Life Lessons From The StrataBlue Intern

Being a StrataBlue intern is way more than going on coffee runs (though there is no shame in keeping the office caffeinated). This summer I was right in the mix with the social media account managers, the sales team and the overall operations of the company. My time at StrataBlue has left me with some invaluable lessons that I’ll be able to take with me going forward in my career, so I’d like to share them with all of you as well.

intern

Communicate.

  • In the constant growing/changing environment of a start-up business, communication is key. With StrataBlue employees located in Indianapolis, New York, New Jersey and London, we fully utilize all available technologies to stay in contact with one another in order to keep everyone up to date on both internal affairs and news regarding our clients.

Read Everything.

  • In order to generate content for the various clients that I’ve been fortunate enough to provide assistance to, I’ve never read so much in my life! Because of this internship, I feel more connected to the world due to the sheer amount of news articles that I read every day. The ability to provide new content day in and day out within the scope of your clients’ business interests is a job function that many fail to recognize as being very difficult. Social media account managers truly become a jack of all trades with the amount of knowledge that they pick up on a daily basis, and then figuring out how to implement said knowledge into a well-versed marketing strategy makes them doubly talented.

Under Promise, Over Deliver.

  • It’s probably the oldest saying the client-relationship book, but for good reason. In order to ensure a long lasting work relationship with a client, it’s important to never get too comfortable with your goals. Always aim to impress and reach beyond the finish line. As infamous street philosopher Young Jeezy once said, “My hustle is nonstop. I never stop hustling.” I believe the same is true in business; a tireless work ethic will set you apart from your competitors and will shape and mold your reputation that creates more business later on down the road.

Keep Things Light.

  • We all have lives outside of work, and these lives quite often produce extra stress. I believe that the work environment should be a place where you can check whatever is bothering you at the door. It should be a place where you are comfortable, happy and productive.  Here are some suggestions from my personal experience this summer in how to implement a more vibrant work environment:

i.       Do: Make puns when appropriate. (HA! Who doesn’t love some clever word play?)

ii.     Don’t: Print off pictures of polar bears on your boss’s color printer while he’s on an important call. (Sorry again, Slava.)

Adopt a Team Mentality.

  • Collaboration inspires cohesiveness. Although there is a hierarchy in place at most organizations, as there is on any team, that shouldn’t invalidate the opinions of those who are lower on the totem pole. I think that my favorite aspect of working at StrataBlue is the mutual respect that everyone receives. Even I, the lowly intern, felt that my voice was not only heard by all of my coworkers, but my opinions and suggestions were considered and valued rather than being cast aside despite my lack of experience.

These are just a few of the many lessons that I have picked up this summer. Being an intern, it really does put you in a unique perspective where you get to see all 360 degrees of the company you are working for. I really am quite fortunate that StrataBlue is where I wound up, because the well rounded experience that I’ve gained from working with such highly motivated peers has undoubtedly set me up for success in wherever my life and career take me into the future.

FROM JOSH’S SUMMER CO-WORKERS

Hey Josh – Having your blog post the first Monday after you’ve left us to head back to school is doubly depressing. Not only are we thirsty for coffee this morning (like any of us have time to run to Starbucks!), but we have loads of client Twitter lists we need help building.

In honor of you, and how much we will miss you, we are posting this photo from last Friday’s “Goodbye ‘Intern Josh'” lunch at Dick’s Last Resort.

Josh Swiss - StrataBlue Intern

We shall return to this post often for a laugh. 🙂 Good luck at school, buddy! And thanks again for all your help this summer.

– The Social Media & Sales Teams at StrataBlue

It’s Called Google Analytics for a Reason

This is somewhat of a sequel to my earlier post on Google URL Builder. I’m going to assume from this point forward that you have Google Analytics up and running on your site, you’re using URL Builder to track people coming in from social media, PPC and e-mail campaigns, and now you want to use Analytics to, well, analyze the data coming in. That’s what this article is all about.

Analytics is daunting when you first start it up — there’s a ton of data. We’re going to stay focused in this post, though, and go over a few key sections as they relate to campaigns, referrals and blog traffic.

Finding Your Campaigns

Click Acquisition, then Campaigns.

It's Called Google Analytics for a Reason
Click Acquisition, then Campaigns.

