ION Digital

Covering the New World of Business Communications

The Seven Habits of the “Just Good Enough” Social Marketer

April 17th, 2014

diamond1I’ve always been a perfectionist, and it worked out ok when I was getting through the early part of my career as a journalist. Sources were carefully grilled. Everything had to be fact checked twice. Sentences had to be carefully crafted, and words chosen carefully. My first editor at BusinessWeek told me, “Magazine real estate is precious. Use it wisely.”

Now we live in a new world that is no longer shaped by printing presses and information scarcity. Yet everyday I see companies that make these mistakes: they want to launch the perfect social media program, write the world’s best blog, create the polished video, and so on.

They are suffering from the curse of the corporate perfectionist.http://ioncorporation.com/blog/wp-includes/js/tinymce/plugins/wordpress/img/trans.gif

They find out the hard way that this is not what social media and blogging is about. It’s more about conveying compelling ideas and connecting with audiences in authentic ways, not just writing beautiful prose or top-down marketing approaches.

Speed is more critical too. There’s not enough time to go through two rounds of approvals on every blog. Slick videos are meanwhile seen as advertising–they don’t ring true.

The new style–conversational, open, engaging, and fluid—just doesn’t mix with traditional marketing and communications. Think oil and water.

It’s not easy to break old habits but we must. We need to adapt a “just good enough” approach.

Just good enough (JGE) is not abandoning our processes and discipline – these are still critical to the success of any program. It’s more a way of refocusing and balancing quality and related issues against the needs of the new social media world. It’s both a mindset and operating strategy, a slightly revised lense through which to view our world.

The following seven “habits” apply to blog programs, and writing and managing blogs, but the concept cuts across social media, marketing and more:

1) Don’t try to please everyone. If you’re in a corporation and just starting out with a new blog, focus on your key stakeholders. You don’t need to engage with every stakeholder, just the ones affected by the program or blog.  Work carefully with them to understand their goals and programs, and any potential conflicts; communicate your program every step of the way, and reach out where appropriate to enlist their support.   Pilot programs are a great way to engage key players, garner support and get off to a good start.

2) Don’t try to cover too much. Don’t try to boil the ocean with your blog–focus on a specific theme/topic. This can be very narrow. I read social media bloggers like Louis Gray, Steve Rubel and Chris Brogan. They may veer into other areas but mainly they stick to what they know. Their writing may not match a top business magazine but their cutting edge content and conversational style more than makes up for it.

3) Don’t worry about being the most beautiful: Blogs aren’t a beauty contest, and some of the most successful platforms will make your head swim. The Drudge Report is basically just dozens of headlines and a few pics, with little thought given to graphics.

The Huffington Post is a media circus, packed with graphics–rotating story heads, screaming headlines, dancing bears. Both draw millions of viewers. I’m not advocating an intentionally bad design, but you don’t need to go overboard with graphics.

4) Learn to write fast–and often. The founder of BoingBoing said when he first started the blog in 2000, he’d left for a week only to return and find a big traffic increase. The reason: the guy pinch hitting for him was blogging 20 times a day vs once a day for him. It wasn’t exactly Hemingway, but good enough–and readers loved it..

Another example: TechCrunch would never be mistaken for Fortune or BusinessWeek but they churn out the copy. Most are short, punchy, opinionated, industry focused -and very well read.

5) Keep it simple: Break your ideas down to the simplest form, and make it easy for your readers to understand. Limiting your number of key points will give you focus and help you communicate more clearly.Example: “Just came out of an amazing presentation, and two key points really hit home. Key point #1…..”

6) Write short (if you want). Many marketers still think in terms of long articles or white papers. Think again. Look at Seth Godin, who takes one quick idea and briefly expands upon it with a link or two. Think in terms of “word bursts”  vs essays.

7) Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Let your bloggers write in their own voices—if they screw up, you can fix it later (your readers will let you know). On a larger scale, companies that try social media experiments and fail will actually advance faster than those that sit on the sidelines for too long (”fail faster”).

Bonus tip: Listen, converse, and connect. Quit working so hard to push ideas down the readers’ throats and back off the hard messaging. Try providing quality information in a human voice, listening and engaging with your audiences; chances are, they’ll come to you.

Sure, there are times when you need the very best and “just good enough” is not good enough.

But in most cases you don’t need to have the very best blog posting, no more than you need to take the very best walk in the park or see the very best sunset.

Settle for less, and do more. Keep it moving, while giving yourself a break. The next project will always be waiting.

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The Power of Loose Ties

March 31st, 2014

The loose tie

A few years ago I wrote a post about “loose ties.”  I was inspired after an article by  Malcom Gladwell, who stirred up a bee’s hive when he dared to question in the New Yorker (Small Change: Why this Revolution will not be Tweeted) that networks like Facebook and Twitter could lead to massive social movements and great change; the ties just aren’t strong enough to get people to engage in high risk behavior, like risking their lives for revolutionary causes, he argued.

Turns out he was wrong.  Loose ties connect us in ways we would have never been connected before, and to people we would never know or work with otherwise. Secondly, loose ties can evolve into close ties–indeed, they should in select cases.

I’ve seen this again since losing my job at Cisco a few months ago. It’s interesting as I’ve reached out to people; most of the people who are helping are those I barely know-a colleague I worked with for a couple of months years ago, another I met on Twitter, another worked at the same company after I departed,  and so on. None of these people are what I would call close by any stretch.  One woman has gone so far as to introduce me into her company and offer to bring my resume personally to the hiring manager. I can’t even remember how we met- probably on Facebook or Twitter.

Much of my consulting project work comes from loose ties, and I gladly pass on job leads and help others when possible. Loose ties dissolve if there’s not some reciprocity and common purpose/passion.

