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!

Optimize for inbound links or on-site SEO?

I’ve started many new domains over the years (RainCityGuide.com, 4realz.net, spinnio.com, and DustinLuther.com come to mind, although I’m sure there are probably another dozen that didn’t last long to even come to mind). However, it’s been a few years and the last one I remember creating, which was b2b.dnb.com… and that was only creating a subdomain on a high ranking site, so it’s definitely not a typical new site.

I say all this because I was a bit surprised when I noticed that this site started ranking in Google only days after adding the first two pages:

It seems obvious that the Google Sandbox is long gone!

And yet, I’m stuck in my ways and thought I’d start this new blog with a post on some SEO best practices that haven’t changed at all over the years.

And maybe my favorite example of this is from a blog post I write in Dec 2005

I remember at the time of writing this post, I would have these long conversations with people about the importance of driving inbound links and people would look at me like I had two heads. The people creating business websites back then, especially real estate websites, were so focused on creating “wonderful” user experiences, they that forgot to create content people would share (probably one of the reason the post hit a nerve and generated 137 comments!).

You’d think that over a decade later, everyone would agree that a blog should be used to drive inbound links… and yet… I’m pained to say that we went the other way. Way too many blog posts became “optimized” for google bots with unreadable and generic content that nobody would ever share.

Why?

I think most people did this with the  best of intentions. Creating content people want to share is hard while optimizing a blog post for keywords is easy.

However, the result is that I feel like I could write the same Linkation, Linkation, Linkation post in 2018 that I wrote in 2005.

So, what generated this little rant about the importance of driving inbound links? Earlier today, I tweeted that I was pleasantly surprised how quickly google let this site out of their sandbox, and a most wonderful Realtor named Laura Fangman asks a simple question: “Any tips?”

And so I shared with her my thoughts on the importance of creating structured content.

In a nutshell, at D&B, we knew we wanted to rank for business credit related terms, so we created a Business Credit Guide and then loaded it up with tons of content in a very structured way so that google would easily be able to understand how to prioritize the content.

Things near the base of the directory, like https://b2b.dnb.com/business-credit/ , were super relevant, while things that were much deeper, like our Veteran Supplier Diversity page: https://b2b.dnb.com/business-credit/contracts/supplier-diversity-programs/veteran-owned/ , were long-tail terms. The beauty is that the site structure was able to quickly teach google the most important content on the site.

Thanks to the fact that we were consolidating hundreds of pages and multiple sites, we were quickly able to build out a very robust guide and google has rewarded the site with highly targeted and free traffic for years.

However, the logical structure and comprehensive content were only one part of why the site ranked so well. We also made sure to have tons of content on the subdomain that was optimized for inbound links, including blog posts, podcast episodes, expert profiles, webinars, etc.

If I had to summarize some of the things I’ve learned over the years, it would be that a well-functioning business website should have:

  • A community section that’s optimized for driving inbound links. It could be a blog section, a message board, a podcast, etc. What’s most important is that that section is designed to drive inbound links from other blogs and social sites.
  • A section (I’ll call the “guide”) that’s optimized for driving onsite SEO value so that Google will send it’s most wonderful free traffic

As a bonus, when the guide is set up right, just about EVERY post that goes up in the community section should have a reason to link into the guide (internal linking at it’s best!)

(In addition to a community section and a guide, there’s a key third element that’s should be part of every business website… I’ll call the credibility-building section, but leave that for a different blog post!)

In this way, the community section is optimizing for SEO when it’s optimized to drive inbound links. I would happily argue that anything that distracts from driving inbound links is hurting SEO for this section.

  • Is there a pop-up on your blog posts that’s stops people from wanting to share your posts? Get rid of it!
  • Is the title so optimized for SEO that it looks spammy? Use a “real” title instead.
  • Is it loaded with CTAs so that nobody would ever tweet your blog post? Get rid of them!

Seriously, think of your blog as something optimized to get people to share the link. Anything that causes someone to hesitate to share the link should be removed.

In terms of the guide, this authoritative section of your site is where you should make sure to optimize your site for onsite SEO. This is where you really do want to make sure that the Google bots can easily understand the structure of your site. The content on every page here is important as it has potential to pay the bills for years to come.

Especially as this is the first blog post on a brand new blog, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  • Do you agree it makes the most sense to have a section of your site purely designed to drive inbound links? 
  • Do you have an interesting example of anyone else who’s created this kind of deep and structured content? (would love some more examples to point to!)