Look for your specific campaign name. Remember, you named this after the specific piece of content you ran with that call to action built in. In this case, let’s click on “tip”, the first in a series of product tips built into an application.

We can see here the source is Product for all, as we ran this same campaign across many different mediums, but the same source — all products. If we ran these same tips on Facebook, we’d see Facebook in the first column.

In the second column is the medium, in this case named after each product. Crunching the numbers here, we can see that the DR product did much better than the others in this campaign. Comparing multiple source / mediums in a single campaign is great for seeing how different types of sources perform in comparison with one another.

It's Called Google Analytics for a Reason
You can see that the different mediums all have the same source.

What do these numbers mean?

Sessions

Sessions are a somewhat new term in analytics that describes a period of time that a user is engaged with your website. Sessions contain pageviews, but also events and e-commerce. In this case, there were 4,098 sessions during the four-month period we’re looking at.

New Sessions

This is the percentage of new users that make up your sessions. A high New Sessions percentage means you’re getting a ton of turnover, with a lot of new people looking at your content, but not a lot of repeat business. A low New Sessions percentage means you’ve got a hardcore base of steady customers, but not a lot of new people coming in. Balance is good here, depending on the source.

New Users

This is the number of new people that showed up during this period — people who have never been to your site as long as Analytics has been tracking it. Businesses like new customers, so a high number here is good.

Bounce Rate

This is a tricky, and frequently misunderstood term. Bounce rate refers to people coming in to your site, spending some time there, and leaving for an external site from there without checking out any other page. Lower is better here, as you want the customer to stay engaged whenever possible. There are many tricks for keeping your customers on your site and clicking around, from using Related Posts plugins on your WordPress blogs, to including calls to action or “carrots” that keep the user engaged and informed.

Keep in mind that if you’re driving traffic to a landing page and you don’t really want them to go anywhere else besides signing up right there, this percentage is going to be high. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, depending on your goals.

Pages / Session

If your bounce rate is nice and low, then your pages / session is going to be higher. This means that people are clicking around and checking out more of the site when they come and visit.

Average Session Duration

Good, quality content will keep the user and potential customer on your site and reading for a long time. If you’re old like me, you remember the “Where’s the Beef?!” Wendy’s commercials. Having a lot of “beef” means that users will spend a lot of time there, and hopefully get into what you want them to get into — a conversion.

The other columns only work if you have e-commerce connected to your Analytics account, and that’s beyond the scope of this article. Let’s check out another part of Analytics instead.

Referrals

Click Referrals, then look for social media. These are the times that people click over to your site when you’re not necessarily using URL Builder (though you should be using it most of the time). Maybe they found the URL in your About section. Maybe they found it from someone else’s Facebook page.

Find the first Facebook link you see, but don’t click on it. Facebook divides traffic into desktop and mobile, and sometimes divides it even further in esoteric ways. This is a good way to see how your total efforts on Facebook are having an effect on site traffic.

It's Called Google Analytics for a Reason
Facebook.com refers to desktop Facebook traffic only.

Comparisons

In the upper right, click the arrow and select Compare To. Select Previous Period to choose the immediately preceding period of the same length, or select Previous Year to do a year-over-year comparison. Select Custom to choose what periods you’re comparing. Then, scroll back down to your social media referral source. In this case, Facebook desktop traffic grew 57% from one four-month period to the next four-month period. That’s outstanding.

It's Called Google Analytics for a Reason
Facebook traffic grew 57% over the period analyzed.

There’s one last part of analytics we’re going to check — how to track your internal content and how it’s doing.

Blog Traffic

  1. Click Behavior
  2. Click Site Content
  3. Click All Pages

In the search box, type blog. This assumes that your blog is at sitename/blog/ — if it’s under /news/, then search accordingly. (If you don’t use a subfolder, skip this step.)

Run the same comparison as before.

You can see how your blog is improving over the same time period, and you can also look at individual posts and see how they’re doing over time. Evergreen posts, especially, can sometimes grow over time and become viral long after the date they were first published. This is a good way to identify those posts that are doing well and optimize them for keywords and SEO so that they do even better.

It's Called Google Analytics for a Reason
See how individual posts perform over long periods of time.

There’s a Lot More

Google Analytics is a bottomless pit of data about your site, its behavior and the behavior of the people that visit it. Explore and find more useful data here, and share that data with clients. Clients like to see numbers going up, and if you’re doing your job, they will — and everyone’s happy!

