luck necessary to capitalize on it.

I’m listening to my favorite Internet jazz station, Noctamblues. I don’t know anything about them, and I’m too lazy right now to do any research. But when I first started listening to them, they didn’t have any advertising. Now they have occasional ads from major US retailers. I doubt anybody at the station is getting rich from this. But I wonder if they are on their way to making a living from it.

I’m sure some smart person has coined a term for this kind of mid-level entrepreneurship. One where, instead of one big idea that sets you up for life, you have one that gives you a nice bit of supplemental income, or maybe a half dozen that provide a comfortable living. I imagine there are lots of app producers who fall into the latter category.

It’s an interesting paradigm, one that makes me think of artists and artisans and writers and musicians who piece together a living from their skills and their passions.

I think it’s a way of living and working that technology will continue to make easier, to the point where the Internet craftsperson will be infinitely more common than the Internet mogul.

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I’m at the Back to the Blog event at Duke, organized by Anton Zuiker and Cara Rousseau. One attendee just asked how to find time to blog, which is one of the most common questions I’ve been asked over the past five years. I have a number of standard responses:

*Look for content you’re already creating, from white papers to long emails, and repurpose them.

*Look at what you’re doing that isn’t working and stop doing it to free up more time.

*A blog post doesn’t have to be a white paper; a short, interesting post or a link to another post your audience will find useful is enough.

Yet I still do most of my blogging (the little I do these days) late at night. I have a job where I could easily justify blogging during the workday, but I don’t. I write after my wife and son go to bed (or sometimes before they wake up). I’ve always done my best creative work late at night, whether on this blog, my book or presentations for work.

I wonder if that’s one of the reasons people feel they don’t have time to blog, because writing is a creative and personal activity that we want to do well. I have to be in the right mood to blog well and enjoy it. I don’t feel that way about other work-related tasks. It’s not as though I’ve ever thought, “I’m too tired to come up with a clever formula for this spreadsheet.”

One of the big challenges I’ve set for myself is to blog short items more frequently, but I don’t. Instead, I post more to Facebook (which leads to another question for another time).

I have abandoned some of the niceties I used to observe on this blog, notably posting photos and adding links. I used asterisks above instead of the HTML for bullets. (Did you notice? Do you care?) Those things don’t take that much time, but they take enough time (and are hard enough to do by mobile) that giving them up feels freeing.

But still it’s easier to post to Facebook, and I do it more often than I post here by a factor of, what, 100? I wonder how much of that is because blogging feels like Writing, with a capital W, and writing is a skill I respect and don’t want to devalue.

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John from KOne Limo in Atlanta I traveled to Atlanta recently for a meeting with customers. I booked a car service since it was the same price as renting a car, and required less GPS goofery on my part. I looked on Yelp and found K-One Limo, with six of the most positive reviews I’ve ever seen. Initially I was skeptical, because the reviews were so over the top, but I booked the trip.

John (pictured) is the owner of K-One and met me at the airport. He called to make sure I had arrived, directed me to the right place to meet him, and then quickly and graciously re-adjusted when I doofed my way to the wrong place. He was driving an immaculate Lincoln Navigator and was dressed way better than I was, even though I was on my way to meet customers.

We talked all the way to the hotel, and all the way back, about his life, his family and his philosophy of customer service. Basically he goes out of his way to remove all obstacles and annoyances from his passengers. When he learns their preferences he accommodates them. One Yelp reviewer said John always has an iPhone charger ready to replenish his travel-drained phone.

He also understands the value of quiet competence. When things are going wrong (as you can imagine, an Atlanta limo driver deals with a lot of delayed flights), it doesn’t do any good to flap. John remains calm and professional, which I guarantee you is more reassuring than sweaty apologies and mad dashes through traffic.

I think John could do anything. I wish he ran pretty much every service organization, like, everywhere. I truly enjoy meeting people who are absolutely on top of their game and happy doing what they do. I’ve had that pleasure a handful of times in my life.

When you meet someone who is truly happy and successful, it’s usually because they can’t imagine doing anything but what they do. I never worried, for instance, about Jim Goodnight selling SAS when I worked there, because it was obvious that what Jim Goodnight loved doing was running SAS. If you want another great example, read a biography of Richard Branson.

I suppose I should end with some kind of motivational challenge to you to find the thing you love, but we’ll take that as written.

Who have you met who is really on top of his or her game? What did you learn?

image by me

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Social media usage statistics for the month of July show that early adopters and influencers are leaving Facebook in favor of a new crop of social networks. These location-based food photo sharing apps place funny quotes on top of the picture, designed to attack people who don’t share the user’s political believes. The hottest one is called SaidNoOneEver. There is no Android app as of yet.

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A survey of Inc. 500 companies shows the first decline in corporate blogging since 2007. Many are switching their content efforts to Facebook. Big mistake, as Janet Meiners Thaeler
points out in the post linked above. I agree with everything she says.

And here’s another way to think about it; Facebook is a valuable channel, but it’s not the Internet. It’s a walled garden, as we’ve come to call it. If you put your content solely on Facebook, you’re saying, “I don’t want my content on the Web, just this one place that can only be found one way by one group of people.” (Even if there are 800 million of them.)

