How to Get Free Content Marketing Help in Boston

As my wife would begrudgingly admit, I'm an absolute sucker for pretty much any computer animated film. A Bug's Life? Great. Finding Nemo? Grand. The Incredibles? You guessed it -- it was good. Toy Story? To infinity and my DVD player. Ratatouille? Rat-tat ... uh ... um ... alright, French is kind of where my wit taps out.

HOLD ON I'M GOING SOMEWHERE WITH THIS!

Remember in the movie Up, when the the talking dogs all break from mid-stream conversation to yell, "SQUIRREL!"? (Of course you don't. You're an adult with a life outside animated films. But I LOVE that joke, and you can watch an example here.) Anyways, I could easily be accused of having the same propensity for the furry object sprinting by me. I like the prospect of the new. I like side projects, creative exercises, and pre- and post-work events. 

So it's no wonder that I launched a community group a couple years ago to go along with my already demanding day job. The group is Boston Content, and I'm proud to say (and honestly never thought I'd say) that we have 600 local members.

Enough with the Intro: What's This About Free Content Marketing Help?

As our group grew, it became clear the community members genuinely loved hanging out and learning about content and creativity. So on Friday, September 19, we're throwing a huge creative bash along with Wistia, Eventbrite, Skyword, Hill Holliday, FutureBoston, and VentureFizz. It is, without question, the scariest and most exciting moment in my time running Boston Content with my co-founder, Arestia.

(<plug> BTW, you can buy tickets to #BosCon Bash right here. $20 gets you 2 free drinks and plenty of snacks, plus a night of mingling, creating video together with Wistia and other guests, designing your own creative inspiration which will be sent to your FUTURE self with Eventbrite, dancing to a top local DJ, and a few awesome surprises. </plug>)

Anyways, in support of this event and this community, as well as to hopefully continue to spread the content and creativity love, I'd like to give away some time, effort, and writing and/or consulting. 

To find out how it works, either watch the video or read the details below it.

1. Free Drinks/Lunch & Networking (1+ Tickets & Most RTs)

If you buy at least one ticket AND tweet using the hashtag #BosCon, with a link to the event, and get the most RTs, I'll buy you lunch or drinks at a time we agree on (not the event) and spend an afternoon or evening talking shop or just swapping stories. (To make this reasonable, let's say that the fewest RTs that can win this is 10. And no using multiple Twitter handles you run yourself -- sorry, community managers, let's make this an even playing field.)

2. Blog Post Written for You (3-4 Tickets)

Buy 3 or 4 tickets as an individual or non-sponsoring organization, and I will write a blog post for you or your company. There can be multiple winners here (and for #3 and #4 too).

The post's topic can be anything. It can be in my voice/byline or your company's. If your topic is not in my wheelhouse (which is marketing/tech/startups/writing/creativity), I'll do the necessary research to create the post as I would if I were working for you full time.

3. Blog Post + 90 Min of Free Content Marketing Consulting (5-7 Tickets)

If you purchase between 5 and 7 tickets, I'll spend an hour and a half with your company to help move your content marketing strategy forward. Again, there can be multiple winners here -- it's for anyone who fulfills this requirement.

4. Blog Post + 3 Hours of Free Content Marketing Consulting (10+ Tickets)

For 10+ tickets from you or your organization, in addition to at least a few hugs from me the night of the event (I'm Italian - it's what we do), I'll write a blog post for you and also spend 3 hours consulting your company on your content marketing. This will likely be spaced out over multiple sessions, but we can discuss exact details. For instance, across 3 hours, it's more possible for us to collaborate on a larger project like an ebook/guide or SlideShare, in addition to talking strategy. 

Why Are You Doing This?

Of course because I want to ensure the 19th is an amazing night we all remember, but also because I REALLY enjoy consulting startups and other companies around Boston and talking content marketing. (I suppose you could do this challenge if you're not planning to attend the event, but I'd really prefer anybody who buys a ticket actually experience the festivities.)

Are You Any Good?

That is definitely not for me to say. But if you want to do some digging, a few suggestions:

  • My portfolio is here and, and here's my LinkedIn
  • At NextView, I launched and now run this blog and build resources listed here
  • I used to lead the team behind this blog and the resources created here
  • I've worked in-house or as a consultant with brands, agencies, and startups through jobs at Google, Dailybreak Media, HubSpot, and now NextView Ventures
  • If nothing else, I could draw something for you like this

Okay, I'm In. What Do I Need to Do?

  1. Follow the instructions listed above.
  2. Forward me your Eventbrite ticket confirmation email (send to jason.acunzo@gmail.com). This part's important so I can figure out which tier you're in the running to win.
  3. I'll coordinate with the winners after Sept 19, in order for every participant to have a chance leading up to the party.
  4. Attend the event. Eat, drink, and be creative!

