Why-PR-May-Not-Win-The-Social-Media-Agency-Wars

Why PR May Not Win The Social Media Agency Wars

Why-PR-May-Not-Win-The-Social-Media-Agency-Wars

The default position lately seems to be that social media is being grasped best by PR agencies, and a lot of PR agencies are winning social media business. As a former PR agency person who’s also worked in a social media shop, I’d agree that there are a lot of reasons that PR firms should win the social agency wars. But there are a lot of strikes against them too. Others have recently expounded on why social belongs in PR; I’m going to take the other side and outline where I feel PR is falling short and must catch up in order to win and deliver on integrated social media campaigns.

Budget

PR agencies have traditionally not controlled a lot of marketing dollars. They work primarily on fixed retainers, with some out-of-pocket budget, but generally have not had access to large, scalable media budgets like traditional ad agencies or digital agencies do. And since PR and marketing are still separate at most companies, shifting marketing money to PR departments in order to cover social media costs will be an uphill battle in many companies.

And there’s no question that there are costs for social. While some PR agencies continue to tell clients that social is “earned” media, it really isn’t, anymore. Most bloggers expect some form of compensation when they market brands, products or services. There is a cost to acquiring fans in Facebook. It takes time to drive a Twitter following. And creating content to fuel social media channels can be costly if done well. If PR is going to continue to gain ground in social, they must be ready to create, pitch and win budgets that go well beyond the traditional PR pervue.

Technology

Increasingly, social is a technology play. From Facebook applications to integration with Shopkick, brands are using new technologies to reach and engage with their communities, on the web and on mobile. And while I have great respect for my PR colleagues – I’ve worked with a lot of really smart people – I’ve just got to say: they are, on the whole, not the most tech-savvy group I know. Yes, the kids right out of college get it, and there are some very tech-focused PR execs, but many VPs and SVPs often can’t manipulate their own Blackberries, let alone use a QR code scanner. So how is this group going to be able to embrace, sell in, and deliver on technologies that will create or enhance social opportunities?

tecknology

I don’t think that PR firms necessarily need to create technology themselves – solid partnerships with trusted developers and platforms should be enough to accomplish a PR program’s goals. But there have got to be people within the PR agency who understand how to spec and manage development projects to be able to get projects executed professionally, on budget and in a way that impresses the client. I just don’t see a lot of PR firms even thinking this way yet, let alone hiring these kinds of people – it’s too difficult to justify a seemingly non-billable technology person in a traditional PR hierarchy. This will continue to be a huge hole for most agencies, and the shops that come around and get this will have a huge leg up on their competition.

Advertising

Forget the editorial/advertising church-and-state separation: PR agencies who want to win at social are going to have to at least learn to talk the talk about advertising. If Facebook ads weren’t enough, there are a whole slew of other social advertising opportunities out there, from iAds to Twitter promoted tweets to location-based mobile ads. And for many PR people this will be anathema. They want to work in the world of earned media, not paid; however, without a social media ad spend, some social campaigns will fall short.

But going back to budgets for a moment, most PR people who won’t be able to create an appropriate ad budget, let alone have the knowledge to sell it in and execute on it. As with technology, PR firms may not need to develop ad buying capabilities in house, but they will need people who know enough about it to be good partners to people who do, and, again, execs who can sound smart in front of the client and get social ads sold in.

The bottom line: though PR seems to have the creative and storytelling capabilities that fuel a lot of what social is, most firms lack skillsets that they need to be able to deliver an integrated social media approach. This will keep some firms hopping for a while until they figure out how to plug the holes, or else they’ll just decide not to play in the social media arena.

Is your PR firm plugging the social media knowledge gaps or abdicating to others? Are you frustrated or elated at the direction this is going? The comments are yours.

This post was originally written for Social Media Explorer.

The-Case-for-Social-Media-Agencies

The Case for Social Media Agencies

The-Case-for-Social-Media-Agencies

Previously, I’ve written about how PR firms are missing some key skillsets that they need to win integrated social media business. The post generated a lot of great feedback, Tweets and Likes, and I think it’s because it really hit a nerve with a lot of agency folk – PR and otherwise.

