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FirstWord Media
The first and last word in content marketing.
The first and last word in content marketing.


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Why Major Institutions Lost Public Trust, and How They Can Gain It Back

In 1994, a high-ranking FBI officer was murdered. He leaked information about a government cover-up to a couple FBI agents willing to investigate—and paid the ultimate price.

His dying words were, “Trust no one.”

The murdered officer, codenamed “Deep Throat,” was actually a fictional character in the Season 1 finale of the television show The X-Files. (He was based on a real informant with the same codename who helped reporters break the Watergate scandal.) As a 10-year-old when this episode premiered, I was appropriately devastated.

Deep Throat’s fictional assassination by his own government came at a historic time in America. Fox launched The X-Files when faith in the American government had dropped to an all-time low. In fact, it came at a time when American faith in all institutions was at a low—falling steadily since the 1970s.

That trend, which X-Files captured in its decade of paranoid television, has continued until today, save for a brief climb in the late ’90s during the economic boom and a spike after 9/11. Per Pew Research’s annual survey, which asks people about their level of trust in government to do the right thing “most of the time,” here’s a snapshot of public confidence in the U.S. government over the decades:

By another measure, the Edelman Trust Barometer, which measures trust that various organizations and people will do the right thing on a scale of 0–100, three-quarters of governments around the world are distrusted by their citizens:

But it’s not just government. According to Gallup’s survey about public confidence in various institutions, administered every year since 1958, we’re losing trust in just about everything.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy argues that institutions have a social purpose and transcend individuals by creating norms and rules that people can count on. Basically, institutions are the building blocks of society. If we lose trust in an institution, dysfunction will follow until that institution is replaced by something else that can govern our behavior and make life predictable.

As a journalist and the the founder of a company that helps businesses publish information, these charts are particularly vexing. (As of 2016, only 20 percent of Americans trust newspapers, per Gallup.) Distrust in the press threatens society. Democracy needs information to expose corruption keep people informed. And distrust is certainly bad for business, bad for the economy, and so on.

There are surely bad actors in both the business and media worlds who don’t deserve our trust. But there are plenty of good actors too. Knowing which of these to trust is more difficult than ever. And for those of us with a stake in our own institutions, gaining trust is more paramount than ever.

A Brief History Of (Losing) Trust

In 1977, political scientist Ronald Inglehart proposed that people lose trust in authorities and organizations as they become wealthier and less concerned with basic survival.

This theory may explain some of the general decline, but even the wealthiest people still trust some things—the power grid, capitalism, their therapists. The rest of us probably trust some brands. (I put my faith in Starbucks to not poison me no matter where I am in the world.) In many cases, it’s good to be skeptical. But when we look at the history of our most important institutions, there’s a simpler explanation for why we lose faith, even for institutions that helped us out in the past.

Before the industrial revolution, societies put their primary trust in the church. Yet over the years, fewer and fewer people have trusted religion. This resulted in the splintering of religious sects—protesting the religion that betrayed your trust by forming a new religion—which eventually led to more people abandoning religion entirely.

Then we generally believed in democratic governments. But trust in that institution eroded as well. We became more cynical that the democratic process was truly working.

As faith in government rose and fell, we turned to business for a bit until that deteriorated. Certain industries, however, managed to keep our trust even as the general business world lost it. These included banks, healthcare, education, charities, and the mass media. They were seen as more noble, more “in it” for the good of society. We now distrust all of those too; it just took a while longer. (See the charts above!)

Losing trust in an institution (or an individual) stems from betrayal. When we feel lied to, taken advantage of. In the case of all the institutions I mentioned above, the loss of trust boils down to one thing: greed.

The pattern here is pretty simple. Religious leaders broke laws, misused funds, and showed that what a church said didn’t square with reality. Political leaders …

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How Tom’s of Maine Found Success in Micro-Influencer Marketing

Influencer marketing is about growing your audience and leveraging the voice of well-connected people … but using influencers with the biggest audiences isn’t always the answer.

Tom’s of Maine uses a micro-influencer model to get the word out about its line of natural products. Bridget Burns, community manager for Tom’s of Maine, explains in this Q&A how micro-influencer marketing works for a brand that values substance over sizzle. (Bridget left Tom’s of Maine in September 2017 after this interview was complete.)

CCO: What is micro-influencer marketing?

Burns: Our micro-influencer program seeks superfans of Tom’s of Maine. These are not people who charge money or make a career out of influencer marketing; they are real people who enjoy the opportunity to engage with our brands. We’ve created a community for them, and then we share content and tell them that if they like it, they can share it with their followers. Because it’s not transactional (i.e., they are not paid), it feels very genuine.

