Why do people want to express themselves so much, and how can brands tap into that !

Most people do not have a validation that they themselves have real worth. And I know that sounds dramatic, but 90 percent of the population doesn’t have that confirmation that they’re being heard. I think that what drives people to express themselves online is a confirmation of their own self-worth. It’s very much life-affirming. The reason why people write on walls is to say, hey listen, I’m here. I’m a person.

What brands need to do is to recognize that need, and to help fulfill that need. The brands that get closest to their customers are the ones that celebrate the creativity, the presence of the audience. I’m constantly looking at new ways of doing that.

Example : In the film space, most marketing campaigns are very one-way. Here’s our stars, here’s our marketing message and we open on Friday. And they just keep pumping you with that same message. The new way to market digitally is to take the audience and make the fans the center of the campaign. To show that you’re there because of them, and put a mirror on who is going and loving your movies.

The focus is not to use social media as a distribution channel, but to use it as a true community of people that are involved and vested in the product’s success. While some of this might look like it’s obvious, it’s not the norm yet.

For small businesses that can’t afford to do traditional advertising, could they do all of their marketing solely through social channels?

More and more, the answer is yes. I think you need a good product and you need commitment and passion. Money cannot buy passion, and that’s the most powerful marketing tool. As a marketer, I want to create the environment for passion to happen, and then amplify that passion. Small businesses are more committed to their product and their customers than any, and I think that the more they reflect their core values and their culture, the more people will respond and become part of that.

We need to tell stories, as marketers. If we document our journey and people come along for that journey, the commitment that they make is huge. The key is to create a narrative and let people be part of it. Let them actually affect the narrative. And that is what social media marketing is. Creating a narrative that somebody can join. Like any great narrative, there are twists and turns and unexpected things, and if you do that well, your audience will come along for the ride and become extremely vested in your success.

Top 10 Tips for Better Content Marketing

As the old saying goes, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Don’t let the same thing happen to your new product. This is where a solid content marketing plan comes to the rescue.

Content Marketing for Dummies, defines content marketing as “the practice of developing awareness, recall, purchases and loyalty through the use of content published online or offline.” It is a cost-effective and easy strategy, although it can be extremely time-consuming. But trust me, it’s worth the effort!

Here are 10 steps you can take to improve your content marketing and drive awareness around your products.

1. Determine Organizational Goals

Ask yourself: What is my goal, and how is my content marketing plan going to help me accomplish it? These are things that need to be thought out before determining your content. By doing so, you can tailor your content marketing plan accordingly.

Each goal should be measurable and have a deadline by which you perform this measurement. For example, increase website traffic 25% by Jan. 1, 2012.

2. Identify Target Audiences

The next step is to figure out exactly whom you are targeting. This means researching everything about the audience to whom you will be delivering your content. Ask them questions, research website traffic data and determine their demographic information, including age, gender, education, location, etc.

From there, you need to figure out what your audience is interested in, both online and offline. What are they reading? What are they talking about? What are their likes and dislikes?

In this step, it is helpful to think like one of your clients or customers. Envision that you’re writing for one specific person, and then tune in to his thought process in order to succeed. Above all, listen to what that person wants, which is not necessarily the same as what you want. After all, you want him to be receptive to your content.

3. Develop Key Messages

What exactly does your audience want/need to hear? In general, determine what will differentiate you and your product, as well as what will help you to achieve the goals you have set. The end result should be one to three main messages, each with one to five sub-messages that offer a bit more detail.

4. Decide on Overall Content Marketing Strategies

There are three different types of content marketing strategies: long-form, short-form and conversations (e.g. sharing).

Long-form includes blog posts, articles and press releases — basically, anything longer than a couple of sentences. Short-form includes tweets, Facebook and LinkedIn status updates and graphics. Conversations and sharing includes participating in and driving conversations through blog commenting, link sharing and comments on videos. This type helps to encourage discussions between other thought leaders within your industry.

You can stick to one of these forms of content marketing, or you can use all three. They are each effective on their own, but they are also powerful when used together.

5. Draft an Editorial Calendar

Developing a plan is one of the most important steps to content marketing. However, it should be flexible. After all, things can always change.

This is where an editorial calendar comes in. It should include strategies, specific tactics, suggested headlines, content deadlines and allocated responsibilities. This is a fairly major undertaking, but you’ll be thankful for your hard work once it’s complete — and you’ll save time in the long-run.

