The More Experiments You Run

Good things come to those who wait, and for experimentalists, it’s never too late to become original. After Frank Lloyd Wright received the contract for Fallingwater, his most celebrated architectural work, he procrastinated for nearly a year while making sporadic drawings before finally completing the design at age sixty-eight. Raymond Davis shared the Nobel Prize in physics for research that he started at fifty-one and finished at the tender age of eighty. The more experiments you run, the less constrained you become by your ideas from the past. You learn from what you discover in your audience, on the canvas, or in the data. Instead of getting mired in the tunnel vision of your imagination, by looking out into the world you improve the acuity of your peripheral vision.

– from “Originals” by Adam Grant

Rule #2: Answering and Insights

Here is Mark Schaefer’s second of the three rules for creating effective social media content, from his book “Known”:

 

Rule #2: Answering and Insights

 

A great way to begin your content journey is to start with an­swers and end with insights. Let’s unpack that idea.

If you’re in a niche without much competition, an easy way to begin creating content is to brainstorm every question you can dream of related to your sustainable interest, and then an­swer them through a blog, video, or podcast. This is an effec­tive way to dominate an uncontested niche and possibly attract search engine attention through “hygiene” content, which I ex­plain in the previous chapter.

Here’s a trick to get you going: Go to a website called An­swerThePublic.com. On this site, you enter keywords and it delivers questions people are typing into Google about that topic. Essentially, it’s a content idea generator!

Answering customer questions is a solid strategy for begin­ners, but it’s not ideal in every situation, especially in a more crowded content niche. In that situation, you need to focus on insights instead of just answers.

For example, I often write on the topic of marketing strat­egy. I consulted with AnswerThePublic.com and found that a popular topic for me would be “Why Social Media is Impor­tant.” I Googled this phrase and got 255 million results. That’s an incredibly saturated topic. If I were to write a blog post to answer that question, I would only be contributing to the noise!

For me to become known in that information-dense envi­ronment, I’d have to do something bold, like offer “hub” con­tent – case studies, opinion pieces, research insights, and strat­egies you won’t find anywhere else.

An advantage of hub content is that it’s more likely to keep readers (or viewers) on your site. With hygiene content, after people get an answer to their question, they leave your site and go back to their lives. Hub content is more likely to attract readers who will stay and look around to learn more. Here are three individuals becoming known by pushing be­yond the ordinary question/answer format:

  • Mimi Thorisson became a celebrity in the highly com­petitive world of food blogging by combining astonish­ing photography, art, and recipes in a blog called Man­ger (French for “to eat”). Her consistent and beautiful work has led to a television show, book, and speaking appearances.
  • On the site IQuantNY, statistician Ben Wellington tells stories of what public data means to citizens of New York. His blog provides fascinating revelations about the city’s budget, sewage, parks, and nightlife, among other topics. The popular blog has helped propel his career as an edu­cator and analyst.
  • Momastery is a mommy blog about “unleashing the sis­ter warrior.” Blogger Glennon Doyle Melton brings her extraordinary heart, humor, and bravery to her storytell­ing, which she has leveraged into best-selling books and a successful speaking career.

Answering questions is a great place to start, but consider adding bolder and more insightful types of content over time to grow your actionable audience.

 

 

Rule #1: Add Your Own Story

– from “Known” by Mark Schaefer

 

There are three fundamental rules of creating effective social media content that I feel are “can’t miss” prin­ciples. No matter what type of rich content you choose, keep these three rules in mind. Here is rule $1:

Rule #1: Add your own story

The world doesn’t need another post entitled “Common Twit­ter mistakes.” However, I would read posts with headlines that offer something original, like:

  • “Five things I want to destroy on Twitter”
  • “The five strangest tweets I’ve ever seen”
  • “How Twitter saved my marriage”
  • “The 20 stupidest things you can do on Twitter”

That last one? I actually wrote that post. It was my first “vi­ral” blog post because it was retweeted by Pee-wee Herman, who has 3 million Twitter followers. When he shared it with his audience, it drove so much traffic to my website that it shut down my server. My business temporarily melted from the Pee-wee Heat.

To stand out, you need to be original, and to be original, you must possess the courage to add your own narrative to the mix. There’s only one you. You have no competition. Never publish content that can be created by someone else.

The ultimate goal of your content is to build an emotion­al connection between you and your audience. Truly human content leads to awareness, awareness leads to trust, and trust leads to loyalty.

What are some characteristics of human content?

  • Vulnerable
  • Personal
  • Bold
  • Unguarded
  • Generous
  • Confident

 

A common issue is deciding how much “humanity” is best for your personal brand. Demonstrating honesty and openness doesn’t mean spilling your guts. To me, human content builds em­pathy and connection by offering a glimpse of your personality.

