Is authenticity the biggest non-issue in content marketing?

I somewhat randomly came across this tweet by Christoph Trappe earlier today:

And it seriously has me scratching my head.

But before I dive into the problems with the article, I want to say that I fully appreciate that Christoph is running an Authentic Storytelling project. I have a wonderful cousin who’s been helping people tell their authentic stories for years and seriously love this kind of work.

However, it seems to me that sometimes people get so ingrained in their perspective that they can get lost to the bigger picture and I fear that’s what’s happen to Christoph in this article: IF YOU ARE TELLING OTHER PEOPLE WHAT TO POST OR NOT TO POST ON SOCIAL MEDIA: KNOCK IT OFF!!!  where it seems like he’s trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.

So, let’s get started…

He gives an example as to why social media employee advocacy programs don’t work:

Stage 1: Executives: “I want employees to share things on social media.”

Stage 2: They do.

Stage 3: That same executive: “I don’t like their authenticity. Please make it stop.”

I have been actively involved in numerous employee advocacy programs, and not one of them has ever gone through those three stages.

The most comment flow has been along the lines of:

Stage 1: Executives: “I want employees to share things on social media.”

Stage 2: Employees share two or three corporate articles and quickly lose interest. Executives see little evidence of success and also lose interest

Setting a program up that encourages employees to engage is a much more difficult problem to solve than worrying about employees being “authentic.”

Don’t get me wrong, in running corporate social media teams, I’ve had issues with employees being “too authentic,” but it’s almost always an issue with employees being self-destructive and not because they weren’t toeing the corporate line. The “too authentic” situations I’ve had to deal with involve employees who clearly identify their place of work and then post photos of themselves naked or using excessive alcohol/drugs or posting suicidal thoughts.

What I haven’t seen is executives get frustrated because employees are not following the corporate message on social media. Inevitably, my experience has been that executives spend way too much time on the run-up to the launch of an employee advocacy program devising ways to “control” employee messaging instead of thinking through how they can encourage engagement in the first place.

So, yes, employers worry about authenticity before the launch of a campaign, but it’s just not ever been a major issue after the launch of a campaign.

Assuming I still have your attention, I have launched one employee advocacy program that was an all-around success in that we had high engagement from hundreds of employees over a sustained amount of time. The LinkedIn team did a great case study on the program and let me write a guest post on how we approached the creation of the program: How Dun & Bradstreet Uses Employee Advocacy to Boost Influencer Marketing.

Hopefully, it’s clear that I fully appreciate the Christoph’s mission to encourage authentic storytelling and I’m trying to do my part to encourage content marketers to focus on creating engaging content and worry less about trying to control the message, which is an authentic approach I hope Christoph will appreciate. 🙂

To be or not to be… known

As I look to grow out this new business, I thought it would be interesting to build out a list of people who are influential in the MarTech space (Thank you Little Bird for the help!).

So I created a MarTech twitter list to help me follow these thought leaders and the very first tweet that caught my attention was this tweet from Mark Schaefer:

And while Mark doesn’t lead with the punchline in his article, I’ll give it away here: the only thing that matters in online influence is being known

And he gives more than a few ideas on how you can help yourself become “known”:

  • Write a book
  • Establish a speaking career
  • Become a consultant
  • Be named to a prestigious board
  • Stay relevant in your field for many years
  • Build a helpful personal network
  • Be recognized by your industry peers
  • Obtain a teaching position at a university some day
  • Be seen as a leader in my industry
  • Put yourself in a position for a promotion outside your current company

However, I’d argue that many of the strategies that Mark mentions are really the “result” of being known, not necessarily a strategy to become known.

Let me explain.

During my time at Dun & Bradstreet, I had a unique opportunity to jump-start a project that was designed to help the in-house industry experts get more recognition as thought leaders in their space.

Our team took on a number of initiatives including suggesting social updates, building out podcasts, ghost writing monthly content, getting content placed/featured and a ton more. (The LinkedIn team did a pretty good job describing some of the methods and results in this case study they prepared on our program).

The result of these efforts were that many of the execs, who were often extremely knowledgeably in their field, were able to get recognized (or “known”) for their industry expertise.

The result of the hard work of engaging with thought leaders in a meaningful way online was that many of them were able to:

  • Get additional speaking gigs…
  • Join prestigious boards
  • Write books
  • Stay relevant
  • etc.

For example, one of my favorite executives who was part of this program, Anthony Scriffignano, just won an award this week as the Chief Data Officer of the year at the CDO Summit.

In addition to being an all around awesome guy, I think it’s safe to say that the hard work that Anthony and his team have put in to helping him “be known” is one of the reasons that he’s often recognized in such awesome ways.

The point that is worth highlighting is that Mark Schaefer does a great job talking about the benefits of being known, but I’d guess the strategies he used to become known are so intuitive to him that he didn’t see the need to articulate them.