As Janet suggests (and many of us have been advising companies for years), publish to your blog, then share the link in all your other networks.

As long as people still search the Web, a company blog should be at the core of your content strategy.

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I recently got a robocall call from a home security company, offering me a free system so they could get a foothold in my neighborhood. I considered it for a moment, and then hung up, even though I want a home security system. Why?

Because I assumed they were lying. Do they really mean free, or are they just waiving some fee? Do I really think it’s going to end up costing me nothing? Clearly not.

Every time I get on an airplane, the pilot lies to me.

If there’s anything we can do to make your flight more enjoyable, please don’t hesitate to ask.

I’ve rung the call bell exactly once in all my miles of air travel, to ask a flight attendant to throw away a half-full cup of water. I had a two-year-old on my hands and nowhere to put the cup. She glared at me as though I had asked her to disrobe and sing show tunes.

How do you think your boss would react if you went into your next performance review and said, “I did everything I could possibly have done as well as anyone could possibly have done it. I am flawless and perfect.”

Yet that’s what most companies do with their marketing and communications. And when a real issue comes up, only then do they admit there might be something possibly that could maybe be ever so slightly better, and now that it’s been raised to their attention, they’ll address it immediately.

Your customers and prospects, especially the ones you want to attract and keep, know as much or more about your products and services as you do. They know the flaws as well as the benefits. They know how you stack up against your competitors. They know if you’re cheaper or more expensive. They know if you’re easier to use, or provide more value.

In every industry I’ve ever worked in, our prospects were extremely intelligent and well informed. When they came to us, they had done their research. They didn’t want a sales pitch; they wanted an honest exploration of whether or not our products could meet their needs. And I’ve been fortunate enough to work for companies who felt confident responding honestly, knowing that we would prevail.

Why is “We’re only human” an excepted tenet of life, but a last resort and an admission of failure when a company says it?

What’s the worst thing that could happen if you admitted to your customers that you know the truth as well as they do, are sincerely working to make things better and value their input in the process?

Could that really be a bad thing?

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I don’t consider myself a particularly trendy person, but I do live in a funky little town on the edge of a college town. I walk all over the place for exercise, walk through campus a lot, and I keep my eyes open. I’m also spending a lot of time on Pinterest these days, planning a future wardrobe for when I hit my goal weight. All of these things are causing me to see a trend. Simple is in.

(Forgive me if I’m the 9 millionth person to say that, but I’m trying to look at the larger implications here.)

I live less than a mile away from one of the best farmers markets in the country. All of the food is organic and grown within 50 miles. We’ve been written up in The New York Times, in fact. The man I buy my green beans from was quoted in the article.

The trend in bicycles among the urban hip is for simple, single-speed bikes called “fixies” that don’t even have brakes. Major manufacturers, inevitably, are copying the style, but the coolest looking people in my town are riding bikes that look like they were pulled from a dumpster.

One of the most sought-after sneakers among the cognoscenti is called the GAT (German army trainer). A plain white style issued by the German army, they have obviously influenced trendy sneaker design for the last few years. You can hunt them down online cheap, or you can buy a designer’s version for $500.

I’m wondering what it is in the Zeitgeist that is causing people to return to the simple, unadorned and honest. It may just be a natural pendulum swing, and I’m sure the economic decline of the last decade played a huge part. When no one has a lot of spare cash to throw around, price and value obviously become a much bigger consideration. But I think it goes deeper than that.

Social media also embodies a more personal and honest style of communication that goes hand-in-hand with this attitude. Whether social media helped cause it or evolved at the right time to benefit from it is something we probably can’t figure out, nor do we really need to.

How does this affect your marketing and communications efforts? It’s no secret how I feel about transparency and openness, and the role social media plays. But are you too complicated for your customers? Does your corporate brand feel simple, honest, personal and valuable? Or complicated, insincere, distant and self-centered?

Are you offering the $50 product that offers real value, or the $500 product that is mostly show? And of course I mean that metaphorically. (Unless you’re in the sneaker business.)

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There’s been a great deal of controversy about Facebook’s purchase of photo sharing site Instagram for $1 billion. As always, people are heralding it as a harbinger of a new social media bubble.

How can a site like Instagram possibly be worth that much, and how can it add to Facebook’s share value? But that’s the wrong question. The real question is, “How much is the future worth?”

Facebook is in the same league with Google and Apple as a company that transcends commerce and is defining how we live digitally. Steve Jobs didn’t make decisions based solely on immediate gain, as anyone who has read his biography knows. And I don’t think Mark Zuckerberg is making decisions based on share price. (I don’t claim to know anything more about him than anyone else who saw that movie, but I bet they have some interesting board meetings.)

Instagram has changed the way people share and engage around photos, and has brought together photography and mobile in a way that nothing else has. I’ve waited patiently for a good Flickr app for the iPhone. I finally got it with Instagram. I would go so far as to say Instagram is helping define a new visual paradigm for communication.

Facebook has so much money, that, like Google and Apple, they can afford to spend it on buying things that make sense, that are cool, that work, that define the future. Whatever Facebook does with Instagram, they own it now, and no one else will. In Zuckerberg’s mind, I’m sure that sounds like a bargain.

Now, when will Amazon buy Pinterest, and for how much? 2 billion?

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