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Social Media Marketing World 2014 provided a wealth of knowledge, particularly for content marketers. Presenters emphasized the necessity to invest in good content, while “not building your business on rented land” – particularly referring to businesses that have invested thousands into their Facebook page, only to realize that only 1% of their content will now organically show up in the newsfeed.

Over the two days Bryan Vu and I took notes on sessions on the content marketing track and elsewhere that we thought were most pertinent to businesses thinking about building, promoting and maintaining content (which unfortunately isn’t all of them). The following recaps are the best parts of those notes, distilled for actionability and helpfulness.

Social Media Marketing in 2014: What the Newest Research Reveals

Michael Stelzner, the founder of Social Media Marketing World and Social Media Examiner, kicked off the conference with some interesting statistics and facts to consider moving forward.

  • 68% of marketers say that having a blog is the primary mechanism of their digital marketing strategy. Content is the meat, while social media, email and organic search are the driving channels.
  • Google Plus tops the list of what marketers want to learn. 65% of those surveyed stated that this was their #1 learning priority.
  • Facebook advertising remains the best form of paid media, but posting to your FB wall is becoming less valuable. Today, only around one percent of your fans will now see your content in their timeline organically.
  • Podcasts are a content type to look out for in 2014 and 2015, as there are not many podcasts available to interested listeners. Currently, only 6% of businesses podcast, but 33% of businesses plan on creating podcast content. Podcasts are shown to build intensely loyal fans as compared to other mediums.

All of these themes were examined throughout the conference, many of which were expanded upon in other sessions.

5 Content Marketing Practices That Most Businesses Ignore, but Shouldn’t

Joe Pulizzi, founder of Content Marketing Institute, gave one of our favorite presentations based on the volume of actionable information he presented.

  • Create a content marketing mission statement and use it to guide every other step throughout the organization. Send one to everyone producing anything for the company. Ask yourself “does this content fit within our mission?” before writing anything.
  • The 4:1:1 Twitter Ratio: share your influencers’ content four times, for everyone time you share your own content and one time you put in a plug for your product.
  • Most content marketing operations within a business fail because of one single reason – they stop producing content.
  • Take a step back to think about why you are in each social media channel. For example, if Facebook doesn’t help you drive significant traffic, cut it and focus your effort on optimizing a different channel.
  • If you have more than ONE target audience, you’re doing something wrong. You should only have one core audience for delivering your content.
  • “Never build your content on rented land.” This was a common theme throughout the conference. Grow your email subscribers to build your owned media channels before you dip into paid media.
  • Build a list of influencers to build your brand. Discover what website your audience visits when they’re not on your website, then focus on building relationships with people who run those websites.
  • 55% – 60% of his current email subscribers come from email opt-in pop-ups. Yes, they’re annoying. But they work. In his own words, “As a reader, I hate pop-up subscribe buttons. As a content marketer, I love them.”
  • If you’re repurposing content, tell a different story or tell it differently. Focus on a small handful of platforms you will make a dent in instead of doing a blind blitz.
  • Start using SlideShare frequently if you’re B2B. For CMI, the 2nd best source of getting email subscribers (after pop-up windows) comes from CMI’s content on SlideShare.
  • Forget about trying to get found in Google. Become a go-to source of industry info and you’ll get listed by Google anyway.

6 Reasons Why Podcasting is the Best Investment for Building your Platform

Cliff Ravenscraft, founder of The Podcast Answer Man, has trained today’s elite podcasters (such as Pat Flynn and  John Lee Dumas) and is who the experts turn to. He discussed how podcasts are a massive opportunity for many businesses.