Content is King

Bottom line — you’re referring people from an e-newsletter or social media or an app to your website. You want users to have a reason to enjoy your site when they get there, stay there, read things, and buy stuff. You get that by having a well-designed site, sure, but also by having quality content. Content that’s relevant, timely, engaging, well written, well-designed (with good images!) and above all, original. Do that, and you’re giving users a great reason to leave their social media caves and check out what you’ve got to offer.

Say No to WordPress Visual Editor: HTML Tricks of the Trade

There are two ways to compose a great blog in WordPress: the amateur way and the professional way. Amateurs copy and paste their blogs directly from Microsoft Word, warts and all, then click Publish and forget about it.

Don’t be that person — be a professional! Here are some terrific basic HTML tricks as they apply to WordPress. These tips will allow you to fine-tune your blog presentation. Ultimately, you want fans, customers and prospective customers to see you’ve put some thought into the design as well as the content.

Before You Begin HTML Coding

First, it’s still a good idea to compose the entire blog, pictures and all, outside of WordPress or any other web environment. That’s because a loss of connection or an errant Back button could cause you to lose your work. Although WordPress is good about autosaving, if you lose Internet before it has a chance, it can’t save. Composing your blog’s content locally is wise, because you’re saving it offline and aren’t dependent on a connection to store the document. I particularly like Notepad++, because it keeps track of tags in HTML, among many other useful features.

Next, log in to your blog’s WordPress account, add a new post, then click the Text tab in the upper right. You’re not going to use the Visual Editor at all. Paste the contents of your blog here.

Say No to WordPress Visual Editor: HTML Tricks of the Trade
Use Text rather than the Visual Editor.
Now, you’re going to make the content look nicer, then add pictures.

Header Tags

You know those headlines that you use to break up sections of content? Surround these headers with the <h3></h3> tag. If you have subheads, use <h4></h4>. Also consider using your blog’s SEO keyword in one or more headers, as this is beneficial for optimization and ranking.

Lists

You should code ordered lists, which start at 1. and continue from there, and unordered lists, which are represented by bullet points. To do this, begin a list with <ol> or <ul> depending on whether the list is ordered or unordered. Then, each list item should be surrounded by a <li></li> tag. After you’re done with the list, close it with </ol> or </ul>. When you view the draft, you’ll see the numbers or bullet points, right where they should be.

Text style

Anything you want to emphasize in text, depending on your client’s style guide, should be surrounded by <b></b> or <i></i>, depending on whether you want to boldface or italicize the text. You can also underline with <u></u>.

There are many other tags usable in WordPress to pretty up content, but header tags, lists and text style will get you 90% of the way there.

Images

Now, images are a bit trickier. If you’d like to get a nice, big image that spans the width of the text without any unnecessary text flowing, indents or extra code, you really should do it yourself instead of using WordPress’s built-in tools.

Upload the image

First, upload the image directly to WordPress by right-clicking Media and opening that into a new tab. Then, click Add New. Click Select Files and find your image, then click Open.

Say No to WordPress Visual Editor: HTML Tricks of the Trade
Open Media in a new tab, then click Add New.

Don’t worry about your image fitting inside the blog dimensions. You’ll be showing it it in a smaller size later, and users will be able to click on it to see the full-size version. This is especially useful for screenshots.

Note the Image Data

Once the image is uploaded, click Edit.

Say No to WordPress Visual Editor: HTML Tricks of the Trade
Upload the image, then click Edit.

See where it says File URL? Copy and paste that bit into Notepad — you’ll need that later. Also, write down the width and height of the image.

Say No to WordPress Visual Editor: HTML Tricks of the Trade
Note the image filename and the width and height.

Next, go back to the tab that has your WordPress blog.

Some Good HTML Image Code

Use this code for your image. (You may want to save it for later. I have an Excel spreadsheet that generates this code with everything pre-filled, which saves a lot of time.)

<center><a href=”URL”> <img src=”URL” alt=”” title=”” width=”X” height=”Y”/></a>
<span style=”font-size: x-small;”> </span></center>

Fill in URL in both spots with the File URL you saved earlier. Put the image width where it says X and the height where it says Y.

See that empty space between span tags? Put your image caption here, and make sure to mention your SEO keyword here. It’ll show up in small text just below your image. Cool, huh?