A Proven Strategy to “Become Known”

When you’re ready to be known, here’s how I break down the four key steps:

1) Identify the key thought leaders who are active in your space

  • These could be speakers, academics, authors, journalists, vendors, partners, executives, event organizers, etc.
  • The key is that they’re active online and willing to engage with you
  • The list can be small. Especially in the B2B space, it’s often enough to have 15 to 20 people who can seriously move the needle in raising your awareness if they were to start actively engaging and promoting your content

2) Create regular social content that interacts with these thought leaders

  • One post a day where you tag the thought leader is often enough

3) Have some piece of keystone content that you regularly publish

  • Could be a podcast, a quarterly report a book… or even a regular event. Most important is that you have something valuable that you’re adding to the conversation on a regular basis
  • Getting your content placed on third party publications can be huge here. Do you have a connection to a trade magazine that will feature your content? I have some decent connections to some LinkedIn Editors who would regularly “feature” content from D&B execs often adding thousands of additional engagements

4) Create a digital home that summarizes all the work that you do well

  • It’s totally okay if this is just a landing page…
  • What’s most important is that this page as an easy and obvious call-to-action (CTA) that helps you build up your database. Without a CTA, you end up starting from scratch each time you create a new piece of content and that’s just painful!

In other words, if you want the results that Mark mentions in his article about online influence, the best place to start with baby steps that have you effective engage with the other thought leaders in the space and then start adding value. Once you have an audience and have developed a  message that resonates with people, then you’ll be ready to start reaping the benefits of being a recognized thought leader in your industry.

And obviously, if you have any questions, thoughts, critiques, I love this stuff and more than welcome the dialog!

Are you building an acquisition website while running a referral business?

Let’s start with the punchline:

Way too many marketers who work for wonderful referral-based businesses in the offline world, fail when they try to drive new customer businesses online.

What do I mean by this?

When you talk with the owners/founders/executives at many great companies, they will eagerly tell you that their best business comes from the networks that they’ve built up over the years. I’d argue that these include the majority of B2B businesses, including most financial institutions, legal firms, real estate brokerages, etc.

These people at these companies know that they live by referral business.

But for whatever reason, when they start doing online marketing, the let their marketers go into data-driven analytical mode with a laser-like focus on attracting their next client (“acquisition marketing”) instead of using their website/content/social to appeal to the people who are already inclined to work with them (“referral marketing”).

Luxury Real Estate Example

A few weeks ago, I was asked to give a presentation in Miami to some of the top luxury real estate brokers in the world on how they should be using social media. The 50+ brokers who attended are regularly helping billionaires and other extremely high-worth clients buy properties in excess of $10M in places like Malibu, Beverly Hills, the Hamptons, Manhattan, Monaco and Miami.

In putting together the presentation, I took the chance to review every one of their websites and social presence and the thing that stuck out for me was how so many of the sites were focused on driving inbound leads through SEO.

Almost all of the brokers who had websites included:

  • CTAs (Call-to-actions) all over the site
  • Landing pages for every neighborhood in their service area
  • Big beautiful homes featured along site home search functionality

All best practices for real estate agents in today’s hyper competitive world, right?


Except I asked how many of the luxury brokers in the audience were happy with the leads that came through their website and almost nobody raised their hand.

Of course, almost none of the luxury brokers were happy with the results from their websites.

And why should the be. People who register for a  home search in Malibu or Miami are already always lookie loos. They’re just noise. They’re a nuisance for these brokers who want to deal exclusively with high net worth individuals.

High net worth individuals are rarely, if ever, googling “miami real estate broker” to find their agent. Instead, they’re asking friends, lawyers, business partners, etc. who they would recommend.

But here’s where it gets interesting.

Those same high wealth individuals are using google. Once they have a recommendation, I’d argue that the vast majority will Google the broker’s name to see if that person really is credible.

In other words, the luxury broker’s website has an AWESOME opportunity to convert the exact kind of clients they want. Done right, their website should ooze credibility.

Essentially, their website should scream:

“I am the dominant luxury broker in this market. If you’re a high-worth clients looking to buy a luxury home, you’ll be safe working with me. Even better, I have access to exclusive information, reports, pocket listings, etc. and a top-notch team that mean you simply won’t be able to get our level of service from anyone else in the market.”

Instead, the vast majority of the luxury agent websites were:

  • Featured the same content (property listings and lots of landing pages for every neighborhood in the area) that any agent with access to the MLS could replicate
  • Often only gave lip-service to the broker since, presumably, they’ve been told that people are only interested in home search and they need to get them there quickly.

What if instead of trying to attract leads, the agents homepage was designed to give confirmation to the high net worth client that they were working with the right person?

That’s the assumption I made when putting together this presentation for that Miami event:

In summary, the great luxury real estate agents drive their business from referrals and they know it…. and yet, when they market online, they inevitably become convinced they need to adopt new customer acquisition strategies that often don’t even have a place in their business model.

Crazy… and it doesn’t have to be that way.

Air Cover for Sales

However, far from being exclusive to luxury real estate, I’ve seen this assumption from startup founders and enterprise executives who will readily admit that the majority of their business comes from referral sources, but put all their online marketing efforts into driving inbound leads.

The example I used in the presentation to illustrate this was from the financial services space by comparing the websites of Goldman Sachs and e-trade.

  • E-trade is loaded with CTAs and clearly looking for every lead they can get
  • Goldman Sachs has no lead capture form (at least none I could find)

Goldman Sachs uses their website to build credibility with people who are already inclined to work with them.

In other words, the Goldman Sachs website is being used to provide air cover for sales and this is a super important role. The people doing marketing at Goldman Sachs know someone who is thinking of doing business with them is going to look at their website… The people are going to be comparing working with them vs working with another large financial institution. They want that business, so they have ever incentive to show that they are the dominant  player in the space and the best choice for exclusive clients.

I love the example Goldman Sachs because it’s so obvious that they don’t even want online leads.

Are you aware of other companies that use their website to build credibility with potential referral partners instead of trying to drive leads?