.@TomsofMaine influencer community isn’t paid. They’re genuine fans who engage with the brand. @soloportfolio
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HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT: How to Use Content to Get Your Audience to Trust You

CCO: How did you build the influencer program?

Burns: When we began experimenting with influencer marketing using tools like SheSpeaks and Klout, we noticed spikes in our online share of voice for the length of the program … then it would go back down to normal. Our agency team came up with the idea of creating what we call a Goodness Circle. It’s a year-round program with a dozen bloggers; we contract them to write a certain number of posts about our brand each year.

We sometimes feature their content on our channels, and we co-host monthly Twitter parties with them on various subjects related to our brand. The launch of The Goodness Circle was a success, but its impact is limited because our budget only allows for a certain number of bloggers. We started to consider how we could replicate the success of the program at scale.

Someone from Mavrck, a micro-influencer marketing platform, contacted me while we were wrestling with this problem. It was the perfect fit for our needs. Basically, we took that same idea of sustaining our share of voice metric, but extended it to a much larger scale using a micro-influencer model.

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT: An 8-Step Process to Use Influencers to Elevate Your Brand

CCO: How does the community influencer program work?

Burns: Mavrck hosts the community and members log in through their Facebook page. We recruited our members via our social media channels and email campaigns – our first members were all Facebook fans. Because we have access to that Facebook data, we can group our micro-influencers by geography. Then we may ask them to visit the local Wegmans and find our display.

We can also ask them to take surveys to further segment them into audience groups; for example, we may ask an influencer whether she has children and their ages. That way we can send content to share that’s specific to her children’s development. We do not pay micro-influencers, but do offer product and brand-related rewards through the Mavrck platform. Right now, we have over 20,000 micro-influencers. The total reach from that community is 19 million.

We ask micro-influencers to take surveys to further segment them into groups. @bridgetmburns
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We’ve opened our community to anyone who’s interested, but we rank our members by influence level. It’s not about who has the most friends, but those whose friends are most likely to react when they post something on Facebook.

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT: How to Better Understand the Size and Composition of Your B2B Audience

CCO: What motivates your micro-influencers to maintain the relationship with your brand?

Burns: We’ve worked to recruit community members who have a genuine interest in the products we offer. Beyond that, we strive to provide the community with content that is valuable to them. For example, they may be first to hear about a sale at Target or first to share articles from our blog that give tips on living a more sustainable lifestyle.

We recruit community members who are interested in our products & give them useful content. @bridgetmburns
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We also give our community members rewards like Tom’s of Maine gear. Sometimes we even use them as a sounding board for ideas. I think knowing they can influence not just their friends, but also Tom’s of Maine as a brand, is pretty motivating.

Risks and rewards marketing influencer programs

Bridget’s experience at Tom’s of Maine is a great example of going beyond the traditional or big-audience influencers.

Celebrities and highly visible social influencers may shine a spot…

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How to Better Understand the Size and Composition of Your B2B Audience

In my corporate days, I asked this question of the marketing team on a weekly basis: “Who are these 20,000 people in our email newsletter database? Do they even fit our ideal client profile?”

I’m embarrassed to admit, instead of pushing for the answer, we stayed on the hamster wheel churning out a weekly newsletter featuring one staffer blog post, two curated industry articles, and one marketing meme. No wonder our click-through and open rates were low and never budged.

We were focused on fulfilling the obligation to ship the newsletter on time. However, before I beat myself up too much about the quality of our content, I realize now I should have pushed the pause button and taken a step back to investigate.

When click-through & open rates are low, take a step back to investigate. @JeffLHerrmann #email
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Were the open and click-through-rates low due to lame subject lines and shoddy copy or was our email database full of people who didn’t fit our ideal client profile?

We had no idea if we were wasting great content on the wrong people.

Today, smart marketers operate like niche media publishers, forgoing a massive but unresponsive email database in favor of a possibly smaller but more engaged audience.

If your goal is a more valuable audience, it makes sense to use proven audience measurement methods to better understand the size, composition, and preferences of your audience.

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT: How to Deliver Emails That Will Increase Reach, Impact, and Subscriber Satisfaction

Understand who is on your email list

To convert the names in your database into an engaged audience, you first must understand who is behind those names. You want to consider demographic, “firmographic,” and behavioral factors because no single factor tells all about a person.

You need to know who is behind the names in your database to convert them into engaged audience. @JeffLHerrmann
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Segment by demographics and firmographics

Break down your list by demographics (personal characteristics) and firmographics (company characteristics). Many opt-in web forms capture not only name and professional email address but also job title and industry type. From this information, you can determine a lot about the composition of your database. Create parameters for your classifications – gender, job title, company size (revenue and employee numbers), and industry classification, etc. Then code and segment the records by those classifications.

