A Template for Low-Cost, High-Impact Positioning Success
Introduction – What is Social Networking?
While content is king, Social Networking is not so much about content as it is about the conversation – and the relationship.
Regardless of your reason for getting involved, Social Networking is about creating a give-and-take which, in turn, creates a real – or at least a perceived – sense that the people who are communicating are actually creating relationships with the people who are being communicated to. This relationship building works because, using the technology of Social networking, the people on the receiving end have the opportunity to “communicate back” to the expert.
Despite the importance of Social Networking conversations and relationships, the vast majority of those on the receiving end don’t actually “communicate back.” However, knowing that they can communicate back gives recipients of Social Networking communications from experts, gurus and thought-leaders the illusion of a real-world two-way relationship between themselves and the expert on the other end of the Social Network.
It is no coincidence that Facebook and Twitter are set up to make it easy for followers (Twitter) or friends (Facebook) to contact or reply to the experts they choose to “friend” or follow – and it’s no coincidence that the best and most influential bloggers invite and allow comments in response to their blogs. Other Social Networking tools (DIGG comes to mind) allow people to vote on Social Networking blog posts, demonstrating their positive (or negative) reaction to a given post.
Too many executives and authorities who set themselves up to be self-appointed thought-leaders or topical gurus, who conscientiously populate the Internet with tidal waves of quality content, still don’t understand that Social Networking is actually all about the conversation, all about the relationship. They position themselves to present, but not to receive. They tweet or post, blog or comment from positions of perhaps well-earned authority – then wonder why they don’t have more followers.
Those with real followers routinely interact with their constituencies. In addition, they post items that don’t just demonstrate their expertise – their Social Networking interactions also create relationships with their followers and fans that will generate referrals and, in other ways, create long-term business benefits.
While relationships are the essence of Social Networking, “content” – the information which triggers the exchanges – is the basis for the interactions which create those relationships.
Creating and Re-Creating Content
While content is king, creating enough new and important content to remain relevant would be difficult and time-consuming – or would, except for the fact that the incredible and constantly growing variety of Social Media outlets allow your distinctive, original content to be repurposed for maximum reach and impact. For instance:
- You can create a free-download eBook – a book-formatted (with a distinctive cover, paginated layout, as well as illustrations and other graphics) electronic document which doesn’t need to be longer than 36 to 50 pages (though it can be much longer) – that summarizes the key points you want to make …the points that really set yourself apart as a true thought-leader.
- You can take that eBook and boil it down, editing it into a series of White Papers and Case Studies which can then be posted topically. Like eBooks, these White Papers and Case Studies should be laid out and paginated in book-like format, typeset and replete with graphic illustrations.
- You can then create a series of blog-posts based on each of the White Papers and Case Studies. For example, I’ve recently created a White Paper from which we will pull no less than seven single-topic blogs, all based on that one White Paper. These blogs can be posted on a free-standing, topical blog-site, as well as in your Facebook Official Page (a.k.a., Fan Page).
Note: For each topic, the “core” blog should be posted on the website, with other postings (to Blogger or WordPress, or on topical blog-sites) should be rewritten – at least a little – in order to enhance their SEO value in promoting your core website.
- You can create video blogs (some still call them vlogs) of the most important blogs, posting those on YouTube or on a private YouTube network you can create once you have sufficient video posts. The same content can be re-created and re-distributed by creating Podcasts, then hosting them on free-distribution sites such as Podbean.com or MyPodcast.com.
- For each blog and video blog or podcast (as well as for the eBook and the White Papers and Case Studies which provide the source content for these spin-off content repackaging tools), you can create a series of “check this out” tweets and Facebook posts. In addition, you can link your Facebook and Twitter accounts, allowing you to double the impact of individual tweets or Facebook comments.
In this step-by-step process, all of the “content” presented to different audiences using different Social Networking technologies is based on a single source of in-depth, high-quality content. An effective eBook could keep you busy re-purposing and re-posting content for six months; a stand-alone White Paper can keep you busy for a month; a simple blog could keep you busy posting on Facebook and Twitter for a week.
