“Influencers Who Inspire” Our Latest Interview with Rebecca Lieb of the Altimeter Group

Rebecca’s experiences as an editor, marketer and analyst with the Altimeter Group, make her a perfect expert resource for our Influencers Who Inspire series.  She is also the author of The Truth About Search Engine Optimization and most recently, Content Marketing.

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What is your favorite outdoor activity in the summer and where do you recommend going to do it?

Hot weather and I are not the best of friends. Aquatic is my way to deal. Swimming laps, bodysurfing in the ocean, or scuba diving (a longtime passion) – if it’s summer, look for me near the water!

You have spent parts of your career as an analyst, an editor and an author; which of these positions is/was the most rewarding? If you can’t pick one, what are/were the highlights of all three?

I really view all these positions as a continuum. I’ve spent my career exclusively in media, first film, then television, then digital – with a bunch of print experience sprinkled throughout (periodical and book publishing). My job has always been to scrutinize the media landscape, chart its growth, and how to connect with consumers. I also have substantial experience as a marketer (I don’t just tell them what to do – I’ve done it, too!). Admittedly, my marketing experience is confined to media as well: film and television. So basically, it’s been all media, all the time.

The most rewarding part is easy. It’s been being there as one of the most important developments in the history of media and communications has taken place and taken shape. Undoubtedly, the most exhilarating part of my career has been experiencing and watching the rise of digital channels: the opportunities, the pitfalls, the disruption and the possibilities are endlessly fascinating. Sometimes you’re just in the right place at the right time, right?

As an editor and analyst you regularly hear from PR representatives pitching you for meetings. What makes a pitch or briefing request stand out to you and /or prompts you to respond quickly?

Easy – the ones that indicate the person pitching has done their job. They know who I am, what I cover, and they tailor the pitch accordingly. You would not believe how many pitches I get about a new hotel opening in Tulsa, or executive hires in the meatpacking industry. My contact information is ‘out there’ in lists sold to the types of spray-and-pray PR firms that give the industry a bad name. The concept of “know your audience” isn’t a new one, but it’s what matters most. It’s also critical to differentiate “pitch” from “press release.” Digital changed the press release. Once the news in on the wire, it’s out there. Don’t ask me [journalist hat on now] to cover it. You broke your own story.

Digital marketers want to know — with the masses of new social marketing tools, platforms, buzzwords and best practices — how do you manage to stay current?

All research, all the time. Really. I subscribe to over 200 RSS feeds and scour them all day long. I stay in the traffic. Every week I have dozens of meetings and briefings with people and companies in the industry. It’s a full time job, and then some, and it requires a lot of focus. In other words, you have to concentrate on what matters to your area of coverage. I don’t look at ALL of social media, for example. My arena is the marketing and media aspect of those channels. I leave deep dives on other aspects to my very capable colleagues.

How do you filter the news? What news sites or influencers do you visit/follow as your go to resources for news content to share each morning? (Do you have a news outlet as your homepage or do you search Twitter for keywords that are meaningful to you?)

As I mentioned above, my RSS feeds are my homepage. When Google folds Reader, it will feel as if the internet is broken for a while. I’m currently experimenting with replacements such as Reeder and Feedly. There are also people I follow very closely on Twitter and Facebook to stay abreast.

In your upcoming keynote at the Banff Media Festival you will talk about Content Marketing in the form of the Paid+Owned+Earned Media Ecosystem. With content lines blurring more and more, who do you see as the ultimate keeper of the content within an organization?

Funny you should ask, because after I completed a research report (co-authored with my colleague Jeremiah Owyang) on the convergence of paid, owned and earned media, I worked on a just-published piece of research entitled “Organizing for Content.” This research deals exactly with the question, “where should content live in the org chart?” Precious few companies have a an actual content division, yet marketing, PR, communications, community, social media and a myriad of other company components are invested in finding, creating and disseminating content. I invite your readers to download the report, which outlines six frameworks for enterprise content orchestration.

In your opinion, what has been the most important change in SEO tactics over the last few years? How do those changes impact the way we should think about content marketing today?

When it comes to SEO, the fundamental things apply. Good content, well-written, keyword-conscious, and don’t spam or be blackhat.  I was fascinated last year when I conducted research into WHY major brands engage in content marketing. In 57 interviews with really major companies (e.g. Coke, IBM, ToysRUs, Adobe, etc.) only one single brand (Nestlé) mentioned SEO as a reason behind content marketing. My instinct is this isn’t because SEO is unimportant – au contraire – but because it’s no longer channel du jour. Like email (which, by the way, not one single brand mentioned – and what’s in an email if not content?), SEO is becoming a background channel. Like wallpaper – there, but no one’s really talking about it anymore. They’re looking at mobile, social, video. That’s fine – but beware Bright Shiny Object Syndrome, which can cause you to ignore basics and fundamentals.

