The Gate is Closing on the Gatekeepers

For the past hundred years or so, the gatekeepers held the power.

The magazine, newspaper, TV network, or radio station decided who was hot and who was not. What would be published and what would be left on the cutting room floor.

Advertisers decided the trends and which brands we would be exposed to.

And, we content creators were at their mercy. We had to please the gatekeepers and accept insufficient payment or no payment at all for the privilege of the exposure. Our fates were usually in the hands of an old white male executive in a suit puffing on a cigar.

No longer.

Today, the Internet is the middleman.

Media content has never been cheaper to produce and distribute at scale than it is now. Today, we all have the power. Anyone with a phone in their hands can create a buzz, break the news, get heard, or build an audience.

Content creation and distribution have been democratized. These are exciting times we are living in and most people fail to grasp how incredible it is right now. In the future, people will look back on this time and regret that they did not act sooner by staking out a claim of digital real estate to make their mark in the early days of the Internet.

Having an online presence is a powerful thing indeed and those who have one, have the leverage.

This means traditional publishers, though not irrelevant, have far less leverage than they used to. Perhaps, this is why those gatekeepers who abused their power *cough*Harvey Weinstein*cough, cough* are finally being outed for their diabolical deeds.

This would also explain why many journalists and others are now freelancing on the side or full-time.

Getting a piece published with your name on it in a publication is still a good thing to do. If the publication has a brand name that the public views as prestigious, it’s certainly a nice notch on the old belt, which makes for an impressive mention in a bio. That third-party affirmation can lend you some credibility in the eyes of others. However, it’s a vanity metric more than anything else.

More valuable than being published in a mainstream big-name publication is being published on a blog or on any platform with a high amount of engagement. If the readership actually cares about the content, it will get far more positive attention, even if the audience is very niche. For example, your article about camping in the mountains will most likely receive more interest and engagement on a popular blog about camping and hiking than it will in the New York Times.

Now that anyone can potentially become an influencer by getting attention on social media platforms and guest posting/appearing on popular blogs, vlogs, and podcasts, content creators can control their own destinies.

And, when you control your own destiny, you can also determine how much you get paid.

Recently, a relatively new business magazine with a very small following in whose pages I’ve been published approached me about a new project.

While my normal standard is to be paid my fee and paid upfront, they insisted that this time I behave in accordance with conventional magazine standards by getting paid by the word and only after the final draft.

The difference between me and most writers/creatives is that I’m not simply an artist. I’m an entrepreneur.

“If you pay me by the word,” I countered, “then that doesn’t take into account a) the research for the piece, b) the interview/s with the subject/s, or c) the edits and revisions.”

As a freelancer, I set my own standard procedures and protocol as well as my own fees. And, after getting burned in the past, I decided to only accept payment in full up front. To my knowledge, no one goes to a store, takes some items home with, and only pays after they get home or whenever they feel like it. That would be called shoplifting. And, I don’t see why my services rendered should be treated any differently.

The magazine editor protested that the exposure justifies the raw deal.

What most of these publications fail to understand is that we no longer need them for exposure. If the publication doesn’t have an audience of people likely to hire me or pay me for anything, it’s not that valuable.

On the flip-side, I would write something for FREE if it was likely that the exposure would likely net me greater brand equity or new business. But, getting published does not in itself make that a likely possibility, especially when the article is in print. Being published online can more easily lead to a comment, a DM, or some other form of direct engagement that can lead to something greater.

So, if publications want to remain relevant they have to:

A) Acknowledge that they are more dependent on freelancers than on staff and will have to pay their rates.

And,

B) Double-down on growing a brand on social media and other platforms that have their reader’s attention.

Finally, it’s up to creatives to put themselves in a position to win. Spend more time building an audience on social media, creating and publishing your content on your own, and directly engaging and interacting with your audience. Instead of trying to get published in traditional media outlets, create your own buzz and your own leverage. Once you do that, you can name your price. When you’re an influential content creator, publications, brands, and others will dance to your tune instead of the other way around.

The days of the gatekeepers deciding what content we consumer are over. Consumers and content creators are now in the driver’s seat. It’s time for publishers to take note and embrace the new reality.

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Is Content Marketing Expensive? It’s All a Matter of Perspective.

Branding and content marketing are expensive.

Well, that’s what they say.

I say that it’s all a matter of perspective.

perspective

If you’re a new fledgling startup still getting off the ground without enough capital to even onboard one part-time employee, then yes, it is expensive. You can’t afford to outsource your content marketing (although this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be doing it yourself).

