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Is It Time to Tighten Up Your Social Media Policies?

I've long agreed with the adage that customers don't care what you say, they care how you make them feel. In that light, I'm starting to wonder if it might be time for some companies to tighten up their social media policies.
I believe people should be able to speak out about the things they care about. However, I've seen numerous examples of people getting very vocal about a number of personal/political issues on Twitter, LinkedIn, and elsewhere. To me, it's not so much a matter of what is said, but how it's said. Some are well-spoken and gracious. Many are not.
To be clear, these are usually personal accounts and not company accounts. However, these people are often using these same accounts to promote the brands of the companies they work for. Interspersed between tweets with links to the latest company white paper or infographic are tweets about (insert the outrage du jour.) In longer form content, people freely share how they feel about anyone who might have a difference of opinion.
The problem is that regardless of which side you come down on (of almost any issue), a good portion (10%, 20%, 50%...) of your target audience probably has a different opinion. (Or even no opinion.) When the comments are made in a less-than-gracious manner, it reflects poorly on the brand. Worse, if you're making your target audience feel bad (even if they are on the wrong side of the issue) it can't be good for business.
I'm wondering how others are dealing with this. Do you see it as a potential issue? Or are we now in an age where we must segment our audience by ideological demographics as well more standard attributes?
(The irony that I could be offending a certain portion of MY audience that feels they MUST speak out, even if it costs them customers, is not lost on me.)

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8 Tips for Ghostwriting Blogs and Articles

Finding subject matter experts (SMEs) who have the time to contribute to content creation is often a huge challenge for content marketers. SMEs, especially executives, often have a lot more ideas than time. A good ghostwriter can help.
The key to ghost writing for a SME is to create a piece that sounds like their voice and is one they are proud to call their own. They need to feel like they would have written than piece if only they had the time. Here are a few tips I've discovered in my work:
#1 Use their words. Everyone has a different set of commonly used words. I use some words in daily speech that others might not, e.g., egregious. (I just like the way it sounds.) Some of the clients I write for might use that word; many would not. On the other hand, they favor terms that I don’t normally use. For example, where I might say “comprehensive,” they might use “holistic.” The trick is to sound more like them, and less like you.
#2 Imitate their humor (or not). If you’re going to use humor in the piece, it’s important to understand what they think is funny. Snarky doesn’t work for everyone. I favor irony, but not everyone is attuned to it. I also adore puns, but I usually leave those out of my professional work. There are some executives—and some corporate cultures—who believe humor isn’t appropriate in professional writing. When it comes to humor, you need to go with whatever fits their style.
#3 Use their spelling when appropriate. If you’re writing a bylined piece for a SME from another country, you’ll need to decide whether to use their spelling or the native spelling of the target audience. Sometimes, the client’s corporate guidelines will cover this, but just as often, it is an overlooked detail. Pieces that aren’t bylined, e.g., white papers, usually call for the spelling of the parent company or target audience. However, if it’s a blog post, I recommend using the native spelling of the author. It gives the piece a more personal feel. Same goes for bylined articles, but that’s more of a grey area that may be dictated by the publication’s guidelines.
#4 Know their style. As marketers, we know stories sell. However, not all SMEs are story tellers. If you’re going to write a bylined piece for a SME who is not a story-teller, it’s often better to stay away from drawn out stories.
#5 Know their background. I have another client that loves analogies. They are a joy to write for as I love them as well. Since I write for multiple executives at this firm, I study their personal backgrounds. LinkedIn can be very helpful for this, but if they haven’t posted any hobbies or interests, just ask. For some, I use sports analogies. Thankfully, I can find just about everything I need to know about a sport on the Internet. For another executive, I use a lot of cooking analogies. This client even lets me leverage my background as a history buff in their analogies.
 #6 Study past efforts. If you’re lucky, your SME will have already written a few articles or blog posts. These can help you understand your SME’s style and what they think is important. They are also a good source of additional topics. I might review something the SME wrote and then send them a “what if we looked at it from this angle?” idea. 

#7 Use their cadence. People speak with a distinct cadence, e.g., fast, haltingly, slow and steady, emphasizing certain words, etc. People write with a distinct cadence as well. For example, I have one SME that loves to use series in his writing. In fact, he often uses two series in a sentence. A, B, and C = D, E, and F. Thankfully, he’s worked with me long enough to trust me to simplify his somewhat complex style.

#8 Remember, it’s not about you. This is perhaps the most important piece of advice I can offer. You need to be confident in your writing; confident enough that you can also let go. Admittedly, this can be difficult as writers can be a bit nerdy when it comes to word usage, grammar, and punctuation. For example, “on-premises*” and “on-premise” mean two entirely different things, but one of my high-tech clients insists on using on-premise when he means on-premises. At the end of the day, if he wants to use on-premise, it’s his call. Most of his audience will never notice, and given how often the words are used interchangeably, it probably won’t be too long before we see a new synonym for on-premises in Merriam-Webster.
*For my fellow punctuation nerds, I know I’m using a hyphen when I shouldn’t, but what fun is life if you don’t break a few punctuation rules every now and then?
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Should You Hire a Marketing Agency or Use Freelance Marketing Specialists?

As you think about outsourcing your marketing, one of the first questions you'll need to answer is...

Should I hire a marketing agency to handle everything for me, or would I be better off hiring freelance writers, web designers, graphic artists, etc.?

