3 Ways to Build a Unique Content Voice

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We all know the importance of good content. Brands are all publishers now, and creating compelling content on different online channels is paramount to building and holding onto a loyal following. But what does your content say about your brand? Does what you post on Twitter align with the style of your company blog posts? If you’re not sure, it’s time to do a little thinking about brand personality and building a unique and cohesive content voice. Here are three ways to get started on defining and implementing what you want your content to say about your brand.

1. Decide on your brand personality

What is your brand’s voice? Is it serious and authoritative or quirky and conversational? Every brand should have its own unique personality, and it’s up to you to decide what that is and make sure it comes across in all of your content. If you don’t know where to start, try writing down the first adjectives that come to mind when you think about your company, your culture, and how you want to be seen by the world. Build up a list of adjectives for your brand, and then think about how that should affect your content style. If your brand personality is direct and authoritative, then you might want to take a concise approach to writing and give your audience actionable advice. If you want your voice to be more personal with a sense of humor, then try telling stories with your content and including humorous anecdotes. Once you’ve decided what your brand voice should look like, it will be a lot easier to design a content strategy that exemplifies that to the fullest.

2. Make a style guide

The bigger your company is, the more important this step will be. You may feel good about your new brand voice and how to get that across, but chances are there are more than a couple people on your content-creation team. By creating a style guide for everyone on your team to reference, you can much more easily present a united brand voice no matter who is doing the writing. Create a living style guide that includes the basics of grammar, formatting, and how you use company terms, but also be sure to include some information about your brand voice and how to achieve that style in your content. What is the level of formality? Should your writers focus on real-life examples or use creative storytelling to get their points across? Who is the exact audience that they should focus on addressing? Make sure anyone on your content team understands the approach that you want to take. Having an accessible style guide for your contributors to reference can help keep everyone on track with creating content that is indicative of your brand voice.

3. Implement it across all channels

Your company blog may be the most obvious place to concentrate on brand voice, but in order to for that voice to make a serious impact on your audience, it needs to be consistent across any and all content channels. Whether you are writing an “About Us” page for the company website, a post for the corporate blog, or Twitter and Facebook posts, there should be a clear sense of continuity in the style of your content. Different channels require different approaches, sure, but your content on every different channel should always relate back to that original brand personality that you created. Even though this will not be the case for most brands, it should feel like the same person either created or had a hand in your content on every different channel.

Knowing your brand’s personality is critical when you are a content creator. Creating a cohesive strategy for everyone to follow will help your brand build a consistent and unique voice that will then build trust among your followers. Your audience will come to know you and your brand for a certain style and personality, and that will keep them coming back for more. It’s a lot easier to become invaluable to your audience when your brand feels like a trusted old friend with personality to spare.

-Kelly

3 Types of Content That Management Consultants Should Share on Social

More and more management consulting firms are encouraging their employees to be active on social media. They recognize the benefits of positioning their employees as thought leaders. Doing so can increase the firm’s visibility, attract new clients, help maintain relationships with old clients, strengthen the firm’s brand, and make recruiting easier.

But here’s the catch: For employees to become thought leaders on social, they need the right content. They need articles, reports, blog posts, webinars, and infographics that help showcase their knowledge. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of the three must-have types of content, according to the research.

Content Type #1: Company-Branded Research and Thought Leadership

Consulting firms need thought leadership content. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. 96% of clients have said that thought leadership content was a significant factor in selecting a consultancy. That’s because companies hire consultants for their wisdom and insights.

For many consulting firms, this is good news. The Association of Management Consulting Firms has found that consulting firms typically spend $4.6 million on thought leadership content every year.

That’s a significant investment. By encouraging your employees to share the content, you can extend the reach of your content and, by extension, improve your firm’s visibility.

Content Type #2: Promotions for Upcoming Events

Events are the bread and butter of every consultancy’s marketing plan. Between speaking at conferences, hosting seminars, or launching a webinar series, there’s always something going on. Encourage your employees to publicize those events. After all, they are one of the top ways that your clients find out about your company.

  • 63% of companies find a consultancy by viewing consulting presentations at public conferences
  • 47% of companies find a consultancy by attending its seminars
  • 43% of companies find a consultancy by listening to its webinars

Content Type #3: Industry News, Trends, and Insights

Thought leaders thrive by showing awareness of what others are saying about their industry and by engaging with others’ ideas.

This could be one of the reasons that the majority of employees (55%) want to share a mixture of company-created and third-party content to build their professional brands. While employees want to promote the thought leadership produced by their companies, they don’t want to sound like corporate parrots in front of their professional networks.

Instead, as our research has shown, employees are eager to share industry news. In fact, it’s the content type that employees are most likely to share on social media. This is especially true of consultants, who need to vertical-specific knowledge about their clients’ industries in order to gain their trust.

Quick Tip: If you’re evaluating employee advocacy platforms, look for one that will uncover the latest industry news for you and your employees. This will keep your consultants posting and help them build a strong professional brand.

Finding the Right Blend of Content

To position their employees as thought leaders and advocates for their firms, consultancies need to deliver the right content to their employees. In so doing, your employees will have better conversations with your firm’s clients – past, present, and future. And in the long run, you will watch your teams hit their revenue targets.

Want to Learn More about Employee Advocacy?