Put that same image caption in the quotes after title. In the quotes after alt, put the title of your blog post as the alt text. This seems counterintuitive, but SEO experts like you to use your blog title as the alt text for images — it’s a neat trick that gains you favor with Google search results.

What about the Featured Image?

Note that some blogs have a Featured Image feature that will automatically put this image at the top of your blog and as a thumbnail in your blog index. This is good, except the image might not be resized appropriately or might appear cropped into a tiny square. Sometimes, you’ll want to use the Featured Image; sometimes, you’ll want to use the code above. Experiment and see what works for you. (Also, remember that the featured image is only one image; the best blog posts have two or more images.)

Save & Preview

OK. Now that you have all your text, all your HTML tags and your image in the right place with the right code, save a draft and click Preview. (I’m assuming you filled in the title, tags, keywords and everything else, as you did before when you used the Visual Editor.)

If all goes well, you’ll see a beautiful blog like this one. It’s possible you missed a tag — those greater-than and less-than symbols are easy to forget — in which case you’ll have to debug your HTML and find the missing tag.

You’re a Programmer?!

Once it all looks pretty, schedule it or publish it and show the world. Congrats, you’re an HTML programmer — and you have more mastery over your WordPress posts than anyone who relies on Visual Editor. What you see is what you get — if you program it that way.

For further resources on HTML, take a look at the excellent tutorials on W3Schools.

Content Marketing: Now What?

You know the feeling of creating the perfect blog post. You’ve done your research and put all of the pieces together. You’ve edited, double checked, triple checked and optimized the content. You spent almost as much time coming up with a clever and catchy title as you did in crafting the blog. This post is your best work yet, it’s bound to go viral, right?

Well…maybe.

Chances are, without the right promotion and distribution, your blog isn’t going viral (no matter how great it is) on its own. Yes, sometimes it happens without any extra effort, but that strategy of wishing and hoping is not going to work for you in the long run. It doesn’t matter if you have incredible content if nobody sees it! Buzzfeed Founder Jonah Peretti has said that when it comes to content marketing, 50% of your time should be spent considering promotion and distribution.

Twitter

Promote your content by tweeting about it, but don’t limit yourself to only one tweet. Send out a link to your blog several times during the day with different copy accompanying the link. You could tweet a quote from the blog, a statistic about the blog topic, how your audience will benefit from reading the content, a catchy headline, one of your thoughts about the blog or a number of other ideas. This makes your Twitter timeline fresh while still promoting one piece of content. By attaching the same link to all of these different tweets, your blog gets more opportunities to be seen by a larger group of people. Space these posts out throughout the span of a week and test out which posts and times work best. Remember, you can’t expect to tweet a link to a blog once have your web traffic go through the roof.

Content Distribution Software

Content discovery offerings such as Outbrain or Taboola can help grow your audience by distributing your content on other sites where people are already in content consumption mode. This audience is targeted, more engaged and likely to stay longer on your content. These content discovery services have networks of publishers to give your content visibility and reach beyond what your social networks can do for you. Outbrain, for instance, appears on over 100,000 online publications and blogs, serving over 100 billion content recommendations every month. While these paid opportunities are not cheap, they send high quality and targeted traffic to your content. If you decide to go this route, remember to keep cost vs. conversion in mind to see if the money you’re spending is worth the results.

Outbrain-link-placements

Email Marketing

If your company has a weekly newsletter, make sure to add a short teaser about your content with a “read more” link. This teaser should entice the email recipients to head over to your website because they want to know more. You could also send a personal email about your content to a select list of people with a link to share. This is the most direct line of communication for you to your audience: straight to their inbox. According to the Direct Marketing Association, email has an ROI of around 4,300%! Email and content marketing go hand in hand.

Direct Outreach

Do you know who the influencers are in your niche? Create an inventory of the most influential bloggers and tweeters in your industry that are engaging, motivating, well-known, impactful and thought leaders. This list can be anywhere from 50 to 500 people. Now it’s time to engage! If you want influencers to interact with your content, you have to interact with theirs. So start by sharing, commenting on and asking questions about their content. Once you have built up a relationship with your influencers, you can start to share your content with them and hope that they share it with their audience. If you have built a strong relationship, you could even email him/her a link and ask for a share (although I wouldn’t recommend doing this frequently).

