#AEJMC14 Highlights: What are the Ethics of Content Marketing?

After two weeks of traveling to New England for a vacation and to Montreal for the AEJMC, it is good to be home! AEJMC flew by!

I’d like to look at one of my favorite panels from the conference: the Ethics and Brand Content panel put on by the Advertising and Media Ethics divisions.  Let me recap and add my thoughts, because the ethics of content marketing is something we need to consider as educators.

The media system "Clover Leaf" from the panel Source: Contently

The media system “Clover Leaf” from the panel
Source: Contently

This panel included Ira Basen (CBC Radio) Michael Mirer (Wisoncin-Madison) and Karen Mallia (South Carolina) and was moderated by Kathleen Bartzen Culver (Wisconsin-Madison). They looked at content marketing, including the different types of content including brand publishing, branded content, native advertising, sponsored content, and brand journalism (the latter of which was a term the panel did not prefer).  It was interesting to look at the ethics of content marketing from the perspective of both a journalist, Ira, and advertising, the other panelists. Ira focused on native advertising, which he defined as: “relevant to the consumer experience, which is not interruptive, and which looks and feels similar to its editorial environment”

Examples of good content marketing, as presented by conference panel presenters

Examples of good content marketing, as presented by conference panel presenters

Interestingly, Ira noted that research shows most consumers are unaware of what “sponsored content” means on sites like the New York Times – they don’t know that the news outlet didn’t write the content. For example, when you watch the news programming and a company sponsors the program, you don’t assume that the company also wrote the news piece on the program. This is a great point. The intent of sponsored content on online publications is just that – for you to not know that the news outlet didn’t write it. What happens when people find out?

One of the best examples was the article and infographic on the New York Times sponsored by Netflix to promote (a show I love) Orange is the New Black.  Netflix paid a freelancer to research and write the piece, focusing on the need for female focused prison policies. You probably saw this floating around. Did you know Netflix sponsored it? I didn’t (despite the logo clearly printed at the top, I hadn’t even noticed it).

Let me make my second point and then I’ll try and tie this together.

Ira also stated that trust in brands is high, while trust in journalism is low (did not catch his source for this statistic. But I am going to take it at face value for this blog post). Ira acknowledged that, for journalism, many of those hits to their trust were self-inflicted. I take it that what he means is that journalists have made a number of public mistakes over a period of time that have resulted in distrust among the general public.

If it is true, why is it that trust in brands is so high right now (at least, compared to journalists)? And how might that change?

Let’s think about it. The purpose of content marketing is to create content for your audience. Continuously. As a brand becomes a media company, there is an imperative to continue to create more and more content.

And that opens up companies to the possibility of making the same mistakes as journalists have. Ok, not the same mistakes exactly. But you know what I mean. The more content you create the greater the chance you will say or do something that will be a mistake – a false or misleading claim, a sensationalist move to gain viewers, a gaffe, offensive or insensitive content, etc.

It is an interesting dilemma. You’ve got to create content. The more you exposure yourself, the more risk you are essentially taking. So as everyday companies strive to become media companies – creating and reporting their own news – will trust in brands decline?

Let me say that differently. Will content marketing, the tool many are counting on to build meaningful relationships and thus trust, result in the decline of trust in brands over the long term?

And how should we deal with this long-term possibility?

It may be that we are simply at a place where mediated relationships with brands are still relatively new and that is why trust remains high. We haven’t had time to grow cynical yet.

Or am I thinking about this all wrong? Perhaps there is something fundamentally different about journalism. After all, a journalist is supposed to be looking out for our best interest. While we acknowledge that a company seeks a profit and offers a specific service to us. Further still, journalism is an institution. We may look at it on the whole. But loss of trust in one brand, does not inevitably lead to loss in trust in another brand. In fact, a brand may benefit by loss of trust in its competitor.

Whatever the case may be, as educators there is a need to really think about what the ethics of branded content are so that our students thrive as ethical content creators.

Survey results of expected growth in B2B content marketing spending

Survey results of expected growth in B2B content marketing spending

Of course, I talk about ethics in my classes. But I haven’t looked at them through this specific lens – the comparison with journalism as media outlets and the issues journalism faces with public trust- and I thank Ira and the other panelists for prompting me to do so.

What do you think?

In sum, it was a fascinating panel that really got me thinking about this question. And this question was just the tip of the iceberg of what came out of a truly fascinating panel.

