Gamification

Gamification and Marketing

Gamification

Mention Farmville as a potential marketing tactic to most marketers or brand stewards and you’ll get greeted by an “ugh, really?”  I have yet to work with someone, colleague or client, who plays social games online, so very few of them are convinced that gaming is the way to reach consumers.  But increasingly, gaming is an important and growing channel with regular new points of entry for engagement.

In fact, there’s an entire new industry cropping up to help brand connect to consumers via gaming; it’s called “Gamification” and it’s exemplified by a startup, Bunchball, which helps companies including Hasbro, Comcast and NBC “gamify” their interactions with their target audiences.  The concept of gamification is simple:

  • Make it fun and exciting to be part of a community
  • Reward audiences for participation
  • Encourage pass-along and recommendations
  • Build loyalty and sales through repeat visits and purchases

Gamification can happen online or off; companies like 7-Eleven are gamifying the in-store experience, Bobber is making financial education fun for kids and teens, and programmers’ community Stack Overflow awards badges for community interaction and engagement.

And consider Foursquare, Gowalla and other location-based services.  Most of them are based on the premise of gaining something – either becoming a mayor, or finding an artifact, or getting another badge.  These services wouldn’t be nearly as compelling if the competitive aspects weren’t there, whether it’s competing against yourself or against friends.

What does this mean for brands?  You should be looking for ways to either gamify your own marketing efforts to take advantage of existing games to engage with your target audiences.  The average online gamer is a 43 year old woman and 38% of women say they play games several times a day.  So though it seems that my colleagues are all outside of that percentage, there are still 78 million users playing Farmville and millions and millions more playing other games.  Brands are placing products within games and other creative integrations are cropping up daily (no pun intended).

As a long-time geek who played role-playing games in her youth, I’m all about a good game, and love that companies are taking hold of these theories and putting them to use in attracting and retaining customers.

I’ve seen a number of great posts recently about gamification and wanted to highlight a few of them here.

Game Mechanics and Gamification Rationale

TechCrunch: SCVNGR’s Secret Game Mechanics Playdeck

This is a fantastic resource with 47 potential implementations of game dynamics. If you’re thinking about creating a game or injecting some game concepts into a campaign, start here for fantastic ideas and examples.

gamification_marketing

Maritz.com: 3 Reasons Social Gaming Is Not a Waste of Time

Refutes a recent AdAge column which was bearish on social gaming and outlines three experiences that gamified activities offer which attract and excite users.

Mashable: HOW TO: Use Game Mechanics to Power Your Business

A great construct for the process of  incorporating game mechanics. Includes this clever graphic:

QuickSprout: How to Use Game Mechanics to Improve Your SEO

I just came across this excellent post on how to use gaming components to encourage pass-along and content creation, which builds search visibility as a result.

Examples of Companies Gamifying

GamesBeat: Website builder Devhub gets users hooked by “gamifying” its service

This DIY website and blog platform has introduced game elements that encourage users to finish their web building projects. The gaming elements have increased site building activity nine times and average revenue per user four-fold.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek: The Retailer’s Clever Little Helper

Roundup of recent retailer adoptions of mobile game apps, including examples from Campbell’s, Starbucks, and AT&T.

EpicWin

Bring more fun to your tasks with this iPhone app that promises to “level-up your life” by making your to-do list into an RPG adventure.  Choose your character and tackle those long-overdue projects.  I’m a Warrior Priestess, of course.

Replicator: Subaru adds “Game Mechanics” to Cars

The car company takes gamification offline by adding badges to the back of their cars.  Sounds crazy? Maybe. But what about all those little family stickers people have on their cars, or the multitudes of colored ribbons?

Snowboard Magazine: Vail Resorts Launches Epic Mix

In what looks like an extremely cool app that makes a non-skiier like me want to go to Vail, the resort company has announced a complex application that will track guests’ activity on their computers or smartphones and via the use of RFID tracking at the resorts.  Pins will be available to commemorate each activity, with special pins available for kids.

What say you? Are you loving the gamification of everything, or hating it? Do you shut off Farmville and Mafia Wars in your Facebook news feed or are you an addict yourself?  And now that Farmville is on the iPhone, are you less bored waiting at the bank? Please leave us your thoughts in the comments.

