Digital Marketing News: Alignment Challenges, Instagram’s ‘Collection’ & Amp for Email

The Top Three Reasons Sales and Marketing Alignment Is Off [Infographic]
Communication, broken processes and disconnected metrics are the top three reasons that sales and marketing alignment is off. Is it an issue of focus, priorities, or something else? MarketingProfs

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Instagram Gives Brands New Way to Sell In ‘Collection’ Ads
Instagram launched “collection” ads, which allow users to shop and purchase directly through the Instagram platform. AdAge

Google Announces Amp For Email – Delivering Accelerated Mobile Pages Experiences To Your Inbox
The new spec is available today through the Gmail Developer Preview, with support in Gmail slated for later this year. MarketingLand

Instagram Tests Its Version Of The Retweet But Thru Stories
Instagram has begun testing a new feature that would allow users to share public posts from other profiles to their own followers through the Stories feature. MarketingLand

Nielsen Creates New Metric to Measure the Effectiveness of Product Integrations
Nielsen is launching a new metric that may help marketers and publishers standardize brand mentions across platforms, like TV, short-form video and subscription-video-on-demand services. AdWeek

Google Launches New Look For ‘People Also Search For’ Search Refinements
Go to a search result, click on a listing, and then click back to the search results page on Google to trigger this on Google desktop search. Search Engine Land

Breaking Up With Facebook: Users Confess They’re Spending Less Time
Mark Zuckerberg says recent changes have reduced the amount of time users spend on Facebook by 50 million hours each day, but those changes aren’t the only reasons, according to users. USA Today

How Facebook Is Changing the Way It Reports Organic Reach for Page Posts
A redesign of Page Insights began rolling out this week for iOS and Android, along with a more accurate way for page admins to determine the effectiveness of their organic posts. AdWeek

New Research: Account-Based Marketing Trends: Top Channels, Priorities, and Challenges
New research indicates that the top challenges and priorities for account based marketing are the same – aligning sales and marketing, attributing marketing efforts to revenue and scoring and targeting ideal accounts. MarketingProfs

Snapchat Is Opening Up Its Marketing Platform to All Ad-Tech Players and Agencies
Snapchat is opening up their API to allow companies more access to their ad buying platform, and potentially more data. AdWeek

Google Sets Deadline for HTTPS and Warns Publishers to Upgrade Soon
If you haven’t made the switch on your site from http to https, it’s time to get started. Google has set a deadline of July 2018, after which Chrome will begin warning users explicitly if a site is insecure. Search Engine Journal

Statistics on Personalized Content

On the Lighter Side:
Google Launches 2018 Winter Olympics Features Across Search ResultsSearch Engine Journal
McDonald’s Absurdly Lavish ‘Bling Mac’ Ring Could Be Yours, If You Love It EnoughAdWeek
Over 150 New Emojis to Be Released on iPhone and Android This YearIndependent

TopRank Marketing (And Clients) In the News:
Rachel Miller & Lee Odden – Top 100 Social Media and Marketing Influencers – Digital Scouting
Lee Odden –  37 Digital Marketing Conference Speakers Who Will Inspire Your Marketing Programs – Outbrain
Lee Odden – Who Were The Top CMO Influencers Of 2017?  – Forbes
Lee Odden – 16 Digital Rockstars you Need to Follow – neilmchugh

We’ll be back next week with more digital marketing news! In the meantime, quench your digital marketing thirst by checking out TopRank Marketing on YouTube and Twitter!

Using the Cross Domain Rel=Canonical to Maximize the SEO Value of Cross-Posted Content – Whiteboard Friday

Same content, different domains? There’s a tag for that. Using rel=canonical to tell Google that similar or identical content exists on multiple domains has a number of clever applications. You can cross-post content across several domains that you own, you can benefit from others republishing your own content, rent or purchase content on other sites, and safely use third-party distribution networks like Medium to spread the word. Rand covers all the canonical bases in this not-to-be-missed edition of Whiteboard Friday.

Using the Cross Domain Rel=Canonical to Maximize the SEO Value of X-Posted Content

Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high-resolution version in a new tab!

Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re going to chat about the cross-domain rel=canonical tag. So we’ve talked about rel=canonical a little bit and how it can be used to take care of duplicate content issues, point Google to the right pages from potentially other pages that share similar or exactly the same content. But cross-domain rel=canonical is a unique and uniquely powerful tool that is designed to basically say, “You know what, Google? There is the same content on multiple different domains.”

So in this simplistic example, MyFriendSite.com/green-turtles contains this content that I said, “Sure, it’s totally fine for you, my friend, to republish, but I know I don’t want SEO issues. I know I don’t want duplicate content. I know I don’t want a problem where my friend’s site ends up outranking me, because maybe they have better links or other ranking signals, and I know that I would like any ranking credit, any link or authority signals that they accrue to actually come to my website.

There’s a way that you can do this. Google introduced it back in 2009. It is the cross-domain rel=canonical. So essentially, in the header tag of the page, I can add this link, rel=canonical href — it’s a link tag, so there’s an href — to the place where I want the link or the canonical, in this case, to point to and then close the tag. Google will transfer over, this is an estimate, but roughly in the SEO world, we think it’s pretty similar to what you get in a 301 redirect. So something above 90% of the link authority and ranking signals will transfer from FriendSite.com to MySite.com.

So my green turtles page is going to be the one that Google will be more likely to rank. As this one accrues any links or other ranking signals, that authority, those links should transfer over to my page. That’s an ideal situation for a bunch of different things. I’ll talk about those in a sec.

Multiple domains and pages can point to any URL

Multiple domains and pages are totally cool to point to any URL. I can do this for FriendSite.com. I can also do this for TurtleDudes.com and LeatherbackFriends.net and SeaTees.com and NatureIsLit.com. All of them can contain this cross-domain rel=canonical pointing back to the site or the page that I want it to go to. This is a great way to potentially license content out there, give people republishing permissions without losing any of the SEO value.

A few things need to match:

I. The page content really does need to match

That includes things like text, images, if you’ve embedded videos, whatever you’ve got on there.

II. The headline

Ideally, should match. It’s a little less crucial than the page content, but probably you want that headline to match.

III. Links (in content)

Those should also match. This is a good way to make sure. You check one, two, three. This is a good way to make sure that Google will count that rel=canonical correctly.

Things that don’t need to match:

I. The URL

No, it’s fine if the URLs are different. In this case, I’ve got NatureIsLit.com/turtles/p?id=679. That’s okay. It doesn’t need to be green-turtles. I can have a different URL structure on my site than they’ve got on theirs. Google is just fine with that.

II. The title of the piece

Many times the cross-domain rel=canonical is used with different page titles. So if, for example, CTs.com wants to publish the piece with a different title, that’s okay. I still generally recommend that the headlines stay the same, but okay to have different titles.

III. The navigation

IV. Site branding

So all the things around the content. If I’ve got my page here and I have like nav elements over here, nav elements down here, maybe a footer down here, a nice little logo up in the top left, that’s fine if those are totally different from the ones that are on these other pages cross-domain canonically. That stuff does not need to match. We’re really talking about the content inside the page that Google looks for.

Ways to use this protocol

Some great ways to use the cross-domain rel=canonical.

1. If you run multiple domains and want to cross-post content, choose which one should get the SEO benefits and rankings.

If you run multiple domains, for whatever reason, let’s say you’ve got a set of domains and you would like the benefit of being able to publish a single piece of content, for whatever reason, across multiples of these domains that you own, but you know you don’t want to deal with a duplicate content issue and you know you’d prefer for one of these domains to be the one receiving the ranking signals, cross-domain rel=canonical is your friend. You can tell Google that Site A and Site C should not get credit for this content, but Site B should get all the credit.

The issue here is don’t try and do this across multiple domains. So don’t say, “Oh, Site A, why don’t you rel=canonical to B, and Site C, why don’t you rel=canonical to D, and I’ll try and get two things ranked in the top.” Don’t do that. Make sure all of them point to one. That is the best way to make sure that Google respects the cross-domain rel=canonical properly.