Insights available could include the composition of C-level executives vs. non-managerial individual contributors or the composition by department (marketing vs. IT vs. sales).

Using this sorting approach, don’t be surprised to find gaps due to inconsistent or insufficient data collection practices. For example, names collected from scans at trade shows over the years may vary in their depth of information because of the evolving technological capabilities.

You can explore third-party “data-appending” services, which would offer additional details about your database. While a single project can be expensive, most providers offer discounts for annual subscriptions to their service. Alternatively, you could search for additional details on LinkedIn or in other online searches and manually update your database. Whether it’s your team’s time or a contract with a service, the investment to learn more about your database contacts is worth it.

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT: 5 Steps to Improving Subscriber Data for More Personalized Emails

Segment by behavior

While segmenting by demographics and firmographics is an important first step, it doesn’t provide the depth of insight to help you program your content to engage your audience. You haven’t yet shed light on the desires and motivations of your audience.

Lean into behavioral segmentation and your lead-scoring system. If you have a marketing automation system, you can track the web activity of people in your database and assign lead scores based on their actions. That provides critical insight into the kind of information people in your audience respond to.

Marketing automation software is great at tracking the people in your database who actively engage with you. But in many cases, lack of engagement is the problem you’re trying to solve. If you focus only on the behavior of your engaged database members, you risk missing the big picture.

And another caveat: Analyzing your own database limits your insight to the characteristics and behaviors of the people who have connected with your company. How do you know whether these people reflect the broader desired audience? Is your list skewed or biased in any direction?

You need to do more work to get the answers. You can start with demographics, firmographics, and behavio…

Predictions that will shape your content marketing in 2018

The web is swollen with 2017 round-ups and predictions for 2018; it can only be December. So, in an effort to be twice as merry, we thought it would be a good idea to combine both in one handy article.

First is our own 2018 prediction. Content marketing will continue to do well overall.

But there will be change, even if it’s less disruptive than we’ve seen over the past three years.

1. ROI will be better defined and shift away from shares and traffic

If 2016 was when content marketing hit the mainstream and 2017 when it hit overload, then we predict that 2018 will be the year in which content marketing needs to justify itself.

By that we are talking about return on investment (ROI).

There are many indicators of success, such as traffic or shares. However, there is often little proof of how content affects the bottom line.

A good example is the following statistic from research by Smart Insights: 76 per cent of marketers use website traffic to measure ROI.

This is great if you are Coca-Cola and building brand. But in a B2B context, where you need sales, impressions look like a vanity metric.

Prediction: content will have to bring more to the table than hits. New metrics will come to the fore.

This brings us to…

2. Content marketing strategy will be better defined

Why? Because it has to be.

One constant over the past three years of content marketing research has been the lack of clear content marketing strategy from brands.

This is despite there being a correlation between success and campaigns where the brand has thought out and written down what it plans to do.

Prediction: thanks to the high number of companies engaged in content marketing, more will be forced to innovate and look for marginal gains. Strategic planning will be an easy win.

3. Companies will increase resources for managing their websites

Corporate websites, especially in B2B, were once little more than online calling cards and brochures. A contact page, something for investor relations and a home for the products. Many didn’t even have a blog.

Not any more.

Company websites have become so content rich that they are more like publications. Yet they are still run and structured like a piece of direct mail.

Customers and users need to be able to navigate easily and find what they are looking for.

There are signs this is already occurring. Research from HubSpot found 26 per cent of companies felt managing their website was a serious challenge.

Prediction: we think this will require an architectural restructure for many sites that have become clogged with articles.

4. Content will stop growing because of Google

A couple of years ago, SEO advice was to write and post regularly. If you did, Google would reward you.

Now we know that is untrue (if indeed it ever was).

Instead, it has been shown that content length is a more important metric. Since its Panda algorithm update, Google has penalised thin content (posts of fewer than 400 words).

What Google wants, Google gets. So everyone has been writing more. According to Orbit Media, in 2017 the average post length increased by 18 per cent to stand at 1,080 words.

There is nothing wrong with an in-depth feature. But problems arise when you turn a 600-word idea into 6,000 words of waffle.

Prediction: Google will tweak its algorithm to penalise wafflers, seeking to reward quality rather than length.

What exactly will that be based on?

No idea… but if you find out first, be sure to let us know.

5. The most important platforms will not be your own

Speed is crucial. But there is nothing new in that.

As far back as 2011, 47 per cent of consumers expected a web page to load in two seconds or less.

Since then, mobile has become the most important source of traffic. A responsive mobile site is now essential – and mobile browsers have become increasingly efficient at delivering the goods.