Editorial Calendar Continued: Creating a Facebook Calendar

As a further extension to my series on editorial calendars, let’s talk about Facebook.  If you’re running a Facebook brand/fan page, you’ll want to create an editorial calendar for that, too.

Facebook needs an editorial calendar too
Given how many friends people have, and how quickly status updates get pushed down on people’s home pages, Facebook recommends that brands post status updates at least twice per day in order to capture the greatest audience for your brand content.  That means creating (and posting) 10 to 14 updates per week (depending on if you include weekends – which Facebook recommends but most brands don’t do).  That’s a lot of content!

Goals for Facebook engagement

Of course, you’ll first want to establish your goals for engaging in Facebook – you could be looking to:

  • build awareness
  • develop relationships with brand fans
  • promote new products/services, deals and specials
  • crowdsource ideas/get input from brand fans
  • encourage fan evangelism/advocacy about your brand
  • all of the above!

Your goals will help determine the content you should include in your Facebook calendar.  Building awareness requires more frequent posting.  Product promotions may happen infrequently.  And you may want to ask fans questions on a regular basis – it’s proven to be one of the best ways to get fans engaged on Facebook.  More on that in a moment.  So let’s assume you know why you’re on Facebook.  Now for the what.

Steps to creating a Facebook calendar

1. Determine your posting schedule. Is it twice a day, weekdays only?  Once a day? Are you including weekends?

2. Setup a calendar (I use a simple Excel spreadsheet) to include the following columns:

  • Day/date
  • Theme/category
  • Notes/ideas
  • Actual copy
  • Links
  • Images
  • I also use the spreadsheet to track results, with columns for Impressions, Feedback, Comments and Likes – all info you’ll get from Facebook through their Insights tracking

3. Consider whether you want to include recurring topics and themes.  As with blogs, you could set up various days of the week for specific topics or coverage areas.  For some clients I’ve done media clips once a week on a specific day, for others I’ve included a video once a week – the brand’s or a link to another video that was relevant and timely. Block out these recurring topics in your calendar.
4. Be sure to include a mix of media in your posts.  You can post links to outside content, photos and videos; you never know what will catch a fan’s eye, so experiment with various content types at various times of the day/week to see which ones generate the greatest results.
5. Don’t be overly promotional, but don’t forget that you have brand goals for using Facebook in the first place.  Look at your overall marketing calendar to see if you can use coupons, marketing promos, sales or other events in your Facebook content. Consider creating specials just for your Facebook fans.  But keep in mind that Facebook’s Terms of Service are pretty specific about how you can market using promotions, so be sure you’re staying on the right side of their terms.
6. Find ways to make your posts interactive.  Ask questions. Create polls.  Be open to feedback.  From my client experience, I’ve found that an open-ended question can generate as much as 200% more interactions than a statement.
7. Write out as many posts in advance as possible in your spreadsheet. Use your themes/topics and marketing calendar to guide you. While you could write long(ish) updates on Facebook (420 characters is the max), the system cuts off posts that are over 320 characters and adds a “see more” link which requires an extra click from readers. So try to be brief, unless you need to communicate a lot of details about something special.

Status vs. Publisher posts

Did you know that there are effectively two kinds of status posts in Facebook?  There is a “status” post, which can only be text or a text link (you can’t use Facebook’s linking feature), and which stays at the top of your fan page until you write a similar post.  And then there’s a “publisher” post, which can include links, video or photos, and which shows up on your fan’s walls but does not stay at the top of your fan page.  Here’s an example from the Gap fan page.

Facebook editorial calendar

I recommend that you think about what you want to keep at the top of your page and build those updates into your content specifically.  From the Gap example, if there’s a link to a hot product you want to keep front-and-center, use a text link in a text-only update.  But if there’s an event which is time-sensitive, or a promotion that may not last, create links using the Publisher link option in the status box, which will give it some graphic “oomph” and allow it to move down the wall as you add new updates.

Tools for keeping your page up-to-date

There are a number of third-party resources which can help you manage your Facebook page, including scheduling updates and moderating comments. Many will also let you share this responsibility with a team. A few to check out include Context Optional, Buddy Media and Involver. There are also free tools such as HootSuite, but HootSuite only currently allows posting of text-only updates, not media-rich publisher posts (as described above).

