Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Colleges and Universities are Earning High Marks Through Tailored Content

It’s not just large corporations that use social collaboration tools and content to connect different audiences. Institutions of higher learning are reaching out and communicating with their various stakeholders through different types of content as well.

Graduation Cap, Education, SchoolStudents, faculty, staff, alumni and donors … these all represent different audiences for whom content must be tailored. Those colleges that are using content to engage and create stronger community are going to the head of the class.

Content for educational institutions must sometimes be the same and just as often be quite different.
  1. Students want to read about what they’ll discover at the school or get information about courses, clubs and schedules; staff needs access to content regarding employee policies and procedures or financials.
  2. Prospective and current students may want to read the school’s blog on career advice, the advantages of various majors, or learn about successful graduates and their paths to success.
This content can be used to attract new, high-quality students, recruit strong faculty, encourage donations, or boost the school’s online visibility and brand reputation. It can be website content, an alumni newsletter, segmented emails, even social media posts. By inviting various constituencies to read and comment on content creates community and in the world of higher education (just as in the corporate world), engaged students are happy students.

For example, the Fashion Instituteof Design & Merchandising (FIDM) in California had needed to create content and platforms for its various groups to use. Students, staff members, alumni, student prospects all need access to different information and applications (not the enrollment kind).

The college needed solutions that would weave together the thousands of students, employees and others. Three portals are used (one for the public, one for students and alumni, and another for employees), the different programs are related to those specific audiences, but all users have a single point of access to get the content they need and enjoy online collaboration. You can read the full case study of how solutions from IBM helped various stakeholders access the online information and apps they need.

Content for different users: students, faculty and staff
There are many ways to create content geared to the different constituents in a college/university setting—and many reasons to do so. From developing and maintaining a donor base to recruiting new students, content can be a dynamic growth generator. And because the audiences are so diverse across ages in particular, the need to communicate across traditional and digital channels is important. Here are a few ways to bring content marketing into higher education and go to the head of the marketing class.

·        Blog posts, infographics and videos are excellent recruiting tools, combining the valuable information that prospective students and families need in an engaging, image-rich format. The more information (or education about the school) you can give users without being sales-y, the better.
·         Website content hubs by user – Microsites for various audiences, all accessed through the school’s public website, allow for community engagement for new students, prospective students, parents/families, alumni, and faculty. Everyone has access to the same general information but can read up on what’s most pertinent to them at any time.
·        Online tutorials and competency-based learning -- Self-paced learning, outside of the traditional lecture hall, gives students as much time as they need to grasp a challenging concept and is an excellent tool for students who need additional help with course material. They can watch the content as many times as they need, at their own pace to keep up with class work and achieve better grades. Remedial courses or massive open online courses (MOOC) can also be deployed by colleges to boost efficiency and serve more students. MOOCs, which arose out of distance education (a growing trend) use collaborative tools that help build a community for students, professors, and teaching assistants.
·        Online press releases help support an institution’s messaging about programs, the student body or faculty, and feed into website and newsletter content about the same or similar topics. Together, they can be a marketing powerhouse.
·         Alumni magazines help keep alumni connected to the school through their content. A 2010 survey from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) found that 58 percent of alumni feel that these publications strengthen their personal connections to universities.
  • Articles may be about interesting faculty or alumni, new research or curriculum initiatives, and showcase outstanding students or staff. These stories all engage alumni and can help keep endowments strong and develop the next generation of students there.
  • For younger students or alums who are accustomed to doing lots of reading online, digital editions make a lot of sense and save money over print versions.
·        Email – Offices of student life, alumni, student financial services and the bursar, the dean of students or department heads … the list of emailers and audiences is vast in a college or university setting. Email marketing requires content to engage each particular audience.
  • Another CASE study* (about the use of social media in higher education) found that many school administrators think of email as a legacy medium that is being replaced by texting and other short messaging tools; however, the white paper states that, “When asked to compare email to social media for its success in meeting unit goals, 46 percent of this year’s respondents confirmed that they considered email more effective than some social media channels, and an additional 31 percent rated it over all social media.” [Source: *Social Media Enters the Mainstream: Report on the Use of Social Media in Advancement, 2014 by Jennifer Mack and Michael Stoner