Yet bandwidth will always be an issue. You have the same chance of impaired coverage whether you are in a remote rural location or the middle of London.

Prediction: platforms such as Facebook Instant and AMP will be key for pushing out content. Content syndication will reduce company sites to mere archives.

6. Video will rise and rise

The growth of video is hardly the most original or difficult trend to predict. After all, YouTube is the second most used search engine after Google and has been for some time.

Our real prediction is that YouTube’s silver-medal position will come under threat – probably from Facebook.

Pew Internet found 46 per cent of marketers are planning to expand into Facebook Video.

In short, Facebook won’t take share from YouTube, but will grow it organically from among its own user base.

Remember, more than 44 per cent of US adults get their news from Facebook. While this is worrying on one level, it demonstrates Facebook’s power on another.

Prediction: in 2018, Facebook will be the number one place to u…

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How to Robot-Proof Your Job as a Content Creator

Artificial intelligence is all around us. As I shared in Content Creation Robots Are Here, billions of AI-created pieces of content are published yearly.

What does this mean for humans who create content? Are you in danger of losing a job?

Not quite. Despite the growth in artificial intelligence capabilities, the human content writer is needed more than ever.

Logical place for artificial intelligence in content

Robot content generation excels at drawing conclusions from large amounts of data, according to the Associated Press study The Future of Augmented Journalism: A Guide For Newsrooms in the Age of Smart Machines.

Robot content generation excels at drawing conclusions from large amounts of data via @AssociatedPress study.
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That’s why, since 2014, the AP has used algorithms to produce automated quarterly earnings reports. These short, objective pieces may lack any creative storyline beyond the raw data they lay out, but they allow AP to cover 12 times more businesses than they could with human creation.

Each of these AI-generated examples follows the exact same style and format:

Apple beats Street 4Q forecasts

Yahoo! Finance: McCormick beats Street 3Q forecasts

Taco Bell sales jump, helping Yum’s profit beat expectations

FedEx misses Street 1Q forecasts

That’s one reason why the AP researchers conclude that machine learning will never replace journalists. But the researchers assert that AI can aid in the content-creation process and free human content creators to do “more complex and qualitative work.”

AI-aided content frees human content creators to do more complex & qualitative work, says @AssociatedPress.
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Here’s how the Associated Press envisions the inclusion of artificial intelligence in the reporting process:

Reporters may spend less time transcribing and manually poring over datasets and instead spend that time making calls and pursuing leads derived from an AI analysis.

Why humans are necessary to content creation (a terrible AI example)

Clearly, robots are up to certain data-oriented tasks. To see if topic-based content could be generated by a machine, I tested Articoolo, an AI content creator that says it can “create unique textual content in a flash.”

The terrible tagline “a quick, coherent starting point for your articles” wasn’t a good sign, but I gave it a try. I entered the subject “content promotion” and clicked the pencil button. It took two minutes to “cook” the content piece, then presented me with a paywall. I paid $1.90 for the piece, but handed over $19 to the AI site because I had to buy a minimum of 10 articles.

The result? Here’s the opening sentence:

Content promotion is a subject in the promotion universe relating to publishing important messaging to a specific audience white papers will be an example of this.

I ran it again, and received the most awkward-sounding content I ever read:

The problem does not put in their ambition to embark on content marketing strategy, the issues come from 3 common areas: the intricacy of the content advertising ecosystem, too little expertise or understanding with content marketing, as well as the technical measurement issues related to how audience consumes content across different devices today.


I recently created a piece on content promotion, which took over three weeks of research and writing. Compare this excerpt from my blog to the Articoolo piece:

“The reality is writing great content alone won’t get you far.
Composing a high-quality piece and hitting “publish” just isn’t enough.
You have to help it along on its internet journey.
Hold its hand for a little bit. You have to guide it into the limelight, or, in some cases, shove it out there.
It’s the only way to ensure success – as opposed to publishing it on your site, crossing your fingers, and hoping against hope somebody will stumble across it and read it.
With solid promotion, you can help your blog reach great heights.
The only question left, of course, is this: “How do I promote my blog?” I’m here with tons of actionable tips to help you do just that.
Settle in with your cozy beverage of choice.
Ready? Let’s get knee-deep in great content promotion tactics.”

I went into 15 actionable tips, tricks, and strategies. But the key was how I crafted the blog opening with a story that resonated with my readers.

When I focus on writing an opener that gives a hook and is optimized for maximum creativity to hold the reader’s attention, the post usually receives 100% more shares than the average post on the site. This one received over 200 shares within a few hours of going live.