None of the more robust Facebook management tools come cheap, so consider your staff resources when putting together your editorial calendar as you may need to have an actual human doing your posting every day!

What’s in your toolbox for keeping your Facebook page fresh? Please share your tips and tricks in the comments.

Image via Wikipedia

 

Don’t Forget to Monitor Forums

When I speak with clients about the need to listen to social media to know what people are saying about brands, products and services, most of them understand the need to monitor the most prevalent social outlets: what people are discussing on blogs, on Twitter, and on Facebook.  I usually suggest that it’s also possible to monitor YouTube and Flickr (are people tagging or describing videos with brand terms?) as well as LinkedIn.  Yelp and Foursquare are two other important venues, particularly for local businesses.  But what about monitoring web forums?

forums

Forums, you ask?  You mean those old-school bulletin boards and message boards?  The ones that grew up in the age of AOL and are frequently the platform for heated discussions (we called them flame wars back in the day – are they still called that?). According to Wikipedia, modern-day web forums first appeared in 1996, growing out of bulletin boards and Usenet electronic mailing lists.

It seems to me that web forums may be the front runners to what we now call social media.  They are communities of like-minded people who engage directly with each another.  Participants build trust with one another and rely on key members of the communities as authorities.  One key difference is that in forums many participants assume aliases or screen names and in today’s social media most participants are transparent with their identities.   However, forums still represent an important part of social media community management; therefore, it’s important to listen to the conversation on forums in order to create and maintain a comprehensive social media plan.  Popular forums such as CNET, Gaia Online, Jalopnik and Gamespot have millions of unique visitors monthly, topping most blogs and websites.

Monitoring Forums

There are a few ways to effectively monitor forums; it’s a bit more manual than setting up a Twitter query but well worth doing, given the volume of people you could potentially be listening to.

  1. Sign up for an account at boardreader.com, a forum/board aggregation service.  You can setup queries by typing in a search (for a brand, product, category, keyword) and then selecting the “Show Tools” link at the top of the query.  Your queries can be emailed or fed into an RSS reader so you can monitor them daily.
  2. Use GoogleAlerts to monitor discussions for your keywords or brand. Most people already have Google Alerts activated for their brand; make sure you’re receiving discussions as well as news, blogs and video and consider adding some alerts that are keyword-based vs. brand-based, if you haven’t done so already.
  3. Sign up for individual forums that are applicable to your community.  You can often receive new posts in your RSS reader or via email; some forums software will allow you to subscribe to individual posts (to see followups), users, or keywords/topics.
  4. Use a comprehensive (read: paid) social media listening service such as Radian 6, Alterian SM2 or Sysomos.  Make sure that the solution you choose does include forums and newsgroups; not all of them do. Boards are notoriously hard to pull into a listening tool because their structure (threaded conversations) is different from other platforms and many boards use proprietary software.  Therefore many listening providers subscribe to boardreader (see above) or other aggregators such as omgili to do the heavy lifting for them, then they pull the results into their dashboards.  Then you get to see everything in one place.

Are you using information gathered from forums in your social media strategy and planning?  Are you engaging with forums participants to build your community?  Please share your experiences in the comments.

Image via Wikipedia

Dads Are the New Moms

Are dads the new moms? All signs in social media point to yes.

As I sat in the Dads and Social Media session at the Evo Conference last weekend I was struck by how unusual it was to be applauding four men on a panel (below, from left – Adam Cohen from DadaRocks.com, Greg from TellingDad.com, Drew Bennett from BenSpark.com and Troy Pattee from Dadventurous.com) – four of the hundreds of dad bloggers who have begun emerging as a new category in blog content.  It wasn’t unusual to see men on a conference panel – we women have been struggling with equal representation in tech/social speaking roles forever – but it was unusual that they were talking about fitting in blogging alongside their full-time jobs, how their spouses feel alienated by their new blogging “hobby,” and how people berate about them blogging publicly about their kids.  Funny, it all sounds familiar – if you’re a mom blogger.  These are all recurring topics in the mom blogosphere and have been part of every women’s blogging conference since time immemorial (well, at least since the first BlogHer in 2005).