Anything Else?

Yes. If you're reading this and you're either a current or future member of Boston Content: THANK YOU! Arestia and I launched BosCon over coffee to just have more discussions around where our careers and our friends' careers were headed. I never thought 600+ people would join us from around the Boston area. We've hosted more than a dozen events and have shared hundreds of emails and tweets with the community group. It's been ridiculously fun and unbelievably humbling.

So -- without motive or agenda -- thank you! You absolutely rock.

Posted on September 7, 2014 and filed under content marketing, creativity.

How I Almost Didn't Hire the Best Writer I Ever Hired

The best writer I ever hired at a startup wasn't a former journalist. He wasn't a former marketer or a former teacher or even a former liberal arts major.

The best writer I ever hired at a startup didn't have a resume. He didn't have a LinkedIn profile or Google+ account or even a Twitter handle.

The best writer I ever hired at a startup is trying to work at your startup all the time, but 99 out of 100 times, you pass. I should know -- I almost did. And that's why we need to collectively scrap the usual hiring process if we want to bring in great writers to run our blogs, our PR, or our content marketing in general.

Seemingly every startup today buys into the idea of content marketing (so much so that I created a blueprint for executing your strategy as part of my work with startups). Naturally, this leads to more open jobs for in-house writers at startups, instead of your more traditional media outlets, PR firms, and advertising agencies. But the usual hiring process isn't built to source, select, and hire great writers and, in fact, it's practically set up to eliminate them.

To understand just how strange it can be to hire a great writer compared to a more traditional marketer, let's go back to the story of the best writer I ever hired. His name is Jeff, and it was nothing short of a miracle that I didn't screw it up...

It took several years for him to admit this (which is odd because he admits everything bluntly enough to make Louis C.K. blush), but Jeff actively avoided sharing his resume with me during his interview process. This was back when I was director of content at Dailybreak Media, and I was hiring several creatives to build a new team that would grow our audience and work with our brand partners to launch native or sponsored content campaigns.

After he was hired, Jeff revealed that my boss at the time, our chief product officer, had actively advised Jeff against sharing his resume with me. That's because I'd just come from a big corporation (Google) and had a "process" behind reviewing and interviewing candidates, and Jeff's resume basically read two things: high school diploma and bartender, 10 years. My boss knew, and rightly so, that I'd have latched onto those two facts during my process and immediately tossed the resume, along with an excellent and qualified candidate. So instead, my boss shared only Jeff's (utterly great) writing samples and suggested that I meet with him the next day when, oh by the way, he was already scheduled to come talk "career stuff" with us.

It was instantly apparent that his writing talent and personality were perfect for our team, so all that was left to do was complete my process by assigning him a relevant project as a final test. Thus, he'd managed to skip the two steps (resume screen and phone screen) that would have undoubtedly eliminated his candidacy. He went on to absolutely crush the assigned project and even submitted a second piece voluntarily, cementing him as far and away the best candidate.

His resume literally never mattered. But in most cases, it would have been the only thing that mattered -- and not in a good way.

Why We All Usually Botch This Hire

As the demand for writers and content creators increases, more and more companies turn their one-size-fits-all hiring process onto the writer community for the first time. They package job descriptions that sound like any other job. They review resumes like they would for any other function. And the checks and balances designed to pull the best candidates through the pipeline ultimately fail, leading to the hiring of moderately qualified but ultimately not great candidates.

Here's the thing: Most great writers don't look or feel like the typical candidate. Their resumes aren't the best representation of their skills or experiences. Their day jobs are rarely focused on showcasing their writing and creativity, as with Jeff's 10-year stint as a bartender or another ex-Dailybreaker's previous role stocking shelves for a retail company. In addition, a writer's personal projects can often seem too quirky, too "artsy," or too irrelevant to a hiring manager's industry, despite these projects representing a huge source of personal and professional growth and skill development, thus preparing them to be better contributors for your company.

So no, great writers don't often smell like great marketers, and unfortunately, this means most companies are easily thrown off the scent when it's time to hire them.

(By the way, it's important to note that by "great writers," I don't mean a marketer who is now required to write more in 2014 thanks to this style of marketing. I also don't mean a copywriter more adept at slogans or banner ads. Sure, they can be good contributors, but when everyone else is hiring good contributors, give me a truly great writer -- someone who's honestly content writing just for fun, just because, whether fiction or nonfiction, book or blog. These are the kinds of writers who can cut through the insane clutter out there and be constantly and uniquely creative. When everyone else tries to make dud missiles fly by over-marketing bland, boring pieces, you want the upper hand by being great both creatively and in terms of marketing tactics. And I don't know about you, but I can train someone in marketing much more easily than I can train someone to write well.)