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT: Will Artificial Intelligence Replace Manual Content Creation?

Why thought leadership demands human creators

Content marketers appreciate the need to build a conn…

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Stock 2.0: What Savvy Marketers Need to Know About the Changing Rules of Visual Content


Back in 2015, Vince Vaughn, Dave Franco, and Tom Wilkinson were featured in a series of parody stock photos to promote their upcoming movie Unfinished Business. The film has a 10% rating on, so don’t worry if you never saw it.

The faux stock photos were the best part anyway.

This series of images inserted the three actors’ heads into existing photos, creating a hilarious mockery of the genre.

The movie was terrible, but its promotional tactic was a watershed moment for visual content. Bland, meaningless stock photography had become so ubiquitous – and so universally disliked – that it could be used as a tongue-in-cheek marketing vehicle.

Several years later, marketers fully understand that these kinds of images get about a 10% positive rating from our audiences, but we’re struggling with what to do instead.

Now more media have joined the fray, forcing us to curate high-quality audio and video resources along with standard photography. As both CEO of the stock imagery service Storyblocks and a marketer myself, I spend quite a bit of time trying to find the right balance between time, budget, and quality in visual content.

Those are really the three pillars of a best-in-class visual content strategy, so let’s dive into each one to see how we can build a meaningful and effective system for making our content look good without breaking the bank.

The tyranny of time in visual content

How many of you have found yourself squeaking a blog post in just under the deadline only to realize you’ve forgotten the images? It’s okay, you can raise your hand. I won’t tell anyone.

Or maybe you’ve been meaning to start a podcast, but can’t imagine where you’ll find enticing opening and closing music.

Or maybe there’s ninety percent of an explainer video sitting on your desktop that just needs some solid B-roll footage, but you just can’t find time to film it.

We know we need supporting images in our content, and we don’t need Vince Vaughn’s mocking raised eyebrow to tell us that it has to be professional without being cheesy. But the trouble is we rarely have the time to create those pieces from scratch.

New tools to the rescue

This time crunch has created a big market with a strong need, which has mercifully been filled by a new crop of tools designed to give us a sophisticated look without keeping us at our desks till midnight.

Here are a few of my favorites:


Intimidated by the video editing process? Magisto is for you. It lets you quickly and painlessly deliver unique videos with the ease of creating a PowerPoint presentation.

There are even A/B testing options to help optimize your video’s performance after it’s published.

For $10/month you can create videos up to five minutes long and include your own branding. Not a bad way to get in on a format that’s driving over 70% of web traffic right now.


Moovly’s claim to fame is animated video, which sounds fancy and complicated but is in fact remarkably simple with this kind of tool.

If you need to switch things up from filmed footage, or if real-world video isn’t quite right for your subject, an animated option may be the way to go.

Moovly plans start at $49/month.


The Canva mission, “Empowering the world to design,” is one that hits home for me. Marketers are often called on to be designers (or we could be far more effective if we were empowered to act like them), so tools like Canva can unlock a whole new world.

If you’re new to design, Canva will get you started with templates for social media, blog images, presentations, and even infographics.

The basics of Canva are available for free, but to access their templates, stock photos, and magic resizing for all social media channels, you’ll need the $12.95/month Canva for Work option.

We use these tools ourselves at Storyblocks, and we’ve also created an API that works with Magisto and Moovly to allow marketers to combine the tools’ functionality with our massive library of images, audio, and video.

There’s nothing more frustrating than being forced to interrupt your creative flow to jump in and out of a tool, so we make our content available natively in these (and other) content creation tools.

With the right combination of resources and functionality, you can significantly streamline the visual part of your content creation. No more late nights scrolling through Google image searches; now visual content meets you where you’re working.

Be brilliant and on budget

Whether you publish something once per month or once per day, the pace of content marketing is relentless. Even with smart reuse and repurposing strategies, we’re always making something new.

And that, of course, means we always need more images.

We don’t, u…

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Are You Ready for Content Marketing in 2018? 60+ Predictions

It’s hard to believe that, after 10 years, this will be the last time I share my annual list of content marketing predictions for CMI. Not to get all sentimental or anything, but looking into the future of our industry and anticipating the content and media trends most likely to impact our businesses has always been a favorite part of the job … and it will be one of CMI’s content experiences I’ll miss the most as I retire from CMI this month.

But, as change is the only constant, it’s time to put the past aside and focus on the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. And, if anyone can help lead the content marketing industry forward and prepare you for what’s to come, it’s the group of experts who contributed to our 10th annual e-book of content marketing predictions.