If you still don’t realize that content marketing is a must-have and not a nice-to-have, you’ll probably think it’s too expensive.

But if you’re a small business that plans to stay afloat over the next decade, then spending $20-50K a year on marketing really shouldn’t be breaking the bank. If it is, you’re probably in trouble.

Look at it this way:

For the cost of a part-time or entry-level full-time employee, you get an entire team — a marketing department — who will help your business grow.

You’ll build a brand, gain awareness, and get new leads and sales all for the cost of a low-salary employee. And not just any employee performing a task, but one that actually grows the business itself.

When you’re busy with the day-to-day, you don’t have much time for creating full-scale media (video, written content, audio, and images) to generate new business.

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And, the feeling of relief you get from having an entire team do it for you for a relatively low cost is something money cannot buy.

So the next time someone tells you marketing is expensive, remember that it’s all a matter of perspective.

Marketing is Like Dating. Romance Your Prospects and Make them Fall in Love with You.

As a single and a marketer, I’m noticing some interesting parallels between marketing and dating. 

Nobody wants to transact on the first date. 

Asking for the sale right away makes you look creepy and lame. Offer to help first.

You’ve got to romance your prospect a little bit. Compliment them. Talk about what they’re interested in. Keep it focused ON THEM. Not you.

Give them value. Make them want you. 

And, timing is everything. You’ve got to be able to feel it out and read the situation carefully. 

When the time is right, you go in for the ask. 

And if they say yes, you’ve got yourself a date. If you play your cards right, one date will lead to more and eventually blossom into a fruitful, long-term business relationship. 

Going from Night Owl to Morning Person

How did the biggest night owl turn into a morning lark?

I’ve had problems going to sleep for as long as I can remember.

It was hard to turn my ADHD brain off at night. Between endless amounts of thoughts and my need for constant stimulation — TV, computer, smartphone, it was very hard to settle down.

Of course, I’d always have to pay the price in the morning. Naturally, the morning wasn’t something I enjoyed. I was anything but a morning person. I wore night owl proudly as part of my identity.

Becoming a freelance content writer did not help to change those habits. Rather, it legitimatized them. “Some people just aren’t morning people!” I’d say.

Most days, I’d wake up when I wanted to and work until late, eating whatever and exercising practically never. Sometimes I stayed in pjs & crocs.

I think everybody has to find what works for them. This is not to denigrate anyone’s choices.

But my old ways were not healthy for me physically.

For the past few weeks, I’ve forced myself to stick to a tight routine waking up around 6am, going to the gym, and starting my calls and meetings around 8:30. I work until around 7pm and then I force myself to unwind with a book or a show.

While the adjustment was hard, I’ve grown to love it. After changing my habits and developing a routine, I feel that I am far more equipped to build the marketing agency of my dreams.

And, I still write, but now I usually write in the morning. I relish my morning “me” time. I look forward to it. The quiet and the solitude. The joy of knowing I have a whole day ahead of me. It’s when I do my best writing and my ideas pour out like water. Never in a hundred years did I think I’d say that, but it’s true.

I have finally become…*gulp* a morning person, and I couldn’t be happier.

Keep At It! Building Your Brand Takes Time.

Becoming known or developing a brand online takes time.

And a whole lot of effort.

Some of the people with the biggest audiences whom we all admire today were active for YEARS, steadily putting out content and engaging with others before anyone noticed.  If your content is quality, you’re careful to engage authentically in a human way with others, and you post consistently, you’re more likely to have success.

Of course, you have to also have a) the talent and b) learn how to hack distribution.

A) is pretty much in-born (although it can be improved upon).

B) will require you to learn how to use these platforms effectively.

Google how to do things, test, learn, Google again, practice, over and over.

But, don’t give up. Especially, if you’re starting to notice any of the following:

1) Increased page views

2) More engagement i.e. increasing number of likes, comments, shares, and mentions

3) Link-backs

These are all signs from the Universe and the market that you need to keep pressing on. Use these KPIs and metrics as benchmarks of success and let that propel you forward.

What you’re doing is penetrating the noise, but you need to keep going and building momentum.

I’ve been putting out content for years now. On a frequent and consistent basis, only in the past two years and even more-so in the last 6 months.

Only now am I starting to see a steady trickle of interest building.

So, keep at it! And pay attention to those indicators, which are showing you what is working. If you’re not seeing any of those things after consistently posting for a year or so, it might be time to pivot.

But, if you are seeing those results, persist and don’t get discouraged.

You’ll get there in time.