Facebook

Facebook advertising  is one of the best online marketing options available, mainly for the fact that potential profit is around two to three times better than AdWords and SEM. You can use Facebook advertising to have your content show up in the News Feed of a very targeted audience based on factors such as likes, interests, location, age, gender, education, connections and more. This will expand your reach, drive traffic, increase “likes” on your page and will help improve EdgeRank to help improve your future organic marketing efforts.

Have you found certain tactics that have helped your content go viral?

How to Blog Better With 4 Simple Tips

So you’ve been blogging for a while now. Your posts are error-free, your meta tags are in place and your content strategy is being carried out swimmingly. You’ve read a million “How to Write a Blog” pieces and you’ve moved beyond the simple tricks. In short: you know how to blog.

Or do you?

You might have all the basics down, but lately your blog isn’t pulling in the numbers you were hoping for. In fact, you’re getting less and less clicks as time goes on. You’re also having problems creating content that looks shiny and new. You’re running out of ideas. It’s no surprise. As mentioned in my previous blog, everyone knows what content marketing is at this point. And as everyone creates their own content strategy, they’re creating more and more content. You’re going to have to work harder to make your blog stand out.

Never fear, help has arrived! Below I offer a few simple tips to help you out with your next blog. However, I will point out that none of these tips are a stand-alone cure-all. But more on that later.

Keywords

I’ve mentioned keywords in my previous blog, but I cannot state how important they are. A few simple but direct long tail keywords can really help you get your content in front of the right eyeballs. However, this isn’t your first rodeo, and I’m sure you’re familiar with the science of it. What I’m sure you’ve missed out on is the beauty of starting a blog with a keyword. If you’re blogging, you’re probably a writer at heart. The science of keywords is something you probably begrudging add to your blog after you’ve completed your written work of art, right?

Skip it. Try going to Google first before you touch your newest blog. Let the keyword planner guide the way. I guarantee it’s easier time to seed keywords into a work-in-process than to try to hammer them onto an existing post. You can also use Keyword Planner to search for new blog topics. You’ll most likely find content you would have never thought of before!

Add Rich Content

I’m not just talking about pictures. Everyone knows a well-places image draws the eye and breaks up long pieces of prose. But you don’t want to do what everyone else is doing. Add an infographic to your blog. Not only is it more engaging than a photo—it displays some of that data you’ve spent so much time uncovering. There are even free infographic creators like Piktochart. Have you tried adding audio or video to your blog? There are tons of royalty-free segments out there. You can even try creating some graphic content of your own. That brings me to my next point.

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Conduct an Interview

We’ve all read that blog on that one subject. Yes, really, all of us. We don’t need you to hyperlink to it one more time. Instead of spewing out the same links, try getting in touch with an actual human being to get their thoughts on the subject. Yes, interviewing someone can be a chore. Early in your blogging career, most people will probably turn you down. Even if you get an interview, you’ll need to leverage a bit more time create your content. But even if you don’t have the time or resources to interview someone at Google, you can still profile a person by gathering information about them.

Read a Book

If all else fails, you can read a book. No, I’m being serious. Let’s face it, very few blogs aim for much depth. Most content strategy demands a fast turn around and no one has the time to dig into a subject very deeply. Unfortunately this means a lot of blogs focus on the newest, shiniest subjects. If you want to give your audience something different, put a book review into your editorial calendar. Sure, the content might not be news breaking, but you will certainly have more fulfilling content to share. You’ll also have a unique take on a subject, because you’ve actually done your homework. Gold star!

I believe lazy blogging is bad blogging (yes, you can tweet that). If you want your content marketing to stand out, you’re going to have to work harder than the other person. That means digging deeper, working harder, and thinking differently. It’s not an easy path, but it is a rewarding one. Have some of your own blogging tips for someone stuck in a rut? Comment below!

Creating a Content Strategy in the Wall of Noise

Recently Entrepreneur Magazine wrote an interesting article about the failure of content marketing. In a nutshell, they suggested that content marketers have a long haul from blog post to sale. Entrepreneur suggested content value, professional help and measured analytics can greatly help with content strategy, and who am I to argue? However, I will have to disagree that the focus should be solely on content marketing.

