Guest Post By: Victoria Fortnum, Intern
Depending on whom you talk to, an internship can mean a variety of things. To some individuals internships are a necessity – the best, and sometimes, the only way to get your foot in the door of an industry in which you wish to pursue a career. To others they are hit or miss, some companies can be great and others… well, not so much. And then there are the “extremists” who believe internships exist for the sole purpose of companies being able to take advantage of students to do the work they don’t want to do; i.e. making thousands of copies and sharpening pencils.
Thankfully, my vision of an internship is still a positive one. I have not had to make a single photocopy or sharpen any pencils, however I was teased that I was going to have to change the water cooler everyday, but that’s a whole different story. With that being said, I have been fortunate to experience a preview of the ever-changing world of Internet marketing.
When I first came to Vertical Measures, I had dabbled in social media, and thought I had a decent understanding of the evolving world of Internet marketing. Almost immediately, I found out that my “understanding” of Internet marketing, hardly even began to cover the basics. Having to figure out the difference between link building through commenting and keyword searches, developing social media releases and editing articles created one big SEO puzzle in my mind. However, with some hands on training from great coaches, individual research, and some successful and failed attempts the SEO puzzle is beginning to come together.
With this being my sixth week at Vertical Measures, I have had the opportunity to work on a variety of projects for different clients. After the caffeine kicks in, I typically begin my day working on commenting. The goal of commenting is to increase link building by engaging in a conversation with other readers over a blog or article posting. Sounds easy, huh? Well with comment monitoring, page ranks and Not Do Follow it is much more difficult and time consuming then you would think! When my eyes begin to burn from scrolling through search quarries, I tend to redirect my attention towards article editing or promotional social media releases. Article editing puts my ASU writing courses to the test, while giving me an insight on how keywords are used throughout a piece as a marketing tool. Promotional social media releases are my favorite. They are like mini press releases that reach out to bloggers and social media pages on Twitter, Facebook, etc. Typically they are informal, and allow me to go back to my social media roots, developing catching tweets and postings. Depending on the day and how busy the rest of the staff is, random projects, training sessions, or team meetings may be thrown my way as well.
The variety keeps me on my toes, and away from the copy machine. With a few more months still left in my internship I look forward and am eager, to see how the puzzle develops. I do recognize however, that in this ever-changing world of Internet marketing the puzzle will never be complete.
I’m pleased to announce that for the next few weeks I’ll be reaching out to some of the thought leaders in my own specialty, Content Strategy. You can probably imagine that I’m just tickled pink with the opportunity! I’ve decided to kick it off with someone who I’ve yet to meet in person but found her writing and especially her slide decks shared on slideshare.com very useful in development of my own personal take on the field. Without further adieu, Margot Bloomstein, Brand and Content Strategy Consultant at Appropriate, Inc. She was a participant in the inaugural Content Strategy Consortium, and speaks regularly on the evolution of content strategy within interactive agencies; recent engagements include SXSW, Web Content 2010, A List Apart, and more intimate regional events across the country.
Elise Redlin-Cook: I hear the phrase “content strategy” used in different contexts and ways. How would you define content strategy?
Margot Bloomstein: Content strategy is planning for the creation, aggregation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable, and appropriate content in an experience. Whew! Specific, right? Every word is in there for a reason. While most of that definition came from the Content Strategy Consortium at the 2009 IA Summit, I add “appropriate” because I focus on brand-driven content strategy that starts with and manifests a message architecture appropriate to the needs of a brand. If content fails to do that, if it fails to accurately project a brand in a manner conducive to the medium, communication suffers. The user experience suffers. It might still be useful and usable, but it could also be out of character or generic. Nobody wants to be generic.
Elise: Very concise! After conducting my own content inventory, I realize that this process can be a long and tedious process and it can sometimes feel like you’ll never finish. How do you stay motivated during this process?
Margot: Short answer? Dunkin Donuts iced French vanilla, skim milk and two Splendas please.