So here on my own blog I’ll make the correlating argument that there is an opportunity now for pureplay social media agencies to really grow and thrive.  Of course, I’m completely biased, having spent nearly five years at award-winning social agency Converseon, and now as principal of my own social and digital marketing agency (I did work in PR for a year in between – so have some credibility on the PR side as well).  Please bear with me as I make the case and then tell me at the end whether you agree or not.

robot

New discipline, new agency

Social marketing is a new discipline within organizations, and it doesn’t fit within most traditional company structures. Aspects of social media cross into marketing, advertising, PR/communications, customer service and even R&D. And most of those departments have their own agencies.  When social media is on the table, there’s often a fight among departmental and agency stakeholders as to who gets the work – and often it’s the agency with the most clout among internal stakeholders, not necessarily the best skillset or even the best pitch.

I predict that within 18-24 months many corporations, particularly those that are consumer-focused, will have a new, cross-disciplinary department or group to manage social media (some already do). And many will start to hire social media agencies between now and then to help them learn to manage their social programs and platforms in this new, integrated way.

Tactics and technology

Most social media agencies have broad skillsets represented within their ranks. At Converseon we had search experts, direct marketers, PR people, research mavens, creatives and a savvy tech team.  Those of us who managed client engagements were mainly digital generalists – and I’m happy to wear that label today.  I know quite a bit about SEO, transactional marketing, digital advertising and mobile to be able to not only recommend these tactics to clients but spec them, build them (myself or through trusted partnerships) and manage them on behalf of clients.  Of course, not every social program will have these components (though it could be argued that search optimization should be part of every web project and is a key outcome of a successful social content campaign).

To develop and deliver fully integrated social media programs, social marketers need to be able to consider the entire range of tools and tech that power every type of campaign, or else they will be too narrow in their thinking and their campaigns will start to look stale and repetitive.  So don’t broaden your firm’s skillset if all you want to do is recommend Facebook pages to clients.  Just know that it won’t take you (or your clients) to the next level.

Budgeting and extending the engagement

As I noted in my Social Media Explorer post, I think one of the major downfalls for PR firms (and it can be said for some digital firms too) is the way that they budget.  They are most often tied to monthly retainers and then book people-hours against those retainers.  It seems they are having difficulty breaking out of that mold and considering new ways of budgeting projects, some of which may require that they hire people who are not directly billable to clients.

Social media agencies seem to be pretty creative and flexible in budgeting and pricing. Some projects are monthly retainers – those projects are often bigger strategy engagements, day-to-day executing on social media, or providing a safety net for clients who are engaging in social on their own.  Other projects are fixed-price, encompassing a particular campaign or project or covering things like training or creation of a social media policy.  Most social agencies that I’m aware of may conceptually scope projects based on people-hours but also account for the roles that non-client-facing staff may fill in technology, design, or ad buying.  These newer agencies may also be less rigid in terms of their costs – with less expensive office space and lower overhead generally.

Additionally, when it comes time to ask for more money, social media agencies could again have the advantage. If they have someone on staff who understands and has run Facebook advertising campaigns, they can bring that person in to win the ad business.  If they have the capability to build a mobile app (using either in-house or partner resources), they can make a nice profit on that work.  Again, the social media generalist rules here – if the blinders are off and you can see a broader world, you can sell a broader scope of work.

Creativity and communications

“But wait, where does creativity come in to this?” you ask. Of course, creativity and communications are critical for successful social engagement, and yes, digital/ad shops and PR agencies are all very good at one or the other or both – that’s their bread and butter.  But they don’t own the market on either.  I know lots of extremely creative people at social agencies, and many social agencies have smart communicators who have been in corp comms or direct marketing or who were copywriters in their previous lives.  Just because you’ve never had “creative director” in your title or you don’t have a rolodex of journalists on your desk doesn’t mean you can’t successfully brainstorm the next Old Spice campaign or create the Walmart Moms blogger outreach program.  Maybe with a different outlook you can do even better.

So are you with me? Can you see the case for the standalone social media agency? Or are you convinced that traditional (PR, advertising, digital) agencies will either win out, or just swallow up social agencies whole? I’m looking forward to the next chapter in this debate.

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

Don’t Forget to Monitor Forums

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.