Content Shock

Content Shock

Less recently social marketers had to deal with an ice storm of gloom and doom in the form of Mark Schaefer’s content shock blog post. The idea is that everyone will create so much content that eventually (pick your timeline) creating content will be pointless for anyone but the biggest competitors. There was a lot of backlash to this idea, and multiple arguments against the concept. Change can be difficult, even for people in this field.

What is most enlightening was Schaefer’s response to the arguments against content shock. When addressing that “great content will always rise to the top,” he pointed out that content has a long way to go before it even reaches the eyes of potential customers. Search optimization, Schaefer argues, is as much of a factor of content strategy as content meaning is.

Refocusing Your Strategy

The only constant is that everything eventually changes, and that is doubly true in the field of online marketing. Take a look at SEO. I remember the days when guest blogging was the new silver bullet. How things have changed. Things can also be cyclical, though. I believe that marketers have championed content marketing as yet another cure-all, and now they’re surprised when it’s losing its edge.

So if content marketing isn’t the answer, what will we turn to next? If content is going to reach a high water mark, how can we continue to remain effective? I believe the answer relies on diversifying.

Basic Search is beyond important in a future world where everyone is producing far too much content. It may seem like a simple suggestion, but in a world where SEO has taken a backseat to social, marketers have gotten sloppy when it comes to keyword optimization. Far smarter people than me have written really great articles about using Google’s Keyword Planner, so I’m just going to point you their way. I would also suggest you spend some time with your meta tags. It’s an easy search feature that many marketers overlook.

Video Marketing is about to explode. Forget that, it already has exploded for the big guys. While everyone cannot create amazing written content, almost anyone can try. It takes a bit more work and thought to put together a piece of video content. And while you’re at it, I would suggest looking into podcasts and video blogs as well.

Marketing automation has grown from an emailing tool into an end to end process for sales departments. Perhaps you cannot snag every potential customers with your blog, but you can track their interests through other channels. If content marketing is going to be the silver bullet of the past, marketing automation will be the wave of the future.

What have you done to alter your marketing strategy in a post-content shock world? Have you expanded your marketing grip or re-doubled your efforts on fantastic content? I would love to hear your thoughts below or on Twitter.

Jargon: The Dark Side of Blogging

Your voice might be the most important thing about your writing. Let’s face it, anyone can write a blog. According to Domo, over 340 new blogs are created every minute—and that’s just on WordPress. One of the most valuable ways to make yourself stand out in the wall of social media noise is to have an interesting voice. Simply put, your voice is the unique way you write things. For me, that usually means writing about myself and geeky stuff.

The problem is that sometimes you can’t write about Star Wars or your favorite holiday (mine is Life Day, by the way). Sometimes you have to write about marketing automation or space heaters. That can involve a local of industry jargon. Buried in the acronym purgatory of BTU, SMB and SaaS, your style of writing can become further buried. Suddenly, you’re marking off a list of specs instead of telling a story.

And that simply will not do. We’re marketers; we have a product to share and we have to present that product in an interesting, creative way to potential customers, no matter what it is. So how can you balance your own voice with all of the jargon and product features? I have a few simple suggestions that help me when I’m in the blogging trenches.

Brand-Voice

Be Authentic. That means not only being genuine to yourself, but to your readers as well. If you are selling space heaters, you can be sure you’re selling them to other human beings. That means you need to sound like a human being and you need to connect with your reader on a basic level. That will not happen if you’re just spewing facts instead of building a narrative about your subject.

Bad Idea: The L57 Space Heater comes with real time Thermo 5V sensors that can adjust temperatures between 1 and 8 degrees, if properly programmed with 5-82 remote.

Good Idea: If you need both hands free while at your workbench, our space heater can be programmed to adjust heat output for maximum comfort!

Be Accurate. While it is good be genuine with your readers, you don’t want to swing too far into buddy territory. You aren’t talking to your friends, after all. Avoid generalizations and overly excited prose. You don’t want to bore your audience, but you also don’t want to talk down to them.

Bad Idea: As we all know, the L57 Space Heater is really good, and it can be used pretty much anywhere!

Good Idea: The L57 has been proven to outperform other space heaters in a non-biased heating test performed by Strata College. The L57 is also water and dust-resistant.

Be Honest. While it’s important to avoid jargon for the sake of clarity, it can also be used to make the ignorant seem educated. We’ve all seen (and cringed at) the writer who jumped on a topic with no knowledge, or just enough knowledge to get him/her into trouble. Be honest with your audience and never try to sell a product you know nothing about. The truly educated will always sniff you out.