In closing, I got to attend a number of other great panels while at AEJMC and learned a ton from them! Unfortunately, there were more panels I wanted to attend than time to attend them. It is super busy now with classes 2 weeks away and the ICBO deadline fast approaching. But I hope to get another post up later this week or early next week looking at some of the other great takeaways from the conference, including the great people I met and more!

 

FYI: I’ve written a lot about content marketing on this blog. Here are my other posts on the subject.

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What I’m reading: Creatively Canceling School; The Future of Organic on Social Media

Hello from snowy West Virginia!

We’re facing over a foot of snow here for sure. Our driveway is measuring 18 inches! Though I’ve got a ton of projects to work on and a puppy who is getting restless since the snow is too tall for her to get outside (see Instagram photos on the column on the right, and below), I want to take a quick minute before strapping my snowshoes on to share a few articles from around the web.

Just for Fun

Well, school is canceled for us today. Though the announcement from Shepherd University wasn’t quite as creative as the Durham Academy’s cancellation in Durham, NC.

In a related vein, I would love your feedback: With all these snow days, how are you handing your classes? Are you Skyping in? Posting assignments on course management systems? I always find it difficult when classes get canceled.  The lack of continuity and the inability to work with students in class is difficult to overcome virtually. But I think I could do a better job in this area. So any thoughts or suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

To the articles:

What’s the future of organic on social media? Content Marketing and Paid Media on Social Media

Second, not too long ago I wrote about the future of content marketing in 2014. I want to follow-up with three articles that provide further discussion of content marketing in 2014.

  1. Gary Schirr wrote another great post on content marketing’s future, in his 4 P’s of Content Marketing
  2. Mark Schaefer has written a response to arguments against his notion of Content Shock, his term for the negative effects of a saturated content landscape coupled with finite consumer attention.
  3. I also am reading Social Mouth’s ““Organic” is Dead, Say Hello to the Age of Paid Media” – an interesting piece about the likely rise of paid advertising, and increased difficulty

So the question remains – if paid is indeed becoming the pathway to audiences on social media, what will the impact be for strategic communication folks? The Social Mouth’s blog post paints a fairly dire picture, if accurate – indicating that access to publics will be increasingly difficult via organic and that paid may be a must. Or, are these worries overblown, these predictions incorrect? Perhaps I am  missing it, but I haven’t seen a lot coming from the PR blogs about this. Just some food for thought.

What’s coming?

I’ve got a few great posts I’ve been working on ready to release in the next few weeks. So look forward to those! For now, stay warm!

-Cheers!

Matt

What is The Future of Content Marketing in 2014?

As I discussed on this blog, 2013 was to be the year of content marketing. (Here are all my posts on content marketing)

Recently, Gary Shirr (@ProfessorGary) brought up an interesting point in a discussion post he made to the Teaching Social Media Marketing LinkedIn group I’m a part of. It got me thinking quite a bit.

In essence, he asked what the impact of Facebook shutting down the “Like economy” last December will have on organic social media marketing? (And what the proper mix of paid and organic should be)

Gary (whose blog I highly recommend) also alluded to the problem of a saturated content environment, (What Mark Schaefer calls ‘content shock‘).

While I don’t pretend to have the answers to these questions, I wanted to share the problem here on the blog and put out a few related articles that you may enjoy reading. I hope it helps you jump into the conversation (see the great thread of comments on Gary’s post – cited below)!

So what happened?

Facebook made a change to its newsfeed algorithm resulting in a large decline in visibility of branded Facebook posts in an individual’s news feed.

The impact? Anecdotally, my wife, who runs the Facebook page for an international non-profit, said the change has resulted in a recent decline in her organization’s Facebook page stats.

What’s the Effect?

Gary argues in his post that it is the result of an effort by Facebook to drive more paid advertising (read his post for explanation). As a result, he says, organic won’t be enough to sustain a brand on Facebook.

Mark Schaefer posted a comment in Gary’s blog post that adds further clarity to the issue. In it, Mark is quoting a Facebook exec writing about the change: “On a given day, when the average person visits their News Feed, there are an average of 1,500 possible stories we can show. As a result, competition for each News Feed story is increasing. Pages will likely see changes in distribution resulting in a decline in organic reach.”

In a follow-up post, Gary discusses his recommendations to how businesses should adjust given the change to the Facebook algorithm.

Other Challenges to Content Marketing in 2014

As noted above, Mark Schaefer (@markwschaefer) recently posted about “Content Shock,” his term for the saturated marketplace of content marketing. In essence, he argues that as more people enter the content marketplace, competition for attention increases, and attention becomes increasingly fragmented. This makes sense! But this content is free. So how do you compete with the limitless supply of competition also creating free content? Mark argues that this flood favors those entities with big budgets, and that the cost of social media is rising. Read his post to get the details and more on the why.

