6 ways writers can learn to like SEO (they don’t have to love it)

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Neglecting to consider SEO copywriting on your mobile, web or responsive site can go something like this:

A writer has written a book. It’s going to be the book of our times: he’s sure of it. He hastily self-publishes the book, not bothering with agents or editors, because he knows it will find its own way to Oprah’s book club. He hires an entertainment lawyer in anticipation of movie rights. He spends hours planning out his wardrobe for press photos. Guess where this story ends? Pretty much right there.

Many copywriters, editors, and even some content strategists are resistant to SEO copywriting because they feel like the author in that analogy. They’re so excited about the copy they’ve written they forget to consider how readers will find it. I felt that way. It took me a while to make peace with what I thought of as “those annoying SEO people who mess up my writing.”

Once I realized that:

1) writing that nobody reads is just an ego exercise,
2) SEO, when it’s done right, is actually a user experience strategy, and
3) SEO strategies won’t ruin my writing,

then I became a convert.

Knowing what my reader thinks changed the way I think.

1. Think of Google as your homepage.

 Because I was raised in the suburbs, I am conditioned to wander around The Mall. The mall is home. I enter the door and follow.

Normal, sane people only go to the mall when they have to. That is, when they’re headed to specific stores. If they could, they would bypass the rest of the mall altogether.

Because your readers find you through specific searches and topical links on social platforms, they are going straight to what they want, and your homepage itself is not always the destination.

Your readers’ first exposure to your brand may be a Tweet-length snippet on a page of search engine results. What are you putting there?

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Traditional Site Map

2. Write your own meta descriptions.

I first learned the word “meta” in a literary criticism class, where I also picked up other practical, real-world wisdom. (Choose to read sarcasm into that statement if you would like.) I took it to mean “something that is about a thing but not the actual thing.” When I started writing for the online world, I mistakenly applied the same definition of meta to meta descriptions, assuming they were descriptions nobody reads, so I didn’t have to worry about them. So wrong.

When you type something into Google and then hit “Enter” or tap “Go,” you get a page full of snippets. It’s called a search engine results page (SERP).

You should assume these 150-character snippets are some people’s first exposure to your brand. You are the writer! Don’t leave this vital copy to someone else.

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Better Version of a Site Map


3. Keywords are a necessary not-so-evil.

If someone tells you exactly how keywords make your site show up in search results, don’t listen to them. The magic algorithm Google uses for this is closely guarded. What we do know is, keywords are one of the ways search engines can assess what your content is about, and you need to include some carefully researched keywords within your content. If you write a blog post called “5 ways coffee makes life livable” and don’t mention “coffee” once in the article, that’s a red flag to search engines that your content isn’t adequately covering the subject.

At the minimum, you can think about keywords like punctuation. Punctuation is something you can’t avoid using, but as a writer, you can also use to your advantage.

I’d argue keywords are more than a necessary evil. When you write effectively on a topic, you reinforce ideas. Reinforcing ideas using recognizable language that your readers’ share (keywords) is just good writing.

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Mall zombies seeking brains (Dawn of the Dead, ’78)

4. Keywords come from users, not SEO consultants.

I used to think keywords were manipulative tools cooked up by marketing people who had little regard for my beautiful copy.

What I didn’t realize was, keywords are the things my readers were actually typing into Google. By not using keywords, I am ignoring my audience’s needs and disregarding the way they think. This doesn’t seem like good writing to me.

It’s true, my job as a copywriter isn’t to regurgitate people’s private monologue, and I get to use discretion about which SEO keywords are going to fit smoothly into my copy.

(For example: I discovered “coffee that starts with g” is something people actually search on. Even if my coffee does start with g, I would refuse to use that long-tail keyword in my copy, no matter how many people were looking for it.)

My job is a combination of salesmanship and user experience. The real beauty of language is its ability to bridge those two masters.

5. Don’t worry, Google won’t let you write bad copy.

Many writers complain when asked to incorporate SEO practices into their writing. Most of them assume they’re being expected to “keyword stuff,” an obnoxious practice that is no longer respected by the marketing world and is rejected by most readers. Google doesn’t like it either, and supposedly penalizes it with poor search rankings.

Here’s an example of keyword stuffing from Google’s Quality Guidelines:

We sell custom cigar humidors. Our custom cigar humidors are handmade. If you’re thinking of buying a custom cigar humidor, please contact our custom cigar humidor specialists at custom.cigar.humidors@example.com.

