Archive for the ‘Marketing’ Category

Case Study: Leveraging Video to Educate Your Market

This week’s blog post comes from Will Fraser, CEO and Co-Founder of Referral SaaSquatch. Follow him on Twitter @getFraser

When we started Referral SaaSquatch, we spent a lot of time educating the SaaS/subscription market about our platform and how we’re different from ‘competitors.’ Honestly, a lot of the questions, while valid, were the same. What is a referral program? Isn’t that an affiliate program? Can’t I build that in-house?

There was clearly an education gap and even though we were writing about it, we felt we had to build more engaging content to help educate people and streamline answering these questions. We decided to take the cue from our friends over at Moz with their great ‘Whiteboard Fridays’ campaign and started creating video content.

Why video? It’s rich content, easily consumed, and helps establish brand credibility. The concept was simple in essence, take the core lessons from our educational blog articles, then distill them into short-form explainer videos. Spend half a day talking in front of a videographer with another team member producing. Then start promotion campaigns around the content.

Easy enough right? … Not exactly? Well, let me take you through the steps that we took to make our 19 Videos to clear it up.

Video1

Image courtesy of Udemy.com

The Decision

Our strategy had consisted primarily of producing articles and promoting them on different online communities like Quora, Inbound.org, and Twitter. After a couple of months, we were clearly building a following but knew we still needed to experiment with other ways of telling our story.

We asked ourselves, ‘What’s a better way to educate our audience about referral programs?’

Although we were open to experimenting with different content, our goals remained the same: create and promote online content educating our target audience about referral programs.

Building video content was clearly the next step for us to take. Video is easy to consume on multiple platforms, rich content is more memorable than text, it’s easy to share, and can be done on a budget.

Video2

Image courtesy of udemy.com

Building the Content

Okay so we knew we had to make videos to educate our market and increase brand awareness. Now the problem became how?

How do we create video content that’s compelling, but not spend a huge amount of time and money on it? We came up with the idea to repurpose the core concepts of our blog into short 3-5 min videos, which helped immensely reduce the time required for pre-production and scripting. We had one person on the team spend an afternoon and read through our blog to come up with the outline for each video with 2-3 talking points.

Next, we scheduled our shoot, which was 3 hours in a local studio with the key responsibilities laid out like this:

Videographer: Directing – in-charge of framing the scene, audio, and lighting.

Myself: Hosting – speaking and drawing illustrations on whiteboard.

Team member: Producing – setting up each scene’s talking points, checking quality of content, water breaks.

It went off without a hitch. These are videos about things we already knew, so there wasn’t much to learn or remember for each shot. It was easy to speak with confidence. We actually got through the majority of our videos in one take.

So in three hours’ time with two breaks, we shot 19 videos in 26 takes. Not bad for our first adventure into the world of video production.

Video3

Image courtesy of Wistia.com

Distribution and Promotion

Now came the part you’re all really interested in, how do we get the word out? We have this rich content, where do we promote it?

We ended up breaking it down into a list of promotion strategies, and it came down to two ideas. One was to wrap up all the video into an E-Course for the Udemy Ed-Tech Platform and the other was to host the content ourselves with a video service like Wistia.

We liked the idea of Udemy because we could take advantage of an emerging education platform with a strong tech worker presence. Its recommendation engine and review system were both convincing factors, but there wasn’t a smooth way to move the students over to our site (read: No Lead Capture).

Hosting the videos ourselves was an interesting option, as well. We could use a tool like Wistia to perform email capture within the player. We could also promote the individual videos on our blog and social channels.

We ended up building the E-Course and creating an auto-responder email course of the 5 core videos for lead capture on our website. The course has signed up over 1,350 people and helps drive overall brand awareness – while the auto-responder course helps drive conversions to product demos and sales.

Video4

Image courtesy of Iosphere / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Activation and Community

The course has built a great way to interact with the community of students who want to talk about referral programs. They can leave reviews, and we can push company updates to the list of over 1,350 people.

Our video content helps support every interaction we have with potential clients. It fills the top of the funnel by driving lead acquisition as well as activating and nurturing our leads throughout the sales-cycle, which really helps to accelerate our growth and impact the bottom line.

Content continues to drive results for our company. Creating videos to reach our audience is a great campaign for us and we can keep re-purposing these videos to help educate and convert incoming visitors.

Conclusion

Our goal was to build more engaging content to help educate our target audience, and video ended up being a low cost, quick, and effective way to do it.The video content was created in an afternoon and continues to increase brand awareness while capturing leads and supporting every other stage of our marketing and sales funnels.

Some things to think about if you want to do this are:

  • Reuse existing educational content. You’re an expert and have probably already written about the most important things to your industry.
  • Video doesn’t have to cost a million dollars or be over produced. Just be real and make sure you get the point across.
  • Take advantage of distribution networks such as Udemy or YouTube. This is often the hardest part of any content effort.

Not every channel or medium is right for your audience, but, in our case, video helped us diversify our educational content, grow brand awareness, and increase conversion metrics.

 

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Promoting Interactive Content: Getting Ahead of the Content Marketing Pack

In 2013, the most popular pieces of content on both BuzzFeed and the New York Times had something in common.

Was it that they were well-research pieces by respected journalists? No. In fact, the NYT piece was created by an intern. Did they break news? Nope, no new news was made. Were they beautiful, Snowfall-like visual constructions? Nope. They were designed from templates.

