Friday, August 31, 2012

Is Instagram Right for Your Business?

If you haven't been in the loop on what's going on with this little app called Instagram, you're in for a surprise. Over the span of a few short months, the little company went from launch to being acquired by Facebook. As a marketing medium, Instagram creates some unique opportunities for businesses that want a way to connect visually with their customers. But is Instagram right for your business?

Instagram Snapshot

Quickly rising in the ranks of social media is Instagram. Instagram is an Internet-based program that allows people to share pictures with others for free. Users upload pictures they take from their iPhones and Android devices onto the Internet using the Instagram app. These pictures can be linked to Facebook and Twitter, as well as other networks such as blogs. Users can filter their photographs through a variety of artistic looks such as sepia, black and white, and other options.
In short, Instagram can make anyone look like a 
professional photographer and share their lives with their friends and family through picture form, allowing them, literally, to see the world through their eyes. Much like Facebook and Twitter, Instagram users can choose to follow and can be followed by any user they desire.  In addition, because Instagram is owned by Facebook and photos are uploaded there, all Facebook friends can view your photos, “like” them, and comment on them. If your business already has a Facebook page, this is just one more way to interlink your social media marketing.  

Facebook recently purchased Instagram for a cool $1Billion USD. Instagram is currently being transformed into a marketing machine by the Facebook team and integrated into the Facebook family of resources and applications. While major changes have not become apparent as of this date, Instagram users are cautiously optimistic that the Facebook acquisition isn't going to break something that they've grown to love.

Using Instagram for Marketing

Instagram has huge potential for marketing for some businesses. One main reason for this is that you can both show and tell about your product and company. Did your company building just get a facelift? Instagram it. Did you just launch a sweet new product? Instagram it.
Instagram helps build credibility because you’re not just telling people about something, you’re giving them visual proof of it. It’s also great for building positive press. The more people that follow you and “like” your photos, the more people will see your product and see that other people like your product as well. It makes your company seem more down to Earth and relatable, as well.
Another trend is to use the artistic filters in Instagram to create a branded look for your images. You basically select a filter or style of filter that you apply to all of your images and this creates a consistent look and feel across this particular marketing medium.

Use in Your Business

Obviously, not every business is going to benefit from using Instagram. For instance, an accounting company won’t have much use for taking creative shots of their number systems. However, advertising companies wanting to show off their work, graphic designers, publishing companies, and other creative types of companies would greatly benefit from the use of Instagram. Take pictures of projects, buildings, staff, and special events hosted by your company.
Again, this makes your company much more human and engaging. The more that you can simply get people to like you as a brand, as a company, the more likely it is that they will want to do business with you.  Instagram is a user-friendly and free way to build positive press for yourself and your work.
As Facebook integration becomes more streamlined, watch for new tools to help you continue to brand through Instagram. Whether its the ability to automatically apply your own logo, create your own filters, or simply select which Facebook page on which to post images, we're sure to have some new tools to make marketing all the more simple.


3 Shocking Social Media Stats That Will Amp Up Your Marketing

Keys to social media
1. Nielsen estimates that social media and blogs reach 80% of all active US Internet users (of which there are 245 million). 
If you’re not there, you’re missing out on plenty of potential opportunities to increase brand awareness, identify prospects and strengthen relationships with existing customers. The vastness of that statistic indicates that if you aren’t on social media or actively blogging, your competitors probably are, forging relationships that could be yours.
Leverage the Stat:
a. Locate your prospects: Perform a social audit to find out where your customers and prospects spend their time online.
b. Secure channels: If you haven’t already done so, secure your place on social media channels and start a blog. Fill out each profile completely to answer the basic questions your audience may have: who are you, what are you about and how can they contact you.
3. Develop a content strategy and content: What themes will you own? What non-promotional content will you share with your audience? Develop engaging, relevant content themes that support your brand.
 2. One in every seven minutes spent online is spent on Facebook. 
A similar implication as stat #1: that’s a tremendous amount of time spent on Facebook. Other sources confirm the average Facebook visit is 20 minutes per user. The takeaway is clear: Facebook welcomes a large and engaged audience. For marketers, this represents a prime opportunity to share your message with visitors, possibly with more people per day than visit your own site. To properly capitalize on this opportunity, brands need to have a high EdgeRank, coupled with high quality content. For more on EdgeRank, check out our paper EdgeRank: Stop Worrying About It and Love Your Content.
Leverage the Stat:
a. Post one to two times daily – The half-life of a Facebook post is 18 hours, so limit your posting to one to two times per day. More than that may actually decrease engagement.
b. Include media – Adding a photo and video to posts increases the life of content by 16% and 9% respectively. Always support posts with a photo (or a video, if possible).
c. Encourage sharing – Feature clear calls-to-action on your posts. If you want to expand your social reach, invite your followers to share the content with their friends. 

