Social Media, Strategy & Tactics, Tools

Content: The difference between success & failure

Being a startup isn’t easy. No %&$* Sherlock…

But really, taking an idea and shaping it over and over until it becomes something that vaguely resembles a business is an incredibly hard and maybe even masochistic thing to do. And to make things even more challenging, coming up with the service and identifying an audience to sell it to is only the first step on the long and windy road towards success. Once you’ve done all this, you must now distinguish yourself in the marketplace.

Unfortunately, the “If you build it they will come” philosophy couldn’t be further from the truth for the startup community. Unless you are one of the rare – once in a generation industry disruptors – chances are you will be engaged in a constant battle for customers with dozens of competitors who have similar business models to your own. If this sounds like you, fear not, there is a secret weapon that can immediately help you rise above the fray: Content.

content-is-king

It’s true, content is King. It gives your business a voice, perspective and a story. Each piece of content that you generate – from a blog post or a Tweet, to a byline article – tells your customers and prospects why they should be doing business with you. But like anything else, developing content needs to be done thoughtfully and strategically.

Here are three keys to remember when creating content:

Make it Shareable:

Normally this is where people talk about the importance of knowing what sort of content plays better on different channels, i.e. Facebook vs Pinterest. But this is not what I mean. By making it shareable I mean using what I like to call the “worth-a-damn radar”. Don’t spend 3 hours creating a piece of content that may have been topical three years ago but today has the sharability of a toothbrush. Being helpful is the number one way to get shares. Have a solution to a problem that many of your customers are facing? Maybe a unique perspective on a well-read topic? If so, you’ll probably hear the “worth-a-damn” meter start to buzz. But if you’re simply regurgitating old news or ideas, the only sound you’ll here is the tick of the clock as you continue to waste time – something no startup can afford.

Make it Arresting:

We are bombarded by an enormous amount of content and messages each and every day, but remember only a few. Those that do “break through” contain something arresting that allowed them to be deposited in our memory banks instead of sailing into oblivion hoping to latch onto another unsuspecting prospect. Using imagery, video, or any type of multimedia increases the chances that your content will actually be consumed by those you intended it for. Another way to make content arresting is by using catchy headlines (Five Tips to Writing Better Headlines).  This is not earth shattering, but too often I see good content that looks boring, and therefore doesn’t get consumed.

Make it Your Own:

We all have unique voices, and your company should have one too. These are brand basics. And if you don’t build a brand, you run the risk of becoming a commodity. Today’s customer wants to do business with a company that has a personality. It may take time to find your voice, but once you do, you will have a consistent way to tell your mission, values and philosophy. This is what separates you from the guy around the block who has a very similar offering, but no voice. Again, this takes time and practice, but is well worth the effort.

Use content to your advantage wherever you can. Start a blog, build a website, engage on social media. Today’s customer has the advantage of having a never-ending list of companies to do business with. Take back your advantage by using content to distinguish yourself.

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Back to the Basics, Social Media, Strategy & Tactics, Tools

PR Must Evolve or Die… Start with the Obvious

I recently retweeted a story from Deborah L. Jacobs (@djworking) of Forbes and thought I’d take some time to highlight why it caught my attention. One of my last posts was about the lessons they don’t teach in PR 101 – Deborah’s piece highlights more valuable lessons that at least weren’t taught in the classes I took in college. Mind you, that was all the way back in the early 2000’s, before Twitter existed! There should be, and hopefully are classes today exclusively geared toward Twitter and PR. Hmm… more blog post fodder?

Deborah’s piece raises what hopefully is old news to most of us: the days of Edward Bernays and the press officer/manipulator extraordinaire, kicked the bucket long ago. If we want to survive and thrive as PR pros we have to get with the times. Recently, I had a conversation with a fellow PR pro and told him, rather frankly, that he had to stop treating social media like it was this new ‘thing’ he was trying to harness to keep up with a trend. Instead, he should treat it the same as email or the press release: another tool to get our jobs done. It is something that should fold into our daily activities, not something we force in clumsily to look like we are keeping up with the cool kids.

