It’s All About the Content (Strategy), Baby!

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What’s the next best thing after social networking sites for marketers?

Another innovation in content delivery.  Yes. That’s it. That’s all Facebook is and why marketers are flocking to the medium.

As AOL announced that it would let go of Bebo in April 2010 (yes, another Bebo reference), only a few months later did the news make it out that AOL would be hiring hundreds of reporters for their new media venture Patch.com.  In their own words, Patch.com is “is a new way to find out about, and participate in, what’s going on near you […] a community-specific news and information platform dedicated to providing comprehensive and trusted local coverage for individual towns and communities.”

So, citizen journalism, right? Not quite. With the emerging popularity of Examiner.com and subject-specific writers/bloggers spreading their content via their own social networks (“Examiners” are paid on traffic, comments, and social shares of their content, and I hear that it’s barely pennies), Patch.com notes that their communities (what the beats are called) are run by “professional editors, writers, photographers and videographers who live in or near the communities” they are reporting on.  Patch is banking on their elevated credibility as opposed to the you-don’t-even-have-to-interview-and-can-write-for-us Examiner.

Moving away from competing with the social networking behemoth, Facebook, AOL is investing in content. Rightfully so as their CEO, Tim Armstrong defines AOL as “a global media content company” in an interview with CNN’s Poppy Harlow.  The full interview can be viewed here.  Regarding the “hysteria” of paid vs. unpaid content, Armstrong notes that companies have “to be open to the business model that meets the content you’re producing”.

Enter genius marketing/business strategy by, of all organizations… The United States Postal Service.  With all of the buzz of internet marketing and earned media through social media, marketers don’t need direct-mail anymore.  Why pay for production, shipping and barely any tracking when only a small minority of the recipients will even open the piece? Instead, jump onto FaceSpace and track your followers.  Boom. Complete.

Not so.  And who better to let you know than the United States Postal Service.  Deliver is a magazine geared towards marketers with an attempt to revive direct-mail budgets. Not too bad of an idea from the USPS.  Create a niche publication geared towards your actual buyers.  Give them content and still promote your agenda (direct-mail budgets).

I mean, I loves me some social media, but the back cover of Deliver Magazine, July 3, 2010, Volume 6, is pretty compelling:

(Written on the paper: “Why are we paying so much attention to this [social media] if HALF the population isn’t”; Response in alternate color: “Cause it’s the cool new thing”).

I give it to you, USPS, clever idea with this Deliver Magazine of yours.

And then… the impetus for this post… Rouge Magazine.  Publisher?  P&G. Yes.  Procter and Gamble.  Procter and Gamble published a magazine for women. Yes, that P&G. Comet, the household cleaner P&G. (Okay well, Javelin Custom Publishing Inc. for Procter and Gamble).  You can read the Totem (Javelin Custom Publishing is a subsidiary of Totem) brand story about Rouge Magazine here.

I received my first copy of the magazine today (in the mail, thank you United States Postal Service) and was completely in awe – I didn’t order this, this is an amazing piece of content I can waste my time with, and… these are “inspiring ideas by P&G Beauty”. Intrigued, I go through the magazine. Okay, granted, all ads are for P&G brands.  Most advice is shrouded in “Head and Shoulders is not just for dandruff”, but it really isn’t that overwhelming salesy.  I’m actually quite impressed.

The Fortune 500’s beauty magazine makes sense. Why spend millions on a campaign in Allure or Glamour or any of the over done beauty magazines.  You’re competing with plenty of others in the retail stores, why fight for the advertising eyeballs? Chances are, the $50,000 one-month full page spread may or may not drive sales at your local Target. You really can’t measure the ROI on that.

But… create your own content (women read anything that has to do with beauty even though we’ve read the same advice since we were in high school, there are just new advertisements now), advertise your own array of brands, sprinkle your own specific products within the content you’ve produced (I took note of a blouse in their fashion spread and I vividly remember the CG lipstick the model was wearing – of which I might buy), and offer up a couple of coupons in the back. Oh – and did I mention, send the less than 60 page P&G brand-orgy magazine to someone that you identified from one of your retailers as buying a competing product (I’m almost certain I was targeted, pun not intended, based on my Target Visa).