3. 91% of experienced social marketers see improved website traffic due to social media campaigns and 79% are generating more quality leads.
That’s the ideal scenario – social marketing as a driver of increased website traffic and leads. It may not happen overnight, but by investing in the proper resources and research, brands can improve and optimize their social marketing performance. 
Leverage the Stat:
a. Learn from the best: Study the leader in your industry and category. How are they leveraging social to drive growth? Analyze and apply best practices gleaned from studying the category leaders. (To get started, check out what top social brands like Whole Foods and Farmers Insurance are doing in our paper Social Success Stories: Marketing Lessons from Industry Leaders).
b. Join the conversation: Find discussions that are relevant to your brand and offerings. Publish content that will tap into their passions. Take it from the owner of Foiled Cupcakes, who recruited 94% of her clientele by making connections on Twitter.
c. Interact creatively with your fans and followers: Provide an incentive to sign up for an email newsletter or run a contest asking for photo submissions of customers using your product. Feature winners on your Facebook Cover Photo, website and/or Twitter background.


Collaborative Consumption – Could Your Business Benefit from Crowd Power?

Collaborative consumption (CC) is not a new concept, but technology – and, in particular, social media – has given this age-old practice a method of delivery that has allowed it to expand on a global scale that, until now, has not been possible. This concept of peer-to-peer sharing and peer-driven redistribution using online platforms is quickly recreating an old-world village atmosphere of bartering, lending, swapping and renting; however, this time around, ‘village’ residents may live on an entirely different continent and not just down the street.

 We all value access to the things we want and need, but are becoming less inclined to insist on individual ownership being part of the deal. And, of course, as families face the financial hardships brought about by the ‘Great Recession’, the cost of ownership is a price many can no longer afford to pay. Rather than purchasing toys that will quickly be outgrown, textbooks that have little value after the class, or ballgowns, movies and tools that will only be worn once, watched once or used once, collaborative consumption allows consumers to save money, while never having to go without.
 Between the global economic crisis, the move towards greater environmental awareness, the generational shift away from excessive consumerism and the universal value placed on saving money, it was only a matter of time before an economic model like collaborative consumption would become a disruptive trend turning old business models on end. This is particularly true when CC is thought of as a type of new social welfare where people supporting one another are bridging some of the gap left by the erosion of traditional support systems on which communities once relied, such as social programmes, religious organisations and charities.
 The phenomenal growth of eBay and craigslist, for example, shows us just how successful these online platforms can be, and it goes beyond that to further show that people do not need to be tech-savvy to take advantage of this growing trend. Sellers, buyers and bartering partners who may have little tech-related knowledge come together to do business based on their joint value of the concept of saving money and trading pre-owned goods they no longer want, often, for someone else’s pre-owned goods that meet their current needs.
In 2010, TIME magazine named collaborative consumption among its ‘10 Ideas that Will Change the World’, and CC proponent, Rachel Botsman deemed collaborative consumption “a new socio-economic ‘big idea’ promising a revolution in the way we consume”, and put forth that it allows community members to “create value out of shared and open resources in ways that balance personal self-interest with the good of the larger community”. It is publications and people like these that are increasing the social acceptance of collaborative consumption and promoting the benefits of this economic model that relies on trust, recommendation and reputation in a society where trust has become an increasingly rare commodity.
Companies that do not currently use collaborative consumption should be aware of this growing social trend and consider the opportunities it provides to build closer, stronger relationships with their customer base and the community. Much like social media has become an integral part of any successful promotional effort, the massive influence and momentum of collaborative consumption cannot be ignored and should be on the radar for inclusion in the ongoing marketing strategy of every business.