No too long ago, I covered the importance of building relationships with reporters. In her piece, Deborah points out that there are approximately six press agents for every journalist; imagine how many emails reporters are getting on a daily basis from folks just like you vying for a spot in their publications. In order to break through the clutter and build relationships you need to present yourself as a valuable source, not just an opportunist. Grant your journalist contacts unfettered access to the folks who would be most helpful to them – executives, clients, customers, etc. Let them speak to these people on their terms and decide for themselves if they have something to contribute that would make their  jobs easier, their stories better and their audience more engaged. You can’t just go spamming willy-nilly and hope to get coverage! I’m not saying that I don’t send the occasional one-off pitch to reporters that I don’t know, but even those are sent with as much intelligence and research behind them as possible. And when you do send those types of pitches, heed Deborah’s sage advice: “understand that no reply to a pitch means “No,” that follow-up by phone or email is ineffective…”

When I first started in PR, I would be disheartened by the terse, unfriendly and often times, rude responses I’d get from journalists when I‘d call them with a pitch. Years later, I realize where those responses came from. I’d be pretty annoyed myself if I got 20 misdirected phone calls throughout the day when I’m trying to do my job. I’d look at those people as pests, not sources.

Ms. Jacobs also makes the point that “a blizzard of press releases about studies that are statistically flawed or restate the obvious…” and forced, biased angles aren’t what journalists are looking for. They want news. This is something that is surprisingly overlooked these days. Think of the journalist as providing a service for their readers. In Deborah’s case, she provides her readers with information on the personal finance issues that are “keeping them up at night.” Before you reach out to a reporter, put yourself in their reader’s shoes. Is there value in this for them, or just for your client?  If it’s just for your client then it probably isn’t news and not something you should bother the reporter with.

Deborah suggests that it is time for PR to change its “long-entrenched industry practices.” I agree, with some qualification: the traditional tools of the PR professional will never go out of style as long as they are used correctly and not abused. News releases, pitches, media tours and even cold calls have their place in this field. But a shift does need to take place for those who haven’t already adapted. The first step is to stop spending so much time and energy on ourselves and focus on our audience. Only then can we take the necessary strides to ensure our services will not be rendered obsolete.

What else can we do to be more effective PR pros as the landscape continues to evolve? How can we become more valuable to journalists and influencers?

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Back to the Basics, Social Media, Strategy & Tactics, Tools

#FridayFive – 5 Tips to Writing Better Headlines

As a communications pro, writing is one of our core functions. It’s essential to our jobs and value and something we should constantly strive to improve. In today’s world of social media and blogging, one of the most important skills to master, or try to, is the art of the headline. One of the most insightful things I’ve learned about copy writing is that your headline is the beginning of what should be a continuously slippery slide. Each word should push the reader further and further down the slide until they’ve finished your content. Here are 5 tips to help you make your headlines work for you.

Be Creative

We see hundreds, if not thousands of headlines a day but only engage with a handful. Creativity helps separate your headline from all of the rest.  The NYP, while distasteful with some, is masterful at penning creative headlines that suck you right it.

Intrigue Your Readers

Think of yourself as a fisherman. You want to give just enough bait for the fish but don’t want to reveal what’s above the surface because they won’t bite. Here’s an example of an intriguing headline:

Create a Sense of Urgency

Your headline should make the reader think that if they don’t read your article or post then they will be missing out on something important. Here’s an example of a headline that provides urgency: “10 Immediate Tips to Social Media Success That Every Marketer Must Know.”Words like “immediate” , “must”, “success”  make the reader think that if they don’t read further they are missing out on a chance to get better at their craft.

Trigger a Strong Emotion

I saw a great blog post headline today from Guy Kawasaki: “Unbelievable test pilot’s account of an SR-71 disintegrating at 78,000 feet.” I have no specific interest in aviation and have no idea what an SR-71 is, but I clicked on the headline because the emotion that was elicited – the fear of crashing in a plane – was so strong that I had no other choice. Appeal to the emotion of your readers and you’ll be on your way to success.

 Follow the 50/50 Rule

There is a rule in copy writing that you should spend half the time it takes to write your copy on the headline itself. Sounds crazy, but the more I write the more I see how important this is. We are bombarded by headlines 24/7, our job is to create ones that get our material read. If you don’t obsess over your headline you wont get read and might as well not waste your time penning that awesome blog post.

What are your tips for writing great headlines? What are some good one’s that you’ve seen recently?

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