Newsflash to brands developing their content strategy for the next generation of digital consumers: It’s not about the quantity of content you create, but the quality.
Brands need to feel a sense of responsibility about serving their audience, says Ann Handley, chief content officer for MarketingProfs. They need to use all the tools at their disposal – visual, audio, video – and carefully choose the words accompanying them with a respect for their audience.
“As my friend Tom Fishburne says, ‘The best marketing doesn’t feel like marketing,'” Ann says. “And the best content doesn’t feel like content marketing – it feels like great content.”
We recently checked in with the author of the WSJ bestseller Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content to learn more about MarketingProfs, marketing best practices and find out which brands she thinks are doing it best.
Can you tell us the story behind MarketingProfs?
MarketingProfs was founded in 2000 by USC professor Allen Weiss. It was originally conceived of as a place where academics (professors) and marketers (professionals) could share ideas and learn from one another. Now, we are a training and education company with the largest community of marketers in our category.
Who should be stopping by MarketingProfs.com?
Short answer: Marketers. Longer answer: Anyone who needs a dose of marketing strategy and tactics to grow a business.
MarketingProfs has just over 600,000 members who rely on us for strategic advice as well as specific know-how on a broad variety of topics – anything from specific tools and tactics to digital marketing strategy.
How did you become so passionate about digital content and community building?
I started my career in journalism, which gave me necessary training to think of everything from an audience’s point of view. I found that I liked writing for business audiences because it suits my teaching and storytelling nature a little better than, say, news reporting.
But still, creating content to meet the needs of audiences is the through line of everything I’ve ever done.
What is one of your favorite stories about the power of awesome digital content and how it helped launch a brand to the next level? An example you find yourself sharing over and over again?
There are a lot of stories I could share here…but probably my favorite in recent history is the story of Eddie, a rescue dog in Silicon Valley.
Most pet adoption listings try to make the cats and dogs up for adoption as appealing as possible. But not the Humane Society Silicon Valley, which instead published a creative, funny and unusually honest listing for a tiny tornado of a Chihuahua, “Eddie the Terrible.”
It’s a simple example, and there are others that are more business-focused and relevant to B2B companies. But I love Eddie’s story because it shows the power of great digital storytelling and ridiculously good writing.
What type of web content do you think is underrated and/or underused?
There’s no one size fits all. What works for your business will be different than what works for mine, because it depends on what resonates with our respective audiences.
But in general, I’d pay attention to video and visual content this year, because 2015 is the year video marketing goes mainstream in marketing. (Finally!) There are a lot of tools that can help you create and manage video a whole lot more effectively, too.
On the flip side, what content trends do you see becoming tired or overused?
Again, it’s hard to answer this for all businesses and organizations and audiences. But I think we can safely stick a stake through the heart of Frankenspeak – ugly buzzwords and weirdly configured text that feel bolted together in a lab instead of created by and for humans who have actual blood pumping through actual veins.
What brands do you think leverage social media to build communities most effectively? What can we learn from them?
The brands that use social media effectively are using it not just to galvanize communities, but also to involve their fans and community members in their brand stories by encouraging contributions and other forms of user-generated content.
Airbnb excels at this. In an example from last year, Airbnb released an innovative short film directed via Twitter and shot entirely on Vine. Written by writer/filmmaker Ben York Jones and crowdsourced via Twitter, the story centers on the transformative journey of a white sheet of paper. (Stay with me on this one.) The resulting four-and-a-half-minute film was released Friday on Airbnb’s blog, on its Hollywood and Vines website and on the Sundance Channel. It’s beautiful. (And remember, this is marketing! See more details here.)
I love the way that the collaborative approach extends Airbnb’s roots as a socially connected, innovative business.
What Airbnb does is offer a global marketplace that connects travelers seeking authentic, high-quality accommodations with hosts who offer unique places to stay.
Creating a film rooted in connection and social innovation subtly underscores the underpinnings of Airbnb itself. Or, not so subtly, I suppose.
What do you think are the most effective social media tools available to marketers today? Which offer the best return on their time and investment?
Wow…how much time do we have? This is a pretty broad category – so I’ll say that there are a lot of cool tools out there to help marketers manage their social media efforts – and of course the “most effective” are going to be the ones that resonate most with any individual. For social media creation tools, I’d say I’ve been lately digging Canva, Visual.ly, Instagram, Hyperlapse.
I also like Uberflip as a content platform because it brings a lot of your content assets together in one place.
How do you think the way consumers and brands interact will continue to evolve? What are the most interesting trends you’re observing on this front?
As in the Airbnb example above, I think collaborating with your customers and social curation is really interesting, and we’re only at the early edges of those efforts.
Here’s another example I loved: As part of the movie release of The Fault in Our Stars, the soundtrack producer Atlantic Records collected more than 3,800 pieces of fan photos over three days via #TFIOSencouragements via Instagram. It used a technology called Chute to organize and secure permissions to use the photos, which were displayed in an online gallery where fans could view, share and vote on their favorites. It was another wonderful example of social storytelling and involving fans in your own content.
I wrote about it. One of the challenges in making your customer the hero – especially for bigger brands – is, of course, uncovering those “stories” or submissions on social networking sites – and then managing the process (securing permissions, for example) and measuring success. That’s where Chute comes in, because it helps brands to collect, manage and display user-generated images sourced on social media platforms, as well as analyze metrics.
Other companies – including Olapic – do this, too. (Here’s an example of Olapic technology embedded on Lancôme’s site.)
I think we’ll continue to see more efforts like that, and not just with Hollywood blockbusters. But also with business-to-business companies and smaller brands.
Connect with Ann and MarketingProfs on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, Instagram and Pinterest.