Bad Idea: The L57 Space Heater is a very good product based on the BTU generation of its fan, which must produce heat through force.

Good Idea: At the time of this writing, we were not sure about the BTU output of the L57. Look for an update in the future, or feel free to contact our sales staff directly at this link.

People come for your content but they stay for your voice. Your unique take on things is what will grow your audience and keep them coming back. Please don’t ever cheapen your talent with false or misleading information.

Have any questions about how to build or grow your own voice in your writing? Or maybe you think something important was missed here? Maybe you’re just lonely want to talk about Star Trek. Feel free to comment below or message me on Twitter.

Guest Blogging is Dead, But Your Blog is Still Alive

According to Matt Cutts, the head of the webspam team at Google, guest blogging is dead.

The reason? The practice has become too spammy. That can be debated, but let’s focus on why a brand should blog in the first place. 77% of internet users report reading blogs. Of that sizable herd, 81% of U.S. online consumers find blogs trustworthy and informative. Without making this about statistics, blogs equate to consumer attention and authority for brands.

But let’s be fair. Most brands (especially small businesses) only want to blog about one thing—their products. According to Ignite Spot, 61% of U.S. Consumers have bought something based on blog content. If blogs can generate sales, why talk about anything but products and features? The simple answer is that overly commercial blogs are spammy and boring. The average Internet user is spending 23 hours online per week, allowing them to see much more content than they did even a few years ago. If your blogs look like nothing more than a wordy commercial, they will be just as dead as guest posting.

A New Hope. So just writing about products and promotions is bad. What should you be writing about? Glad you asked. Below are a few suggestion to get you started down the right path:

  • Local events: Blogging about a traditional festival or new fundraiser in your community is great content for a few reasons. First, it establishes you as an information source to your readers, instead of a salesman. Second, it shows potential customers that you care about their local community, and want to share in those experiences. Finally, it helps out other businesses, who will likely return the favor when you have news to share. Local events are a bit of a misnomer if you’re writing for a national brand, but you can always scale up to events like the Big Ten or the Grammys.
  • Employee profiles: Does every customer rave about your hostess? Why not do a profile on her for your blog? This will establish more of a relationship between your customers and employees, and content like this shows your readers that that you care about your staff. Only interview willing employees though. Don’t force anyone to participate if they don’t want to.
  • (Slightly) Controversial Opinions: Perhaps the local neighborhood is getting a chain restaurant in the spot where everyone’s favorite diner used to reside. Feel free to put just a bit of vitriol behind your blog suggesting everyone shop local. You will want to be very careful with this option. As my grandfather always said, avoid talking about religion and politics in public. You want your customers interested and engaged, not pissed off at your personal views.

Hopefully this will add a few options for your new editorial calendar, but keep in mind that the best way to keep your blogs fresh is to keep learning. Experiment with new topics, and keep reading.

What blog topics have you found the most useful for your brand? What failed horribly? Feel free to share below, or find on Twitter.

Content Hacks: Becoming an Expert

Confession time: I’m a huge geek.

I know that term gets thrown around a lot, but I’m here to tell you I was a fan of Doctor Who before it was cool. I enjoy a lot of things that are not even cool now, including board games (the complicated variety) and role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons. One of things I love about these games is the steep learning curve. You typically have to read a rulebook and understand a wide variety of systems to even attempt playing any of these games. It’s a hobby that requires serious self-learning. As a social media manager and content producer, self-learning is a skill I’ve had to master.

But doesn’t that just mean reading? Well, yes and no. Like playing Monopoly or Risk, you can muddle your way through content production without knowing too much. However, someone is quickly going to learn that you don’t know what you’re talking about, and they’re going to surpass you. This isn’t such a big deal when you’re playing Settlers of Catan, but it can mean alienating or losing your audience on social media. There are 347 new blogs created every minute on WordPress alone. No one is going to waste their time coming back to content that is weak. In other words, you need to know the details backwards and forwards when it comes to your client, their industry and their audience. It’s time to start learning.

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No certificates: I’m going to strongly suggest that you skip, do not pass go and don’t let someone else collect $200 (or more) from you on a certification class. For the most part, these online programs are scams. People with shady credentials are trying to milk money out of you with the “secret to being a social media ninja.” The secret is hard work. Now, I’m sure there are some classes out there that would benefit you, but be leery of anyone claiming to have the magic bullet for social media.

