The De-Institutionalization of America (Or SimplifyUS)

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A recent article I ran across in The New York Times explores the issue of nonprofits undergoing name changes and re-branding in an attempt to retain their relevance and provide more accurate monikers for the work they do. Some of these nonprofits began 50-100 years ago when long, formal and complicated names likely contributed to an organization’s perceived legitimacy and ethos. A number of nonprofit organizations from that era have very governmental-sounding names, which probably worked in their favor at the time since more people still trusted the government back then.

Blame it on Gen X, who I like to think of as the no-bullshit generation, or Millennials, who seem to think nonprofits should be as hip in their marketing as multi-billion dollar commercial brands – America is experiencing a significant shift in the significance of nomenclature. All types of companies, from hot tech startups to government agencies and long-established nonprofits, are having to embrace this shift.

A great example from the aforementioned article is the Council of Senior Centers and Services of New York City Inc. The organization doesn’t actually manage senior centers, rather it “advocates against the abuse of older adults, helps them apply for rental and food assistance and lobbies for affordable housing on their behalf.” Since renaming is hard, the natural option would be to just use the acronym, right? Well, C.S.C.S. doesn’t quite have a ring to it either.

To more accurately represent what the organization does and to have a more memorable name, they re-branded as LiveOn NY. I typically poke fun at companies that just run words together for their names (I really want to have a startup called MyAwesomeStartUply.com). But, in this case, it works quite well and even clarifies the cadence and meaning of the name.

We’re seeing this shift to simplifying identity for organizations for the obvious reason: it’s beneficial to have short, memorable names that are descriptive of the services an organization offers. But it also belies a larger cultural desire for a de-bureaucratization of our institutions and a movement toward decentralization of power. In our crowd-sourced, crowed-funded culture of the empowered consumer, empowered donor and empowered advocate, even nonprofit organizations have to deliver a simple, straightforward message that captures the ever-fleeting attention of today’s information-inundated consumer.

So, just in case this becomes a widely-discussed issue, I’ll go ahead and coin the term for the movement: SimplifyUS.

Practical Tips for Content Marketing

PracticalTipsForContentMarketingWEB At this point, everyone has realized that successful digital marketing rests ultimately on effective content marketing. Even if you have a great strategy and big plans for your digital marketing, the challenge comes down to one thing: having enough content. If you’re working with little to no budget (like I often do), the key is to empower your employees, and maybe even external brand/organization advocates, to create that content.

I was recently asked by a marketing director at a nonprofit about how to manage content contributors from across an organization. This was a challenge I had to tackle (and continue to tackle) at the nonprofit where I work, so I thought I’d put together some practical tips that can make content marketing viable even if you have a small budget or small staff.

The challenge can be addressed in three main categories: Content Development, Workflow and Publishing.

CONTENT DEVELOPMENT

To get started:

1) Identify potential Content Contributors
Who at your company has their finger on the pulse of your customers/donors? Who is in the field hearing great stories that you could share on web, email and social? Who’s behind the scenes doing work that your customers would love to know about to feel part of the action? Who seems to already have a knack for photography, video or social media? These are the folks you want to approach to be Content Contributors.

2) Outline content types
While you don’t want to limit the creative ideas from Content Contributors that you might not ever think of on your own, you do want to establish basic content types: testimonials, success stories, photos, video, etc. Determine which content types fit best with both the social platforms you are using and with the type of media your audience consumes. One tip: digital video is by far the best format if you can do it well.

3) Establish themes for content
Again, you don’t want to limit the potential content your contributors might create, but outlining general themes that go along with your overall brand message and/or current marketing campaigns will help the content be more focused and will give Content Contributors some basic parameters and a good place to start.

CONTENT WORKFLOW

Once you have employees from across your company cranking out good content, you’re going to need a way to manage that content. Especially in the beginning phases (but probably always), the content will need to be reviewed. You will also want to give Content Contributors feedback so they can continually improve the quality of what they submit.

Two tools that would offer the capabilities for managing the content workflow and communication are Slack and Huddle. Slack is free…and their promo video alone will likely make you want to sign up right away.

There are plenty of other tools out there too, but what you need is a streamlined, efficient way (i.e. not via email) for you or your team to manage and review content and give feedback to contributors.

CONTENT PUBLISHING

Ideally, you would have a social media or digital marketing manager who can manage all posting and scheduling of content. If you don’t have that luxury, you can break those tasks up between a couple trusted team members (most likely already in your marketing department). Whoever fills that role can make sure content aligns with your business goals or campaign goals and make sure the content is optimized specifically for each channel and audience.

Another option would be to have one manager oversee multiple social media contributors through a tool like Hootsuite (which is affordable and allows for permission levels and approvals) or something a little more fancy like SproutSocial.

You can supplement original content by curating and sharing industry news, keyword-related stories/info or any type of content that would interest your customer demographic. My personal favorite tool for content discovery is Feedly. There are plenty of other great tools out there that help you find relevant content to share including Klout and Postplanner.

Hopefully these ideas will help get your content generation machine going. There’s plenty more to talk about – from setting meaningful KPIs to responding to customer needs and interest based on data and behaviors – but those are other topics for another blog post.

If you want to chat to learn more or are interested in digital marketing consulting, contact me!

Hard Work Isn’t Enough

Screen capture from Showdown Visual reel

Don’t get me wrong, hard work gets you places. And hard work has been a big factor in helping me achieve my goals thus far. But, especially for those of us in a creative industry, hard work isn’t enough. Persuasive communication, in whatever form, needs to be felt – which means it needs to be inspired.