Flip through the Rise of the Employee Marketer to learn more.

3 Ways Field Sales Reps Should Use Social Media

Traditionally, field sales reps have relied on face-to-face events and on-site meetings. Their physical presence was needed to close deals.

But all that’s changing. To stay relevant for the modern buyer, field sales reps need to move more of their activities online. Nowadays, digital interactions are just as important as offline interactions for managing one’s territory. For a modern field sales rep, this means leveraging content and social networks like LinkedIn and Twitter.

Here are three ways that field sales reps can engage in social selling.

1. Search for More Opportunities in Your Territory

Social networks make it easy to find more connections in your territory. Before you hop on a plane or jump in your car, use Twitter or LinkedIn to build a relationship with people in a specific region. When you find yourself in their area, you can meet in person without too much of the awkward “getting to know you” awkward chit chat.

How do you find people on social networks?

Twitter Advanced Search

Let’s say that you typically sell to marketers at SMBs in the San Francsico area. Prior to your visit to the Bay Area next month, you want to start cultivating more relationships in the area.

Using Twitter’s advanced search tools, you can easily find more marketers in your territory. (See example below.) Once you’ve located marketers in your area, you can easily follow them, share content with them, and engage in conversations with them on Twitter.

LinkedIn Advanced Search

Alternatively, you can use LinkedIn’s advanced search options to find prospects. For the sake of example, let’s use the same scenario as above. Let’s say that you’re selling to marketers at SMBs in the San Francisco Area.

Using LinkedIn’s search tools, you can search for marketing managers in the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition, you can narrow your search results based on your existing professional relationships:

  • who you’re already connected to (“1st Connections”)
  • who might be able to easily give you a referral (“2nd Connections”),
  • who is in one of your LinkedIn groups (“Group Members”).

By using the relationship feature on LinkedIn, you can avoid sending cold connection requests. Instead, you can rekindle professional connections that you have let lapse. Or you can ask for warm referrals from someone you already know (“2nd Connections”), making it more likely that people will accept your connection request and want to meet with you in person.

LinkedIn Alumni Search

Your fellow alumni are often a fantastic, but largely untapped resource. If you want to see if any of your former classmates are in your territory, you can use LinkedIn’s free alumni search tool.

By reconnecting with former classmates while you’re in the field, you might just get the “in” that you need at a particular company.

2. Research Your Target Companies

Before you meet with a prospect in person, take the time to do some research on the company. Traditionally, sales reps would use the company’s website to do reconnaissance work, but social media also provides you with ample research opportunities.

Here are two different lines of research that you can follow:

What is top of mind with your target company?

Many of your target companies use social media. They tweet and write LinkedIn updates, and while you might not realize it, their social media posts are a trove of helpful information.

Those posts allow you to know what the company is thinking about. They tell you how the company is positioning itself in the market. Through press releases, they give you company news about management changes and mergers.

Each social update is a nugget of wisdom to tuck away for later reference. So, take the time to follow your target companies on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Who are the stakeholders in your company?

Perhaps you have connected with one person in the company, and she is blocking you from the rest of the stakeholders. Or perhaps you’re looking to expand into other business units within the company.

With social media search features (see above), you can easily identify other stakeholders in an organization. Use Twitter and LinkedIn to create org charts, determine who uses social media, connect with them, and start cultivating a relationship before you meet in person.

3. Stay in Touch with Prospects and Customers

In-person meetings are no longer enough. Field sales reps need to have multiple touches across different channels – from the phone to email to social media.

When you’re not having face-to-face meetings with customers, you can stay top of mind by sharing content with them on social media. On LinkedIn and Twitter, it is easy to share blog posts, articles, infographics, and slide decks that your customers will want to read and share with their colleagues.

When sharing content, you have two options. You can either write a general tweet or LinkedIn update, which your connections may come across in their feeds. Or you can write a personalized Twitter direct message or a LinkedIn message to an individual person.

This flowchart will help you determine what’s best.

Social Selling Isn’t Just for Inside Sales Reps

It’s easy to think that social selling is for inside sales reps. After all, they work remotely, and they need additional ways to contact customers in a virtual world.

But social selling is for field sales reps, as well. By leveraging social media, sales reps in the field can identify prospects, research their companies, and stay top of mind with customers.

So, what are you waiting for? It’s time to embrace social selling. Here are a few additional resources to help you:

3 Tips for Building Visual Content for B2B Companies on Instagram

Social media has become a mainstay for marketing these days. Each platform has its own vibe: LinkedIn is the professional one, Facebook is for everyone, Twitter is for chatting… However, it can be a challenge for B2B businesses to navigate the youngest of the bunch: Instagram.

B2C companies have it easier with Instagram, They often showcase their products in a myriad of scenes: people laughing and having fun, a Coca Cola at a picnic, a pretty girl in a brand’s latest outfit. But without these obvious images, how do B2B companies beat the boring?

Simply: get creative. (Struggling to get creative? Here are 3 scientifically proven ways to boost your creativity.)

Instagram is an opportunity to tell your company’s story in a visually unique way. I repeat: This is an opportunity, not a burden.

People online today love images because they are quick and easy to digest – perfect for our busy lives. We know how to follow, like, and engage with our followers, but how do we keep them coming back for more? What kind of images will appeal to our audience?