Lastly, in a related vein I recently read an article on Shift titled “How Content Marketing Could Kill PR.” In essence, the piece argues that due to the flood of content being created, PR folks are being asked to pitch cruddy content. This may result in a loss of credibility, as those on the receiving end of the pitch are dealt sub par content. In their words, “What could kill public relations is not the content marketing itself, but increasing pressure from brands to pitch mediocre or bad content.”  It is a really interesting read and one I recommend.  So what to do? The simple solution may be “Create Great Content.” But will that really work? Will there be increasing need for PR professionals to help organizations break through this content shocked ocean of content and reach a targeted public?

What do you think? What is the future of content marketing? Is the “market saturated”? And if so, what will the effect be in 2014? How will organizations respond? Is the playing field no longer level for “the little guy?” Will the cost of social media become prohibitive?

Just some thoughts and questions for your Thursday! I hope you have a great one!

-Cheers! Matt

photo CC by Sean MacEntee

 

The Dream of Content Curators is Alive with Portlandia

Yes, this title is a corny attempt to play on the popular skit from the first Portlandia episode. But the reference got your attention, so let’s proceed… 🙂

I’ll admit it. I love Portlandia. My wife has family from the great state of Oregon and so when I was living in Pullman, WA while getting my Ph.D. at WSU, we traveled to Portland numerous times. I love the city and I can’t help but miss it every time I watch an episode.

A recent blog post on the Portlandia page on the IFC website highlights a New York Times article about chefs feeding chickens high-quality feed in order to produce super tasty chicken. The brief post mocks the issue, using it to share a funny clip from a Portlandia episode where two characters humorously attempt to order a chicken meal at a restaurant but get caught up in the details of how the chicken was raised (asking questions such as, “how big is the area where the chickens are able to roam free?”).

In this case, the folks behind the Portlandia IFC blog do a simple thing very well: they curate content. They take a news story and relate it back to their show in a wonderfully creative and funny way.

Content curation is a great content marketing tool (see my other content marketing posts) for anyone running a social media campaign. Convince and Convert defines content curation as “the art and science of finding and sharing quality content on a specific topic. Curation helps you build an audience. You then have a larger group of people with whom to share your own content, and who can spread the word.” (Check out Convince and Convert’s “5 steps for content curation success…eventually“) . In other words, the social media team monitors the web for relevant content, and uses that content to share it directly with their audience, uses it to create their own content, or relates it back to their own content. Sharing relevant content directly with your audience builds your organization up as a trusted source for information on a subject and is further beneficial because it is hard to constantly come up with new content. It is also useful for new story ideas for creating your own content (like in the chicken example discussed on this posts).

I talk about content curation in my classes but struggle to find great examples to show students just what can be accomplished via curation. I’m glad to have found a fun example that students will hopefully enjoy.

Posting relevant content on IFC/Portlandia website or social media accounts often keeps Portlandia fans engaged with the show, remembering favorite skits, and looking forward to more (such as the new season, season 4 due out next year!). For example, the Facebook Portlandia page often posts single shots with text in a meme style of particularly funny moments from the show.

In my opinion, few do it better than this.

photo of Portland credit: – Paul Horner

bottom –

Teaching Keyword Competition with Google Adwords (Activity)

This post is long overdue!

Several weeks ago, I wrote about the importance of teaching content marketing in the college Communication or Business writing class today. I followed up with a post about Search Engine Optimization and an activity for introducing students to the importance of keyword research using Google Trends. I promised a follow up brief activity with Google Keywords Adwords Tool. Then the end of the semester and life ganged up on me! I realized I needed a full post just to talk about Keyword Competition, using my own website title as an example.

The Competition!

Back to the Writing Across Platforms (syllabus) classroom activity I promised!

After teaching Google Trends and doing the activity, I plan to teach Keyword Competition and give my students a brief activity to get them practicing keyword competition research for their writing.

This activity is completed in small chunks across 3 class periods but could easily be done in 2 days! (if you’re really efficient: maybe 1!)

Day 1: Assign Homework (3-4 minutes to explain)

  • On the day I first introduce SEO, I assign students to bring to the next class: Brainstorm a list of 5-7 keywords (terms they think people might use when searching for this topic). The topic is: soup.

Day 2: Set Up: (10 minutes)

Note: I have also explained on this day what Keyword competition is (for a primer, see my activity on Google Trends and the below slides).