Scrapping the Standard Playbook

Hiring Jeff required a warm intro and a few deft moves by my then-boss to circumnavigate my big, corporate-y process. It was a huge learning experience for me personally, and between that moment and my time vetting writers as head of content for HubSpot (I reviewed over 100 candidates in a year), there are a few changes to your hiring approach I'd recommend:

1. Write Unique Job Descriptions, Emphasizing Creativity

This can't be overstated: DO NOT use the typical template for job descriptions. Ditch the standard "blurb + bulleted responsibilities + bulleted requirements" format.

Instead, remove all needless requirements that don't relate to being a great writer (like BA degrees or loads of experience working in your industry, though those might be listed as "preferred"). Then, to really attract the right candidates, focus the job description on the actual process of writing and being creative rather than the marketing function and desired results.

Lest you do a spit-take on that last part about neglecting to talk about results, hear me out. This is all about understanding what motivates a great writer to actually produce results for you.

So many roles in business can be extrinsically motivated decently well. You put a carrot or a goal ahead, and that's enough -- they want to go get it. Sales is the obvious example. They want to hit numbers and perform a task not necessarily because they adore performing the task but because there's a payout somewhere down the road that gets them excited.

Writers, however, must be intrinsically motivated, just like any production-oriented job role (design, video, etc.). Anyone who loves to write and create in general will tell you that they do so just ... because. I write a personal blog not because I want a massive email list but because I like to write and need a place to put it. I design stupid cartoons not to sell them or grow Twitter followers but because I like the act of sketching. Creatives are found creating all the time and just because they enjoy it. How often do you find marketers voluntarily marketing other businesses at night or salespeople picking up a random object in their homes and trying to sell it on the street for fun?

(Note: I'd argue anyone is better off when they're intrinsically motivated regardless of job function, but my point is that writers are rarely if ever motivated by hitting an end result. They admire and want to experience and improve their craft. This can be harnessed for your benefit at a startup, but you need to broadcast the job appropriately to find the right candidates.)

So instead of writing "publish X pieces per week to grow audience" in your job description, you could say "brainstorm weekly pieces and maintain a daily editorial calendar." Instead of "develop buyer personas to focus our content strategy" you should say "research and understand our readers and be their internal champion." Instead of "repackage long form pieces into smaller projects to be distributed around the web," you should say "find creative ways to produce related pieces across many mediums and channels."

These subtle differences focus on the process itself, rather than the end result. Though it's counterintuitive for many in business to think this way, I promise you that one begets the other -- better content builds bigger audiences and drives more results.

2. Review the Right Things About Your Candidates

The first thing you look at shouldn't be the resume.

Their portfolio trumps their past jobs, and it's not even close. Who cares if they're currently working at Costco? What does that say about their writing? Nothing at all. The first thing you start with needs to be their writing samples, plain and simple.

And by the way, if they've written about your industry in the past, that's a huge bonus. But it's still just a bonus, not a requirement. Great writers understand how to research well enough to learn various subjects, and interviewing experts always makes for a great approach regardless of a writer's knowledge.

If you're skeptical about that point, just think about the world of journalism and how many different topics exist to be covered, from sports to tech startups to international politics to the education system and much, much more. Media outlets constantly hire writers who are great at the nuts and bolts of writing, interviewing, and so on, and they then learn to become subject matter experts. To hire candidates who are experts, great writers, and seeking employment at the right time is to hire a bunch of unicorns.

The second thing you look at shouldn't be the resume.

The second thing should be their online presence. Google them! See what side projects they've done, or read their tweets or blog posts. This is all evidence of their skill set. Reading a blog post about sales written by a sales rep isn't proof that he or she can actually sell. But a blog post written by someone who claims to be a writer? Those are actual examples of their work.

As for side projects, don't be scared off by wildly quirky and irrelevant pieces. Making is a muscle, and fun or random side projects help creatives get stronger. (Think of it this way: A basketball coach who wants a shooter understands that, even though the motion of a pushup looks nothing like a jumpshot, the former leads to a better, stronger version of the latter.)

The third thing you look at shouldn't be the resume.

Nope, no resume yet! The third step is to look at their cover letter. Always keep in mind that a cover letter is a work sample when it comes to hiring writers.

The only reason I listed this third and not second is that most of us are improperly educated by career centers and online templates/resources for cover letters. It's unfortunate and sad. They always propose those outdated, formulaic, block-text approaches to cover letters, where being "unique" means changing "I'm interested in your job" to "I'm very interested."

