The ARC of customer engagement

“81% of marketers say customer engagement is a top priority.”

This was one of the headlines from B2B marketing.net’s new report on the ‘age of engagement’, so it’s a fair bet that some of you out there are on a mission to increase your customers’ engagement with your brand. At HN, we’re firm believers that engaging content = engaged customers. So, to help you in your quest, we’ve created a three-step checklist, and a handy mnemonic – the ARC of customer engagement.

Accessible


Make sure your content is easily found and in a format that’s easy to digest. Optimise your content for search; embed social sharing buttons in your content, and optimise your content for viewing on mobile. And don’t hit your audience with a hefty white paper straight away – use a more digestible format, such as a video or an ebook, to coax them in and get the conversation started.

Relevant


Connect your message to situations your customers are facing today. Don’t be afraid to newsjack if the right story comes up. And bear in mind your audience’s place in the decision-making journey: if they’re at the consideration stage, provide evidence that the challenge you solve is important and worthy of attention. At the decision stage, prove the benefits of your solution in the real world.

Compelling


Nobody waits to be worn down by dull content. They just click and move on. Avoid that scenario by injecting some entertainment into your content, using persuasive and well-crafted storytelling to keep their attention – and keep them clicking.

What do you think?

Is customer engagement a key issue for your business? How do you go about keeping your customers engaged? Let us know in the comments, or get in touch on Twitter and LinkedIn.

You can download the full infographic here

Does snackable content leave your audience hungry?

Do we all suffer from an attention deficit?
The human race reportedly now has “the attention span of less than a goldfish”, and long content is about as useful to marketers as a bicycle is to a fish. In today’s permanently connected world, snackable content is regarded as the only type of content that will make it through the barrage of information we experience every day.

But is it really, though?

If our attention spans are so poor, how can I have sat and spent at least 10 minutes on this article already, without wandering away from my desk? How do I regularly drive up to Leeds without getting distracted and missing my junction? How do our customers get through RFP documents, which are often long and complex, without giving up?

The answer is simple: there’s nothing wrong with our attention span. It’s our motivation as consumers of content that’s being affected.

Motivation is the key
Think of it this way: you’ll watch a documentary, or read a book for an evening, because you’re interested in the content you’re consuming, and (especially in the case of fiction) because you’re emotionally invested in it. That interest motivates us to pay attention long after we theoretically should have become distracted and disappeared, and it’s this same motivation (or lack of it) that’s responsible for the rise in snackable content.

By keeping content short, marketers can convey their message to the audience before that audience has lost interest and moved on. There’s no denying that this is a powerful weapon in the marketer’s arsenal, but to say that it’s the only tool that works any more makes the assumption that there’s nothing you can do about your audience’s motivation to pay attention to your organisation. That simply isn’t true. After all, in the B2B world the customer is at some point going to have to sit down and pay attention to someone – they’re spending, in some cases, tens of thousands of pounds on a purchase – so the job of the marketer is to motivate the customer to pay attention to their brand over the competition’s. That’s where snackable content comes in.

Hook, line and sinker
In the same way that the advert for that documentary we were talking about earlier motivated you to sit down and watch the whole thing, snackable content needs to motivate the customer to sit down and take a proper look at your proposition. It’s not about giving them a condensed version of your entire proposition or message, but giving them just enough to pique their interest and pointing them towards your longer content that conveys your message and your proposition in full. A tweet that leads to a webinar; a blog post that links to a white paper; these are examples of how snackable and long-form content can form a powerful one-two punch that entices an unmotivated audience to engage with you.

The trick, as you’ve no doubt guessed, is making that snackable content as juicy and inviting as you can. Though the analogy of a goldfish might not be quite accurate (they have memories of up to three months, according to Wikipedia ), it’s true that your audience are busy people who have information coming at them from all angles. Short content that shines like a diamond is required to get them to notice you – but once they do, don’t feel pressured into saying everything you have to say in a rush. Treat snackable content as a gateway to the wonders of your longer content, and you’ll find that your audience do, too.

