Should you write your blog or engineer it?

I think I figured out why nearly every social media blogger sounds exactly the same – commonly referred to as the “echo chamber.”  I’m learning that copying and pasting can be profitable.

To unpack my point, allow me a brief explanation of content marketing.**  One hot concept is using statistical methods to determine optimal “keywords” that, when used strategically in your content, result in “inbound leads.” In plain English this means embedding words about hot social media topics in your blog to snare sales prospects.  People are charging for webinars on this topic so I’ll save you a few dollars/euros/dinero by providing the theory in a nutshell:

  • Conduct research into the “keywords” that are leading people to your, or your competitor’s, website.
  • Seed these keywords liberally and systematically into strategic places like blog headlines to fool the search engines into thinking you are the premier destination for those search terms.
  • Employ “outposts” like Twitter and other social platforms to become vessels for your keywords and links.
  • Attract backlinks from places also laden with keywords.
  • Focus your content plan, headlines, tweetstream, etc., precisely on these key words.
  • Rinse.  Repeat as needed.

So within this theory, original content is secondary and it’s not really about marketing either.  You identify hot topics and then engineer your content to perform a precise and technical function. The ultimate goal in this new age of content engineering is not necessarily to engage, inform or entertain. It’s to pump up your search engine results.

Let’s get back to the echo chamber.  One of the master purveyors of content engineering (my term, not his) is a guy named Lee Odden. He’s pretty much the Elvis of SEO and has done some outstanding work in this field.  I don’t know Lee but I read most of his posts because I think it’s important to keep on top of the latest tactics in this arena. Here is his advice from last week:

Social conversations influence search behaviors and if you can identify relevant concepts that are emerging in popularity on the social web, why not create and optimize content around those topics so you’re easily found via search engines?

So the big idea here is to simply copy what everyone else is doing and ride the wave of sameness to SEO glory. This may explain why my blog reader sounds like there’s a scratch in the record.

I have mixed feelings about this. I can’t deny there is a certain ruthless beauty about using statistical analysis to turn your content into those tentacled robots that tunneled through the rock and chased everybody on the Matrix movies.  I’m a capitalist pig-dog and the idea of using data to annihilate your competition appeals to me.

But I also have a soul and I’m in love with the idea of building an audience through content that is profound, beautiful and entertaining.  I think it’s possible to fight through the clutter, engage a meaningful audience and realize business benefits without pre-determining my subject matter through a statistical analysis.

On the other hand, the whole keyword thing seems a lot easier! : )

I’m really interested in your ideas on this important and fascinating trend. Will content engineering kill the soul of blogging or finally drive the measurable results effective business people demand?

** It was correctly pointed out by community member Jeremy Victor that this sentence reads as if  I am fully describing the discipline of content marketing. I was not attempting to do that, I was only exploring this one “keyword engineering” aspect.  Jeremy provides a more thorough explanation of content marketing in his comment on this post. Rather than re-write the original article I decided to address my insufficient description with this annotation. Thanks for keeping me honest, Jeremy.

Why I blog (nearly live and in-person)

This is my first video blog.

I hate it.

But we all need to push ourselves and experiment, right?  This is WAY out of my comfort zone.

I intended to edit out the turning on and off parts (why doesn’t this camera have a remote?), add a title etc.  but the video editing software is too complicated and I just don’t have the time or patience to mess with it. If somebody wants to make a title with a scorching rock theme and teach me how to paste it on there, I will gladly pay you to do it.  Also show me where the “make it look like he lost 10 pounds” button is.

In the end I decided just to post it as-is — one-take, mistakes and all — because it was just turning into more excuses to not  do it. I’m trying to encourage you to stretch yourselves and {grow} so I’m taking my own medicine on this one.

I appreciate all of you who have encouraged (pestered) me to finally do this.  Sort of.

This is why you’re a social media loser

I’m pleased to offer this entertaining guest post from {grow} community member John White, a marketing communications writer for technology companies. I think you’re going to love this romp from John’s offbeat and creative mind!

This week, I phoned my neighbor and favorite instructional designer, Gail Dana, to tell her about yet another social media presentation (YASMP) I’d seen advertised.

