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Mining Content Gold: Getting the Most Out of Your Subject Matter Experts

The used printing press we purchased had just been delivered and sat forlornly in the middle of our shop floor. Fred Hudson, our plant engineer, just stared at it, one hand on his hip, the other rubbing his bald head. The riggers who shipped the press deployed a unique method when disassembling the machine. Instead of properly disconnecting the wiring, they simply hacked all the wires off at the power source. So as Fred examined the carnage of tangled wiring, he was trying to figure out how to make all the proper connections. And of course no wiring diagrams or user manuals came with the old, used machine.

Luckily for us, Fred was a genius. He walked around the press for a few days and then pounced. Within a day, he connected all the wires and power was surging through our now running printing press.

Electronics wasn't the only thing in which Fred was expert. He knew everything about mechanical equipment, building construction, auto mechanics, HVAC, and safety. He was our resident subject matter expert (SME).

Regardless of your type of business  - technology, software, analytics, marketing, healthcare, manufacturing - chances are you have a Fred or two on staff. They are often quiet, unassuming women and men who harbor a vast source of knowledge of your industry and company. That makes them an invaluable resource when it comes to creating content to help market your business. Whether you need a white paper, eBook, case study, blog post, or sell sheet, your SME's can provide the knowledge and insight to make your content pieces relevant and compelling.

Here are four ways to get the most out of your SME's when it comes to content creation.

Tap into their passion

Regardless of how quiet and reserved your SME's may be, they will open up if you can get them talking about something in the business they are passionate about. They carry around a ton of knowledge they rarely get a chance to share. Showing genuine interest and tapping into that passion often results in a treasure trove of valuable and compelling information that will interest your customers and prospects.

Be thorough in your interview

To get really good information from your SME's, be fully prepared for your discussion. Ask open ended questions and listen closely. Follow up and probe to get them to dig deeper. If the subject is particularly complicated, try to strip away the jargon and get them to explain in plan English. Oftentimes, SME's are so well versed in a topic, they forget that we mere mortals may not have any idea what they are talking about. Fred used to start most discussions with "As you know..." before going on to talk about something about which I was totally clueless. Don't be embarrassed to say "I don't understand. Can you please explain?" Have your SME use analogies to further clarify the subject to make it easier to convert your conversation into meaningful content.

Record the discussion

Before you begin, ask for permission to record the conversation. Even if you are master at shorthand - something very few people are these days - you'll never capture all the content gold your SME will share. They may be intimidated at first, but once you get them talking they will usually forget they are being recorded. Having a digital record of the conversation will be invaluable later when you parse the discussion into various pieces of content.

Keep them in the loop

As you convert their words of wisdom into blog posts, ebooks, or white papers, make sure you keep them involved. Let them review anything you write before publishing. This will not only reinforce that you appreciate what they had to say, it will also ensure that you haven't misinterpreted something or simply made some errors of fact. Keeping them involved will demonstrate that you truly care about what they had to say and will also make it easier if you decide to go back to them for more interesting content later.

As you put your content schedule together and scramble to do research, don't look past your internal resources. Engage your SME's and enjoy a bountiful content reward.

How do you use the knowledge of your SME's? What forms of content have you been able to put together with their help?

 

 

 

6 Ideas To Break Through "Content Block"

Pulitzer Prize winning sportswriter Red Smith once said, "Writing is easy. You just sit at the typewriter until the drops of blood ooze from your forehead." That's what it feels like for many people as they stare at a blank computer screen coming up totally empty as to what to write. The pressure builds as a nagging voice shouts in their head: More content! Publish or perish! Come up with an idea!

Writers are all too familiar with "writer's block" when typing that first sentence becomes overwhelmingly difficult.

Corporate marketing teams can sometimes face the same dilemma. You understand the importance of creating compelling content for your prospects and customers and you know it's a proven way to build relationships and drive revenue. Publishing blog posts, white papers, eBooks, or case studies is the best way to get in front of your target audience to convince them of your expertise in your field and reassure them you understand their issues and can help solve their problems.

But that doesn't make it any easier to create compelling content. Instead of a blank screen, though, you're faced with an empty content calendar. You just don't know what to write about. You're suffering from a problem I call "content block."