Five social media marketing mistakes

Building your company’s social media presence takes time and effort, and it starts with a solid strategy that includes goals and measurements. However, even the best strategy can be undermined by common mistakes that you may not even realize you are making.

Here are five of them.

Posting irrelevant information. Every post that you make as a business should be integrated into your business, your product and your services. Posting information that does not reflect your brand can create negative brand equity. Think through each post to ensure it represents your brand messaging and has a direct tie into something about your business.

Not responding in a timely manner or engaging your audience with interactive contact. Check your social media assets regularly. A brand that builds a social media presence, then neglects it, reflects negatively on that brand. It’s actually better to not have an account if you don’t have the time and resources to actively manage it and participate. And remember, the main premise behind social media is just that, it is intended to be “social.” Do not continually broadcast your messaging and use your social media assets solely as a distribution portal. Ask questions, share interesting facts and figures, poll your audience.

Sharing too much information. Do some of your friends post EVERY single photo from their uncle’s wedding? Do you know someone that chronicles his or her daily activities constantly? Businesses can be guilty of TMI just as easily as friends can. Before posting event pictures, identify the top five photos that tell your story effectively and post just those in social media.

Believing that social media is free. Yes, social media platforms are free to begin to build your business presence, but that is where “free” ends. In order to represent your business as engaging and interested, social media requires a constant commitment of time and energy.

Believing that you have to be everywhere. There are two things to keep in mind about social media: there will always be new networks developing, and business owners have limited time and money to devote to social media. I recommend doing your research in advance and choosing one or two of the most relevant and effective social media platforms to reach YOUR customers, and focus just on these channels.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

How to Add Value to Social Media Fans and Create Deep Loyalty

“Give and it shall be given to you” is one of the oldest proverbs from the Biblical gospels. Giving has a reciprocal reaction when done sincerely. If you add value to people with the intent of solving their problems, making their lives better, or just giving them a shout-out, you will receive back.
In my series on developing loyalty strategies that produce strong brand advocates, we’ve already looked atconversation building and crowdsourcing. When rating social media loyalty strategies, adding value is at the top of the scale. But it is there for a reason—it takes the most work, but it produces the greatest rewards. And when it comes to crisis prevention, the support you’ll garner from implementing value-adding strategies will be your strongest shield.
Simplified, adding value has three tactics:  give nods, give gifts, solve problems. It’s not about you or what you want the customer to hear.  This model is the most time consuming because it requires you to dig deep and find out what your customers really need. Adding value to fans means making a commitment to know them as people, not acquisition numbers. Not necessarily each and every one, but it requires well developed personas.  This piece from Heidi Cohen illustrates the importance of using personas in marketing. If you’re not familiar with how to build and use personas, my new book has some good information on how to engineer personas for social media strategy.
Give nods. Shout-outs, thanks, links to outstanding brands—these are all examples of how to give nods. Nonprofits and higher education are experts at the thank you video. Businesses would do well to follow their example. AT&T put together a highly successful campaign of thank you videos on YouTube. It’s an inexpensive way to draw attention to your supporting fans. “Fan of the week” campaigns would also be a good example here.  Also, draw attention to your fans that solve the problems of other community members.
Give gifts. Who doesn’t love coupons? But there is a caution here. A Constant Contact consumer survey  recently found that the majority of people follow brands in social media to receive discounts and deals. The missing link in this research is that there was no correlation to engagement levels. We know we can hook people with promises of discounts and freebies, but does that “value” foster growing loyalty? My husband loves to buy anything on sale, whether he needs it or not.  The value, for him, is in the discount, not the brand. To connect gifts and loyalty, make sure your gift solves a problem for your fans.
And what if you are B2B? You can offer discounts on event tickets, a free hour of consulting, or free enrollment in a service. Use your imagination here.
Solve problems. American Express has developed a large group of invested fans in their OPEN forumwhich concentrates on solving problems by interest and need. It allows small businesses to connect immediately with people who have similar needs and situations. Also they enlist experts to write articles and answer common questions for small business owners. 
Find the sweet spot of value for your fans, and design content and rewards that hit that spot. That may be a combination of discounts, shout-outs, problem-solving, crowdsourcing, reward points for new products, or many other options. Even though value-adding takes a lot of research and work, it pays the highest rewards. How do you add value to your fans? Leave some suggestions for the rest of us in the comments.


