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Video: The Intersection of Social Media, SEO & Content Marketing

Often in online marketing, there are silos of social media, SEO, and most recently, content marketing. All of these pieces should work together like clockwork, according to Michelle Stinson Ross, who at the time of the video shoot was at Authority Labs but is now the founder and principal consultant at Firestarter Social Media. As she explained to us at Pubcon in Las Vegas, each of these areas acts as a mechanism to drive another area. In other words, they are all part of the digital marketing ecosystem.

Whether marketers like it or not, they will never grasp the big picture by looking at only one of these areas. Marketers often like to specialize in something like SEO or social media, which is okay. But, the two work together naturally, and in order to truly market effectively, the parts have to mesh.

Another problematic issue with the digital ecosystem is analytics. Again, so often, marketers take the time to create the content, promote it on social, and optimize it for the search engines, but then neglect to track its performance. According to Stinson Ross, marketers have to pay attention to what is driving traffic and converting in order to keep your business up and running. She advises marketers watch referral sources, and even beyond this, track the further shares and engagement. Check out this video to hear more of her explanation:

If you need some direction with your online marketing strategy but feel you are missing one of the pieces of this ecosystem, contact SugarSpun Marketing, and we’ll be happy to help.

Marketing to Millennials: 4 Tips for Your Brand

It’s hard to believe how drastically social networks like Facebook have evolved since their debut. I’m dating myself here, but, when I first created an account on Facebook, it was only designed for college students. In fact, not every college or university was even involved at that time. We all know how the network has transformed itself to include multiple generations today. However, as the demographic gets “grayer,” the youngsters are less involved.

According to eMarketer, the 65+ demographic will increase more than any other demographic on Facebook through 2016. Interestingly, as this trend happens, the 18-24 crowd will decrease on Facebook. Intriguing data, huh? This chart from Sprout Social shares even more insights into Facebook’s demographics:

Sprout Social Chart

What’s happening is the Millennial Generation, also known as Generation Y, is getting their social media desires filled on other networks. Pew Research defines this age group as the 18-34 group. Some of this shift is probably due to the fact that their parents and grandparents haven’t made it to these new channels yet.

Still, these trends pose quite the challenge for marketers, especially since activities of the upper and lower ends of the millennial group are likely very different. Some marketers may think they’re in the clear and that they don’t need to reach this crowd since their products and services are for older age groups. Not to be the bearer of bad news, but in a few years, this millennial crowd will be your target audience, so it’s important to do your homework and be ready to capitalize when the time is right. Otherwise, negativity could be associated with your brand leaving you with even bigger problems.

It’s a competitive game, but connection and engagement are possible. The following tips should help:

1. Think before You Speak

A prominent characteristic of the millennial crowd is its strong ability to be heard. For the past ten years or so, we’ve been hearing how blogs, forums, and social networks are outlets for ALL voices. Marketers have embraced and encouraged a two-way communication channel in order to engage, gather feedback, and ultimately, be better marketers.

But, these voices mean that we, as marketers, have to be on our A game. Hasty doesn’t work. Somewhat relevant content will not do you any favors. And complete misses will be damaging. These reasons are why it is of the utmost importance to take a breath and think through what you’re posting before you hit “Enter.” This doesn’t mean that you can’t piggyback on a relevant newsy trend, but it does mean that you have to apply smart marketing. If you don’t, the voices could come back to haunt you.

2. Don’t Be a Friend Instead of a Parent

Who remembers a parent in school that tried too hard to be a friend? It doesn’t work, does it? You can be a cool parent without crossing over that line. The same logic applies to brands connecting with the millennial crowd on social media. Don’t be the brand that uses “wicked” methodologies to try to connect with your audience, because it won’t work.

A brand can be relevant and current without forcing it. By being true to your brand, you show credibility and consistency. If you do this, the lingo and pop culture reference will happen naturally.

3. Be Short, Sweet, and to the Point

Do you ever wish for a simpler life? I’ll admit that I do. Unfortunately, for the majority, life has us on the fast track. In other words, you have very little time, if any, beyond fulfilling your needs and maybe dabbling into your wants. This means that, even when you have a minute to play on social media, you don’t want to take the time to read a paragraph from a brand or watch a 10-minute video. You want something quick and easy to digest that provides a solution, answers a question, or that is just helpful information.

This is where marketing skills really come into play. If you have a lot of information to share, tease it. Give your audience a reason to dig further, which is what you want anyway.

4. Don’t Lump Millennials Together

This is a serious mistake that marketers tend to make since the millennial age group covers quite the range of ages. At the lower end, this group includes people still college. And at the upper end, it could include people who are married, with children, and with a decade+ experience in their careers. Simply put, you need more in your toolbox than just emojis.

It requires you to do market research and segment within this audience. There will be times that there will be crossover, which will make your job a little easier, but often, the content will need to vary and be customized per segment.

In summary, marketing with social media channels was never easy, but it has definitely gotten more challenging as society, businesses and consumers have evolved. Today, consumers, especially millennials, are complex. Yes, this means marketing is tough, really tough. But, it’s not impossible. Brands like Ford, Pepsi, Doritos and more are doing it wonderfully.

If you think about this evolution, that many of us marketers advocated by the way, the expectations of millennials are not surprising. Millennials want more than a logo, they want human elements, and they want to be part of your brand experience. Isn’t this what marketers preach all the time? Sounds like we need to step up our game to practice what we preach.

