In the 1st two parts of this series we learned to look at content marketing from the clients’ view and how to write in the shoes of your client. Now we begin to look at how we take our content beyond the boundaries of a professional firm’s website.
Strategy Fifteen – Tie content to social media
Create social media accounts to distribute your content. I’m not a huge fan of Facebook for professionals, though of course it is popular with some firms: FB makes changes to its terns of service, and anything it else it can change, too often to be a consistent business tool (e.g. timelines. newsfeed, privacy settings); there are better photo sharing options; the difference and boundaries between “friends” and “clients” is confusing etc.
I certainly like Twitter as a distribution arm, and at times LinkedIn as a means to publicize your work and have a virtual online CV that is almost universally used by other professionals. Make sure you brand these accounts. Get a Google+ profile to claim authorship for each blog post – to learn how to do this, the famed internet guru Guy Kawasaki has a very cheap guide: “What The Plus”.
But what is the dominant partner in this exercise, social media or a content strategy that encompasses social media? In some respect, the social media that supports your content is the “showing up” part of the deal. But what do you do once you are standing on the platform at Social Media Central? At that point you must have content that is already strategized to the medium – that answers vital questions such as what niche market and pain points does it address; does it suit the social media platform and its audience; most important, is it interesting to that audience?
These are all strategic questions. So what comes first? Content created to the parameters of an excellent strategy, that’s what comes first.
Strategy Sixteen – Consider guest posts
Professionals tend to do very little of this, which is a pity. It benefits not only search rankings, but depending on where you guest post, it also helps boost your reputation. To be successful you should target relevant blogs and write a better article than you would for your own website or blog.
At the beginning of 2014 there was an enormous online fracas about this. Google stalwart engineer Mat Cutts wrote:
Okay, I’m calling it: if you’re using guest blogging as a way to gain links in 2014, you should probably stop. Why? Because over time it’s become a more and more spammy practice, and if you’re doing a lot of guest blogging then you’re hanging out with really bad company.
This caused an online hurricane of opinion. Google’s new policy was in part a reaction to the proliferation of low quality guest posts that are (crudely) designed to do little more than obtain links to elevate search-engine rankings. There is still a place for high quality guest posts (written by you for another website or accepted by you for your firm website) – but it must be relevant, accurate, preferably by an expert in the field and not merely calculated to improve search rankings. In fact Cutts later qualified his initial bald statement:
There are still many good reasons to do some guest blogging (exposure, branding, increased reach, community, etc.). Those reasons existed way before Google and they’ll continue into the future. And there are absolutely some fantastic, high-quality guest bloggers out there. I changed the title of this post to make it more clear that I’m talking about guest blogging for search engine optimization (SEO) purposes.
So you should look to contribute to high quality sites that will increase your exposure. Similarly, don’t accept a guest blog from another professional unless you know the writer is credible and the article is well written and factually correct.
It works the other way, too. All professionals have networks. Friends, colleagues (and perhaps enemies) who may be flattered to be asked to provide content for your site. Just be certain you have provided detailed guidelines that address some of the following: the length required, the type of content you require with reference to the needs of your clients (“your expertise in multi-generational estate planning would be useful to our clients in multi-generational businesses”), proper attributions (plagiarism is easily checked by authors on the internet), whether they are entitled to link back to their own websites, the need to avoid blatant self-promotion (obviously you are happy for them to include their professional credentials and website), the structure (headings, bullet points) etc.
Strategy Seventeen – Curate content
Content curation is the process of sorting through the vast amounts of content on the web and presenting it in a meaningful and organized way around a specific theme. (Beth Kanter)
This is a service you can undertake for your clients if you want to be the “go to” professional for an issue relevant to them. Curation, as the name suggests, is the collection and dissemination of selective content that educates the reader and makes it clear that you are well versed in the topic. There are programs like Curata that assists in this process. There are also destination sites like SCOOP.IT that aggregate your content curation.
Curation can also be as simple as a Twitter account that publishes links to important content (and your own, of course), where you encourage users to follow you and add your account to their Twitter Lists. Ideally each has an added comment by you (“This is really useful if you have a personal injury claim”).
However, you need to be careful if you have a dedicated page on your website that merely creates links to articles on other sites, because Google shuns duplicate content. Also ask yourself if there is enough content to justify the effort. Aggregation tools like Feedly make the process a lot easier.
Strategy Eighteen – Have a comments policy
Service professionals – lawyers, accountants, retirement fund providers and advisors, insurance and finance professionals – have legitimate anxieties about online interaction with clients and prospective clients.
The sorts of PR embellishments that are taken for granted in some service industries – guarantees of service, claims about results and more – are imprudent for many professionals. The regulation of legal, accounting and finance professionals by government and member associations is stringent. As a professional, you cannot assert an expertise you do not have, nor can you raise expectations you cannot fulfill. You have at all times an overriding duty of care to your clients.
If you want to build an online community, then the solicitation of clients’ or prospective clients’ comments to your website (e.g. a comments section at the end of a blog post) is a valid strategy. If, on the other hand, your goal is to provide a place for clients and potential clients to have a window into your firm’s culture and expertise, then it’s worth rethinking a comments strategy.
