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Amateur Bloggers Jump Ship, Pros Taking Over

A story in the current Newsweek says that interest in amateur (non-profit) blogging and contributing to Wikipedia is falling off rapidly as, frankly, people get tired of working for free. The story mentions, in passing, that according to Technorati, professional bloggers are “a rising class.”

 

Welcome to reality, or, rather, back to reality. People don’t do things for very long if they don’t get a payback, whether it be emotional, entertainment, financial, etc. Editing encyclopedia entries in Wikipedia is no doubt fun and satisfying if you care about the specific topic, but without a financial incentive there’s no way to guarantee every entry about every subject, no matter how unpopular, is correct. The story also notes that “citizen journalism,” in which everyday people cover the local news, is also in decline. Sitting through a local sewer district meeting ain’t thrilling, and explaining what happened in plain terms is difficult. But try going without a working toilet for a week and you’ll know why tracking the workings of the sewer district is important.

 

Because some work is valuable but dull, society pays people to do it. The same is true in creating content to sell IT products and services. Doing it well is important and takes effort but isn’t always fascinating. That’s why, in at least some cases, you have to pay for quality content rather than leaving it up to your employees (who have other skills) or your customers (who have day jobs or may have other agendas.)

 

When can you afford to leave B2B content to the crowd and when should you call in the pros? Watch this space for many more details, soon. But the fact that people won’t blog or edit or tweet or whatever for free forever is a good sign. Looks like we might be starting to figure out this whole “New Media/Social Web” thing.

 

 

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

I have to give IBM points for even trying this: They’ve developed an online game that walks players through a (BPM) Business Process Management) exercise. But is asking prospects to spend the time playing an online game good for all parts of the sales cycle?

 

In Innov8 players are presented with multiple scenarios (tweaking a supply chain or improving customer service) and get to see how business process automation helps the business. OK, World of Warcraft it ain’t. Chris Koch, whose blog brought this to my attention, liked the game because it frames the discussion “in a way that makes sense and that connects it to business results…establishes IBM as an expert… (and gives the player) a visual, visceral demonstration of the role that IT automation plays in business performance—which helps IBM sell its WebSphere SOA software (the stuff that enables the automation).”

 

Maybe. I couldn’t tell because the game crashed my browser, twice, before I could get to the real action. (Incoming calls are now automatically routed to the proper call center!) At that point, I had exhausted my curiosity. Which leads me to ask whether you should wait to offer a prospect an online game until they are willing to invest all the time required to wait for screens to load, understand the rules of the game, work through the scenarios, and cope with problems like crashing browsers?

 

In a world where business decision makers are more and more pressed for time, it might make better sense to wait on a game until the prospect has seen enough other content that they understand the basic concepts of BPM and want to get more deeply involved. I’d be curious to hear from IBM itself, or from people who have played the game, whether it met the goal of teaching folks about BPM and making them think of IBM for their BPM project.

 

But if we figure out this game thing, just think of the follow-ons: “Philippines vs. India: Outsourcing Smackdown;” “iSCSI vs. Fibre Channel: The Final Battle,” and of course “Amazon vs. Azure: Dual to the Death in the Cloud.”

 

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

Time to Kill the Press Release?

While writing a press release for a client the other day, I got to thinking about what I was doing. Dangerous idea, thinking too much. Because the more I thought, the less reason I could find for a company to issue a traditional “press release.” 

 

What with the long decline of the trade press, there is less “press” out there to “release” information to. And what with internal and external bloggers and Tweeters, anyone who cares will probably see your latest news by following your blog, Tweets or Facebook page, or through a Web search, long before they see a formal press release.

 

More importantly, your target audience of prospects, analysts and, yes, the occasional surviving editor, wants a lot more candor, insight and context than they’ll find in a press release. By definition, the press release is all about what’s important to the vendor, not the reader. (“We blew away our first quarter numbers, we signed a new distribution deal, we won an award, we hired a new CTO, etc.”.) The obligatory quotes from the CEO, the customer or the new business partner saying how happy everyone is with each other don’t, I would guess, wind up getting much play.

 

The editing process also dooms most press releases because every sentence and phrase is agonizingly tweaked by marketing, legal and PR. True, they are only doing their jobs. But since their jobs are to reduce risk (in the case of legal) and to promote the company (in the case of marketing and PR) they systematically eliminate much of what might interest a reader, such as candid quotes about the real problems that led them to the winning vendor. Much as I appreciate the work, being paid to remove value from content can’t be a good long-term business model.