Outside of tasty beverages, it helps to really, really love a comprehensive spreadsheet—and, more importantly, to appreciate the information it reveals: gaps, opportunities, loss of revenue, wasted time, and great ideas mired in outdated contexts. Keep your eyes on the prize: you’re not conducting the inventory to compile data. You’re conducting the inventory to analyze the data, get at all that information, and determine the scope of work. And because content in a website or other experience will likely need to grow and change over time, it’s important to make the content inventory an ongoing process you periodically revisit.
Elise: Great point on revisiting! So, what are the primary elements or pieces of a complete content strategy?
Margot: A complete content strategy speaks to the many parties and states that comprise the “rhetorical arena.” When that arena is a corporate website, I try to balance the needs of the two main parties, the brand and the target audience. But it’s a space that exists in time, so I also work to balance the current state with longer-term aspirations. A website overhaul is an aspirational initiative; if you’re not addressing the long term, you’re not fully addressing content strategy.
What does that all mean? First, content strategy needs to address both the brand’s communication goals and the target audience’s information needs. In focusing on brand-driven content strategy, I always start by working with the client to establish a message architecture. What do we need to communicate, and in what order of priority? Drawing on user research, we can determine the most appropriate content types to serve users in their path through an experience, and refine this through the content model.
Moving forward, I use the message architecture to inform the audit and inventory process. This is where it helps to start thinking of the website as a space defined by time and changes of state. That’s not some metaphysical mumbo-jumbo; rather, I work to develop an understanding of the content that is both descriptive and prescriptive. An audit offers a descriptive snapshot of the current state, but is most useful when a team reviews it with a prescriptive plan in mind to evolve the architecture and content. Where can we “translate” copy to better articulate the message architecture? What content types would serve us well, and what content types seem trite? And do we really need more customer quotes anyhow?
A prescriptive content plan details the content we’ll need to create or aggregate in terms of content type, character count, runtime, keywords, and other specifications. Editorial style guidelines explain how to do that. Along with guidance like a governance model and editorial calendar, editorial style guidelines help to ensure consistency and cohesion across the content in an experience over time—whether we’re creating a corporate website, social media campaign, or multichannel presence.
Elise: Great! In your opinion, how exactly does content strategy fit with other UX processes and disciplines?
Margot: In short, “plays well with others.” Visual designers and IAs alike benefit from collaborating with a content strategist. Prioritized communication goals, working with real copy, on-brand nomenclature and instructional copy, and a better sense of scope beyond mere page count all work to facilitate other UX processes and deliverables from the broader team.
Elise: I’ve been finding out that many content strategists come from very different parts of the industry with very diverse backgrounds. How did you find yourself in this specialization?
Margot: Well, I was walking past a bar one day, heard someone heckling a style guide, and thought, man, those people are having fun and that bourbon looks tasty and so what if it’s 11AM!
Or maybe this is the true version: I studied visual design in college, earning my BFA from long hours exploring typography, information design, color theory, and design thinking. I learned to communicate between brands and their target audiences by pulling levers of typeface, color, and density of information on the page. As a content strategist, I effect similar communication, but by working with style, tone, diction, content types; I apply the same problem solving skills, but use different tools along the way. Smart mentors, patient managers, and encouraging clients all helped me refine that toolkit.
Elise: Well, where would you say that Content Strategy is going now? Do you see any big changes on the horizon?
Margot: Over the past two years, content strategy has “hardened” into a more mature discipline with definitions, expectations, inputs, and outputs that its practitioners evangelize and deliver. Agencies large and small are bringing content strategy in house; they realize they can’t sell “full-service interactive” without addressing the very substance of those interactive experiences. Content strategy will continue to evolve in its impact in nontraditional media. Expect to see more of a focus on dynamic context as content strategy addresses location-based experiences. If your business embraces “Enterprise 2.0” beyond the buzzword, expect to discuss content strategy for user-generated content. I’m especially excited about discussing the ethical implications of content strategy, especially as we explore curation as a means of creating new meaning.
