Be the place that offers something challenging and smart.

The quality threshold for content keeps dropping, making it easier than ever to stand out if you write smart content. Be the place that offers something challenging and smart. Borrow principles and trends from corollary industries and see if you can make them work for your own. Find ideas that have stood the test of time and apply them to your own strategy.

via 11 thought leaders on the future of content marketing (Airtable)

Sometimes we gotta borrow from the past as we plan for the future.

Engagement = interaction = conversation.

When I started to provide behind the scenes insight into what we were doing and asking questions on what people wanted to see, the engagement became real and more consistent.

Source: How I Gained 50+ Million Views After Watching Gary Vaynerchuk

Engagement is interaction. Interaction requires conversation.

Talk to the people you’re trying to reach. Listen. Respond. Change what you’re doing based on their input. It’s how we all hone our craft, whether we’re writers or performers or salespeople or retailers or engineers or whatever else.

Do something once. Do it better the next time. Do it even better the time after that. Repeat forever.

Start with good product.

Instead of advertising, Musk’s digital instincts led him to build a product that compelled customers to advertise for him, research for him, and spread the word contagiously, at no charge. He built the product, opened the stores, the customers came, and they posted. And they posted. And they posted. In taking the path less traveled by, he changed automotive and marketing history.

Source: Elon Musk Hates Advertising and P&G Is Listening – Hacker Noon

Okay, so let’s set the Elon Musk aspect aside and focus on the product-first aspect.

A bad product, no matter how well promoted, is still a bad product. And trying to promote a product becomes much more difficult, and much more expensive, when you don’t have happy customers.

Acquiring new customers is costlier than retaining customers. But you’re not going to retain customers if your product sucks. And if the experience is so bad that people start telling others to stay away… well, you’re charging uphill into a strong headwind.

Back in college we’d talk through a lot of case studies. I had a tendency to invoke a certain phrase over and over: “Shit on a silver platter is still shit.”

The core product, the core experience, needs to be strong. It needs to work. Otherwise, as marketers, we’re making a promise that we know won’t be kept. And you can only do that for so long before people start talking.

So get the product right. It doesn’t need to be perfect, but it needs to be good. Good enough that customers are willing to give it a chance and stick around as it improves.

(Aside: I’m well aware of the “sell before you build” philosophy embraced by indie hackers and aspiring entrepreneurs. That’s great for validating interest. But once you’ve validated interest, you need to make the thing, and that’s where my mind’s at with this post.)

Consistent, ongoing customer communication comes in handy here. In those early days, as the product is just getting off the ground, it’s a very collaborative and tight experience between you and the early adopters. For software, this could be an open beta phase or a discounted soft launch.

A lot of the marketing messaging at this point is “this is what we’re making, come try us out”. And from that early experience of working closely with the first groups of customers, you’re going to get feedback that’ll help you improve the product and how you market it.

And then, as the product matures, as more people are using it, you can start pulling testimonials and stories out of the feedback. Real opinions from real people using your products in real scenarios? That’s powerful stuff. Once you have that, you’re able to say “here’s what we’re making, here’s what other people are saying, come try us out”.

Meanwhile your existing customers are sticking around, because the product is still fulfilling its promise and it keeps getting better.

What comes after that? Well, if you think the product is really strong and you’re ready to crank it out and scale, you can double down on referrals and word of mouth: Incentivize sharing with discounts and refer-a-friend programs. Increase your marketing and advertising spend. You’ve tightened up the rest of the experience, and now you’re shuttling more people through.

But you need to have a good product before all of that. It needs to work. It needs to fulfill whatever promise you’re making. As marketers, we’re pouring tons of effort into raising awareness and setting expectations. So let’s make sure those expectations are being met before we start making a lot of noise.

Content that works = funny, useful, beautiful, or inspiring.

Research among some 5,000 consumers and their perception of brands indicated that there are just four kinds of emotionally compelling content that will get people to pay attention to you online: content that is funny, useful, beautiful or inspiring.

Source: The Four Kinds of Content that Move Us | Scott Monty

Quick idea for turning this into an exercise:

  1. Create a matrix/table.
  2. Four columns along the top: Funny, Useful, Beautiful, Inspiring.
  3. Four row labels: Reach, Teach, Sell, Support.
  4. In each box, write down content ideas that match both criteria.

What you’ll end up with:

  • Reach & Funny: Get in front of people with humour. Funny stuff that people want to share. Good for Facebook.
  • Reach & Useful: Get in front of people with things that they can immediately use. Answer questions on Quora and Facebook groups and in original YouTube videos.
  • Reach & Beautiful: Get in front of people with something visually captivating. Good for Pinterest and Instagram.

And so on.

Obviously some pairings are better for certain businesses than others, but forcing yourself out of your comfort zone will be helpful for finding new, creative content ideas.

The first steps I’d take with Twitter as a small business.

Twitter is popular with the media.

It’s also popular with customers who want to get a hold of CS reps by raising a stink in an open forum.

But what if you’re a small business owner? What are your options?

Top of mind, this is what I’d start with:

Make your Twitter feed a utility for your business. This could be industry leaders, vendors, trade publications, influential personalities, business partners, known customers, whatever. It’ll depend on the type of business you’re in. A local brick n’ mortar shop is going to be very different from a remote client services business.

Respond and share. Listen in. Join conversations. Share stuff from others and tag them when you do. If you decide to provide customer support over Twitter, use a tool like Buffer Reply to manage requests in one spot.

Provide context. If I’m a potential customer and I check your profile and see what you’re sharing, I get context. I learn more about you than what a short profile bio can cover. This can build a bit of brand affinity.

Create lists. Take a moment when you follow someone to categorize them. This lets you sort the main Twitter feed into separate list feeds. Then, in Tweetdeck, add a list as a column. (I really, REALLY wish that lists were easier to manage in Twitter. It’s a neglected feature.)

Use Nuzzel. I love this thing. It automatically curates the links people are sharing into a daily digest. Super helpful for catching up on trending topics or important stories you may have otherwise missed.

Twitter is what you make of it, and your experience is entirely dependent on how you use it. If I was starting up a new Twitter profile for a small business, this is what I’d start with.

And yeah, I didn’t include anything about promotions or advertising in here, because I wouldn’t start with that. I prefer to start with lurking and listening.