4 Ways to Create Buzzworthy Content (Butter Recipes Included!)

I was moonlighting as a server for a friend’s rehearsal dinner, passing around trays of artisan deviled eggs, when I heard, “Oh, this is my childhood, right here,” referring to the bread and butter table. That table was the pride and joy of Jen, SugarSpun’s fearless leader. She had artfully set the table with bread and baskets, Pinterest-worthy (she did write the book after all!), to display the four types of butter she had whipped together for the event. In fact, the butter table became the buzz of the evening.

“Did you try the butter table?”

“You have to try this butter!”

“Oh, this one is my absolute favorite.”

The guest who was marveling over the brown sugar and cranberry butter was also the most ardent proponent to other guests. “Oh, you haven’t tried the bread and butter table? Well, let me take you there.”

Now, I promise there is a point to this story beyond making you hungry. It’s very clear that every business on social media wants their content to be buzzworthy. Everyone wants their content to be shared and talked about on other platforms. So, how is it done? Here are four ways we believe create buzzworthy content:

1. Create a campaign with hashtag

Whether your campaign is for Twitter or Instagram – or both – hashtags can be the way to get buzz. Hashtags, although sometimes annoying, are fun. They also create organization.

Charmin’s #tweetsfromtheseat campaign is one of the most creative (and brave). For more ideas, visit Hubspot’s The Rules of Twitter Hashtags: Hits and Misses from 7 Big Brands.

2. Take advantage of timely events

A few weeks ago, Jen wrote a blog on small businesses geared toward the Firefly crowd. With the 10 year anniversary of the movie Serenity and the recently available internet show, Con Man, it was a timely piece. Yes, we all knew about these events long beforehand and were waiting for the release of the show with excitement. We’re mildly geeky that way.

When we posted the blog post, we boosted it specifically to Firefly fans. The resulting shares and likes were even higher than we anticipated! This is what can happen if you take the time to plan content around an event, season, or any other time-oriented happening. It resonates with a passionate group of people and has the potential of going viral.

3. Discuss a hot button issue

People on social media love to have opinions. Relating your product to a hot button issue can help boost the buzz. Understand that you have to use caution if you decide to take this approach. It’s a spontaneous approach that doesn’t allow time for careful planning and vetting.

Many brands have jumped on a Twitter trend thinking they are making great use of their marketing skills only to have it backfire on them. On the flip side, some brands have been able to have great success. As a general rule, just be smart when executing this idea and try to avoid topics like politics or the Lamar Odom saga.

4. Think outside the box

As in the #tweetsfromtheseat example, Charmin brilliantly used potty humor that was just the right amount of outrageous without stepping over the line. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Toilet paper isn’t sexy, but Charmin has made it fun.

The point is to make your brand more relatable rather than just being another company online. Make use of content that will cause your audience take a second look.

In summary, the main goal with buzzworthy content isn’t to have things go viral, though it’s nice when they do. Instead, it’s to have your target market talking about your business and sharing it with other people. You want people to say “Oh, you haven’t tried (your company here)? Well, let me take you there.” Social media is all about word of mouth marketing. Creating a buzz around your content is the perfect way to do it.

Now to take care of the hunger pains I created…

Buzzworthy Butter

The bread and butter table really was fantastic. You can check out our photo of the table, as well as other photos of SugarSpun happenings, on our Instagram page @SugarSpunMkt

The butter recipes are simple to make, especially if you have a food processor. Bring one pound of butter to room temperature per recipe.

 

Lemon Rosemary Butter

Ingredients:

1 lb of butter (4 sticks), room temperature

Zest from one lemon

Leaves from 1-2 sprigs of rosemary

Directions:

Put all ingredients into processor and pulse until well blended.

 

Chive Butter

Ingredients:

1 lb of butter (4 sticks), room temperature

1 small plastic packet of chives, finely diced

Directions:

Put all ingredients into processor and pulse until well blended.

 

Roasted Garlic Butter

Ingredients:

1 lb of butter (4 sticks), room temperature

2 heads of garlic, roasted

Directions:

Put all ingredients into processor and pulse until well blended.

 

Cinnamon Brown Sugar Cranberry Butter

Ingredients:

1 lb of butter (4 sticks), room temperature

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 Tablespoon brown sugar

3-4 Tablespoons finely chopped dried cranberries

Directions:

Put all ingredients into processor and pulse until well blended.

 

 

 

SugarSpun: 4 Ways (with Recipes) to Tailor your Content

I met with a friend regarding blog content for her website awhile back over lunch. Part of it was an excuse to talk about content marketing over gastronomical goodness and part of it was to take advantage of one of the very few low-humidity summer days Pittsburgh has to offer. Over delicious burgers and sunlit tables, we talked about her plans for a blog. The further into the conversation we went, it became clearer that she didn’t really have a grasp on her audience. Knowing your audience is an essential building block to content management. While you may understand your product inside and out, it’s relating your product to your customer that will bridge the gap of communication. It’s important to have this down because when you begin planning content, you need to know to whom you’re writing. Where do they live? What are their spending habits? Is your audience one particular type of person, or do you have different segments? What’s more, the audience needs to be broken down very deeply because, beyond identifying who the audience is, you also need to ask yourself, “Why should they care about my content?”

Although today, audience identification is associated with marketing practices, the process actually dates back to the ancient Greek scholars known as Sophists who were paid to teach people how to use speech and persuasive arguments to win their audience over. It might sound simple now, but at the time it was new and even threatening to some.

Don’t confuse me with the facts.” ~ Earl Landgrebe

One of the tenants of Sophistry is to tailor your speech (or writing) to your audience. The same is true today, because, while your content is very important, the way it is delivered is equally important. You wouldn’t write to a customer the same way you would write to a co-worker, and you wouldn’t write to your 13-year-old child the same way you would write to your boss. Similarly, tailoring your content to the different segments of your audience is a way to reach out to these different groups with a personal voice and communicate with them in a way they can understand and relate to.