Top-notch writers can and should use their cover letter to stand out, but it's still rare. Out of the 100+ I reviewed with HubSpot, only two stood out: a video someone created as a substitute for a text email, and an impassioned note about the state of our industry which started, "I'm afraid." Wow! Two simple words that stood way out compared to a sea of "Dear Hiring Manager." That great cover belonged to Erik Devaney, who still works at HubSpot today.

3. Assign Projects -- And Do So As Early As You Can

If I didn't think that most candidates want to talk to a company and gauge interest before creating an original piece for them, I'd ditch the phone and in-person screens entirely and just ask people to submit a project. (I might actually try this someday just to find out if it works.)

But if and when you like a candidate, assign them a relevant project. Give them a loose framework and loose instructions, as well as a deadline that feels a little aggressive to see how they perform under pressure.

For example, give them a couple working headlines for blog posts and ask them to choose one and write a draft by the next day. Or give them a half-baked draft of something you're already creating and ask for rigorous edits, both for copy and concept. You can also use editing as a way to further test candidates who are too close to call -- if two writers absolutely nail their assignments and you're stuck, ask for them to self-edit and explain everything in detail.

Make sure the assignment is something you'd actually use day to day too. It's like putting them on the job before you actually make a decision, just to test the waters -- a luxury available when hiring writers and other production-oriented jobs. (It's much tougher to put a marketer or sales rep to work before hiring them, for example.)

Of course, the resulting idea and written piece is the writer's property. After all, even with the same headline assigned, no two writers will produce the exact same paragraphs. As such, I don't believe their assignments are yours, so if I ever published a candidate's piece, I'd pay them regardless of whether they got hired. I'd highly suggest doing the same -- it's just the right thing to do.

Just to Recap

  1. Ditch the standard playbook and mentality. Great writers don't often smell like great candidates for other roles.
  2. Write a great job description by appealing to creativity, rather than marketing tactics and business results.
  3. Spend your time looking at the RIGHT things submitted by the writer. Resumes and past job functions often fall way down the list compared to other roles.
  4. Assign relevant project work under a strict deadline.

Fast-forward from our time together at Dailybreak, and Jeff now finds himself with an amazing job as the first content manager at another startup with tens of millions in revenue, where he's responsible for their entire content strategy (congrats, Jeff!). It feels like a lifetime ago that he was a bartender that I almost made the huge mistake of not hiring.

Today, if you ran his resume through the standard hiring process, Jeff would come out the other side looking like a great candidate. But to get there, he was initially an exception to the "usual" rules.

Here's hoping you make room for yours.

This post was originally posted on The View From Seed, NextView's blog for early-stage startups.

Posted on August 28, 2014 and filed under writing.

[Inside Creative Content] BlogAbout: Built by Intuition and UX

blog-idea-generation-tool

I'd like to sell you on an idea for a new creative project.

First, you should know that it's going to take a long time. Like, a long, looooong time. 

Second, I'm not quite sure any precedents exist in our industry, and if they do, nobody is publishing any information about how effective or not effective this project can be.

Oh, and I'll need some internal design resources.

And a developer. Cuz those grow on trees in the tech world and all...

And total creative freedom -- yeah, let's go with that. You gotta back off for this one, Ms./Mr. CEO.

One more thing to note -- the end result, while fun and engaging for our audience, won't have a nice, neat A-to-B path to ROI. It'll probably take some faith, some qualitative understanding of our prospects, and some complex attribution paths to determine our return.

But I just have a gut feeling. I just KNOW this will work. 

Sound like a project you're excited to pitch?

Me neither. But that's the origin story behind BlogAbout, the interactive blog headline generator built by IMPACT Branding and Design, a top agency in my previous home state of Connecticut.

I had the chance to chat with John Bonini, their marketing director and one of the brains behind BlogAbout (and really, all of their content). As a disclosure, John's interactive app is an example of creative content I plan to cite in my upcoming Content Marketing World talk in early September.

John explains how he and a teammate came up with BlogAbout and why, despite his regular reliance on data, he firmly, utterly, and completely believes in creative intuition and risk-taking in content marketing.

How BlogAbout CameAbout

Mimicking Real-Life Brainstorming

John Bonini: It was a very personal project from me and Carly Stec (content marketing manager at IMPACT). We wanted to create something that helped us, to be honest. I could never find anything truly helpful in the way of blog topic generators. It was the same old "insert your keyword here and we’ll spit out five generic titles for you."

I’ve never brainstormed like that. Brainstorming topics is a lot messier than that. It’s more interactive, there are lots of cross-outs and debates over whether something would would work or not.

It’s not, "let me type the word 'Facebook' and get myself five titles and I’m good to go for the week."

We wanted to create something that lent itself more naturally to the process. I wanted something that was interactive, that let people type in their own things — I’m not going to prompt keywords.

I’m also not going to prompt a form-fill … but a lot of people do complete the form at the end because the process is so enjoyable and useful. 

