If you’re reading this blog, chances are you work in the PR or digital marketing industries. And, if you work in those industries, chances are you are responsible for content development for you company or clients. And if you’re responsible for content development, you’re always looking for best practices, ways you can craft your content different to deliver on results.
Then you see a post like this one from BuzzSumo in your LinkedIn feed. “How to write engaging B2B headlines: Analysis of 10 million articles shared on LinkedIn.”
YES! Best practice research! This will help me crush my job! My content will get clicks. My clients will be happy! I will be successful and make millions of dollars! (OK, let’s not get crazy)
And while this research is somewhat interesting. And it is rooted in research. And, it is exhaustive (not sure how many scrolls I had to make to complete). It’s also research I feel like I’ve seen about 145 times in the last 3-5 years.
And that’s exactly why you should ignore it.
If you read the entire BuzzSumo post, you’ll learn:
- Posts starting with “How to” vastly outperformed all other posts.
- “How to” and lists posts dominate B2B headlines.
- “The future of” was the phrase used most often in B2B headlines
None of those “insights” is even mildly surprising. In fact, these are known facts to virtually anyone who’s cracked a computer open in the last 5-7 years.
And, I see posts using these structures every day in my feeds. To the point where my Feedly is FULL of either “list” posts or “how to” posts. In fact, I’ve almost come to ignore these posts altogether for that exact reason.
I tend to think others may be doing the same thing–or WILL be doing the same thing soon. Because this “how to” and “list” post content is completely dominating the internet.
It’s everywhere. Facebook. LinkedIn. Twitter. You name the social network (outside of maybe Instagram), and you’ll see these posts. A LOT of them.
This brings me to my point. Sure, these posts are popular. And, according to this data, they “work” (meaning, simply, they get clicks). But, when EVERYONE else is doing the SAME THING doesn’t that worry you? Aren’t you concerned your content will become part of the sea of content that people can’t discern? I am. You should be, too.
One of my central social media marketing themes I’ve tried to follow since the very beginning is this: When everyone else is going one direction, run screaming the other direction.
The other problem I see with this research is that it doesn’t account for the artistic, or creative side, of writing. I mean, writing isn’t a scientific endeavor. That’s not why most of us went into this profession. So, as much as the data geeks want to make writing a scientific process, it’s just not.
This is why I laugh when I see stats and graphs like this from the article above:
Really, the NUMBER FIVE is the top number starting B2B headlines? Give me a break. There’s no way that matters. And there’s no way I’m paying attention to that when I’m writing a headline. Complete overkill.
Or, this stat/graphic from the same article:
No way–“The” is the most popular single word that starts B2B headlines? THAT’S GROUNDBREAKING RESEARCH! This graphic and research is almost useless–I see no way you can use this in your headline crafting.
Why? Because writing good headlines is an art form–not a science.
Yes, better understanding what makes a headline get clicks is valuable information. But, it’s not like you can, or should, piece together a headline based on this info–like a robot. In fact, that’s where this is all going. If you were to follow the guidance in this article, we’re very close to robots writing our headlines.
Again, say it with me, writing is an ART FORM–not science.
A few weeks ago, while checking Twitter, I happened across an interesting hash tag:
I decided to participate:
— arikhanson (@arikhanson) May 8, 2017
A few days later, I received the following DM from the @Oreo account:
A special surprise from the Wonder Vault? Now I was excited! I mean, actually kinda genuinely excited and curious (mostly because we don’t have Oreos in the house anymore, or I and my kids would eat an entire box in 5 minutes flat).
A couple weeks later, I received said surprise in the mail. Here’s what I received:
— Oreo Cookie (@Oreo) June 13, 2017
— Oreo Cookie (@Oreo) June 13, 2017
We’ve all heard about the “storification” (yeah, I just made that word up) of the social web and how it represents the future of social. And how companies should start paying attention because “stories” are the new news feed (that’s questionable at best, in my view).
But, we haven’t seen too many good examples of companies using that “story” functionality creatively.
Which is why I immediately paused when I saw this video from Walmart in my feed last week.
You’ll notice Walmart repurposed a string of Snapchat stories (I think) and incorporated it into this video they they put together and shared on its Walmart Today Facebook channel.
Pretty interesting, right?