What one piece of advice (perhaps from your most recent book on the topic) would you offer to a marketer starting a content marketing campaign today?

Strategy before tactics! We’ve seen this occur again and again. A new technology or channel is launched and someone says, “Hey! We need a [Facebook page, YouTube channel, Twitter presence, etc.]. A smart marketer counters with “Why?” What’s the goal? What are the required resources? The budget? How will we achieve it? Produce it? Measure it? Who’s the audience?

On a lighter note, we noticed that you tweeted the tongue and cheek Onion post, the other day, about how much people “love” being sold by sponsored content like videos on publications’ websites. Just for fun, can you share with us your favorite example of sponsored content gone wrong?

Wow – you just reminded me of something that goes way back in my career, back in the 90s when I ran global marketing for a major cable TV network. I came into the office on a Monday morning following the weekend when Princess Diana was killed in a car crash. A rival network was sponsoring a touring exhibit of her gowns. Across the back cover of a major magazine was splashed their ad, with the banner headline: A Dress to Di For!

Lastly, when you venture out of NYC for business travel what is the one thing you take with you, the one thing you can’t wait to leave behind and the one thing you can’t wait to come home to?

1. Laptop

2. Hmmm…maybe my MTA Metrocard?

3. It’s a tie: the cats and the boyfriend

Interested in learning more? Please leave any questions or comments for Rebecca below.  You can also catch up with her at the Altimeter Group website or follow her on Twitter.

Persuasive Picks for week of 5/6/13

toolsBehind every successful social media marketer is an arsenal of marketing tools that help to ideate, implement, and track the success of a social media campaign. But social media tools are a dime a dozen, and keeping up with the latest offerings can be an overwhelming and frustrating process. Fortunately for us, Social Media Strategist Rebecca Debono has posted her Top 5 hottest social media tools on iMediaConnection.

As a marketer, brand manager, PR practitioner, or executive you have likely figured out that in this new, content-driven, multichannel environment your brand is now, among other things, a content publisher. With more than half of US consumers using smartphones, it is now time to plan your mobile content strategy. MarketingProfs‘ Frank Sinton gives some helpful tips to get you started in Seven Steps You Can Take to Capitalize on the Mobile Video Viewing Shift

Traffic to your websiteIf you are looking at LinkedIn as your next digital marketing project, then don’t forget to spend a decent amount of time focusing on your ‘company page’. If you are looking for some guidance, then check out LinkedIn Tips and Advice Part 2 – Company Page Optimisation for some sound recommendations provided by Business2Community contributor Kerry Dye.

Social media is 24/7. Someone is always tweeting, posting on Facebook, or uploading a new picture to Instagram. However, for social media managers and businesses alike, this can be quite a challenge. Brianna Smith at Social Media Today explains that there are a couple different ways to determine when your audience is online, and points to an insightful infographic to help you determine the Best Times to Post on Social Media [INFOGRAPHIC].

Got content? 5 tips for great newsletter content

contentNewsletter creation can be remarkably challenging for even the most prolific writer. After all, your newsletter has some lofty goals: get through spam filters, attract readers’ eyes, get opened, get read, get click-thrus, convert to a lead, and if all the stars align – result in a sale. Phew!

Coming up with good content is easier than you might think. Here are some proven tips we’ve picked up over the years to help you get started:

  1. Put yourself in your reader’s shoes – Think about newsletters you like to read and try to mimic that type of content. Is the tone fun and lighthearted; is the content informative and educational? If you enjoy a specific style or type of content, chances are your readers will too.
  2. Don’t try to sell anything – Sure, the ultimate goal with any marketing tactic is to increase sales, but a newsletter should first seek to engage your audience. Your goal should be to capture their attention and provide interesting, compelling content that holds their interest over time. This helps to keep your services top of mind when your prospects are ready to buy them.
  3. Lighten up – Business is serious, but dry and dull is not the kind of content you want to provide your readers. Your content can be both informative and entertaining. Hear a funny customer story? Share it. A Ron Burgundy fan? Include a favorite quote when it makes sense.
  4. Recycle existing content – Old content can be new again. Revisit archived blog posts, customer success stories or past campaigns. Even current content on your blog, website, Pinterest page, or other marketing channel can be repurposed as newsletter content.
  5. Create repeatable content – Create a series such as a customer or campaign of the month, or a tips series where you share one piece of advice to a common challenge in each newsletter. This helps keep your readers engaged and looking forward to your next issue.