·         Social media – it’s here to stay and it’s growing in the higher education field. But even YouTube videos need well-written descriptions (content) to help boost each video’s online presence and social media communications (Facebook posts, tweets) can be part of an overall content marketing strategy. Between 70 and 87 percent of institutions in the study were using it in their annual giving programs (generating interest in an initiative, thanking donors, keeping donors in the loop); and 47 percent overall (public and private institutions) were using social media in their fundraising efforts.

Content enables educational institutions to connect with its diverse audiences in so many ways. Implementing collaboration tools that help foster even stronger connections pave the way for a more engaged student body, provide opportunities for distant (and different) learning, and provide avenues for alumni and donors to maintain long-standing connections to their alma maters.


Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Getting to Know You: How Content Fosters Stronger Relationships Inside and Outside a Company

 As the adage goes, people do business with people they know, like and trust. Business professionals network, they join trade associations, and get referrals from clients and colleagues. But how can companies build that “know, like and trust” factor between corporate and workforce, employee-to-employee, and between employees and customers? 

By sharing content.

1 - Get them to know. Content that is relevant and gets employees talking to each other and to customers helps build relationships around common goals. Providing a platform for them to become familiar with each other by sharing common ideas (or sharing disparate views of a shared conversation) is the great equalizer that draws people together.

Expert byline articles are great tools for this. Sales people can send an email to the consumer with helpful tips and a link to an article about a shared topic of interest (fashion tips for fall, color trends for spring, what not to wear), or a manager can share an article related to a specific department or product and get employees talking about it--together.

2 - Get them to like. Sharing informative, educational, and practical content with customers and between employees creates brand buzz and develops a corps of brand ambassadors from inside and outside the company.

That’s because content allows for a productive exchange of feedback. Whether it’s a survey or an article that encourages comments, brands can use the feedback that is elicited to develop customer loyalty programs, employee recognition programs and other activities that engage everyone on both sides of the content (and corporate) fence.

A few years ago, an article in Social Media Today stated that, “Engage your internal audience just as you do your external one, and you’ll find your workers are much better equipped to talk the company talk.” I submit that this remains true today. Sure, technology changes all the time but some basic tenets will always apply.

3 - Get them to trust. In the customer service realm, content provides an avenue for employees to converse with customers that trust because the information being shared is content that customers are interested in. In the human resources area, content can be used to showcase a great job performed by an employee or team through a case study or results of a survey.

  • Content fosters collaboration -- Content is ready-made to get the conversation started. It brings employees and their customers together over common ground; collaboration tools, if employed by your company, keep the conversation going.
  • Content fosters social learning -- Users are reading the articles or training materials—and in so doing, they are learning and sharing information.
  • Content aligns users around brand goals -- Share blog posts and newsletter content that promotes a brand with employees and/or customers; encourage them to comment and exchange opinions (moderated, of course) about the shared content.
  • Content creates data -- By curating shared content generated by employees—blogs, social posts, newsletters—a company can develop a content database that can help brands provide better service or expand their product lines.

Sharing meaningful content internally (with your workforce or between employees) as well as externally (employees “talking” to customers) creates a more social business by providing the bridge that pulls together the workforce, connects consumers with employees, and gets users to know, like and trust each other as well as the brand.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

A New Year's Rant about Rates

What's odder than a bunch of $2 bills, you ask? Why, it's the email I got from a placement firm with notice of a contract position for a content writer and online marketing communications person.
It's lovely that the recruiter thought my resume conveyed that I'd be a fit for the position. Sort of. Here's the job description and laundry list of qualifications and expectations (I actually don't fit everything to a T but could certainly do the job). This is certainly a more senior-level job than the pay befits.