Here’s an example: A blogger from Sweden posted a photo of his office setup. He said, “Today, I thought I would show you where I work.” This unpretentious piece of content was simple, but it created intimacy by revealing something personal.

On the other end of the scale, there are many who have be­come known by sharing their lives in the open, like Jenni Pro­kopy. While working in the construction industry, Jenni start­ed a passion project on the side, a blog called “ChronicBabe” to help other women who live with chronic illness.

At the age of 25, Jenni was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Soon after came diagnoses of asthma, anxiety, GERD, thyroid disease, and more. She struggled for years, taking test after test and trying an assortment of medications, diets and health pro­grams in an effort to control her symptoms.

Through ChronicBabe, Jenni reveals the travails of her daily life to teach other young women how to live with confidence, have a successful career, and nurture lifelong relationships.

Her personal brand has now become her full-time business. She’s known for her transparency and acceptance of imperfec­tion but has struggled at times to find a personal/public bal­ance, especially when she was going through a divorce. Was she revealing too much, or would she become irrelevant if she portrayed a picture of herself that was too curated? Ultimately, she discovered that when she had the courage to be vulnerable, her audience respected her and trusted her even more.

There is undeniable power in being present through your content. Your personal lessons can instruct and inspire. But you don’t need to feel guilty or phony because you don’t share everything. We all edit our public images to some extent, and that’s OK. You have a personal brand, but you’re not a brand like a Snickers bar ready to be plucked from a shelf. They aren’t the same thing.

I’m a private person, and I have to push myself to disclose aspects of my life in public. And yet, each time I open up a little, I’m greatly rewarded by reader feedback. I’ve become more open because my audience wants me to be. Rock star Pete Townshend once said, “I would have enjoyed keeping my private pain out of my work. But I was changed by my audi­ence who said your private pain, which you have unwittingly shown us in your songs, is also ours.”

You see, we create content. But content also creates us.

I use transparency in my writing to reinforce that we’re all equal in our human condition. We all suffer and stumble through life at times. I also reveal details of my life as indica­tors of my values. I think it’s fair for my audience to know what I stand for. Setting a boundary allows me to create human con­tent in a way that feels honest and comfortable.

Whatever decision you make, maintaining your personal brand shouldn’t feel like identity labor or like you’re putting on an act. Choose what to share, but don’t be a fake. In the process of becoming known, you get to decide what is part of your professional persona and what isn’t. You don’t have to follow someone else’s path or the expectations social media tends to set for us. And your audience – the right one, anyway – won’t judge you for your choices. They’ll cheer you all the way.

Finding Your “Place” as a Writer

Many people talk about finding your “voice” as a writer, and this is very important.  But what about finding your “place”? Think of this as your identity.

Marketing guru Mark Schaefer, in his book “Known: The Handbook for Building and Unleashing Your Personal Brand in the Digital Age”, describes your place as “a sustainable interest and something you want to be known for”.  He recommends that it:

    • Be aligned with your strengths
    • Provide purpose by benefitting others
    • Offer a distinctive topic
    • Is inexhaustibly fascinating to you

Here are 3 tools Mark recommends for you to help find your “place”:

  1. Finish the statement “Only I…” – what is it that only you can uniquely offer?
  2. Take the Gallup company’s Strength Finder Test
  3. Write your first 35 blog article headlines – kind of a test to see how broad and deep your expertise in the area is, and how much you are able to “stick with it”

Another approach comes from Jonathan Merritt*. He suggests picking 3 adjectives that describe who you are.  Jonathan writes at the intersection of faith and culture, and his 3 adjectives for himself are proactive, thoughtful, and brave.

How would you describe yourself? What is your “place”?

 

 

* From “How to Become a Power Blogger” – Princeton Seminary presentation, June 2016

How Important Is Your Platform?

– by Jana Burson

We are often asked: how important is my platform as an author?

The quick answer is that your platform is just as important as the quality of your content and concept, especially in the crowded world of book publishing today.

Most publishing houses take a three-pronged approach when reviewing proposals:

  1. strong and fresh concept
  2. stellar content and writing
  3. platform

If one of these three are weak or missing, it’s not likely that the proposal is going to make it through the process.

There was a time, even a decade ago, when an author’s platform didn’t carry as much weight as the quality of their concept and writing. This was before the power of social media, the change in the way people get news, and the rise of online shopping. Now publishing houses need to know there’s a proven way to reach the core buyer for an author’s message.

WHAT ARE WE TALKING ABOUT WHEN WE USE THE TERM PLATFORM?

Platform refers to your level of visibility or influence, expertise or authority on the subject matter, proof of engagement and your target audience. Editors and agents alike are looking for answers to these questions when reviewing the platform section of your proposal.

