Once upon a time, my friend and I had a digital ad agency as a client. Although quite competent, the company wasn’t doing anything particularly worthy of publicity, so we decided that the most effective way to generate earned media coverage was to devise a newsworthy research study that would showcase their strengths. It’s an old-school tactic we used to call “research for ink.”
Because the company was heavily involved in designing email content for its clients, we created a survey to determine which factors were most likely to cause recipients to forward an email. This was long before social media, folks, and the only way that things went viral back then was when people forwarded email content to their friends and colleagues.
As it turned out, the study found that humor was, by far, the most likely attribute to cause a recipient to share content. And this lesson about the power and value of humor has stuck with me ever since, even though I once had a boss tell me that I needed to be less funny (I was tempted to ask her if there was some sort of professional development course she could send me to, in order to be less funny, but then I realized that was kind of funny as well).
The reason I shared that little story about the power and value of humor will become apparent shortly. But first, another tale. This one is about the time I crashed a LinkedIn discussion. It was one of those ridiculously self-serving LinkedIn discussions that people in my profession tend to have, repeating the same, often obvious points as if they were sharing some truly ground-breaking insight.
This particular discussion was about social media, and specifically whether or not there were any brands that couldn’t benefit from social media engagement. Naturally, in a profession that provides brands with social media content for a fee, everyone made the case that every brand could and should benefit from social media engagement. And, of course, they were all quick to note how uniquely qualified they were to help brands achieve effective social media engagement.
Annoyed by this endless stream of experts who were offering up self-serving examples to counter imaginary dissenters, I decided to have a little fun. I pointed out that it was unlikely that stool softeners would receive many likes and shares on social media, as the product carried such a stigma that most people would not be willing to publicly connect themselves with it. And, in hindsight, perhaps I was also trying to make a point about how our profession is so engulfed in trying to sell our advice that we often don’t spend enough time thinking about the quality of that advice.
Anyway, as the mention of stool softeners often does, that seemed to suck the life out of the online discussion. A few people sheepishly conceded that I may indeed have found an exception. Of course, there are countless other examples of things that carry such a stigma, like hemorrhoid medications and Adam Sandler movies, but you get the picture. Some things, it seems, are better left unposted.
But I recently came across a video (below) for a company selling a DIY bidet. As you can see, they have opted to focus on the “back road” as their target application. And like a sudden gush of cold water on my tender undercarriage, I had a eureka moment, realizing that perhaps I was a little too hasty in dismissing stool softeners from the social media party.
I have since learned that Tushy, which is the name of the company that makes this apparently easy-to-install butt rinser, has made quite a splash with its marketing. In addition to excreting one of the funniest promotional videos I have ever seen, it also squeezed out this blog post, which explores the history of derriere dusting. Personally, I have always wondered about such things, much to the displeasure of my history teachers over the years. And now I’ll have an amusing anecdote to share the next time I am eating corn on the cob!
Considering the blog post and the company’s other efforts, this video appears to be part of a carefully crafted digital marketing strategy. Sure, it’s bathroom humor, but we’re talking about a bathroom appliance. It works.
And eventually all this crap got me rethinking my suggestion that some brands are not well-suited for social media engagement. What if a stool softener manufacturer was willing to embrace the humor of its product – taking off the hard edge, if you will? Then there might be some value in generating content and sharing it through the various channels. Perhaps a little animated video about Nick & The Bleedies, a band of aging musicians going through a rough patch on the road to play at some dump in Hershey, PA?
Again, it might be a bit much for some. But, as I noted in a recent post about working with designers, you need to consider the target audience. And remember that content may be king, but the joker is often the key to going viral.
That might work if you are maintaining a personal profile and your online behavior has little impact on your profession. But for most people, especially those of us who do this sort of thing for a living, it’s necessary to put some planning into what you post. And if you do have the responsibility of posting professionally, whether for your company or your clients, then you definitely need to create a content calendar as part of an overall digital communications plan.
Now I am not going to dive into a full-on digital marketing strategy in this piece. But having one is essential, and should be a part of any integrated communications plan. After all, just because a tactic is easy to execute doesn’t mean you shouldn’t first develop a plan with objectives and a strategy to ensure that it is meaningful and measurable. But, as I said, that’s a topic for another day. Instead, I am going to focus on a single but critical component of that digital marketing plan: the content calendar.
In this age of digital immediacy, the notion of such a calendar might seem antiquated to some. And, indeed, the calendars you used to hang on the wall, with different photos of kittens dressed up in seasonal settings for each month of the year, are as wonderfully obsolete as the Yellow Pages. But I’m talking about content calendars, which some refer to as marketing calendars – or, to be more specific, content marketing calendars.
Keep in mind, I am old enough to remember when a game changer was called a paradigm shift, and disrupting a market was simply (and often more accurately) referred to as redefining it, so I know these calendars by their original name: editorial calendars. That was back when they were most likely used as part of a newsbureau, another relatively dated term used to describe an on-going media relations campaign. Yes, we’re going old school here!