They were quizzes.  The writing is on the wall: interactive content is the future of content marketing.

 

Banner

But let’s back up a step:

We’re drowning in content.  Absolutely drowning in it. 93% of businesses are doing content marketing, and 99% of software companies (and what seems like 150% of our own special little category of marketing software) are employing it today.  And it is getting worse.

And while I normally write about how content promotion solves this problem, today I want to look at it from another lens: with today’s interactive content, what’s the best way to market it? (I’ll leave making it for another post.)

 

Interactive Content: What it Is

Broadly, interactive content is calculators, quizzes, free tools, and other things of that nature that users can interact with – instead of just read.

Examples

BuzzFeed & NYT Quizzes

In 2013, the most popular piece of content on both the New York Times and Buzzfeed was a quiz. On both the Grey Lady, inventor of journalistic objectivity, and the new publishing upstart best at pushing viral buttons with lists, an interactive quiz was the most popular piece of content.

Let’s unpack these a little more:

Because you are alive and have an internet connection, you have likely seen a BuzzFeed quiz.

BuzzFeed offered the quiz “Which Pink Lady Are You?”, helping users understand, well, which female character from the movie Grease they should be. It was one of the most shared pieces of content in 2013.

In 2014, they came aback at quizzes in a big way with a new graphic layout, leading to winners like “Which City Should You Actually Live In.”

BuzzFeed- What city should you live in?

These graphically oriented quizzes put up some great traffic numbers:

Traffic history

Referral Breakdown

How Y’all, Youse, and You Guys Talk

The New York Times created this amazing, incredibly popular quiz about language patterns in the United States:

Sunday Review

This twenty-question quiz was shared millions of times, and was one of the most popular pieces of content on the New York Times website in 2013.  It was created by graduate student intern Josh Katz, based on the 10-year old Harvard Dialect Survey.

Unknown

In the nation’s most influential paper, which regularly breaks real news and hosts some of the best and most sough-after journalists alive today, the most popular piece of online content was a quiz, created by an intern from 10 year old public data.

 

How Americans Die

Bloomberg published a remarkable interactive data visualization on death in America:

How Americans die

While it didn’t put up the amazing numbers the previous two samples did, it definitely meaningfully outperformed other content on Bloomberg:

How Americans Die #2

 

Why Interactive Content?

So we know that interactive content can be very successful – particularly if we include final states people can share that show their own identity to their peers on social networks. (In some ways, BuzzFeed can be thought of as a venture-backed experiment in social networks and identity behavior.)

This content has several key advantages:

It Sticks Out

Useful and fun tools have not been beaten to death yet by marketers, unlike, say, infographics, ebooks, white papers, and everything that came before them. When you see one, it is still novel, different, and potentially delightful.

It Can Be Evergreen

This is huge – these things can keep on giving MUCH longer than a traditional blog post. They’re new every time people visit.  Effectively moving to interactive content can help publishers create pieces that last a long time, instead of hits driven pieces.

As Summer Anne Burton, managing editorial director of BuzzFeed, said:

“We had been making quizzes slowly, but nothing crazy. Then, around the end of last year, I was looking at some stats and what posts had done really well. Our most shared post was this quiz called “Which ‘Grease’ Pink Lady Are You?” that Louis Peitzman in L.A. did. It had not been a big hit when it was first published, but it had this super long tail.

I had noticed a couple other things like that — posts that were quiz-related or quizzes that had a second life. “

If you’re a working content marketer, you know that consistently coming up with new material and “feeding the beast” is a major challenge. Well-architected interactive tools gie you a chance to step off the treadmill and create a system.

 

They can be designed with a UX that drives conversion

Calculators like this one and other similar pieces can not only attract traffic and serve the top of the funnel, but can also show people relevant offers and drive visitors through the funnel.  I would expect to see more interactive experiences that show off merchandise or offers in the next 12 months.

For example, Julep, the Seattle-based A16Z funded nail polish company uses a quiz to help new users discover their style profile, and sign up for an appropriate package:

Julep

 

Building a Data Asset for Future Work

When people fill out these quizzes and interact with these pieces, that data can go somewhere.  The low-end version of this is taking email addresses and adding them to your list.

The more elaborate version of this is adding this quiz data to a cookie or persistent identifier associated with the user.  This can be a game changer for lead scoring or personalization, and I expect this to be become a pretty typical marketing technique in 2-3 years.

Scott Brinker of the Marketing Technologist Blog has written extensively on this topic as well. He’s even betting his whole company on them:

Marketing Interactive Assets

While the creation of these interactive assets is dramatically beyond the scope of the article (and left to the reader), some of what I’ve observed in seeing people promote these universally applicable.

Think About How People Will Link To, Mention, or Feature Your Piece

Often I see marketers pitch interactives without thinking about how the linking/featuring site will post it.  Most journalists and content creators know how to feature images and studies – but how do you feature a quiz, a calculator, or an interactive multi-part graphic?

Consider making versions that are easy to embed and look great – either a version of the interactive that can be embedded (which you may or may not want to do depending on your marketing objectives), or good images or animated gifs of the tool’s operation.  Then you can make it as easy as possible for your outreach prospects to feature you.

Make Sure Your Device Support and Your Promotion Plan Are Aligned

The rise of the multi-device world has really caught a lot of marketers by surprise and can cause some interesting issues in content promotion.