So often I hear writers say they are overwhelmed when it comes to their platform because they aren’t marketers by nature. The truth is, you don’t have to have a degree in marketing to put in the time and consistent effort to build and enhance your platform. You simply have to be true to your message and consistent in providing quality content for your followers/readers.

A WRITER SHOULD PUT AS MUCH CREATIVE EFFORT INTO DEVELOPING THEIR PLATFORM AS THEY DO IN THEIR WRITING, BECAUSE IT’S A NATURAL EXTENSION OF THEIR OVERALL MESSAGE.

Platform building is not the same for everyone and it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process that involves long-term strategic work and planning … much like writing!

The question is: are you willing to engage the process?

 

Can You Overwhelm Them with Content?

In his best-selling book “The Content Code” marketing guru Mark Schaefer points out:

Without the Content Code, the only sustainable content strategy has been to find an unsaturated niche and overwhelm the web with so much quality content that search engines discover only you. Effectively, you’re creating Content Shock by crowding out your competitors. The strategy is this simple:

  1. Find an unsaturated niche.
  2. Consistently produce a volume of quality, helpful material aimed at a relevant audience (or persona).
  3. Never stop producing content.

However, Mark continues by describing that in our age of information overload, finding an unsaturated niche has become harder, and will continue to get tougher.

 

When Your Calling and the Market Collide – by John Backman

I am writing a book on self-denial.

Go ahead, laugh it up. I do. In Brian’s recent interview, Susan Salley of Abingdon Press asked us to consider why someone would pick up our book. Can you imagine someone picking up a book with self-denial in the title? Me neither.

And yet, in the depths of my deepest self, there’s a decided push to see the project through. The push has all the earmarks of—to use an unfashionable word—a calling.

This dilemma, I suspect, comes with the territory of spiritual writing. There’s what the market wants: what will sell, what readers will read, what will grow our platforms and our careers. And then there’s what God (the Universe, the One, Ultimate Reality, etc.) is asking us to do. Unless we meet the market, our writing goes nowhere; unless we follow the divine nudge, we go nowhere.

Can you do both? What happens when you can’t?

The obvious solution is to find the place where your calling and your market meet. That’s good advice on many fronts, and there are usually several ways to connect the two. Maybe, for instance, you recast your language for broader appeal without sacrificing the integrity of your message. Maybe you hone your definition of market.

With the self-denial book, I’ve had to do both. Since the title couldn’t include self-denial, I’m using the term giving your life away, which is actually more precise and maybe a shade more palatable. As to market, most readers will turn off at any whiff of self-denial, but you know who may not? Catholics. Self-denial, especially in service to others, is part of the Catholic tradition.

But this isn’t just about one book. The tension between calling and market can extend to every corner of our spiritual writing. Consider:

  • What if your calling lands you in a tiny market segment, writing books that a few people find life-changing but many others ignore?
  • What if your spiritual practice calls you to model a slower, more reflective way of life even as the blogosphere demands you post weekly? (It’s why contemplatives make lousy bloggers—well, this contemplative anyway.)
  • If your writing touches on current events, how do you fill your blog with deep spiritual insight into the news of the day when that insight can take weeks to develop?
  • What happens when your heart prompts you to write about wildly divergent topics, yet a clearer focus to your writing would strengthen your brand?
  • What if you must speak some hard truths into the world even though half your readership won’t appreciate it?

Here too there are workarounds. In terms of social media frequency, for instance, Brian has mentioned building an inventory of tweets and blog posts to maintain a regular publishing schedule. But sometimes the workarounds don’t quite work, and we are left with the tension.

The bright spot, perhaps, is that we spiritual folks are good at living in tension. We know that sometimes tension spawns insights we never would have expected. Those insights can eventually make our writing—and our lives—richer.

So maybe we use the workarounds, but don’t default to them too fast. Maybe we live with the tension until the tension yields something. What about you? Have you experienced the tension? How do you live with it, or into it?

 

 

About the Author

A spiritual director, contributor to Huffington Post Religion, and associate of an Episcopal monastery, John Backman writes and speaks about contemplative spirituality and its surprising relevance for today’s deepest issues. He authored Why Can’t We Talk? Christian Wisdom on Dialogue as a Habit of the Heart (SkyLight Paths) and his articles have appeared in numerous faith-based publications. He has presented at a range of conferences, including the Parliament of the World’s Religions.

 

Understanding Why People Share Content

Understanding why people choose to share content sheds light on how you can adjust your strategy and carve out a competitive edge by embedding shareability into everything you create. Think about content you recently shared. Why did you do it? Do any of these reasons ring true?

  • It made you look cooler, smarter, funnier, or more relevant—providing you with a personal psychological benefit.
  • The content struck some strong emotional chord. It made you laugh, cry, or otherwise feel something so profound it deserved to be shared with others.
  • It’s practical or timely. Sharing the content will help and inform your friends.
  • You found a new idea and can’t wait to be the first to share it.
  • You feel deeply connected to the author and you want to support them.
  • It represents an achievement. Maybe you or your company were mentioned in the content and it makes you feel good to show this representation of your status.