It’s all too easy to fall into routine, to do things the way you’ve been doing them because it’s easier, it’s safe. But that’s boring. To be inspired, you have to seek inspiration. And you know it when it hits you.

Last night, a friend directed me to the website of a young videographer whose reel alone blows a lot of top-dollar production companies’ reels out of the water. It’s work like this that inspires me to push beyond just good and instead achieve best.

Visit his site to see more.

The Problem With Social Media

TheProblemWithSocialMedia

Instagram now says it can republish and sell the photos users post on the platform without paying them or even notifying them, and this re-introduces the perennial problem of social media: you do not own your own channels. So you created a Facebook page for your business or organization and have spent years building up thousands of fans and populated that page with tons of fantastic content? Well, it could all disappear in a moment…on a whim of Facebook. But it’s not just Facebook. Whether you’re on Twitter or Tumblr or Pinterest or Pheed or whatever hot new social platform – a change in terms of service or a glitch or outage or a perceived violation in user agreement and you’re thrown out in the cold, content-less, identity-less.

The author/software developer Reginald Braithwaite, in translating Instagram’s new terms of service, pretty much perfectly explained social media as a whole: “You are not our customers, you are the cattle we drive to market and auction off to the highest bidder. Enjoy your feed and keep producing the milk.” I’ve talked about this before, but every instance like this is a reminder of just exactly how little control we have over what might happen to channels that we work so hard to develop and engage customers through.

But there is an easy solution: use social media as channels to engage your audience, yes, but, more importantly, use it to direct them back to your actual property: your website or blog. Those are the only places where you have control over what gets seen and how it’s presented. Almost all the content you post or share on social media should have a home on your actual website. I’m in a band, so I’ll use that metaphor: Think of social media platforms as venues where your band performs. You travel to the venue, play your show, hang out with your fans, but that’s all. You don’t store your instruments and equipment there, you don’t live in the basement of the venue. You may go play the same venue a number of times – but, if it closes down, it’s really no substantial loss to you because the venue is only a means through which you send your message. The band still has their albums, their merchandise, their band image that they can then go share (sell) at any other venue.

So, in this (only semi-applicable) metaphor, here’s what’s important: Be a rock star. Wait, no, that’s not it. The point is to have the hub for your content, your reputation, your online brand image somewhere you can control it, where you own it. Use Facebook, Twitter, etc. to go play your rock show, hang out with your fans, tell them about cool stuff – but always send them back to the hub: your website or blog.

Networking (part 2): Sharing Your Passion

A while back, I wrote a post about networking and the importance of connecting on a real human level, not just a “so where do you work” level. After continuing to go to more networking events, I’ve realized something else that is key to successfully connecting with people: sharing your passion. To be more specific, if there’s something you want, share that with everyone you meet.

A good example of this: When I was in college, I played in a band that got some attention in the Dallas/Ft. Worth music scene (yes, I’m originally from Texas…shh!). Lance, a good friend of ours who was largely responsible for getting that band together, decided from the outset to be our booking agent and band manager. When he was a teenager, he started a production company called Spune Productions with the goal of bringing concerts to small West Texas towns where the kids wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to see live music.

I noticed that every single person we met who was in the music scene – and even a lot of people who weren’t – he’d tell them about Spune and about his passion to bring great music and well-known bands to the small town where our college was. But he wasn’t just sharing his goal…he was sharing his heart, his aspirations. At the time, I saw that is a bit self-centered. But looking back, I see that he was bringing other people into his vision in a way that got them excited, in a way that made them want to join in the mission and help in whatever way they could.

Because of his networking savvy, within a year my band that he was managing had played shows with a number of really well-known indie bands at the time and even played with the Grammy Award-winning band Switchfoot. Lance moved to Dallas after graduation and several years later was named Promoter of the Year there. Since then he’s also been named “Best Booking Agent” and “Best Record Label” by local press. To say the least, he’s having continued success with his business and is doing what he always wanted to do.

He knew what he wanted to achieve, and he told almost everyone he met about it. And it worked. I want to adopt this approach in telling people about my passion to help businesses and organizations communicate effectively and authentically through social media and grow thriving online communities that lead not only to more business but also improve the lives of their customers. I want to tell them how their company (whether for-profit or nonprofit) can have a mission that can make the world a better place. And it all starts with a handshake and “Hi, my name is Matthew.”

Good or Great?

One of my favorite co-workers, Andrea, came into the break room while I was getting some coffee a few minutes ago, and we exchanged the normal pleasantries. But when my response to “How is your day?” was “It’s good,” she asked why it’s not great – then inquired further, asking “What one thing could make your day great?”

The thing about Andrea is I know she actually cares about the question she asked in the first place (How’s your day?). She really wants to know. And that inspires me to care more when I ask others that question too. Her sincere questioning also made me stop and think, why isn’t my day great? – which made me realize, it is. I’m having a great day. I told her my day is probably great, not just good, and that there isn’t really anything that could make my day better, partly because I got a new lead for some freelance social media/web work and partly because I met a girl recently who I’m calling tonight to set up our first date. I got a big smile on my face when I said the second part of that, and Andrea said, “Now that’s a good smile.” It’s as if her plan all along was just to get past superficial pleasantries and get to something real, something meaningful to me.

I feel very blessed to work with someone like her who not only really cares about how my day is but will take a few extra minutes to make it even better. And that inspires me to look for opportunities where I can be that person to someone else.

How is your day? Is it just good, or is it great?