“Gail, do you get social media?” I asked her, italicizing the verb.

“Sort of,” she replied, “but I think it’s worthless. Or at least, I hope it is.”

“I know what you mean. A lot of us don’t know quite what to do with it. Anyway, wanna go listen to another young person try to explain it to us?”

Gail was up for that, so we drove across town to attend Melodie Tao‘s presentation here in San Diego, “Social Media Design Techniques to Engage your Customer.”

Melodie gave a breathlessly energetic performance describing Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and even Foursquare, outlining design ideas for your presence in social media.  She described using social tools to enhance traveling, studying, spending time with friends, and accomplishing work tasks. I figured I must have done a lot of the same things at her age, but without recourse to social media. In fact, I traveled the world for four years and made only two phone calls home in all that time (one was a wrong number because my parents had moved).

It got me thinking about my blogs and my newsletter and my LinkedIn profile and the time I spend wrapped around the Twitter axle when suddenly I had … 

My Social Media Epiphany

I figured out why my social media efforts include so much head-scratching after all this time:  I’m in Category 4!

While Melodie paused for a hurried gulp of water during her speech, I managed to wrap my brain around the factors that go into social media winning and losing. Four categories occurred to me in the space of about 2.5 seconds, and whenever I can think that fast, I’m usually right.

Category 1: The Natural Networkers. We all know people like this, people with a seemingly boundless circle of friends. Attracting and retaining this circle is second nature to them. They don’t even call it “interaction;” it’s just what happens when they’re awake. They’re drawn to polls, giveaways, contests, coupons, comments and retweeting in their offline life, so doing it in a browser or on a phone provides an extra channel of exhilaration.

Social media is an online extension of their innate ability to connect to and build relationships with other people.

Category 2: The Geeks. Not strictly geeks, but left-brain, analytical personalities who see the patterns in keywords, practice SEO copywriting to apply them and understand the science behind building an audience and moving it from one point of engagement to the next. The tools of social media resonate with and challenge them. They figure out how to make money using these tools to build and distribute the right content.

Social media is an online extension of their innate ability to figure out how the lawn mower works, then turn it into a mini-bike, then a go-cart, then a fishing boat. (And get us to pay a nickel to ride along.)

Category 3: The Hemingways. These people are the ultimate raconteurs. It doesn’t matter what we’re doing online; if we stumble onto something they’ve written, we drop everything and read it. They write crisply, then infuse their writing with the story of their own interesting life, they make us stop and think and actually click on the link to the story they refer to. They write the posts that make the young girls cry… They don’t need SEO techniques; people retweet and forward their stuff because it’s just such damned valuable content.

Social media is an online extension of their innate ability to tell a story that resonates with us, the kind nobody interrupts with, “Yeah, well that’s just like the time I…”

Adrift in the Long Tail …

Now, if you’re fortunate enough to live in more than one of the preceding categories, you knock the cover off the ball. Long may you run. But let’s not forget the rest of us in …

Category 4: Social Media Purgatory. We start a blog, stick with it, and do as much as we can to promote it, considering we’re not in the other three categories. We have a Facebook and LinkedIn profile, we tweet from time to time, we have between a few dozen and a few hundred followers, and we’re adrift in the long tail. We read the advice and attend the webinars of people in the other three categories. We see how people turn tweets into interaction, and interaction into relationships, and some relationships into a career, but it’s a long way off for us, and besides, we have our day job.

Social media is an online extension of our innate ability to lean out on the carousel and reach for the brass ring. We don’t quite grab it, but we congratulate ourselves for staying on the painted pony and trying hard.

Of course, it’s entirely up to us to spend the rest of this life (and maybe a couple more) in social-media purgatory. But social media and its tools will nudge some of us out of Category 4 and into one of the other categories, in the same way that the Harry Potter series inspired hardened non-readers to get through 3400 pages, or that Microsoft PowerPoint has instilled in timid people the nerve to present in front of an audience.

So, on the way home from Melodie’s presentation I bounced my newly found taxonomy off of Gail. In doing so, I recalled a line uttered by the hapless Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby, scratching his head at the difficulty that rich people find in connecting to one another:

“There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired.”

