Content marketing is no longer a “nice to have” part of your marketing programs. 86% of marketers are using content marketing, and their content budgets are steadily increasing.
But here’s the catch: Having content is one thing. Marketing and distributing your content is another. If your content marketing is going to be effective, people actually need to see your articles, blog posts, white papers, infographics, etc. That is, you need to market your content marketing.
With more marketing data at their fingertips, modern marketers are being held accountable for their actions. To meet expectations, marketers need to build distribution structures that amplify their content.
While there isn’t a “best practice” or best paradigm, I’ve seen three common workflows. Your choice of organizational structure will depend largely on your business size and company culture.
I’ll break down those org charts below, but I’m curious to hear how you are structuring your content distribution. So, please share your structure in the comments section below.
In the centralized workflow, there is a main content library. A curator or a group of curators choose content and place it in the library. In addition, they write the accompanying messages for the content.
The content can include blog posts, e-books, infographics, analyst’s reports, third-party news stories – whatever the curators deem awesome and worthy of sharing.
The content is then passed to others for distribution. You might use the content for your brand’s social media channels, for your company’s website, or for your e-mail newsletters.
You might give content to your sales team so that they can nurture prospects. You might ask other employees to share the content with their social networks to amplify your reach.
Don’t know what employee advocacy is? Click here.
Once your brand and employees have shared the pre-approved content, your marketing team can gather insights from your analytics. Which pieces of content are resonating with your audience? On which marketing channels? Facebook? LinkedIn? E-mail? Your website?
Your curators, in turn, can take those insights and improve their curation. They can adjust their messages. For example, you might find that your audience clicks on posts with emoji and emoticons. Why not include more?
Likewise, your content marketing team can create and find more content that your audience will like. For example, if you discover that infographics resonate with your company’s Twitter following, why not share more infographics?
What are the advantages of the centralized model?
1. Brand Protection: In this model, the marketing department finds all the content and writes all the messages. In effect, the marketing department plays an active role in shaping the company’s brand identity online.
2. Compliance: This model is useful in industries with compliance standards. A company can train a few curators to spot legal issues, and on a regular basis, its legal team can audit the content library to ensure that the content and messaging are kosher.
3. Efficiency: With this paradigm, your employee advocates do not waste time searching for content or creating their own content. They can focus on their jobs, and when they choose to share something, they know exactly where to find it: in your content library.
The departmentalized paradigm is similar to the centralized model, in that a small group of curators maintain the content libraries and write sample messages. However, instead of having curators supply content across all departments (like they do in the centralized system), each department has its own curator (or group of curators).
In other words, marketing has its own curator. Sales has its own curator. IT has its own curator. Engineering has its own curator. And each department’s curator is responsible for culling together content that would be of interest to members of their respective departments.
Did your marketing team just write a blog post? Great! If you’re the IT curator, you need to think about why IT professionals would care about the latest post. Then, you can write a 140-character Tweet that would resonate with your advocates’ followers.
With this model, you have some things to think about. For example, should your department’s content library consist only of content that your marketing department has created?
If you’re the IT curator, you might want to find news about the latest industry trends. That way, your IT employees can stay current. Plus, they can share the latest trends with their followers, give their opinions on the trends, and position themselves as experts in their field.
What are the advantages of the democratic workflow?
1. Content specificity: This paradigm enables each department to supply content that is specific to its employees’ interests.
To stay on top of the latest IT trends, information technology professionals may need different content from what the sales team needs. And to be a thought leader in sales, your sales team may need different content from your IT department.
2. Approval: While this workflow allows for more content specificity, it is not a complete free-for-all. It still has some checks and balances in place. Each department’s curators can pre-approve content and shape the messages that their advocates share.
3. Efficiency: As we saw in the centralized paradigm, there’s a lot of efficiency in this paradigm. Your employees advocates do not waste time searching for content or creating their own content. They can focus on their jobs, and when they choose to share something, they know exactly where to find it: in your content library.
Another approach to distributing content is more democratic in nature. Each individual can create a personalized content library.