Can You Hear Me Now? Facebook Searches for New Reach Metrics

If a man stands on the corner and shouts a message through a megaphone, everyone who walks past him will hear the message. That’s reach. He talked, they heard it, but did they listen?
Let’s say he’s shouting about a sandwich deal at a local sub shop. If one person who heard him decides to eat at the sub shop instead of the pizza place next door, then we have a winner. But if 900 people walked by and still passed on eating at the sub shop was it worth the cost of the man and the megaphone? Probably not.
The trouble is, no one can predict what a crowd will do, so you put out the best pitch you can, roll with the odds and hope for the best.
The question is, how do we measure the results we get, good or bad? Do we count the 900 people who heard the message (reach) or the 1 person who bought the sandwich (conversion).
It seems like more and more, we’re all about reach. Facebook added this metric to their stats but no one really understands what the number means. (Tell the truth, you don’t really know.)
Now Facebook is looking at that new metric known as the GRP or Gross Ratings Points. This number is determined by frequency x’s reach for a particular channel. 900 people heard megaphone man every day for 5 days = 4500 GRP.
It’s actually calculated on percentages of the target audience, so this is an over simplified version, but the idea is the same. GRP is about measuring reach, which, I suppose, is all we can do, but it’s not right.
The metric we need, in order to gauge success, is how many people an ad influenced. How many people spent their money or followed through on a suggestion because they saw an ad. In the real world, tracking this metric can be tough, but online not so much. So why are we paying to “reach” 900 people when megaphone man clearly didn’t get the job done?
Why? Because if Facebook only charged for ads based on conversions, they wouldn’t make any money.
Now suppose we put megaphone man on commission. He only gets paid a percentage of every sale he sends our way. Think he’ll work harder? Think he’ll be more persuasive and choose a better corner and a better time for his message?

How To Choose a Social Media Agency

A social media agency decision should not be an easy one. You need to speak to numerous social media professionals before you can find the right group of people who understand your brand inside and out and can show you results on what you care about achieving in the space.
I’ve been on both sides of the table when it comes to hiring and pitching with social media agencies and some things prove to be consistent regardless of the situation. For those social media agencies reading and PR managers, small business owners, or professionals looking to hire the playing field can become quickly muddy with false promises and misunderstandings.
digital marketing strategy
Today I want to focus on hiring the agency rather than being a prominent marketer at one. Whether representing a healthcare professional in social, a lawyer, or even another agency; certain things should be addressed right from the start.

Social Media Brand Marketing

With over 900 million people constantly sharing their Facebook likes, tweets, and comments its safe to say that the vast majority of professions are on social media. That said, having a social media agency understand and digest what makes the client unique and engaging is critical in shaping their strategy.
This happens prior to creating accounts or running advertising. This happens in an intimate brainstorming session. If this happens over a few emails or an answering machine you’re probably not going in the right direction. They’ll ask questions such as,
What do you believe is appealing about your brand rather than your competitors?
Where are your weaknesses so we can define them and improve on them online?
Who are the type of people you want to interact with and should be interacting with you?
Be prepared with answers. You might as well answer those questions. I mean, its obvious those are the ones I would ask you. And I’m that guy.

Social Media Reward Metrics

I use the term reward metrics to define the key metric you care about above all else while utilizing social media for your brand. It can be the most active Pinterest campaign or an overall CTR rate on all social media for sales. This needs to be determined so we shape a strategy for the end game.
A great social media agency won’t stop there and just listen to what you want, but using their expertise in the space and the understanding of your brand they’ll be able to tell you which reward metric will benefit you the most during the campaign.