Elise: And lastly, are you inspired by anything in particular outside of your Content Strategy field?
Margot: As I mentioned, I approach content strategy from a background in design. In school, I spent many hours in museums: drawing skeletons to better understand figure-ground composition, exploring exhibits designed for moving audiences, and guiding visitors as a docent. Museum exhibit design inspires me because exhibit designers encounter challenges similar to those we find on the web: how do you convey a message architecture to one or more target audiences through a range of content types, along several main paths? Through copy etched in glass, aqua walls and azure floors, and artifacts like mukluks or harpoons, they can pull children and adults alike into an arctic experience and help them form new opinions about the impact of global warming. That’s impressive—and when done right, it’s an incredible model for what we do too.
If you follow my monthly posts on Search Engine Watch you’ll see a trend in the topics I choose to write about: Facebook. The social media giant that boasts an active user base of 500 million is constantly on my mind. Why? Because, as an Internet Marketer, I’m extremely interested in how and where users spend their time online. I’m also interested in seeing how others utilize the social networking portal to market their own businesses, and what I can learn from their successes (or failures). Let’s examine a few Facebook marketing campaigns, and what we can learn from them.
The popular chain, Einstein Bros, went seemingly unnoticed on Facebook for quite some time. Organically drawing almost 5,000 fans, some would see this as a success. But unlike other brands on Facebook, the team behind Einstein’s was not satisfied at this dismal fan turnout. Earlier this year, a full-fledged campaign was launched to increase their Facebook fan base: a free bagel giveaway.
Gini Dietrich interviewed James O’Reilly, the chief concept officer at Einstein Noah Restaurant Group, last month and sheds some light on how they developed, implemented, and dealt with hiccups along the way to increasing their fans by over 600,000. Technical difficulties could have stood in the way of their success, when their online coupon was malfunctioning. But with communication channels open, and brand transparency, they were able to make it through the bagel giveaway unscathed. While true ROI is unknown for this campaign, O’Reilly did express his pleasure in the final outcome.
What can we learn? Be transparent, even in times of crisis. Communicate with your fans, and don’t be afraid to own up to mistakes. Also: a well run giveaway CAN be successful. If you know your products speak for themselves, get people in the door.
Cox Communications (Arizona)
Cox Cable boasts that it is more than just a cable company, and I tend to agree. I’ve been a fan on Facebook for a while now, and wasn’t surprised to see an awesome contest featuring their ‘mascot’ Digi. Fans can enter to win one of many prizes in their Digi’s Vacation Giveaway, including a year of free cable, internet and phone services. Fans select a vacation in the customized application on the brands page, upload their own photos to personalize the vacation, share with friends, print, and take their vacation photo to any local Cox location (in Phoenix and Tucson metro areas) to enter the contest.
The campaign has already increased their fan count by a few thousand, and fans seem receptive to the giveaway. Without knowing their overall goals for this campaign, one can assume that one goal was to increase the number of users coming into their geo-specific locations, and to place a greater emphasis on personalizing the brand.
What can we learn? Contests on Facebook can be successful, and aren’t just limited to nationwide brands. Companies that are tied to one specific geo-location can utilize contests just as big brands can, and still gain fans or notoriety.
You’ve likely heard about this pizza chain, and their social activities on Facebook: for good reason. They were one of the first brands to really utilize the social networking portal, and not try to take users off the site. By developing their ordering application, fans can order a pizza right from Facebook.
The masterminds behind their messaging are creative and inventive, personalizing each message and connecting with fans in an engaging way. Constantly giving away pizzas, developing new contests, putting a face to their brand, and allowing fans to share pictures of their pizzas are just a few ways Pizza Hut has found success on Facebook.
What can we learn? Finding a way to engage with fans, and allowing them to purchase your product without leaving the site are just a few ways to utilize Facebook to your brands advantage.