Here are three easy ways to build great visual content for a B2B Instagram account…

1. People being people. In other words, define your company’s culture and showcase it.

Bringing people and life into a B2B company is key. Post images of employees eating, laughing, volunteering, doing anything together that shows them building relationships. This will allow your followers to relate to your company, and it will bring a personality to your business. People want to do business with people; so, first thing to do is tell the story of the people who make up your organization.

For example, here are a few of Trapit’s employees being welcomed to the family:

2. Have an artist’s eye.

Once you’ve established the human side of your business, think of outside-of-the-box ways to tell your story: your company’s goals, values, and mission.

Using symbolism to tell your story is a great way to reach your audience’s emotions. Instagram followers are going to notice an image before they see the user handle.Therefore, it is important to make them stop scrolling and take a second look.If your business is young and growing, images of flowers or trees may be a great way to imply your goal of growth and nurturing.If your company’s values surround connection and stability showing images of straight lines and hard materials, such as photographing your offices in an artistic manner, could be appropriate.These metaphors are a great way to increase your content and subject matter for your Instagram account.

Here’s how Trapit used this approach:

A new day. A new office.

3. Bring it home.

So, you want pictures of employees and of beautiful scenes of nature to tell your story. But where do we take these photos? Your best bet: photograph what is around you.

Connecting with your community is a great way to further build your Instagram following. This can be easily accomplished if your company is large or small.If it is large and housed in several cities, ask your employees to snap photos of events, objects, and landmarks in their respective towns.Then, you can edit and enhance these images right from the app, making them pop and look professional. When your followers can relate to your photos, they will become invested in your company, building internal and external connections.

Remember to hashtag! You can hashtag the restaurant, section of town, or event that you are posting. On Instagram, you can hashtag your heart out, unlike with Twitter where it would be considered inappropriate. So make sure you give props and connect with your community.

Here are some Trapit team members at last year’s #CMI event in Cleveland:

So remember, Instagram is a chance for your business to show off its creative, human side. Images of people being together, natural scenes with a meaning, and community connections are the best ways for a B2B business to make a splash on Instagram. So get out there and start photographing.

Happy Snapping,

Maura

To follow Trapit on Instagram, click here.

3 Scientifically Proven Ways to Boost Your Creativity

“I need a deck by 9 a.m. tomorrow,” your boss says at 5 p.m.

“What’s the topic?”

“Something related to B2B content marketing. It doesn’t really matter. It just has to be good,” he replies on his way out the door.

Fighting every urge to smash your desk like the Incredible Hulk, you assure your boss, “No problem. I’ll have it ready by 9 a.m..”

In order to come up with an idea for the presentation, which of the following should you do?

A) You start brewing a pot of coffee because you’re going to be up all night. B) You pace around your cubicle like a lion in a cage. Then, you pace some more. Then, you pace some more. C) You catch the end of happy hour at the corner pub. Then, you draft the presentation, and tomorrow, you wake up refreshed so that you can edit the deck.D) Quit your job.

Keep your answer in mind as we look at what science has to say about this predicament.

WHAT IS CREATIVITY?

When scientists conduct creativity studies, they typically are referring to “outside-the-box” thinking, that is, the ability to make new connections and think in new ways.

To test creativity, scientists often rely on “divergent thinking” tests. Participants in an experiment might be given an object, and the participants have to think of alternate uses for a given object. Their answers are compared, and if no other participant in the group used it, the idea would be deemed novel. (Researchers also gauge whether a response is appropriate.)

When our brains are focused, we tend to make common associations. We look at a paperclip, and we associate that object with fastening papers together. But when our brains are distracted, we can make new connections and think in new ways. For instance, we might look at the paperclip and think about how it could be used as a quill on the back of a papier-mâché porcupine.

How do we get to the point of thinking of papier-mâché porcupines? Alcohol, obviously.

OPTION 1: ALCOHOL

In 2013, Dave Birss assembled a group of 18 advertising creative directors. He split the group into two teams. One team was allowed to drink as much alcohol as they wanted while the other group had to stay sober.

The groups were given a brief. For the boozers in the experiment, this was a bit ironic. The study’s participants had to tackle the question of binge drinking. Their goal was to change people’s behavior and to encourage them to drink more water.

Between the hours of 7 p.m. and 10 p.m., the study’s participants had to come up with as many ideas as they could. Afterwards, their efforts were graded by a collection of creative directors.

What were the results? The boozers not only produced the most ideas, but they also came up with four of the top five best ideas.

Here’s the sober losers’ top result:

Here’s the boozers’ top result:

Please note: There seems to be a threshold for the amount you can drink.The sweet spot seems to be two or three drinks in.

OPTION 2: DROWSINESS

A group of scientists surveyed 428 undergrads about their circadian rhythms. The overwhelming majority – not surprisingly – were night owls and did everything in their power to avoid 9 a.m. classes. To test the students’ creativity and analytical skills, the scientists gave the students a series of problem-solving tasks.

Some were given insight puzzles like this one:

A man has married 20 women in a small town. All of the women are still alive, and none of them is divorced. The man has broken no laws. Who is the man?

The other half of the problems given to the students were standard analytic problems. Think of simple long-division and pre-algebra questions.