Why Facebook’s Recent Announcement is Good News for Marketers (and everyone else)

When Mark Zuckerberg announced at the beginning of the new year that he would be making some changes to Facebook, I don’t think people expected those changes to be made so quickly.

Only the following week on January 11th, Facebook released an announcement that it would be making major changes to its News Feed and the algorithm which determines what content will get more exposure. And, naturally marketers did what they always do whenever Facebook makes an announcement. They freaked out.

Marketers went especially ballistic over this part of Zuckerberg’s statement:

“We started making changes in this direction last year, but it will take months for this new focus to make its way through all our products. The first changes you’ll see will be in News Feed, where you can expect to see more from your friends, family and groups.

As we roll this out, you’ll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media. And the public content you see more will be held to the same standard — it should encourage meaningful interactions between people.”

Predictably, many marketers are reacting as if this news is a catastrophe and the end of the world. The exposure of content from many publishers and brands will now be even further relegated to the margins, which means they will have to pay Facebook more money for the privilege of getting their content seen and engaged with.

Mark Zuckerberg Constipated

Most users, on the other hand, see this is a positive change, rejoicing that they will now see more content from friends and family and less ads, “fake news,” or other pieces of content that they don’t care about. A recent article in the Atlantic went as far as claiming this recent announcement is an admission of defeat from Facebook, which it seemingly blames for toxifying political discourse and tearing apart the very fabric of democracy. As users, there is no question we benefit from this overhaul of the Newsfeed.

Other marketers are not too worried about the change. In a recent blog post, Mark Schaefer of Business Grow cautioned marketers against blowing this whole thing out of proportion. “Organic reach [was] already dead,” he pointed out. “The organic reach for an average business is [already] less than 1 percent…In reality nothing has changed.” In Mark’s opinion, this entire hullabaloo over Facebook’s Newsfeed algorithm change is much ado about nothing (I just really wanted to use the word, hullabaloo).

My initial reaction to the news was similar to that of Mark Schaefer. Organic reach is already dead and has been for a long time. No news here.

But, after reading the announcement several more times and letting it all sink in, I actually think this change may, in fact, be a good thing for marketers and the rest of us too.

Let’s all pause for a second and stop hyperventilating. Take a deep breath. Facebook has made gigantic changes in the past that threatened to hurt the reach of branded content. In a recent episode of The Science of Social Media, a podcast by Buffer, it was rightly pointed out that this new algorithm change will not virtually destroy the reach of branded content and is much less severe than an update Facebook made in the past. Whenever Facebook has made a change, good marketers have always found ways to adapt.

But, while this change might make it more difficult for brands to reach their target audiences on Facebook, let’s look at the positives here. While most marketers are getting their panties in a bunch about the part of the announcement, which predicts that users will see less from publishers and brands, they seem to have overlooked this part:

“I’m changing the goal I give our product teams from focusing on helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions.”

In other words, content that is relevant and helps stimulate engagement will get more priority. Facebook is simply trying to put the social back into social media.  

Facebook’s Vice President of News Feed, Adam Mosseri had even more encouraging words for content creators. He told Wired Magazine:

“…content that generally gets—that facilitates or inspires more meaningful conversation or meaningful interactions between people will get more distribution, and content that does so less will get less distribution.”

In a recent interview with Stratchery Mosseri said:

“So if you and I had a back and forth conversation on a post from a Page, that would actually count as a meaningful social interaction,” Mosseri said. “So it’s more about the interactions between people and less about just the consumption of content from friends.”

So publishers and brands need not fear. What they will need to do is create content that fosters meaningful engagement.

It’s fair to say that the collective bar has been raised. This new update will not hurt brands who are already posting relevant, quality content that the audience actually wants to consume and interact with. The winners will continue to win. Those who provide value may actually experience greater reach and engagement than they did previously, thanks to this change. The spammers and noisy self-promoters, however, will no longer be able to dominate the feed.

And, we all know that not all content from friends/family is quality content that leads to meaningful social interaction. Therefore, brands putting out good content need not worry.

Practical Takeaways from Facebook’s Latest Newsfeed Change:

Go all in on Groups.

In the recent announcement, Zuckerberg stated that the new change will encourage interaction between people who are in communities based on common interests. For example, says Zuckerberg: “there are many tight-knit communities around TV shows and sports teams.”