If you take this approach, you can use support applications to pre-program your various postings for a significant time in advance, freeing you up to focus in the moment on breaking-news blogs, tweets and Facebook posts – ensuring that your fan-base of followers is treated to solid, useful content even when breaking news doesn’t offer new opportunities.
For instance, once per month I produce a series of “#PR Pro” tweets, then use a free tool, TweetDeck, to place them three-per-day at different times each weekday and once-per-day on Saturdays, ensuring that my followers receive at least sixty-four useful and original tweets per month, in addition to my more personal updating tweets, my retweets, my replies to others and my “check this out” tweets which I produce whenever I find useful third-party content I’d like to share. More on this below.
What’s the Use?
Effective and aggressive social networking outreach efforts can enhance existing promotion, publicity, marketing and advertising programs.
Alternatively, or in addition, an effective and efficient aggressive Social Networking campaign can be used as a low-cost, high-impact way of positioning a business (through the business’s public-face leader or leaders) as a thought-leader or industry-segment guru – and in doing so, open doors for business development: leads, referrals, inquiries, sales.
Even greater success can be accomplished when your Social Networking outreach effort seeks to accomplish several distinctive goals. This is because the volume of communications you undertake will almost automatically enhance the impact of each of your Social Networking outreach programs.
However, to accomplish this, several elements are necessary:
- Quality Content
- Consistency of Presentation
- Frequency of Presentation
- Integration of Presentation among Social Networking sites
By blending these factors together, your Social Networking outreach program can and will build followers, which in turn will lead to effective positioning as a thought leader/market niche guru.
Here’s How it Works
For any company or individual who wants to be seen as a leader or expert in a specific market niche, there is no more cost-effective means of achieving this goal than through aggressive and effective Social Networking.
To succeed, several steps must be first taken:
- Make a strategic personal commitment to Social Media/networking success.
- As with most promotion efforts – such as positioning a company leader as a topic-authority media spokesperson – a commitment to the process needed to create success is a necessary prerequisite. For example, if you schedule a media interview, the person to be interviewed has to make “being there” for the interview a priority.
- By the same token, Social Media outreach – even when the actual copy creation is being handled by a skilled team of ghost-writing communicators creating those Social Networking messages for a C-level leader – requires a “right now” time commitment by that C-level leader (or by someone who can speak for and authorize communications on behalf of the C-level leader) to respond to comments and to engage in the conversation, which is necessary for building the relationship.
- Identify a market niche – it’s difficult to be an expert in ‘everything’ (we can’t all be Donald Trump), but it is relatively easy to become an expert in a narrow-focus market niche. Specializing in being a generalist is not the way to become a thought-leader or guru. However, identifying a specific narrow-focused market niche makes it remarkably easy to be seen as a thought-leader – and if that market niche is important to potential clients, prospects, investors or other targets, then capturing leadership in that market niche is an important and useful business strategy.
- Commit resources – compared to advertising, or even public relations, Social Networking is far less costly; yet, to succeed, it is vital to commit sufficient resources – time, access, some funding – to get the job done.
Sometimes, time (to approve content and placement tactics) is the most important resource; however, if a systematic approach is developed and implemented, then calendar time will no longer become an important resource.
Taken together, success in Social Media – just as success in media relations or any other coordinated and aggressive marketing communications program – depends on focus and commitment. Once that commitment is in hand, it is time to start shaping the program. A Social Networking program should include:
- Quality Content:
- The content should be narrowly focused – broad-spectrum “focus” dilutes the message and disrupts the process of attracting followers and turning them into advocates.
- The content should represent state-of-the-art thought in the narrow market niche on which you’re focusing
- The content should be well-written and well-presented – which means it should be edited and proof-read carefully (much of what’s out there in the Social Networking world is poorly-written – when it’s done right, it really stands out).
- Consistency of Presentation – content needs to be consistent in a variety of ways:
- Consistency of style – have a “voice” that is identifiable; one that people will get used to and seek out. For instance, Guy Kawasaki and Seth Godin, two prominent thought-leaders, have distinctive voices not likely to be mistaken for anyone else. This enhances their impact in the marketplace.