Take it from AOL that threw their attempt at creating a social networking site to rival Facebook away and refocused on content.

Look at the clever way the United States Postal Service is getting marketers to digest content aimed to increase direct-mail efforts.

Even P&G, the consumer goods manufacturing titan is making content part of their overall strategy.

Social platforms such as MySpace and Facebook, YouTube and Blogger, have altered the way that we communicate with each other and digest content.  That’s a fundamental shift in how we will do business and interact with our various stakeholders.

But do keep in mind – Facebook wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the content that personal networks produce.  You post a picture (you add content), your entire network knows and the voyeurs digest that content and possibly act upon it (comment on your picture).  But if it weren’t for your personal networks, and the automatic interesting content that humans are prone to (because realistically, it’s the controversial that gets the ball rolling for discussion), Facebook wouldn’t be where it is today.

The future of innovation is the content itself and it’s delivery.  It’s that simple.

And I cannot believe the best examples I have seen are from Procter and Gamble and the United States Postal Service.

For the reference… my copy of Rouge, making its way to the top of bills and news journals:

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Sometimes You Just Have To Cut Your Own Hair Off

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For me, my hair is my darling.

That doesn’t sound right as it implies that I am vain and that classic literature (and the characters of classic literature) and the mop on my head are one of the same.  Not what I mean. I’m comfortable with my hair. My hair is my adulthood blankie.  I’m fine with that.  Don’t judge me.

According to the United States Department of Labor, it is a common misconception that 80% of small businesses fail within the first five years.  Instead, between the years of 1992 and 1996, only 17% of small businesses closed due to bankruptcy or “other failures” in 1997 (because 1997 would be the five year mark/time-frame in question for this… yes, it confused me too at first). Granted, these numbers are over a decade old, and we don’t want to scare away entrepreneurship with ridiculously high failure rates – I get that.

Erring on the side of older-than-a-decade-optimisitc percentages that are over 60% less than the common misconception (Real people speak – these numbers are insanely low AND from 1997), 17% is still a considerable number when you factor in the amount of darlings that went into the start-up.  Your traditional, and well over-used “blood, sweat, and tears” of the 17% of these ventures in question would likely equate to an overwhelming pool of bodily secretions.

And then, begin to factor in the departments within companies, the failed divisions, the poor innovations, the non-profitable areas that barely function in the large scope of the organization.  Part of the 17% of actual failures?  No, not quite.  But hundreds of thousands, hundreds of millions, probably, of dying darlings that were killed by the mothers, fathers, adopted parents and familial units, thereby ending the lifespan of hundreds of thousands/millions of bad ideas and an equal, if not more, amount of true innovations.

Most of the time, the darling needs to go.  It’s impeding the bottom line of something.

But, the other times, the darling just doesn’t get the love it deserves.

The case of Bebo fascinates me. In April of this year, AOL decided to pull the plug on the once successful social networking site, mostly popular in Europe.  The site was purchased for $850 million in 2008 and then, well, sold for peanuts. Criterion Capitol Partners LLC bought the site for less than $10 million. After being acquired by AOL, Bebo employees claim that they lacked the funding needed, both on a financial as well as development standpoint in order to successfully compete in the marketplace.  Well, at a loss of about $840 million, it’s clear that this was a darling that didn’t have a chance on a strategic standpoint after the acquisition. AOL: You probably should have given them more resources and strategized more effectively as to how this network could figure into your larger content based strategy.

And then, there are the dreamers.  Theatre in high school got me through it all – the awkwardness, the boredom.  I was told I was good.  I was told I should have continued, somehow in the performing arts.  I see friends and acquaintances, old teachers and the like and the question always remains, “why didn’t you continue with it?”.  As Hedda Gabler, “You were better than Martha Plimpton!”  And so began my nickname from those that knew me years ago, “Corporate” (because, and so apropos, I went corporate).  And for me, letting go of theatre was my first real meaningful darling I had to let go.

And then offing my darlings became a little easier.