I've been on a number of calls with clients who want to produce a white paper, eBook, or blog post series, but are struggling with what the topics should be. To break the block, I'll walk them through a number of possible ideas and eventually we come up with relevant areas of interest we can convert into solid content.

Here are six ideas for topics that will get your creative juices flowing and help you overcome your "content block."

Discuss an industry trend. Pick a hot industry topic and provide your take on it. This will show thought leadership and demonstrate to customers and prospects that you're in tune with current trends. The many newsletters you receive contain a wide variety of issues that would interest your audience. You can also check out brochures on industry conferences and review the list of breakout sessions for a number of topic ideas.

Interview an SME. Most organizations have valuable sources of content right under their noses in their product or service subject matter experts. These individuals not only possess valuable company knowledge but they are also well aware of what's going on with your industry as a whole. Unfortunately, we often fail to take advantage of their vast wealth of knowledge. Sit down with them and ask "So what's new?" Chances are within a short time you'll have an extensive list of topic ideas and the actual content to flesh them out.

Present an opinion on an industry article. We are all inundated with both physical and electronic magazines and articles on a regular basis. It's a good bet you've come across more than one viewpoint with which you disagree. That's great. Make it your next blog post. Linking back to the original article and then providing your unique opinion on it provides your customers and prospects with two sides on a topic of interest. That's the best way to get a dialogue going while honing your thought-leadership chops.

Analyze an industry survey or report. Chances are you often find a report or survey lurking in your email inbox containing information of interest to your target audience. Digest the report, cull out the pertinent points, and put together an analysis explaining what the data means for your prospects and customers. Even if they received the same report, your spin on it could make it more specific and relevant to them.

Offer an objective discussion of a technology you offer. This one can get tricky since if your goal is to be a thought leader, you don't want to jump up on the podium and give a sales pitch. A well written brochure is helpful at certain points in the sales process, but for thought leadership purposes, you want to present a broader look at the topic. For example, one of my clients is a leader in the waterjet cutting field. We did a series of white papers and ebooks discussing the benefits of waterjet technology without specifically mentioning the company's products. We wanted to help educate our target audience and by doing so, we helped cement the company as a thought leader in a growing manufacturing space.

Give a first person problem solving example. These occur on a daily basis but often go unnoticed and unreported. That's unfortunate since they can be among the most powerful pieces of influencing content. Check with your customer service team or sales group for examples of where your product or service solved a customer problem.It can be difficult to get permission from a customer to use their name, but you can make it generic and get the same impact. The result will be similar to a case study with the familiar formula of background, problem, solution, results. This is a great way to provide your prospects with an illustration of what you might be able to do for them.

You may feel the well has run dry when it comes to content will interest your target audience, but that's really never the case. Spend some time thinking about your company, your clients, and your industry and chances are you'll be tapping away at your keyboard in no time.

What have you done to break your "content block?" Where do you find your best content ideas?

 

 

 

 

Ring in the New Year with a Content Review

The hectic run-up to the holiday season is usually a time of finishing up projects before the end of year lull. Once through the festivities, activity ramps up again and the new year can sometimes present a blank slate - perhaps even a clean desk - and offers a perfect opportunity to start a few new projects. One of the more productive things you might consider is taking a look at your content. Start by reviewing what you have and then determine what you might need in the coming months. Here are five ideas to get you started.

1. Take advantage of untapped resources

Coming up with content ideas can sometimes be a struggle, especially with a bulging to-do list of other priorities. The solution may not be as difficult as you think. domain owner . You're likely surrounded by several fertile sources that you may not have considered - your resident subject matter experts.

Most companies, especially those in the technology space, have SME's who are carrying around valuable knowledge about your industry, business, and customers. Unfortunately they probably lack the time to get that information down on paper where you can share it with current and prospective clients. Why not arrange to tap that extensive knowledge and put together an eBook or white paper on a topic relevant to your business?

Not only will this provide you with an outstanding content piece for lead generation or thought leadership, but it'll also allow the SME to share his or her valuable insight - something they may be eager to do.