 

dads are the new moms

So what does it mean that these guys have not only infiltrated women’s blogging conferences, but that they’re seeing their blogs become highly successful, well-trafficked parenting destinations?  It seems to me a testament to their great writing and perspectives on parenthood, but, given that most of them are starting to monetize their blogs, host giveaways, and create brand campaigns, it’s also indicative that brands are looking for the next new way to reach whomever is in charge of the household budget – increasingly no longer only the mom of the house.

Here are some interesting facts that help to bolster this idea:

  • 17.3 percent of all children aged 0-4 with an employed mother have a stay-at-home dad (US Census data, via RebelDad)
  • AlmightyDad has ranked 125+ dad blogs, all of which have significant traffic and web presence
  • There is already an “At-Home Dads” convention, now in it’s 15th year, catering to this segment of the population; I’m sure that blogging is a topic of conversation at this event
  • My husband, who happens to be a stay-at-home-dad and dad blogger, is a member of the NYC Dads Group, one of dozens of such groups that have formed around the country – according to Meetup.com, there are 157 groups in their network

I’m not the only person who believes that dad blogs and daddy bloggers will continue to emerge as an important category of blogs and consumers that marketers will increasingly want to target.  Some brands are taking close note. Others will surely follow.

img credit: Gena Morris @themorrisbunch

 

Editorial Calendar Continued: Curating Content for Twitter

In Tuesday’s post I described how to go about setting up a steady stream of tweets to populate your Twitter account.  The post covered the mechanics of the process, so now you might be wondering where to get all that content from.  Here are a few ideas for how to curate outside sources to provide relevant, timely content to your followers.

Develop some “go-to” sources for content

I gather most of my outside content from two places:

  1. My RSS reader.  When I’m doing my daily reading I take the most interesting articles that I think will be pertinent to my audience and I plug them into HootSuite (my Twitter platform of choice) for future posting.
  2. Daily email newsletters.  I subscribe to about ten, most of which I read regularly.  Some, like SmartBrief on Social Media, aggregate key content from around the web, making it one of my daily must-reads.  If you do tweet out content that you get from other aggregators, it’s nice to indicate your source with a “HT”(hat tip) or “via” acknowledging that source as well as the original author.

For some people the emails are “old school” and redundant with the RSS reader, but I still like ’em.

When I select articles I almost always write an intro for them myself; it’s extremely rare that I only include the article title in my tweet (it would likely indicate I was tweeting on the run from my iPhone and felt something was so great I just had to get it out there).  So my tweet of an article from Christopher Penn looks like this:

curating twitter content

Actively promote others and ReTweet often

Whether you’re actually RTing or saying an article is “from” or “via” someone (see below), sending out their content is promoting them.  I primarily tweet out info from people I know, I want to know, and those I admire and believe in.  I closely watch their blogs and Twitter streams and draw on my “favorites” often for my curated Twitter content.  I’ll send RTs on the fly throughout the day from my iPhone or from TweetDeck, and setup more “formal” scheduled tweets via HootSuite.

Include your own content, too

That’s at least partly why you’re here, right?  To have a dialogue about what you’re doing with your friends and followers.  So include your own content – your blog post, a note on your Facebook page, a link to your video on YouTube.  And don’t forget to tweet out links to your own media placements or speaking engagements.

Engage with and use your followers for good

Twitter is a fantastic medium for getting get quick answers or developing deeper polling data (likely unscientific, but good enough for most purposes).  You can schedule questions or polls right into your Twitter calendar.  Twtpoll is one app that makes polling easy.

Be sure to attribute your sources

For all of the sources from which you curate content, it’s always nice to acknowledge the author.  I typically use “from @source” or mention inline the actual author or website, and “via @source” for the place where I found the article.  So my tweet of an article by Dennis Yu that I found on SmartBrief for Social Media will look like this:

acknowledge sources when curating twitter content

I’ve followed lots of people who tweet out articles without attribution, and I often assume that it’s their own content and am then surprised when I’m taken to another blog or article that has nothing to do with them.  It’s not entirely dishonest – there are no laws on tweeting – but I feel it’s just not right.  Give credit where credit is due, and make it easy for your readers to know that you’re curating content vs. including only your own content.

Save all your content!

Now that you’ve curated this amazing set of content for your followers, be sure that you’ve saved it for your archives too.  You want to be able to reference back to these articles in the future.