If you’re in any Facebook groups (I’m in way too many), then you’ve already noticed that the posts in these groups are increasingly finding their way into your feed. This is a trend that will continue to grow. Facebook said it hopes that by favoring group content in the newsfeed, Facebook will become a platform that facilitates greater social interaction and conversation. Content that users only consume passively by watching, dropping a Like, and scrolling on with their lives will be voted down in the feed.

So, make sure you participate in groups. Do so authentically and not in a spammy way, of course. Start discussions. Answer questions. Better yet, start your own Facebook group!

Go live. Just do it!

Facebook has been telling us for a long time now that Facebook Live is heavily favored by the algorithm. Facebook has taken steps to prioritize video in general, but the platform especially favors live, because it often prompts greater engagement — comments etc. “We’ve seen people interact way more around live videos than regular ones,” said Zuckerberg.

Interestingly, when Facebook Live emerged in the summer of 2016, many people, initially excited by this new feature, started testing it out. I noticed the organic reach, impressions, and engagement was much higher on my live videos than on the rest of my Facebook content. Eventually, the novelty wore off. Personally, witnessing so many people making boring and pointless live videos kind of ruined it for me. However, Facebook took pains to remind us in their recent announcement that live still works and that it will reward us for using it by giving it greater post reach. So, go live!

Relax.

aligeasynow

Don’t worry so much. If you’re doing right by users, then you’re going to be fine. I’m optimistic that this new change will push the bad content further down in the feed and allow the good content to rise to the top.

It’s Time for Brands to Wake Up

If you’ve been paying attention to culture and society for the past few years, you know that there is a growing movement — mainly comprised of the young — that is becoming increasingly aware and vocal about important issues having to do with race, culture, gender, and lingering social inequality. Those who consider themselves especially awakened or conscious about these subjects are colloquially known amongst their peers as “woke.”

Social issues and matters of identity politics are most hotly debated — often uncivilly — on social media platforms where an increasing number of people, particularly younger demographics, are getting their news and discussing the subjects of the day.

While many of us are exhausted from all the discussions on social media surrounding politics and political correctness, the #StayWoke movement — love it or hate — shows that people are thinking more critically about everyday, long unquestioned realities and social constructs.

Interestingly, the fuel behind much of this widespread “wokeness” and heated discussion is social media. While some blame social media for the breakdown of civil discourse and democracy, it can’t be denied that social has helped bring awareness to issues that were not previously addressed by the mainstream media. Perhaps, the best example is the recent #MeToo hashtag. Social media discourse has not only led to debates, but to the resignations and firings of prominent figures and revolutions that have toppled repressive regimes.

Perhaps less interesting, but nonetheless important for brands and marketers is the disruption of the communication space and the democratization of media content creation, which is the engine behind societal changes and grassroots movements.

All the way back in 2010, Eric Schmidt said that we create more information every two days than has been created in the entire history of the human race until 2003. The amount of data and content we create on a daily basis is mind boggling. We are living through the greatest shift in communication in history since Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press. And, we are the first generation whose entire lives will be documented, which means what we say and do on social media will forever be on the record. Your great grandkids will read all of your tweets — even the mean ones you send to Jimmy Kimmel at 4 am.  

There has never been as much content published daily as there is now and the competition is fierce. And, social media has completely changed the game. On these platforms, brands do not simply compete with one another for the attention of consumers.They also compete with viral cat videos, friends’ photos of last weekend, your nephew’s baby pictures, and breaking news.

In the current media environment, we are drowning in a sea of content. Consumers are no longer a captive audience the way they once were on TV (pre-DVR) and radio. They often miss or deliberately block your advertisements. The only way to break through the noise is to frequently and consistently provide value, create content worth paying attention to, and actively engage with the audience. Paying to boosts posts on social media has also become the norm, especially on Facebook. Today, more than advertising or content, the key to success is interacting with your target audience on the platforms that have their attention.

One-way broadcast communication is increasingly less effective and the importance of facilitating two-way communication with an audience is growing with every passing year. Companies who don’t devote sufficient time and resources to engagement are losing their share of the attention graph as well as the market. Brands that don’t wake up and realize that they are no longer advertisers who sell products, but media companies will soon become irrelevant.

As brands begin to focus more of their energy and budget on social media, many of them are making one crucial mistake that continues to undermine their efforts: They’re treating the new platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn as if they are one-way broadcasts. They’re bringing an old-world traditional media mentality to social media, pushing out their messages without understanding these platforms and their nuances on their own terms. This shows that most businesses don’t fully appreciate the broader shifts that are occurring in social communication.

