[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.

Visual Cheat-Sheet for Editing to Help You Move Faster

This post is an excerpt from Content Marketing for Startups -- specifically, the Growth Guide on the left there -- which I created at NextView Ventures. (There is no info-capture to access that PDF.)

Few things are more frustrating as a writer than watching the world around you de-prioritize editing. Editing is actual, meaningful work and should be treated as such. It's the last defense in making sure you don't wind up with egg on your face, whether due to misspellings or incorrect facts or plain old terribly-written paragraphs. (Yes, those paragraph things matter.)

But editing can suck up a lot of time, and you can always write more, tweak something, or remove something. (There's a reason you can't get a perfect score on a college essay, after all.) But because you have goals to hit and other projects or priorities on the horizon, this idea of limitless editing poses a huge problem. Do you risk suffering the consequences by not editing or do you sink tons of precious resources into examining your copy, your research, and your quality?

The answer, of course, lies somewhere in between the two. You need to spend your energy and resources editing things commensurate with their importance. Remember that perfect is unattainable, but quality is not. Quality is non-negotiable.

So to help you move faster without skimping on that quality, here's a cheat-sheet you can use to edit your work while still moving quickly through the process. 

Note that some of the terminology may refer to the rest of my content marketing blueprint.

(Click to enlarge or right click and save the file.)

What do you think? Is there anything missing? Or any tricks you like to use to edit that could be added? Let me know @Jay_zo or leave a comment below!

Posted on June 4, 2014 and filed under writing.

Beating the Little Hater Inside Your Head [Video]

Part of this blog's mission is to celebrate creative, quality content, while also helping you create your own. So when a video covers BOTH those things, it just needs to be posted here.

About a year or so ago, I saw and saved this video by blogger Jay Smooth. He writes illdoctrine.com. The video itself is creative, so naturally I wanted to share it. But, even better, it addresses creative people's need to overcome that little hater inside our head which begs us to procrastinate and convinces us that we're just not good enough to create. 

I recently re-discovered this video and had to share it. Without further ado, here's another (even more creative) Jay...

Let Jay know his video is appreciated even outside the pure "creative" industry: Click here to tweet his video.

Posted on June 3, 2014 and filed under creativity.