The truth about viral content

Have you noticed how many people there are at the minute offering to make your content viral? You might have thought it seemed too good to be true. We at HN did too.

The buzzword

Unless you’re a healthcare professional, the term ‘viral’ probably brings to mind images of dancing babies, well-timed tweets from Oreo , or children biting each other. You’re picturing millions of views on YouTube, and your brand name becoming synonymous with your market. With the rise of social media channels, smartphones, and a growing global community of internet users, it sometimes feels like we’re only one step away from that great campaign that goes viral.

The catch

Here’s the thing, though: going viral on the same scale as those headline-grabbing campaigns takes luck. As this excellent presentation from Upworthy will tell you, you can follow the best ‘how to go viral’ advice and create the most shareable piece of content ever, with a great story, pitched at the right audience and at the most optimal time that your research has indicated, and it may never get past 1,000 views. This isn’t a shortcoming of your content; it just didn’t get lucky. Upworthy goes through the gruelling process of writing 25 headlines for each and every piece of content it posts, to ensure maximum shareability, and still only 12 of their posts have garnered more than 1 million views – just 0.41% of their content. Though many marketers would hate to admit it, you just cannot engineer virality on this scale – and to try will only end in disappointment.

Don’t try to go viral. Aim for shareable

The people telling you ‘how to go viral’ know this, though they don’t always make it clear. What they’re really offering you – and what you should be aiming for – is highly shareable content. Create a piece with a great story that forges an emotional connection, give it an attention-grabbing headline, strategically place buttons to enable easy sharing. Take care when and where you share the content for maximum impact. All of these things will boost the chances of your audience seeing your content and passing it on. Analyse your results and continually refine your process, and you should see positive results.

It’s also important to bear your audience in mind. Human though they may be, B2B buyers are not in the same mindset as consumers, and to get those valuable shares your content will have to work harder. Case in point: B2C campaigns can sometimes be racy or provocative (Dove’s recent beauty patch campaign, for instance, attracted the ire of social commentators around the world ). Employing similar tactics could put your audience off sharing your content for fear of associating their company with controversial opinions (‘I don’t want people who disagree to think that this is what our company believes, so I won’t share it’).

The size of your audience also plays a part; if you’re speaking to a niche market, for example, then it shouldn’t surprise you that your well-crafted video campaign doesn’t get 10,000 hits – and, more importantly, it shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing. The bottom line? Don’t aim to go viral; aim to reach your audience, be they 1,000 or 10,000 people.

Don’t believe the hype

We should stress here: following all the moves outlined in a ‘how to go viral’ article isn’t a bad thing; it’ll help your content stand out and get shared. And viral content can successfully be created in the B2B space: we love this Verisign campaign from 2008. But don’t be drawn into thinking that there’s a formula for breaking the million views barrier, because there isn’t. No doubt there will be a lucky few who get into the right place at the right time to be noticed by the world and go viral. But for the rest of us, let’s just focus on what we set out to do: make great content that our audiences love and share with one another.

Social media in real time:Oreo leads by example

In my recent post about how to create an effective social media content strategy, I touched on how to determine posting frequency. What I didn’t talk about was what you can do once you’ve hit a good rhythm.

Real-time posting

Don’t miss chances to post in the moment to really grab your readers’ attention.

The social media team at Oreo did this oh so well during the power cut that halted the Super Bowl XLVII. By the time the lights came back on in New Orleans, Oreo had racked up over 10,000 RTs, thousands of Favourites and overwhelmingly positive replies — all with a single tweeted image.

The fact that the cost of an ad during Super Bowl XLVII is around $3.7 million makes this social media win all the sweeter.

Oreo

The four-step social media content strategy

It’s often said that ‘content is the currency of social’ and I don’t think a truer word has been spoken. Successful social media marketing involves creating content that engages customers, stimulates dialogue and evokes a response.