2. Document a customer success story

The end of the year is always a good time to look back to last year to find situations where your product or service helped one of your clients. Crafting several compelling case studies fills two needs: It provides your customer with some always welcome publicity and it also gives you an effective proof of concept piece.

One of the biggest influencers with potential clients is evidence that your product or service does what you say it will. Demonstrating it with a real world example from an existing customer is one of the most powerful sales tools.

3. Refresh your blog

Spend a minute going through your list of blog posts. If the most recent one is three or four months old, you're sending a message that either you have nothing new to say or you've abandoned the blog section entirely. This could be the right time to reach out to customers and prospects with a series of posts to refresh that area of your site.

You don't need to commit to a daily blog blitz, but presenting one post a week for the next few months will show that you're making an effort to communicate with your audience.

4. Update your web site

While you're on the site, take a look at other copy that may need updating. Is your bio page still relevant? Does it include new hires and has it been edited to delete those no longer with the company? How long has it been since you posted a new entry in your press release section? Does the main message on your home page still accurately reflect the company's direction?

I'm not suggesting you invest heavily in an all-new design. Sometimes revisiting and updating some of your key content elements is all you need to breath some life into your site.

5. Get published

One of the best - and most cost effective - ways to get publicity for your company is to publish an article in an industry magazine or newsletter. Those publications are always looking for content so they'll likely welcome your reaching out to offer your expertise. This is an excellent way to share your thoughts on a hot industry topic and get some props for your organization at the same time.

After the article is published, you then have a solid marketing piece you can share with prospects and customers to reinforce your thought leadership profile.

Lots of resolutions are made at this time of year and many of them wither and die before too long. Reviewing and upgrading your content program doesn't have to be one of them. By taking a few simple steps now, you can establish a year long program that can yield significant benefits.

What are your content plans for 2015?

 

Writing A Blog Post? Know Your Goal

According to the latest survey from the Content Marketing Institute and Marketing Profs, three quarters of B2B marketers use blogs as part of their inbound marketing plan. Two out of three believe blog posts are effective in driving traffic and acquiring leads. There's a good chance blogging is already part of your overall marketing strategy or soon will be. When writing your posts though, you might want to consider the old saying "if you don't know where you're going any road will get you there." That's because the power of your posts comes in knowing what you're trying to accomplish with each one. Here are three kinds of blog posts that you'll likely want to use.

1. Informational

In this type of post, you're looking to share information about your industry or some aspect of business in general. Focus these posts on enlightening your readers about a new trend or topic. Make it interesting by adding little known facts about a issue that's getting a lot of attention. For example, this post from Dan Singer at Dyntek ties together two highly visible current events: the latest rash of credit card breaches and the release of Apple's new payment system. Both have been widely covered, but Dan discusses how a new technology called tokenization connects the two. Readers will likely come away with broader knowledge of both the Apple Pay system and a possible solution to cyber hacking.

2. Thought Leadership

This takes the informational post a step further by offering an opinion or suggesting an action. They're meant to be thought provoking and offer readers a clear point of view. For example, this post by Ed Marsh of Consilium Global Business Advisors relates a botched inbound marketing effort. He explains about being intrigued enough to sign up for a blog subscription but was totally turned off when he was confronted by an overly legalistic landing page. He goes on to point out the lessons B2B marketers could learn from the debacle. After reading this type of post, readers should know exactly how the author feels (you certainly know how Ed feels!) and should provoke a rethinking of their position on the subject.

3. Promotional

These kinds of posts are important, but they should be used sparingly. They're meant to offer information on a topic but also to have a specific call to action. The goal of these posts is to get  the reader to sign up for a webinar, or receive a white paper or ebook. For example, this post from Shaun Pinney at Backupify provides some tips and hints from experienced Salesforce.com administrators. At the end, he offers the reader the complete free eBook on the subject. This type of a post should provide enough information to be interesting even without the call to action. These are effective in building your prospect list, but if they're the only posts you provide, you're not likely to generate much return traffic.

Each of these posts have their place and should be part of your total inbound marketing plan. Using a combination of all of them should help maintain interest and keep your post feed fresh and compelling.