- Consistency of quality – too many so-called experts have irregular quality of presentation. Some of their posts are Pulitzer material; other posts are juvenile and amateur-hour. This erodes thought-leadership positioning. However, consistent quality reinforces thought leadership status and stature.
- Consistency of innovation – content that doesn’t either encapsulate and pull together diverse existing ideas or blaze new ground and new understanding is not going to capture and hold reader interest – and without reader interest, you’ll never be a thought leader or market-niche guru.
- Frequency of Presentation – Social Networking leaders are also reliably frequent communicators; they demonstrate a consistency of timing in their posts and comments, the frequency serving to keep their followers and fans engaged. “Out of sight, out of mind” absolutely applies to Social Networking. This doesn’t necessarily mean daily postings, but it does mean regular and frequent. However, “too consistent” can bespeak a robotic approach that will turn off followers.
- Integration of Presentation among Social Networking sites – active social networkers who are (or who intend to be) thought leaders or niche-topic gurus – tend to be multi-dimensional. For instance, they will have:
- A blog-site free-standing from their website; but, they also post their blogs on their website and on their Facebook page. The two leading free-standing blog-sites are Blogger – owned by Google and thereby searched frequently; and WordPress – which offers more formatting features, offering the potential of becoming almost a website.
Other sources for placing blogs include commentary and thought-leadership aggregators such as Huffington Post (on the Left) and Townhall.com (on the Right). In addition, in almost every broad market niche, there are topical blog aggregators which will welcome innovative, thoughtful and well-presented blog-posts.
- A Twitter account which is used to attract Twitter-followers to the blog-sites, website and other content sites.
- A Facebook account, including an Official Page (also known as a Fan Page), where Facebook friends can be recruited.
- If your topic is musical (but only if it’s music-related), MySpace remains a useful place to be; but other than music, MySpace has faded from prominence, especially when it’s related to business or positioning.
- A YouTube account, where video editions of blogs can be posted, along with testimonials and specially-developed videos, with links back to the website, the blog-sites, the Twitter account and Facebook. You can even create a YouTube “network” where all of your YouTube posts can be aggregated.
- Podcast distribution sites such as Podbean.com and MyPodcast.com provide the same service as YouTube, but for audio-only messages, which can include the audio portion of video blogs or audio-eBooks.
- Promotion – if you post a tweet in the electronic forest that is Twitter and nobody reads it, did you make an impact? Of course not. However, by proper use of Social Media, you can self-promote without ever leaving the Social Networking milieu, though promotion will work more effectively if it also includes more traditional means of promotion. Here’s an example:
- Write a blog that breaks new ground on a topic which is also breaking newsworthy. Post it on your blog-site. Find a topical-related blog-site and arrange to have the blog posted as a guest-blog. Make sure the information is out there, in several contexts.
- Seek out other blogs, written by other bloggers, on the same topic – go to these blogs and post comments which link your blog with theirs, and publish a hot-link back to your original blog.
- Tweet about the blog and provide a link; and post links to Facebook and on LinkedIn.
- Issue a press release on BusinessWire (or some other equivalent wire service), to ensure that the topic and the link to the blog is widely available on the Internet.
- Pitch the topic to news media – editors and reporters, talk show hosts and bookers, cable news hosts and producers.
This process of promoting blogs via Social Networking was used recently to book a series of 56 topical radio interviews and five related topical appearances on cable news programs. First, the blogs were posted and promoted – then, I pitched talk show bookers and producers, using the blog post as the “hook” (proving that I actually had something worth saying). So, done properly, this integrated promotion approach will maximize the impact and benefit of the Social Networking outreach efforts.
The Process – For Example …
Here is an example of how all of this information about Social Networking can be made to work, based on actual Social Networking campaigns.
o Create a point of view – settle on a market niche, a point of view and a specific insight or position on the selected topic.
o White Papers, Case Studies and eBooks – write and publish a ground-breaking long-form (3 to 10 pages for a Case Study, 10 to 25 pages for White Paper, 36 to 50-plus pages for an eBook) document, which – upon publication – becomes the core content. To have sufficient content to create an impact, frequency of publication is critical. So plan to publish an eBook every six months, or a White Paper once per month, or a Case Study once every other week.
