A couple of No-No’s for content marketers

If you are just getting started in content marketing, or if social media is still a bit of a novelty for your organisation, there are a couple of things you should definitely avoid when attempting to use third-party content for your own promotional purposes: don’t misappropriate, and don’t misrepresent.

All marketers will be alert to false, deceptive or misleading advertising. More experienced content developers should also understand legal issues such as plagiarism, copyright infringement, passing-off and libel. However, even seemingly innocent and well-intentioned references made to third-party content may inadvertently border on unconscionable conduct.

Last week, I had the rather disturbing experience of a company attempting to use my blog to promote a service, and in a way that not only implied I was endorsing that service, but also suggested that my blog was somehow the reason why customers should sign up for it.

I found this problematic for three reasons:

First, I had no knowledge of or connection with this particular service, and the promotional message gave the impression I was endorsing it, which was obviously misleading, and it quoted my article out of context. At an extreme level, if I ever wrote a blog about the “10 reasons why I take public transport”, and then a political party co-opted my content to say “10 reasons why you should vote for our transport policy”, that would be misappropriation (of my content) and misrepresentation (of my views).

Second, even though the service referred to was being offered for free, if the company had managed to generate new clients via this particular campaign, there’s no direct benefit to me or my business, but lots of benefit to the company and/or its partners. In this increasingly self-directed, interconnected and collaborative environment, it’s important to make sure we are all “paying it forward” in a constructive and mutually beneficial way. (I have no problem with receiving a referral fee or a direct benefit in kind if my efforts have been instrumental in securing new customers for your business!)

Third, I am fortunate that a number of my blog articles have been re-syndicated via social media and other channels. In writing about third-party products and services, I am very careful not to endorse specific businesses or brands, other than to mention names (and link to relevant sites). Where I am providing criticism, I endeavour to do so under the auspices of “fair comment”. This is important when establishing credibility with an audience: that my content is seen to be authentic, that I demonstrate awareness about the purpose and context of my blog, and that I attribute whenever I am referencing or citing third-party content. (See an earlier blog I wrote on this topic) But, if in doubt, always ask the content owner in advance before linking, referencing, quoting, attributing or re-contextualising their content.

Finally, if I can be of any assistance in relation to your own content marketing, please let me know via this site.

Content Marketing and the “New Hierarchy of Needs”

Maslow’s theory on the “Hierarchy of Needs” has become shorthand for explaining human behaviour and motivation – primarily in our personal lives, but increasingly in our working lives. At the risk of offering an answer to yet another first world problem, it seems to me that many social media platforms and content marketing solutions are trying to recalibrate Maslow for generating deeper (and sometimes more meaningful) engagement with consumers. So, by way of a simple infographic, I am offering my own theory on the new hierarchy of needs:

New Hierarchy of Needs

 

When we are looking for a product or service to meet a need, we are usually in “discovery mode” – we are searching for content that helps us by offering suggestions, comparing products and prices, and clarifying the precise need. So, we are either browsing, curious, or looking for assistance.

Having found some possible solutions, we seek reassurance via informed recommendations, peer referrals and published reviews. We may place different weight on this information depending on the source, but we are seeking justification for our reason to buy, or validation for becoming a customer.

If we are happy with our choice, and given the right opportunity and encouragement, we may be willing to tell our friends and anyone else who’s interested via Likes and social media posts and reviews. This is an interesting point in the engagement transaction – going from peer-to-peer sharing, to looking for approval for our decision from the wider community.

Finally, if we are so enamoured with the product, and we enjoy sharing our experiences, we may be flattered into making a lifestyle statement about our preferences; we could become a self-identified “voice of authority” through blogging and endorsements, or we might be willing to be closely identified with a brand as an advocate or champion (the sort of customer beloved of Net Promoter Scores).

The ultimate consumer-turned-champion was, of course Victor Kiam, the customer who liked the product so much, he bought the company….

C-Suite in a quandry: To Blog or Not To Blog…

Should CEO’s be on social media? That is the question many boards, PR advisers, marketeers and C-Suite occupants are faced with these days. Partly driven by existentialist angst (“I Tweet therefore I am”), partly a desperate act of “me too”, many CEOs are in a dilemma about how to engage with the new media.

While it might sound like a good idea to have a CEO blog, in the wrong hands or used inappropriately, it can come across as inauthentic, too corporate, or just crass.

The use of CEOs as “personal brands” is nothing new – think of Richard Branson, Anita Roddick, Steve Jobs, Jack Welch etc. And while social media has the potential to extend the CEO’s reach to customers, shareholders and employees, it also abhors a vacuum. If companies do not take control of their public persona, their customers and employees (supporters and detractors alike) will fill the void for them.

I am seeing this debate play out in different ways:

First, there is a difference between a personal brand and a business brand, so it is important to establish boundaries while recognising how the CEO’s personal standing can be used effectively to complement the corporate presence.

Second, having the CEO recognised as an expert can enhance personal influence but may not directly benefit the company if it is not relevant to the business – does Warren Buffet’s prowess on the ukulele boost instrument sales, or help the share price of Berkshire-Hathaway?

Third, if CEOs do choose to outsource their blog content, make sure it is genuine and aligns not only with the CEO’s personal values but also with those of the company, customers, shareholders and employees.

Finally, CEOs or Boards struggling with this topic, or those worried about whether to take the plunge into social media would be advised to consult Dionne Kasian Lew‘s new book, “The Social Executive”, which is sure to become an essential guide on the subject.