Creative Content Strategies

The brand has been fully understood by the social media agency and the reward metric has been determined. Now getting there can be outlined through a creative content strategy which attracts users.
Interview with CEO
An inside look with a CEO is a great creative content strategy
Finding a creative social media agency for this is a challenge as you’ll want content which is not only shared and encompasses the brand, but can invoke a communities response. The agency will handle community management, but in creating content that organic users can interact with themselves is key.

Understanding the Relevance of SEO

If the social media agency is successful on all of the above then you’ve struck gold. Congratulations. The next step is looking into a search marketing campaign and understanding SEO. The social media agency should understand the basics of this and can confidentially explain it to you as a client. If they can do it than you’ve struck platinum. It’s better than gold. Congratulations.

3 Tweaks Needed For Social Media Success

There’s no shortage of information on how to be successful with Social Media. You’ll find two excellent ways to do this, four awesome reasons to do that, and many more how-to posts. Most of these offer valuable information on how to use social media to achieve the results you’re looking for. The question becomes: do you really want to be successful with Social Media? I mean, really??

1. Change starts with advice from the experts.

Social Media has been around long enough now for people to be known as professionals, or experts. (yes, I know all the elitists are now leaving and discrediting this post). Social Media experts would be considered people who have experienced success and failure, learned what it takes to be successful, and are able to clearly share those lessons with others. Here at Shift Digital, we try to educate our readers based on our own experience, with tons of advice and lots of how-to’s. But with every post we wonder: will this information make a difference? I mean really make a difference? If it is read only by people who are bloated with knowledge, with no resulting action, the answer is no.

It’s time fo a social media metanoia, a change of mind that leads to a change of behavior. It’s time that we stop reading all the blogs, books and watching all the videos. Stop saying we agree with everyone…and start putting to use all the info and advice and we’ve been given. It’s time to hustle.

2. Change doesn’t happen by acknowledging the word of experts; it happens in the response to their advice.

This is a simple message, but it means the difference between success and failure. You have to put to action the things you hear that are true, wise and good for your end goals. If you have no response, you will not move forward. In other words, you will fail.

I read lots of blogs, some of my favorites are Spin Sucks, Danny BrownAmeena Falchetto, and The Content Cocktail. In each community, we spend a lot of time commenting back and forth on the content. While I think there is great value in being a part of those communities, I often wonder what we are doing with that knowledge other than wielding it to our peers. Are you doing anything with the knowledge you gain from the experts? More than always commenting, it is time to make a change and to act on the knowledge you’ve been given.

What’s important here is the response to what you learn. You will be truly successful, and have a true digital community, when you act on what you’ve heard and been shown.

3. Change happens when you take action.

You will be successful with Social Media when you hear wisdom and put it to practice, instead of just stockpiling it. Yes, you might fail. But that’s where learning happens, and your response to that failure will determine whether you will ultimately be successful or not. When failure happens, be transparent. Clean up the mess, adjust, and try again.

On the flip side, there is danger in just being a “do-er”, and trying to follow all the ever-changing rules of Social Media. Just being a do-er makes you robotic and unhuman. But acting smart, discerning what is right for you, and being relational will lead you to Social Media Success. And if you are not up for the relational part, you are missing the point and will undoubtedly fail.

At this point you’ve gained enough knowledge to know the value of Social Media. At the end of the day it is up to you to either keep getting fat with knowledge, or put what you know in to action and be successful.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Rise Of Visual Social Media

Social Media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest have ushered in visual marketing as the breakout trend for 2012. When it comes to their products, business are learning to show, not tell, and visual content sites are fueling our desire for beautiful photography and sensational design. Two years ago, marketers were spreading the maxim that "content is king," but now, it seems, "a picture really is worth a thousand words."

"Blogs were one of the earliest forms of social networking where people were writing 1,000 words," says Dr. William J. Ward, Social Media professor at Syracuse University. "When we moved to status updates on Facebook, our posts became shorter. Then micro-blogs like Twitter came along and shortened our updates to 140 characters. Now we are even skipping words altogether and moving towards more visual communication with social sharing sites like Pinterest." 