First of all, make sure that you’re bookmarking all of your tweets in your Delicious.com account.  I use Packrati.us, they have amazing customer service (I had a problem with an old account) and it’s really simple to use – you just connect it to your Twitter and Delicious accounts and it automatically feeds your tweets into Delicious.

Next, be sure to regularly backup your Twitter stream.  I use Backupify for this and archive an Excel file of my tweets every so often; I have my entire @stephanies Twitter history going back to 2007 on my external harddrive and in my cloud server for safekeeping.  It’s pretty cool to look back to see what I was tweeting in those very early days, and also to see how my personal twitterstream topics changed as I got pregnant and had my son.  There are a number of other services too; look at OneForty.com for more.

Hopefully this has sparked some ideas for you; I’d love to hear how you’re curating Twitter content too, so I can add it to my own content planning.

Editorial Calendar Continued: Twitter Editorial Calendars

In previous posts I’ve covered blog editorial calendars and programming blog content.  Let’s move on to Twitter for a bit and look at how to structure an editorial calendar for Twitter.

In reality, a Twitter editorial calendar is less “editorial” and more “planning.”  Given that you’ve only got 140 characters to play with (only 120 if you want to leave room for ReTweets), it’s not like you’re going to create groundbreaking editorial content for your Twitter stream.  Therefore, what I use Twitter for, and what many of the people I follow seem to do, is to curate links to content I feel that my Twitter audience will be interested in receiving.  This can include my own content, of course, but will also include links to others’ content.  I also make use of Twitter to get questions answered, take the pulse of my followers, and to do some (very limited) self-promotion.

Here are the steps for developing a consistent, easy-to-manage Twitter stream:

1. Determine who your audience is and what you want to tweet about

As with your blog, you should first listen to what your audience (followers) or potential audience (people you’d like to have following you) are saying and responding to on Twitter.  A great tool to listen in on conversations quickly is Twitter For Busy People (t4bp) – from here you can read the last tweet of each of the people you’re following – or type in anyone else’s Twitter name to see who they’re following and what they’re talking about.  So if you want to capture the same audience as, say, Chris Brogan, why not look to see what the people he’s following are saying (though with 120k+ friends there’s a lot to process!).

2. Choose a Twitter platform that allows you to schedule

twitter editorial calendar

Twitter tools like HootSuiteTweetDeck and Co-Tweet will all allow you to schedule Tweets for sometime in the future and to manage your schedule efficiently.  I prefer HootSuite for the online interface; they provide useful stats when you shorten links using their Ow.ly link shortener (built into their interface), and they also have fantastic customer service.

3. Determine a rough schedule for tweeting

Perhaps based on the tweet volume of people you’ve investigated in step one, figure out how often you want to send a message to your audience.  For my own @socialologist tweets, I aim to tweet 3-5 times per day on weekdays, mainly between 8:00 am and 7:00 pm ET.  I’ve done similar schedules for clients, sometimes including weekends (if it’s a highly consumer-oriented brand) and sometimes considering other time zones (scheduling later in the day ET to capture West Coast, or overnight ET to get mornings in Europe).

4. Start populating your Pending Tweets with content

Using your Twitter platform, start to program out your tweets in the system.  The example above is my own Pending Tweets list from a couple of days ago.  I try to queue up roughly a week’s worth of posts at a time, though not necessarily all of the posts I’ll send throughout the week.  I leave some room for adding in breaking news, topical posts, or the best of the day.  I will also reschedule a post for a later time if I find something more relevant/timely to post close to a prescheduled post.

5. Continually add, revise, refresh

I revisit my Pending Tweets most days to make sure that the links I’m sending are still relevant (what if new news superseded the info you’ve queued up?), and to adjust out if I’ve tweeted anything that wasn’t on the schedule.

In Thursday’s post I’ll cover sources for content to curate for your Twitter stream.  In the meantime, please let me know in the comments if this is similar to how you manage your Twitter efforts, or if you do something different.

blog calendar template

Editorial Calendar Continued: Blog Calendar Template

blog calendar template

I’ve had a couple of requests for a copy of the spreadsheet I’m using to track my blog editorial calendar, so I’ve created a Google Docs version that anyone can view and download.

In the spreadsheet I’ve included what I consider to be the most important fields that you should fill out while creating your calendar, as well as some columns for tracking your results afterward.