In my previous blog post that shows the correlation between an ice cream endeavor and content management, the recipe for the perfect homemade ice cream base was explained. Now here are 4 ways (and recipes) to tailor your message to your audience, each one simply building off the base of your message.

By the way, if you haven’t tried the ice cream base yet, I absolutely recommend it. So far, I’ve made 4 different flavors from it! I won’t lie to you. I am in love.

1. Your base message…with a little something extra

When you have content that is as good as the brown butter ice cream, sometimes you can let it shine on its own, with a hint of flavoring to enhance it. For instance, let’s say you’re a small town bank in middle America. You’re proud of your longtime standing in the community. While you have different segments you’re reaching out to through your blog, at heart, your message is good rates through a trusted company. You can incorporate various tactics at different times to sweeten your message and add a little flavor variation, but the base of your blog emphasizes the trusted culture your bank has.

Chocolate Syrup by Alton Brown

As I said, this ice cream stands just fine by its own delicious self. But, I have a soft spot in my heart for plain ice cream and chocolate syrup, thanks to summers at my grandmother’s. She eschewed flavored ice cream, and instead, introduced me to the joys of chocolate flavored high fructose corn syrup.

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups water
3 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups Dutch-processed cocoa
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons light corn syrup

In a small pot, bring water and sugar to a boil and whisk in cocoa, vanilla, salt, and corn syrup. Whisk until all of the solids have dissolved. Reduce sauce until slightly thickened. Strain and cool to room temperature. Pour into squeeze bottles. Squeeze into cold milk and stir for delicious chocolate milk or serve on your favorite ice cream. And, hey, it’s fat free!

2. Go with what you know

Let’s say you own a vineyard, for instance, and part of your target audience is working mothers who need a break at the end of a long week to get away with their girlfriends for a few hours of laughs. As a mother yourself, you can identify readily with your audience. Instead of trying to be something you’re not, simply blog about what you know. Tell the story about the way a glass of wine after a long day at work can give you a moment of much needed sanity. This is authentic and will resonate with your audience.

Amazing Brown Butter Pecan Ice Cream from A Flexible Life

The original recipe that came with the Brown Butter base was Brown Butter Pecan. I knew, having tasted Jen’s creation before, that it was a sure thing.

Ingredients

1 c pecans

2 T butter

1/2 t sea salt

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Microwave butter in a bowl, then toss pecans and sea salt to coat. Spread out onto an ungreased cookie sheet or pan and bake in oven for 9-12 minutes, being careful not to burn. Set aside to cool.

Add according to your ice cream maker instructions.

3. Nostalgia is powerful

Nostalgia is a great tool to connect with your intended audience. Look no further than Coca-Cola, who is steeped in nostalgia, from retro glass bottles to Santa Claus. The same can be done for your brand. Well, you may not have the history that Coke has, but the idea is to take your audience back to a place of comfort. Maybe it’s the 80’s, or maybe it’s a memory of going to Grandma’s house. Whatever it is, use your content to play to these emotions. It’s a marketing tactic that’s worked for years, and it will work for you.

Peanut Butter Dough

This is my very own creation, a nod to my past connection with the extraordinarily unhealthy peanut butter dough of my childhood. Picking out the ingredients made me cringe the entire time. Powdered milk? Jif peanut butter? Karo syrup? And yet somehow, the flavors in this base melded and swirled perfectly.

Ingredients

1 cup Jif peanut butter

1 cup powdered milk

1 cup corn syrup

1/4 cup powdered sugar

Directions

Combine in one bowl and mix together. You’ll need to use your hands halfway through. Once everything is mixed, add into ice cream according to your ice cream maker instructions.

4. Go with the seasonal push

For businesses, picking the right season is part of tailoring your message because there is a time and a place for everything, as Solomon and the Byrds describe. A season doesn’t necessarily have to refer to the changing weather patterns. It can also refer to holidays or observed events. If you are a publishing company, for example, celebrating Banned Books Week would be the perfect time to talk about books you have that are similar to those that have been banned in the past. Try to capitalize on news items as well. Any association with a particular trend that will resonate with your audience has the potential to boost your sales.

Berry Crumble from Take a Megabite

I am a sucker for just about anything berry. Strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, and though it took a few years, blueberry too. Berries picked fresh from the (often prickly) bush are the absolute best. Pair the sweet/sour flavor with crunchy, and I am putty on the floor with my foodgasm. Oddly enough, berries in the winter, to me, just don’t taste as good. I still eat them, don’t get me wrong. There’s just something about eating them in season that makes them right.

Ingredients

For berry compote:

  • 1 pint berries (mixture of strawberries, blueberries, raspberries)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3 T fresh lemon juice

For crumble:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, chilled

Directions

For berries: Preheat your oven to 375F. Combine berries with sugar in an 8-inch glass or ceramic baking dish. Gently mix. Roast for 8 minutes. Let cool slightly before pureeing with lemon juice in a food processor. Strain puree into a small bowl through a fine mesh strainer. Chill.

For crumble: Make crumble. Turn your oven down to 350F. Line with parchment paper. Whisk together the flour, the remaining 1 cup of sugar, salt and remaining 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon into a medium bowl. Cut butter into flour mixture with pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet and bake for 30-35 minutes, tossing every 10 minutes, or until golden. Cool completely.

Once ice cream has been made, layer in a one-quart container with the leftover berry puree and crumbles. Top ice cream wit plastic wrap and an airtight lid. Freeze for at least 4 hours. You’ll have extra crumbles for serving.