So the whole reason it came about was to create something that aligned with how Carly and I actually brainstormed, and in doing so I knew what appealed to others that are in the same position.

I just read Youtility by Jay Baer, and it got me off this ebook tilt. I don’t want to create ebooks just to get a form filled. And I wanted to create something that’s worthy enough to be mentioned in a book like that. 

The funny thing about that is that last month, Ann Handley reached out to me -- she’s mentioning BlogAbout in her upcoming book.

Tackling the ROI Question

Jay Acunzo: So how’d you sell it in?

JB: Set expectations. I admitted that this wasn't going to deliver immediate ROI, which is a tough thing to sell anybody on. It’s not just the money -- it’s the time it took. You can always recoup money, but you can’t get that time back. It was a pain point for our CEO, and he expressed that. He asked several times about the ROI.

JA: What made him see your rationale for doing this then?

JB: I told him that BlogAbout would attract a ton of marketers who blog. We didn’t have anything to achieve top of mind awareness for us -- it was all gated material. Nothing would drive organic traffic unless we were adept at SEO. This drove a lot of organic traffic via social and email, but it also did wind up ranking well on search. 

He also just trusted me to make this decision. I believed that if the experience was great, we’d get a lot of forms filled, and we did. We got over a thousand forms filled, voluntarily, not prompted, and I’ve been able to build real relationships with these people.

It’s also really, really heavy rapport building. I know what you’re blogging about when you use our tool, and I can talk to you directly about that. I also know more about what to blog about [on the IMPACT blog] to create future content to help them, because I have this info.

JA: So what was the reaction like from your audience?

JB: The first month we did it, it got the most visits on the website in the entire month. Now it’s the second- or third-most visited page in our site each month. I certainly didn’t anticipate that. It jumped right behind HubSpot on Google search rankings too.

How BlogAbout ShookOut

John was kind enough to share some results with me during our interview:

  • #1 most-visited site page during the first month BlogAbout launched
  • #2 or #3 most-visited page each month since
  • Over 1,000 qualified leads driven (John calls these the "warmest of the warm," given all the information they volunteer about their blogging, as well as the fact that they've filled out a form voluntarily, without being prompted in order to use the tool.)
  • Top-2 ranking for several important keywords for IMPACT's business
  • Improved lead nurturing. Based on blog topic titles, IMPACT can segment their email lists and better convert new clients.
  • Improved lead-to-customer conversion rate. IMPACT is now able to weed out prospects who wouldn't be a fit for the agency's areas of expertise or ideal customer persona. If they're blogging about irrelevant topics to IMPACT's service offerings, they can be automatically removed from future marketing and sales efforts.

What stands out most is not only the voluntary form-fills, but the ability IMPACT now possesses to convert very specific audiences (their ideal clients) in broad fashion. The tool rakes in tons of organic traffic, and IMPACT can then cherry-pick where to focus their marketing and sales based on their preferred persona.

Score One for the Good Guys

Sometimes, when you do a project or anticipate a result as a creative type, you just know something will work, or you feel you know. You're convinced because you can put yourself in the shoes of a reader/consumer better than most -- being creative is in part being highly aware and empathetic to your surroundings.

But others in your organization might need more concrete data and push you for faster results.

Says John, "We’ve all become obsessed with identifying quick metrics and quick ROI and if nothing supports that, scrap it and don’t do it. I knew this would be different and tougher to sell internally because we’re not requiring a form fill. I want to do this for top-of-mind awareness and word-of-mouth marketing, two powerful forms of marketing that are tougher to measure in quick ways but absolutely drive results."

Posted on July 21, 2014 and filed under content marketing, creativity.

So You Wrote a Great Headline--Now What? Structuring the Rest of Your Blog Post

Here's a really quick rundown of how to structure a great blog post. This focuses on the parts that come after your headline, since writing great headlines already receives a ton of attention out there. (The info below was pulled from this blueprint for content marketing.)

BUT ... what's a post on this blog without at least a little ranting first? (Clears throat) Let's begin...

I'm a big believer in a little secret about content marketing.

That secret, whether the pundits want to admit it or not, is that this style of marketing favors creative types. The more naturally creative you are, the better you are at this stuff. That should be obvious, right? Being a better writer (or designer, or videographer, or podcaster, etc.) probably increases the odds of you being prolific and creating things that people actually care to consume. You enjoy it, so you do it more, you refine your skills, and you view content production as something to do for the sake of doing (it's intrinsic) versus an activity to efficiently move through to achieve an end result (extrinsic).  

It's also harder to be really creative than it is to be great at marketing. Whenever I've hired content marketers in the past, I've looked for candidates who can write or create really well over those who are super knowledgeable about marketing. Why? I can teach marketing in a much shorter span of time than I can teach writing or creativity -- if the latter can even be taught in an amount of time that aligns with business's frenetic pace today.