There is debate over how many keywords you should use, and I haven’t found a great answer. Self-styled search guru Neil Patel, like many others, suggests content that flows naturally while acknowledging keywords is the right way to go. Don’t stuff your content with SEO keywords. At the same time, don’t omit them. Just make sure you use them naturally while focusing on creating valuable content.

6. You owe it to yourself, and your readers, to make your content visible.

 My SEO conversion experience happened a number of years ago. I was paired up with some talented SEO consultants as part of a collaborative UX team. They showed me just how many thousands of people were looking for information on topics I was writing about, and showed me the actual words they were typing into search engines to look for this stuff. I’m embarrassed to admit that, before then, I’d just grudgingly accepted lists of whatever keywords were handed to me, never asking where they came from. Suddenly it occurred to me as a UX person that if I ignored those keywords, I was ignoring the way my readers thought. And as a marketing copywriter, it occurred to me I was also ignoring thousands of opportunities to get customers in front of my client.

This post seems to have become a lot about keywords. In fact, the keywords you put in your body copy are only one of many SEO tactics used to help readers find content creators. What these tactics have in common is that they are all about words.

As a word person, I owe it to my clients, my readers and myself to use language in a way that works for everybody.

– Eric

The 8 rules of B2B blogging in 250 words or less

Simpsons quote about brevity

1) Keep it conversational. Reading a B2B blog should feel like listening to a smart, friendly professional explain something interesting.

2) Humor is a big asset, but don’t try too hard.

3) The first few lines have to be interesting, and some kind of story helps. However, don’t make the introduction too long before getting to the point.

4) B2B blogs don’t have to be short. People will read long-form copy, and longer copy can also boost SEO.  Make it as long as it needs to be, not a word more.

5) If your B2B blog IS a bit long, break up the paragraphs with subheads. A reader should be able to scan the page and still understand what the post is about. If these H2 subheads contain keywords, this is good for readers AND for SEO.


6) “Listicles” are a beneficial trend, for reason #6 of 7 steps to writing a good marketing email.


7) Images are essential. Even better if they relate to the topic.
 Readers like pictures, and because of that pictures are favored by Google. (Remember, Google’s #1 goal is user experience). Also make sure image files have descriptive names. Search engines see this.

8) Identify the author. If personality or expertise add value to the product or service you are blogging about, your blog should have an identified author. Actually, all blogs should. But for some, it is more important than others. (E.g., consulting firms).

– Eric Hayward

A Buddhist approach to the Inauguration

I’m not qualified to speak on behalf of all Buddhism, an ancient and worldwide system with innumerable regional and cultural variations. However, if I was forced to generalize, it would be safe to say that most schools of Buddhism are decidedly apolitical. That’s because most are based on a belief in the human potential to experience life without evaluations, mental categorizations and judgments. This kind of perspective frees up the opportunity for compassion.

I would argue that compassion is not a state but an active effort, at the center of which is a striving to understand other people, many of whom use different evaluations, mental categorizations and judgments than you. Therefore a Buddhist approach to the inauguration might have something to do with letting go of the fear and anger characterizing both sides of the deeply disturbing rift in our national consciousness, and to see what kinds of solutions may arise from that open space between our thoughts.

Toward an enlightened society

Very much in the spirit of these principals, the Shambhala tradition, founded by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, talks about an “enlightened society” founded on the radical idea that people are basically good. An enlightened society might sound sort of political. Really, it is just a collection of people striving to live their lives free from passion, aggression and ignorance (or “apathy”), those inevitable human mental states that cause us to chase after this or that thing at the expense of the present; to push away uncomfortable ideas, missing an opportunity to grow courage and learn from them; and to ignore the deeper reality of human suffering. All of these mental states are rooted in a fear that what we need or value will be taken away from us.

Kung Fu, kittens, and the true art of war

Letting go of fear is even more terrifying than the original fear. Fear and anger are hardwired into the armored tactical survival suit that is our human body. We feel afraid that if we take off our armor and stop fighting, the “other side” will win, or those suffering under the causes we care about will be left to suffer. But there must be some way to continue acting on our beliefs without making ourselves miserable and potentially harming our own cause. This is where the principal of non-violence becomes paramount. Personally I look at this in two ways. First, I draw on my love of Kung Fu movies. Second, I think about kittens.