Half of the subjects were tested “early” in the morning (8:30 a.m.), and half were tested later in the day (around 5 p.m.).

When the students were tested during their “least optimal time of day” (e.g. a night owl in the early morning), they were significantly better at solving insight problems. Interestingly, the students’ performance on the analytic problems was unaffected by the time of day.

Spoiler alert: Here’s the answer to that insight puzzle: The man is a minister or rabbi.

OPTION 3: WALKING

There’s good news for those of you who like to be well-rested and sober! Walking can also boost your creativity.

A group of Stanford researchers decided to test to see if non-aerobic walking had any effect on brain function. So, they conducted a series of experiments in which they tested the thinking patterns of walkers versus those of sitters.

Both walkers and sitters had to partake in a series of divergent thinking tests. The participants were given an object, and they had to think of novel uses for those objects. (See the paperclip example above.)

What were the results? Marily Oppezzo and Daniel Schwartz found that walkers were able to producetwice as many novel ideas as sitters.

Somewhat surprisingly, it does not matter if the walker is staring at a blank wall on a treadmill or if the walker is looking at mountains outdoors. Both indoor and outdoor walkers can produce more ideas than sitters.

WHY DO BEER, DROWSINESS, AND WALKING WORK?

All right, as we have seen so far, beer, tiredness, and walking can help boost creativity. But why is that? Let’s take a quick look at how our brains work.

Neuroscientists have studied the “eureka moment.” In order to have moments of illumination, you need to feel relaxed so that front-brain thinking, with its obvious, rational connections and attentiveness, can move to the back of the brain. There, unique, lateral connections can be made, and the anterior superior temporal gyrus can be activated.

Jeepers! That’s a whole lot of Latin strung together!

Unless you’re a neuroscientist, you’ve probably never heard of this part of your brain. The anterior superior temporal gyrus is a small part above your right ear, which scientists have determined to be responsible for moments of insight:

5 seconds before your “eureka moment,” a large increase in alpha waves activate the anterior superior temporal gyrus. Scientistis associate these alpha waves with relaxation, and they allow the brain to take a short break, which is when new ideas tend to bubble up to the surface.

In simpler terms, beer, sleepiness, and walking help the brain relax. They help the brain break through its hyper-rational filters, and they allow you to make connections that your brain wouldn’t normally allow you to make.

RETURNING TO OUR SCENARIO…

To refresh your memory, I gave you a scenario at the beginning of this blog post.

You have to create a deck for your boss on B2B content marketing, but your boss has given you little guidance. In order to come up with an idea for the presentation, what do you do?

A) You start brewing a pot of coffee because you’re going to be up all night.B) You pace around your cubicle like a lion in a cage. Then, you pace some more. Then, you pace some more.C) You catch the end of happy hour at the corner pub. Then, you draft the presentation, and tomorrow, you wake up refreshed so that you can edit the deck.D) Quit your job.

When you’re first trying to come up with the topic for the presentation, drinking (B) and walking (C) might be better ideas – unless you want to have your “eureka moment” at 3 a.m. when you’re on the brink of curling up under your desk.

As for option D, that’s a different topic for another day. Mashable wrote a post on that subject: 8 Signs It’s Time to Leave Your Job.

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3 Ridiculously Important Writing Tips That Ann Handley Forgot to Tell You

“Writing a book is like birthing a Volkswagen,” quips Ann Handley in the first pages of Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content.

Small disclaimer: Unlike Ann Handley or Cliff Huxtable on The Cosby Show, I’ve never been pregnant. But I have written a book. And if there’s one thing I know about book writing, it is this: You can never include everything in your tome – not even if it is the size of Volkswagen camper.

That is to say, no book is exhaustive. There’s always something more you could have said. So, with no further ado, here are a couple ridiculously important writing tips that Ann Handley forgot to tell you.

Tip 1: Make explicit the implicit

Take nothing for granted in your writing. List your assumptions for your readers. Define your terms, especially problematic ones.

What do I mean by this? Let’s use an example from Everybody Writes. Throughout the book, Ann applauds TheEconomist‘s style guide. She particularly likes the opening three sentences:

Coming from academia, which is a desert of mirages and dry prose, I can appreciate the second and third sentences. Difficult thoughts do not require difficult writing. Rather, confusing sentences often mask confused thinking.

That’s the lesson that Ann wants us to pull from those sentences. But take a closer look at the first sentence again. Something is missing. Can you see it?

Readily understandable–by whom? The editors never explicitly state who their readership is. They simply assume that we should know who their ideal audience is.

But therein lies the problem. What is readily understandable by a graduate student in English is not necessarily understandable by a graduate student in Economics. Furthermore, what is readily understandable by a graduate student in Economics is not necessarily understandable by a high school student of Economics.

Whom should The Economist‘s writers have in mind as they craft their articles? We do not know because The Economist‘s writers did not make explicit their implicit assumptions.

Bottom line: Polish your sentences until your assumptions are crystal clear.

Tip 2: Edit from the back to the front

Or at the very least, give some extra attention to the last three-quarters of your text.

This is particularly important for the procrastinators. In her book, Ann confesses that she’d opt to binge-watch the first three seasons of Sandal rather than sitting down at her desk to write. I, too, am the same way. (But my poison is Murder, She Wrote, and a whopping 11 more seasons await me.)

