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Aug 2010

Does your business speak social media?

Posted in Business tactics, Content creation | 0 Comments

This week, Mark Thompson of Stay on Search was discussing content and the way in which it relates to social media and aggregate sites. “One of the best ways to know what type of content has the best chance of going viral is by being an active member in each community.” Personally, I think that most businesses using social media may not have the time or the budget to employ a social media guru to do all their writing, tweeting, digging and other social media verbs for them.

Viral content is an extremely effective way of pushing your company to the top of the online public awareness sphere. Though you may only be flavour of the month, if you churn out more new flavours than Walker’s Crisps during the World Cup, you’ll succeed in the long term. This is a credible strategy, but it begs the question – when you’re a business that deals in solutions, products and services that don’t appeal to the online or tech-geek community, how do you go viral?

The ideal method to leap this particular marketing hurdle towards the revenue finish-line is simple: make yourselves mysterious. Don’t put your product on a white backdrop, on the homepage of your website. Experiment. Use silhouettes, use YouTube camcorder videos, and place adverts on sites that most people wouldn’t imagine being there in the first place. The more you stand out, the more consumers will become curious about your attitude and therefore whatever you’re offering to them.

Don’t serve up information on a plate, but don’t withhold either. This sounds a little paradoxical, but what I mean is this: list specifications, list capabilities and results, but allow the information to trickle out through the community, then confirm via the press. Doing so means that once the geek community has absorbed and discussed your move on the industry chess board, you can either confirm it to the press, or change something the community deems undesirable and side-step a potential venture failure.

If you take a look at the trending topics, numbers and words on Digg, there’s a few obvious results. Words like “the” and “of” turn up frequently, but this is a given – don’t be disheartened by the obvious. Taking a closer look at the list, “movies”, “games”, and, rather poetically, “time”, pop up too. This raises another interesting question – to “top # [product/form of entertainment] of all time” articles fare better online than a press release from a huge corporation?

Largely, yes, because the internet is a social animal, more so than it was ten years ago, and this is furthered by the simple fact that you don’t talk shop at parties. People love discussing films, games, music and books, because it’s not related to the rat race. But they also discuss politics, the mortgage and their student loans, and this is a niche of viral content that still isn’t being exploited. “Top 5 ways to manage a heavy mortgage and a student loan simultaneously” is something that I’d read, and I’m not even in the home-owner market yet.

Why would I read it? I, like many an English graduate before me, have a student loan to pay off, and it appeals to me due to the fact in the title. The fact is the number 5. Thompson claims that the use of numbers is a fair more visually appealing method of communicating statistics to people than writing the number out. “Five” sounds formal, “5″ sounds quick and sharp, and that’s the two main aspects o viral bit of content – it spreads quickly, and it’s smart.

When you’re next launching that large insurance policy, look at how you’re marketing it, because Reader’s Digest, post-working-hours television and the odd mention on your own website won’t cut the mustard. To hit the consumer where they’ll respond (with their mind and, hopefully, their wallet), you need to craft your titles. Blog a little, and Digg those blogs. “Top 5 ways not to go broke”, and be proud of your company, but be subtle.

Also, think about using a by-line. “George has been the CEO at Insurance, ltd. for 10 years, and you can find the many ways he’s helping people through the recession [here].” Make people enjoy your content, enjoy you, and the work is done. One link by a non-company individual on Facebook, Digg, or Twitter, and you’re laughing, because you might just be the next big thing. David After Dentist should be a good enough example.

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Jun 2010

The Aggravations of Aggregate Sites

Posted in Blogging, Business tactics, Content creation, News, Online PR, Social Media | 5 Comments »

Have you ever submitted your well-written, thoroughly-researched article through to an aggregate site and watched it flounder as endless top-tens and ridiculous controversy soars to the top of people’s reading lists? I can identify with you if you’re one of the many suffering from what I’d like to call “aggregate aggravation syndrome.” It’s a tough disorder to crack, but with the right content and the right attitude to summarising and pitching your content to a global, news-hungry audience, this can all change easily enough.