For example, much of the inventory available on some ad units good for content promotion, like Twitter ads, is mobile. If your piece of interactive content isn’t mobile friendly, you might very well find yourself with an expensive fail if you use them without segmenting to desktop/tablet only.  (I often play a game of clicking on promoted Tweets on my mobile phone and seeing if it leads to a responsive page or not.)

In a perfect world, marketers would have lots of technical resources and get everything working perfectly on every device. (If you’ve worked in more than one or two marketing organizations, you’re probably laughing quietly to yourself at this statement.) But we do not live in such a world – so if you don’t support mobile devices, make sure you don’t unintentionally end up pushing mobile traffic at the piece.

Pitch the Value, Not the Tool

When marketing technology products, marketers are classically told to focus on benefits and advantages instead of features.  Marketers still focus on features, and people still say this, so this is something of an existential problem in marketing.

But whenever marketers get something new, they often get lost in the shinyness and forget about the customer value they’re communicating.

This cognitive bias has two factors:

  • Often people are so excited to do a quiz or an interactive, they forget the editorial and results fall flat.  These still need the same level of knowledge and editorial care and planning that would go into a whitepaper or an ebook.
  • A quiz in and of itself isn’t that novel – pitch the value rather than the technology.

 

You Still Need a Campaign Launch Plan

While this will be a familiar concept to readers of BuzzStream material (we even created a guide about it), even the best pieces of interactive content need a promotion plan and  alaunch plan, ideally across paid, owned, and earned media.

Conclusion

While the New York Times and BuzzFeed don’t have much in common, they’re both succeeding with interactive content.  As interactive content trickles down to marketers,we’ll see this employed more and more, with varying degrees of success.  While the challenge of interactive content is largely in its creation, marketing it effectively is still extremely important, and reducing friction and creating promotion plans are needed to achieve the full ROI of these strategies.

 

 

 

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How to Find and Analyze Your Competitors’ Campaigns

When you understand what your competitors are saying and doing, you become more confident in what makes your brand different and special. You get better at targeting and create more compelling messaging. An audit of your competitors’ marketing campaigns is a great place to start.

5 Steps to a Competitor Campaign Analysis

The following process will help you conduct an audit of your competitors’ marketing campaigns.

Step One: Determine Who Your Competitors Are

Spend some time brainstorming who your competitors are. Ask business executives who they consider to be your biggest competition. Look at who else is performing well in search results for your keywords. Check out tools like SEMRush and SimilarSites. Don’t be afraid to include businesses that are significantly larger or smaller than your own.

Step Two: Research Your Competitors’ Online Properties

Look at each competitor’s website and all of its social media properties.

Website

  • What’s being merchandised on the homepage?
  • Are there any products, categories, or themes that are getting special attention?
  • What categories or themes is the blog focused on lately?
  • Are there any weekly or on-going post themes?
  • Does it explicitly mention any campaigns or contests?
  • Do any specific bloggers or influencers get mentioned on the blog?

Social Media Profiles

  • Is the competitor using any hashtags that indicate an organized campaign?
  • Are there themes that stretch across platforms, like Twitter and Instagram?
  • Has the competitor shared any specific content they’ve created?
  • Are there any topics mentioned frequently?
  • Does the competitor regularly point to specific bloggers or websites?
  • Is there any unique content (like videos or photography) hosted on the social media platforms?

Step Three: Research Your Competitors on External Sites

A backlink analysis (using tools like Ahrefs or OSE) is a great place to start, but results can be muddied if one of your competitors is a megasite like Amazon or Target. In those cases, consider looking only at relevant subdomains or categories. (E.g., If I’m a local garden center competing with a huge brand like Home Depot, I’d pay attention to the backlinks for gardenclub.homedepot.com and homedepot.com/gardenclub.)

Try to find the referring sites that look like blogs, then run a Google search for “Competitor Name” site:theblogname.com. You’ll be able to find when the blogger talked about the brand, what they said, and whether the brand/blogger relationship was a one-off mention or an on-going relationship.

You can run searches for Competitor -site:competitor.com to begin to find similar results. Again, look for the domains that look like blogs or editorial sites. You can get more advanced by including keywords with campaign types:

  • Brand -site:brand.com
  • Brand review -site:brand.com
  • Brand guide -site:brand.com
  • Brand sponsors -site:brand.com

Tip 1: As you go, keep track of all of the sites that could be an opportunity or fit for your brand in the future.

Tip 2: The BuzzStream List Navigator can save you a ton of time here. Watch the video.

Step Four: Analyze the Campaigns

As you review all of the internal content and external sites that mention the competitor, you should start to get an idea of what the competitor is prioritizing. Maybe they’re working on product reviews within a certain category, or maybe they’re trying to get in front of a specific audience.

Ask the following questions for each campaign:

  • What type of campaign is it? Sponsorship? Review?
  • Who are they targeting?
  • How are they positioning themselves?
  • What are their main messages and tagline?
  • Are there offline components to this campaign?
  • What behavior are they asking for? What are they ultimately selling?
  • Does it seem like they’re using a PR, Social, or SEO agency?
  • What is their goal with this campaign?
  • Why might that be their goal?
  • Does this campaign look natural or does it feel a little forced or spammy?

Step Five: Find Opportunities for Your Own Brand

Now that you have an idea of what your competitors are up to, you can begin to glean insight and ideas for your own brand.