Social media is NOT an extension of your sales pitch or simply a distribution platform for your content. It’s much more than that. It’s a medium where brands can have meaningful interactions with their customers and build relationships. While many brands have woken up to this new reality, many more are still not getting it.

Many businesses are missing enormous opportunities and leaving money on the table by not doubling down on social media. Others are doing social media all wrong. Comfortable sticking to what they know, many businesses remain hooked on their addiction to spending inordinate amounts of money on billboards that no one sees, because consumers are too busy looking at their phones. They blow the bulk of their marketing budgets on flyers and magazine ads that most people throw out or skip. And, they blow most of their digital marketing spend on banner ads that have an average click-through rate of only 0.05%!

Meanwhile, these same brand managers and advertising executives have the temerity to raise their eyebrows and smugly ask: “So, what’s the ROI of social media?” Too many companies are still not taking this underpriced and effective marketing channel seriously, delegating it to interns or family members who lack sufficient knowledge of or experience with social media marketing. And, they don’t think it’s a good use of their time or money to create content or engage with their target audience on these platforms.

As maddening as it is for all of my fellow social media marketers to watch this, we are powerless to prevent this slow-motion trainwreck from happening. Unfortunately, most brands will not wake up until it’s too late. Even as big brands lose market share and retail stores around the country go out of business, companies are still slow to make changes. The brands who are spending time on social media, learning how to use it, testing and learning, and engaging directly with their audience are winning and in the long run, they will win the day.

Moving beyond content

Content is still king, but more effort must be invested in two-way engagement if companies want to win attention and remain relevant in a 2018 world.

We are oversaturated with content. It’s never been so noisy. And, unless you were a first mover on the new platforms when early adopters took advantage and nabbed nice chunks of real estate, you will now have a tough time getting noticed and creating a presence.

There are simply too many options. Our attention spans are divided by a plethora of devices (smartphones, laptops, tablets, desktop) and platforms (Snapchat, Instagram, blogs, Medium etc.).

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To get people to care about you, it’s important to put out relevant, quality content that touches on current trends and other topics of interest to your audience. However, creating good content is not enough anymore.

The Internet and the social platforms where most of us now live are so crowded that most of the content you share will get lost in the noise no matter how good it is. Not to mention, platforms like Facebook have killed nearly all organic reach. Hacking distribution or taking pains to ensure that the content actually gets seen and interacted with is tricky and more important than ever.

2 ways to hack distribution:

Influencers and collaborations

Influencers, particularly micro-influencers are still tremendous resources of underpriced attention who have a strong impact on what consumers purchase. These influencers have most of the attention and influence on social media platforms where your audience hangs out. By partnering with them, you will be able to siphon their attention and direct it toward your brand. Of course, you should only partner with influencers who make sense for your brand and for whom you can add value as well.

You can achieve this by offering influencers free product and/or monetary compensation in exchange for a mention, a photo or video of them using the product, or a guest blog post. For a relatively small spend (average is about $193 for Instagram micro-influencers), you can gain hundreds of impressions, likes, comments, new followers, and last but not least — leads and sales.

Stay out of the way

These influencers know their audience best. They got to where they are, because they are good at creating content that will elicit a positive response. Therefore, give them creative control and allow them to create the content. Understand that they will have to be subtle in their mention of your brand, lest they come off as too pushy and lose their credibility. If you connect particularly well to one influencer and their audience, consider a long-term partnership in which the influencer becomes a brand ambassador.

Engage, engage, engage

Although it may sound obvious, you would be surprised by how many brands — even small businesses and startups fail to simply respond to comments on social media. Acknowledge and encourage your fans! Reward their loyalty and positive feedback. Respond to your audience’s questions or complaints. Reach out to people tweeting about your space and offer them help without asking for the sale. Send a direct message or a personalized piece of content to prospects, loyal customers, and influencers. Talk, converse, and be human. In other words, be social!
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Technology has fundamentally altered how we communicate and disrupted the entire way we message and connect with our audiences. If you think your self-serving piece of content i.e. ads, humble brags about about your accomplishments, and mercilessly PR-ing yourself is going to get attention in a world with more options and decreasing attention spans, you’re really not understanding what is happening. You’re not woke. You’re asleep at the wheel and you’re in for a crash.

Notice the shift going on around you. The way you’ve been playing the game until now is not the way you’re going to succeed over the next decade. Don’t simply focus on the culture wars on social media. Look at how it is impacting how we communicate and how we get our news. Pay attention to who and what has the eyes and ears of your target audience. And, work hard to build authentic relationships with them built on trust. Not only will it pay off, but you can’t afford to market any other way.