Once upon a time, public relations professionals would put together an editorial calendar for their client. These were based on the editorial calendars created by publications to attract advertisers. For example, AARP knows that pharmaceutical companies will pay dearly to get their products in front of older Americans, who have plenty of ailments in need of pharmaceuticals, so AARP Magazine has designated its April/May issue to be all about health. The idea is that the editorial coverage will focus on health issues, so advertisers who have cures will want to purchase ad space in that issue as well.
From a public relations perspective, rather than planning an insertion order for an issue of interest, you would work with the media outlet’s editorial staff on a byline or some other story that reflects your client’s interest – to generate earned media coverage, which is more commonly known as publicity. For example, let’s say I have a client that manufactures thermoplastic elastomers (TPEs). I would be sure to pursue earned media coverage in the September/October issue of the European Rubber Journal because it has a special section dedicated to TPEs. And then I’d cry myself to sleep thinking that a ghostwritten byline in the European Rubber Journal might end up being the pinnacle of my career (jokes aside, I actually love TPEs and have represented the industry leader, but – again – that’s a story for another day).
By assembling all the relevant editorial calendars available for a given client, you could create an effective media relations plan – or newsbureau – consisting of scheduled announcements and targets of opportunity throughout the year. And while the traditional advertising business (along with the traditional media business it once supported) has largely tanked in the digital age, reviewing editorial calendars still has validity in the modern marketing mix. They can help you shape (along with industry events like trade shows) a rough guideline for planned events and announcements. Of course, given the immediacy of online publishing and social media, you also need to remain flexible and plan to seize opportunities as they arise.
Being a bit of a geek (OK, I wrote my first computer program back in the late 70s, so I am a total geek), I have often been an early adopter of new tools and technologies, including social media. In fact, I joined Facebook back in 2007, among the first 2 percent of today’s nearly 2 billion users.
Not long after, I helped guide the nonprofit I was working for into the digital age, creating Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube profiles for the organization – along with a digital marketing plan to put them to use as part of my overall integrated marketing program. It was far from easy, though, as I was dealing with a mindset that still wanted to buy display ads in the Yellow Pages…in 2009!
A year later, having decided to leave that Cult of the Yellow Pages (aka the Digital Deniers) after consistently delivering unprecedent results for the organization (that sound you hear is the sound of my own horn being blown), I began what can be categorized as a two-and-a-half-year digital content marketing exercise. I used Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube as the primary means of building an audience for an online soccer magazine I had created. Not only was it an astonishingly successful exercise, but it also gave me a hands-on, day-to-day opportunity to explore and understand the power and possibilities of social media and content marketing, just as these tools were starting to evolve into the marketing mainstays they’ve become today.
Personally, I remain active on a number of social media channels, including LinkedIn, Ello, Instagram, and Tumblr. I also maintain profiles on Flickr, Medium, and YouTube, but they have all suffered from recent neglect. And I rarely post on my personal Facebook or Twitter accounts anymore. In fact, I eventually shut down my Twitter account because it had become inextricably linked to that aforementioned soccer magazine, which I had shut down in order to focus full-time on my freelance consultancy again. And Facebook has become more of a professional tool instead of a means of staying connected with family and friends.
To that end, I continue to post professionally on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube for certain clients. For example, I am currently managing a real estate team’s Facebook page. And, interestingly (at least to us marketing geeks), my focus for them is on “shared media,” while they handle “owned media” posts internally.
Owned & Shared Media
Shared? Owned? Huh? I know, marketing is fond of redefining things to keep outsiders confused…and therefore in need of our expertise. Owned media is simply content that you or your client create. While this used to be limited to things like vanity publishing or a special event, the digital revolution has opened up the possibilities to include things like blog posts, infographics, photos, think pieces, and videos.
To illustrate this point, let’s imagine I have a client that manufactures high-end televisions. This would give us all sorts of owned media ideas and opportunities we could pursue. For example, just off the top of my head, we could create an infographic highlighting the importance of some exclusive technological advantage that its televisions have, a think piece about how key television moments can actually bring people together, and an annual video highlighting – in super-cool hyper speed – all the memorable television moments from the past year. That’s owned media – content we’ve created specifically for our client.
Shared media is an even bigger bucket, referring to things that others have created which we can use or repurpose to benefit our client. This, of course, includes all the traditional earned media – publicity – we used to hold so dear, whether that be an article that appeared in print or video footage that aired on television. But it really refers to anything that others have created that we can leverage to help paint a favorable picture of our client and its products.
For example, sticking with the television manufacturer scenario, any news – whether from a conventional, accredited media source to things like blogs, vlogs, and podcasts – that talks about the importance of or need for quality televisions can be useful for our client, reinforcing the demand for and value of its products. And if we came across something like an infographic that showcased an uptick in the number of babies born after a major sporting event was broadcast live on television, that’s also something we might want to share via social media and other channels. In fact, we would want to share any positive mention of moments and milestones when having a quality television really matters, including broadcasts of major events as well as season premieres of hit shows like Archer (and now many of you are wondering if this entire article was just a ruse to plug this glorious show). In a nutshell, when people think of watching television, we want them to think of our client.