Find a way to take your loves, your true loves in what you do and apply them to your mundane.  You’ll have to kill them most of the time in order to move  forward.  We can’t all win Academy Awards and fraternize with the Zuckerberg’s of the world.  But quite honestly, the darlings will never truly die.  Even Faulkner knew that, and you can see the similarities across some of his most popular pieces.

Plus, this was only a chunk of an otherwise ridiculous mass.

Should Social Media Participation be an Employee Requirement?

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This dynamic question was posed on LinkedIn, and to my surprise it didn’t receive much traction. My major theory as to why? Too many companies are looking at the potential of social media for short term advertising and marketing campaigns. (I have a secondary theory regarding the fact that this was a discussion vs. a question and that people are less likely to participate in discussions because they are not published on your LinkedIn profile – for now at least – and therefore there is less social currency associated with, “check out how smart I am and look at what I answered” attached directly to my profile – but I digress…)

“Let’s go to Facebook and fish where the fish are.” It makes sense, do it. The fact of the matter is that not enough companies are carving out the long-term strategic capabilities of what it means to be social. Social is here and it is changing daily. People are people and will continue to be people. Whether or not Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. will suffer the fate of Bebo in the upcoming months or years doesn’t matter. It’s incredibly irrelevant to the long-term because the medium doesn’t matter. Social has taught us that people are ongoing and so is conversation. With technologies in place this will only continue. For marketing and advertising purposes, this is great, assuming that you do it correctly or constantly improve and refine your message.

Reverting back to the question, the following is the two cents I shared on LinkedIn where I was incredibly disappointed by the lack of engagement from those that profess to be in the social “know” and are self-proclaimed “experts” and “guru’s”. Again, to my dismay, no one seemed interested in discussing the potential of “social” for long-term employee engagement strategies to build competitive advantages. I hope that it is not a tell-tale sign that we are more concerned with our current customers than our future employees and future sustainability as an organization.

“It is imperative that all companies start engaging their own employees in social media/ social tools within their organization. But, “requiring” participation doesn’t work either. If something is required, the quality and quantity of content will be subpar no matter what. Transparency is what consumers are looking for right now, and will most probably be able to identify the companies in which the employees are made to participate in some capacity. The key is for companies to effectively motivate, engage and create brand enthusiasts and advocates of their employees so that they want to participate in the external social activities of the company .

Once you tie social media and participation into an employee’s “what’s in it for me” (along with having a product, service, and company worth the buzz), the participation won’t be forced. This is the one of the hurdles.

Another hurdle is that the big buzz marketing ideas and strategies are growing Facebook and Twitter fan bases aimed at engaging their customers. Companies are currently too focused on their external customers and in my findings, are not doing enough with their internal customers, and their most valuable asset: their employees. Social media has been widely discussed and implemented as a marketing tactic and hasn’t been explored enough as a strategic tool within the organization.

When you factor in the mindsharing capabilities that social tools enable companies with, the possibilities for a sustainable competitive advantage increases significantly. Considering the power of networks as well, a strong internal “social network” is also likely to decrease attrition and save companies millions of dollars a year. Organizational development and training is an area that large organizations can benefit from through social tools by harnessing the power of their internal crowd and collaborating on a much larger scale, without geographical (or even “cubical”) boundaries.

We already know the power of social media and companies are finally jumping on the bandwagon to listen to their customers. Most companies have forgotten the power of the employees that they already have and the power that their participation in company sponsored social media/social sites could have on their organization for not only external marketing campaigns and tactics, but also for long-term sustainable competitive advantage.”

-Originally shared (by me) on LI to much disappointment in the quantity of responses considering that many attest to being a “ninja” regarding social media these days
My positioning on whether or not social media should be an employee requirement teeters on yes, but knowing that motivation and recognition factors for human behavior hinder the feasibility of a yes or no answer in terms of implementation, the fact of the matter is simple:
If you have a good company, have a good product, treat customers and employees right, then requirements aren’t needed, people will oblige and participate for the long-term sustainability of the company, no matter what the collective effort is.
But truth be told, how many companies can truly say that they, in Google’s words, aren’t evil in any aspect of how they do business and that anything that they do internally (minus trade secrets, business strategies, and the like) should be published for all to see?