Make research fun: But if there’s no magic certificate, how do you get beyond reading about your industry through Twitter and blog posts? Do you think anyone would read multiple gaming books if the game wasn’t interesting and entertaining? You have to find a way to make your client fun and interesting to you. I once had to create content for a company that produced customized metal parts. Mostly this was for specialized machine pieces. Doing some research, I learned the company also created unique figurines for games like Dungeons & Dragons. Suddenly, I was connected. No matter how dry some of the material was, I could focus.

Read a book: Working in social media, it’s easy to think a published work will be outdated as soon as it hits the shelves or the online stores. The key to books is that their subject matter tends to be deeper and more thoroughly researched. Anyone can crank out a blog post, but it takes someone with skill to create a book. Books also give you a unique perspective and voice on a subject that others will not see without reading the same material. If all else fails, you can at least write a scathing review about it.

As you can see, you need to geek out a little bit when it comes to your content production and your client knowledge. If you are worried about Content Shock, then knowledge might be your greatest defense. After all, geeks know a lot of stuff, and we all know geeks are cool.

What content hacks or tips have you learned? Please share them below, or contact me on Twitter.

Blogs You Should Stop Writing in 2014

We’re already halfway through January, and we have already lived through the Best of 2013 lists. Now the “Things to Watch For in 2014” lists have all but sent us out into the streets armed with improvised month-old fruitcake weapons. January 17th is Ditch Your New Year’s Resolution Day, meaning that this Friday will be the best time to get rid of something annoying. With that in mind, let’s start with some blog posts.

blogpicSeriously, still? That’s right, I’m looking at you, fellow bloggers. Sometimes you create less-than-stellar blog posts, but you can still avoid the biggest sins. These are the big five when it comes to social media blog posts.

  • Obvious optimization techniques: You mean I can really just pay Facebook to boost a post? Well, thank you so much for that tip! Social media marketing is still a new and innovative environment, but it’s hardly the Wild West anymore. We all know to check Facebook Insights for optimum post times.

Solution: Share something that you personally do to improve your social media management. Perhaps you’ve made Twitter lists for all your competitors. Share that. It may not work for everyone, but at least it’s something new.

  • Insanely long list blogs. Hey, I know lists are our bread and butter for content. But the truth of the matter is the average adult’s attention span is only about five minutes. Worse still, less than half of the online audience reads anything beyond 100 words on a website. And less than a third of all viewers of this blog (28%) will finish it. With such short focus, do you really want to test their patience with 57 More Ways to Attract Your Audience?

Solution: Don’t repeat yourself. Be brief. If you really do have 57 pieces of useful content, do everyone a favor and make a series about it.

  • Explaining Social Media Platforms: This one is really about knowing your audience. Anyone that has sought out your blog probably knows what Twitter is. The most recent case of this was the Edward Snowden coverage. Every other blog post re-explained who he was and why the reader should care about the situation, despite the meat of these stories being about something very specific or current.

Solution: Get to the point. If you have someone relevant, just say it. All of your readers have access to Google; they’ll look something up if they aren’t familiar with it.

  • Social Media is like… Please stop trying to say social media is like everything. It’s not. You’re not Forrest Gump, and it’s not inventive anymore. Sure, I’m a little guilty of this, but I was at least a little clever about it. I also didn’t stretch the metaphor like a pair of two year old skinny jeans.

Solution: Ask yourself, does this really fit? Because if you have to work too hard on the connection, it’s not. You went on a cave diving trip and we’re glad for you. You can always do some social media research on the way home. Don’t torture it into a blog post.

  • Exaggerating Your Optimization: If you have a foolproof way to get all of your readers a million Twitter followers, I doubt you’d be writing a free blog about it. Exaggerating the usefulness of your content seems unprofessional and spammy.

Solution: Be honest and show your work. If you’ve had real luck with using text-only Facebook posts, tell your readers how much that has helped you (in numbers) and perhaps show an image of how many fans it reached.

Social media marketing is going to get very crowded in the near future. Trying to get past the wall of noise will be hard enough for someone with useful content so don’t clog up the pipes even more with these posts. Think outside the blog and come up with something cool.

What blog posts are you sick of seeing? Comment below or message me on Twitter at @mendal187.