Comments will not build a professional online content strategy. That can only be done with ongoing content provision, which you have to develop. Since the aim of your content marketing strategy is to get potential clients to pick up the phone to book a free first interview, or ask a question that initiates an interaction, you do not need to develop that relationship online. Instead the best use of your website is to prepare the ground for a one on one communication.
Moreover, a professional firm’s website comments section requires rigorous moderation. Every professional understands the opportunity for defamation and inappropriateness with regard to sensitive professional issues, especially if the comments reveal private information. If you are prepared to undertake these tasks with the energy and seriousness they deserve, then still have a good think about it first, and get some advice. Make sure you know what you are doing.
This is not to say that a “comments and interaction” strategy is misplaced, it is more to question the orthodoxy that comments should always be encouraged from our online visitors. Remember, we are running a professional business, not a discussion forum. Think about your goals and priorities. Some firms allocate these tasks to a “junior” staff member – if that’s your plan, then you clearly don’t see much strategic value in the comments. And be very wary of how that staff member interacts without supervision.
Strategy Nineteen – Have a call-to-action
Have you provided a call-to-action for clients and prospective clients? Have you given them a reason (and means) to reach out to your firm? Is every piece of information on your website designed to create an invitation to further action by a client or prospective client? Have you defined the goal for each item of information and what you want it to achieve?
The call-to-action should be a clear statement that tells the reader what to do, most often at the end of a content piece. For instance, if you have written a blog post about investment strategies in a recession, the last line might be an invitation to read an eBook on your website that deals with investment strategies in general and further highlights your firm’s expertise – “Do you want to learn more about this? Check out our…” Or it might be, “if you are interested in learning more about the best investment strategies for your retirement fund, contact our office for a free first interview”.
Always spell out the next action you want the reader to take, and don’t be shy about it (they don’t expect you to be). This is the biggest problem that professionals have in this regard, they just don’t have a call-to-action in their content . Rather than see it as a “hard sell”, which is anathema to the culture of some professionals, it should be rightly viewed as an unambiguous direction, written in clear, active and direct language, for prospective clients to take the next logical step.
Remember, it’s not strategic if it’s not strategic. You can write beautiful copy, lovely sentences, perfect syntax, wonderfully inventive long-tail keywords – whatever, it will count for nothing if the client or prospective client does not take some action. That’s why it’s strategic content. And to do this you must know who they are, the messages they will be prepared to incorporate, the actions they will be prepared to take.
This is the precise reason that professionals should only rely on content providers who are well versed in the culture of their professions. A lawyer can write content for an insurance agent because they both live in the world of the professional-client relationship. If you outsource your content provision – and I don’t think it’s a good idea unless you are prepared to hire someone from your profession – then make sure they understand your strategy.
So what is the ONE step that you want clients or prospective clients to take immediately after they finish reading? Be explicit about it.
Strategy Twenty – Hook the reader fast
This is a hard one for professionals. Apart from client emergencies, we prefer a clear-headed, reasoned and considered response to clients’ enquiries. Moreover, the question and answer interview format is our preferred forum for these interactions. Unfortunately this is at odds with the consciousness of the internet and its readership. This is not to say that professionals should alter their real world strategies, but it’s horses for courses, and in the cyber world the reader is always in a hurry, and unless quickly hooked will soon be on their way. Usability guru Jakob Nielsen captures this:
…the first 10 seconds of the page visit are critical for users’ decision to stay or leave. The probability of leaving is very high during these first few seconds because users are extremely skeptical, having suffered countless poorly designed web pages in the past…
Website builders and designer Newfangled COO Christopher Butler conducted an interesting test using Nielsen’s formula. These are the questions he focused on for a ten second reader:
- What was this page about?
- Did anything in particular — words, images, colors, shapes — stand out to you?
- Was your general impression positive or negative? Why?
- Would you continue reading this page?
- If you had to find this page again using a search tool, what would you search for?
Remember, all readers scan. Yes, you think your words are jewels to be appreciated in the ample time they deserve – forget it. Like it or not, if you are going to write online, you must write for the predominant cultural norms. That means using sub-headings; lists; bullet points; short paragraphs; link to quality content.
There is also the issue of first sentences. Humorist David Sedaris is a master of this – how’s this for a killer hook? “My sister Lisa became a woman on the fourteenth hole of the Pinehurst golf course.” Of course it’s provocative, and not analogous to a professional interaction, but it has all the elements of a good hook.
How about the following:
- “There are some things clients tell you that are not easily forgotten.”
- “I am so glad I paused before I clicked the ‘send’ button, the consequences would have been unthinkable.”
- “There are the ten things you should know to stop your business partner ruining your life.”
- “You just took all your business onto the cloud and you hate every minute of it.”
- “Would you know if the securities commission was about to march through the reception area and into your office?”
- “If you read this article I guarantee you’ll get a Will within the next five business days.”
- “Being a great parent takes time, effort, dedication, unconditional love, commitment, respect, responsibility, long-term planning, intuition, courage and consistency – that’s why there are so many lousy parents out there, and why the partners of those lousy parents seek our advice.”
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