In the famous “be as water” quote, Bruce Lee suggests that yielding and flexibility are the roots of strength. This means calming our minds. It means allowing our clear thinking to see the naturally-occurring, strategic opportunities to redirect whatever it is we are trying to stop. I encourage each of us to think about ways we have been defeating ourselves and our causes by missing obvious and auspicious opportunities. When we keep quiet in a potentially contentious argument, for example, we inspire respect, and we portray a confidence in what we believe that may give our would-be opponent pause. We allow him or her to feel listened to. Sometimes when you allow someone to see their thoughts through to the end, you and they both realize there is something you can agree on. Enter the second perspective, kittens.

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Only a true beast remains unmoved by a good interspecies pile-on. (Please ignore the mess in the background.)

Few Republicans or Democrats would stomp on a kitten or run down an old lady in the street. Personally, I’ve had to remind myself of this throughout the past year. If you won’t stomp on a kitten, you and I have something to work with, no matter how awful, naive, misguided or hateful I think your other beliefs may be.

I love this quote from Shepherd Book, one of my favorite characters in one of my favorite science fiction movies, Serenity:

“I don’t care what you believe in, just believe in it.”

The kind of belief he’s talking about is not a belief in gravity (or something else it would be difficult for anyone to argue against). It’s a belief that there is something greater than ourselves more important than our individual whims. I believe that if, from a calm state, we examine our minds and our beliefs and follow them to their roots, we will discover the first terrifying but eventually liberating experience of emptiness. Of formlessness. Formlessness doesn’t mean non-existence. It means that even our most closely-held values are just thoughts. How much are my values, some of which I might kill and die for, rooted in my own attempt to slice and dice reality into digestible chunks—categorizations—that in fact don’t really “exist” anywhere?

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“I don’t care what you believe in. Just believe in it.” – Shepherd Book’s last words in Serenity

Carl Sagan on human existence

As I like to say, the stars and planets don’t give a crap what you believe in. Carl Sagan said it a lot better in his deservedly famous excerpt from Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. “The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and in triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.” This snippet doesn’t capture the majesty and wisdom of the full quotation. Please, promise you will read it!

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“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us.” – Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

Just believing in something

I’m reading what I’ve written so far and it seems trite, except for the part about the survival suit. Taking that thing off, and, as some Tibetan Buddhists say “leaning into the sharp edges” of the things that terrify us, takes tremendous courage. That fundamental terror—based on vulnerability—is shared by everyone from fascists to saints. Segue to another quote from a great film, one inadvertently containing some great Buddhist wisdom, The Big Lebowski:

Donny: “They were Nazis Dude?”

Walter: “Oh come on Donny they were threatening castration! Are we going to split hairs here?”

Donny: “No.”

Walter: “Am I wrong?”

Dude: “Man, they were nihilists, man! They kept saying they believe in nothing.”

Walter: “Nihilists! F*** me. I mean, say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos.”

In the film, Walter says this even though he is a very enthusiastic and vocal convert to Judaism (“I don’t roll on Shabbos!”).

I don’t know how I got here, but let’s get away from the subject of Nazism, fast. Suffice it to say I’m more afraid of someone who operates without a code than someone whose code condones even the most deplorable act of hate. With a code, at least there is a fundamental belief in the value of belief. With analysis and self-examination, there may be some hope for the opportunity to believe in something else.

Seven words to summarize “Buddhism”

For what it’s worth, here’s what I believe:

Even my most cherished and undeniably unassailable values—for example, don’t stomp on kittens in the street—are still ultimately just choices. The sun and the planets and the stardust and carbon know nothing from right and wrong, and that is the stuff I am also made of and whose laws I am completely subject to. However, everything I have read, from Taoist scripture to the Bible to Buddhist dharma, suggests that life is more satisfying when we try to think about other people. That’s why I started meditating and studying Buddhism. Not because I’m a nice guy. But because I was looking for a way out this essential “askewedness,” often mistranslated as “suffering,” that Siddhartha Gotama discovered first on the marathon meditation that led to his enlightenment. It’s called the First Noble Truth, and it basically says that human life is effed up. Among other things, we are still wired to run from tigers and club the guy stealing our food even though we spend most of our time in temperature-controlled buildings pulling the food we need out of a magic box.