Pick whichever set of categories makes the most sense to you, and stop being a social media loser.

John White of venTAJA Marketing posts about technology writing from the perspective of the marketing manager. It’s dirty work, but somebody has to do it. He also publishes a newsletter with more tips on working with your writers.

Illustration: Photobucket

Twitter irrelevant? No, Advertising Age blew it

Now here is a headline that grabs the attention of any social media marketer: “Study: Most brands still irrelevant on Twitter.”

Only problem is the headline, which appeared in the digital version of Advertising Age yesterday, is bullshit. And I don’t use that word lightly.

If the headline writer and/or author had really read the report from digital agency 360i carefully and applied a little critical thinking, you would actually draw the opposite conclusion.

I am not a wild-eyed supporter of all-things social media. But I do want people to start looking at data critically before writing reports like this. Let’s look at the major conclusions, taken directly from the 360i report and see if Twitter is really irrelevant to brands.


“Twitter is primarily for people, not corporations. Those of us in the marketing industry tend to see Twitter as a marketing or professional networking tool, but it’s important to remember that it is a consumer-dominated medium. More than 90% of tweets come from consumers and only 12% of consumer.”

The AdAge article used this information to claim that “brands are finding themselves on the outside of the conversation.”

So here is the question that should have been asked:  How do you really know (and measure) if a brand was tweeting or not?  You see, the most effective conversations are not occurring between corporate icons and the masses. They are taking place between individuals representing their brands.

Here’s an example. Over the past few weeks I have tweeted back and forth between Bill Robb, the social media marketing director for SAP.  Bill didn’t “court me.” We developed a mutual admiration for each other and began a <shudder> “conversation!”  The tweets led to deeper discussions via email, which eventually led to a blog post about SAP and their cutting-edge marketing approaches. That blog post was tweeted out at least 70 times, had several thousand page views, and was referenced in two other blogs with who knows how many readers.

Now, did any of that activity show up on the chart above?  No. Was the SAP brand kicking ass on Twitter? Yes.

If you want another example of brand beauty personified on Twitter, check out @SharpieSusan who tweets up a storm for Sharpie pens.  Is Newell-Rubbermaid getting credit for a “marketer conversation?”  My point is that this metric is irrelevant and the AdAge conclusion is worse.


“Twitter makes the private space public. While marketers have a voice in the mix, Twitter remains an important tool for listening to what consumers are saying in a mostly un-filtered, un-moderated environment. There are ripe opportunities for brands to get to know their customers via online listening.”

“An important tool for listening.”  Hmmm.  Does that make Twitter sound irrelevant to you?

The report goes on to say that when it comes to talking about brands on Twitter, consumers are largely sharing news or information about the brand (43%) or reporting use of or interaction with the brand (35%). About one fifth of tweets mentioning brands demonstrate an outward opinion of the brand.  Irrelevant?  The opportunity to use Twitter for consumer research is enormous!  And the report says so.


“Companies tend to talk at people – not with them. The opportunity for marketers to become part of the conversation remains vast. For example, many brands use the channel to pass along information, but fail to capitalize on opportunities to truly connect with consumers via two-way conversations.”

If there is a vast opportunity, why is that irrelevant?

The report’s final conclusion states: “… there remains a largely untapped opportunity for brands to create deeper connections with consumers via earned media and to learn more about what motivates them with online listening through Twitter.”

I don’t think I need to say any more about the content of the report and the article.  AdAge simply blew it.

To make things much worse, the 360i report was based on a study of just 300 tweets per month over six months.  Are you KIDDING ME?  A study of national brands based on 10 tweets a day?  AdAge, do you really think that is a statistically-significant sample size to base a conclusion like this?  And 360i, you need to be taken to the shed out back for even publishing a report based on that sample size.

We already have a problem with the social media fluffs spewing mis-information and half-truths. When an article — even a bad one — comes from a reputable trade publication like AdAge, it gets reported as fact and paraded around the boardrooms of America.  This blog post won’t be, unfortunately.

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