Online Marketing Copywriter Position
The Online Content Consultant will be responsible for web text based content production, producing engaging content on the Telecommunication website.

Responsibilities include: idea generation for lifestyle articles, researching existing SKUs, developing marketing touts, features descriptions, technical specifications, "in the box " details, Meta descriptions and mobile summaries. You will work with the cross-functional teams such as: (NOTE: I AM BLANKING THESE OUT BUT IT WAS A LIST OF FIVE TYPES OF TEAMS).

This person will serve as the subject-matter owner during the review and approval process.

Successful candidate must have:
-Strong communications skills and ability to effectively manage multiple projects varying in scope and deliverables while remaining focused in a high-pressure, fast-paced environment to ensure the target delivery of time-sensitive projects are met.
-Lead the content production process including researching specific SKUs online and utilizing marketing sell sheets, internal resources and outside researching, when applicable.
-Lead weekly and as-needed conference calls or in-person meetings to provide status, transparent communications and resolutions on delays or issues.
-Attention to detail, extensive proofreading before submission and diligent editing are a must.
-Ability to write with the target audience in mind and within telecommunication Brand Voice.
-Understanding of SEO guidelines and objectives when writing content creating content.

-Excellent written and verbal skills. Creative concept writing a plus.
-Understanding of Telecommunication products/services and trending mobile technology products.
-Must be a self-starter, able to work with minimal supervision while maintaining ownership as project expert.
-Experience working with website content creation and maintenance.
-Ability to prioritize and manage multiple projects based on marketing timeline.
-Strong critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.
-Ability to communicate effectively with individuals at all levels.
-General knowledge of database structure with experience in Adobe Cloud Reporting, Adobe Experience Manager and Client Application Lifestyle Management tools.

Bachelor's degree preferred.
3 years marketing experience or equivalent; 3 years web content management experience or equivalent; 2 years e-commerce content writing; 2-5 years business system analysis experience or equivalent.

(NOTE: I have no idea what "or equivalent" could indicate in that section; either you've performed those tasks or you haven't.)

How much is that copywriter worth?

Note the long list of deliverables expected; the level of client communication and team interaction; and subject matter expertise. These are qualifications that presume a few years out in the work force with some pretty meaty content creation experience, not to mention serious "get out there and run your show; tell 'em what to do" experience. Now, for anyone who has the right stuff and is looking for a challenge for three to six months as a contractor, this could be a pretty juicy resume builder for a copywriter with managerial and great client/team chops.

So, how much would you pay for all of this? Think about it for a few minutes.

(Sad to say, no Ginsu knives were included in the rate).
As a senior-level copywriter, I firmly believe I deliver great value to my clients, whether they are the agencies I support or the small businesses who I help market. But where's the value for me? Are you ready for the big rate reveal?

"Up to $27 an hour."

Excuse me, what? For proofreading and editing, knowledge of Adobe products, ability to work unsupervised yet motivated and productive, able to churn out industry-specific content and so much more for ... up to $27 an hour? That is all the job candidate is valued at? Effective communication about industry products that attract potential customers or convert visitors to users -- how much is that worth to the firm?

I totally understand the whole trickle down economics of agencies and contractors; I'm part of that food chain. Client pays a certain rate to the placement agency which then has to pay the writer from that fee. But I wonder what the company is paying the agency in this case. If it's twice the rate, $54, the company should just hire direct and get the candidates worthy of the expectations, at a price that makes more sense.

What is the value the contractor brings to your company?

It's not about hourly rates and nickel-and-diming everyone; it's about the value that the copywriter, marketing consultant, graphic designer or other contractor brings to the company. It's seeing the value of having someone take these critical business-building tasks off someone else's figurative plate, managing a key part of the business in several ways (based on the job description). There is value in handing over this important marketing effort to a seasoned pro who will represent the company in the best light (online and in person).

Companies--and placement agencies--really need to look at what they are asking and what they are paying for it. This scheme cheapens the whole business and it's unconscionable. But you know what?
Someone's going to apply for and get this position at this unseemly rate that is far from commensurate for the experience, skills and knowledge that are expected. And that brings all of us down a few pegs.