When thinking about newsletter content, remember that your audience – whether they’re prospects you’d like to convert to customers, or existing customers you’d like to retain – they opted in to your newsletter for a reason: they’re interested in learning more about your business and what you can do for them. You don’t need to attract their attention; you need to keep it. Cater to their interests with relevant content that offers valuable, entertaining, educational information. Keep this in mind as you develop your newsletter and you won’t disappoint.

What’s your best tip for creating great newsletter content? Please share in the comments.

Facebook Just Made Your “Friends” More Likeable with Graph Search

By now you’ve heard the news that Facebook has announced Graph Search, eloquently explained here by Steven Levy at Wired. While the tech world buzzes about Google’s reaction, the everyday user of Facebook is trying to make sense of it all – and probably worried that marketers are going to stalk them even more now – and privacy activists are sure to help them shake in their boots.

But let’s slow down for a minute. Isn’t garnering information from your friends and fans a good thing? Don’t you want to better understand your network, and be able to both gain and share information in a more targeted way? For example, I don’t want to bombard all of my “friends” with my current diet habits as I’m doing a 21-day Paleo challenge. But I would love to know which friends have also done it in the past, what their experience was, and any advice they have to share. Sure, I can post that question on my timeline, but it’s momentary – maybe some friends will see it, but many will not as it gets buried within the rest of their scrolling “news.” I also don’t want to ask the question and tag people because it’s just obnoxious how the question is then plastered on their Wall (or in their notifications, pending approval), and I’m not totally sure which of my 1300 or so friends it would be appropriate to ask. It’s just not a very gracious way to ask your network questions. In fact, here’s what it looks like right now in Facebook:

But from what I understand, with Graph Search, I can easily do just what the name implied – search my network (social graph)  and find those in it who might be interested in this particular topic, based on their updates, information and posts. I could query “friends of mine who have tried Paleo,” and Facebook would immediately provide me with data that I could then use to ask an appropriate question – or share information – to friends who might actually care. That means I annoy less and connect better on topical information. Or, perhaps you’re interviewing for a new job and you want to know if any of your friends have worked at the company you’re considering. Not many of us know the career history of all of our “friends,” and we’re not about to go searching through everyone’s bio – on Facebook or on Linkedin, for that matter. If Facebook could deliver an instantaneous list of “friends who have worked at EMC,” for example, you could easily ask them what it was like, if they recommend it, etc. (Granted, Linkedin allows you to search by people/companies.)

But what about privacy?

This is, understandably, always the first question that comes to mind when Facebook makes a new announcement. We’ve been conditioned not to trust them, and often we have reason. But again, from what I understand, Graph Search simply allows you to make better use of information already available to you. They’re not unveiling information you’re not already sharing – they’re just indexing it in a way that allows your friends and fans to easily search it at any time.

Personally I’ve been wanting Facebook to make it easier to search details on my network. Yes, I have lists and privacy settings, and as long as Facebook is honoring those, I’m happy to be able to go back into someone’s “archives” in a more organized and instant way to find relevancy to what I want to ask or share. Nothing’s changed from the old adage, “If you wouldn’t put it on a billboard, don’t put it on a social network.” (No matter what the privacy settings. )

And anyway – didn’t we all already know that the Internet is forever?

Here are a few of the more choice quotes from Levy’s article – they may help you quick study the news:

  • Nobody has feared this day more than Google, which suddenly faces a competitor able to index tons of data that Google’s own search engine can’t access.
  • Facebook is helping them [users] tap its vast, monolithic database to make better use of their “social graph,” the term Zuckerberg uses to describe the network of one’s relationships with friends, acquaintances, favorite celebrities, and preferred brands.
  • “People use search engines to answer questions,” Zuckerberg says. “But we can answer a set of questions that no one else can really answer. All those other services are indexing primarily public information, and stuff in Facebook isn’t out there in the world — it’s stuff that people share. There’s no real way to cut through the contents of what people are sharing, to fulfill big human needs about discovery, to find people you wouldn’t otherwise be connected with. And we thought we should do something about that. We’re the only service in the world that can do that.”
  • Thanks to Graph Search, people will almost certainly use Facebook in entirely new ways: to seek out dates, recruit for job openings, find buddies to go out with on short notice, and look for new restaurants and other businesses. Most strikingly, it expands Facebook’s core mission — not just obsessively connecting users with people they already know, but becoming a vehicle of discovery.
  • Graph Search will be improved based on how people actually use it. So Facebook plans a slow introduction, limiting the initial rollout to a small number of users. Zuckerberg’s expectation is that by the time it becomes available to millions it will be considerably improved.