Ask yourself the following about your own brand:

  • What strategies are my competitors missing?
  • Where does their messaging fall short?
  • Which audiences are they missing out on?
    • Why are they running these campaigns?
    • Has the business prioritized a category?
    • Are they after something like coupon use? Does that mean coupons convert well?
    • Are they getting links for the sake of links? Are they at risk for penalty?
  • What do bloggers generally expect from these campaigns?
  • How are my products or services different from what my competitors are promoting?
  • What can I offer to bloggers that my competitors can’t?

Going back to the Home Depot gardening example I mentioned earlier, my research helped me find that the company ran a blogger review campaign last year with the hashtag #DigIn. Rather than looking for links, though, it seems Home Depot was really after email signups. If I were a small, local garden center, I’d think about a few things. First, I should consider an email newsletter of my own. Second, it seems like the Home Depot missed out on local bloggers, so maybe they’re the ones I could go after.

Did we miss any key questions? What do you usually look for when doing competitor audits of your own? Leave a comment or tweet to us @BuzzStream.

P.S. Special thanks to our intern, Olivia Polger, for her help editing this post.

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Stop Marketing to Keywords, Start Marketing to People: Lessons in Traditional Marketing

Today’s post is from one of our favorite customers, Ethan Lyon.  Ethan is an SEO Consultant at SEER Interactive in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. You can follow Ethan on the SEER Interactive blog, Twitter, and Google Plus.

Before I jumped into SEO, I wrote marketing and business plans for small to medium sized businesses. These often entailed customer interviews, audience segmentation, need state analysis and finally, creative marketing initiatives broken down by cost and time.

My next job was doing SEO for a lead generation site. At the time, it was about how many emails could you send, how many directories could you submit the website into, and how many comments could you leave on PR 3 sites.

Why was I spending all of my time writing BS comments and submitting to directories that probably would never post a link when at the end of the day, I was marketing to people? Nothing changed from my traditional marketing to SEO positions, yet I was running around spamming the internet to get links.

The focus was on revenue and leads without ever giving thought to how that revenue and those leads were generated.

So, I want to go back to marketing’s roots and that is: PEOPLE.

  • People sign up for your newsletter
  • People buy your products
  • People want more information about your business

 

People, People, People

It’s so simple, it’s embarrassing that I was running around spamming the internet when I should have used some of the traditional marketing knowledge and marketed to people.

People have unmet needs that search marketers overlook because they’re marketing to keywords, not people. People build relationships with brands that can last a lifetime. Do keywords do that?

The true irony is people tell Google their deepest, darkest secrets. In theory, Google knows people very, very well. I want to show you how to use the core principles of marketing and inject them into search optimization.

We’re going to use the corpus of knowledge about people that Google provides, free of charge, to inform our marketing campaigns. We’re going to use keyword research to segment our audiences, develop content to meet their needs and finally, find internal and external linking opportunities to promote that content.

Let’s start big.

(more…)

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Geolocation’s (soon to be) Place in PR

[Infographic Credit]

Yeah, I Foursquare. I even have a Foursquare profile for BuzzStream. You can watch me check into one of three coffee shops in the morning, the office for the afternoon, maybe a happy hour spot around 6pm and then a couple random spots at night. Am I always at where I check in? No. I try to Fakesquare a few places when I’m stuck at a stop light. Foursquare is doing its best to catch cheaters like me. This begs the questions, why do I Foursquare? I’m not sure yet, but I keep doing it and now that Twitter “Places” is live many more will be joining me in the location game.

What does this mean for PR? What’s compelling is the opportunity to integrate location data into a relationship management service. Think of a SCRM or like platform keeps tabs on the location of your contacts in proximity to you. What if you got alerts when specific contacts came with in “range”. A kind of “set it and forget it” option that thinks for you in the background.

Twitter says, “By turning on this feature, you can include location information like neighborhood, town, or exact point when you tweet.” Exact point? That might be a little much. It feels a bit too “big brother” and I see the opportunity for a whole new level of stalking. But the advantage of knowing the proximity of your contacts provides for possible offline interaction. A more memorable and personal interaction that builds the relationship in ways that phone calls, emails and Tweets can not. It builds trust, faster.

For this to make sense we need mass adoption. Twitter is the first step, especially for B2B and last month Facebook said they were getting into the location game. If that’s true for Facebook then the lever for mass adoption will be pulled and with it comes a profound increase in location accuracy because it’s not a game. There’s nothing to win, so trying to game the game goes away. No more random check-in’s but specific locations attached to everyday communication. If done right, this information could be a boon to the busy PR pro wanting to efficiently connect with their contacts offline. Perhaps my Fakesquaring days are over.

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BuzzStream Release Notes – 3/7/2010

It’s about that time. Time to lay out what we’ve been up to since our last post. It’s been a while; we know it and it’s no OK with us. Why the blackout? A ton of new customers, continued product enhancements and infrastructure upgrades have had everyone juggling fire. We don’t like burns so unfortunately the blog has taken a back seat. Now that the acrobatics are over, we’ve got a bunch to share. Let’s get to it.

Speed of the Link Buzzmarker

If you’re using BuzzStream for Link Management, you’ll see huge improvements in the time it takes for the Link Buzzmarker to scan the page.  This will make your link research and link documentation efforts much more efficient.  I was testing sites last night that had been taking 10-15 seconds to load and they’re now loading in 2 to 3 seconds.  We’ll make similar improvements to the Media Buzzmarker in a future release.  This will be a continuous process…the end goal is to get it to where there’s virtually no wait time when you click the Buzzmarker.