Rant over. Gotta go sharpen some Ginsu steak knives.


Monday, November 23, 2015

Blog post? Do you need that stinking blog post?

OK, so the fact that I have not written one blog post since August does not put me in the best light to have this conversation with you (yes kids, three months is WAY too long to go between updates if you want to be deemed relevant). I'll plead guilty due to excessive work writing the blog articles for my clients, Your Honor (true story).

That being said, the question of "Does anyone really still need a blog" comes up with relative frequency among my clients and their agencies. My answer is always, "Yes, blogs are great to have for a number of reasons." Here are a few:

1 - It provides updates to your website. Search engines love fresh meat.

2 - It creates relevancy for your website/brand. When the content is aligned with what you do, that's more meat for search engines to devour. It goes without saying that it should always be something your audience wants to consume ... and share.

3 - Blog content is not limited to living only on your blog/website.  The content (usually with some slight revisions) can be:
a. Shared as a guest post on another site.
b. Posted to LinkedIn Pulse.
c. Used as a public relations pitch or as a story pitch to become an expert contributor to a publication.
d. Repurposed as a handout for a presentation.
e. Rewritten/repurposed for Slideshare, for a Powerpoint presentation, or a webinar (a slide is a slide is a slide ...).
f. Used as the basis of a video that will be posted to your website, on your video channel of choice or sent via email to your lists.

Speaking of email ...

4 - Promoting a new blog article is a reason to touch base with your clients, prospects and associates with an email. Yes, Virginia, there really is still email marketing (just ask my colleague, Susana Fonticoba of Right Click Advantage).

5 - Keeping your blog current keeps marketing copywriters employed! (Shameless plug for copywriters.) We know you're concentrating on what you do best, what you like to do, what you're good at. Copywriters who get to know your business can help make life easier for you by helping you keep your blog fresh, updated and engaging while you  handle making boat loads of money. It's a collaboration you'll be glad you've engaged in. Really!

And no, it does not have to be me. But if you're interested in finding out more, you can send me an email (caryn@starrgates.com) or give me a call (201-791-4694). Sure, we have writers here that work in a variety of industries, but I'm always happy to recommend other writers who could be a great fit for your needs.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

What's Up with all the Garbage Piling up on LinkedIn Pulse?

So everyone wants to publish. And LinkedIn lets us do that. That's the good news. The bad news? Lots of "articles" that are simply promotional posts that add nothing to anyone's day except for (maybe) the person who posted it.

One of the problems is that since LinkedIn Pulse is seemingly open to everyone, the volume and quality are not being controlled, and some stinky stuff is showing up in our notifications. Am I right?

Not everyone is a writer, and not everyone has something of business value to share there that often ... and that's OK! Make it a status update if necessary, or post it on your website or your blog to promote yourself (and even that might not be so cool -- blogs, as part of your social media and content marketing efforts, should also be informational, educational, helpful, insightful, etc.). LinkedIn is a B2B social network and the publishing opportunity should contribute something to your business connections, not stuff their feeds with garbage or filler. Helpful advice, industry insights, points of view about a trend or an issue in your field are great. Thinly or not-even veiled promotion is content trash.

A client of mine, an advertising agency CEO, noted this recently during a discussion on publishing opportunities for expert byline articles; we talked about how the potential for LinkedIn to be a valuable platform for expert content has diminished due to the low quality and sheer volume of the published posts.  LinkedIn got the lowest marks in a survey cited in a recent Market Watch article and when I shared the link, I commented about how disappointed I have become in my once-favorite social network because of the quality of posts.