And, as GigaOm tells us, “It makes finding new things much easier, but you can only see what you could already view elsewhere on Facebook.”

As a marketer, I can’t help but be excited about this news – discovering, sharing and positioning information is what we do for a living. But I’m also interested from a personal standpoint because I think it will make me a better Facebook “friend” in many ways. What do you think? Are you excited or nervous about this rollout?

ADDENDUM 

I just learned from Robert Scoble that you can sign up to try it: “To get the Graph Search on Facebook you have to sign up at http://facebook.com/graphsearch and it will roll out over next few months.”

I did, and here’s a look at the sample search it ran for me – looks good, although I’d love to be able to query something more specific.

 

PR – A Great Thing, but Not a Miracle Worker

It’s a funny thing about PR…sometimes it’s viewed like other professions that people have a love/hate relationship with – like law enforcement, insurance providers, lawyers. Or like those that people expect magic from – beauticians, plastic surgeons, teachers.

Here’s the thing. Anything can be branded, marketed, promoted. Anything can get a first look. But public relations won’t make or break your business without a little help from you.

Stop making your PR department/firm/executive the scapegoat for your crappy products.

It’s not our job to convince people that your products are good when they aren’t. We don’t “dumb people down.” PR isn’t to blame if you can’t sell. PR isn’t to blame if your product doesn’t do what you promised – or told us to promise. Even Apple can’t pull that off.

I’m not being over sensitive. I’ve been in this business long enough – heading into my 15th year of owning my own firm – to recognize the unbelievable expectations that executives can have about PR. And I’ve seen many executives that don’t get PR at all – who have no idea that their CMOs are throwing money out the door jumping from agency to agency trying to find the right match.

I also know that PR agencies can seem like a dime a dozen. There’s one on every block like Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts. I know that it can be tough to find the right match – chemistry with the team – on your first try. But if you or your marketing head have gone through more than two agencies in 12 months, maybe it’s time to take a look inside.

Here’s a few things you can expect a good PR team to accomplish:

  • Get your products in front of the “right people” – those can vary, but for most companies it means reporters, bloggers, analysts and others who influence the buying decisions of your prospects.
  • Connect executives with these folks for personal meetings/briefings/interviews – beginning and helping to maintain a more personal relationship.
  • Get these influencers to listen – based on long standing relationships and/or the talent to understand what they want, how they want to be connected with, what they care about, etc.
  • Give you inside views on where to be (events, online and off) to connect with the right folks who can help you – whether it’s media, VCs, analysts, customer/prospects, partners – a good PR team can help with all of those, making sure your valuable time isn’t wasted, and that you’re not missing anything crucial.
  • Help you write, message, brand and promote what you want to say in a more eloquent manner.
  • Help “roll out the red carpet” for sales by spreading awareness of you, your company, your products consistently, and in the right places. Ideally, PR sets the stage so that when a sales executive walks into a deal, the prospect says, “Oh yeah, I’ve heard of you – I see you guys everywhere.” That’s always a nice start.

Here’s you should not expect PR to do:

  • Get people to keep using your product if it’s not working right.
  • Cover up bad customer service – certainly we can try to help fix a crisis, but this shouldn’t be the ongoing plan.
  • Work in a black hole – share information with your PR team and trust them to help you come up with the best, most strategic plan on what information should be communicated, to who, how, where and when.
  • Make reporters personally like you.
  • Tell reporters what to write. We can give them facts, we can encourage certain angles. But they’re not puppets and we’re not puppet masters.
  • Be responsible for repeat buyers. That’s your job – through great customer service, good products, stellar relationship management. We’re matchmakers of sorts – we get people interested but it’s up to you to maintain the relationship.

Of course, good PR executives can help with more than these things – it’s just a quick list. We can help you maintain relationships to a certain degree. But we’re not miracle workers. If your product or service isn’t working right or your customer service team isn’t treating customers well, don’t blame PR. Understand – and manage – the difference between positioning communications and information, vs product development, customer service and executive management. Too often, PR is blamed when all three don’t come together well.

What do you expect from PR?