But you won't hear this idea proclaimed all that much in the industry.

That's because people who sell content marketing-related products or services can't really declare this to be a practice for the creative few. They're far better off selling to a broader audience, and so the dialogue runs that everyone can be great at content.

Maybe. I get why they say that. I'm just not sure I believe it.

What I definitely DO believe is that super creative individuals and teams are much, MUCH better at this than those who are trying to force the issue and simply cut corners to put a "thing" out the door. (The reasons why will make a great blog post for another day that I definitely need to write.)

Now, I'm not saying content marketing can't produce some results for your more traditional marketer types, but rather, that understanding creative production is important. Really focusing on the stuff that happens after your marketing falls away and all that's left is your creativity and your knowledge is the difference between someone who's great at content marketing ... and someone who's just great at generating empty pageviews.

In other words, conversions -- whether you define that conversion by looking at qualitative, positive sentiment or through marketing metrics like subscribers, leads, customers, and so forth -- happen AFTER THE CLICK. So where your audience spends time after the click (i.e. with your content) better be damn good.

So, um, can we start talking more about creativity and quality behind what we physically produce? And not just focus on distribution alone? Please?

Okay -- enough of the rant. Again, that's a bigger post for a bigger debate down the road.

The reason I started with that is to make it clear that the parts of a blog post that happen after the headline actually, truly, deeply matter. Like, a lot. A buttload. A metric crapton.

If we're being scientific.

Without further ado, here's a super quick look at the specific components that make up a coherent blog post...

How to Structure a Great Blog Post: A 2-Minute Rundown

(Really great writers may view this as a "duh" list -- but just in case there are folks out there struggling to piece together their paragraphs, since that can be horrifying, here we go...)

1. Hook

A statement or very brief paragraph that grabs people’s attention and starts your blog post off strong. In an age where everybody has millions of stimuli flying around them at all times, you have precious few seconds to get someone to focus and read the rest of your work. (For inspiration, simply look to your favorite blogs. They’re probably your favorite for a reason and wouldn’t be as memorable without their hooks to grab your attention.)

Why It Matters: The aforementioned hyper-distracted nature of our world. Also, people often share blog posts based on the intro alone, says Chartbeat via Slate.

Example: Everyone thinks blogging is about being a thought leader. They’re wrong.  

2. Nut Graf

This is a term that journalists use to describe a paragraph ("graf") that gives you the who-what-where-when-why of a story. For your marketing purposes, it could be a combination of these or simply the thesis or main takeaways that you’ll explore later in the post. The goal is to say to your reader early in your post that THIS is what I am about to prove or THIS is what you need to know, and let's dive in and learn more about that during the rest of the post.

Why It Matters: For you search rank lovers out there, I'm pretty sure there's a benefit to laying out the critical info and learning (i.e. keywords) up front. For you aspiring or established quality writers out there (my people!), you want to deliver value up front to the humans you're trying to reach ... since you're writing for them, not for bots.

Example: The best corporate blogs focus not on being thought leaders but on being simply but consistently helpful to their target buyers.

3. Body

The body should be a combination of stories, data, and other points and opinions to logically support whatever your nut graf/thesis said to be true. As a general rule, the longer the body, the more visual breaks or subheaders you should use to keep readers engaged. If you want to adopt a single approach, try to work in at least three points into the body of your post that support your thesis.

Why It Matters: Because this is, um, most of the content in your content.

Example (condensed): Helpful blog posts (1) rank well on Google, (2) drive traffic over time (instead of relying on viral luck), and (3) address the same problems as your product, helping you reel in qualified traffic. 

4. Conclusion 

This is where you add tons of value and showcase your expertise by adding a few key takeaways.

Why It Matters: To quote many people before me: "Tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em. Tell 'em. Tell 'em what you told 'em."

Example: So the next time you blog, instead of being clever or trying to force brilliance or virality, just answer customer questions and offer practically useful advice.

5. Call-to-Action (CTA)

This is where a central, core resource comes into the picture. The classic B2B example is an ebook, but there are dozens of other options. (Shameless plug: That is the subject of my talk at Content Marketing World this fall on 9/10.) If you run the content marketing playbook properly, all your blog posts are inspired by and relevant to some kind of content that inspires an action from your audience, whether that's to engage further or to convert in some way (e.g. lead-gen or subscriber-gen). 

Why It Matters: This CTA is critical to proving your ROI. At best, you will hit your main goal, like leads, subscribers, demos, etc. -- but at very least, the content to which the CTA links will add way more value to the reader and thereby generate more sharing, more emotional affinity, and future readership.

