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I am very excited! Tomorrow, April 30th, I will be traveling to Washington, DC to participate as a U.S. Speaker and Specialist in the United States State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP). This amazing program, which I had the honor of participating in last year, provides informational outreach around the world.
This engagement will be in partnership with the U.S. Embassy in Bratislava in the Slovak Republic. I will have the pleasure of speaking via video conference with students in Slovakia. The subject I will be speaking on is the rise of social media as a tool for democratic participation, my area of research expertise.
This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for details.
Great news! Monday night, the Shepherd University Curriculum and Instruction committee approved the classes I have created and the Strategic Communication concentration I have been working on since my arrival in the Department of Communication at Shepherd University.
The new concentration will offer students an opportunity to learn to use social media, digital tools, and other forms of communication to plan and execute strategic campaigns.
I am very thankful to the committee and my department for their enthusiastic support!
While a lot of work has been done and this is a great accomplishment, there is more to be done before the concentration becomes part of the university curriculum.
Next stop? I must next present the concentration to the Board of Governors here at Shepherd. Stay tuned!
1) Pushing isn’t social: First, I saw the following spammy post in a social media group I’m a part of, counter to the very ethos of social media (Should have been skeptical from the start, right?). I skimmed and found:
“There’s a ton of content on how to do social marketing – but this FREE eBook is different than any I’ve seen before….”
“You’ll get fascinating insights on how different organizations – large to small – are using social marketing, and get tips and best practices on: • The rules of social engagement • How to measure and iterate on social programs • Ideas to generate social lift • Social marketing words of wisdom • Why content is king • How to make social a group effort”
Cool! I thought. Different. Unique. A ton of content! So I followed the link, gave them my email address (see: regret), and got the ebook (If you are so inclined, you can here). I’d never heard of Marketo before.
What would have worked? Perhaps a post that didn’t read like an ad. Some such thing as: “Hey all, last week we were talking about XYZ. I came across this ebook titled Blah Blah. It really helped me understand how to deal with a particular part of XYZ. Enjoy and let me know what you think. I’d love to talk about it.”
Which leads me to the rest of my points:
2) Proof Read – Tips #1 and #11 are the same. Carelessness kills credibility.
3) Where’s the eBook? This piece of content marketing is passed off as an ebook. There are 10 pages including the cover and 1 back cover. But much of it is gloss and graphics. In terms of content, there may be 2 pages of text here. There are some great quotes and insights. Don’t get me wrong. But, really… that’s all they are.
4) Help me, Help me! How is what you’re offering add value to my life? Rather than tell me 50 general statements that are not actionable, help me. Show me HOW to do something. How this newfound knowledge can be applied. A series of blog posts or ebooks about each one of these items, with context, evidence (they are tried and true, right?), reasoning, and suggestions would go much further in helping me improve my social media. Give me examples I can follow. Outcomes. Best practices. As one commenter on the LinkedIn thread (see below) pointed out, much of the content is “common sense.”
5) Is it unique? If it isn’t entertaining, new, different, or going to help me, don’t waste my time. Prognostications and platitudes are a dime a dozen on social media.
6) The Pitch: What’s delivered must match the claim – how often do we read hyperbole in social content nowadays? Tweets that read “The Best Description of Graph Search.” YouTube videos titled “The Greatest Touchdown Of All Time!” “The Only SEO Guide You’ll Ever Need!” I know strong language grabs attention, and there are tons of blog posts about writing great headlines that preach this sort of thing (I plan to talk about it in my class, in fact!). But it is becoming overdone. And when something’s overdone it becomes noise. Meaningless. In this particular case, the title is fine. There are 50 insights. My problem here is how the content was pitched on social. I don’t know if the person who posted it was affiliated with Marketo or not. The language on the Marketo site is a little different, though it contains some of the same content from the social post. But a ton of content? Not really. Different from any other ebook out there? Yes, in that it isn’t an ebook. Fascinating? No. Tried and true? Where is the proof that they are tried and true? They are indeed insights, some of them very valuable.