In 60+ Predictions on Content Marketing in 2018, some of our favorite content marketing colleagues and compatriots share their thoughts on what it takes to build an audience; how advanced technologies and newer techniques – like AI, voice-enabled search, and virtual reality – will impact the content landscape; how troubling trends like “fake news” and data breaches will add complexity to the marketing equation; and more.

As for my own predictions for the upcoming year, they are rather simple – though somewhat aspirational:

Apple will buy Disney. Although I think this transaction is a few years away, I want to go on the record now. As Apple continues to invest in original content, it will discover an out-and-out acquisition makes far more sense. It will see the light and purchase what is perhaps the greatest media company on the planet.

Apple will buy Disney in a few years, says @JoePulizzi. #Predictions2018
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In 2018, at least two major Fortune 500 brands will hire former publishers and/or media executives to serve as their chief marketing officers.

2 major Fortune 500 brands will hire former publishers and/or media execs as CMOs. @JoePulizzi #Predictions2018
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At least one Fortune 100 company will announce it is transforming its marketing department into a true profit center.

1 Fortune 100 company will transform its #marketing dept into a profit center. @JoePulizzi #Predictions2018
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Of course, these ideas are the tip of the iceberg. Take a look at a few more highlights from our new e-book:

In 2018, I expect to see more diversification of content formats. More live streaming on social. More audio/podcasts. Alexa skills. Content will continue to expand beyond the traditional web and print approaches. Brands will continue to invest in content, as they have been over the last few years; but that investment will shift from mostly writing services and paid distribution/promotion to a whole host of services – production, more animation and video-related graphics, voice talent, etc. It’s no longer just about words – content is about creating experiences. – Amanda Todorovich, content marketing director, Cleveland Clinic

Expect to see more diversification of #content formats, says @amandatodo. #Predictions2018
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HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT: Content Marketing in 2022: Very Personal, No Silos, and Lots of Voice

Virality and reach will become less important, and marketers will instead focus on better segmenting and targeting capabilities, enhanced with the help of AI. This will finally lead to the downfall of the recent trend of snake-oil salespeople who promise to hack your way into millions of meaningless views, comments, and likes. Content marketing will no longer be a game of volume and bloated numbers but will instead promote empathy, relevance, and exclusivity. – Jason Miller, global content marketing leader, LinkedIn

A downfall of snake-oil salespeople who promise meaningless views & likes. @JasonMillerCA #Predictions2018
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5 Steps to Improving Subscriber Data for More Personalized Emails

Should You Trust Artificial Intelligence to Drive Your Content Marketing?

2018 will see the rise of employee brand advocates over paid influencers. Companies will embrace employee advocacy programs in greater numbers because of the need to produce thought-leading content to break through online noise and the growing body of evidence supporting better outcomes for brands that take this approach. – Cas McCullough, CEO, Writally

2018 will see the rise of employee brand advocates over paid influencers, says @casmccullough. #Predictions
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HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT: Convert Your Most Vital (and Most Ignored) Audience Into Brand Ambassadors

In a world of increasing scandal (think Wells Fargo) and people slapping “fake news” labels on content with increasing frequency, success will come from telling the truth. Always. – David Meerman Scott, marketi…

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Why Today’s SEO Experts Will Evolve or Go Extinct

At any given time, you can find some major tech journalist, thought leader, martech blogger, or digital marketing guru declaring search engine optimization dead. These harbingers of the digital doomsday usually aren’t being literal. The practice of SEO isn’t dead, but the way SEO experts, consultants, and agencies have traditionally approached the subject might be. As a result, your friendly neighborhood SEO consultant has a choice: become a content strategist or go extinct.

In the past, it was relatively easy for people to collect large datasets and figure out what elements contributed to better search rankings—increase internal links, use H1 and H2 tags, etc. This ongoing practice was great for visibility and thought leadership since an SEO expert could post a new byline or video every time Google updated its algorithm. Technology companies started to capitalize as well, developing intelligent platforms that make it easy to optimize important technical factors on your site. Google even has its own tool, Google Search Console, that helps webmasters and creators maximize the visibility of their content.

At the same time, Google’s search algorithms have become more sophisticated and fluid—largely due to the company’s billion-dollar investments in artificial intelligence research and development. Rather than continuing with algorithms based on sets of rules, Google’s search technology is powered by multi-layered ‘neural networks’ meant to mimic the human brain through highly contextual pattern recognition. Those closest to these developments at Google admit that decisions made by these networks are so complex that it’s “difficult to ascertain why a particular search result ranks more highly for another result in a given inquiry.”

Create content for humans, not search engines.

So, what now? As Google’s search engine behaves more like a human reader, our most important challenge becomes creating authoritative, relevant, and unique content. Some of today’s best SEO experts are actually just the next wave of smart content strategists—even if some of them don’t know it yet.