  • Podcasting is a big opportunity right now. There is limited competition, with much room for growth, in a variety of niches. There are 450 over million blogs in the English language, while 4 million hours of YouTube videos are uploaded each month – but there are currently only 225,000 podcasts in iTunes. This means for every 1,000 blogs, there is one podcast. Strongly consider podcasting to establish authority before it gets too saturated.
  • The average blog post reader spends 3 minutes, podcasters listen for 45 minutes.
  • Podcasting makes your audience feel more personally connected, due to the power of the human voice.
  • Mobile podcasting will continue to increase, as more people listen to podcasts at the gym, their commute into work or while working on projects.
  • Podcasting allows multi-tasking to take place, as you don’t need to spend time in front of a screen (such as watching YouTube videos).
  • Podcasting allows you to connect with experts and mentors by conducting interviews.

How to Build a Multi-Author Blog for More Visibility and Sales

Brian Clark, founder of Copyblogger, and Michael Stelzner, founder of Social Media Examiner, sat down for a Q&A session to discuss how to build a successful multi-author blog.

  • Don’t be afraid to build a blog if your topic is in a saturated market. There were countless social media blogs before Social Media Examiner began, but Michael Stelzner understood he just needed to make a better blog. Brian Clark solidified this perspective by stating, “If there is no one writing about your topic, it’s probably because no one cares about your subject.”
  • Focus on building an audience through owned channels – particularly your email list. They both emphasized how building a passionate audience should be the primary investment you make into your company. As Mike Feltzner said, “If you can build an audience, you can build a business. Focus on building an audience first and the rest will come eventually.”
  • Don’t invest significant amounts of time and money into social media channels, because as we are seeing with Facebook, your organic reach may eventually drop. Instead, invest your money into owned properties and building influencer relationships. Tell yourself you’re building a magazine or a media empire… not merely a blog on the side.
  • If you’re a single person starting a company, consider branding your company beyond your own name. Brian Clark emphasized that he called it “www.copyblogger.com” instead of “www.brianclark.com” for a reason. Yourself and your business should be branded as separate entities.
  • Someone in the crowd asked, “How often should I publish?” Brian responded, “publish as often as you can be amazing.” Whether it’s twice per day, or twice per month, only publish content on a frequency basis that you can handle.
  • When building relationships starting off, don’t go after the A-listers. Unless you have credibility, you won’t get a response. Instead, target the B-listers or C-listers and work your way up.

Build Your Owned Media Empire

Chris Brogan, CEO of Owner Magazine, discussed content marketing strategies using his always-unique presentation style:

  • In order to make good media, you have to be passionate about it. If you don’t like podcasting… don’t do it. If you hate blogging… don’t do it. It’s incredibly simple to follow, yet many people feel obligated to do things because others tell them “it works”. 
  • When in doubt, do a C.A.S.E. study – Copy And Steal Everything. To start off, find the leaders in your industry then mock what they’re doing. After that, find where you can differentiate to add more value.
  • Have a perspective. Take a stand on your views and stick to them. You don’t have to please everyone.
  • Use multiple mediums: have a website, YouTube, Soundcloud, etc. Whatever makes sense for your business. But again, you must actually enjoy using these mediums.
  • Be brief – the average attention span is 20 minutes. Don’t feel the need to create hour-long podcasts or 2,000 word blog posts.

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Have We Lost the “Social” in Social Media?

This was an fun and quick-witted throw-down with Jay Baer, Ted Rubin, Jeff Rohrs and Nichole Kelly. The main topic of discussion was whether or not brands were losing the true meaning behind “social” in pursuit of ROI.

  • Don’t ask a question at the end of blog posts. It looks like begging and when you get no comments it looks really sad. Example: Seth Godin’s blog. “This is his house” and no one gets to comment.
  • The only measure of success is conversion. Blog comments, tweets, and share of voice don’t matter.
  • Consider if people want to see your brand in their feed. They can be huge fans but still not want to see you post anything in their feed.
  • Only choose a select few to curate your brand. Not all employees should be engaging with clients.
  • Nichole believes “employees represent the brand.” Empower them on social and encourage it.
  • Don’t ban employees from engaging with clients on social. Educate them since you can’t control what they do and “social media policies can’t cure ‘stupid’.”