  • I first have students go to the Google Adwords Keywords Tool and we walk through an example on cars (we used cars in talking about Google Trends, so there is consistency).
  • I have students search for “fuel efficiency” and “car safety.” And then have them look at alternative keyword options, competition for each term, and search volume. We discuss.
  • Then I have students take out the 5-7 soup keyword terms I assigned the class before. We write some on the board so students can see the variation of ideas related to soup. This gives students a chance to see how others may search for soup, particularly in ways they didn’t think about.

Day 2: In Class Activity (~20 minutes):

I then present an in-class exercise. Here are the instructions:

Scenario:

  • You are going to write a post for your cooking blog.
  • When searching for keywords, think about things that would make for a good blog post subject.
  • Work with a Partner:
    • Go to Google AdWords (google: “google adwords keyword tool”) Select “Exact Match” (on left)
    • Search: soup
    • See what terms people search for a lot by looking at the column labeled “Local Monthly Searches.”
    • Identify and WRITE DOWN 5 terms related to soup with medium to low competition, and high search volume.
    • You’ll need these terms for next class.
  • After students spend 10 minutes or so researching with a partner on an in-class computer, I ask the class “based on your research, what would make for a good blog post subject about soup?” We discuss differences and similarities between what they initially thought up and what their research showed them.
  • I then tell them to bring today’s keyword back next class.

Day 3: Writing Keyword Research Headlines (Lecture: 30 minutes; Activity: 15 minutes, + class discussion).

On day 3, I teach the importance of writing headlines for online articles. I teach headlines first because they are relatively less complicated than thinking about placing keywords or using keyword research to write the article itself. The headline is but a handful of characters! But it encapsulates the blog topic and some say it is the most important part of your article. Headlines itself could be (and may become some day) another blog post! But here’s some great info on headlines:

Why headlines are so important

9 Proven Headline Formulas that Sell Like Crazy

To see the lecture on headlines, see the slides below.

  • After, I have students take out their 5 soup keywords that they discovered through research the class before.
  • I give them 10 minutes to write 5 headlines.
  • Each headline must use a different headline formula of those we discussed.
  • Under each headline they are to list: the keyword(s) used, name of formula.
  • Headlines must be less than 60 characters.
  • Pair and Share: Students exchange their headlines with a partner. The partner evaluates the headlines against what we’ve discussed over the past several classes. Partners then exchange notes and discuss.
  • To wrap up, we discuss as a class and address any questions / concerns students may have.

And that’s that! I’m excited to see how it goes this fall! Thanks for your patience on this. I hope you are having a great summer! If you enjoy this blog post, please subscribe and share! Please post any comments below!

Related lecture slides are below!

Day 1: The Set Up: What’s SEO and Keyword Research?

Day 2: Google Trends and Keyword Competition

Day 3: Headlines

photo CC Team Traveller

What I’m Reading: Content Marketing, Social TV, Civic Engagement (4/26/13)

Happy Friday! Here are a few quick reads and news to go along with your coffee this morning!

coffee

I’ve been talking content marketing a lot lately on this blog and have noticed a great deal of interest in those posts, including my critique of Marketo’s ebook. Here are a few articles I’ve been reading lately about content marketing:

Article about content marketing luring away journalists.

In other News:

Social TV has been a hot trend of late. I’ve talked about it quite a bit with my students and its advantages. A few articles from this week:

Civic Engagement and Social Media

Matt News:

Here at Shepherd, today is the last day of the semester. I have big plans for the summer – lots of reading, prepping two classes, continuing to grow my blog, working on a number of research articles with my amazing colleagues, and hopefully presenting at AEJMC in DC this August.

My amazing wife and I are traveling to New Zealand and the Cook Islands to finally celebrate our wedding!

We’ve also committed to getting a dog – a bergamasco (yes, the “dreadlock dogs”) – which we will be getting in August.

Great Customer Service still Exists! – Things didn’t work out with the Husqvarna lawnmower I bought, despite all my research. There was something wrong and the thing had no power. Dealing with Lowes, both the online and local stores, was the best customer service experience I’ve had in years. They took the lawnmower back with no charge for picking it up. And after I made up my mind what I wanted (I went with John Deere), they delivered it and told me if it didn’t meet my expectations, I could return it no questions asked in 30 days. Lowes, it seems, understands the value of a loyal customer. To show my appreciation, I Tweeted @LowesCares because I don’t think we show appreciation often enough on social media. We are often quick to gripe. Minutes later got a thanks from Lowes.

What are your plans for the summer? Are there stories in these topics I missed? Share them in the comments section below.