Tag Management

One of our most frequent requests from people who have been using the product for a long time is that tags quickly become unmanageable once you have a lot of contacts or a lot of people using the product.  We’ve taken the first step to addressing this by adding tag management capabilities.  Now you can select multiple contacts and add, edit or delete contacts for those contacts.  So suppose one person was using the tag “social media” and another person was using “social_media,” you can now fix this by filtering on the tag you want to remove, selecting all the contacts, removing the one tag and adding the other.

Enhancements to Tasks

We continue to extend our Task Management capabilities so that you can better track and manage your influencer outreach efforts and your link management activities.   Here’s a list of the things we added since our last Release blog post:

  • The ability to add a task while Buzzmarking a contact
  • E-mail notifications of your daily agenda as well as notifications when tasks are assigned to you by someone else
  • The ability to add follow-up tasks when you’re adding notes, editing links, etc (for example, after adding the note “Talked to John about the product review,” you can create a follow-up task titled “Send screenshots” that’s associated with the note)
  • Task filtering on the Dashboard – this will enable you to see tasks associated with a specific project, tasks that are due at a certain time, and tasks that are assigned to someone on your team.

BuzzStream's task management capabilities

Bulk Operations

In addition to Tag Management, we’ve added  a number of other operations that can be conducted on multiple contacts at once.  This is particularly useful when you’re working with a large number of contacts.  Our bulk operations currently include:

  • Select specific contacts to copy or move to a different project: you no longer have to move/copy all of the Link Partners that are in the current filter…now you can specifically select the ones that you want to copy or move.
  • Bulk delete
  • Ability to change the “assigned to” field for multiple Link Partners at once
  • Ability to change “relationship stage” for multiple Link Partners at once

BuzzStream bulk operations - changing influencer ratings for multiple contacts

Improvements to Search

We implemented Lucene as our search technology, which will give us much more power for searching.  In the near-term, this means you can now search on any term in the fields we look at.  In the long-term, it’ll mean that we’ll be able to search across much larger data sets.  This will become much more important as we enhance our influencer monitoring capabilities (i.e., you’ll be able to do things like look for any of your influencers who have written about a certain topic in the last X weeks).

Improved Performance

We added a number of large customers last week and we’re optimizing to make sure that performance keeps up.  We’re addressing this both with code optimizations and by adding more hardware.  Things seem to be humming, but please let us know if you see any issues.

Usability Improvements and Bug Fixes

In addition to these new features, we also made a number of usability improvements and fixed some remaining bugs.  Here’s the list:

  • The Quick Search box now clears when you click “Clear Filters”
  • For monitoring, the “Manage” tab is only available to Administrators
  • Fixed a bug that was preventing retrieval of Twitter metrics when you’d click “Update Metrics”
  • Links to external websites now open in a new tab (instead of a new window)
  • Fixed a bug that was making some social profile URLs unclickable (e.g., some facebook URL formats)
  • When you click outside the Projects drop-down, it now closes automatically
  • When you finish an Import, the “Cancel” button now changes to “Close”
  • Increased the character limit for the “About” fields on People, Media Outlets and Link Partners
  • Fixed a set of user interface bugs on Internet Explorer.  These include:
    • Cursor wouldn’t turn into a pointer when you hovered over the Delete icon
    • “Link out” icons were getting cut off on some pages
    • Text in “Recently Viewed” section of the Dashboard was getting cut off

Lots of tasty goodness in our near-term roadmap as well…some of the things we’re working on:

  • Reporting: our highest priority for our next major release
  • Filter memory: BuzzStream will remember your filter.  So, for example, suppose you’ve filtered your list to only show contacts assigned to you.  If you go to a different page or log out, the next time you return to the list, you’ll only see those contacts (this is a first step towards Saved Filters).
  • Highlighting contact info found by the Buzzmarker: When you Buzzmark a page, we’ll  highlight the section of the web page where any contact info is found.  This will reduce the time required for research.
  • Complete upgrade of the Backlink Checker e-mail in the Link Management product
  • More bulk operations
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PR Spam is a Tools Problem

I ran across this post from a few weeks back by Drew Kerr talking about how AllThingsD writer Peter Kafka Tweeted out that he’d hit the breaking point with PR spam.

“Message to clients of ‘on demand’ spam PR firm Vocus PR.  Please stop using them. I’m setting up a filter to delete all their pitches.” — Peter Kafka

Drew then writes, “Let me save you a lot of money and aggrevation: if you want to ‘engage,’ first get an RSS reader like FeedDemon and actually read the journalists and bloggers you are contemplating.

My eyes filled with tears of joy at that.  Yes, yes, yes!  The problem is the tools.  Vocus is a spam-enabler because it invites PR people to build a giant list of reporters and blast the same pitch to all of them.  PR people aren’t bad people, they just have bad tools.

Drew’s suggestion that you subscribe to the RSS feeds of journalists on your media list is spot on.  I’ll take that one further and say that you should build your media list based on social media monitoring.   There are perfectly good free tools to do this, which I’ve covered in a previous post.