Example: Ready to get started? Read more tips for great blogging (and for executing your content marketing when resources are tight) in this Content Marketing Growth Guide -- built to be less reading, more doing.

 
 
Posted on June 27, 2014 and filed under content marketing.

All The Weird Things Business People Do On Twitter

I’m on Twitter a fair bit, which is to say, my wife thinks I have a problem. (She’s a PhD candidate and therefore spends most of her time strengthening her brain. On the other hand, I spend my time trying to smush all my years of education and my experiences of life, the universe, and everything into 140 characters.)

Anyways, after spending so much time on the tweets, I couldn’t help but notice two things:

Thing #1:  I, like, really need to go outside.

Thing #2:  All us business folk do some really weird things on Twitter that we'd never, ever do in person.

Now, if the social media thought leaders, gurus, sherpas, ninjas, and Level 9 wizards out there are correct, then Twitter is supposed to be more authentic to the offline experience. It’s supposed to be the “cocktail party of the internet” where we all “listen, engage, and interact” in ways that are “genuine and human” and not at all “interruptive” or “placed sarcastically into quotes.” 

But, I mean...c’mon. Is Twitter actually like a cocktail party? Have you ever really noticed how we behave on there? 

People act like all these weird little things they do are somehow okay (they’re not) and that others somehow won’t notice what they're doing (they do).

So with that in mind, let’s go down this scary path together by exploring some common-yet-still-bizarre things we do on Twitter. And yes, we’re all guilty. 

(A quick disclaimer before we get started, intended for Person Who Takes Social Media Way Too Seriously: I embrace the value of social media in work and in play and believe it generally adds more positive than negative to the world. Now please fight your burning desire to launch a tirade in support of a third party's software program that in no way affects how much your family and friends love you in real life.)

Without further ado...

 

Weird Things Business People Do On Twitter

 

Weird Thing #1: Following People

This is Twitter 101...which in no way makes it any less awkward. It's weird behavior, if you've ever really stopped to think about it. (Spoiler alert: You haven't.)

Every single day, people on Twitter essentially tell someone else that — hey…psst…hey! — I’m following you. What are you reading? Hmm? Where are you? What are you doing?

Even the phrase Twitter uses to update you — "So-and-So followed you” — sounds more like a local Neighborhood Watch alert than a testament to how likeable and brilliant others think you are.

Seriously, this should all feel at least a LITTLE BIT creepy, shouldn't it?

What This Would Be Like At An Actual Cocktail Party

This:

Let’s just push ahead before I abandon this list after just one...

 

Weird Thing #2: Responding To A Question By Clicking Favorite

In Weird Thing #2, you think to yourself, “Hey, I have a question that needs answering from other human people!” And for some reason, you think you’ll get actual human people responses by posting that question to Twitter. 

You are wrong.

Because for some reason unbeknownst to scientists everywhere, people think it's acceptable to just click "favorite" in response to your question.

Do you realize what’s actually happening here? Whoever favorites your tweet is voluntarily and publicly alerting you that, yup, they’ve received your question but, nope, they're not gonna reply.

Because screw you. 

What This Would Be Like At An Actual Cocktail Party

My first thought went to Hector Salamanca. He’s that really old Mexican mob boss from Breaking Bad who sits in a wheelchair and communicates by tapping a little bell in response to your questions. But, no, that’s not a good analogy — he’s actually trying to convey meaning and get you a valuable response.

 

Instead, I think a more appropriate experience would be if you asked your friends a question...only to have them flick peanuts at your face.

Just like those favorites on your tweet, each individual peanut is pretty harmless. But after the fourth or fifth hits you? Sweet Baby James. You suddenly feel justified flipping tables and screaming at your screen and setting fire to their car. And I'm only partially exaggerating -- you reach a level of anger that's completely and totally irrational, except in that very moment, it feels warranted. Anyone who’s ever experienced this will know my pain. Stay strong, my friends... (taps fist against heart)

(In case this section wasn’t clear — yes, I'm saying that a 180-year-old mostly paralyzed ex-criminal who barely understands English and responds to stressful questions from drug dealers and cops by tapping a freaking bell is more helpful than most people on Twitter.)


Weird Thing #3: Retweeting And Sharing Content To Your Followers That Overtly Compliments You

Like following others on Twitter, this behavior is so deeply ingrained in how business people act on the social network that it may seem a bit out of place to mention as a weird thing. But trust me — this is weird.

For those of you living under a rock, which is then buried under a much larger, much more wifi-proof rock, let me explain what happens:

1. A company blog or a media outlet mentions someone’s work in their post. In some cases, the person being mentioned — let’s call him Eddie Expert — gets ranked alongside other experts based on how smart or successful or devilishly handsome they are. In other cases, Eddie might have been asked to contribute upfront, or maybe the author cited Eddie's work in their post. Regardless, Eddie comes off looking great in the article.