Maybe you can relate. I spend roughly 83% of my time writing the first half of the piece. By the time I reach the conclusion, I’m tired of writing. So, I say to myself, “Meh, it’s good enough. Besides, does anyone read conclusions nowadays?”

The end result is a Frankenconclusion, a monstrously ugly appendage that does not match the tone or style or depth of the first parts or your piece. Frankenconclusions happen to the best of us – even Ann Handley.

(Sorry, Ann, I love the book–really, I do–but the sixth part of Everybody Writes reads like something your editor made you tack on. You sound uninterested during your discussion of tools, and it lacks the passion of the rest of the book.)

Here are the two techniques that I’ve developed to avoid Frankenconclusions:

1. When editing, start at the end–not the beginning. When I’m copyediting (i.e. checking for grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc.), I start with the last sentence and work my way forward. That way, the text feels unfamiliar to me, and I see mistakes that I might otherwise miss.

Plus, by starting at the end, I make sure that I give the conclusion some extra attention.

2. Edit in 20-minute chunks. I lie to myself all the time when I’m writing. I tell myself that creating a draft is the hard part. Editing, on the other hand, will be much easier, and it won’t take as long.

I’m a fool.

The truth is editing is hard work, and if I try to edit an entire piece in one fell swoop, the quality of my editing dwindles.

It turns out that I’m better at short sprints rather than traversing Iditarod distances.

Tip 3: Read voraciously and read critically

In OnWriting,Stephen King says, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

When Stephen King uses the word “read,” he does not mean skim. He does not mean peruse the section headers of a blog post. He does not mean glance at an infographic, looking for stats that you can use in your next white paper.

Stephen really means read. He means looking at the words on the page–all of them–and thinking critically about what you read.

To make sure that you are processing what you read, use the following questions:

1. Do I like this piece? Why or why not? Start broadly, and then try to pinpoint the source of your emotions. Is the study poorly conducted? Does the writer misspell every other word? Sometimes, it is easier to identify your preferences by looking at someone else’s work–not your own.

2. How does the writer structure the piece? Do I want to try a similar structure in my writing? By studying the structure of an article, you can figure out what works and what doesn’t work. For instance, why do you scroll all the way to the bottom of silly Buzzfeed articles? Is it the image + text combination?

3. What do I think about the stylistics of the piece? Is there an interesting turn of phrase that you might want to borrow or adapt? (For instance, Frankenconclusion is a riff on Ann Handley’s Frankenwords.) Does the author vary sentence length? Is the author good at cultivating analogies?

Jot down your notes somewhere so that you don’t have to look for the article and try to remember why you liked it.

My Frankenconclusion

You should read Ann Handley’s book. It’s helpful. It’s funny. You can buy it here. You’ll be smarter for buying it, and you’ll be even smarter for reading it.

What writing tips would you like to add to Everybody Writes? Leave a comment in the comments section below!

See! That’s what happens when you don’t leave enough time for editing the conclusion! 🙂

-Mark

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3 Reasons Why I Tell My Clients to Implement an Employee Advocacy Program

Our clients are busy and often get tired of all the noise around digital marketing. As the founder of Elder Tree, I admit that there are times I get sick of telling customers about the latest and greatest tool or solution. Throughout the years, I have found success with an “implement first” philosophy. For both my original ideas and those found on the Internet, implementing first has proven to be a fun, challenging way to re-charge curiosity and energy into our services.

With this policy, one of the biggest difficulties for me was mounting the digital unicorn of employee social sharing. As a slow learner, I was afraid of the concept and doubtful about what it could do. But with research repeatedly saying that very successful enterprises have been onboard for quite some time, I got ready to join the ranks. Maybe in the future, I’ll pen all the ins and outs of establishing this service. But for now, I want to focus on 3 reasons why I think employee advocacy is important.

Day-to-day, technological advances are changing the world we live in. And, just as individuals look for ways to benefit from these changes (spending a lunch break playing Pokémon Go perhaps), organizations need to determine how to adjust their strategies and objectives to leverage innovations.

But it’s not always a simple task.

Outreach Through Employee Advocacy

In today’s business landscape, where being social can make or break a bottom line, organizations should turn to their greatest resource – their employees. After all, great companies are great because of great employees. So it makes sense that a great social brand is such because of its social employees.

Thanks to social media, there has never been a better time to increase outreach and engage with new audiences. And, because of its intrinsic transparency and real-time nature, social media sets the foundation for brands to build trust and authenticity through its employees.

Since the employee advocacy process puts a real human face behind your content and messaging, your employees become brand ambassadors. By being social and sharing information on your organization’s behalf, your employees engage with and eventually recruit other people who love your brand.

Here are three reasons why I believe this system works.

1. Greater Exposure

Consider the social outreach of a medium-sized company with 150 employees. Let’s say the company itself owns and manages three social media pages – Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn – and together these pages have 8,000 followers. Company outreach is 8,000. Okay, not bad.

Now let’s inject some employee advocacy into the equation and see how those numbers add up.

Say we help a company select 15 social advocates. Each employee has about 500 combined followers on all of their social media accounts. Now you’re looking at a reach of 75,000 (vs. 8,000, sans employee advocacy).