My colleague, Gene Sower of Samson Media, an internet marketing and social media expert, agrees. After he read the article and my opinion about it, he said: "People are posting Pulse content that is one paragraph and a link to some promotional piece ... Or posting totally promotional content without ANY value to the reader .... Just because you CAN post anything in LinkedIn Pulse does NOT mean you should. Done properly, the writer should always have the reader in mind."  We lamented about the declining quality of the posts (real estate listings, speaking engagement announcements, materials for sale);  to illustrate the point, he shared a link to post about a broadcasting award someone won over 15 years ago. It would be great on that person's website. It's not an article.

  I originally posted this on LinkedIn and I was very sure people were going to poop all over it as a rant that doesn't belong there as a published item. So be it. I threatened to write this blog post as well and maybe they'll poop on that, too. And I'll bet the LinkedIn people will be mad at me for taking them to task for not moderating published content. Oh well. I consider this a public service to my colleagues who are in agreement with me about the filler that's been appearing in LinkedIn posts.

So dear readers, before you publish on LinkedIn, please consider if you are writing and sharing an expert opinion, an industry insight, an update about your field, something pertinent to your cohort and the like. If not, please make it a status update if you're feeling the urge to put it here. Or flush it down the toilet.

Rant over. Have to go take out the garbage.

A rant about the garbage heap of posts on LinkedIn

I went on a rant today about LinkedIn posts that just pile garbage onto the content heap. I will edit it for the blog but you can read it here:


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Making the Most of Your Post-Event Email Marketing (Or How Not to Piss Off Other People Who Did Not Meet You There)

As noted on my LinkedIn post, I recently attended a conference sponsored by an organization of which I am a long-time member. Within a few days of the event, I received three emails from other attendees saying how nice it was to meet me there, along with a sales pitch about how they might able to help me or my clients with their products/services.

This would have been acceptable had I actually met them; I do not even know who they are (and I know a lot of other organization members)!

This really pissed me off and gave me three reasons to scratch my head over these people's email marketing process (and etiquette).

Warning: Before you send out a followup email or marketing message to some list you downloaded or  pulled together on your own, be very careful what you say, and be very mindful of who you are saying it to!

The form letters landed like lead balloons in my inbox, rather than as effective lead generation tools. These were not auto-generated responses to a request for more information (which would have been welcomed as timely followups). These were three emails by three people who are now a lesson about what not to do in marketing (digital or otherwise). Here are some ways those ill-conceived emails could have been better conceived and executed:

Create different lists for your message. Make one for fellow attendees you don't know and another for those who you actually did meet. Email marketing solution such as MailChimp, Constant Contact, aWeber, emma, etc. make this easy to do and will show recipients that you approached your marketing effort with  a grain of consciousness (since it will lead to tip #2).

Form letters can have different forms. Form letters are expedient, but the openings and closings should be modified for your different target recipients. The boilerplate openings of all three emails reflected a lack of thought about who the email was going to--an immediate turn off. If you are sending marketing communication that starts with "It was nice to meet you at ..." make sure you actually met the recipient. It is easy enough to revise the opening and closing copy for a list of fellow attendees who you did not meet but would like to.

Suggest instead of selling. I did not know the senders and had no need for or interest in whatever they were selling. However, had they used the email to provide some value to me, I might have given them a chance. There are ways to promote your products or services without being overtly promotional (the foundation of content marketing). For example, you can mention what you do and then direct the reader to a great resource, or provide a helpful tip. Had I seen any of that in the bodies of the emails, my annoyance at the bad copy choice up front might have been mitigated and given me a reason to pause before hitting "delete." At the very least, I'd have been more likely to remember the senders as professionals who want to help rather than sell.


Good email marketing practices.

The one thing that was right about these three emails was that the senders clearly stated the connection (the conference) so at least it was not obvious spam. If you get a list as part of a sponsorship or pull together your own, make sure to identify right at the top why the person is getting your email. Oh ... and just because I handed you a business card at a networking event does not mean I just subscribed to your e-newsletter! Please ask people in advance if they'd like to be added to your list.

If you need help crafting an email marketing message that provoke unnecessary rants among your recipients, ask me (caryn@starrgates.com) or a marketing communications professional that you work with. We'll keep you on those recipients' good sides!