I’ve used similar structures in various ways with different clients, depending on their style and needs. Here are some of the things I think about when I’m crafting and updating my blog calendar:

  • You can either program far in advance with “evergreen” topics that you know will be relevant a month or two from now, or you can program out a week or two and move posts around as new topics and ideas come up.  I mostly do the latter, though I do have a couple of posts queued up that could get slotted in anywhere.
  • I use the Topic Notes column like a scratch pad, and initially include everything I think could be relevant to a topic or post.  I then continue to add to that topic over time until I’m close to that  date and actually sit down to write the post.  It’s then that I often realize that the topic might be too broad, in which case I split out some of the notes onto a new day in the future.  That is sometimes how a topic series develops – I determine that I have more to say on a particular topic than one post will contain, so I then program out one or more future posts as part of a series.
  • When I sit down to update the editorial calendar I give myself an hour or 90  minutes so that I can be as comprehensive as possible.  I do this once every week or two, plus quick updates most days to reflect actual posted information.
  • I also program out time to write the actual posts, striving to have the posts completed at least a day or two before they’re scheduled to be posted so that I can sit with them a while and copyedit without time pressure.  Of course, this doesn’t always happen (I do write plenty of same-day posts), but it’s nice to do when I can.
  • Of course, part of the raison d’etre for most blogs is to be able to authentically participate in an conversation, so keeping your calendar loose enough to accommodate spur-of-the-minute posts on hot topics or in response to someone else’s blog, Tweet or article is key.  I never hesitate to push a scheduled post to a future date if I’ve got something I just have to blog about immediately.

This calendar template is for my personal blogs and may be too casual for some brands.  For agency clients I formalize the process a great deal more, scheduling weekly editorial calendar meetings with the blog team (which also go into the calendar), programming out dates that blog drafts are due to a central editor or blog wrangler, and even building in senior management approval time if necessary – just add in columns for those dates.

You may have other ideas and needs for your editorial calendar; I’d love for you to tell us how you’re modifying this in the comments below.

 

program blog content

Editorial Calendar Continued: 9 Ways to Program Out Blog Content

program blog content

Hopefully now you’ve got a structure for your editorial calendar.  But it’s empty.  How do you determine what content to include in your blog?

The first place to start is to listen.  I’ve said before that I’m a huge proponent of social media listening, as that’s where you’re going to find the topics that are of interest to your audience.  You’ll want to also understand how you’re telling your brand story – what’s your voice, who’s speaking on your behalf.

So assuming that you know who your audience is, you know what you want your voice to be, and you know who’s writing (if it’s a multi-author blog), let’s look at some of the various ways to flesh out your editorial calendar for your blog.  These may not all be appropriate for you, just pick and choose to get the right balance of content for your brand.

Cover regular topics

Program out your calendar to reflect your company’s products or services, to ensure that you’re providing content that covers your most important products or speaking to the different types of people in your audience.  The PurinaCare blog does this well, ensuring that they post about cats as well as dogs, and also including content that’s relevant to veterinarians who may be selling their product.

Use themes or memes

Choose to designate certain days for various themes, whether serious or whimsical.  Graco Baby, a former client, does this with their Bundles Bumps and Babies series, which runs each Wednesday and always includes a wonderful photo.  Many blogs adhere to broader memes like  “Wordless Wednesdays” where they only run photos or “Friday Fun” where they go off-topic a bit and post something amusing.

Create a series of posts

Develop running series, like this post, which develop a topic over time.  My editorial calendar series is currently programmed out to include a total of four posts, but I’m leaving the door open for more.

Interview people

Create a series of interview posts featuring relevant interviewees for your topic.  Rubbermaid’s blog includes regular Q&As and tips from professional organizers – exactly the kinds of people Rubbermaid consumers want to hear from.  Interviewing people is sometimes easier for the interviewee than asking them to guest blog….

Invite guest bloggers

Get guest bloggers to provide content for you.  Tamar Weinberg uses guest bloggers to enhance the content on Techipedia and to give herself a writing break now and then.  Tamar also believes that giving guest bloggers a voice on her blog gives them a way to be discovered by her community.

Stalk celebrities (sort of)

A popular blog meme for product blogs is to capture news items about celebrities using the product. Bigelow Tea recently wrote about Michelle Obama’s high-profile White House teas and runs celebrity stories as an occasional series.  You can find these items in celeb magazines or online.