Not only has outreach exploded, but the potential for greater coverage keeps growing. And well, aside from taxes owed or calories consumed, more is always better!

2. People Trust Your Employees More Than Your Brand

Nielsen conducted a study and found that 90% of social media users trust the connections they have with a brand’s employees more than with the brand itself. This isn’t surprising. Real connections are made between human beings, not between a human being and a cleverly-designed logo.

But not any human being will do. Of all the spokespeople you could choose to represent your company, none will be more trustworthy than your employees. If the very people who work for a company, advocate for that company, ears will start to open up.

Our employee consideration began with taking inventory of existing social media profiles. Do they have accounts? What is their activity like? And finally, the nutshell question: how does this help represent who we are?

In this forage, we discovered a lot more than outdated LinkedIn pages and Twitter shortages. For us, re-discovering the identities of our cohorts was the most important element of the entire employee advocacy process. In this true team-building fashion, we assembled a framework of execution with fresh perspective.

By collaborating on the best ways to authentically represent our brand, we learned to not fear conversation initiation and user engagement. Because come on, who doesn’t appreciate a sincere shout out?

The end logic is simple. Brand messages delivered through employees, for employees, have a much better chance of landing an impact.

3. Direct Contact with Buyers

The golden rule of social media is: use social to engage audiences, not to directly sell. Even though it’s true that the point of all that engagement is to eventually sell them, we still have to be real and personable in the process.

It took a while for me to recognize the potential of buyer contact from social media usage. The key leading me forward was the concept of professional vulnerability and how it could serve as a major tool to reach more people.

On social, professional vulnerability is completely different than personal vulnerability. In contrast with sharing a vacation photo or checking into a four-star restaurant, professional accounts hone in on expertise as content. Sharing this professional knowledge takes patience, but is heavy with prospective reward.

By lending creative expertise on social, our agency is building a platform for others to notice our skills and learn from them at the same time. Through active content promotion conscious of client needs, our expertise is growing in visibility as we continue to foster dialogues and connections.

In the past, consumers never really had direct access to a brand’s sales team. But now with employee advocacy, your sales team can share important information about your products and services, while being direct sales and marketing channels. This way, your sales reps are positioned as authority figures at an open window to greet followers with consistency.

Each social network acts as a revolving door for asking questions, learning information, and boosting overall visibility. Ultimately, this all leads to more possible buying decisions down the road.

The Need for Employee Support

Empowering employees to become brand ambassadors and industry thought leaders comes with a certain amount of risk. Relating to and engaging with audiences to amplify brand image is a good thing. But what’s not good is employees sharing content that isn’t even close to being relevant. What’s even worse is employees sharing political memes or funny cat videos.

The benefits of employee advocacy definitely outweigh the risks, though it would behoove organizations to take steps that eliminate these risks in the first place. When implementing an employee advocacy program, I’d consider these tips: • Create a culture and environment that employees will naturally want to post positive things about • Offer team-wide support, openly • Develop social media policies to guide employees who are not already familiar with the process • Offer training to present best practices for posting on social media • Use a content curation tool to collect the right content and push it to your employees’ social media accounts (a.k.a. reducing the risk of those cat videos going live)

We are living in the new age of social selling, where trust and authenticity are more important than ever before. That’s because after all, it’s trust and authenticity that influence passionate responses and word-of-mouth marketing.

Big brands have long been running the marketing race, already earning the trust of countless consumers. Meanwhile, smaller brands need to work much harder for that trust. By leveraging employees and empowering them to make social connections, you’ll have a smart strategy for accelerating to that industry leader pace. In offering valuable and resourceful solutions reflected in employee advocacy, your bigwig competitors are going to be watching their backs.

About the author: Michael Flanders is an accomplished entrepreneur and founder/CEO of the award-winning agency, Elder Tree.

3 Key Types of Metrics for Your Social Selling Program

You’re about to launch your social selling program. You want it to be successful. But there’s one problem: you don’t know how you will measure success.

When it comes to social selling programs, businesses can measure their progress in several ways. Below, you’ll find three types of metrics. Choose the metrics that make the most sense for your objectives, your role, and the maturity of your program.

Training Metrics

It’s easy to get ahead of ourselves when it comes to launching a program. We want to start as soon as possible, and we forget to take the time to build our foundation.

Training should be a key part of any social selling program. Unless you train your team, you will never meet your program objectives.

Here are several ways that you can measure training:

  • Average number of training hours
  • Average time to competence
  • Percentage of employees who are certified
  • Number of training sessions held for employees
  • Percentage of employees above competence
  • Percentage of employees below competence

Tactical Metrics

Another way to measure your social media efforts is through tactical metrics. To state the obvious, these measurements help you determine whether your tactics are working.

Are your salespeople’s posts engaging their followers? Are people clicking on their tweets? Are they retweeting your content?

Many of these metrics are useful for your curators – the people who have to write compelling messages for your sales team. These number will help your curators optimize your program going forward.

Here are different tactical metrics that you can use for the three major social networks.

LinkedIn

  • Number of posts per day
  • Number of followers
  • Number of comments, likes, and shares
  • Number of link clicks

Twitter

  • Number of posts per day
  • Number of followers
  • Number of @ mentions
  • Number of retweets
  • Number of lists each salesperson is listed in
  • Number of link clicks
  • Reach – How many people saw your post?