– from “The Content Code” by Mark Schaefer

Winning in the Face of Information Overload

– from “The Content Code” by Mark Schaefer

 

Let’s take a look at how a content ignition strategy can work in even the most desperate marketing situations. I was asked to provide a marketing strategy for a client in an extraordinarily difficult situation. The well-known global brand was entering a new market with high content saturation dominated by three established competitors. In terms of content marketing, one leading competitor had dominated every platform, every subject, and every content style to the point where trying to compete seemed hopeless.

The client called me in to do content marketing triage, and after a few months of intense research and deliberation, I presented three tactics to provide this company some room to maneuver.

  1. Focus on sub-categories.

The competitor had overlooked new demographic subsets who were coming into the market and eager to use their products. When I did research on these segments, I found a wide open opportunity. The competitor had no content targeted to these personas. We set about dominating the under-served channels with amazing new content served up especially for them.

  1. Explore different types of content.

YouTube first floated the idea that different types of content, when combined together in an ideal mix, are extremely successful in building an engaged audience for the long-term. The three types of content are:

  • Hygiene content: This is the content that serves the daily health of your audience. This content makes them aware of your brand and helps them connect to you when they need you most. This is the specific, short-form content that is most likely to turn up in organic search results. An example of hygiene content is a series of how-to videos from a do-it-yourself store like Home Depot.
  • Hub content: While hygiene content might get somebody to your site, hub content is intended to keep them there. This could be a series of articles about a more in-depth topic, or perhaps a serialized story, that makes people want to go down the rabbit hole and stay on your site. This could also be “evergreen” content that people seem to love and read month after month. An example of hub content is the addictive and thrilling adventure videos produced by Adidas Outdoor featuring daredevil athletes using their gear. Hub content lifts subscriptions to your content, spurs engagement, builds brand interest, and may even lead to brand loyalty.
  • Hero content: Hero content is something brilliant, dramatic, and bold that transcends the normal day-today Internet offerings. This is the content that creates viral buzz. A famous example is the epic videos Nike created to celebrate the World Cup. The most recent one, “Winner Stays,” playfully captures the schoolyard fantasy of young soccer players who morph into their favorite global stars. This type of content is difficult to produce. Nike was intentional in spending millions to create this hero content with the goal of creating massive brand awareness and dominating the conversation around the world’s biggest sporting event. The video received 100 million views.

It’s important to understand that each type of content plays a role in the overall brand-building plan. One way to carve a place for yourself is to create content in a category your competitors might be missing. In the specific case of my client battling three big competitors, we learned that there was an opening in the hygiene content category that would allow us to capture a niche that leads to search engine traffic.

  1. Focus on social transmission.

Here’s the mistake most companies make: They check the box on content and then forget about ignition. Content isn’t effective if it doesn’t move. People have to see it, engage with it, share it—or you’re wasting your money. By putting the emphasis on exposing your content instead of simply producing more, more, more, you create a powerful new marketing competency in the information era.

 

– from “The Content Code” by Mark Schaefer

How to Advertise on Facebook

In an earlier article I described the 5 Most Important Requirements for Building Your Facebook Following. (great content, consistency, format types, advertising, and engagement) This article goes into greater depth on Facebook Advertising.  As with most of my recommendations, this is based on my experience helping several Christian authors build their platforms. But also please remember, these recommendations are generic, and each situation may differ.

 

First the bad news: if you do not spend money advertising on Facebook, or already have a very active and attentive fan base, few of your fans will see your posts.

 

The good news:

    • Powerful, granular targeting of prospective fans is easy to achieve
    • The results of your spending are immediately measurable
    • You can choose to spend a little or a lot

 

Ignore it at your peril!

 

As with anything in marketing, the first order of business is to determine what your objectives are.  In this case, here are some potential examples:

    • Build your platform by increasing your Facebook Likes
    • Build your platform by collecting email addresses
    • Increase book sales
    • Promote an event
    • Etc.

 

Once you know your objective, you can plan your advertising campaign.  For instance, if you are most interested in engaging with your existing fans (to get them interested in your new book, for example), you might be better off with boosting Facebook posts.  However, if you are most interested in growing your fan base, then ongoing Facebook ads are a better choice.

 

As you might expect from my earlier article on content format types, I would recommend memes as your primary content type for advertising, because for most people they are the most sharable format type.  Your advertising dollars are thus more efficiently spent!

 

Once you get into setting up your ad (whether a boost or an ongoing ad) you have the opportunity to target your audience based on age, gender, geography, and interest.  Go after the audience you expect is most likely to meet your objective!

 

Get in touch!