2. If a publication wants to re-post your content on their domain, ask for it instead of (or in addition to) a link back.

Second, let’s say a publication reaches out to you. They’re like, “Wow. Hey, we really like this piece.” My wife, Geraldine, wrote a piece about Mario Batali’s sexual harassment apology letter and the cinnamon rolls recipe that he strangely included in this apology. She baked those and then wrote about it. It went quite viral, got a lot of shares from a ton of powerful and well-networked people and then a bunch of publications. The Guardian reached out. An Australian newspaper reached out, and they said, “Hey, we would like to republish your piece.” Geraldine talked to her agent, and they set up a price or whatever.

One of the ways that you can do this and benefit from it, not just from getting a link from The Guardian or some other newspaper, but is to say, “Hey, I will be happy to be included here. You don’t even have to give me, necessarily, if you don’t want to, author credit or link credit, but I do want that sweet, sweet rel=canonical.” This is a great way to maximize the SEO benefit of being posted on someone else’s site, because you’re not just receiving a single link. You’re receiving credit from all the links that that piece might generate.

Oops, I did that backwards. You want it to come from their site to your site. This is how you know Whiteboard Friday is done in one take.

3. Purchase/rent content from other sites without forcing them to remove the content from their domain.

Next, let’s say I am in the opposite situation. I’m the publisher. I see a piece of content that I love and I want to get that piece. So I might say, “Wow, that piece of content is terrific. It didn’t do as well as I thought it would do. I bet if we put it on our site and broadcast it with our audience, it would do incredibly well. Let’s reach out to the author of the piece and see if we can purchase or rent for a time period, say two years, for the next two years we want to put the cross-domain rel=canonical on your site and point it back to us and we want to host that content. After two years, you can have it back. You can own it again.”

Without forcing them to remove the content from their site, so saying you, publisher, you author can keep it on your site. We don’t mind. We’d just like this tag applied, and we’d like to able to have republishing permissions on our website. Now you can get the SEO benefits of that piece of content, and they can, in exchange, get some money. So your site sending them some dollars, their site sending you the rel=canonical and the ranking authority and the link equity and all those beautiful things.

4. Use Medium as a content distribution network without the drawback of duplicate content.

Number four, Medium. Medium is a great place to publish content. It has a wide network, people who really care about consuming content. Medium is a great distribution network with one challenge. If you post on Medium, people worry that they can’t post the same thing on their own site because you’ll be competing with Medium.com. It’s a very powerful domain. It tends to rank really well. So duplicate content is an issue, and potentially losing the rankings and the traffic that you would get from search and losing that to Medium is no fun.

But Medium has a beautiful thing. The cross-domain rel=canonical is built in to their import tool. So if you go to Medium.com/p/import and you are logged in to your Medium account, you can enter in their URL field the content that you’ve published on your own site. Medium will republish it on your account, and they will include the cross-domain rel=canonical back to you. Now, you can start thinking of Medium as essentially a distribution network without the penalties or problems of duplicate content issues. Really, really awesome tool. Really awesome that Medium is offering this. I hope it sticks around.

All right, everyone. I think you’re going to have some excellent additional ideas for the cross-domain rel=canonical and how you have used it. We would love you to share those in the comments below, and we’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

Reading Between the Lines: A 3-Step Guide to Reviewing Web Page Content

In SEO, reviewing content is an unavoidable yet extremely important task. As the driving factor that brings people to a page, best practice dictates that we do what we can to ensure that the work we’ve invested hours and resources into creating remains impactful and relevant over time. This requires occasionally going back and re-evaluating our content to identify areas that can be improved.

That being said, if you’ve ever done a content review, you know how surprisingly challenging this is. A large variety of formats and topics alongside the challenge of defining “good” content makes it hard to pick out the core elements that matter. Without these universal focus areas, you may end up neglecting an element (e.g. tone of voice) in one instance but paying special attention to that same element in another.

Luckily there are certain characteristics — like good spelling, appealing layouts, and relevant keywords — that are universally associated with what we would consider “good” content. In this three-step guide, I’ll show you how to use these characteristics (or elements, as I like to call them) to define your target audience, measure the performance of your content using a scorecard, and assess your changes for quality assurance as part of a review process that can be applied to nearly all types of content across any industry.


Step 1: Know your audience

Arguably the most important step mentioned in this post, knowing your target reader will identify the details that should make up the foundation of your content. This includes insight into the reader’s intent, the ideal look and feel of the page, and the goals your content’s message should be trying to achieve.

To get to this point, however, you first need to answer these two questions:

  1. What does my target audience look like?
  2. Why are they reading my content?

What does my target audience look like?

The first question relies on general demographic information such as age, gender, education, and job title. This gives a face to the ideal audience member(s) and the kind of information that would best suit them. For example, if targeting stay-at-home mothers between the ages of 35 and 40 with two or more kids under the age of 5, we can guess that she has a busy daily schedule, travels frequently for errands, and constantly needs to stay vigilant over her younger children. So, a piece that is personable, quick, easy to read on-the-go, and includes inline imagery to reduce eye fatigue would be better received than something that is lengthy and requires a high level of focus.

Why are they reading my content?

Once you have a face to your reader, the second question must be answered to understand what that reader wants from your content and if your current product is effectively meeting those needs. For example, senior-level executives of mid- to large-sized companies may be reading to become better informed before making an important decision, to become more knowledgeable in their field, or to use the information they learn to teach others. Other questions you may want to consider asking:

  • Are they reading for leisure or work?
  • Would they want to share this with their friends on social media?
  • Where will they most likely be reading this? On the train? At home? Waiting in line at the store?
  • Are they comfortable with long blocks of text, or would inline images be best?
  • Do they prefer bite-sized information or are they comfortable with lengthy reports?

You can find the answers to these questions and collect valuable demographic and psychographic information by using a combination of internal resources, like sales scripts and surveys, and third-party audience insight tools such as Google Analytics and Facebook Audience Insights. With these results you should now have a comprehensive picture of your audience and can start identifying the parts of your content that can be improved.


Step 2: Tear apart your existing content

Now that you understand who your audience is, it’s time to get to the real work: assessing your existing content. This stage requires breaking everything apart to identify the components you should keep, change, or discard. However, this task can be extremely challenging because the performance of most components — such as tone of voice, design, and continuity — can’t simply be bucketed into binary categories like “good” or “bad.” Rather, they fall into a spectrum where the most reasonable level of improvement falls somewhere in the middle. You’ll see what I mean by this statement later on, but one of the most effective ways to evaluate and measure the degree of optimization needed for these components is to use a scorecard. Created by my colleague, Ben Estes, this straightforward, reusable, and easy to apply tool can help you objectively review the performance of your content.

Make a copy of the Content Review Grading Rubric

Note: The card sampled here, and the one I personally use for similar projects, is a slightly altered version of the original.

As you can see, the card is divided into two categories: Writing and Design. Listed under each category are elements that are universally needed to create a good content and should be examined. Each point is assigned a grading scale ranging from 1–5, with 1 being the worst score and 5 being best.

To use, start by choosing a part of your page to look at first. Order doesn’t matter, so whether you choose to first check “spelling and grammar” or “continuity” is up to you. Next, assign it a score on a separate Excel sheet (or mark it directly on the rubric) based on its current performance. For example, if the copy has no spelling errors but some minor grammar issues, you would rank “spelling and grammar” as a four (4).

Finally, repeat this process until all elements are graded. Remember to stay impartial to give an honest assessment.

Once you’re done, look at each grade and see where it falls on the scale. Ideally each element should have a score of 4 or greater, although a grade of 5 should only be given out sparingly. Tying back to my spectrum comment from earlier, a 5 is exclusively reserved for top-level work and should be something to strive for but will typically take more effort to achieve than it is worth. A grade of 4 is often the highest and most reasonable goal to attempt for, in most instances.

