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Becoming An Influential Content Marketer

The Fine Art of Content Marketing

DELL Dons Beret

credit: DELL

 Since the dawn of communication, man has been involved in the practice of content marketing.  The level of brand engagement that resulted from the uttering of those first staccato grunts in caves or around fires is unclear, but there was sharing, the message was behavior-driven and the content was geared toward a target audience.  Nowadays, whether you realize it or not, if you are actively involved in pursuing business on social media, then you are a content marketer.  This might not be the work you signed on for when you created your LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter accounts, launched your blog, or uploaded that first virtual commercial on to YouTube, but it is part of your job description today.

Business people and companies are competing for eyeballs like never before.  You don’t have to be a search engine savant to know that the Internet is swollen with content.  There is a lot of noise in the cloud.  The challenge lies in getting found, getting noticed and getting known.  Consider those that followed their dreams and staked their claims during the California Gold Rush.  They spent hours upon hours sifting through trays of earth just to find a small nugget.  The nugget was always there; the prospector’s tray just had to be in the right place.  Such is the case with your incredible article, white paper, blog post, landing page, video, or podcast.  Position it well and the right audience will find it.

Although the origin of the term is difficult to pinpoint, content marketing is now a vital entry in the mainstream social vocabulary.  I remember first hearing it in 2007, shortly after I swapped out my Website copywriter’s shingle for that of the LinkedIn consultant.  Today, content marketing is an industry unto itself, a sub-discipline of Internet science, and a staple strategy of social business.  I am amazed at how much content marketing is directed toward, well, content marketing.

 So what are the steps to becoming an effective content marketer?  Glad you asked.

Create a Visibility Strategy

 An all-out assault on the search engines doesn’t guarantee the delivery of a steady stream of spend-ready clients to your virtual doorstep.  Well-executed content marketing is inbound, yes, but who arrives is as important—if not more so—than how many.  Taking your offerings across multiple platforms and appealing to a wide variety of tastes and personalities within (and external to) your target audience will allow you to be a more versatile influencer and allow you to go viral in the right circles.  Build your content portfolio methodically. Depending on the context of your messaging, not all platforms will work.  First, decide what you wish to accomplish with your content marketing objectives.  Who do you most want to reach?  Set some parameters for topic, theme and style, keyword judiciously, and post accordingly.

 Be Compelling and Relevant

Ours is an attention deficit society, one that is constantly demanding injections of fresh, topical content.  Given the accelerated timeline of social media—unique in that it can move light years in a single day—you won’t get much of a chance to and engage prospective clients unless you compel them at the front gate.  People are fickle.  Much as they might give you a courtesy scan, or even go a paragraph or two deep on what you have to offer, if you can’t keep ‘em interested, they’re out.  Moreover, the shelf life of a given post, update, article or tweet is fleeting at best.  Don’t let your output go stale.  Regular content flow ensures that your brand stays in front of people and, over time, you will get noticed.  Good writing, persuasive or otherwise, has an attractive force operating beneath the surface.  It does not happen without practice, purpose and focus. 

Don’t Sound Contrived

Not to downplay the importance of keyword density, but often, people will dilute their message by paying too much attention to coming up high in a specific search category and bombard their piece with certain words or phrases.  Yes, write for Google, but also write for your brand.  People recognize when a piece of content has been doctored for search.  Keyword spamming, or excessive mention of specific terms, is unnatural and actually works to your detriment.  In social, you have to give to get.  You’re going up against people and firms who want to be found in identical searches.  Decide on the text that you want to go after hard, and let the rest go. 

Devise an Appropriate Real World Strategy

Whereas content always has and always will be king, it’s the level of engagement that determines who wears the crown.  These days, it’s about reaching potential customers and clients on an emotional level.  Creating a favorable first impression, and converting that response into a profitable call to action, is the goal of any value-added content marketing campaign.  Ultimately, the dynamic shifts and you move from a position of content management to relationship management.   Over time, you will achieve brand recognition. Social networking, and its requisite skill sets, is the driver.  How you handle inquiries and advance conversations in the physical world will determine your success in business, let alone as a content marketer.  Walk your talk.

As you’re producing each individual piece of content, ask yourself the following questions:

 1). Does it promote my brand?

2). Does it detract from my message?

3). Does it create value for others?

4). Does it influence a call to action?

The once-level playing field has skewed in favor of those who write with clarity, present well, and live up to a perceived brand promise. 

What steps are you taking to market your content?