Are you using all three? Which have you found to be most effective?

9 Steps To Get The Content You Want From Your Copywriter

Summer is over and you’re back from vacation. Remember all those things you told yourself you’d get to after Labor Day? Welcome to “after Labor Day.” Some of those tasks growling on your desk involve creating content – an eBook, white paper, or series of blog posts. If you and your staff are buried with other priorities, you may decide to contract with a freelance copywriter to help break the logjam of work you’re facing.

Probably a smart choice, but only if you get the result you want. Here are nine tips to get maximum value with minimum management time.

1. Clearly define what you need

Be precise on what you want in a final product. Determine the topic, content vehicle, target audience, and focus of the piece. If you need help defining some of these points, reach out to your writer for assistance. An experienced professional can help crystallize your need.

2. Get the right stakeholders involved

If someone else in the organization is going to approve the copy, make sure he or she is involved before you and your copywriter begin working on the project. I once had a case where my client and I were totally in concert on what he wanted. We went from concept to outline to first draft and were both happy with the result. Unfortunately the CEO who had final say didn't share our feeling. It wasn’t what HE wanted. We were striving for an objective thought leadership piece and the CEO wanted a sales brochure. We needed to know that up front. Instead, my contact looked bad to his boss and my credibility took a hit as well - even though I delivered precisely what was requested.

To avoid that costly disconnect, make sure you’ve circulated the concept and outline to everyone who might have a say in the piece. Know your relevant stakeholders and engage them from the start.

3. Get off on the right foot

Once you have consensus from your stakeholders on what you're trying to accomplish, communicate the basics of the project to your copywriter in a kickoff call. Agree on the voice, tone, and style of the piece. Will it be an informal second person approach where you address the reader directly or a more formal style using the third person objective case? Do you prefer footnotes, endnotes, or links? Discuss the scheduling requirements as well. Nailing down these issues early saves a lot of confusion, delays, and time-consuming back-and-forth communication later.

4. Agree on source material

Let your writer know what you'll be providing for source material and what he or she will need to research separately. In most cases, this will need to be discussed before your writer can provide pricing on the project. Identify any SME’s your writer might have to contact and do a virtual email introduction. Communicate any source materials you DO NOT want used.

5.  Approve an outline

Review and approve an outline before your writer begins the first draft.  This will ensure the piece is going in the direction you want. If it’s a short piece – a blog post for instance – you may only need to see a title and a few bullet points. For a longer piece like an eBook or white paper, reviewing a detailed outline before writing begins is a must.

6. Get a Sneak Preview

Especially on longer pieces, request an early look before your writer gets too far along. Reviewing the opening and perhaps a slice of the first section will confirm that your writer is following the agreed upon tone and style. That isn't something you can determine from the outline alone.

7. Be Available to Communicate

Although the point of outsourcing the piece is to free you up for other tasks, there are times when your writer will need you for clarification or direction. If you've hired an experienced professional, it won't happen often, but when you are contacted, make an effort to answer promptly. It may take you only a couple of minutes, but your writer could be at a standstill until you respond.

8. Review and Revise

If you’ve followed the process to this point, you'll likely receive a first draft that will be close to a final version. There may be a quote or fact that needs to be revised, or a paragraph or two you want reworded, but there shouldn't be a need for any major revisions. Usually a brief review call with your writer and one revision cycle should be all that’s needed to get you the final product.

9. Provide Feedback

Once the project is complete, let your writer know how you feel it went. Whether you have some comments about the process or the writing itself, communicate that to your writer so he or she can incorporate the feedback into the next project you do together. Developing an ongoing relationship with a reliable, seasoned copywriter can streamline the process considerably. The more your writer knows about you, your audience, and your product or service, the better he or she is able to deliver the desired final product - the first time - with minimal intervention from you.

How do you manage your outsourced writing projects? What process have you found most effective?

Photo Credit: Glyn Lowe Photoworks. via Compfight cc

Upon Further Review…5 Tips for Effective Proofreading

The photo above received a lot of play in the Boston newspapers several months ago. Four letters. Two wrong. Not good. It's bad enough that someone painted the sign incorrectly, but then a crew went through the trouble of actually hanging it up. Mind boggling.