Any time you find yourself baffled over the stupid crap we do, you are experiencing the First Noble Truth.

I called this post “a” Buddhist approach to the inauguration and not “the” approach, because, again, I can’t speak on behalf of something much bigger than me, that I have profound respect for, that isn’t really an “ism” to begin with. But here’s how I would summarize Buddhism, if asked:

Slow down, pay attention, and be nice.

Truth be told I am going to fight, and fight hard, for the things I believe in, harder than before. But I’m pledging to do that without sharing Memes of Despair and Gloating on the internet (pledging to. I won’t always succeed). I’m pledging not to accuse people who voted differently than me of being terrible people (again, I will sometimes fail).

Like The Dude, I plan to abide.

– Eric Hayward

 

(Pictures courtesy of Polygram Filmed Entertainment, Pups are Fun Enterprises, Universal Studios and Carl Sagan).

7 steps to writing a good marketing email

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If you told me at age twenty that some day I would enjoy writing direct marketing emails, I would have laughed, cried, or bought you another round. I loved language, and my intention was to write a great novel or book of poems. Oddly, writing marketing emails has deepened my love of language. It’s a scenario where every word counts, and sometimes just four or five words will make a difference. It’s more difficult than you think until you have a process. Here’s mine.

1) Define your audience. This is a huge cliché, but the truth of it should never get old. If you can afford to conduct real research and create personas, do it. If you can’t, do your best to seek out first-hand, credited, academic sources that challenge your assumptions about who your audience is and what they need.

2) Create purpose. Why am I getting these emails? Along with the standard unsubscribe, include a short explanation about how your recipient got on the list and what you hope they’ll get out of it. This is even more important if you’ve bought a list of people who don’t know you (see number 1). People get way too many emails. Make yours valuable, and honest.

3) Don’t bomb my inbox. Here are some tips from Constant Contact on how often to send emails. On this subject, I have a personal pet peeve about sites that make me register for something, send me a confirmation before I get the thing, but then also send me the thing. Do what you can to streamline the signup process in general. Remember to think like the customer: they don’t care if you have one system for registration, another for enrollment, and yet another for marketing automation. But that’s kind of off the topic. Be mindful of how often you send your regularly scheduled emails. Frequency is directly dependent on value. If you’re working hard at 1 and 2, you don’t have to worry quite as much about sending too many, but it’s still a concern. Example: I signed up for BookBub a while ago. I got an email every day offering me super-cheap and sometimes free books. Many of them are good books. But every day was too often. I canceled it because I couldn’t keep up.

4) Use a preheader, and make it a good one. Some email apps look for the very first line in an email and include it as a preview, called a preheader. The following is not a good preheader: “To view an HTML version of this email click here.” “Dear Martin,” is also not a good preheader. Control the language that fits in this space to make sure it encapsulates or entices.

5) Write irresistible but not annoying subject lines. There are differing opinions on length here; I’ve seen 65 characters or less mentioned in a few places. I always send a test email to my iPhone and someone’s Android and see how it looks. Here is one of several sites that will test your email subject lines for you. (Don’t be put off by the 1999 look and feel. This site actually spits out some very useful information about your proposed subject line). The most important thing is to make your subject line impossible to ignore, but not misleading, and make sure it doesn’t trigger spam filters. Also just make sure the email itself is not spam. See number 1 and 2 again.

6) Study the masters. Sign up to get emails from Buzzfeed and from the Hubspot Blog. When you start getting them,  set up a special folder so you can look at the emails at once in a big group. You’ll see what kinds of techniques are trending. You’ll also notice which subject lines your eye is naturally drawn to. No big surprise, a lot of them are going to be listicles. The overtaxed modern brain likes lists because they are easy to digest and easy to remember, qualities that will make it choose one email to read over another almost subconsciously.

7) Keep it short and include a prominent call to action. Again, why am I getting this email? Give me a call to action to help explain that, one that also serves your business purpose, which is to deliver something of value that gets you conversions. I like to include a text CTA in the first line or so if I can, because it’s easy for the recipient to find it again later. I like to make the text descriptive of what the recipient is going to receive. (Never say “click here.”) If possible, it’s also nice to have the CTA reinforced visually somewhere. Definitely repeat the CTA a couple times (two or three, max) but don’t include too many CTAs to different things (e.g., download a whitepaper, get our app, sign up for a newsletter). Some experts insist on having only one action per email.