The Vocus process looks like this: SEARCH DATABASE -> PITCH
What I’m suggesting works like this: LISTEN > RESEARCH > ENGAGE > PITCH

Instead of searching for reporters, you start by LISTENING to what people are writing.  All it takes is setting up the right searches in Google Alerts or Social Mention.  Monitor for mentions of competitors, obvious keywords, and a few non-obvious phrases or jargon that pinpoint people who know your space.  Once you find someone, then and only then should they be added to your media list.  And ideally, you should follow them on Twitter, subscribe to their blog, friend them on FriendFeed, and generally try to get as much information as you can about them.  As a side benefit, this technique will surface mid-tail influencers that may be invisible to Vocus, and enable you to get to them before they’re bombarded with pitches.

BuzzStream will soon be unveiling our PR & Social Media product to connect the dots between identifying a journalist (or other influencer), researching them, and managing engagement (i.e. relationship-building) efforts over time and across mediums.

If you want to stop spamming, get the right tools.

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Listening: Why it is So Important in Social Media and 3 Easy Ways to Find the Time to Do It

This week’s guest post by Kyle Flaherty who writes a blog using insight, lessons learned and horror stories from his nearly 12 years in high-tech public relations, communications and marketing. He is currently Director of Marketing and Social Media at BreakingPoint Systems and of course you can find him on Twitter.

What’s the first rule of social marketing? Listen!

What’s the second rule of social marketing? Listen!

I first started thinking deeply about the concept of listening when I came across the term “lurker” at an event featuring Jackie Huba of “Church of the Customer Blog” and Society for Word of Mouth. The conversation came up in relation to stats that say 90% of folks involved in your social media activity are lurkers and 10% are active participants. Immediately the idea of lurkers turned into ‘listeners’ for me; people who are reading a blog, quietly joining a LinkedIn Group, reading Twitter and much more. Listeners are often your most dedicated readers and for your company they often become the most educated about your product and service and when they are ready to participate it is most likely as a qualified business lead.The best comparison is the person who walks into the auto dealership with a ream of printed materials from automotive websites, collected over a few weeks of ‘listening’, versus the person who walks in and just wants to talk with someone about their cars. The former is already in negotiating mode, the latter needs to go through the research stage in real-time, with a sales person who just wants to close. Which situation would you rather have, not only for selling, but for the customer experience? Well, what if the auto company was listening at the same time and had the new features and financing options that people had said they wanted on all of those sites. We just may have a match!

Listening is important and will set you up for success in your social marketing, if you are in any type of marketing role you must become a good listener because:

1. Listening is inspiring. Listening to your prospective community base will be the inspiration for the social media tools you use. Listening to our community on their blogs and microblogs led us to learn Ning and Facebook was of no value, for them, but rather LinkedIn was the key and we know spend a lot of time in that social network.

2. Listen before you jump. You must always listen to people first, for an extended period of time, before you jump into the conversation. For example; I have hundreds of searches within Twitter sent to me through RSS every morning, based on the pain points of our potential customers. I end up listening to these people on a daily basis, but often time take no action immediately.

3. Often silence makes the loudest noise. A great personal example is a person I listen to through his blog and his LinkedIn updates. Over the past two months I’ve learned about his pain points at work, his background, his skill set and more. He recently joined our LinkedIn group for network engineers and I could now easily reach out to him, set up a time to connect and listen some more.

4. Listening makes you a better communicator. I learned this one when I was actually in PR when my manager would tell me first to listen to how a reporter answered the phone. Was the reporter’s greeting a “hello” vs “yeah” or was the tone “speedy” vs “thought out”? I would then adjust my introduction accordingly.

The more you listen, in terms of quality of listening and quantity, the more you learn about your potential community and the better you will communicate with them in your efforts. However the question becomes how can you sort through all of the noise that is currently online. It is simply staggering to even sort through the noise on one medium like Twitter, however it is this medium that can provide you with some of the most important and impactful insights. I’m not going to write about ‘what’ you should be listening to, that obviously depends on your overall goals for Twitter, whether personal or business. Instead I’m going to go through three ways to better listen to Twitter conversations in order to get more out of your experience, consider it your Twitter Miracle Ear.

1) It’s All About the App: One of the great aspects of Twitter is the open API and the ability to use different applications when Tweeting (yes, the API restrictions are also horribly annoying, but that is another post). Originally I was on Snitter, moved to Tweetr, switched to Twhirl and now am devoted to TweetDeck…for now. I didn’t make changes for the sake of changes, in each case I need features and functionality that made listening to conversations on Twitter easier. The reason I’m now on TweetDeck is very simple; the ability to create personalized lists of conversations based on people or search terms. Using an app like Tweetdeck you can create a list of local people, sports-chat, social marketers or colleagues.  All of a sudden you have created a filter on top of the firehose that is Twitter and can really catch up quickly on conversations. I’m hoping that TweetDeck, or someone, adds some features to allow for easier reading of conversation threads, but the point is to use a variety of applications and find the one that can help open up your Twitter ears.

2) RSS Is Your Friend: Each morning part of my routine, as a social marketer, is reviewing thousands of RSS feeds, most based on Twitter search terms. It all starts over at Twitter Search, where you can put in any term that you want and generate an RSS feed to track in your reader. For any business this is a critical tool in tracking the conversation about your own company, your competitors, partners and more. One recommendation when setting up these searches is to use the same keywords you have gathered for SEO purposes or the terms people are using to find your website. You will end up refining this over time for sure, but getting these set up now will help you get in on the conversation as soon as possible.