 

Maybe, as PR pro Don Jennings suggests, companies need to issue press releases for regulatory or disclosure purposes. If so, we should we treat them like a 10-K or other SEC-required filing and let the lawyers tell us what to say, without trying to make them pretty or creative. We could then save the expensive writing and editing work for case studies, blog posts or Webinars when we have the clearances and approvals to write something that is more useful, in-depth and relevant to the reader.

 

Is it time to kill the press release, or are companies still getting a bang for the bucks they spend on them?

 

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

Ask anyone selling marketing software or services what their “cost per lead” is and you’ll get a different, and self-serving, answer. I’ve seen estimates ranging from single dollars to tens of dollars to hundreds of dollars. The cost is always the highest for whatever mechanism (trade shows, telemarketing, direct mail, marketing automation software) the competing vendor is hoping to trash.

 

Of course, everyone cooks the underlying cost numbers to make their approach look best. But you’re actually asking to be bamboozled because you haven’t defined a “lead.” It is just a name and a possibly outdated title and email address from a purchased list? Is it the current name and contact info of someone who actually visited your booth or downloaded a white paper? Or is it the name, contact information who has indicated (either through a registration form or their readership history) that they’re feeling the pain you can solve, own the hardware and software your product needs to work, and are willing to sit down and talk for ten minutes?

 

Naturally, the price goes up the better the “lead” is. A veteran marketing director working for a social media startup told me recently that white-paper syndication services charge about $25 per lead, (names of individuals with certain titles, at a given size organization, etc. But identifying which “leads” have the right other products to make them a good lead boosts the cost closer to $80. Winnowing the field down to those who have the specific problem his product solves, and is open to a call, winds up costing hundreds of dollars per lead.

 

Some vendors try to ease the confusion by differentiating between “leads” (less qualified) and “prospects” (more qualified.) Other cite a CPL (cost per lead) and CPA (cost per action) with the “action” being a lead downloading a white paper or taking a call. But whatever terminology you use, “cost per lead” is useless for calculating ROI unless you define “lead.”

 

The CPA metric is a good start, because it defines success as a specific action. And most marketers (like my friend) have a good intuitive feel for what they want from a lead. Just adding a few words – a lead who will take a ten minute call, or who downloads our white paper – are all it takes to set a clear and level playing field.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

Journalism isn’t like marketing, and that isn’t just because journalists supposedly seek the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Reporters and editors take an extremely pragmatic, “whatever and whoever it takes” approach to getting good stories. That means choosing and quoting good sources based on their knowledge and credibility. Letting marketers choose who can, and cannot, be quoted in your blog or newsletter robs you of the quality content you need.

 

Consider a recent client of mine who plays in a part of the enterprise software space populated by a huge number of consultants. These consultants help very large customers with very complex needs install very large, complicated software. The bigger and more complex the sale (and thus the more interesting for my client) the more likely it is a consultant is involved, not merely as a reseller but as a provider of critical, industry-specific expertise.

 

While rounding up sources for a new, online content marketing effort, my client laid down the law: The only sources I could quote were internal IT people at customers with internal IT titles. The thinking, I’m sure, was that potential customers want to hear from other customers, not consultants with an ax to grind.

 

But you draw prospects through content marketing by the quality of your content, not the titles of the talking heads. That’s why in an IT trade publication, you’ll see analysts, consultants, resellers and competitors quoted with abandon, just as long as they have something useful to say. If you limit yourself to quoting actual customers you’re crippling your chances of finding good sources. You’re also dooming yourself to weeks of delay while their internal PR and legal staffs decide what, if anything, they can say.

 

If you’re trying to achieve journalism-style quality, play by journalism-style rules and let your content creators find ideas wherever they can. It isn’t about being fair and objective; it’s about getting the job done.

 

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

Real Editors Don’t Just Retweet

“Content marketing” – using material such as white papers, podcasts and videos to sell to customers – is the latest buzzword as companies try to grab market share in the recovering economy.   One common refrain I keep hearing is that marketers should “think like an editor” in deciding what information to give to customers.

 

The only problem is that some of the very smart people giving this advice have no real idea what an editor does. For example, in a recent interview, CEO Brian Halligan of marketing software vendor HubSpot was quoted as saying:

 

“So what a newspaper editor would do is he is reading blogs and newspapers all day looking for ideas…so I would spend a reasonable amount of my day looking at my RSS reader looking at different blogs, looking at different articles and when I find something interesting I would promote it by Twitter or Facebook or a LinkedIn group so other people can collaborate around it.”

 

No real editor would last a week if all he or she did was troll the competition for interesting stories and throw them on the Web for other people to (hopefully) add value.  Sure, real editors read “the other paper,” but mostly to beat up their own reporters about scoops they missed. They spend much more time talking to those reporters about what’s going on in their beats, looking for the next great story the competition hasn’t found yet.