Here are my four simple steps to create an effective social media content marketing strategy:

1. Determine content themes

Your content needs to have a focus in terms of the topics you plan to cover and the tone it will take. Here are some pointers for determining that focus:

    • Know your audience. Who do you anticipate will be reading your content? What challenges do they face, which you could address?
    • Stimulate engagement. It could be educational, entertaining, inspirational or promotional. Ideally, it should contain elements of all four.
    • Demonstrate knowledge. One way to gain trust is by establishing yourself or your company as an expert. Try imparting advice that’s practical and based on your real-life experiences.
    • Be consistent with your business’s proposition. You don’t want content that is out of step with your company’s messaging or personality — it wouldn’t seem authentic.

2. Determine content type

Depending on the channel, social media content can take many forms: blog posts, tweets, status updates, contests, quizzes, poll questions, infographics, videos and photos. So decide which tools are going to make up your kit bag and test each one to see which works best.

3. Determine posting frequency

How often you can post updates? Here are a couple of tips:

    • Post at the optimal time. By this I mean post on the days and times when you are most likely to receive responses in the form of Likes, comments and shares. Google Analytics can help to determine optimum posting times.
    • Be consistent. Whether you post daily, weekly or monthly, if you’re not consistent, your customers will lose interest. Let’s be realistic, if your favourite TV series was shown randomly each week, would you really keep watching?

4. Create a content calendar

The next step is to develop a calendar to schedule your posts. Calendars can be created on a weekly or monthly basis.

Content calendars can be developed using a spreadsheet; or if you prefer, there are many social media management applications out there like HootSuite, Sprout Social and Buffer to name a few.

To plan even more effectively you might like to try tools like TweetDeck, which allow you to schedule your tweets and keep an eye on your Twitter stream, making it a lot easier to retweet and share.

So let’s get started!

Stretching your video budget further

Everyone is under pressure to do things better, cheaper, faster these days. It’s no exception here in agency land and we continually look for ways to improve our processes and deliver more value for our client’s money. When it comes to video — customer stories in particular — this means getting the most out of each and every day of filming. After all, if you’ve invested to get a crew on site, it makes sense to capture everything that looks useful all in one go — or is that my thrifty northern upbringing at work?

If it adds a view, shoot it

When the crew is on site they are there to capture a story and it’s crucial that they get time with the main sponsor. To provide context for the interview they can also shoot footage of your customers’ operation: the busy shop floor, the checkouts, the contact centre or perhaps show the vicinity and the outside of the premises as employees arrive for work. This B-roll is useful to provide a change of pace to the mini movie you want to create and can be a valuable cutaway to hide zooms and cover any of the presenter’s verbal or physical tics that are distracting.

While on site, it would also be helpful to get other beneficiaries of your solution in front of the camera. You could consider interviewing users, line-of-business managers, finance, technology or the CEO. Anyone and everyone who has an opinion on how your solution has impacted their lives and their way of working.

Assemble and repurpose

Back in the editing suite, this footage can be turned into several assets: different styles of deliverable for different channels, for different messages and to support different points on the buying cycle.

For example, we could create a collection of short talking-head clips that address key issues, each perhaps no more than a minute in length. Sales guys love them as a way of livening up their standard PowerPoint and tailoring the presentation to their prospect’s needs by incorporating customer testimony in a subtle way.

From the same shoot we could assemble the solution story talking about the benefits your customer has seen; we can also create the delivery story and how integration and implementation challenges were overcome; we can build the support story and show how, by working with you, your customer now has one less thing to worry about. If we put the footage together in another configuration, you have the cost saving story, or the one that tells how growth was supported, productivity was enhanced or how customer service was improved.

For early stages of the sales cycle we might want to keep it short with snippets to whet your prospects’ appetite and get the conversation started; further down the line we may need to provide more detailed or candid studies of your capabilities.

By digging for insight with your customers at the shoot and exploring how the deal was won and their opinion of the sales approach, we could even develop video footage to coach your sales teams and that’s not designed for customers’ eyes at all.

Many from one

From one day’s shoot you can create all these stories, sliced and diced for different purposes. They are available to be sprinkled across your website and social media channels, and to support conversations with your customers and prospects — be that for lead generation or thought leadership.