A grade of 3 or below indicates an opportunity for improvement and that significant changes need to be made.

If working with multiple pieces of content at once, the grading system can also be used to help prioritize your workload. Just collect the average writing or design score and sort them in ascending/descending order. Pages with a lower average indicate poorer performance and should be prioritized over pages whose averages are higher.

Whether you choose to use this scorecard or make your own, what you review, the span of the grading scale, and the criteria for each grade should be adjusted to fit your specific needs and result in a tool that will help you honestly assess your content across multiple applications.

Don’t forget the keywords

With most areas of your content covered by the scorecard, the last element to check before moving to the editing stage is your keywords.

Before I get slack for this, I’m aware that the general rule of creating content is to do your keyword research first. But I’ve found that when it comes to reviews, evaluating keywords last feels more natural and makes the process a lot smoother. When first running through a page, you’re much more likely to notice spelling and design flaws before you pick up whether a keyword is used correctly — why not make note of those details first?

Depending on the outcomes stemming from the re-evaluation of your target audience and content performance review, you will notice one of two things about your currently targeted keywords:

  1. They have not been impacted by the outcomes of the prior analyses and do not need to be altered
  2. They no longer align with the goals of the page or needs of the audience and should be changed

In the first example, the keywords you originally target are still best suited for your content’s message and no additional research is needed. So, your only remaining task is to determine whether or not your keywords are effectively used throughout the page. This means assessing things like title tag, image alt attributes, URL, and copy.

In an attempt to stay on track, I won’t go into further detail on how to optimize keywords but if you want a little more insight, this post by Ken Lyons is a great resource.

If, however, your target keywords are no longer relevant to the goals of your content, before moving to the editing stage you’ll need to re-do your keyword research to identify the terms you should rank for. For insight into keyword research this chapter in Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO is another invaluable resource.


Step 3: Evaluate your evaluation

At this point your initial review is complete and you should be ready to edit.

That’s right. Your initial review.

The interesting thing about assessing content is that it never really ends. As you make edits you’ll tend to deviate more and more from your initial strategy. And while not always a bad thing, you must continuously monitor these changes to ensure that you are on the right track to create a highly valued piece of content.

The best approach would be to reassess all your material when:

  • 50% of the edits are complete
  • 85% of the edits are complete
  • You have finished editing

At the 50% and 85% marks, keep the assessment quick and simple. Look through your revisions and ask the following questions:

  • Am I still addressing the needs of my target audience?
  • Are my target keywords properly integrated?
  • Am I using the right language and tone of voice?
  • Does it look like the information is structured correctly (hierarchically)?

If your answer is “Yes” to all four questions, then you’ve effectively made your changes and should proceed. For any question you answer “No,” go back and make the necessary corrections. The areas targeted here become more difficult to fix the closer you are to completion and ensuring they’re correct throughout this stage will save a lot of time and stress in the long run.

When you’ve finished and think you’re ready to publish, run one last comprehensive review to check the performance status of all related components. This means confirming you’ve properly addressed the needs of your audience, optimized your keywords, and improved the elements highlighted in the scorecard.


Moving forward

No two pieces of content are the same, but that does not mean there aren’t some important commonalities either. Being able to identify these similarities and understand the role they play across all formats and topics will lead the way to creating your own review process for evaluating subjective material.

So, when you find yourself gearing up for your next project, give these steps a try and always keep the following in mind:

  1. Your audience is what makes or breaks you, so keep them happy
  2. Consistent quality is key! Ensure all components of your content are performing at their best
  3. Keep your keywords optimized and be prepared to do additional research if necessary
  4. Unplanned changes will happen. Just remember to remain observant as to keep yourself on track

5 Productivity Hacks to Bring Content Creation From Failing to Flying High

Hot Air Balloons

Let’s just get this out of the way: I don’t know anything about hacking. I’ve never hacked anything in my life, unless you’re describing my golf swing, or you count using a Game Genie to cheat at Sega Genesis back in the early ‘90s.

In general, I find terms like “life hacks” and “growth hacking” to be… well, hackneyed.

But you know what? Blog titles that include “hacks” — or other strong and compelling descriptors such as “surprising” or “critical” — have a greater tendency to gain viral traction. Sometimes a simple data point like that can be the springboard you need to uncover inspiration.

Which brings us to the purpose of today’s post.

Here at TopRank Marketing, we have an insanely talented Content Team. Legitimately some of the best writers and strategic thinkers I’ve ever had the pleasure of working alongside. But even these awesome pros are not immune to the occasional creative rut or swoon in productivity. It comes with the territory.

Recently the team came together to discuss some of our personal methods for overcoming content creation slumps and getting back on track when we’re dragging. I figured I would share some of the most salient pointers to come out of that meeting here, so other marketers can benefit and maybe adopt a few of them during their own periods of stagnation.

Hacks, insider tips, pearls of eternal wisdom — whatever attention-grabbing name you’d like to apply, I just hope you find these practical tips helpful in enhancing your productivity and elevating your content marketing success. (And feel free to comment with your own if you have tricks that work for you.)

#1 – Embrace the 5-Second Rule

The 5-Second Rule Book CoverLast year, Mel Robbins published a book called “The 5 Second Rule: Transform your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage.” The premise behind this guide to conquering self-doubt and procrastination is rooted in psychology.

Basically, the crux is that because our brains are wired to avoid risk, we are innately predisposed to abandon many ideas and plans almost as quickly as they arrive.

Robbins challenges us to overcome this inclination by forcing ourselves to take some sort of action to move an idea forward within five seconds of the thought crossing our consciousness. It can be small and it doesn’t always have to lead anywhere. But it’s all about getting past your initial misgivings and, in some way, turning an idea from concept into reality.

So, next time the notion of a blog angle passes through your head, take the step to jot down a note, or even a loose outline. When you’re struck with the spark for a content campaign, but not quite sure about it, discuss it with a colleague or at least record a quick voice memo on your phone.

Basically, stop saying “later” and start saying “now.” By following this approach, you’ll find yourself with a whole lot more to work with, and it might just be that a passing fancy you’d have otherwise pushed out of mind turns into something great.

Stop saying “later” and start saying “now” when an idea crosses your mind. – @NickNelsonMN #ContentCreation #ContentMarketing Click To Tweet

#2 – Start with Your Conclusion

A classic writing tip from fledgling novelists is to draft the ending of a story first, and then work your way up to it. This same advice can be aptly applied to any content writer who is struggling to get a piece off the ground.

When I’m sitting down to write something new, I frequently find that getting started is the toughest part. You need a strong, compelling introduction, and in many cases can’t proceed until you’ve got one worked out. Another issue can be that once you’ve surpassed that initial hurdle, you start wandering and get sidetracked from the main points you’re trying to make.

Writing your conclusion before anything else can remedy both of these issues. Since it’s always smart to have the beginning and ending of a post tie together, you might find the pathway to your intro by taking this approach. And as you progress through the drafting process, you’ll always know exactly what the end destination is.

#3 – Keep a List of Recent, Authoritative Statistics

Sometimes, statistics can provide the backing we need to substantiate a point. But finding the right one isn’t always a quick or easy task. Getting bogged down in research is often one of the primary culprits in waning productivity.

If you have a team of writers on hand — particularly ones who cover similar topics or niches — it can be helpful to create a central doc with up-to-date stats from trusted sources, such as respected media publications or verified research organizations. Trim off older items as they lose relevance, and continually add in new ones. You’ll want to be careful to avoid the trap where everyone on your staff starts using the same numbers and sources over and over again, but in general I find this practice to be a strong productivity-booster and time-saver.

#4 – Dig Into Data

Stats are not only able to contextualize and reinforce a case we’re trying to make, but they can also illuminate a case worth making in the first place, or provide direction on how to proceed. For example, the insight I mentioned earlier about “hacks” being a clickable blog post title made me wonder: “What ‘hacks’ do I actually know? What kinds of hidden pointers could I surface that might actually be useful to our audience of smart marketers?”