A couple of weeks later during one of our all-too-frequent snow storms here in the Northeast, I drove past a restaurant with the following message displayed on its outdoor sign:

"Closed Due to Inclimate Weather"

Which prompts the question: Whatever became of proofreading?

As a copywriter, I'm deathly afraid of submitting or posting copy with typos or missing words. Writing is my stock in trade so if I can't deliver error-free copy I'm not going to be instilling much confidence in my clients.

I don't think people - whether professional writers or not - realize the impact that misspellings and other mistakes have on their readers.

In my prior life as VP/North American Operations for a global manufacturing/fulfillment company, I had the pleasure (?) of reviewing hundreds of resumes. The first things I looked for were typos. If I found one, the applicant was on thin ice. Two, he or she was slipping into darkness. Three? They hit the discard pile.

And that was even before I got into the meat of the person's background. I just felt that if the applicant couldn't take the extra time needed to proofread probably the most important document in his or her life at that time, how conscientious of a worker would they be? In my mind, not very.

Whether you're sending an email, writing a blog post, or preparing a business plan for investors, the content you put out directly reflects on you. It goes a long way toward forming your reader's opinion of you - for better or worse. Your content must be credible to be effective. And nothing destroys your credibility faster than a careless typo or two.

Here are five tips you can use to make sure your copy is correct before you hit the send or print button.

1. Sleep on it - My first rule is to never proofread anything the same day I write it. After spending several hours composing a piece of content, I'm just too close to it to be able to switch gears from creation to detail checking. It's almost like snow blindness. I just can't see the words anymore. I have to let the piece simmer overnight, get some separation, and then attack it with a fresh set of eyes the next day.

2. Proofing is hard (copy) - I know it's not very green of me, but I nearly always print out a hard copy to proofread one of my pieces. This is a technique I picked up from my days as a proofreader in a printing company many, many years ago. I was trained to use a ruler to block out every line but the one I was proofing. The most important thing in proofreading is focus. By highlighting one line at a time, I force myself to focus only on the words on that line. I suppose I could try to use that technique on my iMac screen but I don't think it would work as well.

3. Don't trust spellcheck - President Ronald Reagan once said when discussing negotiating with the USSR that we must "trust then verify."

I feel the same way about spellcheck. As we all know, if you spell something wrong enough that it becomes another word, spellcheck will let you proceed on your merry way without displaying the deadly red squiggly underscore. SpellCorrect has made the problem worse by changing a word you want into something else entirely without even letting you know. And you're well aware of the trouble with homonyms like "there and their" or "too and to." Spellcheck will never catch those mistakes. This is one area where technology can't help you.

4. Strunk and White are your friends - I know. Seeing those two names gave you nasty flashbacks to high school English. I'm sure many of you have a pristine, uncracked copy of Strunk and White's Elements of Style stored somewhere in the attic or basement. If you're going to be doing any writing, do yourself a favor and dig it out. It was originally written over hundred years ago by William Strunk and then updated by E. B. White. It's just under 100 pages and is the best reference book you could ever have.  It's basic training for writing covering proper usage, form, words and expressions. I refer to it at least once a day.

5.  I can't hear you - Once you've written your piece, let it sit over night, and proofread it thoroughly, you're done right?  Wrong. Go over it one more time. This time without the ruler but instead read it out loud. This may make your fellow house members think you've lost your mind, but this is a critical key last step. Reading aloud will help you catch the rhythm of the piece and alert you to missing words, double words, and clumsy phraseology. I promise that you'll find at least one more thing that needs correcting.

Finally, for those of you furiously rereading this piece to uncover a typo so you can rub it in my face, I have a treat for you. I intentionally included one for you to find so you wouldn't be disappointed. It happens to be one of the 100 most incorrectly spelled words in English according to yourdictionary.com. It also happens to be my personal demon. I nearly always mispell it but I catch it in the proofreading stage. If you find it, congratulations and let me know.

How about you? Do you proofread thoroughly enough? What tricks and tips do you use?

(Photo credit: Rich Shertenlieb on Boston.com)