Brands Pull Back the Curtain on Measuring Social Media ROI

Nichole Kelly led a discussion dissecting social media ROI with three folks heading efforts at big brands: Nick Robinson (SAP), Scott Gulbransen (DSI) and Lewis Bertolucci (Humana).

  • Prioritize social savings ROI, such as money saved on customer service or customer retention. Reduced costs are as important as bringing in new revenue.
  • Follow communities, which are key to understanding the needs of each market.
  • Align business needs with the metrics being measured.
  • Think and communicate like a CFO, CMO, or CEO. If you think like a practitioner, you’ll miss out on the bigger picture.
  • Have an iterative approach or mindset for improving social. This is something that can improve slowly over time without having to be ROI driven.
  • Determine how much it costs to acquire a customer. This is crucial for guiding your efforts.
  • When talking to management, speak in their language. Turn reach into a metric like cost per impression.
  • Find alternative promotion platforms. Nichole calculated that it will cost $127k for Humana to reach 100% of their fans on Facebook. After measuring ROI, SAP moved funds to Linkedin.
  • Consider everywhere your community might be since focusing on one area might be limiting.
  • Nichole notices no one is talking about a sexy community, forum or internal social media strategy, but lots of people and conversations are here. This is good because these channels are not owned by some company (unless it’s your own).

7 Rules for Writing Blog Posts that Get Read and Shared

Michael Hyatt, a leader who has spent over 30 years in the publishing industry, presented on basics for building a successful blog. His presentation moreso targeted beginner audiences, so we only had a few takeaways:

  • Survey your audience. This will get them to fill out demographic and psychographic information that will allow you to better understand your followers. He referenced his own reader survey as a case study.
  • Speak in your authentic voice. If you’re not an expert, don’t pretend you are one. If you’re just starting off, explain that you’re just starting off. Don’t claim skills you don’t have because people’s bullshit meter will go off and they’ll see right through you.
  • Have a personal story to why you’re writing about what you’re writing about. Don’t be afraid to tie in your personal connections.
  • Focus an incredible amount of energy on perfecting your headlines. Remember that your content sits in a vast ocean of RSS readers, competing against the best blogs in the world.

How to Build a Social Content Marketing Strategy that Works

Jay Baer, founder of marketing blog Convince and Convert, presented with Rustin Banks, CEO of TapInfluence, on how to build a social media strategy. Biggest highlights from this session were some facts and quotes:

  • People check their phones 110 times per day. Phones are no longer just a device, rather a personal extension of being.
  • Being useful is far superior than trying to sell something. Useful articles are shared 30% more than articles that have sales pitches. Jay defines “Youtility” as “marketing so useful that people will pay you for it.”
  • Always focus on creating content that people cherish, not just content people tolerate.

Advanced Blogging: Analytics, Optimization and Outreach

Andy Crestodina, co-founder of Orbit Media, discussed deeper actionable insights from analytics and how to improve conversion rates:

  • Target low-hanging fruit. Find posts with the most ranking potential and improve the quality, target a different phrase, or create more content in related topics and link back to it.
  • Check reverse goal paths to find what blog posts lead to conversion.
  • Increase conversions by doing everything possible to improve their motivation while reducing friction.
  • Testimonials are the evidence that you do your job well. Share these, but spread them out on the site.

From Blogger to Published Author: How to Become a Recognized Expert in Your Field

Joel Comm, a five-time published author and blogger, gave book publishing advice and facts in this presentation:

  • 75% of book sales are print, 25% are digital. Of that 75% print, 23% are from Amazon; 22% from Barnes and Noble; 55% from independent bookstores. Although, digital downloads are vastly increasing.
  • Average sales of a traditionally published book are 1,000 copies in a lifetime. Sales for a self-published book are only 10 copies in a lifetime.
  • In order to make book sales today, you must have a successful reputation with online publishing.
  • Authors have gamed the system, buying massive quantifies of books in wholesale to reach the Best Sellers list. More information could be found at resultsource.com if you want more information.
  • The use of “entrepreneurial publishing” is starting to emerge, which splits the pros and cons of traditional publishing and self-publishing.