I actually found this video interesting for a number of reasons because I think it represents three big trends we may end up seeing much more of the months/years ahead:
1: Repurposing “stories” across other social media
Haven’t seen too many brands do this effectively yet, but Walmart seems to have repurposed Snapchat Stories into Facebook/YouTube content (if you’re wondering how to do that, here’s a nice tutorial). This isn’t exactly groundbreaking work, but it is damn efficient as Walmart was already grabbing the video content via phone on location. That video content then served as the bulk of this short-form social video. We’re always talking about ways to make your content work harder for you–perfect example right here.
2: Social company spokespeople are becoming a “must” not a “want”
Another trend this post highlights is the need for the new wave of “social corporate spokespeople.” In the video, you see Bo and Antonio, Walmart “DJs” right at the top. These two are, in fact, Walmart spokespeople. Not in the traditional way you might think about spokespeople–more in a social way. These are the storytellers of 2017. And, they have the skills required for many social stories in 2017. They can get in front of a camera and convince employees/customers to talk and react to the camera (a key skill many in our industry DON’T have). They can put a story together. They have a feel for what will work via social channels. These are the skills Bo and Antonio bring to the table–and they’re going to be skills more companies look for in the years ahead, given our preference for video content online.
3: How do we find these company spokespeople?
Usually, you’ll go out and try to hire them. Which will be tough, given the current landscape and tight job market. But, what’s really interesting in this example is what Walmart did. Instead of trying to go out and HIRE social spokespeople (these two were really hired as radio DJs, but for this example, they’re also social spokespeople), they looked internally. They held a contest to find the first two Walmart Radio DJs who would run Walmart Radio–what a cool job for two lucky Walmart employees who had an interest in radio. And, that’s exactly what happened for Bo and Antonio.
We’ve all heard the litany of excuses our executive partners give us for why they can’t be a bit more active on social channels.
“I just don’t have any time.”
“It’s just too risky.”
“I still don’t see the business benefit.”
In fact, according to recent reports, only 38% of public and private company CEOs have updated their social media channels in the last YEAR.
Apparently, UW-Eau Claire Chancellor, Jim Schmidt doesn’t fall into that bucket.
UW-EC grad, Kevin Hunt and I had the chance to interview Chancellor Schmidt earlier this week as part of our Talking Points Podcast. And, we learned he’s taking time almost DAILY to interact with media, legislators, community members, staff and students on Twitter (he also blogs here).
During our interview, I couldn’t help but think: Executive leaders at organizations across the U.S. could learn a lot from this guy. Specifically:
You don’t need an hour–you just need five minutes
This is probably the excuse we hear most often from our executive partners–and the one I have the biggest problem with. Here’s why: I’m not asking you to spend an hour on Twitter today. I’m asking you to spend 5 minutes. Chancellor Jim is a perfect example. Much like a company CEO, he’s a busy guy. He’s locked in meetings. He’s traveling. He’s meeting with important people. But, he also has short bursts of “downtime” he can use to check in on Twitter on his phone. In fact, he was doing just that when he got to our podcast interview a bit early. He uses those five minute bursts to check in on his mentions and conducts some basic keyword and hash tag searches to find tweets to retweet and respond to–like this one below from a UW-EC alum. Everyone has five minutes–even your CEO.
— Chancellor Jim (@ChancellorJim) April 5, 2017
Who says the CEO can’t also handle customer service?
One of the things that immediately struck me about the Chancellor was his ability to connect with students. He was approachable and down-to-earth with the students during our podcast interview. And, on Twitter, that’s really no different (he was even careful about his Twitter handle based on how approachable he thought it would make him). I’ve noticed Chancellor Jim routinely responds to students and prospective students who tweet at him. In fact, he often serves as a “customer service” rep of sorts for UW-EC. The example below is not out of the ordinary for him. Now, you might say, my executives don’t have time to handle customer complaints. And I would point to Chancellor Jim. By responding to these concerns, openly, on Twitter (where others can see them), he’s demonstrating to a whole lot of people (including prospective students, current students, and staff) that he, and the university, cares about their futures. And, by the way, he’s most likely not solving these “customer issues”–he’s merely responding to them and serving as a triage point to get them to the right people internally.
Could you send an email explaining the situation? Chancellor@uwec.edu https://t.co/bsp2MII67e
— Chancellor Jim (@ChancellorJim) April 12, 2017
What better way to connect with employees (or students, in this case)?