In summary, you have to know your audience before you can tailor your content. From there, be creative and you will likely be impressed with all the sweet results you gain.

 

Mega Content Part 2: Boost Long Term Leads Through Compounding Lead Generation

MEGA contentai-01

It’s a long recognized fact that corporate websites that include active blogs generate higher volumes of traffic, leads and conversions. After all, a steady stream of content provides search engines with more pages to index and provides marketers with more opportunity to focus in on specific areas of interest or on sharing multiple perspectives.

When it comes to a solid Mega Content marketing approach, these benefits quickly become a real and tangible part of moving your marketing efforts forward.

(In part one of this series, the concept of creating and leveraging Mega Content was introduced as part of your content marketing and email marketing initiatives. If you haven’t read this piece, you might want to back up and read it for some background.)

What short-sighted content marketers often miss, however, is the longer term compounding value these content pieces can create. In other words, unlike more standard list building efforts that tend to have a defined start and end point and are quickly and easily measured once the campaign has ended, Mega Content looks at lead generation as a more long term enterprise.

Before we get to the part of this series that explains how to create Mega Content, (that’s coming up, I promise!) let’s take a look at the math behind the method and why it holds so much appeal for companies of all sizes.

The Challenge of Landing Page Traffic

The biggest challenge that comes with promoting landing pages designed to produce email leads is the cost of driving traffic into the page. In general, businesses tend to rely on contests or advertising to push traffic. Both are effective, but they also tend to have a somewhat limited lifespan. Contests eventually end, and advertising dollars usually end up being diverted to the next project.

This means the average landing page tends to pull traffic for the span of 2-6 weeks before seeing a huge drop in traffic; or it requires significant ongoing ad dollars to keep the traffic flowing. As a result, you’ll often see blogs and websites triggering pop-up windows to invite you to download a whitepaper or research report. The cost is infinitely lower, and the life span of the landing page can be extended.

Extending the Lifespan of Landing Pages

One of the primary reasons companies engage in Content Marketing is to drive a continual flow of targeted traffic into their website. The goal of this traffic is to drive incremental sales or lead generation, but for many companies, the link between blog content and conversions is tenuous at best. Sadly, many companies still haven’t figured out what the call to action in their blog posts needs to be. (This is, again, a whole other article…)

By building out a Mega Content package, sites now have a high value offering to exchange for email contacts as well as a wide range of content for social media. Their blog also serves as the perfect place to lead people to the landing page for the content. So, instead of using ad dollars or contest promotion, brands can share an image, article or video content. By generating a few months’ worth of supportive content as part of the Mega Content package, you ensure a steady flow of traffic into the landing page over time.

In addition, the content being passed around social sharing services like Pinterest or being housed on the blog can lead to solid long term traffic.

The Power of Compounding Leads

How are your blog analytics? Chances are, your high quality posts are still pulling traffic months (even years) after you originally published them. What’s more, on the posts you included calls to action, your conversion rate is likely staying reasonably steady over time as well.

Using this as a foundation, let’s give consideration to how a well-placed and promoted Mega Content landing page might perform.

Let’s say the first blog post you put out for your Mega Content pulls in 3,000 visitors in an average month, with 3% of them going on to fill out your lead generation form to download the content. This provides you with 60 solid leads per month that can be tied back to the topic of your Mega Content.gears-01

For most established sites, we regularly pull thousands or even tens of thousands of visitors per month to blog posts on client sites for small to mid-size businesses. That said, 60 leads per month may not appear to be much, but it would truly be a mistake to jump to this conclusion. The goal is not to gain a paltry 720 leads over the course of the year. Instead, as new content is produced, new opportunities to build targeted leads are created and combined with the older opportunities that are likely still performing.

If you release one piece of Mega Content per month, for example, it gives you the opportunity to build targeted email lists around 12 distinctly unique topics over the course of a year. Since these landing pages are relying on content marketing, social sharing and search engines to drive traffic, you should continue to receive leads from one piece of content while launching the next one, and the domino effect begins.

A more realistic portrayal of your math would be:compounding leads-01

While you may only see 60 leads the first month, month two will bring 120 leads when both campaigns are performing. And, month seven could bring 360 leads in as the six prior campaigns work their magic together. In fact, by the end of the year, you are looking at a grand total of 4,680 targeted leads!

If you are the ambitious type, or you have a history of producing strong content, traffic and conversion rates, you can be even bolder. If we rerun those numbers with an average of 10K views per month on the content and a 3.6% conversion rate, we’re looking at 360 leads per month – a compounded outcome of more than 28K leads over the course of one year!

Our own internal numbers show these results are not impossible to achieve. In fact, one of our Mega Content landing pages has consistently converted around 40% of its traffic since we launched it.

compounding leads2-01

Just a Change to Your Current Marketing Strategy

The biggest thing to keep in mind when considering a switch to a Mega Content approach is that it’s not about adding yet another marketing task to your list. It’s about making the work you do now more effective by maximizing its impact. Ultimately, it will get your lead generation team to have conversations with your content marketing team so everyone can work together to produce better content AND better leads.

Coming up in the next part of this series, we’ll look at how Mega Content production actually works. I’ll walk you through the idea of taking a huge piece of existing content and turning it into a Mega Content Package as well as how to take a smaller piece of content and scale it up into a legitimate piece of Mega Content.

 

SugarSpun: The White Space Conundrum (+ Homemade Ricotta Recipe)

We have a saying in our office. When someone is going above and beyond the normal creative effort to a Pinterest-type effort, we say they are “jenning” it. For those of you who don’t know our founder and president, Jennifer Evans Cario is amazingly creative, incredibly detail-oriented and very driven. When a project piques her attention, she will take it to the creative hilt and then some. If you’ve been on our Instagram page, you’ll see her creativity at work from the Lego cakes she has made or the American Girl party she had for her daughter. Not to mention her brainchild fundraiser for Bentworth Blessing, her nonprofit organization of choice. What an adventure that was!