I’m still working on that novel. Until it’s done I’ll do my best to honor my twenty-year-old self, which leads to the unofficial number 8: If you’re going to write direct mail, at least don’t make it junk mail. Do this by following rules 1 and 2.

– Eric

What Bruce Lee said about content marketing

Bruce Lee did not actually say anything about content marketing.

But in one of those opportune moments that all dudes (many of whom would rather be Bruce Lee than, say, a digital channel manager) treasure, martial arts wisdom lines up with business wisdom on the subject of blogging and social.

Bar fighting

Namely, being rigidly fixated on your desired results chokes off real opportunities. This is the guy who hammers your inbox relentlessly with newsletters, tips and invites. The one who loads up your social feeds with infinite blogs. When you don’t respond, he hits harder, and more.

Kung fu fighting

Bruce Lee said, “Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless, like water.” Here’s what I say about B2B content marketing.

Eric’s 9 Chambers of Shaolin-Style Blogging

  1. First, pretend you don’t need any new business. Sit quietly on a mountaintop chanting this to yourself if you have to.
  2. Pretend you like your customer. I wish I didn’t have to say that, but I’m sorry. I’ve been in too many meetings where marketing people betray, through their language, the way they really feel: their customers are at best, opponents, and at worst, prey. Target! Capture! Convert! Thinking about your customer as a person (albeit one whose capriciousness can sometimes make or break your livelihood) has a way of seeping into your consciousness. This is not only good for the spirit, but for your business.
  3. Now imagine you accidentally stumbled onto the most valuable piece of information in the world, and you just want to share it, for free.
  4. From that state of mind, write blogs on your topic.
  5. Because you want people to possess this valuable information, offer it to them freely. Be mindful of their overflowing inbox. Remember you are trying to GIVE them something not SELL them something. Don’t be the guy who was “thinking of you yesterday and just wanted to share this white paper” either. Nobody likes that guy. (BTW, somewhat tangentially, check out the ever-helpful Hubspot blog for this great piece on “breakup emails.”)
  6. Spend a lot of time on your headlines!
  7. Set realistic expectations about how your new blogging efforts will impact your business. In the consulting business, a great blog will not close deals. It WILL give salespeople something to share with their clients; it will position you as being interesting and smart; and it does give your potential prospects a great way to kick the tires while you focus your time on hot leads.
  8. Be generous. Read other blogs, follow their authors, comment on their posts. Post and link to THEIR blogs, commenting on how valuable you found the article. Reciprocation will follow. But pretend you don’t care about reciprocation, until you actually don’t. Fake it ’till you make it is an unofficial secondary theme to this post.
  9. Don’t attack your prospects, follow them. I don’t mean literally, in your car. I mean on social media.

Like a typical suburban Dad I have squared off against water and lost countless times. It defies gutters, caulk, and apparently, solid basement walls. So rather than being like a shotgun, you should be like water. Water is benevolently opportunistic and generous. And yet, with time, water will bore its way through solid rock. Having an agenda but then letting it go in favor of altruistic intent, opportunities will flourish. You get by giving. Isn’t that nice?

Spaceage Branding: WD-40 Still Light-years Ahead

Pic courtesy of The Consumerist

Slippery Seat Thwarts Kitty

WD-40 was developed in 1953 to remove rust from spaceships. Today, you can still use it to clean your spaceship. It will also remove a python from the undercarriage of a bus.

Since its first days, when it took 40 tries for the inventors to get the formula right, WD-40 is revealed to have at least 2,000 uses. Why is this significant?

The 2,000 uses, which also include getting a naked burglar out of an air-conditioning vent, come entirely from customers. WD-40 went beyond merely soliciting canned testimonials for an obscure section of its web site. This flexible brand actually changed in response to the way customers use it. “2,000 uses” is now an important brand asset.

Today, many brands circle around this kind of strategy without quite getting it. A corporate Facebook page says “talk to us.” Changing your product based on real customer experience says “we’re listening.”

-Eric

Alone in the crowd: The Social Network and the human mall.