Not sure where to begin? Check out The Content Grid V2 by Eloqua and JESS3.

6. Develop Content

In order to even begin the marketing aspect of a content marketing plan, you need to develop the content you are going to use. It needs to be unique and different. Go back to your key messages and subtly incorporate them into the content without overtly selling your product. Content marketing is about creating trust through education and information, not using traditional sales tactics.

The infographic Is Your Content King? is a great visual of how important content is, especially for your marketing plan.

7. Establish Relationships

It’s time to start building a relationship with your target audience. This means tapping into existing communities by sharing and commenting on their content, as well as establishing your own communities across various social networking platforms.

Remember, content marketing isn’t just about you. Like all relationships, you should aim to give more than you receive. Be sure to use the 80/20 principle: 80% of the content you share should be curated (in other words, not your own) and 20% should be your original content.

Find brands that have successfully made a name for themselves, and mimic the steps they’ve taken — but make sure to add your own unique flare. For ideas, check out how these three companies took content marketing to the next level.

8. Spread the Word

Determine industry keywords that are not only relevant to your product, but also are going to generate enough buzz. Search engine optimization (SEO) can play a huge role if you research thoroughly. For example, make sure the tags you’re adding to your blog posts are going to generate traffic, since this can help you get found in the first place. I’m a huge fan of both Scribe SEO and InboundWriter to help you accomplish this.

Also, spread the word through Twitter, Facebook, e-newsletters, etc. But be careful not to force your content where it doesn’t belong. It may seem like you’re trying too hard, and in turn, people may not be interested in what you have to say.

Eloque came out with a free ebook, The Grande Guide to B2B Content Marketing, a helpful read when it comes to content marketing. Plus, it’s useful for deciding which platforms you should employ and how to effectively use them.

9. Measure Effectiveness

Although this is one of the last steps, it’s one of the most important. By measuring the effectiveness of your content, you can determine whether or not your plan needs to be altered, or whether it’s working in the first place.

Keep an eye on pageviews, retweets, Likes, +1’s, shares and so on. Anything your audience can take action on is something, you need to pay attention to. Figure out how well everything is working — or why it’s not working at all.

10. Change the Plan As Needed

If something isn’t working, change it up. Be sure to pay attention to results, and then use them to your advantage.

The most important thing to remember about content marketing: It’s all about building connections and improving your audience’s product loyalty. One of your goals should be for people to recognize your product based off of the content you’ve been placing both online and off. For a more in-depth look into how to create your content marketing plan, check out: Content Marketing For Dummies – Cheat Sheet.

Have you used content marketing in order to launch a product before? What were the steps that you took in order to do this successfully?

Haven’t used content marketing before and don’t know where to start ….Click here.

 

 

How Hotels and Travel Companies Are Nailing Social Media

Apart from restaurants, there are few businesses whose fates are linked as closely to online reviews as hotels. That’s why Accorhotels’ move in late 2010 is considered so bold.

Last September, the hotel chain began featuring reviews from TripAdvisor on some of its sites. Since Accorhotels has no control of the TripAdvisor content, it’s a bit like posting every review of your restaurant — not just the favorable ones — in your window. “There’s no question TripAdvisor plays hugely in this space,” says Melissa Parrish, an interactive marketing analyst at Forrester Research who covers the travel industry. “They make or break certain kinds of hotels.”

But the hotel chain, which runs Motel 6 and Sofitel among others, was merely acknowledging the obvious: Consumers no longer get all their information about your establishment from your marketing materials. In addition to TripAdvisor, there are blogs and sites like Kayak that aggregate reviews. People thinking of trying out a hotel can also canvas their friends on Facebook or the multitudes on Twitter.

Parrish says the savviest players in the segment have figured out a way to control some of that social media chatter by using social media as a sounding board for positive experiences. A few of the noteworthy approaches are outlined below.

Harnessing Social Media Comments

Carnival benefits from a curious phenomenon specific to the travel industry — “social media bragging.” Jordan Corredera, director and general manager of Carnival Online, says that even people who never go on social media will do so when they’re on vacation, if only to rub their friends’ noses in it. That’s not the only time they go on, though. Many consumers like to hit the site before their trip to psyche themselves up for it. Typical of this sort of interaction is this comment from Carnival fan Jessica Ayala: “I cannot wait until October 29 on the Carnival Dreams.”