Promote your own media

Did you get a great media hit in print, in a blog, or on television? Write it up, humbly, for your blog. Your readers may not have seen it, and someone else’s endorsement of your brand is always more valuable than your own.

Promote your products

Running contests, promotions and giveways will increase engagement on your blog and bring new readers in through viral pass-along, if the offers are valuable.  Be sure to include easy ways that people can share your promotional content – buttons to tweet out the post and post it to Facebook, and an “email this” link to quickly send to friends by email.  Graco Baby takes the concept even further with their “Get One, Give One” program, allowing the contest winner to also give the same item to a mom or organization in need, establishing brand goodwill all around.

Build around your authors

If you have multiple authors for your blog, that may be a natural way to break down the content – assign “columns” or focus areas to each person based on their interest or passion, and program out the calendar from there.

What are the other ways you generate content to fill your editorial calendar?  What other blog memes could new (or established) bloggers consider following?  Please help flesh out this topic by posting your comments below.

social media editorial calendar

Basics of the Social Media Editorial Calendar

social media editorial calendar

As you may know, we’re huge fans of editorial calendars around here. We use them for all of our client work, plus our own internal content creation efforts and social media scheduling. Here’s a look at how we approach using a social media editorial calendar.

Audience

Before beginning to plan an editorial calendar, you need to determine who you are expecting to attract to your content so that you can tailor your content and voice to that audience. In our case, we are publishing content for both people that we hope will become clients (small- to medium-sized businesses) as well as those in the social media blog community that we consider ourselves to be a part of.

Platforms

We’ve determined which platforms we’re planning to publish in – at least for now. We currently publish content on this blog, Twitter, Facebook, and on our LinkedIn company page. You or your company may also publish in other places – YouTube, Instagram, Tumblr, etc.  For the purposes of this post we’re going to focus on the blog calendar; we’ve written about an editorial calendar for Twitter in another post. It’s different, but the principles of planning in advance are exactly the same.

Calendar

For our blog, we schedule out a calendar in a Google Doc that outlines our posting schedule.  We don’t plan to post on weekends or national holidays, and we are currently posting on 1 to 2 weekdays per week. Our assumption is that most of our intended audience will do the majority of their reading during the business week. If your audience is mainly a consumer audience, you may want to schedule posts on the weekends, too. The best way to determine the posting schedule that works for you is to test, test, and test some more: start by posting on a particular day of the week, then look at Google Analytics 48 hours later to see how many views that post has. Then post on a different day and compare.

We typically have our calendar setup for a rolling six-week period, and we add to it frequently to be sure we never get too far behind.  We also set aside time every week to update the calendar and to make sure that it stays on track. And if cool ideas come to us that aren’t part of the calendar, we can always move a post out further and insert the hot topic or new idea anytime.

It’s also important to note that we do most of our writing pretty far in advance of the days designated on the calendar. For our own blog, but especially for our clients’ blogs, we typically have at least two to three posts queued up in advance. For clients’ blogs, we’re sometimes six to ten posts ahead! This is especially important when we need to get client approval or feedback on blog posts; we batch them and send them to the client all at once, thereby minimizing their time needed to review them, and keeping our process on track.

Content

Use our social media editorial calendar to organize your blog and social media efforts

In our Google Doc, on the Blog Editorial Calendar tab, you’ll see the following columns:

  • Day/Date
  • Holidays/events
  • Post status (written, approved, scheduled, published)
  • Content type (we may include video, audio, infographics or other content in our blog)
  • Theme/category (for a handy dandy way to develop themes and topics for your blog, check out our Content Creation Worksheet)
  • Topic/title
  • Blog notes and inspiration
  • Keywords
  • Writer
  • Author/byline (because the author may not always be the writer…such as when you have a ghostwriter writing for someone in your organization)

These are all the fields that we fill out for each post in our calendar. For each post, we often make a few notes on the content and choose the keywords we’re using for the post (for SEO purposes) pretty far in advance, then we refine the calendar as we write the content. For some tips on how to choose SEO keywords for your content, our friend Andy Crestodina at Orbit Media has a great guide.