Mark Zuckerberg is counseled by Napster founder Sean Parker in Columbia Pictures' The Social Network

The Facebook biopic Social Network opened this past weekend, topping the box office. Crowds for the film’s opening at the Mall of America on Friday were surprisingly low, but then again not surprisingly. As a destination the Mall is best suited to the opening of big, loud, explosive blockbusters. West Wing nerds, anticipating the second of Aaron Sorkin’s Hollywood features since his TV series ended in 2006, might find smaller, neighborhood art-house theaters better suited to stories like Sorkin’s, the most intense action of which happens during snappy conversations played out in offices, bedrooms, and conference rooms.

Still, it was odd to walk out of the film buzzing with ideas, and with the trailing emotional experience David Fincher’s directing gave of the tingling alchemy that happens when everyday moments become history, and then to look out over the cavernous interior of the Mall. Because below, for the moment oblivious as they walked the wide marble hallways, visited the stores, ate together in the food courts, and rode amusement park rides, were the real subjects of the movie: many of us. A 2009 Harris Interactive poll said just under half of Americans actively use Facebook or MySpace accounts. That was a year ago. Surely the Facebook numbers, which during certain stretches have risen by 60,000 new users a day, are far higher now. Then again The Social Network is not really about us at all. It’s about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

(Zuckerberg is played by Jesse Eisenberg, who skillfully transformed the well-practiced harmlessness of his other roles into a kind of sociopathic naivete).

People, the Facebook users whose murmuring conversations, lone exhortations, solitary musings, and narcissistic pronouncements allow there to be a Facebook story at all, are for the most part never seen in the film as anything more than numbers ticking on a wall-sized display in the film’s fictional Facebook headquarters. There are exceptions, a couple snapshots of initial adopters in separate, private, individual-college-based networks of what was then called The Facebook, where people “Facebooked” versus Friended each other. In these montaged vignettes of kids in dorm rooms Sorkin and Fincher put a human face on growing millions of people they thereafter only refer to second-hand, as users. From then on the suggestion or mention of this user-base creates pressure, portent and possibility that compress Zuckerberg, his friends, his enemies, and his allies into those tight physical and emotional spaces where this kind of drama thrives.

"Put money in thy purse Mark! Steal the Facebook."

Sorkin explored this aesthetic before. We seldom saw the voters whose potential approval or disapproval kept members of The West Wing‘s fictional administration scrambling for six seasons, and we seldom saw those characters outside the corridors for which the show is named. Indeed, several times throughout the show’s all too short history, world annihilation was averted not by land, sea, air, or space but in offices, in conference rooms, and in brisk walks through narrow hallways, adjoining rooms, and hectic bullpens.

A small group of driven, fiercely idealistic, and sometimes self-serving personalities grappling in palace rooms, shuffling thousands of faceless pawns back and forth for leverage against each other: sounds like the kings and their courts in any number of Shakespeare’s tragic history plays. It’s appropriate that Sorkin wrote West Wing‘s President Bartlet as a classicist. According to a far warmer and more sympathetic portrait than Sorkin’s by Jose Antonio Vargas, in the September 20 issue of The New Yorker, Zuckerberg, who studied the Greeks and Romans at Exeter, is a classicist too.

Both of these men are tragic heros. One is pressured by politics into making painful decisions that compromise his beliefs. Wracked by guilt, his health fails and he begins destroying himself. The other, seething with envy, gets manipulated into killing all his friends. Sad. Zuckerberg’s Facebook profile once listed West Wing as one of his favorite shows. Was he inspired by the show’s depiction of power, but not the pathos that was its counterpart? According to Vargas, soon after news came out that the portrait shown of him in The Social Network would potentially be unflattering, Zuckerberg removed The West Wing from his profile

Seeing The Social Network in the mall theater was actually a perfect setting. The thousands of would-be Facebook customers below weren’t rushing to see the movie about Facebook because they were too busy hanging out with their family and closest friends. The tremendous hype surrounding social media falsely suggests people invented Facebook, a manipulation Sorkin and Fincher’s film is so effective in showing to be false. Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn really aren’t that important to those mall customers, or at least to their relationships, which are what brought them to the mall at night. Few of them were shopping alone.

Cut back to the movie’s establishing vignettes of Facebook’s early adopters. It’s very significant to remember the web site was first launched as a series of networks exclusive to specific colleges. A college campus is a self-contained and tightly-knit community. It affords an intimacy the scope of which most young adults will never experience again after graduating. As the movie shows, their use of Facebook was in fact a retreat from those intimate relationships. We see them alone, pasty and hollow-eyed in the glow of a radiating monitor, typing in the dark.