The Internet makes all of this possible, of course.

Before the Internet, people were connected by phones. My mom had an old AT&T rotary phone for 30 years (leased to her by Ma Bell). When someone called it really meant something. When I’d talk too long on the phone to a friend, my dad would ask me to “give it a break.” Finally, he’d get frustrated and ask: “Why don’t you just go over there?” and I would, since everybody was within walking distance in my small Texas town.

These were the days of strong, deep relationships, big families, backyard BBQs and so on-the same kind of “personal connection” that might lead like-minded friends to get involved in a risky social revolution (Gladwells’ world).

It’s no wonder that today’s loose ties pale in comparison. Yes, in many cases they’re semi-superficial, low intensity bonds among people who don’t know each other, as Gladwell points out. But this is merely a reflection of our society, not a fundamental flaw in social media. It’s just the way it is. How many people know their neighbors as well as, say, a generation ago? How many people even have time to think anymore? We’re a fast-moving, fluid society, skimming the surface of the pond, snatching information and life in small bursts. Social media is the glue that connects us as we race through this new world-and it’s all about what you put into it.

Maybe there should be categories of ties, from strongest to weakest. Think about your levels of relationships. You may have hundreds of “friends” on Facebook you barely know, and hundreds or thousands on Twitter. But you also have smaller circles people you do know, and of course, even smaller circles of those you really know-these are the close ties. Where you put your energy in these spheres of relationships will shape your career and life.

Once, I had to help my stepson get a job and I put out a call for help. The three people who responded included one guy I’d worked with some before on a corporate blog project (almost a close tie); another I’d been connected with on Twitter/Facebook for over a year and was a little less familiar with (semi-loose); the last one I barely knew, except he was a senior communications manager connected to me on Facebook (loose/loose). Oh, and my brother in Texas also responded (close tie).

But the interesting point is this-I can’t predict which of these connections will come through or which one will lead to an invaluable tie later- it could easily be the (last) loose tie.

The truth is we’re just starting to learn how to connect these dots, and bring the digital relationships closer to home. It’s a much more fluid, fleeting world-more ambiguity, but also more opportunity.

As far as the issue of Gladwell and the role of social revolts, Clay Shirkey answered this in his book “Here Comes Everybody.” Social media breaks down barriers and drives down the cost of organizing to enable movements and results we could barely dream of in an earlier age. “When people care enough, they can come together and accomplish things of a scope and longevity that were previously impossible; they can do big things for love. “

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7 Steps for Overcoming Writer’s Block (and writing a great blog)

March 21st, 2014

Don’t you hate writer’s block? You know you have brilliant ideas, but there’s that damn blank screen staring at you when you sit down to blog. Nothing happens. The brain’s in idle. Frustration begins to creep in. (Remember Jack Nicholson in The Shining?)

Many people struggle with writing. But I believe anyone can write and blog with the right approach. It’s not brain surgery, but it does take some work.

First, get over the idea that you have to write a blockbuster blog every time. We find in our training that many corporate bloggers are by nature analytical and perfectionists, which creates a lot of extra agony. It’s great to hit a home run, but mostly this is about hitting lots of singles and doubles.

Jack Nicholson

Blogs are bursts of communications-probably closer to a semi structured email than a traditional article. You’re not writing a white paper or essay. Think “light” and “just good enough” (I wrote about this several years ago, see the just good enough marketer).

Here’s 7 starting tips to help you get rolling: Read the rest of this entry »

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Five (serious) Tips for Using Humor to Connect, Engage & Influence

April 10th, 2012

cigarrette-humorIf social media is really like a dinner party, it seems like we’re missing something … humor.

Humor is one of the most effective-and under-appreciated tactics in communications. This applies to every day business discussions, professional presentations, and yes, social media. Look at Pinterest. Some of the most popular pins are funny or offbeat. Twitter and Facebook is even better. Who can’t resist a clever or funny tweet, or conversation starter?

Good humor works because it connects with people at an emotional level. We live in a very serious world. Humor provides us a mental break. For companies, it’s a great way to come across more engaging and naturally-more human.

But humor has to be handled right. Just being funny online is not enough, and there are risks. Here are five tips to keep in mind as you engage with humor.

  1. Use humor creatively,particularly when it comes to explaining complex subjects. And don’t be afraid to be a little edgy. Look at thisinfographic which is focused on helping users improve their Facebook Edgerank score. Rather than just a dry listing of tips, “Conquer the Facebook” uses clever humor with news stream posts by “legendary Facebook conquerors” like Julius Caesar (Ex: #5 Ask for Likes- Genghis Kahn states: “Ask for likes if you’re a Mongol with a funny decapitation story.”  Clever and funny. Read the rest of this entry »
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Facebook and the Transformation of Corporate Content

March 29th, 2012

facebook_icon2Facebook managers must have mentioned “content” a dozen times at its marketing conference Feb. 29 in New York City. While everyone else was focused on the new bells and whistles, I was tuning my ears to their focus on content.

The message was clear: marketers must now become real “storytellers” and ignite their fans with engaging content. Facebook promotions (“sponsored stories”) will revolve around strong, compelling content. Your Facebook Page will increasingly be measured by how much fans engage with and share your content.  Content, content, content.

We’ve heard this mantra for so long it’s easy to write it off as just another turn of the marketing screw. But this time I think Facebook is on to something.  Indeed I believe we’re witnessing a wide-sweeping, fundamental shift in the way we communicate to customers-and ultimately, do business. And it starts and ends with content.

First, think of content  as  how we engage with our customers, like real people. Read the rest of this entry »

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