Getting this all set up in advance is really the secret to our success, and comprises editorial calendar basics; it’s how we organize for maximum, power-fueled content creation. It’s not all that complicated; it’s merely a question of setting a schedule and sticking to it. But oof, isn’t that the hardest part? (Is this the right time to ask when was the last time you went to the gym?!)

We’d love to hear from you if you’re using our editorial calendar or any others…and how it works for you. Please tweet at us @crackerjackmktg or leave a comment.

 

brands working with bloggers

Brands Working With Bloggers – It’s Confusing

brands working with bloggers

While I was busy last week getting my new site up and running, a major conversation was happening in the blogosphere about compensation for mommybloggers. This is a topic that I’m pretty passionate about, having recently moderated a panel about how PR and bloggers can work together, and as a long-time liaison between brands and bloggers.

From the brand side, there is certainly a great deal of confusion (and, dare I say, ignorance) about how to work with bloggers (of any type, not just moms). Here are the issues from my perspective.

Public Relations and Bloggers

If you’re coming from the PR side, you’re used to working with editorial content, and calling up or emailing journalists to place stories about products and services you represent. You would never think to compensate those journalists, and even if you did send product samples you often get them back. And your budget does not extend into payments for anything editorially related; you may have budget for events or stunts, but not for paying people to evangelize your brand.

Why this works in “old media”: Journalists are paid by their publications (whether they’re paper or online), and the publications monetize based on subscriptions and ad revenue. The two are, in theory, held (more or less) strictly separate (more on that below).

Why this doesn’t work for bloggers: Bloggers don’t have “publications” paying them, they are the publications. Some are monetizing their site via advertising, others are not. Those that have worked hard to build up their readerships to a level where they’re valuable to a brand have probably done most of it uncompensated. They therefore often (but not always) want to find ways to generate revenue from their blogs/sites.

Advertising/Media and Bloggers

If you’re an advertising or media buying person, you’ve got a budget. You’re used to finding places to put your ads and paying those places to take them. So now you want to attract niche demographics, like moms, to your brand, and so you assume you can just pay bloggers with those readerships to get the exposure you’re looking for. While you don’t necessarily expect editorial coverage to accompany your ads, in practice there is absolutely an unwritten code that makes it more likely that a publication (particularly magazines) will cover your product if you’re advertising frequently.

Why this works in “old media”: It’s a pretty simple equation. Advertisers want to put their product in front of people who will care about it, and publishers have space to sell, online or off. And hey, if it does encourage editorial coverage here and there, all the better.

Why this doesn’t work for bloggers: Marketers and advertisers are now more than willing to compensate bloggers for product reviews, as if they were just another ad buy – whether that compensation is in cash or product. This is complex territory all around, clouding the notion of what a product review is (or at least should be). Bloggers who remain editorially neutral and/or provide full disclosures may not be as attractive to advertisers who want their reviews to look as organic as possible.

Additionally, although many bloggers do take paid advertising, as a persistent online publication it’s more difficult to straddle the line between advertising and editorial. What if you really love a product and write about it one week, then the brand offers you advertising dollars the next? That post lives forever and may be featured alongside that advertising, murking up the waters of integrity.

So What’s a Brand To Do?

No doubt this debate will continue, as marketers need to break out of their “old media’ models and bloggers further assert themselves as hardworking assets to brands. Others have written eloquently about great ways to compensate bloggers without paying for posts and how agencies should evolve.

Here’s my advice: Start with the assumption that you’re going to need to compensate bloggers in some way. If you’re PR, make sure your bosses or clients are aware that there will be costs involved in blogger outreach – to compensate bloggers as paid brand ambassadors, to create customized content for your site, or to test your product or service and write a properly disclosed review. Then be pleasantly surprised if your product or service is cool enough that your pitch gets met with a warm editorial reception, without compensation.

If you’re advertising/media, don’t expect more than what you pay for. If you’re buying advertising, that’s what you’ll get. If you want bloggers to do other things for you, plan to compensate them accordingly.

And, brand marketers, put yourself in the bloggers’ shoes. Take the time to communicate with the blogger and understand their motivations. Are they blogging for their community, and just trying to pay the hosting bills? Are they building readership to attract more (and more valuable) paid advertising? Do they have other skills they can bring to the table for you – are they trained marketers themselves who can add a new perspective to your marketing team? Once bloggers become your true marketing partners, everyone will win.