Eric

The hordes are at the gate: why marketers should be not afraid of social media

Human beings want to believe they are singularly special enough to form and articulate great ideas. It’s uncomfortable to think our ideas actually come from everywhere and not from what we think of as ourselves. We’re reluctant to see the power of listening, and allowing ideas to synthesize, as powerful. It suggests we are at our best when we are not as solid as we’d like to be, and we’re willing to accept the comfort of second-best. Marketers are particularly uncomfortable with the lack of control implied in allowing consumers to help form the meaning of brands. This is one of the biggest implications of social media.

The history of philosophy as a way of understanding the mind and the human situation could be considered an ongoing battle: the ego continually trying to reassert itself. Descartes said Reason ruled all. Our ability to know was our ability to conquer the void that forever tries to swallow us with fear. Just like God making things exist by naming them. Knowing assumes a know-er, forming a picture of our minds as having a single pulsing center.

David Hume countered by saying the mind was more of a stage, a “…kind of theatre, where several perceptions successively make their appearance.” Studying the creative mind is a useful way of understanding and arguing about what we are, allowing literary criticism to turn from a discussion of books into a fight for existence for those of us standing behind Descartes’ podium.

Apparently James Joyce could forge the conscience of our entire race with his own wordsmithing. And apparently it was revealed as desperate clanging in the dark by Barthes and others. Looking to authors for the meaning of texts instead of the texts themselves was a kind of celebrity worship.

In varying degrees marketers have also thought of themselves as magical wizards, or liked to be thought of that way. Magic, however, comes from the shadows. The most powerful sorcerers summon, they don’t make. In the myths of every culture the arrogant novice comes to the master looking for the ultimate power to destroy his enemies, the master humbles him into realizing the power is beyond his control, all of a sudden he gets it, but then decides to use it for good.

The traditional role of the brand people at companies is to form, control and police. The unquestionable truth of the message is a comfortable way to stave off all the uncertainty, maybe even the failure and blame, that appear to swirl around everywhere. Customers are talking about brands themselves now to such an intense and widespread degree, there’s an understandable fear they will take the message in another direction than it was intended. Perhaps they will do something better with it — maybe sales, as it were, will increase — if they retell the brand story to each other in their own ways. Secretly, in some forbidden corner of their minds, some marketers would almost rather see the brand fail than succeed without their help. Not because they’re egotists, but because they’re afraid of getting in trouble.

The culture of blame is a whole other story. But blame does come from the top, and it’s at that top tier where the measure of leadership can change from how-well-we-create-police to how well we give our marketing people license to listen — to become theater impresarios, allowing great ideas to play, on a stage we share with everybody.

No Sympathy: Gillette Children’s Unflinching Campaign Against Pity

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One of the most common reactions to someone else’s bad news is not knowing what to say. The first instinct is to give comfort, to be positive, to offer advice. Without thinking, we take full responsibility for taking away someone’s pain, someone we perceive as helpless. With only two words Gillette Children’s brand campaign cuts through those assumptions decisively: “Cure Pity.”

Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare is a world-renowned, non-profit hospital in Minnesota’s Twin Cities. The integrated campaign, which uses local broadcast, web, and out-of-home advertising to feature stories like Noah’s, inspires a new way of thinking—going from great to greater; from achievement to lasting achievement—as an alternative to our habitual response, which is to go from what we think of as “bad” to slightly better. From disabled to merely able. As a message, Cure Pity is powerful enough to help people start looking at their fellow humans a little differently.

The campaign is as smart and strategic as it is inspired.

Campaigns that cultivate pity induce a feeling of hopelessness that your one, meager contribution can make any difference. Perhaps you make one donation, one time, to shake off the uncomfortable feeling. Instead of pity, a more positive message invites compassion, which is an invitation to a deeper experience of shared humanity. Cure Pity asserts a call to action based on admiration instead of despair. It also subtly positions Gillette Children’s over an unnamed alternative: other hospitals that focus less on fostering quality of life and more on symptoms.

From a visual perspective, the campaign has one unrealized opportunity. It could do much more to pair up the copy with better design. Without both you wonder if an organization is fully committed to its message.

The strength of Cure Pity is storytelling. As a creative achievement, it asserts a social message that also helps a mission-driven organization continue to do great work. Advertising becomes culturally relevant when it can do either one of those things; curing pity does both.

– Eric Hayward