Realistically, it’s just a case of making sure your article looks more interesting than all the others, and I’m sure we’d all love to think it was as simple as that. Unfortunately, it’s not. Your article remains a needle in a haystack, and it’s your job to make sure it reaches the eyes and ears of every single industry-related party and all the genre-disinterested browsers it can. It’s a tough gig but there are possibilities you may have overlooked, and of course, contraversial strategies you may be using that are, much to your shock, having the opposite effect.

Bigger than Elvis

So, say you’ve written a long, sprawling article on SEO, and it encompasses research, interviews, and a level of writing rarely seen since The Guardian was released that morning. You’re happy with the work, MS Word is letting it go without so much as a single squiggly red or green line, and you’re so into your own work that sharing it with the world seems like the only viable option. So where to go from here? Why, to an aggregate site, of course!

Let me explain this logic with a sobering fact. If you’re blogging, right now, on a account, there are over 300’000 new posts today alone. That’s somewhere in the region of thirty new books full of articles, and you know at least one of them is likely to be similar to yours over the course of the week. Three hundred thousand. Let that sink in for a moment. What chance does yours have, even with tags and that awesome graph you made in Excel? Not many. In fact, one of my highest-traffic articles of all time on my personal blog was a random rant about a LEGO version of a Harry Potter videogame. A year or more later, and it’s ranked thousands of hits, and it was never submitted.

The point I’m making is that the internet is a seriously fickle thing. Take a look at the front page of Digg and tell me what you see. Today, for example, there are a range of articles, but most of them focus on three key elements of global-appeal news: danger, drama and pictures. If we drift into the technology section, as this is where you’re far more likely to turn up (or browse – all news bar the exclusive is, to some degree, regurgitation), then we begin to see a different pattern: humour, heated debate, and leaked intel on new tech. The reason the pattens change is because as news and articles become more specialist, more niche, readers are absorbing writing whose mindset, tone and texture more closely reflect their target audience.

I’d just like to say a few words

Every time you write a new article, think of how you’d pitch it as a freelance piece. I’m serious. I know no one wants to voluntarily pitch freelance pieces ever again if they can avoid it, as it’s something of a humiliating, degrading, grinding process that kills the soul and maims the ego. But it’s also a brilliant acid test – if you could pitch your article to me in ten words, using as much or as little jargon as possible, I can tell you whether or not it’ll work. Let’s take a look at a few high-ranking examples of more opinion-based pieces.

Now, to start with, I found an article that I think is relevant to anyone who works on websites that use Adobe’s wonder-project, Flash. The title is “Is Flash Dead? The Future of Adobe’s Plug-In.” Now, this is a fairly controversial thing to say, but what’s clever is the question mark placed after the opening statement itself. This is key – if you’re debating something about social media, and you had the choice between “Twitter is Pointless” and “Is Twitter Pointless?”, choose the second option. The reason for this is you’re posing as a neutral party, even if this isn’t the case. The decision as to whether or not to invest ten minutes reading an article of considerable depth and debate, and then responding in the comments thread, is often one made in the opening few moments of reading an article’s title and subtitle. By phrasing the controversial statement as a question, it invites debate without inviting wrath or apathy and zero click-throughs from offended parties who see you as a prejudiced commentator.

The second example I’d like to give as a great example of effective aggregate-site-management is “Fortune 100 Companies Leveraging Social Media (Infographic)“. Now, this may seem a tad deep and a little too serious, but this is currently the top Digg article on a search for “social media”. Social media’s a relaxed sport, at best, and not something you can cover without being a little relaxed. This is also a graph site, which suits that industry perfectly – anyone using FaceBook and Twitter is going to want new-age ways of communicating information, and nothing does this better than indicating to them that all they’re in for is a slick diagram rather than 1000 words of prosaic musing on the subject.

It also has stick figures.

Seriously, though, it’s a great way of dragging people in. Entertain them. Tempt them. Make them curious or make them mad, and let them click through to shower you with praise or hatred. One of the most irritating sites in the universe, in my games journalism days, was also one of the most successful, because it kept encouraging heated, angry debate between Sony loyalists and Microsoft fan-soldiers. With social media, why not talk about the advantages of Twitter over Facebook, or why Bebo’s a lost, pointless art? Tempt them in with your tag-line the same way you would if you were designing a film poster, and watch your Diggs soar.

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