 

J.D. GERSHBEIN, CEO of OWLISH COMMUNICATIONS, is a specialist in the Art and Science of LinkedIn.  He is a trusted asset to top executives, managers, entrepreneurs, professional service providers, salespeople, and those involved in the search for their next great opportunity.  J.D. offers unrivaled strategic direction to individuals and firms—ranging from small to medium-sized businesses (SMB’s) to Fortune 500 companies— in using LinkedIn to build brand and generate revenue.  Dubbed “LinkedIn’s #1 Brand Ambassador” and “The LinkedIn Black Belt,” J.D. is considered one of the top LinkedIn strategists in the world and a pioneer in the design and delivery of LinkedIn educational programs.  Drawing upon his background in marketing communications, industrial psychology, neuroscience, improvisational comedy and broadcast media, he is helping advance the collective awareness of LinkedIn and inspiring opportunity-oriented professionals in all walks of business.  J.D. is a nationally-known A-list speaker who has been featured on FOX TV News, in the Chicago Tribune, and has guested on prominent coast-to-coast business talk radio programs.  He currently blogs for NBC Chicago and contributes articles on LinkedIn to numerous online publications.  J.D. is also an Adjunct Professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Stuart School of Business where he teaches the school’s first-ever course in social media.  His first book, a treatise on social business communication strategies, is due out early 2012.

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Network While You Work

Continuing the Saying What You Mean focus on how to grow as a leader by incorporating influence-building strategies into your work-style, this week, we look at the world of social networks.

Influential leaders spend time in the center of and making connections between personal and business networks. For most highly influential people, networking is a natural part of life.

However, if you’re like me, and came to the party late, networking tends to feel more like a necessary evil than an networkinginstinctive way of life. Apparently this is a common sentiment. According to Herminia Ibarra and Mark Hunter, in their Harvard Business Review article, How Leaders Create and Use Networks,”…we’ve found that networking—creating a fabric of personal contacts who will provide support, feedback, insight, resources, and information—is simultaneously one of the most self-evident and one of the most dreaded developmental challenges that aspiring leaders must address.”

Before we take the leap into this brave new world, or in the case of strong networkers, before encouraging those we’re mentoring to take the plunge, let’s make sure we know it’s worth it. Then, we can review some simple strategies for getting started.

The biggest hang-up I had with networking is that it seemed to be at worst a self-serving means for getting resources or referrals from others and at best a shallow exchange of favors.

From the outside looking in, networking appeared to be a lot of one hand washing the other with intermittent bouts of you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.

Even the Ibarra/Hunter quote above speaks to a group of contacts providing to the leader. It doesn’t mention anything about what the leader is giving back. However, my personal experiences on the networking learning curve, watching master networkers in action, and hours of reading up on the subject, have all cleared up this initial misconception about networking.

While it is true that the availability of networks from which to obtain information and support is vital to effective leadership that is only a small piece of the picture. The process of “creating a fabric of personal contacts,” requires leaders to earn peoples’ trust by establishing credibility, demonstrating integrity, developing a reputation for adding value, and learning to trust others. These results necessitate far more doing and giving than taking. For example:

  • Using expert time management and organizational skills to plan and run a successful local conference establishes credibility with and adds value to a project team far better than simply handing around a business card that reads “Senior Project Manager.”
  • Spending time meeting new people and forming long-term relationships with them provides a veritable work-out room for toning core leadership “muscles” such as interpersonal and communication skills.
  • Seeking out network contacts for counsel, ideas, and even a little elbow grease signals high levels of trust in those individuals. When trust is given, trust is earned.

An investment in networking returns technical, political, and personal guidance and insight, opens doors to new opportunities, and fortifies your leadership position with coalitions that ultimately make it easier to get results and facilitate decision-making.

Jeffrey Pfeffer, in his Stanford Graduate School of Business Note on Social Networks and Network Structure, states it best, “People intuitively know that networks matter—that where someone is located in the social space and who that individual is connected to can affect that person’s power and influence and even his or her career trajectory.”

Even after I understood that networking is a key ingredient for enhancing influence, I was still hesitant to get started. My reluctance to leave my comfort zone kept me from making the time to network. See, I’m a cave dweller. I believe the trendy parlance is “cloud commuter.” I can and do spend hours in my office working on client projects, reading, and coming up with brilliant blog topics. When I figured out how to link Twitter and Facebook, I thought I’d found cave-dweller networking nirvana! I could meet people from around the world and never have to don a business suit again. Then, I noticed that the people who were actually growing their business through social media were meeting their online networks offline and in person. Holy Tweetup Batman, it’s time to leave the cave!