The answer is - it depends. (Isn't it always!) You'll need to take a look at the pros and cons of each to decide what's right for your business. Let me give you some general guidelines and an assessment of the pros and cons of each approach. I'll also share a few tips for working with these different groups.

Working with a Marketing Agency
When I talk about marketing agencies, I'm referring to an organization that purports to be an expert in "all things marketing." Many of them have a specialty like web design, but that doesn't mean they can't offer a plethora of other services.

Pros: The primary advantage of using an agency is that many of them can handle everything for you: web design, SEO, collateral, social media, etc. They can also help you prioritize so you get the biggest bang out of your marketing budget.

Cons: The disadvantage is that this expertise comes at a cost. Many of these agencies use freelancers, so they need to cover those costs as well as the cost of the project manager assigned to your account, internal marketing talent and the usual sort of miscellaneous overhead that comes with running a business.

Tips: Be wary of the "all things marketing" firm that really specializes in one or two things. For example, if an organization's forte is SEO, and that's how they approach every project, you can end up with website content that ranks well (for awhile) but fails to resonate with your buyer.

Working with Freelancers
Freelancers are by nature specialists. They are often sole proprietors, but most of the freelancers I know - myself included - maintain a network of other freelancers that round out the solutions we can offer. For example, my focus is copy. You wouldn't want me designing your website - just takea look at mine and you'll see why! However, I work with a number of designers (and agencies) who do a fabulous job designing client websites, brochures, white papers, etc. They help me see the vision, and then I create copy that fits and gets the message across - with the appropriate attention paid to SEO, of course.

Pros: If you have a specific project like a white paper you want written, working with a freelancer can be much less expensive. The freelancer's expertise also tends to be deep because they are so focused. And, without a middleman (external project manager), projects can often get completed faster.

Cons: Freelancers can get a bit myopic. As the saying goes, "when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." Plus, if you have a lot of multifaceted projects, you may need to do more project management ensuring the project flows smoothly from one phase to the next. When you work with an agency, your account manager normally takes care of this task.

Tips: To avoid the hammer/nail paradigm, look for freelancers with a broad marketing background. Also, make sure you have someone internal with a strong marketing background in charge of your project. Generally, you don't want to put your fresh-out-of-school new-hire in charge of a project that involves a lot of moving parts and people.

I would love to hear what you think. Do you outsource at least a portion of your marketing? If so, do you favor freelancers or agencies?

Have a specific question? Reach out to me on LinkedIn.

View Melissa Paulik's profile on LinkedIn

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Website or Product Brochures - Which Comes First?

I am sure many of you will recognize this all-too-common scenario...

I am working with an old friend who owns a small technology company. Like a lot of small business owners, he has a laundry list of things he'd like to get done, but budget dollars are scarce. The two most vital projects - a website overhaul and new product brochures - will take more dollars than he has available.

Option A - Spend a little here, a little there.
One way to address this is to try to fit both into the budget by doing it himself or hiring lower quality freelancers. While that's an option, I'd argue it's probably what got him to where he is in the first place. Replacing his current website with one that doesn't improve the user experience or brochures that are poorly written or designed, will just be throwing good money after bad. 

Nor will trying to do it himself result in a better quality product. He heads a team of technologists not marketers, and there are significant opportunity costs involved.

Option 2 - Prioritize
In truth, he has enough funds to do either the website or the brochures well. We're not talking "Cadillac" versions of either, but he doesn't need that. He needs something that allows his team to put their best foot forward. Ultimately, he needs to prioritize and pick one over the other.

The big question is, where does he start? I have the luxury of being somewhat of an unbiased source. That is, I don't necessarily make my living from website redesigns nor sales collateral creation. I supply copy for both as well as a number of other types of materials such as blog posts and white papers. Where he ultimately chooses to start makes no difference to me. That said, while I have no horse in this race, after spending three decades in sales and marketing, you can be sure I have an opinion.

Let the Sales Funnel Decide
customer's journey, sales cycleMy friend needs to look at his sales funnel and determine where his biggest challenges lie. Let's take a closer look.

One of my clients divides the customer's journey into three phases - awareness, buying, and implementation and usage. Naturally, you are going to have more opportunities - and I'm using that term somewhat loosely - at the top of the funnel in the awareness phase. At this stage, your prospects are starting to frame their challenges and research potential solutions. The key is to capture their attention and help them see your solution as at least one potential option so they can progress to the buying stage.

During the buying stage, the prospect is digging deeper into their potential options. At first they may have general questions - the kind that can be answered via sales collateral. Later in this stage, their questions will go deeper and need to be supported by more specific resources such as white papers, case studies, ROI tools and subject matter experts.

For now, I'm going to skip the implementation stage. If my friend's team can close the business, implementing and creating long-term relationships is not an issue.

To make a wise choice, he needs to look at his funnel and determine where his biggest challenges lie. Is he having a problem attracting new opportunities? If so, his website is the most important focal point, especially since he sells B2B products across a wide geography. His website is the first introduction most people have to what his business can do.

On the other hand, if finding new opportunities isn't an issue, but keeping them engaged is, he will want to focus on the collateral needed to keep the opportunity flowing through the funnel. He believes product brochures are necessary, but other organizations may choose to start with supporting collateral like case studies if they are more instrumental in keeping prospects engaged.

If the answer is "all of the above" as I suspect it might be, he needs to start at the top of the funnel. After all, he can't close opportunities that he doesn't have to begin with.

Want to ask a direct question? Reach out to me on LinkedIn.
View Melissa Paulik's profile on LinkedIn

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