This trend toward the visual is also influenced by the shifting habits of technology users. As more people engage with social media via smartphones, they're discovering that taking a picture "on the go" using a high-resolution phone is much less tedious than typing out a status update on a 2-inch keyboard.

2012 study by ROI Research found that when users engage with friends on social media sites, it's the pictures they took that are enjoyed the most. Forty-four percent of respondents are more likely to engage with brands if they post pictures than any other media. Pictures have become one of our default modes of sorting and understanding the vast amounts of information we're exposed to every day.

Detavio Samuals is the EVP and Director of Client Services at GlobalHue, one of the nation's top market advertising agencies. He explains that pictures are a bit like movie trailers for written content--they provide a snippet of what an article, brand, site or other piece of content is about, so that you can quickly decide if it's what you wanted or not.

"Pictures have also become a short form way of communicating lots of information quickly and succinctly," says Samuals. "The need for publishers to get to the point quicker than ever came about as humans became more pressed for time and content became more infinite. For publishers, it was evolve or risk losing their audience and the only thing shorter than a tweet or post is a picture."

So what does all this visual stimulation mean for brands?

Fashion designer Kahri-Anne Kerr uses visual social media sites like Pinterest and Facebook to market her Kahri collection. In the fashion world, visual fantasy sells product, as customers need to see the cut of a garment on a model and feel as though they could make that item work in their own wardrobe. "When I post pictures on Facebook, they get the most feedback of all my posts," says Kahri. Visual media is a great way to share more about what inspires the designs, as well as linking to your online store and straight product shots."

"I am just getting into Instagram, which I use to give a personal look at the person behind the label by taking shots around my studio and in my everyday life."

Designer paper/analog brand Moleskine has harnessed the power of visual media to create one of the world's most active, prolific, and creative online communities. Their visual content strategy focuses on user-generated content: they create large-scale projects that users participate in by posting their own images and videos.

A popular campaign called What's In Your Bag? had users update pictures of the contents of their bags into a Facebook album. The project generated thousands of likes and comments as readers looked at the contents of other bags (which included Moleskine notebooks, naturally), and shared photos with their friends.

Inspiring fans to create and spread images, customize their notebooks, organize online competitions and otherwise engage with the brand on a creative level have set Moleskine apart in their highly specialized market.

Search engines now rank content based on social conversations and sharing, not just websites alone. Brands can use visual content on their social media to increase engagement and inspire sharing and viral marketing. The rise of platforms like Pinterest and Instagram, and Facebook's multi-million dollar acquisition of the latter, shows how visual content is becoming an increasingly important force for communication online.

Brands who can rock visual media will find themselves market leaders.

Social Media Savvy Knows No Age

There is no argument that Generation Y was born in Social Media; some of us were even sonogram photo statuses on our parents Facebook walls. As strong as Gen-Y is in being social media savvy, we need to remember who still holds court as the most powerful age group on and off the web- The Baby Boomers.  I’d venture to say that there are more iPad’s and smart phones in retirement communities (in Florida, of course) than a few Texas sized High Schools put together.
A few months back I poked fun at the way some Boomers communicate via social networks, and I am in no way retracting that statement. What I am saying though, is that the Baby Boomer generation has, more often than not, a better understanding of what REALLY goes on in the social media world. Boomers take the time to educate themselves and understand what’s up and coming in a world they were not born into. Folks my age are too lazy to absorb anything else, our minds are cluttered enough with the social platforms we were born on, attempting to keep up with the job market, who went where on spring break, and reading “texts from last night.”  The Boomers who have taken the time to learn what social media is all about, understand how it works better than the people the platforms were designed for.
Sneaky Baby Boomers.  
What other generation has the time and money to purchase the devices that most of us spends time browsing the net on? Certainly not Gen-Y who lives on the border of Williamsburg, Brooklyn with 6 roommates; and Gen-X is still paying off their college loans and taking their kids to soccer practice. Boomers have the life experience. Coupled with the ability to overcome nearly any learning obstacle, Boomers have proven to be the most social media savvy. Their entire lives have been focused around adapting, and that is what they do best in stride.
Now Boomers, don’t get all excited at the fact that I am bowing down to your greatness.  Us Gen-Y folks are still on top on the game when it comes to communicating via social networks-you’ve got to give us that one. As stated before, there are pockets of Gen-Y’s that lack understanding of certain channels; but I guarantee once introduced to the Social Apps, you won’t be able to keep up with the reposts, comments, and #hashtag references that’ll enter the digital realm. So to be fair, I still vote that social media savvy knows no age, but I tip my hat to the Baby Boomers who are hopping on the bandwagon (and taking the reins!). 