“How can you lead an institution if you don’t have a sense of what’s on the minds of your students?” This was a quote from Chancellor Jim on the Talking Points Podcast–and I think it illustrates perfectly one of the bigger business cases for more C-level leaders using social media. How can you lead a company if you don’t have a sense of what’s on the minds of your customers (or employees, for that matter)? Now, there are other ways to get that information–I get that. But, nothing as direct, immediate and unfiltered as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media tools. And it’s not like Chancellor Jim isn’t dealing with difficult situations on Twitter. A quick glance at his feed, and you’ll see he is addressing problems and tackling issues head-on–he’s not shying away from the tough stuff. Which is what a good leader should do, right? I just wish we’d see more corporate leaders embrace that mindset.
— Chancellor Jim (@ChancellorJim) January 12, 2017
AdAge reporter, Kristy Sammis, recently wrote an article that sums up how I’ve felt about the whole influencer thing for years.
No need to pay big-time influencers gobs of money to broadcast your products and services when you can target “micro-influencers” to do the heavy lifting instead–for far less, if any, money.
The last couple years have seen the whole influencer marketing thing spiral completely out of control. Companies are routinely paying these influencers tens of thousands of dollars for a single Instagram post. Or, a Snapchat story. Or, a handful of tweets.
It’s ridiculous. It’s always been ridiculous.
Sure, it’s worked in spots. But, by and large, this has been one big bandwagon-jumping operation from the outset. A few big brands started “activating influencers” and the next thing we knew, everyone was doing it.
And yes, I know you could substitute “celebrity” for “influencer” and it’s really no different from what brands have been doing for years. I get that. And, like I said, in spots, it works.
But, when I think of how companies can utilize influencers, I gravitate toward more of a grassroots effort using these “micro-influencers.” Here’s why:
I worked with one client a couple years ago that was targeting “cat influencers” as part of their work. Not the people who OWN the cats, the ACTUAL CATS. Yeah, this is a thing. And, these cats were commanding a lot more money per post than you might think. To the tune of tens of thousands of dollars. Now, these cats did have large Instagram and other social media followings. But, did they really “influence” anyone? Did they really change buying behavior? Maybe. Maybe not. But, for the price tag they were commanding, I’d like to be a bit more sure of that than “Maybe. Maybe not.” Remember, less money spent on influencers means less risk and more opportunity to exceed expectations.
One of the primary hurdles with these big-time influencers is trust. Sure, they have the reach and massive followings many brands are looking for. But, do people actually trust them? I would argue “no.” And, on the flip side, I would argue people trust “micro influencers” much more. According to the recent Edelman Trust Barometer, more people are trusting “someone like them” than ever before. Those are your micro-influencers! These are people with 1,000 Instagram followers–not 100,000. These are folks with maybe 750 friends on Facebook–not a celebrity influencer with 400,000 people “following” them. These folks earn trust every day because they’re not making 15 sponsored posts–they’re just talking about their days and what they like and what they find interesting.
If you do decide to target these big-time influencers, think about the process of approaching them. It’s kinda like targeting a reporter at the New York Times. They get pitched ALL THE TIME, right? They’re getting approach by huge, Fortune 500 brands every day throwing tons of money at them. How much chance do you have of getting their attention? I think that’s a big challenge right from the outset. On the flip side, micro influencers are rarely approached by anyone, yet they cost far less (if anything) and have more trust than celebrity influencers. Makes too much sense, right?
Remember mom bloggers? They still exist, of course. But, way back (7-8 years ago), they were a huge force on the Internet. They developed content that resonated with other moms. Moms read their stuff all the time. Then, they started to appear on marketer’s radars as a tool to reach other moms (a coveted audience). And, the outreach and partnerships started. Then, mom bloggers started running sponsored posts–a lot. And, those posts that resonated with moms so much seemed to dry up. Their blogs turned into one big series of sponsored posts. And, they lacked passion. On the flip side, micro influencers are oozing passion. Because no one’s paying them to talk about anything. They’re just posting about and taking pics about the things they really care about in their lives (food, hobbies, family, etc.). Target the uber-influencers? You’re bound to get someone who will simply go through the motions for your brand. Target micro-influencers? You’re bound to get someone who will be a little more excited and not quite as jaded by the whole influencer marketing world.
photo credit: PAN Photo Agency Kim Kardashian with sisters and husband Kanye West visited Armenian Genocide memorial Tsitsernakaberd via photopin (license)