For influence-builders who need to start networking and networkers who could you some fresh ideas, the strategies that have worked best for me are:

  1. Start Local
  2. Join groups where you can make a significant contribution
  3. Get to know people outside of your “inner circle”

Here are a few practical ideas:

  • Get involved with groups that are geographically convenient. The less time you have to travel to attend a meeting, the more likely you’ll be to show up consistently.
  • Use lunch hours, coffee breaks, and time standing outside conference rooms waiting for the other meeting to finish, to get to know people outside of your immediate department or functional area.
  • Join or bring together people with similar interests who might not otherwise work together. Philanthropic initiatives offer outstanding opportunities to lend a hand to a cause and develop long-term friendships with a variety of people from all areas of an organization or community.
  • Join a Chamber of Commerce and/or professional organization. Be sure to attend all meetings.  It’s difficult to establish trust and build long-term relationships with people you see infrequently. Become actively involved. You’ll build stronger relationships working side by side with people than just sitting next to them at an after hours mixer.
  • Participate in organizations or events that are meaningful to your customers and where you can add value. For example, if you sell educational software, volunteer your time in the school district literacy program. The students aren’t your buyers, but they’re your end-users. In the process of teaching them, you’ll learn more than you can imagine.
  • Take on only what you can do well. You want to establish your credibility by doing what you say you are going to do. For example, if you’re swamped with work and family life, forego being on the board of your professional organization. Instead, volunteer to participate in or run a committee or a single event.
  • When possible, opt for activities you can do with your kids and spouse (local running or bike races, community clean up committees/events, filling back-packs for underprivileged children, etc.). This way, networking provides quality family time rather than taking you away from the ones you love.

What other suggestions do you have for making networking a routine practice?

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How to Self-Promote Unselfishly

Last week, Erica posted this comment:

 “I enjoyed this article. I thought the points about how we “tend to construct barriers” were very interesting, and that you were right on about the dislike of coming off or being manipulative of others. Where my situation differs is that the context I am working in is my own (one person) business, rather than within a larger organization. Therefore, I am interested breaking down mental barriers to precisely the thing that the article defines as being negative: “self-promotion”, but which in the context of one’s own business, is rather necessary and desirable. I’m curious if you can share any thoughts on that?”

 Erica, I work on my own too so I can relate to your situation. You are correct, as an independent contractor, consultant, or product/service provider, marketing technically boils down to “self-promotion.” I believe your concern is how to market your capabilities without coming off as bragging, egotistical or self-serving. The good news is that, when marketing as a solo-practitioner, self-promotion does not have to be synonymous with self-aggrandizement. The two are distinguished by context and intention.spotlight (see also table at end of post)

For the sake of simplicity, I tend to discuss influence as a leadership resource within the realm of a single organization. In this context, “self-promotion” is about pushing an agenda that serves only personal objectives even at the expense of others or the organization. The intention behind the self-promoting behaviors is first and foremost personal gain. The words and actions of individuals who are intent on serving their own needs or desires are often interpreted as coercive or manipulative. This holds true even when the organization is a staff of one. The difference is that for sole-practitioners, our intentions are being read not by co-workers but by prospective buyers and customers.

For the one person business, the issue of intent becomes a matter of whether we’re “in it for #1” or if we truly care about making a contribution to our customers’ organizations and the community at large. Ultimately, prospects and customers are repelled when they sense that their needs are coming in a distant second to the needs of the provider. For example, the use of social media speaks volumes about business intentions. Who are you more likely to trust and purchase from: someone who uses social media as a channel to offer genuine support and valuable information or the person flooding your inbox or Twitter timeline with impersonal unsolicited offers to buy his product or service?

Here’s a recent personal example. I’ve been helping one of my clients select a web developer/SEO provider. He’s narrowed his selection down; but because of business circumstances has delayed his final decision. The vendors have been following up with me. I appreciate those that touch base here and there. However, the one company I was pushing as the “top choice” has been pursuing me a little too hard. They’ve even voluntarily lowered their initial bid; which makes me wonder why they didn’t just provide us their best pricing in the first place. I’m starting to get the sense that they are desperate for customers or the salesperson has a big personal stake in closing the deal. If they are this concerned about their business in the dating phase of the relationship, what’s going to happen once they’ve tied the knot?

If you are concerned that your efforts at self-promotion might be construed as self-aggrandizement, first, ask yourself this:

Are you promoting your capabilities as a means to push your personal agenda, potentially at the expense of others?

Or

Are your efforts at self-promotion a means to let prospects and customers know how you can help them achieve their targeted results?

What’s the truth behind your intentions?  Whose business objectives come first: yours or your customers?

If your intentions are in the right place, take the time to understand the role that prospects or customers play in their market space. Determine what your customers do for their customers. Next, assess how your product or service helps your customers do this better, faster, or for less money. Then, build a marketing engagement that reflects your intentions and communicates value from the buyer’s perspective.

Lastly, incorporate the I-Style practices into your marketing efforts, apply them within customer relationships, and use them to be a catalyst between organizations. As long as your daily pursuit of these activities and behaviors is driven by a desire to contribute to “the greater good”, you will be self-promoting without self-aggrandizing.

What steps can you take to make them part of your marketing efforts? How can you apply these practices both across and within your customer organizations?

promotevaggrandize

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