Revelations can be found in insights about particular types of content that resonate within your industry (articles and studies about trends are good sources), or a conclusion drawn from your own Google Analytics (“Wow, look at how well posts about Topic X have performed!”).

Data points are stories waiting to be told, and they are almost infinitely abundant in every industry and vertical.

Data points are stories waiting to be told. Dig into them to find inspiration & overcome #ContentCreation slumps. – @NickNelsonMN Click To Tweet

#5 – Reckon with Writer’s Block

It can be tough to get unstuck when you hit a wall in content creation. There’ve been countless instances where I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit wordsmithing one particular sentence, or figuring the best way to transition from one idea to the next.

In these cases, it never hurts to move on to something else for a while and then circle back later. You can leave yourself a placeholder, as simple as [XXXXX] or more referential like [something about hacking and Game Genie]. This enables you to accomplish other stuff and return with a fresh mind.

Painful as it may be, you should even consider simply getting something down on the page in these moments, even if you don’t think it’s good. A 2012 article in Psychology Today on the subject of overcoming writer’s block argued that this can be necessary to achieve that frequently elusive “flow.”

“Here’s the truth about writing (or any other form of self-expression): If you can’t accept the bad, you can’t get to the good,” wrote Barry Michels. “It’s as if the flow is pure, clean water trapped behind dirty, disgusting sewage. If you can’t welcome the sewage and let it flow through you, you’ll never be able to get to the pure stuff.”

Such a lovely metaphor, isn’t it?

Put Your Content in Flight

Ready to see how high your content can fly? Try incorporating these tips into your routine and see if they can help give your productivity a lift:

  • Challenge yourself to take action on every content creation idea as soon as it strikes you.
  • Try breaking your routine by writing the conclusion to your next post before anything else, and see if it helps make your process more efficient.
  • Create a centralized doc with your most-used sources of stats and insights, then share it with your team and encourage them to add.
  • Analyze data trends from your own past content as well as the industry at large to identify hot topics for your audience.
  • Alter your writing approach to overcome writer’s block.

Otherwise, if you’re interested in learning more about how we do content marketing at TopRank Marketing, check out our services page or reach out and give us a shout. We’re all about driving growth, without any hacking required.

9 Upcoming Events to Learn All About Content and Influencer Marketing

Learn Content Influencer marketing

According to a new study from eMarketer, in 2018 nearly nine in 10 business-to-business (B2B) companies in the US will use digital content marketing. At the same time, influencer marketing has become one of the hottest topics in the marketing world: The L2 from Gartner reports that over 70% of brands used influencers in their 2017 marketing plans and 95% found them to be effective.

We know how this goes in marketing: a strategy or tactic becomes popular with every opportunist repeating the echo chamber of best practices until it’s unclear what’s really relevant for your business.

We’re seeing firsthand, the impact content and influence is having on marketing and have been working with many of the top B2B brands in the world to plan, implement and optimize content marketing programs with highly credible and connected influencers.

That expertise didn’t happen overnight. We’ve been working hard on B2B influencer marketing strategies, process and workflow, measurement and reporting for the past 6 years. In addition to helping clients develop and implement influencer content programs, we’re also teaching our community about this impactful intersection of disciplines.

In fact, over the next 2 1/2 months there are 9 events happening online and in cities including Scottsdale, Boston, San Francisco, Ft Lauderdale, San Diego and Minneapolis where you can learn the strategies and tactics of influencer and content marketing, presented by team members from TopRank Marketing. Find one that works with your schedule.

B2B Marketing Exchange
Feb 19-21: B2B Marketing Exchange – Scottsdale, AZ  #B2BMX

Millennials & Influencer Marketing: How to Organize & Optimize for B2B
Not only are Millennial aged professionals more trusting of social influencers when making purchase decisions, they’re also more likely to participate as influential content creators. B2B brands that can master working with internal and external Millennial talent to co-create content and engage on social channels will reap rewards now and into the future.

This presentation by Lee Odden of TopRank Marketing and Alexandra Rynne of LinkedIn Marketing Solutions will help B2B marketers understand the influencer marketing opportunity with Millennials in multiple ways:
– Understand influencer engagement models from seasoned brandividuals to rising star Millennials
– Bust myths about working with Millennials and how B2B brands can create win/win relationships
– Learn from examples of B2B influencer content in action

Demand Gen Strategies Summit
Feb 22: Demand Generation Strategies Summit (BrightTalk) – Onlin
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The Confluence Equation: How Content & Influencers Drive B2B Marketing Success
Content and influencer marketing are hot topics for B2B marketers all over the world as two of the most promising strategies for attracting, engaging and converting ideal customers. What many marketers don’t realize is how collaborating with influencers can create even more credible, relevant, and optimized experiences for target accounts. Join Lee Odden to learn how working with influencers and their communities can help scale quality B2B content that gets results.

Digital Transformation Days - SEMRusn
Feb 22: Digital Transformation Day (SEMRush) – Online  #DTDconf
Barry Schwartz and Lee Odden interview each other
Barry Schwartz, President of Rusty Brick, News Editor of Search Engine Land and Executive Editor of Search Engine Roundtable will interview Lee Odden and Lee will interview Barry about trends in the search and digital marketing world.

SMMW
Feb 28 – Mar 2: Social Media Marketing World – San Diego, CA  #SMMW18
How Content Plus Influence Equals Results: The Confluence Equation
Content marketing and influencer marketing are hot topics for marketers all over the world as two of the most promising strategies for attracting, engaging and converting ideal customers. But how do you find the right influencers? What kind of content should you collaborate on? How do you best measure influencer and content success? Join Lee Odden to learn from his experience working with brands big and small to develop efficient and effective formulas for influencer content success.

everything content minneapolis
Mar 22: Everything: Content – Minneapolis, MN
Converging Content & Influencers to Stimulate Marketing Impact
For years we’ve seen celebrities plastered on magazine covers, perform in television ads and pimp out their social media networks for pay. But is that really influencer marketing?

What if instead, there a way for B2B and B2C brands alike to develop a structured influencer driven content program that is less about paying a famous face and more about helping your audience see themselves in the content that you create?

This presentation from Ashley Zeckman will cut below the surface to uncover top ways to work with influencers in order to create a memorable content experience for your customers, build brand authority and generate marketing ROI.

Three key things the audience will be able to do after attending this session:
– 3 stories of content + influencer marketing success
– Key steps for creating a stellar experience for influencers and customers alike
– Scrappy ideas for co-creating with influencers

AMA Iowa
Apr 4: American Marketing Association Iowa Event – Des Moines, IA

Influencer Marketing is only for B2C Brands (And Other Lies Your Parents Told You)
For years celebrities have been gracing the covers of magazines, acting in commercials and pimping out their social media profiles for pay. But should that really be considered influencer marketing?

While it may seem like B2C brands have influencer marketing all figured out, there is even more opportunity for B2B brands to begin building meaningful influencer relationships.

One way to do that is by developing influencer driven content programs. These programs provide a unique opportunity reach and build credibility your audience by working with experts that they can relate to and trust. In this presentation, Ashley Zeckman will share:
– A dive into 3 stories of successful content and influencer marketing in action.
– Steps for creating a stellar experience for your audience and your influencers.
– Scrappy ideas for collaborating with influencers when you have limited time and resources.
– Bonus: Formulas for determining content and influencer marketing ROI.

Pubcon
Apr 11-12: Pubcon Florida – Ft Laudedrale, FL  #Pubcon

Participation Marketing: The New World of Content Co-Creation, Influencers and Integration for PR
The converging roles of PR and communications with content and marketing is creating rapid demand for new strategies, skills and expectations. As earned and owned media intertwine, communications professionals who fast track their ability to adapt and evolve will gain a competitive advantage in their roles in the new world of PR.