When it comes to food, Jen will occasionally “jen” it there as well. The first time she made fully homemade lasagna,  it took 8 hours for her homemade noodles, ricotta and bolognese sauce. But, the masterpiece was worth it. While the takeaway from that singular experience is another blog post unto itself, the lesson had been learned and this time, when I helped make the lasagna, we didn’t “jen” it. The ricotta, however, had to be homemade because it’s simple, real and delicious. For the record, that isn’t “jenning” it – it’s just the way it should to be.

There was something calming about watching the creamy white liquid turn into ricotta cheese. I stood over the stove and stirred occasionally as the temperature slowly rose on the milk, buttermilk and cream. Maybe it was the repetitive motion of the stirring or maybe it was the heat, but for whatever reason, it reminded me of blogs and the battle for white space.

The White Space Battle

Not long ago, I was looking over websites for a client, gathering ideas for a new design and color. I was struck by how busy and full some blogs were, as if they were trying to cram every bit of information into a small space. Some of them genuinely hurt my brain. Part of it is a design issue and part of it is an unfortunate effect of too much advertising. Between that obnoxious, slow-rising box at the bottom suggesting another blog or a new car, the advertising that flashes on the right telling you what to buy, and the social media prompts that cover up parts of the writing on the left, I was so completely distracted by what Google ads wanted me to look at that I didn’t catch the article I was there to read in the first place! Let’s also not forget how quickly I, and therefore other visitors too, want to click away from a page that takes too long to load thanks to an overload of flashing products or pop-up ads.

White space as a design element is important for your incoming customers. As Human Factors cited, “Use of whitespace between paragraphs and in the left and right margins increased comprehension by almost 20%. (Lin, 2004).” It also gives the reader’s eye a breather. Plus, there’s the psychological factor. Another study that Human Factors mentioned focused on trust. “Design is a key determinant to building on-line trust with consumers. For motivated users of an information site, bad design (busy layout, small print, too much text) hurts more than good design helps. (Sillence, Briggs, Fishwick, and Harris, 2004).”

As someone with a journalist background, white space was drilled into my head. When it comes to layout, white space is invaluable not only because it doesn’t force the important elements to compete, but it also has a calming effect on the reader so they can focus on the biggest element – the content of your blog.

As designer and blogger Mark Boulton explains, “[I]f you don’t consider all your whitespace, that’s just bad design. Passive whitespace creates breathing room and balance.”

White Space Is More Than a Design Issue

White space doesn’t just apply to design. There’s also white space as it applies to writing. How you frame your words is just as important as the subject or the graphics you use to promote it. When writing, remember the ABCs – Accuracy, Brevity and Clarity. It’s for journalistic writing, but it can apply to all writing. Think of it as white space for the written word.

Accuracy – Be sure you have all the facts and can back them up with research if needed.

Brevity – Don’t beleaguer a point once you’ve made it. It’s far more classy to make your point concisely rather than meander down a rabbit hole or two to finally end up at your conclusion.

Clarity – This is where grammar comes in. Use words appropriate to your audience’s reading level, use proper grammar and edit ruthlessly – don’t be afraid to take out sentences that are superfluous. Have you ever heard the phrase “they bled all over my article?” Editors used to go over stories with a red pen, using specific editing shorthand to cut words, add punctuation or move things around. In other words,  “bleeding” on an article. As painful as some of those bloodletting edits are, it’s an important part of creating content that will have readers returning again and again.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line here is that white space in website design AND in writing is important for your readers because it builds trust, keeps them focused, and gives them a reason to return for more.

Sicilian Homemade Ricotta Cheese

(taken from Orcashottie on allrecipe.com)

Ingredients

  • 1 gallon whole milk

  • 1 quart buttermilk

  • 1 pint heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 18-inch squares cheesecloth

Directions

  1. Line a large colander or sieve with 4 layers of cheesecloth. Set aside.
  2. Heat milk, buttermilk, heavy cream, and salt in a large, heavy, nonreactive saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally for the first 10 minutes. Continue heating, without stirring, until the temperature reaches 190 degrees F. Remove from heat and let stand for 1 hour. The mixture will be separated into white curds and clear whey.
  3. Using a slotted spoon, ladle approximately 1/4 of the curds into the cheesecloth-lined colander. Gather up the corners of the top cheesecloth and secure closed with a zip tie. Repeat with the rest of the curds, cheesecloth, and zip ties. Use the last zip tie to thread all of the cheeses together. Suspend the cheeses over a large wooden spoon over a large bowl, and let drain for 2 hours.
  4. Place the four cheeses, still in cloth, in a bowl in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, cut zip ties, and transfer cheese to an airtight container.

Mega Content: What It Is & Why Marketers Should Embrace It (Part 1)

MEGA content-01What if you could help create ready-made content for your social media sharing teams while simultaneously boosting the size of your targeted email marketing lists without dramatically increasing the work done by your content marketing team? It’s what every business wants, and it’s surprisingly possible with just a little bit of tweaking to your current strategy.

The History of Mega Content

According to the Content Marketing Institute, 70% of B2B marketers and 69% of B2C marketers say they are creating more content this year than they were last year. Add in the need to serve up a steady stream of both original and curated content across various social media platforms and we sometimes find ourselves drowning under a never ending barrage of content requests.