Facebook

  • Number of posts per day
  • Number of followers
  • Number of likes
  • Number of shares
  • Number of comments
  • Number of link clicks
  • Reach – How many people saw your post?

A few words of advice:

1. Number of posts: The number of posts per day will vary by network. On LinkedIn and Facebook, you want to post between once and twice each day. On Twitter, you can post between 10-12 times per day without annoying your followers.

2. Number of comments: Some people will comment on articles – just to comment on articles. Other people will comment only if they are prompted by a question or a specific call-to-action – something along the lines of, “Let me know what you think.” If you are seeking commentary, play around with different ways of soliciting remarks.

3. Number of link clicks: If you are trying to get people to read your content, there are many factors to consider: When you post, your article’s headline, whether you included a picture, whether you included a shortened link, where that link appeared in the post, the type of content, and the social network that your content appeared on.

Experiment with different factors and figure out what works best for your audience.

Sales Funnel Metrics

With sales funnel metrics, you’re trying to see how your program influences your sales funnel. For example, are you generating new leads? More pipeline?

Sales funnel metrics are focused on money. These are the types of results that executives care about. But funnel metrics should not be the only numbers you analyze. Without strong tactics, you’ll never be able to influence your sales funnel.

Here’s a short list of some of the sales funnel metrics you can analyze:

  • Number of new leads generated from social media/your social selling team
  • Number of social media touches with leads, pipeline, and customers
  • $ of pipeline generated from social selling activities
  • $ of revenue generated from social selling activities
  • The average contract value of your deals generated from social selling
  • Sales cycle – The average amount of time that it takes for your social selling team to close a deal

A few words of advice:

1. Social sellers vs. non-social sellers: If you have a large sales team, you may want to run a pilot before you roll out a social selling program to the entire sales organization. Compare the sales funnel metrics for the salespeople who are using social media to those who are not. See, for example, if your social media team has a shorter sales cycle than your traditional team.

2. Be realistic: There isn’t a magic silver bullet in the sales world. If your current sales cycle is 6 months, don’t expect to suddenly close deals in one week – simply because you launched a new program.

3. Be patient: It’s going to take your team some time to adjust to their new sales mentality. Being helpful and building relationships take time. It’s much easier to deliver cold pitches and hope for the best. But in the end, your patience and hard work will pay off, and you will generate more revenue.

Final Words on Metrics…

We looked at one small facet of a social selling program: metrics. What you measure will depend on:

  1. Your role
  2. Your program’s maturity

HR teams will care about training metrics. Curators and social media managers will be concerned with tactical metrics. And your executive sponsor will be interested in sales funnel metrics.

In addition, the maturity of your program will be an important factor. How long has your program been running?

New social selling teams with long sales cycles may not see revenue growth for a few months. So, looking at revenue may not be the wisest move straight away. Instead, you may want to look at pipeline growth first, or you may want to focus on standardizing tactics across your team.

Bear in mind that, while metrics are an extremely important component of any social selling program, it’s not the only component. All sales programs involve many moving parts. To keep track of them all, we created a workbook. It outlines all the components you need for a successful launch.

3 Ideas for Training Novice Employee Advocates and Social Sellers

Using social media for professional purposes is not innate. It’s a skill that many of us have to learn. Before you launch your social selling and employee advocacy programs, offer your participants some training hours.

It might seem like a hassle, but training will only improve your program. In fact, sales reps who are trained are more likely to stick with their program. And where there is adoption, there are also results.

Here are three ideas that you can use to train your team. These activities are meant to be done in a group setting – either virtually or in person. Adjust them according to your needs.

ACTIVITY 1: TWITTER PROFILE MAKEOVERS

Objective

Employees will be able to:

  • Identify the key components of a Twitter profile.
  • Leverage those key components to promote their professional brand and their affiliation with their company.

The Activity

Show your employees the following Twitter profile (or a similar one):

Have your team list everything that is wrong with this Twitter profile. Sometimes, it’s better to critique a fictional account before employees tackle their own accounts or critique their colleagues’ accounts.

What to Look for

Make sure your employees critique the following items:

  • Twitter username
  • Profile picture
  • Biography
  • Cover photo
  • Tweets

Follow-up

Now that your team has identified the problems, it is time to fix them. Ask your team members to do the following items:

  1. Suggest a new Twitter username.
  2. Find a good profile picture.
  3. Write a bio for the “Muffin Man” who works at your company.
  4. Give ideas for what would be a good cover photo.
  5. Write the Muffin Man’s first tweets.

If you need some help, check out our beginner’s guide to Twitter.

Application

Your team members have found the missteps in a fictional account, and they have built a fictional online presence. Now, it’s time for your advocates and sales reps to create their own accounts.

Give your advocates some time to write their profiles (or adjust their current ones). Then, split the employees into groups, and have other employees provide constructive feedback on their profiles.

ACTIVITY 2: TO FEED THE INTERNET TROLLS?

Objective

Employees will be able to:

  • Apply your company’s social media policy to real-life situations.
  • Develop skills needed to respond to disgruntled customers.

The Activity

Your employee advocates and social selling team are rummaging through LinkedIn groups. They come across the following comment in a thread:

Ask your employees how they would respond to the message.