That’s a lot of impact from one day’s shoot.

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Webinars: keep your audience’s attention

Unlike with face-to-face presentations, during a webinar there’s no speaker to focus the audience’s visual attention; nor can the presenter see the audience to gauge their interest or pick up on cues. And because the audience is sitting at their desks, it’s all too easy for them to become distracted by work: are they checking and responding to email instead of listening to what your speaker has to say?

Inevitably the visual focus of a webinar becomes the slides. But, just as with a face-to-face presentation, the audience really doesn’t want to sit and listen to the presenter read a set of slides. If that’s what you expect them to do, don’t be surprised if they simply do something else or leave.

In fact, reading any kind of script can be a turnoff if it’s clear to the audience that that’s what the presenter is doing. When the presenter can’t be seen, the quality of their spoken delivery is critical: the audience needs to feel that the speaker is opening a conversation with them, not reading aloud to what could just as easily be an empty room.

Keep the focus on the screen

As well as working on the tone and rhythm of the delivery, here are our top tips for keeping an online, invisible audience attentive:

    • With the slides as the only visual focus, make them visually interesting. Even more so than in face-to-face presentations, images are a good idea. Only a visually and emotionally engaged audience will avoid multitasking during a webinar.

 

    • Use more slides. In a face-to-face presentation you don’t want constant slide movement to distract the audience’s attention from the speaker. But in a webinar you should keep the visual pace moving briskly along: using slide builds, meaningful animations, highlights, or a new slide every 30 seconds on average to keep the audience engaged.

 

    • Regularly break up the presentation (and the visual movement) with planned audience interactions using web tools such as an instant poll, or a hands-up indicator for a show of hands, or use of the virtual whiteboard.

 

    • Include one or more Q&A sessions. Use the invisibility of the audience to your advantage: prepare some stimulating ‘questions from the audience’ in advance and use them if nobody actually asks any.

 

Will your content get the Panda’s vote?

How many of you have felt the impact from the launch of Google Panda back in February? By now, the analytics should reveal just how this exciting change to Google’s search results ranking algorithm is affecting traffic to your site.

Panda update: the results

Reportedly, some 12% of all searches are feeling the change. Following the launch of Panda, news sites reported a surge in the rankings while sites with large amounts of advertising, fell. Thing is, the machine-learning algorithm, made possible by and named after engineer Navneet Panda, is trying to do the right thing for web users and rank pages according to the quality of their content and user experience.

Changing the best practice of SEO

Panda aims to reduce the position on results pages (SERPs) of websites that have thin and duplicate content when Google responds to a search. It also downplays sites that come up short on other site-quality metrics such as high advert-to-content ratios. Conversely, Panda up rates sites with lots of high-quality, unique content and from trusted brands. And puts on the podium sites that go further still: pages that offer anecdotes, humour, great photos, history or insight; pages that tell a story and make the visitor love and want to share that page.

It’s hard to imagine the complexity of the maths that models the behaviour of the thousands of human testers that Google worked with to create Panda, but not so hard to imagine what you need to do about it.

Want to know more?

There is some great insight from SEOMOZ available. This article talks about a few of the specific things that we can be doing as SEOs to help with this new sort of SEO, this broader web content/web strategy portion of SEO.

Mobilising content

While we are crafting the beautiful content that will keep your customers enthralled, we never lose sight of the mechanisms that will carry that content to their eyes and ears.

Of course we have Marshall McLuhan’s theory to illustrate that the medium has a significant impact on how the message is perceived. And, in the age of smartphones, where there is a growing need to mobilise content, this connection should be kept front of mind. To sum up this aim more succinctly: mobilise, don’t miniaturise.

The inherent power of context

The growth in smartphone usage, and let’s not forget the ipad and similar in this category, indicates a sizable audience that deserves a high-quality experience that’s tailored to their needs. This means considering the device and the environment in which it will be used, and presenting content accordingly.

And let’s not forget to consider how the persona of your target audience may have changed. When crafting persuasive communication it is a huge help to hold a picture of these new mobile workers in your mind.