Contently has been behind this push for quality since opening for business in 2011. And we’ve put a lot of effort into practicing what we preach with articles like this on The Content Strategist. The best thing you can do to drive traffic (without paying for it) and increase your search ranking is to create content that actually provides in-depth education for your customer. Don’t just mimic what everyone else says. If a piece of content delivers substantial value to your audience, it can even rank for a keyword not present in the headline or body text.

The best SEO experts know how to dissect a system and turn their findings into insights. At its core, content strategy works the same way. You just have to apply those skills to a different system. Understanding your audience’s challenges, questions, and habits is essential for creating content that appeals to today’s search engine. For example, the rise of virtual assistants has lead to an increase in voice searches via mobile devices, so strategists, especially those who work in B2C, may want to shape their content based on how target personas would ask a question.

Like Google, the most sophisticated content marketers will leverage software that shows how content resonates.Technology will still be a crucial part of search engine success, but we’ll have to shift from technical assistants to sophisticated analytical tools that help us scout the competitive landscape and enable us to be more creative. Our Tone Analyzer, developed with IBM Watson, exists so brands can establish and monitor a voice that’s inline with what the audience wants. We’ve invested in other features, like a headline relevancy checker, for the same reason, instead of only retrofitting our platform with traditional technical safeguards.

In the future, machine learning will continue to make algorithms harder to crack. So regardless of whether you want to keep referring to yourself as an SEO expert, you have to stay focused on one necessary mission: creating content for humans, not search engines.

The post Why Today’s SEO Experts Will Evolve or Go Extinct appeared first on The Content Strategist.

from The Content Strategist

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Content Syndication: More Than a Traffic Boost

I learned content distribution, syndication, and SEO very much by accident.

Here’s the backstory: In 2005 I was firmly rooted in the world of documentaries. I worked on projects for ABC News, HBO, The New York Times and Frontline – always as a freelancer. I worked on films about terrorism in Europe, Abu Ghraib, Americans preparing for the apocalypse, and more. One of the Frontline programs, however, proved to be prophetic. I didn’t know it then, but The Secret History of the Credit Card would change the course of my career.

Toward the end of my time in documentaries and TV, the work got a little weird. At one point, within the space of a month, I’d gone from producing episodes of Frontline for The New York Times to producing an episode of Wife Swap. I was getting married and needed a change. I also needed health insurance.

Eventually, I saw an opening at the financial news site and, based on my experience with the credit-card documentary, I landed a job there as managing editor of, a new site focused on personal finance. The MainStreet editorial team was a fun, scrappy group, which was good because we were functioning as a startup within the company. We needed traffic and we were new, so generating awareness in a crowded personal finance beat was not easy. Over the years I’ve worked in personal finance for a variety of media organizations, big and small, established and startup. Now I’ve started my own company helping businesses of all types develop editorial and content strategies that make sense. It should come as no surprise that generating awareness is just about everyone’s top goal.

One of the most important tools in creating that kind of awareness, I’ve learned over the years, is content distribution. I’m not talking about paid, cost-per-click-oriented content discovery channels like Outbrain (though these tools can be highly effective in a few ways). I’m talking about syndication where sites like MSN, Yahoo, AOL/The Huffington Post, USA Today, and many others run your articles, and often those articles include links to related editorial content on your site. There are variations of this arrangement. For example, in some cases there may be a revenue share of the ads sold by the media outlet against your content hosted on its site, but the vast majority of the syndication deals I’ve put together involved no money. (See key content distribution terms near end of this post.)

Google eyes syndicated content

When I first encountered this strategy, it seemed like it was all about eyeballs and traffic. Getting one of your articles featured on a big news portal’s home page carousel meant that millions of people would be exposed to your story and learn about your brand. More importantly, getting an article featured on the home page of a big web portal could lead to what is often referred to as a “fire hose” of traffic, with tens or even hundreds of thousands of people hitting your site over the course of hours or days.

Scoring that fire hose of traffic was often considered the big win in the world of content syndication, but over time as I moved into different editorial roles, I learned that direct traffic was just the tip of the iceberg. Traffic from syndication partners is inherently spiky – there’s often no way to predict when your article will get prime placement on a site you don’t control – and prime placement (like the home page carousel, for example) is the key to getting that fire hose of traffic. One day an editor at one of those portals may like one of your stories and share it with the world, and the next day they don’t and it ends up buried in a vertical that sees relatively little traffic.

Direct traffic from syndicated content is only the tip of the iceberg, says @schreibot.
Click To Tweet

Regardless of whether those syndicated articles find the eyeballs or languish on pages unseen, one segment of the audience sees everything: search engines.