I want my students to be great at social media. I want them to create great content. In all my classes, I have a bias towards showing students the “Heck Yes!” examples – something exemplary that they can aspire to. For better or worse, I tend to shy away from the “Don’t Do This!” examples such as this one.
But for the reasons mentioned above, this post got under my skin. Apparently, I’m not the only one who felt cheated by this content marketing attempt. A thread on LinkedIn reveals a number of folks who agree (and disagree!) with my assessment.
Content marketing is about adding value. Deliver something that shows your thought leadership, that provides your target audience with useful insight. Don’t waste their time. I’m not Marketo’s target audience (although I am looking to build a partnership with a social media analytics software company to use in my classes). But if I were, this wouldn’t do it for me.
What are your thoughts about this? Is it bad content marketing, or am I being too harsh? (Maybe its the end of the semester stress getting to me!) Where am I wrong? Can you think of other examples you can share?
That day, it seems, is here. A student of mine just dropped by my office to let me know the news. I tested it, and it is true for me as well.
Try it. Find someone you’re not friends with on Facebook and see about messaging them.
Here’s what I found when I tried to Message someone I’m not friends with on Facebook:
I can see charing to contact celebrities, but people I don’t know? Facebook, seriously? Several weeks ago I blogged about how Facebook is losing its grab with young adults. This may leave Facebook holding on by a pinky. My student’s exact words when she told me about this were “Facebook is dead.” There again, perhaps people won’t use this service and so its impact is negligible. But the turn off is real.
Facebook’s help page also indicates that if you receive messages you don’t want, you can filter them to your other inbox. This may also mean that marketing messages and spam will soon be coming to our Facebook inboxes, a la our email addresses.
What do you think? What does this mean for Facebook? Has social networking lost its innocence?
As one way to introduce my students to SEO and keyword research, I use the below in class exercise with Google Trends (formerly, Google Insights). Google Trends allows users to see and compare trends on what Googlers are searching for, by showing search volume across time. Users can break down trends by category, such as geography.
We also discuss keyword research via Google Adword Keyword Search Tool. But I like to talk about Google Trends first because it is easy to use and a bit more approachable with its visual layout, including interactive maps.
Google Trends Activity and Discussion (Time: 15-20 minutes). Note: Lecture notes at bottom of blog post.
In class, I explain how search engines like Google seek to rank content based on relevancy and credibility so they can deliver the best content to searchers. The algorithms for ranking content are complex and constantly changing. But the question for anyone seeking to get their content in front of the right eyeballs remains the same:
How can we optimize our content to increase the chance people will find it online?
I explain how Google Trends can be used to see what characteristics or features of a topic people search for (you can see the slides below). I ask students to imagine they are writing content for a new Volkswagen. How can they know what features of the new car to highlight in their content?
I use this example because Google already has a great video explaining the results of a keyword search topic. So after we discuss some popular features, I show them the video example.
I then give them an in-class activity with a similar scenario asking them to find out what people search for most regarding a particular topic. I prompt with:
Imagine you work for a client who wants to promote a new gym. What do people seem to be most interested in?
Look specifically at Maryland. What do they search for in Maryland?
How could you apply this knowledge to target user interest?
Students go to the following Google Doc (http://bit.ly/WAP_GTrendsEx) and follow the instructions and visuals to walk them through the steps on Google Trends.
This brief activity is followed by discussion of what they found, and their thoughts on how this information could be used.
In my experience (I taught this in a social media class in the past), students at this point are excited about this tool and want to compare a topic they are interested in – maybe ice cream flavors, celebrities, brands, etc. I’ll ask students to make predictions on what topic is being searched for most and why. Often, we are surprised by what we find, which makes for a great discussion. We have lots of fun spending a few minutes doing this kind of exploration!
I end by emphasizing that one way to use Google Trends is to see what people care about the most when they search for a topic, whether it be cars, gyms, et cetera.
From there, we move on to discussing Google Adwords Keyword tool, which I’ll save for a future blog post.
Check out the associated slides for this class and the class before it where I explain SEO and linking below:
What is SEO and link building and why do they matter?