6 tips for writing irresistible content for your target audience

Whether you’re trying to grab attention to your newspaper, e-mail or blog post, one constant has remained: Content is king. You can write the greatest headline in the world, but if the rest of the content doesn’t deliver, captivate readers or mesh with the target demographic, you’ll quickly lose interest. The secret to creating and maintaining buzz for your content is to write content your audience wants to read. That sounds simple, but knowing your audience — and what it wants — is anything but easy.
First, you need to identify your audience. There are several methods to identify your audience, such as determining keywords that are bringing users to your website, creating user personae and more. Once you’ve identified your audience, you should create content that speaks to each user persona. Do not stray from this concept, because you will lose readers or followers. Readers are finicky at the beginning of any article or post. If you don’t capture their attention with the title, the remainder of the content might as well be in a language they don’t understand.
For example, let’s say you operate a blog about the exam for certified public accounts. Who is your audience? There are a few user personae we can identify without doing much detailed analysis. You can easily create personae for your audience in the same manner.
  • Students: those in their early 20s who are working on an accounting bachelor’s or master’s degree, with the intent of taking the CPA exam eventually.
  • Entry-level professionals: early- to mid-20s professionals working full time at a public accounting firm, after attaining a bachelor’s or master’s degree. This group is most likely to be actively involved in accounting practices or preparing to become a CPA.
  • Career changers: adults looking to change careers or re-enter the workforce.
  • Educators: accounting professors who might need to discuss CPA exam content with their students.
  • Professionals: licensed CPAs who are concerned about the future of the profession.
Let’s say we want to target entry-level professionals, because this is likely the largest of the five personae we have identified. Many of these individuals have probably taken entry-level jobs as an accountant but have not yet sat for the CPA exam. One of the greater stresses about this exam is finding out one’s score for each section. Though the exam is largely computerized, it can take a few months for scores to be reported to the appropriate governing body. So “CPA exam score release” is a hot topic and sure to draw attention from entry-level professionals because this demographic would be interested in knowing exam scores.
This would be a perfect theme or title to create your content around. When reading this blog for the first time, readers will immediately be locked in because the content pertains to their situation — not their past, not their future, but what they are actively involved in at the moment. Most readers and discussion groups talk about what’s happening now. What’s buzzing? By focusing your title and content on “the now” of your target audience, you have a much better chance of each reader reading your article or post from beginning to end, which is the goal of any writer.
When selecting a topic, there are a few tips to keep in mind.
  • Pick one that relates to at least one of your user personae. This drives at least one group of users to your content and is sure to relate to them.
  • Topics should be useful or answer a question. This encourages social sharing, allowing your content to reach beyond its page.
  • Pick a controversial or trendy topic. Readers usually show initial interest in current topics and trends compared with those of the past. That is, unless you are comparing a “now” topic with a past topic.
  • Limit the sales and marketing aspect of your content. If you’re only trying to sell a product or service, you will probably fail. No one likes to feel as though he or she has been sold, but everyone likes to buy.
  • Analyze solutions that have worked for others, and share them, because one can never have too many solutions. Solutions are exactly the type of content or discussion that goes viral.
  • Find out your user personae’s questions. Sites such as Yahoo! Answers and Quora can be a gold mine for content topics.
While there are tactics that can drive users to your content — using social media tools such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. — the simplest way to generate buzz is to produce great content. Know your audience, their concerns, their questions and their requests. Selecting the right topic and targeting your audience is the easiest way to generate buzz and keep users coming back.