They may take your company’s branded content and put it into their libraries. They may also gather third-party content that resonates with their personal brands. Then, they write messages to accompany their content.
After sharing content, they can look at their metrics and determine what is working and what isn’t. For further analysis, these metrics can be passed along to the head of your employee advocacy program. Mr. or Ms Head, in turn, can look at those metrics and help employees improve their curatorial processes.
What are the advantages of the democratic workflow?
1. Autonomy: If your company values employee autonomy, this paradigm is for you. By turning every employee into a curator, you are saying, “We trust you 100%! Go for it!”
2. Authentic Personal Branding: Some companies are dedicated to helping their employees build a strong personal brand. In this model, you are teaching employees how to own their online professional identities – without a lot of hand-holding.
And since there are fewer pre-approved messages in this paradigm, one could argue that their personal brands could be perceived as being more authentic and truer to who they are.
These are three content distribution structures that I’ve seen work at companies of all sizes. But they aren’t the only options. What have you seen work well? Leave a comment below!
And if you need help with your content distribution workflow, you should check out Trapit!
Uh oh! The blog posts and e-books have told you only half the story about content curation.
Now, don’t get me wrong. The literature is not wrong, per se. As you have been instructed, you should share other people’s content in public locations: social media channels, e-mail newsletters, your website, or blog posts.
But most curation advice focuses solely on external benefits, and if that’s all you’re doing with content, you’re missing a gigunda opportunity. You can use curation to educate your own marketing team.
Here are three ways that you can use content curation internally to make your marketers wicked smart.
1. Competitive Intelligence
Imagine that you’re a product marketer for Apple. Your specific area of interest is the iPad, and you and your team need to keep tabs on one of your main competitors: the Amazon Kindle Fire. To do your job, you need to stay abreast of:
- Amazon’s major product releases
- General sentiment about the Amazon Kindle Fire
- How tech bloggers are comparing the iPad with the Amazon Kindle Fire
- And more!
With a content curation tool, you can easily comb the web for the latest information about the “Amazon Kindle Fire.”
Day in day out, your content curation software will look for information about the “Amazon Kindle Fire,” and it will automatically show you the latest results. Like these:
Daily or weekly, you can share the most pertinent stories with your team to educate them about what’s going on with your competitors.
In addition to being beneficial for your product marketer team, content curation can help your business development team. Who are your competitors saddling up with? What can you do in response?
In the example above, you can see that Amazon Kindle Fire and the Washington Post are buddying up. (This isn’t surprising, given that Jeff Bezos owns both Amazon and the Washington Post.) As a biz dev person, you need to know this information, and you need to know whether you should respond to it.
Oh, and don’t forget about your content marketing team! They can benefit from internal content curation, too. With a tool like Trapit, you can track your competitors’ content and make appropriate decisions. For instance, should you post your “8 Ways to Use Instagram for B2B Companies” the day after your competitor posts “9 Ways to Use Instagram for B2B Companies”?
Maybe. Maybe not. Regardless, your content marketing team needs that information to make a decision.
2. Continuing Education
I don’t mean to sound like Captain Obvious, but the marketing landscape is always changing. Yes, you will continue to make your nifty branding pyramids and your battle cards. But in the digital world, there are so many moving parts: social media, white papers, e-books, blogging, marketing automation, PPC advertisements, SEO, etc.
Most of these skills aren’t taught in universities, which means that your employees need to learn everything on their own. What if you could help them? Content curation platforms can help you create a library with the latest tips and tricks on all things related to marketing.
You set up the search terms. The platform finds the content for you and stores it in one location. Your team can sort through the blog posts, videos, infographics, and more. And your employees can choose their own adventure.
That’s what Gregory Roberts is doing with his team at Black Tie Creative.
3. Current Customers
Between finding leads, leads, leads, leads, leads, leads, leads, leads, leads, and more leads, it’s easy for marketers to forget about their current customers. But retaining current customers is extremely important. In fact, it can help boost your company’s bottom line.