Keyword Research Activity: Google Trends and Adwords (relates directly to above blog post)
What do you think? How do you teach your students about keyword research and search engine optimization? Would love to hear your exercises and thoughts below.
This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for details.
Some say content marketing is a hot topic in 2013 that will pass – a buzzword of sorts. I say, we should be teaching it to our students.
What is content marketing?
As Tom Foremski said, “Every company is a media company.” Content marketing is the creating of content aimed at attracting a target audience. The content adds value to the audience, rather than simply trying to sell them a product. Ultimately, the content serves a business objective (think, profit).
For example, I’ve been spending a great deal of time researching lawnmowers. Kelin and I are new homeowners. We have a 3/4 acre lawn and last summer after purchasing the house I nearly killed myself trying to mow the hilly thing with a push mower that was not self propelled (Hey, I’m a professor not a body builder). It’s hot and humid here. This year, I have visions of myself destroying that tall grass from behind the wheel of a riding lawnmower, a bottle of ice-cold water in the cup holder.
I know what I want. But there are so many options and price points. As I research mowers online, I’m trying to educate myself on the different transmissions, how much power I need (we’ve got a mean hill), whether paying more for a particular brand is “worth it,” and more.
A traditional approach would be to show me a bright red mower and pitch me on why I should buy it.
A content marketing approach might be to educate me on how to pick the best mower for my lawn terrain, how to prepare my lawn for mowing, tips on how to ensure the longevity of my mower, et cetera. How does this work? Simply, as I learn more, I become more confident in the credibility and reliability of the company providing me this information – perhaps in this case the content marketing is being done by a local hardware store. They aren’t just trying to sell me something, they are trying to help me. They are building a relationship with me. I know I’m the type of consumer that is skeptical, over-thinks purchasing decisions, hates to waste a buck. I appreciate being helped and educated on the subject. I’m more likely to buy from this hardware store.
Next fall I’m teaching Writing Across Platforms. My goal is to prepare students to write for the Web economy. I chose to focus a good portion of the class on online content marketing. Here are 3 reasons why:
Content marketing is tried and true – public relations practitioners have been using content marketing for decades! The concept isn’t new. The goal isn’t either: to build trusting relationships and establish reputations. Which leads me to:
If the brand is a media company, it needs great content creators – Social media enables organizes to create content and reach audiences like never before, arguably shifting the role of communication professionals and making “owned media” king. As such, content marketing is being used by more and more brands today. Pitching is great, but you can go directly to your audience… they’re searching for you anyways. If a student is going to excel in the social media landscape, he/she needs to understand how to create content that builds relationships with and excites their target audience. That’s a different relationship than with bloggers and the media. I know social media is going to change in ways I can’t predict. I want students understand fundamental ideas that can be applied across social tools, the underlying essence of what makes these tools so powerful.
Social / content marketing/ and SEO go hand in hand – I’ll talk more about this in future blog posts. But in essence, for people to find your brand on the overcrowded web, you need to create search-friendly content that people want.
I’m excited to say I’ve completed planning the class.
Syllabus – I’ve uploaded a copy of the syllabus on Scribd. You can also see it by hovering over “Syllabi” at the top of this blog, and clicking “Writing Across Platforms.”
While students won’t get a chance to make ebooks, webinars, or other cool content (so much to do, too little time) – they will get a clear understanding of what content marketing is, explore many examples through the text and in-class, and use this approach to content to plan out and create a series of blog posts that add value to a clearly defined audience while building the reputation of an organization. Why a blog? As Mark Schaefer says in Born to Blog, the blog is the best content marketing tool around.
In future blog posts I’ll talk more in depth about some of the activities and assignments we’ll be covering in Writing Across Platforms, such as keyword research and SEO.
Are you teaching content marketing? If so, how? What books or resources are you using? I’d love to talk shop. If you’ve got any comments or questions, please drop them below.
By the way, hope you like the new website layout. Had to merge over to WordPress now that Posterous is going away.
A Social Media Education Blog by Matthew J. Kushin, Ph.D.
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