In this session, you’ll learn tested and proven models, strategies and tactics for content marketing based on an integrated and cooperative approach. Some of the key learnings include:
– Content marketing and what it really means for earned, owned and shared media.
– How content co-creation enables content quality at scale.
– Redefining what influence and working with influencers mean for content.
– Key opportunities to integrate the best of PR and marketing for meaningful digital communications that deliver an impact

Marketo Marketing Nation Summit
Apr 29-30: Marketo Marketing Nation Summit – San Francisco, CA  #MKTGNATION

Content Marketing Integration 
Without content, there wouldn’t be any search engines and yet most marketers treat content as if it were simply a tactic for SEO. Content is the fuel that powers all forms of media on all digital channels where customers engage. The most successful marketers approach digital marketing with a customer and content-centric approach that integrates with SEO, social media, influencers and advertising in a way that helps the brand become “the best answer” wherever customers are looking. This presentation from Lee Odden focuses on how to plan, produce, promote and optimize content as a marketing approach that works with or without search engines. But definitely better with search engines. 🙂

Content Marketing Conference
May 2-4: Content Marketing Conference – Boston, MA  #CMC18
The Keys to Successful B2B Content and Influence Programs
While only 11% of B2B companies are implementing ongoing influencer marketing programs, 55% of marketers plan to spend more on influencer marketing in the coming year. Even with growing budget commitments, many B2B brands are not entirely sure about how to execute influencer marketing. Fortunately, brands with mature influencer marketing programs like SAP are elevating the practice. In this presentation with Lee Odden, CEO of TopRank Marketing and Amisha Gandhi, Head of Influencer Marketing at SAP, you will learn through several examples about the strategies and best practices that can unlock success for an Enterprise B2B content and influencer marketing program.

Whether you would like to learn most about Millennials and B2B influencer marketing or content integrated with influence, SEO and social media, there’s a topic for you in the schedule above. Not only can you learn from Ashley Zeckman and myself, but our clients from LinkedIn Marketing Solutions (Alex Rynne) and SAP (Amisha Gandhi) are presenting as well.

If you are already attending one of the events above, please do be sure to let us know!

Digital Marketing News: Social Media Trends, What CMOs Search For & Mobile Ads Soar

Social Media Trends to Put Into Practice in 2018 [Infographic]
What should social media marketers focus on in 2018? This infographic shows several trends, like social media ROI, mobile growth and trust. Social Media Today

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Search, Paid And SEO, Rank Higher As CMOs Seek New Agency Partners
What do CMOs look for in agency partners? A new report shows that while advertising and direct marketing remain on the top of the list, SEO and SEM are moving to toward the top in leaps and bounds. MediaPost

Mobile Ads To Soar In 2018, Especially In Local Media
MediaPost reports: “Social media ad revenue from mobile (not including tablets) now represents just over 70% of total social ad spending – and will grow to 80% by 2022, per BIA/Kelsey.” MediaPost

Google Analytics Introduces New ‘Audiences’ Report
Google Analytics has released a new report called “Audiences,” which is located, appropriately under the “audiences” category within the Google Analytics dashboard. To use this report, make sure to configure audiences in your account. Search Engine Journal

Google Officially Announces the New Google Search Console is Available for Everyone
Great news for Google Search Console users: the new version (in beta) is now available to everyone. You can still toggle between the old and new views if needed. Changes include consolidated error reporting and better export usability. Search Engine Land

Twitter Extends Full Tweet Archive to Developers
ZDNet reports: “Twitter announced it’s giving developers access to the full archive of its history – all the way back to the first tweet in 2006. Until Thursday, full access to Twitter’s history was only available to enterprise API customers.” ZDNet

Instagram’s Carousel Ad Format is Coming to Instagram Stories
Instagram announced recently that they’re bringing their Carousel Ads into stories, allowing for more than one piece of media. Advertisers can now use 1-3 pieces of media (photos or videos) in this new format. TechCrunch

The State of Chatbots in 2018: Top Benefits and Challenges
Consumers are saying that the benefits of chatbots include 24-hour customer service, along with getting instant responses. However, 43% of those surveyed said a potential blocker to using chatbots would be their preference for a live assistant. MarketingProfs

Amazon Wins the Superbowl (of Ads)
According to USA Today, Amazon’s “Alexa” spots beat out the NFL’s “Dirty Dancing”-themed ads during this year’s Super Bowl. USA Today

US Social Users Head to YouTube, Facebook to Watch Videos
Marketers can no longer afford to ignore video advertising. Why? eMarketer is predicting that video ad spending in the US alone will reach $15.42 billion this year, and will grow to $22.18 billion by 2021. eMarketer

Intel Made Smarts Glasses That Look Normal
Apparently, The Verge recently got an exclusive sneak peek at Intel’s new smart glasses Vaunt, which uses retinal projection to put a display in your eyeball. The best part? The glasses actually look like “normal” glasses. The Verge

Digital Ad Buyers Say Google Search, Facebook Deliver the Best ROI
A December 2017 survey of U.S. senior ad buyers by financial services firm Cowen and Company showed Google search was held in the “highest esteem” when it came to ROI. Nearly half of respondents named the platform as offering the highest ROI. Meanwhile, Facebook ranked second, named by 30% of those polled. eMarketer

Snapchat Slips in Features Like Fonts and Do Not Disturb Amidst Redesign
Snapchat appears to be following in Facebook’s “Time Well Spent” steps. The latest? Snapchat is offering a way to mute specific people without formally blocking them, according to TechCrunch. In addition, the major redesign that’s slowly rolling out comes with ways to jazz up your Snaps with colorful text styles and multiple captions. TechCrunch

Best & Worst Super Bowl 2018 Commercials
While the world knows the Philadelphia Eagles are Super Bowl champions, which brands took the gold for best commercials? And which ones can be crowned as the worst? Billboard’s picks for the best include the Doritos & Mountain Dew combo, and Amazon. Billboard

On the Lighter Side:

Pepsi CEO Says It’s Targeting Women With Doritos That Are Cleaner and Less Crunchy. Apparently, ladies need quiet snacks that don’t make a mess. At least, that seems to be Pepsi’s belief. As AdWeek reported: “In an interview with Freakonomics, PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi said that while women ‘would love’ to lick their fingers and pour Doritos chip crumbs into their mouths, they ‘don’t like to crunch too loudly in public’ and ‘don’t like to pour the little broken pieces and the flavor into their mouth.’” AdWeek

TopRank Marketing (And Clients) In the News:
Debbie Friez – 2018 Social Media Marketing Tips From 23+ Marketing Experts – Hot in Social Media
Lee Odden – Top 20 Marketers that Influence CMOs – Forbes
Lee Odden, SAP & LinkedIn (clients) – Report: Understanding the B2B Content Marketing Landscape – eMarketer

Social Media Marketing Spotlight: U.S. Bank Rallies Local Allies for a Friendly, Engaging #MNNice #NiceOff

US Bank NiceOff

Roughly 120,000 visitors from 130 countries descended on the Twin Cities last week to take part in Super Bowl LII festivities hosted in downtown Minneapolis. To welcome visitors to the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Minneapolis-based U.S. Bank—which just so happens to have its name on the stadium that hosted the big game—wanted to give visitors a taste of “what Minnesota is all about.”

For those of you who haven’t heard, Minnesota—where TopRank Marketing is proudly based—isn’t just known for its frigid winters and as the birthplace and residence of the late Prince Rogers Nelson. It’s also known for its “northern hospitality”—or as it’s affectionately called—Minnesota Nice.

With Minnesota Nice as their inspiration—and some great strategic thinking—U.S. Bank launched the #MnNice #NiceOff conversation and friendly competition on Twitter, inviting its followers and other local brands to try to “out-nice” each other by sharing acts of kindness that are Minnesota Nice signatures.

The result? A social media marketing campaign that was thoughtful, engaging, subtly brand-centric, and influencer-activated.

Starting the Conversation

While the conversation started with the single tweet below, the campaign was in the works for weeks.

US Bank Minnesota Nice Off

As it so happens, TopRank Marketing alumni and current U.S. Bank Social Media Campaign Manager, Jason Schober, was part of the action. And he was gracious enough to give us an inside look.