Why so much content, and what are we trying to accomplish with it? This is what marketers really need to be asking. Study after study has shown increases in indexed pages, traffic volume, leads and sales for websites that have regularly updated blogs. But, the challenge comes in balancing the need to create strong brand building and lead generating blog posts with a slew of other social media postings that are more engaging for audiences.

This can make it difficult for businesses both large and small to balance the knowledge that content marketing produces long term leads with the very real demand for producing trackable data and results on a more immediate timeline. The key to good online marketing is figuring out how to reach both goals, but the jackpot of online marketing is achieving both goals with one set of deliverables.

Thus, the idea of mega content was born.

What Is MegaContentThe Challenges with Mega Content

It started out almost by accident. One of our clients is a prodigious writer. She regularly churns out volumes of outstanding content and has a very strong blog following. This traffic has great carry-over to her e-commerce site and is consistently one of her strongest sources of converting traffic. While this has provided a wonderful bedrock on which to build a solid online marketing business, the need to increase sales and conversions still exists.

Despite strong blog marketing and social media marketing, this client had not done much in the way of targeting or segmented email marketing. As the client prepared to launch a newer version of their e-commerce site with a more flexible backend management system, we decided to prep for more aggressive email marketing in the coming year. Of course, the biggest challenge in email marketing is building out a strong list with good targeting to allow for proper segmentation.

When the client delivered a blog post that clocked in at over 4,000 words, we knew we had a decision to make. We could break the post up into 3-4 posts that were more digestible, or we could beef it up further and consider its potential as an e-book or whitepaper. Since we had already started building out an infographic on the same topic, we decided to move forward with an e-book approach that could be used to draw a list of email addresses that were clearly interested in this specific topic and its corresponding product line.

As our design team worked out the details of the 24 page e-book, we decided to take a more visual approach to the design. Because the topic was targeted at women, we developed a PDF more in line with a pull-out guide from a women’s magazine instead of taking the standard text heavy whitepaper or e-book approach. We included our infographic as well as visual call-outs, quotes and other snippets of information aimed at creating a highly informative piece of content.

The Possibilities of Mega Content

Once our e-book was designed, we then took the time to break the content down into individual pieces of content that could be used on the client’s blog and/or for social media outreach. Two 500 word blog posts were pieced together from the content and paired with the infographic to serve as three separate posts on the client’s blog. Also, a series of images were created showcasing tips and facts about the e-book, which were then optimized for Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter.

Next, we knew we needed to build out a traditional style landing page aimed at trading the e-book for an email address. We paired it up with the style, theme and information provided in our content package. We added testimonials from happy customers, and a few sound bites of information from the content piece. Overall, we ended up with more than a dozen “bite-size” pieces of content that could be shared on social media as standalone pieces of content, yet we still had enough meat to them to lead people back to the landing page to download the e-book.

MegaContent_Combines Best ImpactIs Marketing Mega Content Really That Different?

At this point, some of you may be wondering how this process differs at all from traditional e-book or whitepaper marketing. It’s a fair question with a very nuanced answer. E-books and whitepapers are traditionally written for the express purpose of creating a “prepped” buyer. Sometimes it’s about sharing research and data that draws in the exact type of lead you can feed to your sales team so they can pick up the phone and try to close the deal. Sometimes, it’s about sharing a case study or writing a story that leads people down a path to the right decision, right meaning your product or service, of course. And generally speaking, whitepapers and e-books are viewed as leading people into a fairly deep position in your conversion funnel.

Mega content, on the other hand, is about building a launch point for your conversion funnel. It’s about gathering a lead that can be fed into different parts of your marketing machine over time. It earns you an email address and a topic of interest, just enough to start reaching out. In other words, you have to accept that you are getting a lead with less immediate value than you might gather using traditional whitepaper marketing.

Why Mega Content Works

The appeal to mega content is that the lead isn’t your only value. Your social media team also receives a nice package of content that can be released across social media channels over the coming weeks or even months. This not only reduces the amount of time spent curating third party content for sharing and increases your ability to share a wider range of original content that can stand on its own, but it also has the potential to drive people to your landing page.

What’s more, this leads to the amazing potential for both traffic increases and lead increases, but you’ll have to tune into our blog again to find out how that works. For the next post in this series, we’ll map out the value of compound growth when it comes to long term lead generation and explain exactly how mega content fits into that process.

MegaContent_Breaking It Up

Trader Joe’s Kona Coffee Cookies Copycat Recipe: AKA Taste of Subtle in Social Media

Shortbread cookies are warm fuzzies to me. They speak of blue tins full of dress-up jewelry – the tasty companions to pretend tea parties or a deliciously buttery counterpoint to a simple cup of tea. For some unknown reason, however, I’ve never tried to duplicate the store bought version. It’s silliness, really, because the recipes are simple! While I hesitate to use the words fool-proof because I am quite good at what not to do in a recipe, they are extraordinarily easy. I’ve just never felt the urge to duplicate a recipe.

Until now.

It all started with a last minute trip to Trader Joe’s to grab desert for an impromptu get-together. We picked up the Kona Coffee shortbread cookies on a whim with a flurry of other goodies in our hands. That night, I discovered yet another snack to go on my Trader Joe’s crack list. (There are several on that list, by the way. Have you tried the dark chocolate mint creams? Absolute top of my list. Of all lists. Any list.) I became addicted to Kona cookies. But, a few months later, I moved away from the convenience of a Trader Joe’s just down the street. So what’s a girl to do?

Why, do a Pinterest search, of course!

I have a confession to make. In the interest of full disclosure, I feel I must tell you that I don’t like coffee. I quite honestly think it tastes like dirt. The only way I can drink it is when I have a little coffee with my cream and hot cocoa. Oddly enough, I like the taste of coffee in things like ice cream or cookies.