Carnival’s primary hub for this kind of social media activity is its Facebook Page, which at present has about 1.2 million fans. (For comparison’s sake, Disney Cruise Lines has about 600,000 fans.) Like other brands that run successful Facebook Pages, Carnival asks a lot of open-ended questions about pleasant topics. For instance, a recent status update that asked, “Carnival sails all over the place, but there must be a destination that’s your favorite. Which port would you recommend to a friend? Why?” got 479 likes and more than 700 comments. “We’re a very social brand,” says Corredera. “Given the experiential nature of a carnival cruise, the best way to deliver that is through the comments of Carnival customers.”

Carnival uses other social media channels, like Twitter and YouTube, of course, but everything goes back to Facebook. The company’s ads are tagged with a plea to visit its Facebook Page and videos that show up on the company’s YouTube channel premiere on Facebook first.

An International Approach

Not surprisingly, many brands in the travel category have footprints all over the world. Since many areas around the world lag in social media adoption, global travel brands can circumvent that challenge. Four Seasons’ approach has been to establish a social media presence for all its far-flung locales.

For instance, there is a primary Twitter feed for Four Seasons’ global brand, but the brand’s Twitter page includes a URL that lays out dozens of feeds from around the world. Creating that kind of presence isn’t easy, says Felicia Yukich, manager of social media marketing. “It means training people in Cairo how to tweet and teaching people in Bangkok how to post something on Facebook,” she says.

All that work pays off in the sense that it provides armchair travelers with a quick portal into exotic Four Seasons outposts. For example, are you curious what the Four Seasons in Beirut is like? The Twitter feed for that hotel includes a stream of photos, including the one above.

Embracing Users’ Comments

Customer reviews are a cornerstone of online retail sites like Amazon, but travel brands have been more hesitant to embrace online reviews. There’s nothing nefarious about this — who hasn’t been dissuaded from staying at a hotel or B&B because of one stinging review that, for all you know, could have been written by the proprietor’s chief competitor? Why do bad reviews carry more weight for a travel brand? Think about it: If you order a product and it doesn’t live up to the hype, you can always send it back. But book the weekend at the wrong hotel and you’ve ruined a one-time experience. Why take the chance on a place that’s been reviewed badly, even if most of the reviews are good?

Nevertheless, Dennis Schaal, North America editor for travel news publication Tnooz, says many hotels have accepted the reality that users are going to check out TripAdvisor, and seeing a TripAdvisor widget on a hotel website is no longer unusual. Schaal says the inclusion of the widget demonstrates confidence. “If you’re a lousy hotel, chances are you wouldn’t want to put your reviews on there,” he says. Seasoned travelers know that reviews on the site should be taken with a grain of salt anyway, he says. “Some of the reviews are fake, but if you disregard the over-the-top favorable ones and the really bad ones and look in the middle, you should get a good idea.”

(Click here to get started)

Follow me on Twitter @vikrambhardwaj

The Problem of Prediction: How Real Time Data Changes What You Should Be Doing ?

When it comes to predicting the future, Tony Haile thinks you’re awful. At the Mashable Media Summit, Haile spoke about the importance of real-time data and what your business should be doing with that information.

“The more we think we know, the more expert we believe ourselves to be,” says Haile, “and the more likely we are to trust our judgment when we shouldn’t and get things wrong.”

A must watch… just for the bit on Toyota

http://ow.ly/7xqeG

Use Social Media for Better Customer Service

Rohit Bhargava is SVP of global digital strategy at Ogilvy, an award-winning marketing blogger and the best-selling author of Personality Not Included, a book about creating a more human brand. His is currently writing his second book called Likeonomics on how to be more believable.

When an irate traveler tweeted about how he had arrived late to The Four Seasons in Palo Alto and been “bumped” to an inferior room, the hotel saw it immediately and responded, promising to make it up to him. Turns out, the customer spends about 60 nights a year in Palo Alto for work, and promised in his next tweet to spend many of those nights at The Four Seasons.

The brand has had several similar stories posted online by delighted customers, and they are exactly the kind of successes that justify the investment in social media for customer service (which, in turn, drives sales).