“We really wanted to evoke some engagement and brand activation within the community of people that would be participating in the activities leading up to and at the big game,” Schober told us.

Eventually, the Minnesota Nice-themed campaign strategy emerged as a winning idea. To get started, the team team laid out a strategy that would ensure FCC compliance by not mentioning financial products or services in communications, respect Super Bowl guidelines since U.S. Bank was not a direct sponsor, and make sure the campaign made sense for their brand identity and voice.

The campaign was in great shape, but U.S. Bank didn’t want to go at it alone. So, roughly a week before launch, they began to form partnerships with other local, well-known brands—including Target, Land O’ Lakes, Sun Country and 3M—to be part of the conversation. However, none of the partnering brands knew what others would be posting until it unfolded on launch day (Feb. 1), which kept the conversation real and spontaneous. Here’s a shot of the beginning of the conversation.

Target and US Bank Nice Off

For the work we do at TopRank Marketing, this move is directly tied to the power of influence in marketing. By partnering with influential brands, U.S. Bank was not only able to add credible voices to the conversation, but also extend their reach to these brands’ respective audiences. In addition, once the ball got rolling, other brands and individuals were given an organic opportunity to get in on the fun. Of course, many of the interactions cleverly intertwined a brand’s own marketing message. Here’s one of our favorites:

3M Minnesota Nice Off Tweet

Top the Tater Minnesota Nice Off Tweet

When it came to selecting the right hashtag to define the conversation, their approach was two-pronged, according to Jason.

“The original idea was #MinnesotaNiceOff,” he explained. “But for both tracking and engagement purposes, we decided to leverage two hashtags: #MnNice and #NiceOff. Reason being, we knew #MnNice was already being used and could open our conversation up to a broader audience, and #NiceOff would be something we could own and brand the conversation with.”

The Big Takeaway

A thoughtful, integrated social media marketing strategy is an absolute must. Start by looking at any compliance and trademark red tape, as well as how a campaign will integrate with and complement your brand. Then ask yourself: What other credible, influential voices can be added to elicit shared value?

Managing Engagement

There’s little doubt that trolls and disgruntled users are commonplace on social media these days, often trying to ruin the spirit of good conversation. And in today’s world of social media, hashtags are conversations. So, when it comes to branding your marketing message with a hashtag conversation starter, marketers need to prepare for the fact that they don’t necessarily own the content or the conversation.

For U.S. Bank, they knew the risks of starting the #MnNice #NiceOff conversation. But they also believed the campaign easily lent itself to passively putting trolls in their place. As you can see from the thread below, U.S. Bank made it a point to go full-out with the campaign theme when confronted with negativity.

US Bank's Repsonse to Nice Off Troll

“Our entire campaign was centered on Minnesota Nice,” Jason said. “The only appropriate response to these kinds of interactions was to be as overly polite as possible.”

The Big Takeaway

When it comes to anticipating trolls or negative responses, consider the worst-case scenario for your hashtag-branded campaign and build it into your overall strategy. As our own Joshua Nite recently wrote on the topic of proper hashtag usage, when creating your own hashtag, ask yourself:

  • Who are you talking to?
  • What are you trying to say?
  • How else could your hashtag be interpreted?
  • What other conversations might it start?

Keeping the Momentum Going

Once the tweeting began on launch day, Jason said his team was using Spredfast as a helpful tool to monitor, track, and respond in real-time. But once it became clear that the conversation was on the right track—barring input from trolls—the team decided to leverage Twitter Moments to turn the conversation into a storytelling space.

“This was already in the original plan because we wanted to continue to tell the story beyond the initial conversation,” Jason told us. “But we were waiting for the momentum to take over before creating the Moment.”

As for results, between Feb. 1 and Feb. 6, the Twitter Moment saw nearly 35,000 total opens, 31,247 unique opens, 448 likes, 155 shares, and a 8.48% completion rate.

The Big Takeaway

Whether it be a campaign or every-day usage, make sure you understand the full capabilities of any social media platform you’re engaging on. This will not only help you think more strategically about your messaging and interactions, but also help you provide more value for your audience. This is especially important in the age of decline (or extinction) for organic visibility on social platforms.

In addition, social media listening and management tools are often an investment that pays off—especially during campaigns. As TopRank Marketing CEO Lee Odden has said: “Tools make reaching social media marketing goals possible.”

Shine the Social Media Spotlight on Your Brand

For brands and marketers of all industries, social media hashtag campaigns like this serves as a great example of running a smart, strategic, and integrated campaign.

By thinking strategically from start to finish—and inviting like-minded, influential brand voices to the table—U.S. Bank was able to not only capitalize on one of the biggest sporting events of the year, but also garner meaningful and organic interactions, engage in some friendly competition with other local brands being gracious Super Bowl hosts, and spotlight and activate their brand identity.

Want some more inspiration from brands on Twitter? Take a peek at both B2B and B2C brands mastering the art of social customer care on Twitter.

9 Top Marketing Trends for 2018

Top Marketing Trends 2018

There is no question that 2017 was an incredible year for marketing.

What’s even better than a banner year is fresh optimism for the next. Predictions and trends for 2018 present even more opportunities for marketers that can see the signal amongst the noise.

As we continue to grow, I’ve been researching what trends are worth considering and investing in for B2B marketers. The result is the following list: Influencer Marketing, Content Experiences, Artificial Intelligence, Data, Video, Privacy Protection, Audience Development, Voice and Purpose Driven Marketing.

Influencer Marketing Grows Up

Within the realm of influence, there are big shifts towards engaging with microinfluencers, always on programs, greater accountability of influencer reach and effectiveness and an emphasis on measuring influencer marketing ROI. Marketers are also taking a more holistic view of who an influencer is, including customers, members of their community and employees.

Many marketers are shifting their focus away from big name influencers towards niche players and for good reason. Microinfluencers deliver 60% higher campaign engagement rates and those campaigns are 6.7 times more efficient per engagement than those with influencers with larger followings.

Beyond niche industry influencers are the internal influencers to a company: employees. Companies are increasingly realizing the value of tapping this invaluable resource of credible influence. 90% of brands say they are either pursuing employee advocacy programs or have programs already active.

In 2018 we’ll see even more marketers transitioning from campaigns to always on engagements with influencers in a way that emphasizes mutual value. Influencers can build credibility by becoming ambassadors for the brand and the brand develops relationships with the influencer’s audience.

Ongoing engagements with influencers also help build a more authentic experience for the audience vs. one off campaigns promoting a specific product or service. Always on and ongoing influencer engagements with brands will pave the way for greater influencer marketing ROI. That said, those arrangements are only as strong as the relationships and as we all know, relationships are not automatic – they take time and investment.

Integrate Content Experiences with Influence

It is no longer enough to inform buyers, they want to feel something. Content experiences that are highly relevant, purposeful and engaging can come in many forms from video to interactive. All help engage customers intellectually and emotionally.

There is a strong connection between influencer marketing and content experiences. Amisha Ghandi, Head of Influencer Marketing at SAP (client) puts it best;

“Working with influencers to co-create content delivers mutual value. When that content is interactive, it creates an experience that is more engaging and inspires action.” @AmishaGandhi

With so many options for content, customers expect to be “info-tained” not just informed. Brands that can integrate trusted industry and internal experts with interactive and engaging content they are proud to be a part of, will be appreciated by contributing influencers just as much as they will be rewarded by customers.

Optimize with Artificial Intelligence

In a study by Smart Insights, AI and Machine Learning were rated the #3 marketing activity that will make the largest commercial impact on business in 2018.

Another study by Salesforce found that high-performing marketing teams are more than 2 times as likely to use AI in their campaigns than under-performers.

What are marketers doing with AI? Areas of focus with AI in marketing include advertising automation and optimization, chat bots for service and assisting in sales, and content personalization.