Keeping A Calendar
This can all be done systematically by creating an annual content calendar that functions as a “living” guide for your communications channels. You should try to map out all of your key events and announcements throughout the year, for your owned media. And then consider thought leadership content – bylines, workshops, speeches, etc. – to fill in the quieter times. Add to that shared media opportunities – again, to use the example of a television manufacturer, known dates for things like televised sporting events, major program premieres, industry trade shows, and other relevant external events – and remain flexible and alert for opportunities that may arise along the way.
I am fortunate because my aforementioned real estate client happens to be a former art director, so she understands and appreciates the need for a content calendar. In fact, she even created a shared online calendar we use to coordinate our social media effort, mapped out daily for the remainder of year. I can see what owned media they have planned, they can see what shared media I have mined from across the internet, and – if need be – we can adjust accordingly. Together, we maintain this content calendar, ensuring that we have a steady stream of relevant posts for their business.
Of course, in an ideal world, this content calendar would be part of a digital marketing plan, which in turn would be part of an overall marketing plan. So, not only would we be sharing these posts on Facebook, but also on other appropriate social media channels as well as through other marketing channels such as the website, blog, email newsletters, etc. And we would add to that any earned media we would generate, along with any paid media (such as ads or sponsored content) they might produce.
But in the freelance world, you often have to make do with what you can. And as much as I would like to be generating earned media coverage, blog posts, infographics, photos, think pieces, videos, and web content for this client, their resources are limited – and, therefore, so is the impact I can have.
Speaking of having an impact, hopefully this think piece has provided you with sufficient information to appreciate the merits of a content calendar – along with enough of an understanding to put one together for yourself, or your clients. And if you agree that a content marketing calendar is an easy, affordable, and essential basis for any professional social media effort, not to mention part of a more comprehensive digital marketing strategy and overall integrated marketing plan, then feel free to share a link to this story on your own social media channels. For me, it’s owned media, but for you it can be shared media!
I have always been a proponent of research, data, and analysis. And I had the good fortune of working closely with some of the best researchers in the business over the years, so I may be more willing – and perhaps even better equipped – to use these tools than many of my colleagues.
But what I think is missing most from today’s data-driven marketing world is the ability – and willingness – to ask the right questions. That goes for the questions asked of the subjects as part of the research as well as the questions asked of the data as part of the analysis. And that ability to determine the right questions really comes from experience.
That said, the reason I’m thinking about research is because there has been a flurry of reports in the media about the latest trends in internet usage, as cited in the annual study done by Mary Meeker of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Adweek had seven trends, whereas VentureBeat had seven takeaways. And Ad Age topped them both, with 12 key takeaways and a call to panic. That’s 71-percent more takeaways, folks, and did I mention that they said you should be worried? Fear! FEAR!!! It seems to be selling better than sex these days. Sad.
As a marketing communications professional immersed in the digital world, I was keen to read these reports, to see which way the digital winds are blowing. And one thing that stood out for me wasn’t the growth of digital media, which is hardly surprising, but rather the average amount of time an adult spent consuming digital media in 2016: 5.6 hours per day. That seems like an awful lot of screen time. But when you consider the shift toward consuming traditional media – films, television, music, etc. – over the internet, it seems quite plausible. And it would certainly explain why, on a recent visit to the Guggenheim Museum, I noticed several people sitting on the benches in the Thannhauser Gallery with their faces buried in their phones instead of taking in some of the finest artwork in the museum’s collection.
Another interesting albeit unsurprising finding was that online ad blocking continues to grow. Personally, I use the Ghostery browser extension, opting out of almost everything, and can’t imagine how anyone lives online without it. Now I’m hoping someone will create a solution to suppress these advertorials, the sponsored stories from questionable sources that have undoubtedly polluted the public mindset to the point where a feeble-minded man-child ended up in the Oval Office.
The study also noted that, as measurement continues to improve, the ROI on social media ads remains a large, if rarely acknowledged, concern. Which reminds me that I just had a client ask me about advertising on Instagram. It would seem like a hip and happening place to be for most businesses. But once I showed them some of Instagram’s demographics (80 percent of users are outside the US, and 90 percent are under the age of 35), they opted to invest elsewhere, as that’s far from their target audience.
And while the study found that online ad spending finally topped traditional channels in the US last year (how long have we all been predicting that!), the amount of time we are spending on mobile devices – the highest growth segment – is increasing faster than ad spending. As a marketer with deep roots in public relations, I take some comfort in that. With usage increasing faster than ad spending, along with the rise in ad blockers and increasing concern over ROI, it’s likely that earned media and other forms of unpaid communications still have their place, and plenty of it, in the evolving digital landscape.
So what’s my takeaway? Content is still king! King, I say!!! Which is good news for those of us who try to make a living from it.
If you want to see Meeker’s entire 355-page presentation, you can find it here. And if you do decide to browse through it, you’ll likely boost our average of 5.6 hours per day for the next annual survey. But, please, just don’t do it while you are sitting in a museum…the stuff on the walls is infinitely more interesting.