Category Archives: marketing

Create Your Content Strategy: Bring your dish-to-pass

Potluck Dish-to-PassI attended my first SXSW this month, and I am intrigued by various sessions about creating and marketing content that seeks to inspire, entertain, and educate an audience, be it an audience of consumers who have grown more skeptical about what you have to offer, students who have become more and more disengaged by coursework and classrooms, and even some SXSW attendees who are less than enthralled with the size and spectacle that SXSW interactive has become.

See Various Sessions: Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead, Content First, Everything Else Second, Not My Job: Content Strategy Smackdown, Brave New World: Debating Brangs’ Role as Publishers and No Child Left Inside: Mobile Tech Meets Education.

These days I’m mainly focused on creating content for a large brand. In my opinion, creating and marketing compelling content for a brand can be one of the most important intersections of business, social media and marketing because it gives the brand something to have conversations about and around other than their products — conversations which, by and large, are falling on deaf ears. You can think of this more engaging and compelling content as the dish-to-pass that you bring to a potluck. Like most any meal among colleagues or friends, it’s the object that warms them up and creates an opening for conversation and connection.

Good Content & Good Potlucks
The content you create serves many purposes and can meet different business objectives. Like any good potluck — the event gets better the more different kinds of dishes there are. The types of content we can create may include videos, podcasts, text, slideshares, infographics, white papers, FAQs, apps, games, etc. Because of SEO issues and trying to serve the needs of a diverse audience, creating as many of these types of content as possible is important and necessary. Plus, you can consider how you might aggregate content to invite conversation and build engagement. Of course, when you’re ready to ramp things up, you can ask your users to help create content.

Having worked for several large brands, I know that content development and content aggregation can be one of the biggest challenges facing teams because of all of the different forms that “content” can take. And, from what I’ve seen, not many brands are staffed with expert content developers in all of these areas.

Content Strategy Priorities
Once you have your business objectives in hand and before you begin creating all these different types of content, you should consider the following.

1. Define the target audience
2. Identify the content topics that will appeal to each audience
3. Specify the level of content detail to provide and all associated metadata
4. Create appropriate calls to action to achieve business goals (engagement, sales, etc.)
5. Develop an editorial calendar to guide and prioritize the creation and publishing process

Next Steps
Once you have a content development strategy, then some next steps include:

1. content marketing: as you create the content, you also need to figure out the mix of paid media and social media you’re going to do to promote the content and build engagement around it, as well as how content aggregation might fit into your plans.
2. content measurement: define your plan so you know what content is working and you’re able to fine tune your efforts
3. content management: (not to be overlooked) you need to define the lifecycle of the content and what plans you have to maintain, archive, or delete.

In The Thank You Economy keynote, Gary Vaynerchuk advocated developing strong relationships with consumers and showing them that you care — not in just fuzzy-feel-good-ways — but in authentic ways before, during, and after the sale. As he writes in his book by the same name, “If your organization’s intentions transcend the mere act of selling a product or service, and it is brave enough to expose its heart and soul, people will respond” (ch 1).

Add one more quality to the list of what makes for great content: genuine. People can tell when you’re faking it.

Big Brands in Social Media

Organizations that can bring humanity and flexibility to their interactions with other human beings will thrive.

Seth Godin, Linchpin

I really believe what Godin is saying in the above quote, and I’ve tried to put it into action in the work that I’ve done. From responding in a personal voice on Twitter, to doing man/woman-on-the-street video interviews myself, to hosting a weekly Internet radio show, these are all projects in which I’ve tried to bring a personal face and greater level of connection to a very conservative Fortune 100 brand. If you work for a large business, then you know that we usually hire out creatives for these types of things. So from that perspective, I’ve also taken risks in my career by doing more creative projects than simply managing the project or content that is produced.

In fact, I think more Fortune 500 brand social media managers, directors, and executives need to actually “do” social media for the reason Godin states, rather than delegating it to agencies or entry-level employees. However, that is not to say I’m recommending that big brands to abandon all caution and do something like the new TV show Undercover Boss, which I think is too risky for most brands, especially those that are already very risk-averse.

Below are 3 ways simple ways the people working for big brands can show a little humanity in the social media world without freaking out their more conservative colleagues.

1. small group events – There are several variations on this theme that start with bringing a small group of people together, treating them well, and asking for their help, opinions, and feedback. I’d also recommend doing social media PR around the event to generate word of mouth conversations in social networks. Also, don’t forget to follow-up with attendees to further build those relationships.

2. conference sponsorships – you don’t have to drop huge sums of money here, and yet you can show up in small but very visible ways that leave social media footprints. One of my favorite sponsorships from last year was at BlogWorldExpo. We sponsored the conference programs every day and I gave out a fixed number of Starbucks gift cards to attendees who found me and shared driving safety tips with my radio show listeners.

3. shoot casual video – One of the first social media projects I managed was back in 2008. We shot a series of eight informational videos that are more casual and friendly than the usual scripted ways we show up in regular TV advertising. It was a small but cautious step forward – we still had a video crew and scripts, but there were no suit and ties nor contrived set. We shot at a crew member’s house in their driveway. I know the customary advice is to interview employees about new programs or products, but inside a big corporation, it could likely involve multiple departments and a more lengthy approval process. If you go with more conservative video, then you also have the option of choosing less conventional distribution options — say on websites where you don’t traditionally appear or even on Facebook.

These are just a few ideas. There are lots of ways conservative big brands can show up in social media. If you’re working for a conservative brand, I’d recommend taking it one small step at a time. You can still find ways to put on a human face and create flexibility for the brand.

Check out FrienderBenders

My newest social media project at Allstate is We wanted to create a site that shows how bad driving habits can contribute to accidents, but in a fun and engaging way — without preaching at people. Who wants more preaching? Not me! So here’s the promotional video. The video outtakes are funny. If you click to watch, I think you’ll get a kick out of it. is social media and user-generated content. Visitors to the site can choose from among four bad driving characters: Texting Tessa, Make-up Mary, Johnny Distracto, or Hungry Horatio and add their own photos and choose from one of the sound effects.

Do you want to tease one of your friends about eating in the car? You can send him a Hungry Horatio complete with a picture and sound effect. The application creates a short Flash animation of a funny car crash featuring the unique bad driving character you created.

FrienderBenders is meant to be social. You can share your funny animation with your friends via email, save it to Facebook or other social networks, or even embed it on your blog so visitors to your site can see your creative talents.

If you’d like a walk-through of the application, here’s an interview I did on TechWebTV with David Berlind of Information Week at Web 2.0 demonstrating the site:

Click over to and be sure to come back and let me know what you think. Feedback welcome!