Oct. 27 was the first day of the Social Media for Customer Care Summit in New York, a gathering of some of the largest brands in the world focused on how social service can be leveraged more effectively. Nearly every brand was struggling with the same three big questions, which became discussion topics and hashtags in their own right:

  • How can customer care better integrate with other functions across a company, like marketing? #integration
  • How can an organization take the efforts of one or two pioneering individuals and employ it brand-wide? #scaling
  • How can social media be used to mitigate negative posts or a brand crisis? #crisis

Throughout the day, there were many strong ideas and lessons offered on these topic. Here are just a few of the highlights.

#Integration

1. Don’t allow any one team to own social media. (KLM)

In April 2010, Dutch airline KLM was thrown into the jaws of social media head first thanks to the Icelandic ash cloud that covered Europe and grounded flights across the continent for nearly a week. Moving quickly, KLM earned credit by creating a rebooking tool for Facebook within 24 hours and created a “multi-functional” team across customer service, marketing, PR and operations. For the world’s largest airline, this forced integration was just what they needed to build a highly sophisticated view that social media belongs belongs everywhere across the company. When they recently launched 24/7 support on Twitter and Facebook, they did it through a highly engaging “Live Replies” campaign in which they responded to tweets with a small army of staff in an airplane hanger holding up signs.

2. Go through the experience to really get it. (Telus)

Canadian telecom brand Telus shared an important lesson about walking in someone else’s shoes. For them, it meant bringing executives into the real “down and dirty” conversations that customers were having with service reps on social media channels. As Carol Borghesi, senior vice president of the brand’s Customer First initiative candidly shared, Telus was rated high on the Canadian list of companies with the “worst customer service.” Social media is a key component of how they plan to be the first telecom in Canada to make it off that notorious list.

3. Help your customer service people feel like rock stars. (Zappos)

Of course, no conference about customer service would be complete without a great Zappos story, and Scott Klein and Marlene Kanagusuku from its customer loyalty team certainly delivered. A key thread in their presentation was how every employee is required to take four weeks of customer service training, and they are planning to cash in for the holiday season by bringing everyone from across the company in to man the phones and work with customers directly during that busiest time.

#Scaling

4. Get top-level buy-in through stories and data. (Citi)

Frank Eliason became something of a rock star within the world of social customer care thanks to his work founding the @comcastcares Twitter account and helping to change that brand’s corporate culture. Now he’s got a unique point of view on how and why social media for customer service is a failure, and how brands can fix it. One of his main points was that you need to combine data with real powerful stories in order to actually make a change. As he shared, “I’ve never met a CEO who wanted to create a bad customer experience.” Amen.

5. Find your ROI formula to justify your own existence. (Xbox)

Everyone has his own secret strategy for how to answer the big ROI question. But McKenzie Eakin, LIVE community programs manager for Xbox pulled back the curtain on her relatively simple formula:

Unique customers engaged with Xbox on Twitter x The percent of people who say they would have called instead of tweeting x Average cost per call = $$ saved in call center costs.

It’s not a perfect methodology, but it’s all about finding the right lens through which to view data your company cares about.

6. Consider and leverage employees’ personal passions. (Best Buy)

No discussion of scaling a social media for customer service effort would be complete without delving into the amazing work of Best Buy and its Twelpforce. All 180,000 of their employees are encouraged to use social media tools (a staggering number) and they have many training programs and content creation initiatives (like an in-house production studio). One important key — they let employees share their personal passions for technology and intersect those with their jobs. More companies should find a way to do this.

#Crisis

7. Don’t freak out. (Four Seasons)

Earlier in the post, I started with a great customer service example from The Four Seasons hotels. While this tip itself was not something that Andrew Gillespie, Four Seasons’s manager of guest services, shared from the stage, it was an important reminder. Not every piece of negativity from a customer is bad news. Many times, it’s an opportunity to confound expectations, deliver something unexpected and completely turn that experience around.

8. Respond with empathy, but defend your brand. (Comcast)

Kip Wetzel didn’t have an easy job when he became the new voice of the @comcastcares Twitter handle. At the conference, he talked about striking the right tone, how a human quality like empathy can be translated into 140 characters, and how engaging on social media doesn’t mean you need to let go of defending your brand. Be real and genuine and detailed, but also share the truth.

9. Don’t feed the trolls. (Samsung)

In one of the final sessions of the day, Carla Saavedra from Samsung shared the important reminder that not everyone is worth engaging online. Some people are looking to pick a fight, get free stuff, or just get some attention on Twitter. Ignore those trolls and have a real strategic or customer-centric reason for responding to content online. This relates closely to the scaling topic because you can’t scale without prioritizing your responses.

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