While I’d like to believe this little revelation adds credence to the deliciousness of the Kona Cookie recipe, it occurred to me that I like coffee in my cookies like I like sales on social media – a little goes a long way. In looking to find just the right recipe, I realized the right proportion of coffee in the recipe was important. No one wants to bite into coffee grounds, no matter how sugary it is, least of all me.

[editor’s note: What Tammy’s not telling you is that her first attempt at making the frosting for these cookies included a misinterpretation of the word “strong coffee” in the directions. Rather than brewing coffee and using it to make the frosting, she dumped the strong coffee grounds into the frosting. As such, we most definitely learned that NO ONE wants to bite into coffee grounds, no matter how much sugar you add.]

Social media was never meant to be a platform to push your company or your products. As strange as it may seem now, it’s a social platform where you get to make yourself – your brand – more personable. This is your chance to be more than just a company or a logo. You now have a voice that has potential to reach hundreds of thousands of people because you are human and relatable. Here, the bottom line isn’t money; the bottom line is building community.

I’ve seen far too many companies treat social media like just another place to advertise, another version of a TV commercial. Now I’m not here to tell you that you shouldn’t advertise or put your product out on different platforms. What I am saying is, like my coffee cookie recipe, too much sales at the wrong time in the wrong place can quickly turn things from sweet and enjoyable to outright bitter.

Here’s another way to say it.

As marketers, we sometimes catch ourselves getting caught up in a client’s desire to constantly tout how amazing the company is that we’re promoting. As a result, it’s easy to lose sight of the customer. We can forget that it’s not simply about what our clients want; it’s about who we’re talking to and what will reach them best. On social media, where people go to be informed, catch up on things around the world or to soak in the gamut of emotions created by photos and videos, constant in-your-face sales is the last thing they want to see. Consumers have become adept at tuning it out; something you are trying to avoid as a business owner investing time and money into social media.

The general guideline to follow is the 80/20 rule. 80 percent of the time, share information or relevant pieces that will engage your customers; and 20 percent of the time is for you to focus on your brand or a call to action. Build the relationship with your audience first so you can establish credibility. You need to earn the right to sell them your product.

There is a time and a place for everything. Just because you can sell, sell, sell doesn’t mean it’s wise to do so all the time. Thank goodness Trader Joe’s gets that concept with their coffee cookies.

DSC_0005
Recipe from Kris at Umami Holiday

Ingredients:

  • 1 c. unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 c. powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1 Tbsp. coarsely ground Kona coffee
  • ½ vanilla bean, split and scraped for seeds
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 c. AP flour, sifted
  • 1 c. powdered sugar (for the glaze)
  • 2 Tbsp. strong (brewed!) coffee
  • ½ tsp. instant espresso powder (optional)

Directions:

  1. Place the unsalted butter into a stand mixer and mix for 1-2 minutes on low, or until glossy and creamy.
  2. Add the powdered sugar, kosher salt, vanilla seeds and coarse coffee grounds and mix until uniform at low speed, then scrape the sides of the bowl and mix on medium for 4-5 minutes. The batter will lighten in color (the color will be similar to cookies n’creme bars).
  3. Add the sifted flour and mix until combined, then scrape the bowl and mix for another 1-2 minutes on low.
  4. Scrape the bowl to combine the dough into a ball in the center of the bowl. Place plastic wrap onto the counter, then put the dough ball onto the plastic wrap. (You won’t need to brush flour on your hands, as the dough will not stick to your fingers.)
  5. Place another sheet of plastic wrap on top of the dough ball, then flatten the dough into a 7 x 10 inch rectangle using either your hands or a rolling pin.
  6. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight.
  7. When you’re ready to bake, preheat your oven to 350ºF.
  8. Line your baking sheet with parchment paper.
  9. Take the dough from the fridge and remove the top layer of plastic wrap. Cut the dough into 1 x 2 inch rectangles.
  10. Place the rectangles on the parchment paper at least 2 inches apart.
  11. Bake for 14-16 minutes, turning the pan halfway through bake time (7 minutes). The cookies are done when the edges are golden-brown.
  12. Remove the cookie sheet and allow the cookies to cool on the pan for 10 minutes.
  13. Move the cookies to a cooling rack and let them cool completely.
  14. For the glaze: Mix the powdered sugar, strong coffee and espresso powder (if you have it) with a spoon until the glaze is a nice, caramel color.
  15. Spoon the glaze onto half of the cookie and spread evenly, then place on parchment paper to harden.
  16. Will keep for 4-5 days if left in an airtight container. (Good luck with that–mine disappeared before I could test the theory!)

SugarSpun Notes: The glaze was an adventure. I couldn’t get it on the cookies right without it pooling into one big glop. Hearing my cry of distress, Jen stepped in and performed her magic with glazing by drizzling in perfect lines. Some taste testers liked the cookies with the glaze, others liked it without. I recommend you experiment for yourself.

4 Ways to Keep People Coming Back to Your Website

Every business naturally wants more traffic to their website as traffic essentially translates to increased sales. What’s the secret for getting people there? And, how do you get them to stay? Like poker, while there may be a bit of luck attached to it, attracting and keeping people on your site is a skill.

It’s all in the headline

When you meet someone that you’re trying to impress, most people will take extra precautions with their appearance. The same should be true online. Catchy titles are beyond valuable since they draw people in. Multiple tactics work including humor, statistics, bold facts, and more, but please be careful to not sensationalize the title. Sometimes it’s tempting, but if readers feel tricked or misled, the super catchy headline serves no purpose.