Bots for service are not new, but an increasing number of marketers are using chat apps and bots to engage customers during the sales process. In fact, 1.82 billion people worldwide are projected to use a chat app in 2018 and by 2020, customers will manage 85% of their relationship with the enterprise without interacting with a human.

I don’t remember where I heard it first, but the saying “Marketers are data rich and insight poor” is more true today than ever.  Machine Learning and AI can help marketers make sense of all the “dark data” they’re sitting on as well as structured and unstructured data online to surface insights about ideal content, offers and even emotional triggers to inspire conversions.

Of course, marketers shouldn’t use AI to automate and optimize their marketing because they can, but because that’s what it will take to meet customer appetite for personalized experiences.  The increased competition for customer attention amidst the huge amount of media each consumer is confronted with each day requires every advantage to optimize for reach, engagement and conversion.

Data Informed and Inspired Marketing

Speaking of data, it has become clear that few successful marketing programs are not informed by data in ways that were not considered 10 years ago. While companies only analyze 12 percent of the data they have available, senior marketing executives are more informed about what is possible and taking action. Josh Mueller, SVP, Global Marketing at Dun & Bradstreet (client) puts it well:

“A data-inspired framework is absolutely essential for modern marketers. To implement this necessity, we’ve fully integrated our content and demand gen organizations, with shared editorial planning and KPIs across the entire customer journey. With these common insights, our teams have built a continuous feedback loop – from topic selection through performance – that ensures every piece of content we create has a purpose and is measured against that purpose.” @jmueller03

Rather than being limited to using historical campaign data to iterate future campaigns, companies are using evolved marketing automation, machine learning and dynamic personalization platforms to apply customer insights from their data to marketing in real-time. There’s a lot more of that to come in 2018.

Video Stars Are Everywhere

There’s been a substantial increase in demand and production of video by brands wishing to better engage with customers. What is catching marketers’ and customers’ attention most with video is live streaming through popular live video platforms including Facebook live, YouTube live, Instagram live, Twitter, and Periscope. According to Facebook’s stats, live videos get 3X the views than recorded videos. Video optimized for mobile experiences is also hot for marketers and customers. Mobile video ad spend alone will grow 49% to roughly $18 billion in 2018.

Everyone with a smartphone and apps is empowered to create, publish and promote video content. Video is not the plaything of B2C anymore either as more B2B companies invest in creating engaging stories through video and publishing them on LinkedIn. I think we’ll see a lot more creative video coming from B2B brands in the new year.

Privacy as Marketing and Good Business

With the increase in compromises to customer data, concern over privacy is something more marketers are tapping in to. Realizing that certain segments of customers care about privacy, some marketers are using it as a marketing attribute.

Another consideration for greater focus on privacy is the oncoming implementation of GDPR in Europe. Companies anywhere including the U.S. that market to citizens of Europe must comply or face potentially significant consequences. Compliance with GDPR requires changes in opt-in, communications and data handling that marketers must address and soon.

Not only is compliance good for customers, it is also a solid marketing message and good business.

Capture and Captivate Your Audience

Numerous studies show buyers don’t trust ads or brand communications as much as the people and sources “they know”. Brands that develop audiences and community by providing value not only create relevant context but also hedge against the increasing challenges around customer trust and privacy. Companies are also making progress towards growing their own audiences with content marketing vs. buying access to those audiences with ads.

As Robert Rose of Content Marketing Institute says,

The key trend that I’m seeing that will actually help content marketers move the needle will be a move to direct access to subscribed audiences – and the data they provide – as a means of building value for the practice of marketing. @Robert_Rose

Voice – Can You Hear Me Now?

Search queries are evolving from obscure sequences of words typed into search box on laptops to sentences either typed or spoken into a variety of devices.

In 2017 20 million units of smart speakers were sold. Voice assistants like Siri and smart speakers like Echo and Google Home are training customers to use voice in ways that marketers must adapt to. Voice accounts for 20% of searches and is expected to hit 50% by 2020.

Voice content in the form of podcasting is also seeing great growth: 68 million Americans listen to podcasts on a monthly basis. Marketers looking for ways to engage with customers in a more meaningful way are looking at podcasting as a way to do that.

Two of my favorite new podcasts are “Data Inspired” from Rishi Dave, CMO of Dun & Bradstreet (client) and the “CMO Moves” podcast by Nadine Dietz. I have no doubt many more brand and executive podcasts will launch in 2018.

Purpose and Profit

With over 80 million Millennials and over $1 trillion in spending power, consumers are increasingly factoring things like brand mission, values, and sustainability into their purchase decisions. A study by the Economist Group found that 79% of consumers prefer to purchase products from a company that operates with a social purpose. Companies must consider what their purpose means in terms of communications and marketing.

Defining purpose is an initiative we are undertaking within our own company and it’s not as easy to translate into marketing communications as you might think! But brand purpose resonates with modern buyers and more companies will be incorporating their purpose into how the brand is positioned and how they operate – including marketing.

Beyond all the tactics of chatbots, microinfluencers, livestreaming, optimizing for smart speakers and purpose driven marketing is the strategy that answers “why” and for “who”.  To inform marketing strategy, there is one universal truth for marketing: customer centricity. With a eye for optimization on customer preferences and behaviors, marketers will always have the right marketing mix.

How do you make sense of what trends to focus on? At our own company, we deliver “best answer” content marketing programs that integrate influencers, SEO, social, advertising, design and marketing performance optimization. Will optimization for voice search play a part in that mix? Sure. Do AI and machine learning have a role to play in optimizing search and social ad campaigns? How about using AI to surface insights about the best content to create and offers to make? Of course.

As a marketing agency it is tempting to chase shiny marketing objects to differentiate. To know what’s possible, we really have to. But we’re also focusing on customers and the core expertise that satisfies 95% of the performance expectations of our marketing programs. By being exceptional at very specific things consistently, we’ll be able to exceed expectations. We’ll also have room to experiment and find data that supports new and customer-centric areas for innovation.

2017 was also a record breaking year for our marketing agency, TopRank Marketing. We added 15 new amazingly talented staff and had the largest increase in client programs and new customer engagements than any year before. While we’ve seen much success with B2B influencer and content marketing programs, it is our focus on the intersection with data from SEO, social and analytics plus all new interactive design capabilities that has enabled great results and more opportunities.

What are the marketing trends you’re most focused on in 2018?

Digital Marketing News: State of Social, Super Super Bowl Ads, Scheduled Posts on Instagram

State of Social 2018

The State of Social 2018 Report: Your Guide to Latest Social Media Marketing Research [New Data]. Buffer teamed up with Social Media Week to collect data from over 1,700 marketers and create a new report with insights ranging from huge opportunities with messaging apps to how successful marketers are measuring social media ROI. Buffer Blog

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The IAB Offers Guidance to Publishers and Marketers Considering Partnering With Influencers. The wild west of influencer marketing gets some guidelines from the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s social media, native and content committee. The group has produced an in-depth guide for publishers considering new influencer marketing options as part of their branded advertising packages and for marketers and their agencies trying to figure out how to best leverage influencer marketing programs. AdWeek

Instagram now allows businesses to schedule their posts. The official support for post scheduling doesn’t extend to ads, nor is it directly available with the product itself. Instead, the support is being added to Instagram’s API – meaning that social media software applications like Hootsuite, Sprout Social or SocialFlow now have access to the functionality. TechCrunch

Twitter Is Working on a Snapchat-Style Video Sharing Tool. Hopefully the feature will have a better impact for Twitter than Snapchat’s run lately. Twitter shares gained as much as 1.4 percent early Thursday. Snap fell as much as 5.1 percent. Bloomberg

Survey: Siloed Data Stifling B2B Marketing Efforts. A new study from Harvard Business Review reports 55% of marketers say not being able to merge information from disparate silos in a timely manner is “hobbling” their initiatives. Lack of analytics skills and issues with data were also challenges. Chief Marketer