What to Look for

This is your opportunity to standardize best practices across the company. Have answers to the following questions:

  • What does your social media policy say about these situations?
  • Does your company have a designated resource who should handle these problems? Are your employees aware of that resource?
  • Does your company want its employee advocates and sales reps to engage with these people? If so, how quickly should they respond to such complaints?
  • Do your employees understand when they should stop engaging with unhappy customers?

Follow-up

Split your employees into two groups: company representatives and belligerent customers.

Have your company representatives compose a response to the critical LinkedIn post. Then, have your belligerent customers respond. Continue the back-and-forth.

If you do want your employees to respond to upset customers, use the back-and-forth to show when they should withdraw from such conversations. Additionally, use this opportunity to create sample stock responses that your team can use when they are dealing with upset social media users.

If you do not want your employees to respond in such situations, use this scenario to show why they should not respond. Emphasize the fact that situations with upset buyers can quickly escalate.

ACTIVITY 3: TWEETS ARE NOT LINKEDIN STATUS UPDATES

Objective

Employees will be able to:

  • Practice writing for a variety of audiences and social networks
  • Utilize content to engage their followers

The Activity

Give your employees an article, blog post, video, or infographic. Have them digest it. (You always want to read articles before posting them.)

Then, ask your employees to:

  • Compose a tweet to promote the piece of content.
  • Write a LinkedIn update to promote the piece of content.

Work in groups to workshop the Twitter and LinkedIn updates. What works? What didn’t work?

What to Look for

Check for the following items:

  • Images – Both Twitter and LinkedIn allow you to include images. Does the post include one?
  • Hashtags – LinkedIn doesn’t use hashtags, but Twitter does. Make sure that your employees aren’t hasthag happy. One to two will suffice.
  • @Mentions – You can tag people on both Twitter and LinkedIn. You might want to tag a prospect or a thought leader.
  • Optimal length – The optimal length of a tweet is between 120 and 130 characters (Source), while the optimal length of a LinkedIn status update is 25 words (Source).

Use this opportunity to remind your advocates and sales reps that Twitter and LinkedIn are different networks. They have their own idiosyncrasies. Twitter is a great place for abbreviations like ICYMI, but LinkedIn is not.

Your Training Ideas

What ideas have worked for you? Leave some of your training tips in the comments section below!

-Mark

Additional Resources

3 First Steps to Optimizing for Mobile

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If you aren’t thinking about mobile as part of your overall content strategy — you should be. It’s no easy task, but creating a comprehensive content strategy today has to include all important aspects of content creation and consumption, from blogging to social and definitely to mobile. You can probably guess where browsing and content consumption is heading based on your very own mobile habits. Typical online browsing may still be the norm at work, but when I get home and kick off my shoes, it’s my iPhone I reach for instead of my computer. Sure, it’s a smaller screen, but I can browse at a leisurely pace, multitask with Instagram or games, and pick it up and put it down whenever I want. It’s no wonder that mobile web browsing accounted for 30% of all web traffic in 2012 and is expected to account for 50% by this year.

So, if you’re not optimizing your website and your content for mobile, you could be losing out on a whole lot of traffic. In theory, that traffic could be even more valuable than the traditional traffic we’ve all been gunning for. Where do you want to reach your users most? At work during the day, where they are likely too busy to delve into a lengthy piece of content, or at home in their off-hours when they have the time to read and browse for enjoyment? That question doesn’t have a right answer, but if you’re hoping to increase your traffic overall, mobile is undoubtedly an important component to consider. While there are plenty of advanced ways to optimize and strategize for mobile, here are a few first steps to get you started.

1. Make your website mobile-friendly

If you want users to be visiting your site and spending time there from their smartphones or tablets, it absolutely needs to be optimized for mobile. There are two common ways of achieving this. The first is to build a version of your website for mobile — one that is simpler, probably includes less text, and is easy to view and navigate from a smartphone or tablet. If you choose this option, it’s also preferable to include a link to your full website, just in case the user wants to see your full-functioning page. The second option is to use a responsive design for you site, which basically means that the features and content on your site will naturally adjust to fit whatever size device the viewer is using, be that a phone, tablet, or full-size desktop.

2. Stay active on social

If you think that your social and mobile content strategies are two different things, think again. When your users, customers, or prospects are consuming content on their mobile devices, they are most likely using social networking apps to do so. You want your content to reach your followers wherever they are. Spoiler alert: they are all over social. If you can create, share, or curate content on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Instagram (just to name a few), you will be getting your content out there and showing up in the mobile apps where they spend their time. Your audience is spending a good chunk of their time in social networking apps on their smartphones and tablets. If you’re reaching them on social, you’re also reaching them on mobile.

3. Don’t forget about email

Email marketing may seem like old-news compared to social, video, and infographics, but it can still be crucially important. If you have a smartphone, ask yourself how many times a day you check your email with that device. We won’t judge you. If you are like 72% of email users, that number will be 6 or higher. So, kill two birds with one stone and create some killer email marketing campaigns. Not only will it serve you well for web traffic and conversions, but you’ll also be getting a leg up on reaching your audience on mobile. If a user checks their email over the course of a day on their computer, tablet, and smartphone, sending them an email campaign means that you’ll be reaching them on all three devices, at all different times of the day.

– Kelly

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