A smart marketing team will not only look for new customers, but they will keep tabs on their existing customers, as well. And if your company wants to really stand out, you will go the extra mile to build that relationship.
Sure, you will do the typical check-ins. Are you using our product? Are you satisfied with the product?
But you can do so much more to personalize and humanize the experience. With a content curation tool, you can search the web for updates about your current customers, and when you find a piece of actionable content, you can reach out.
For example, if you read a blog post that you really like, you can send a complimentary tweet or e-mail. If your customer’s business exceeded its target revenue, you can send a congratulatory message.
A quick, non-salesy e-mail will make your business seem authentic and human.
There you have it!
Those are three different ways to use content curation internally. With their newfound knowledge, your marketers will be prepared to make better decisions and to continue to educate and delight your customers.
Have you been using content curation for business intelligence? If so, please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear more about your tactics.
Are you ready to get started with curation?
We have the perfect tool to help. Download your content curation workbook and get started today!
LinkedIn has become a go-to resource for many sales representatives. As a result, many companies are turning to LinkedIn Sales Navigator, a paid platform that helps sales reps find and engage the right people at the right companies. But often times, sales teams find that they could use some extra guidance on Sales Navigator best practices.
Don’t worry; we’ve got you covered. In this post, we’ll share our favorite tips for engaging your buyers through LinkedIn Sales Navigator. Let’s get started.
Option 1: InMails
When sales reps look at their list of leads in Sales Navigator, they’ll notice that they can either message their leads or send an InMail. InMails are private messages that you send to LinkedIn members who are not your first-degree connections (i.e. people to whom are you not connected on LinkedIn).
InMails are one of the perks of a Sales Navigator subscription. But many people use InMail in foolish ways, and as a result, they fail to reap the benefits. Here are some InMail best practices.
1. Use InMail as a Last Resort
Too often, sales reps jump to an InMail right away, when there are better ways of becoming acquainted with a prospect. For instance, reps might want to join the same LinkedIn group as someone, or ask for a referral from a mutual connection.
2. Don’t Blast Product Pitches
If sales reps decide that an InMail is the only way to contact a prospect, they should not open with a product pitch. Doing so would be just as effective as a cold call or a cold email.
Instead, reps should take the time to write a very personalized InMail that is focused on the prospect and not your product. Reps might consider sending a piece of content (not a product brochure) that will resonate with the prospect and add value.
Want more tips? Check out these four templates for LinkedIn connection requests.
Option 2: Comments
Once reps have taken the time to research their prospects, they can start building relationships and adding value for their buyers.
Sales Navigator’s way of creating value is through comments. When a lead posts a new piece of content, that content will appear in the sales rep’s home page, and the rep will receive an email notification. This is an opportunity for a sales rep to jump into a dialogue with the buyer.
But reps need to be strategic. Writing, “Great post!” doesn’t add much value – if any. Instead, they need to be more thoughtful. They might want to choose a quote that resonated with them, or maybe they can ask a follow-up question to get the prospect’s opinion.
Use the @ mention capability to tag a prospect in a comment. That way, you ensure the prospect will see it.
Option 3: Sharing Content
There’s one small problem with relying on comments to build relationships. Sales reps have to wait for a prospect or customer to post before they can engage. It’s a rather passive approach to building a relationship.
A more proactive alternative is to share content. In fact, reps routinely cite content as one of the best ways to add value for their prospects and customers. By consistently posting articles, reports, infographics, and videos, sales reps establish themselves as trusted resources and help their buyers understand how to solve their business problems.
Gartner has studied social selling in depth, and the firm’s analysts have noted, “Content curation is a great way to start or join conversations. Identifying relevant content, then sharing it when appropriate, provides real value for participants.”
There’s one small problem, though. How will your sellers find content to share? This is not easy to do on LinkedIn Sales Navigator. Check out our ebook on Sales Navigator to learn more tips and tricks.
Posted byMark Bajus
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.
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.
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:
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.
To follow Trapit on Instagram, click here.
“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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“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.
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! 🙂
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Volkswagen Image Credit: Nick Page on Flickr
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.