Ideally, create an eBook and publish it, then pull from it three to six White Papers or nine to twelve Case Studies from the eBook, or some combination of White Papers and Case Studies based on the content of the eBook.
In addition to the Social Networking promotion noted below, issue press releases sent out via BusinessWire (the best of the commercial press release placement services) promoting the availability of the eBooks, White Papers and Case Studies. In these press releases, invite people to follow you, at least on Twitter and Facebook – but also on LinkedIn, MySpace of other Social Networking sites where you are active.
o Blogs – Write a series of blogs based on the long-form – two-to-three blogs from a Case Study, three-to-seven blogs from a White Paper, or from twelve to eighteen blogs (or more – depends on the length) from the eBook. Post these blogs at a rate of two per week.
In addition, or until the long-form content is available to be adapted, create from one to three other (typically shorter) blog posts, posting them on “off-days,” and focusing them on more currently-topical or breaking news topics.
Next, place your blog posts on your primary blog-site, as well as on your website and your Facebook page. In addition, seek out topical blog-sites and “guest-post” blogs there as well, to further your reach.
As noted, when posting additional locations for the same blog, each “echo” should be rewritten a bit, with a link back to the primary blog. This enhances the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) value of each blog. SEO, of course, is how you rise to the top of Google for specific key word searches most closely akin to your market niche.
The ideal is to post the source content on your website – this will become the reference point. Then the primary blog posted on your hosted blogging site – and all the secondary and tertiary blog-references, as well – will refer to the source content that lives on your website.
Finally, seek out others’ blogs on the same topics you’re blogging on – for all appropriate ones, add comments. Become part of the conversation at these other blog-sites, and also invite people to check out your blog, as well as to follow you on your Facebook page and on Twitter (at least).
Blog posts should also make abundant use of keywords, helping those who are searching for specific terms to find you. This cannot be overstated.
o BusinessWire – While BusinessWire (BizWire) is already considered an excellent way of reaching reporters, editors and producers by presenting them press releases designed and intended to trigger press coverage – in our opinion it is the most cost-effective way of doing this – thereby reaching your target audiences through the media as the communications intermediary.
However, BizWire now also serves as a way of reaching your target audience directly. Currently, Bizwire has contracts with more than 150 online news aggregators, such as Yahoo Business and MSN.com. This means that each BizWire release lives on the Internet and with a useful selection of key words included with the release, your news will be found by those using Google to find news and information on a given topic.
By promoting eBooks, White Papers, Case Studies and key topical blogs via BizWire news releases, you’re making sure that people who would search nowhere else will find your news. This approach is not widely understood – using it will give you a leg-up on your competitors for positioning as thought-leaders (or for any other business reason).
Find out more about this innovative use of BizWire here: http://pr-marketing2point0.blogspot.com/2010/11/press-releases-new-online-advertising.html
o YouTube – YouTube is, after Google, the second most-used search engine. As a tool for Social Networking, if used correctly, it is hard to beat.
There are several ways of using YouTube:
- Create your own YouTube network, where your videos can be collected and presented to your audiences.
- If you’re featured on a TV talk show or a TV news segment, obtain permission and post this on YouTube.
- Create video blogs – in essence, talk through the blog on camera.
- Post testimonials from others who validate your expertise in your chosen market niche.
- Create custom videos that reinforce your position.
- Promote everything you post on YouTube, using LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and – if the content is valuable, via a BizWire press release.
o Facebook – this is THE dominant Social Networking site in the market today; two years ago, it surpassed MySpace just as that once-dominant site suddenly and dramatically faded in influence. Facebook has the ability to create Official Pages (also known as Fan Pages) which are designed to allow you to communicate with thousands of fans and followers. Facebook can now be linked to your Twitter account, and you can also post blogs on Facebook. A Facebook site should be created with the same attention to detail and focus as a company website.