3) Routine is Your Friend: Like working out or parenting, listening on Twitter is all about setting up a routine.  You’ve set up your application properly and your RSS feeds are feeding, now you have to schedule time each day in order to catch up on all of this data. Some folks might argue that “Twitter is too organic, man…you have to let it wash over you like a moonlight swim”, I’m not exactly sure who those people are, but trust me they are all over the web, avoid. But you need to set up a routine for yourself that will allow you to keep up with the often insurmountable amount of data that will be coming your way. I’ve found that my best listening is done in the morning, so I make sure to review all my RSS feeds during the first hour in the office. Then I use my Twitter application about once an hour for five minutes to review the conversations. All in all it helps me find the right conversations and listen to what folks are saying.

Each morning and throughout the day you are going to find people that are important to your business in some way or another, now it is up to you to engage. And that of course will be in my second column!

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Selecting Keywords for SEO: A Quick Guide for PR and Social Media Pros

Shannon Paul’s had a post yesterday that included very good advice for PR pros who want to plunge into the social media world (make sure you look at the presentation she’s embedded in the post).  Shannon suggests that PR pros need to start thinking about how they can make their content searchable and sharable in order to make the leap.  Kudos to Shannon for raising an issue that the clients of PR agencies have been demanding – make it easy to find the information – focus on keywords, SEO and links.

Given that the intersection of social media, PR and SEO is a topic that’s near and dear to our hearts here at BuzzStream, I thought I’d expand on one of the topics in Shannon’s presentation – keyword selection.  Picking keywords is incredibly important, and not just for press release optimization…do it right and it will help all of your marketing activities.

For our SEO-oriented audience, most of this will be fairly basic.  For those of you in PR that are new to this, I’m hoping it will give you some good ideas about how you can more effectively identify keywords, and do it in a fast, inexpensive fashion.  There’s no one right way to select keywords, but we like the approach I’m going to describe because it helps you identify keywords that are closely aligned to the terms your customer uses to shop for or to find information about products in your market (as opposed to simply finding keywords based on things like overall keyword popularity).

Keyword selection can feel pretty daunting when you’re just getting started, but it’s not as tough as it seems.  Here’s how we do it at BuzzStream.

Don’t START with Google’s Keyword Suggestion Tool!

Note that I didn’t say “don’t use the keyword suggestion tool.”  It’s valuable as a supplemental tool, but in my opinion there are a lot of reasons not to rely on it as your starting point.  The problems are similar in many ways to the problems with relying on shotgun blast media pitches for your media and blogger outreach efforts…it’s broad-based, but much of what you get is irrelevant.  Additionally, it doesn’t help you identify the long-tail search opportunities, which have a ton of potential value.  Instead, you need to start by trying to put yourself in the customer’s shoes (if you’ve developed personas and a positioning statement for the company, it’ll be even easier).  In order to do this, the first thing we do is brainstorm on the following topics …for each, I’ve included some of the more general terms we’ve identified for BuzzStream’s customer to serve as examples:

  1. Who is the product for? – e.g., small business, SMBs, DIY
  2. What type/category? – e.g., marketing, word-of-mouth, SEO, public relations
  3. What is it? – e.g., software, service, tools
  4. Verbs/adjectives? – e.g., improve enhance, better
  5. What does it affect? – PageRank, publicity, lead generation

For each of these, start with the most general terms and progressively drill-down.  So, for example, you might have “marketing” as the most general term for “category,” and from there you might drill all the way down to something as specific as “microPR.”  The more general terms will have much more traffic, but they’re harder to rank on and they don’t convert as well.  It’s the exact opposite for the more specific terms, which is what makes them so valuable.

Once you’re done, you’ll end up with a bunch of keywords in each of the five categories.  Then you start putting the terms together – e.g., “small business marketing software,” and “tools to improve search performance.”  You can do this in Excel, so that you don’t have to manually create the combinations.  You’ll need to eyeball the combinations and remove the ones that don’t make sense…you don’t have to spend a ton of time doing this because the bad ones will mostly be thrown out when you test your keywords (I’ll cover this in a minute).

Check out the competition

You can supplement the concept-oriented keywords you created by looking at your competition to see what they’re doing.  There are lots of tools to help you see what others are bidding on and to see their ads.  This is valuable because you get to see the language they use in their ads…it also helps you identify competitors that you weren’t aware of.  Some of the tools to look at include adgooroo, spyfu and keycompete.  All of these tools include a free trial period.

Competitive keyword searching still won’t tell you which terms are working and not working though.  For that, you need to test.

Test, test, test!

Once you’ve generated your keywords combinations, you can test them with an Adwords campaign.  Setting up an adwords campaign is easy to do and it’s inexpensive.  You can take a very large list of keywords (thousands) and get a good idea of what your customer really care about for less than a $1,000.  The information you’ll get back is incredibly useful because not only do you find out what people are clicking on, you can determine what converts into blog subscriptions, email signups, leads, revenue, etc.

Other resources

This is really just the tip of the iceberg, and there are a ton of good resources if you want to dig in deep into keyword research and selection.  My favorite is Search Engine Guide’s series on keyword research, selection and organization.  Aaron Wall has great training information on keyword selection as well.

If there are specific areas of keyword selection you’d like us to drill into in future posts, let us know.

One other thing – keyword selection is as much art as science, so feel free to jump in here…PR and social media pros – what’s working well for you when selecting keywords?