Google, the dominant search engine, along with Bing and others, sees these syndicated articles on news sites with powerful domain authority, and, more importantly, sees the links in the articles pointing to articles on the syndicators’ home websites. Inbound links from authoritative news sites can signal that the target sites have strong content, and the articles are solid, trustworthy pieces about the subjects in question.

Search engines may be more likely to rank these sites and those articles higher in their results, which in turn means more organic (aka free) traffic over time. While syndicated articles may be hit or miss when it comes to that fire hose of traffic, they are also potentially helpful when it comes to growing organic traffic to your website. That organic traffic, when managed well, can grow considerably over time and usually isn’…

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The Murky World of Influencer Marketing: How Non-Disclosure Can Hurt Your Brand

Ever since marketers cottoned on to the potential for social media to drive influential word-of-mouth brand recommendations, they’ve tried to either foster or fake these discussions.

“I heartily endorse this event or product,” says a monotone Krusty the Clown in a snippet of video used to advertise everything from cough syrup to atomic particle accelerators. Krusty’s cut-and-paste approach to celebrity endorsement might be a long-running gag on The Simpsons, but the rise of influencer marketing in social media may mean the joke is getting just a little too close to reality.

Last year, Scott Disick of Keeping Up with the Kardashians fame (don’t worry, I didn’t know either) accidentally revealed to his Instagram audience just how little effort he puts in to his well-paid endorsements by cutting and pasting a little more than he intended:

“Here you go, at 4pm est, write the below: ‘Keeping up with the summer workout routine with my morning @booteauk protein shake!”

Leaving aside the carelessness with which Disick carries out his sponsored activities – I mean, he had one job to do – don’t let it escape your notice that the brand also scripted the post for him. I like to imagine those 12 unremarkable words were the result of a lengthy copywriting process of agency drafts and stakeholder approvals where no one – even Disick himself – noticed that he’s supposedly preparing his morning protein shake at 4 in the afternoon. And, while Disick may have unwittingly disclosed the brand relationship, the intended text contains no such disclosure. The whole exercise is about as authentic and convincing as the president’s hair.

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT: Social Media Mistakes: What Brands Should Do to Avoid Epic Fails

Whom do you trust?

It’s not surprising that influencer marketing is a popular way for marketers to get their message out. When it comes to trusted sources of information, a word-of-mouth recommendation always ranks highly.

Always a fun time on the @AGT set! Another amazing episode of #JudgeCuts is on tonight at 8/7c! #DontMissIt

A post shared by Heidi Klum (@heidiklum) on Aug 1, 2017 at 11:07am PDT

Even if Dunkin Donuts is a sponsor of America’s Got Talent, should #ad disclosures extend to related social media updates like this? (We think it should.)

We’re also more likely to trust those we admire — the famous, the noteworthy, or the highly successful people who represent qualities and values we might aspire to. It’s why every new book comes with recommendations on the jacket from authors we’ve read, why sports fans dress like sports players, and why rock fans dress like rock stars.

These influencers don’t always have to be mega-stars either, but the right influencer with a big enough audience within the right niche can have a massive impact.

Influencers don’t have to be mega-stars. The right influencer in the right niche can have big impact. @KimotaClick To Tweet

According to the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual global survey of trust and credibility, 55% of respondents say, “Individuals are more believable than institutions, and a company’s social media page is more believable than advertising.”

55% of respondents say a #socialmedia page is more believable than ads via @EdelmanPR survey.Click To Tweet

Huzzah! If consumers are skeptical toward brands talking about themselves, let’s fire up the social media machine and find ways to get more trusted and relatable individuals talking about us instead! Let’s take the reasons they don’t trust our own marketing – too scripted and rehearsed, too self-serving and out of touch, too fake – and carry them over into the word-of-mouth space until we sap these trusted individuals of any credibility as well!

OK, I’m sure that last bit isn’t what marketers intend when designing their influencer strategies, but that will be the result if they continue the way they’re going.

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT: The Democratization of Distrust Is Our Biggest Opportunity

When is a social media post an ad?

Some social media influencers, particularly on Instagram, command highly active audiences numbering in the millions. No wonder some brands are prepared to fork out tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars for a single product-friendly social media endorsement. And some are eager to make these paid endorsements appear as naturally occurring word-of-mouth recommendations … anything but a far less trusted advertisement.


A post shared by Scott Disick (@letthelordbewithyou) on Jul 28, 2017 at 1:28pm PDT

(Oh, and by the way, this includes giving influencers free stuff or any other contra arrangements loophole-seeking marketers might dream up.)

Having had a few conversations over the years with marketers who use similar tactics, I know…
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