The best advice in regards to headlines comes from Copyblogger in 10 Sure-Fire Formulas That Work. These tactics provide variety as well as meat that assist in SEO initiatives.

Content matters… a lot

If you read any content from SugarSpun, you should know that we place a tremendous amount of emphasis on content marketing. The reason is simple – it’s vitally important for business success. If a headline gets people there, the content keeps them and causes them to return. Your content has to deliver on what the title promised.

There is a lot of content across the Web, and much of it is good. To make your content stand out, you need to, first of all, be well-written. If you have misspellings or really poor grammar and punctuation, readers could be impacted negatively. You may have breaking news or a breakthrough on a new strategy, but if the reader can’t follow the story due to errors, you have a problem.

Focus on being informative, innovative, and helpful, among other tactics that make people feel like they need your content. From there, you can throw in some humor and other flavor to spice it up, but you must lay a strong foundation first.

Use multimedia and other outreach opportunities to your advantage

If you have a really enticing title and solid content that people can use, you’re setting high expectations. In other words, these visitors aren’t going to be satisfied with just text. The new media era has almost forced us to depend on visuals. This means images, charts, infographics, and videos. People like variety. They also like supplemental material. You can always do this through linking, as you should, but readers will also appreciate if you embed a YouTube video or an infographic directly into your content.

Statistics on Infographics
Courtesy of: Social Strand Media

It’s great if you produce this content yourself, but it’s also very beneficial to utilize content that’s already created. By giving other’s credit, it also helps to present you in a positive light in the industry. And who knows, they might even push your content out, which broadens your reach and creates new opportunities.

Be part of the community

Getting people to your site is not just a matter of writing an article or having a good website, it’s also about your overall presence in your industry. This means you need to participate in conversations that are already happening. Join groups on LinkedIn, answer questions on Quora, become influencers on relevant forums – these are just a few of the ways that you can be involved.

However, as you do this, you must really contribute. Don’t come across as if you’re trying to make a sale – be real and human. Play off of your content by being catchy and informative, but then let them know where they can get further information.

Another aspect of being part of the community involves your social media strategy. Don’t just constantly push out your content – that’s the easy part. Instead, find conversations to be part of and add updates to previous posts.

Above all, be present. People like communication and good, valuable content. If you fulfill this desire, you’ll get increased traffic to your site and long-term, repeat readers.

Getting to the Bottom of Content Creation

 

Content Creation

Everyone is talking about the importance of content marketing and the fact that every business is becoming a publisher. These points have been well driven, but where does it go beyond this? Creating valuable content is hard work. What’s more, as many companies have stepped up their content efforts, the market has become much more competitive.

How can you create great content that everyone wants to read AND share?

Content creation cannot be broken down into a science. It’s an art that takes skill and experience. Often times, businesses will engage a freelance writer to help with content needs. While this can be beneficial, it is of utmost importance for the writer to work closely with someone who lives and breathes the business. The president of a company is really the one who is most equipped to write about a company. However, not all managers are skilled writers. This is why it is vitally important for these executives to work closely with people who can write to make sure the correct message is translated.

Find Your Story

To begin developing content, a business first needs to determine its story. Finding this story is, no doubt, challenging. Similar to a resume, telling your story is often harder than telling another story. But, every business no matter how big or small has a story to tell. Your business may have a rich family history, or maybe it was created to solve a particular problem. Whatever this story may be is your secret sauce. This is your opportunity to share some of your business’s culture and personality.

With content marketing, this is often where problems begin since many businesses attempt to mimic other businesses. However, individuality is key. What works for another brand may not work for you.

For instance, GoDaddy is known for being a risk taker. Have you seen their Super Bowl ads? Here’s one that you may remember from 2012:

Hardee’s is another brand that takes risks with its messaging. While your brand may want the same traction as these, this approach may not work for you, especially if your demographic is older or conservative.

Listen to Your Audience

The development of this story isn’t entirely up to you. In other words, the story that you may want to tell could be different from the story that your clients want. You could be struggling to determine what this story is, and it could actually be right in front of you. If you want to be heard, you must listen first.

Listening could help you determine if you should take a humorous approach, a historic angle, or if it is acceptable to take a risk.

Spread Your Message

At this point, you should have enough fuel to get your story going. This means it is time to test the waters. You can start distributing this message through your blog and across social media. These methods, especially social media, provide valuable insight into how your audience will react. This is where your audience is most comfortable, so they will let you know whether they like it or not.

Based on the feedback and engagement you receive, you will know if you need to make adjustments. You may find that your story is exactly what your audience wants. Or, you may find that you need to tell another chapter in your story or tell it in a different way.

As you distribute, you should also be mindful of how your message comes across. In most cases, the goal is to grow your audience through your story and create influencers and brand advocates. With this in mind, it is vitally important to develop a rich overall content strategy as you push out your own content. If your story sets you up as a long trusted leader in a particular industry, you should probably set yourself up as an expert and push out helpful information.

Rutgers University recently released a study highlighting the meaning behind message content across social media. In this, they identified two primary types of content distributors across social media: informers and meformers.

  • Meformers — Users who post social media updates mostly relating to themselves
  • Informers — Users who post updates that are mostly information-sharing

Kevan Lee of Buffer put together a very insightful post about this research over on Social Media Today and created this helpful image to showcase some of the findings:

9 Types of Updates

This research is very eye-opening when it comes to content creation. Sometimes it’s necessary to take a step back and examine what your story looks like on the other side of the table. To get your story out, you must self-promote, but the key is to do this in a way that doesn’t seem like promotion. And if you’ve developed the right story, you’ll fall into the category of informer and grow your following.