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Social Media Measurement: Yes, ROI Matters

Jason Falls blog, Social Media Explorer, is right near the top of the list of my favorite social media blogs.  Jason had a post last week about social media measurement that led to a pretty lively discussion in the comments, on twitter, and on a number of blog posts that linked to the original post.  For some reason, I can’t seem to get this one out of my head…there was a lot I agree with in the discussion, but also a number of things that just don’t ring true to me.  In no particular order, here are some of my thoughts:

Like it or not, ROI matters

Based on what I saw in the conversation that followed Jason’s post, people’s views about ROI measurement seem to fall along a continuum.  On one end is the group that argues that measuring ROI might be hard, but it’s not impossible, and, given that the end goal of social media participation is to grow the business, social media marketers are either going to figure it out or they’re going to get screwed.  Dan Thornton makes the argument pretty effectively in his comment when he says that engagement metrics are important, “but you still need to figure out where engagement sits for the rest of the business, and how it’s integrated into other areas. If it’s contributing to natural search results, for example, then without any measurement of other outcomes, the results are all attributed to SEO work, and engagement is disregarded.”

At the other end of the spectrum is a group that, at best, is ambivalent about the idea of trying to measure social media ROI in terms of financial metrics.  Shannon Paul’s comment is indicative of this:

“I understand that businesses make decisions based on the bottom line, but isn’t social media engagement all about humanizing organizations? Ultimately, businesses are made of human beings and most human beings I know are motivated by a number of things in different measure — profit is only one such motivator.”

Shannon is another one who’s writing some really good stuff on her blog, but I’m with Dan on this one (just in case the title of the post didn’t tip you off).  Peter Kim summed up my feelings about this best when he said “I have and will always believe that the purpose of marketing is to sell stuff, whether direct response or 30-year sales cycle.  Marketers who don’t believe that their job is to ultimately sell something should become receptionists instead, if all you want to do is talk.”

Yes, metrics that indicate the quality of conversations are important and, yes, people should get more out social media participation than financial gain.  Frankly, I don’t think you can be successful without these things.  But at the end of the day, if participation isn’t going to result in revenue for the business, the initiatives aren’t going to get funded and it’s all for naught.  Marketers can get away with this now because we’re still deep in the early adopter phase, but this won’t last long.  Particularly in this economic environment, companies are going to move quickly from exclusively measuring things that indicate level of participation to measurements that tie to revenue.

You can’t determine the right metric without first identifying the goals

Katie Paine talked about letting your objectives drive your choice of metrics in the video interview that accompanied Jason’s post (watch this video…the ROI on the 11 minutes you’ll invest to watch it is very high :-) ).  Paraphrasing her comment, “in order to determine ROI, you need to know what the R is.”  In other words, you need to decide what you’re trying to achieve.  I think this is exactly right and it a point that gets missed often.  The metrics for measuring word-of-mouth effectiveness, for example, are going to be very different than the metrics for brand loyalty.

Incidentally, as part of this discussion, I’ve seen a number of tweets/comments saying that social media isn’t for attracting new customers, it’s for building relationships with existing customers.  Maybe I’m just misunderstanding what people are saying because, at face value, this doesn’t make sense to me and there are plenty of word-of-mouth case studies that refute it.  Some examples: 1) NetQoS’ viral video campaign – two of the primary goals were to increase traffic and drive leads.  The net result of their campaign was that it added $500,000 into the pipeline, 2)  Caminito Steakhouse, where they’ve seen a 30% increase in sales concurrent with a significant improvement in search engine rankings on key terms…they haven’t drawn a clear line that shows the link between participation, improved PageRank and increased revenue, but I guarantee you that it wouldn’t be hard to build a model that shows clear correlation, and 3) Martell Home Builders – take a look at the comment from Pierre Martell (the owner of the business).  Lead gen is a key part of their strategy and according to Pierre, “from an ROI point of view, because of the real estate fees were saving, it didn’t take many sales to justify this approach from a pure dollars and cents point of view.”

Traffic still matters

Katie argues that traffic doesn’t matter.  I disagree.  By itself it doesn’t, but in conjunction with other metrics, I think it’s still valuable.  Give me two blogs that are equally relevant to my customer, have the same average number of comments, have the same PageRank, etc.  Are you telling me that, even if one of these blogs has twice the traffic as the other, it’s no more valuable for word-of-mouth than the other?

Small and mid-size businesses have different measurement capabilities and needs than big businesses

Note the mention of ROI in the NetQoS, Martell Homes and Caminito Steakhouse word-of-mouth case studies.  For all three of these SMBs it just isn’t that difficult to measure ROI because the marketing mix isn’t that complex and the customer touchpoints are easier to track.  Very different than a big company, where measuring ROI requires fairly complex modeling since there are so many more possible drivers of revenue.  Do the metrics that the small business uses encapsulate all of the benefit provided by social media participation?  Definitely not, but it doesn’t matter.  Despite the fact that some of the value generated doesn’t get captured by the metrics (e.g., for NetQoS, prospects that become aware of the company as a result of the video campaign, but visit the site through organic search), there’s still enough measurable value to clearly justify the investment.

Measurement on the front-end is very different for the small business as well.  Big companies might think it’s important to conduct detailed analysis to determine influence, but small companies have neither the time or money for this.  While traditional metrics have problems, they’re simple and, when combined with engagement metrics, they’re good enough for small businesses.

So what does your social media dashboard look like?  What are your social media goals and what are the metrics that you track most closely to determine your success?

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