Facebook should include all blogs and other long-form content, and friends should be approached to promote your content-heavy outreach Social Networking communications efforts.
Facebook comments related to blogs or to core content (White Papers, etc.) are, in effect, micro-blogs; use them to advance the discussion and not just promote the blog itself.
As with Twitter, Facebook is an acquired taste – if you like the environment, you’ll use it more often. But remember, this is about business and positioning, so don’t use it as a family album or personal chat room – not if you want to be taken seriously as a thought leader.
o LinkedIn – if you’re a business executive, LinkedIn can provide a platform for building and strengthening existing business ties with your colleagues and peers. LinkedIn serves as something akin to an email listserv discussion group, but with more structure. If you’re on LinkedIn, promote your blogs and other content-heavy created documents to your peers here as well as in other locations.
LinkedIn has other purposes – with the right focus, you can present concepts to people on LinkedIn who are not in your network. It can be time-consuming, but the membership on LinkedIn is more business-oriented, as a rule, and useful in purely business outreach.
o Twitter – For each new content posting, plan to Tweet at least one promotional message, or as many as three messages (usually within the same day), promoting each eBook, each White Paper, each Case Study, each blog and video blog or other Social Networking content tool. If you can identify more legitimate Tweets, and as long as you don’t come across as too heavily self-promoting (or, heaven forbid, too commercially), then spread your Twittering posts over several days or weeks. However, to justify repetition, original “angles” for these Tweet posts is essential.
In addition to promoting each new content, post from one to three tweets per day offering useful, informative tips on the selected topic – the realm in which you wish to become a thought leader or market niche guru. These can be programmed in advance, using TweetDeck or other twitter-management system.
In addition, because Twitter is all about the conversation, post at least one new Tweet per day (three new Tweets per day would be much better) based on what’s going on right now, such as:
- Something going on in your life (it doesn’t have to be “personal” – for instance, talk about the foot of snow that’s shut down the city).
- A link to someone else’s blog, or an online news story, that you find interesting, useful or motivating (use www.tinyurl.com to shorten the link) this makes sure that you’ve got room in the tweet to “sell” the link as worth checking out.
- A re-tweet from someone else who you follow, typically with either an insight you share or a link to something you think your followers would find valuable.
- A response to someone you follow, reflecting on their insight, sharing a personal experience, etc.
It is important to be (and to remain) part of the conversation – this is an important part of building followers and keeping them.
As with Facebook, tweets related to blogs or to core content (the White Papers, etc.) are, in effect, micro-blogs; use them to advance the discussion and not just promote the blog itself.
Link Twitter to Facebook, so that tweets will also be read by your Facebook friends, and vice-versa.
Select key words and include them in your tweets, setting them aside in what is called “hash-tags” (words preceded by a hash-mark, such as #hashtag).
- Other Social Media – Podcasts, webinars, Internet radio networks, Internet TV networks – there are a variety of additional, specialized online Social Media distribution technologies which can be embraced. The key to these, as with the rest of Social Networking, is content. Content is king, and with content, you can effectively position yourself as a thought leader or market niche guru.
The Bottom Line
Social Networking can make a huge difference for an individual – who wishes to be seen as a topical thought-leader or market niche guru – or for a company which seeks a low-cost, high-impact way of improving its position in the marketplace. However, Social Networking doesn’t happen overnight, and while it’s all but free, it isn’t automatically easy. It requires someone who can and will find the time to create useful content, and to do so abundantly. It also requires someone who is persistent and consistent – who is prepared to stay the course, to keep at it until a breakthrough has been achieved.
These reasons make the case – especially for individuals who need to be positioned but who haven’t the time (or, perhaps, the writing skills) – for an expert to create the content and consistently post this onto Social Media sites. In business, politics and academe, ghost-writing (speeches, books, articles) for C-level executives has a long and honorable tradition, and that same tradition can be translated into Social Networking.
However, ghost-written or self-produced, Social Networking – for those ready to commit the time and personal resources – will prove to be transformative in terms of positioning and referral-development.
Ned Barnett – February 15, 2011