 

As a marketer, your “reporters” are your developers, your salespeople and your product managers. Their “beats” are the technology they work with and the customers they talk to. As an editor you need to find out what they think is new and interesting, and help them turn those ideas and observations into content customers care about.

 

Yes, you need to redistribute good stuff from blogs, RSS feeds and Twitter to keep yourself visible. But to convince a customer to buy from you and not a competitor, it’s much more important to prove your value by saying something smart and original. That’s what real editors do. 

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

Results Spur Execs To Share Their Wisdom

With thought leadership generating so much noise these days, I invited Director of Marketing Matt Barker at TeleHealth Services to describe how he convinces his executives to share their insights through blogs and bylined articles. His secret: Tracking the results generated by their content, and using those results to push for more and better contributions.

With more than 2,500 customers, TeleHealth Services is the nation’s leading provider of interactive patient education and communications solutions (such as hospital TVs for patients) for the health care industry. Upon taking the lead marketing role last year, I began looking for “thought leadership” opportunities to spread the word about our products.

One piece that generated quantifiable results described how our interactive patient care systems help educate patients and staff. After the piece ran in one of the largest hospital executive publications in the country, and was featured online, we saw a spike of over 500 visitors to our site from the publication’s domain. Adding a form to capture visitors’  contact information resulted in more than  32 “warm” leads, of which two turned into sales that generated more than $200,000 in revenue.

I not only gave my sales team reprints, but touted the results of this and similar efforts within TeleHealth Services. As a result we were able to create an internal group of experts who meet regularly to generate ideas. After each meeting, I cross check the topics with my healthcare contacts to make sure the subjects are relevant.  The result is that with very few man-hours we can develop collateral that drives leads to the sales force, saves them significant time in the sales cycle,  and spreads my organization’s thought leadership.

As with any thought leadership strategy it takes some time to get the ball rolling. Currently my team is still writing the pieces, but I have begun rallying executives and subject matter experts to begin blogging and experimenting with social media. While traditional media is still a large focus for us, our main goal is to spread the team’s knowledge, and to become trusted partners in our client’s success, which is where social media comes in.

Our plans for the coming quarters are to begin delegating some of the writing duties and to branch into blogging, social networks, and other digital marketing arenas. With both types of media, the lesson is if you track and publicize your results, you can get your in-house experts to share their knowledge and boost sales.

As Matt says, it’ takes time to get a thought leadership strategy going. If strikes me that another strategy would be creating internal processes to repurpose content (such as translating market updates for the sales staff into external-facing blogs or newsletters about industry trends.) Thoughts?

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

The “Tech Update Today” email newsletter from ZDNet (screenshot below) is, like many others, advertiser sponsored and mixes links with sponsors’ content with news stories. Most such newsletter bore me, but ZDNet has me hooked with tricks as old as the tabloid newspaper.

 

 First, the layout is attractive, with bold colors and large type. Virtually every story is teased by a dramatic color image. Second, the lead story is clearly identified, and its significance (“…Google +
reCAPTCHA could raise bar in anti-spam battle
”) clearly explained. Third, the reader gets an easily scannable list of alternate content, ranging from brow-furrowing (security questions about cloud computing) to eye-catching (How I Tweeted my way out of spinal surgery.)  Fourth, as the reader scrolls down they’re continually rewarded with a mix of serious (Skype Founders Sue Ebay) and fun stuff (exotic cars at the Frankfurt Auto Show.)

How do you do this in your email newsletter?

1) Invest a few hours, a few hundred bucks or a week of an intern’s time on an attractive design. On-line services offer templates, and an underemployed designer might help for a modest fee and a testimonial.

2) Be unpredictable. Don’t stick with ho-hum case studies, product announcements or recycled press releases. Mix it up with a blog post (even from outside your organization), a “most frequently asked question” feature from your help desk, or even a link to an unfavorable news story or product review with your rebuttal.

3) Selectively use outside talent such as writers, editors or designers to bring the content/presentation up to the level you need. Do as much as possible in-house, but admit it when your inside staff lacks the time or skills to do it right.  

4) Don’t be a slave to linking sponsored white papers to content. It’s numbingly dull to see “Ten Ways to Maximize Virtualized Security” (sponsored by VMware) right next to a news story about “CIOs Concerned About Virtual Security.”) ZDNet drops a light, fun story between the virtual security story and white paper. It also avoids repeating the exact same angle in both. The story might be about virtualization security, but the sponsored link is a Webcast on how Google handles its own cloud security.

Inform your readers, yes, but keep ‘em entertained and guessing about what they’ll see next, even as you’re making your marketing pitch.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.
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