 

 

 

New Year Wishes: What I hope for in 2014

A new year normally brings with it the usual predictions for the 12 months ahead. Sometimes, as with political elections, the World Cup, fiscal budgets and the Oscars, most informed commentators can usually hope to get at least one or two things right. But as a former colleague once wrote, anticipating new developments in technology is like “trying to predict the unpredictable”.*

Rather than attempting to gaze into a crystal ball, here are a few of my personal wishes** for 2014

Politics

I think it’s interesting that in 2013, two of the political leaders that generated most of the news were Margaret Thatcher and Nelson Mandela – and in both cases, it was their passing that dominated the headlines. Neither had been in power for many years, yet in death they were more noteworthy than most of today’s world leaders. Why? Well, a lack of truly charismatic politicians could explain it. But I rather think the lure of holding political office has been undermined by the need to micromanage the machinery of government – so rather than attracting visionary leaders capable of projecting big picture thinking, we mostly get a collective mediocrity blinkered by the spin doctors and party pollsters, and rarely willing to tell the public what they actually think or what they personally believe in, for fear of offending voters in marginal electorates. Whether or not you agreed with or liked their particular brands of politics, it was pretty clear that both Thatcher or Mandela actually believed what they were saying when addressing parliament, giving interviews, or delivering campaign speeches.

In 2014 it would be wonderful to see the return of political leaders who were not simply trying to avoid defeat at the next election. Even better, wouldn’t it be wonderfully refreshing to hear politicians willing to amend their policies because they have been persuaded by informed argument, prepared to admit that they might have got it wrong, and able to speak their mind without being accused of knee-jerk reactions or heretical u-turns; situations change, so shouldn’t our politicians be entitled to adapt and clarify their thinking accordingly?

Leadership

Which brings me to my next wish – a willingness to openly embrace situational leadership. Yes, organisations should have a clear purpose, stated objectives and well-articulated means for achieving them, but there also needs to be flexibility and the ability to adapt and evolve based on changing circumstances.

We hear a great deal about the need for diversity on boards, among executive teams and across the workplace generally. Much of the diversity debate centres on gender and ethnicity – which is fine, but we require organisations with greater cognitive diversity. Such diversity could help avoid group-think, constructively challenge the status quo and counter the underlying causes of institutionalised inertia.

Business

Unless you are a single-product company, with a unique and proprietary production process, a guaranteed market monopoly, and an endless supply of materials and customers, your business cannot afford to exclude alternative thinking or ignore external perspectives on your industry, your markets or your products and services.

Equally, in a low-growth/no-growth market environment, companies have to develop or acquire better strategic growth skills. Expansion via capturing market share (usually achieved by competing on price, and resulting in lower margins) will be hard to sustain, and will likely result in a race to the bottom.

My big wish for 2014 is that businesses in general, and service industries in particular, will recognize what their true value proposition is, and build strategies for competing on quality (not just on quantity). For example, unless you understand your cost structures, and can relate those to your customers’ perceptions of what they are paying for, you will either waste resources on stuff customers don’t value, or miss opportunities for serving them better.

Technology and the Internet

It’s hard to think of any significant developments in popular technology or on the Internet during 2013. Sure, there was some consolidation among social media platforms, and product rationalisation at Yahoo! and elsewhere; but apart from launching iOS7 and the iPhone 5, Apple did not bring any major new products to market. Although Apple’s global share of smart phone sales may be declining, it may simply be market maturation rather than any product advances from its competitors. (There is also evidence that in key markets, iPhone 5 has boosted Apple’s smart phone sales, and the iPhone 5 itself lays claim to being the most popular model.)

The Internet continues to grow exponentially, largely driven by social media and user-contributed content. But I’m not sure that our collective knowledge and wisdom have improved at a corresponding rate. (Plus, targeted and streamed advertising means it takes much longer to watch YouTube clips, resulting in a lower return on the time we invest in consuming content.)

I’m hoping that 2014 will herald the launch of Internet 3.0 – an on-line environment that is more informative, more insightful and more interactive, and which connects more intuitively between my desktop and mobile devices. (For example, various upgrades to iOS and their associated back-ups forced me to transfer manually a large archive of Notes from my iPhone 4 to my iCloud account, simply because Apple unilaterally changed the way legacy content was “recognized” between my iPhone and my iMac.)

Culture

Perhaps we should also wish for a slightly kinder and more caring social media environment in 2014 – and as I heard one media commentator observe this week, professional sports people and other celebrities should probably refrain from using social media after 11pm, even if they are only slightly inebriated. Anyway, at the risk of revealing some of my own prejudices and preferences, this is what I expect from 2014 in Culture.

First up, I don’t want to see any more of the following categories of movie: sequels, prequels, comic-strip franchises, CGI extravaganzas or anything containing anthropomorphism (unless it’s a Director’s Cut of “Animal Farm”).

Second, I eagerly await the end of geo-blocking for digital content – copyright owners, music labels, publishers, licensors/licensees, distributors and on-line retailers please get your act together, and don’t make it unnecessarily difficult for me to buy your content just because of where I happen to live.

Third, I’d like to advocate a special tax on reality TV shows – the proceeds of which will be directed towards alleviating human suffering, solving important world issues, or nurturing genuine artistic/culinary/terpsichorean talent.

Finally, I hope that David Bowie’s return to form with 2013’s “The Next Day” was not a fleeting reminder of past glories….

NOTES:

* Anthony Kinahan in his introduction to “Now and Then 1974-2024: A Celebration of the Bicentenary of Sweet & Maxwell” (1999) a collection of essays on the future of legal publishing

** Aside from, of course world peace, the end of poverty and a global commitment to address the negative impacts of climate change