(Side note: Subscribe below for my upcoming post, The Top 10 Devilishly Handsome Marketers!)

2. Next, when the post has been published, the author of the post mentions Eddie on Twitter alongside the link back to the content that compliments or cites Eddie.

3. Seeing the post for the first time, Eddie gets both an ego boost (“They like me!") and guilt trip (“They expect something of me…”). This leads him to flip the post to his own followers, either in the form of a RT or by writing a (some would say falsely) modest tweet like, “So flattered to be included!” or, “Thanks @Author for a great writeup!” or, “I’m in good company with @MorePopularExpert on this list!”

What This Would Be Like At An Actual Cocktail Party

Something not at all annoying or stupendously selfish...

Too much false modesty and self-aggrandizing behavior? 

Not on Twitter!

 

Weird Thing #4: The Too-Soon Request

In some cases, people DO use The Twitter in the way it’s supposed to be used: human people connecting to other human people. But then, almost instantly, they turn around and ruin it.

Of course they do.

In Weird Thing #4, one person tweets another person with something that’s actually, genuinely enjoyable or nice. They might say something like, “Really enjoyed your article, thanks!” or, “Nice meeting you!” or, if you’re lucky, “Hi, I noticed you just dealt with Weird Thing #2 — here's an actual answer to your question instead of another peanut flicked at your face." The list goes on.

But then, in the VERY NEXT interaction, which happens almost instantly, they hit you with a self-serving request. Suddenly, after what felt like a cursory interaction on Twitter, they’re asking to jump on a call or pitch you a product or cut out your kidney. After their initially nice tweet, it's like a robot brain takes over:

"HUMAN PERSON RESPONDED. RAPPORT-BUILDING PHASE COMPLETE. DESTROY! DESTROY!”

What This Would Be Like At An Actual Cocktail Party

How I Never Met Your Mother:

 

(We're almost done with the list. Now is probably a good time to remind you that all of this is HOW WE ACTUALLY ACT on Twitter. I completely understand if you need to go hug a puppy. Go ahead. I'll wait...)

 

Weird Thing #5: Referring To Yourself As A "Visionary" Or "Thought Leader" in Your Own Profile

Weird Thing #6: Quoting Yourself in Your Own Tweets

Proof positive that eating glue as a kid has consequences.

These are so atrocious, they don't warrant further discussion. Let's just move on...

 

Weird Thing #7: Going Out Of Your Way To Make Private Discussions Public

Did you know that if you start a tweet with an @-mention of another person, then your followers won't see it? It's true. Starting with "@" means the only people who see the tweet are you, the person you @-mentioned, and anyone who just so happens to follow both of you. To make a tweet public, the message's first character can not be "@" -- it must be some other character. (This is why you see some people putting a period in front of the very first @-symbol.) 

This is somewhat nuanced, so here’s an explainer graphic I created (via Hubspot):

Now, this feature isn't the weird part.  You just need to understand it to understand Weird Thing #7.

In Weird Thing #7, a person who fully understands this @-mentioning nuance will intentionally add a period ahead of an @-mention. Worst of all, these tweets that are now public should really have remained private, because they're just a bunch of meaningless conversation back-and-forth or semi-private comments. They're not intended for you, nor can you decipher what they mean without clicking them to read the rest of the back-and-forth (likely with a person you don't even follow).

In short, you don't want or need to see this tweet -- you lack all context to understand it -- but the other person doesn't care because they're an Attention-Mongering, Tweet-Blasting Little Leech. 

Let's take a look at two vomit-inducing examples. In each, notice the period or the characters added before the first @-symbol:

  1. .@Bob I totally agree!
  2. Hey @Bob, great meeting you today!

In the first example, it's likely that Bob and the AMTBLL are having a conversation. Or maybe the AMTBLL just decided to express, with WAYYY too much pep, just how much he or she agrees with Bob, because Bob is perceived to be influential and important. Either way, the first example is one part of a conversation that you know nothing and care nothing about, but does the AMTBLL care? Of course not! Because, yet again, screw you.

In the second scenario ("Hey @Bob, great meeting you today!"), there's likely no initial conversation happening that you missed. The AMTBLL probably just met Bob offline, and because they didn't get enough hugs as a kid, that somehow matters, and they feel compelled to let the entire world know with an unbelievably obnoxious tweet...whether you want it there or not.

You guys...seriously...

WHAT.

THE HELL.

ARE WE DOING?!?!

Answer: I don't know, but I suddenly have to go outside.

What This Would Be Like at an Actual Cocktail Party

Posted on June 10, 2014 and filed under social media, business.