Building an Online Community: A Hard Look at the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Giving us insight into what makes an online community, Marcus Sheridan and Gini Dietrich took the stage to share helpful tips:

  • Community may not always be obvious. Between Sheridan’s 5-10 million page visits, there are only 400 combined comments, tweets, and shares on one of his blogs. It may look empty but he’ll argue “all day long” a community exists.
  • Put yourself on the reader’s level to connect better. Don’t try to sound more important or smarter.
  • Build a community that supports another product idea, in case the first product fails.
  • Don’t rely on merely social metrics to determine if a post is a success. Low metrics may not indicate the piece is any less of a masterpiece.
  • Community building example: Warby Parker sends a personal “thank you” video if they find you talking about them online.
  • Community building example: To this day, Gini Dietrich still comments on Mark Schaefer’s blog because he once sent her a hand-written letter in response to her comment.

Get Your Podcast to the Top: What Works and What Doesn’t

Pat Flynn, leader of Smart Passive Income, gave an incredibly in-depth look into building a powerful podcast. Much of this presentation material was cited from his post about how to start a podcast.

  • Don’t wait to start your podcast. He made a point by playing a clip from his 2008 podcast, where he recorded it once, then he stopped for over a year. He didn’t get any negative feedback from this first podcast, except for from himself. His biggest regret was taking so long to start.
  • The starting steps are 1) getting the right equipment 2) having great artwork for your iTunes image 3) optimization of podcast in iTunes store.
  • For your iTunes image, first research your competition. If everyone is using blue backgrounds, pick a bright orange one. Anything that will help you differentiate your logo. Then create a 1400×1400 sized logo and test on all different devices.
  • For SEO in iTunes, you need to optimize title, host name, description, meta tag, and podcast name.
  • Develop a unique value proposition that makes your podcast irresistible and different. Then backlog 5 – 10 podcasts. Then do a 48 hour in-advance notice to your email subscribers. Then find influencers to tweet out 24 hours in advance.

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Timeless Qualities of Great Content and Social Media Marketing

Marcus Sheridan, founder of The Sales Lion and a multi-million dollar company, delivered a high-energy closing keynote.

  • He operates his multi-million dollar swimming pool building business on these 4 words: “They ask, we answer.” He made a point to discover what your audiences questions are, then be the authority who answers them.
  • Everyone should be able to find a price online; versus saying “contact us to get a quote”. That’s annoying and frustrating. People were getting their pricing questions unanswered about swimming pools, so he wrote an entire post about pricing of swimming pools and it sent droves of traffic.
  • Your customers have questions. And if you don’t answer them, your competitors eventually will.
  • There should be NO silos between marketing and sales or between an agency and their clients. Bridges must be built to work cooperatively.

Another Great SMMW

From the opening night on the aircraft carrier to Friday’s closing keynote, the experience was unrivaled compared to other conferences. The education was first-class, while the attendees and presenters were friendly, candid and open.

In summary, we’ve pulled these key takeaways from the event:

  • Make growing your email list/owned media a priority over all else
  • Create a content marketing mission statement
  • Use a healthy sharing ratio (such as 4:1:1 as discussed by Joe Pulizzi) to build influence and reach
  • Consider utilizing Google+ more as Facebook becomes less effective
  • Consider podcasting, particularly if your niche is unsaturated
  • Have a two-way conversation with your audience to discover their pain points and exactly what they want: “They Ask – You Answer.”

Overall, there’s no doubt we’ll be back at Social Media Marketing World next year. And did we mention that it’s in San Diego, too?

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