– Cheers! Matt

photo CC  donjohann

When Content Marketing Fails to Deliver: 6 problems with Marketo’s Ebook

Note: In a previous post I discussed how I am teaching Content Marketing in my Writing Across Platforms class next fall and why we should teach it in the writing class.

I am going to come out and say it. I am glad none of my students were behind the creation or promotion of Marketo’s recent e-book “50 Tried and True Social Insights From Real Marketers.”

Here are 6 reasons why.

push

1) Pushing isn’t social: First, I saw the following spammy post in a social media group I’m a part of, counter to the very ethos of social media (Should have been skeptical from the start, right?). I skimmed and found:

There’s a ton of content on how to do social marketing – but this FREE eBook is different than any I’ve seen before….

You’ll get fascinating insights on how different organizations – large to small – are using social marketing, and get tips and best practices on:
• The rules of social engagement
• How to measure and iterate on social programs
• Ideas to generate social lift
• Social marketing words of wisdom
• Why content is king
• How to make social a group effort

Cool! I thought. Different. Unique. A ton of content! So I followed the link, gave them my email address (see: regret), and got the ebook (If you are so inclined, you can here). I’d never heard of Marketo before.

What would have worked? Perhaps a post that didn’t read like an ad. Some such thing as: “Hey all, last week we were talking about XYZ. I came across this ebook titled Blah Blah. It really helped me understand how to deal with a particular part of XYZ. Enjoy and let me know what you think. I’d love to talk about it.”

Which leads me to the rest of my points:

2) Proof Read – Tips #1 and #11 are the same. Carelessness kills credibility.

3) Where’s the eBook? This piece of content marketing is passed off as an ebook. There are 10 pages including the cover and 1 back cover. But much of it is gloss and graphics. In terms of content, there may be 2 pages of text here. There are some great quotes and insights. Don’t get me wrong. But, really… that’s all they are.

4) Help me, Help me! How is what you’re offering add value to my life? Rather than tell me 50 general statements that are not actionable, help me. Show me HOW to do something. How this newfound knowledge can be applied. A series of blog posts or ebooks about each one of these items, with context, evidence (they are tried and true, right?), reasoning, and suggestions would go much further in helping me improve my social media. Give me examples I can follow. Outcomes. Best practices. As one commenter on the LinkedIn thread (see below) pointed out, much of the content is “common sense.”

5) Is it unique? If it isn’t entertaining, new, different, or going to help me, don’t waste my time. Prognostications and platitudes are a dime a dozen on social media.

6) The Pitch: What’s delivered must match the claim – how often do we read hyperbole in social content nowadays? Tweets that read “The Best Description of Graph Search.” YouTube videos titled “The Greatest Touchdown Of All Time!” “The Only SEO Guide You’ll Ever Need!” I know strong language grabs attention, and there are tons of blog posts about writing great headlines that preach this sort of thing (I plan to talk about it in my class, in fact!). But it is becoming overdone. And when something’s overdone it becomes noise. Meaningless. In this particular case, the title is fine. There are 50 insights. My problem here is how the content was pitched on social. I don’t know if the person who posted it was affiliated with Marketo or not. The language on the Marketo site is a little different, though it contains some of the same content from the social post. But a ton of content? Not really. Different from any other ebook out there? Yes, in that it isn’t an ebook. Fascinating? No. Tried and true? Where is the proof that they are tried and true? They are indeed insights, some of them very valuable.

I want my students to be great at social media. I want them to create great content. In all my classes, I have a bias towards showing students the “Heck Yes!” examples – something exemplary that they can aspire to. For better or worse, I tend to shy away from the “Don’t Do This!” examples such as this one.

But for the reasons mentioned above, this post got under my skin. Apparently, I’m not the only one who felt cheated by this content marketing attempt. A thread on LinkedIn reveals a number of folks who agree (and disagree!) with my assessment.

Content marketing is about adding value. Deliver something that shows your thought leadership, that provides your target audience with useful insight. Don’t waste their time. I’m not Marketo’s target audience (although I am looking to build a partnership with a social media analytics software company to use in my classes). But if I were, this wouldn’t do it for me.

What are your thoughts about this? Is it bad content marketing, or am I being too harsh? (Maybe its the end of the semester stress getting to me!) Where am I wrong? Can you think of other examples you can share?

Related Posts:

  1. Why We Should Teach Content Marketing in the Writing Class
  2. Introducing Students to SEO Keyword Research with Google Trends (Activity)

photo (from top to bottom): CC by Steve Snodgrass | marc falardeau |  doodleatwork |  Betchaboy