Research: 97% of B2B decision-makers know which vendor they want before selection process. The survey of 113 B2B global marketers also found that in 84% of cases, groups that make purchase decisions contain a ‘champion’, who lobbies on behalf of the winning vendor. Now more than ever, B2B marketers need to engage buyers emotionally as well as rationally. B2B Marketing

Facebook updates branded content policy to clarify what qualifies as content. Facebook will bar publishers and creators from using its branded content tagging tool to promote content that they were not involved in creating. MarketingLand

Live Video

Marketers’ Top SEO Priorities for 2018. Marketers say social media, on-site optimization, and content creation are their top search engine optimization (SEO) priorities this year, according to recent research from Clutch, which surveyed 303 marketing decision makers in the U.S.. MarketingProfs

Digital Video Ad Revs Forecast To More Than Double On YouTube, Facebook. Advertising spend on YouTube and Facebook will hit $37 billion by 2022, up from an estimated $16 billion in 2017, according to Juniper Research. MediaPost

In a blow to marketers, Google will let users opt-out of remarketing ads. Google announced that it is expanding the number of places where its “Mute this Ad” functionality will be available. In addition, it will be applying “Mute this Ad” across devices. Once a user tells Google she doesn’t like an ad, Google will stop displaying it across all the devices that user is logged into. Econsultancy 

Facebook starts polishing its privacy messaging ahead of GDPR. As the May 25 deadline for compliance with the EU’s updated privacy framework approaches, including fines that can scale as high as 4% of a company’s global turnover, Facebook is continuing to PR in the form of “privacy principles”, the changes it’s making to try to meet the new data protection standard. TechCrunch

Twitter will host its first-ever #BrandBowl to honor top Super Bowl campaigns. Twitter will recognize the brands that received the most attention on its social network during the NFL’s championship game. MarketingLand

On the Lighter Side, Super Bowl Edition:

Febreze Introduces a Man Whose ‘Bleep’ Doesn’t Smell for the Brand’s Second Super Bowl Appearance. This year, the brand created Dave—a man who can use the bathroom to his heart’s desire without leaving a single smell behind, or as Febreze so wonderfully puts it, his “bleep don’t stink.” AdWeek

5 Ads You Don’t Want to Miss During Super Bowl LII. From Dilly Dilly to celebrity rap battles: Bud Light, Doritos/Mountain Dew, Pepsi, Kia, and Skittles. AdWeek

TopRank Marketing In the News:

The TopRank Blog – The Ultimate Content Marketing Stack: 26 Essential Resources for Awesome Content. Articulate Marketing

Lee Odden – 13 SEO Myths That Are Probably Killing Your Ranks. Cognitive SEO

Lee Odden – B2B Trends for 2018. SquareDot

Lee Odden – Are Your Influencers Buying Their Followers? Onalytica

What was the top digital marketing news story for you this week?

We’ll see you next week when we’ll be sharing all new marketing news stories. Also, be sure to check out the full video summary on our TopRank Marketing TV YouTube Channel.

What Are Hashtags Really For? #Confused #Blessed #NoFilter

What Are Hashtags Really For?

In late 2014, the hashtag #WhyIStayed was trending on Twitter. Frozen pizza slinger DiGiorno, known for being snarky and clever on social media, wanted to join the fun:

DiGiorno Hashtag Social Media Marketing Fail

There was just one problem: #WhyIStayed started in response to a video of domestic abuse. Women used the hashtag to tell their own story of abuse and talk about the societal pressures that led them to stay with their abusers.

At best, DiGiorno looked clueless. At worst, it looked like they were making light of a very serious issue. All they wanted was a little brand visibility…and they got it, but not in the way they were hoping.

Hashtags are an integral part of Twitter and Instagram (and Facebook, to a much lesser extent). As such, they should be part of our social media marketing on each platform. But as DiGiorno and many other brands have shown, it’s not enough to look at the trending tags and hop on board. Marketers need to understand what hashtags are for and how our audience is using them before we jump in.

Here are the #fundamentals you need to avoid invisibility or embarrassment with hashtags.

#History

Hashtags started as a feature on IRC (Internet Relay Chat) channels back in 1988, when the internet still ran on steam turbine power. The “#” in front of channel meant that it was available for users across the internet, not just on a local area network.

Twenty years later, IRC fans who were early Twitter adopters proposed using the symbol to help classify common topics or groups. Twitter itself didn’t officially recognize hashtags for two more years. In 2009, the site started automatically hyperlinking hashtags to search results.

Facebook added hashtags in 2013, but they don’t see as much use on the platform. By contrast, Facebook-owned Instagram practically runs on hashtags. It’s not unusual to see a post with a four-word captioned followed by a paragraph of tags: #NoFilter #WokeUpLikeThis #BeachLife #SanDiego #ChihuahuaLove. Clicking any of the tags leads to a custom feed of images with the same tag, much like Twitter’s search functionality works.

#WhatHashtagsAreNot

Hashtags began as a way to categorize information for future searchers, much like the category or topic tags on a blog. In that case, using the right hashtags is more like SEO than anything else; it’s all about making sure your message comes up for the right query.

But hashtags aren’t really for search anymore. Hardly anyone is going to the search box on Twitter or Instagram and putting in a keyword to pull up a specific hashtag.

Hashtags are not really for marketers to boost their brand or their content, either. We can strategically use hashtags for that purpose, but we must remember that’s an off-label use. It’s important to tread lightly on using hashtags promotionally — as DiGiorno and many others can attest.

If it’s not about search or self-promotion, how should marketers think about hashtags? Or, better question, how does your audience think about hashtags?

Odds are, though, your audience doesn’t actively think about why they use or interact with a specific tag. There’s an innate understanding that makes some tags look “right” or “natural,” while others feel “forced” or “commercial.”

The best way I can think of to express that innate understanding is:

#HashtagsAreAConversation

Social media feeds move fast. Hashtags are a way for users to block out space to have a conversation. “We’re telling this type of story in here.” “We’re sharing this type of picture in here.” Using a specific existing hashtag should come with the knowledge that you’re entering someone else’s conversation space.

The social media manager at DiGiorno likely wouldn’t go up to a group of people talking about a sad and serious topic in hushed tones and shout, “PIZZA!” But that’s exactly what they did on Twitter.

So before you jump into a conversation, make sure that:

  • You understand what’s being discussed
  • Your brand has (and should have) a position on the topic
  • You have something relevant to contribute

When you’re making your own hashtags, keep in mind that you’re starting a conversation. You can’t control who contributes to that conversation and what they might add to it.

For example, in 2012 McDonald’s used the hashtag #McDStories in a tweet, seemingly inviting users to share their own special memories of the chain. Instead, they got stories about food poisoning, diabetes, heart attacks, and animal cruelty.

It turns out McDonald’s had intended to use the tag to promote stories from employees and others affiliated with the brand. But they accidentally started a much wider conversation. With a little forethought, the mess could have been avoided.

So, when creating your own hashtag, keep in mind:

  • Who are you talking to?
  • What are you trying to say?
  • How else could your hashtag be interpreted?
  • What other conversations might it start?

#GeneralHashtagTips

Good hashtaggery starts with understanding that hashtags are a conversation. From there, the optimum tactics for using hashtags vary from platform to platform. The good folks at Buffer have an in-depth guide that touches on each of the major social media sites.

Here are some simple tips that I recommend to supplement Buffer’s advice:

  • Use hashtags sparingly on Twitter; no more than 2 per post, preferably just one
  • Don’t use tags on paid tweets. They’re proven to dilute your CTA
  • Go nuts on Instagram; 11 hashtags is the optimal number
  • Don’t bother tagging on Facebook. Research shows your post will do better without them
  • Use CamelCase to keep longer tags legible (Remember the “susanalbumparty” debacle?)

#HashWithCare

Hashtags started as a tagging tool for search. Today, they’re used to create a space for conversations, group people with similar interests, and fill Instagram feeds with puppies. To be most successful with your hashtags, respect conversations that exist already, and be cautious about the conversations you start.

Need to #LevelUp your social media marketing? TopRank Marketing can help.