Dolce Salon & Spa
A local spa in the Phoenix area has found great success on Facebook. If you still aren’t convinced that a local business can find success with Facebook marketing, just take a look at Dolce. They’ve been able to grow their Facebook fan base to over 24,000 fans in a very short time. With hookups, such as 50% off services, for hitting milestones or giveaways for guessing how many users will purchase their Groupon coupon (total number sold: almost 10,000!), fans have been extremely receptive.
The admin(s) of the branded page respond to almost every comment or post. I’ve seen a customer have an issue resolved in as little as three minutes just by posting on the page. I’m extremely impressed at the dedication this brand has for their Facebook marketing, and how they have effectively turned their page into a customer communication channel.
What can we learn? Turning your Facebook page into a communication channel for customers can help both large brands and small localized brands as well. Also, giving your fans incentive to become brand advocates (with hookups for increasing fan count) work to promote your brand and expand your fan base.
I’ve highlighted a few businesses that have been effective in their Facebook marketing. Not all businesses are alike, and your needs may differ from those brands that we examined. It’s important to take into consideration who your audience is, and how best to utilize a social networking portal for your needs. Facebook marketing can indeed be effective.
Want to be a guest blogger on a powerful blog in your niche? Here are 25 blogs that accept guest posts. All of these blogs have a page dedicated to explaining how to become a contributor.
Technology, SEO, Internet Marketing
BestCovery – “Best of” posts
Nil2million – Budgeting, finance
AutoTrends – Anything automotive related
Mommies Magazine – Family, health, shopping
Your Tango – Dating, relationships
Trip Wolf – Travel
For more guest blogging opportunities, check out MyBlogGuest, a database of blogs looking for guest posters and bloggers looking to get their pieces featured on blogs.
Vertical Measures also accepts guest bloggers. Does your blog accept guest posts? Let us know in the comments!
In this edition of our monthly interview series, I talk to Vertical Measures project manager Ardala Evans about her newfound love of the Internet marketing industry, her Guitar Hero prowess and hula hooping.
Michael Schwartz: What has attracted you to the Internet marketing field?
Ardala Evans: This field keeps you on your toes, not unlike a pair of ballerina shoes. You must keep researching, experimenting and learning. You can never stop and slow down; otherwise the internet world will pass you and your tutu by.
Michael: When you were first hired at Vertical Measures, it was to help edit articles. Now you manage the internship program and perform on-site SEO reviews and keyword research. Tell us about some of the most fascinating things you’ve learned at VM.
Ardala: The intricacies of what makes a great site successful. I have truly enjoyed learning more and more about the hundreds of pieces of the SEO puzzle that, when put together correctly, create a terrific user experience and also help a site rank high in the search engines. I then enjoy sharing what I’ve learned with clients.
Michael: Before your Vertical Measures career started, you worked a number of years at a career college. What did you do there and how did that work prepare you for your current career?
Ardala: I spent 10 years at the college; first working in academics. We operated multiple campuses and I was in charge of checking the academic progression of the students and also made sure that they met all the qualifications to graduate from our program. I then worked for several years in financial aid, and became the Director of Financial Aid for all of our campuses. Compliance, audits and loan paperwork, oh my! In other words, every “t” crossed and every “i” dotted. Both of these positions required a keen attention to detail. This skill is well used with Vertical Measures as I make sure that all content placed for our clients is high quality and editorially correct.
Michael: When you came first started working here you weren’t exactly tweeting like Ashton Kutcher. But I understand you’re developing a growing appreciation for Twitter. What do you like about the microblogging site, @AZArdie?
Ardala: I had set up my Twitter account just before starting to work at Vertical Measures. You are correct; I didn’t get it at first. It actually wasn’t until a friend introduced me to Hootsuite, and then, bam! A little bird told me about things in France, the local food scene, SEO tips, whether Matt Cutts was bald this week, what my friends were up to, what other dog owners did when their dog……well you know. People started posting pictures, so I joined in. Then, wow, I started to get followers, which made me want to tweet more and follow more. I really enjoy the little snippets of info on all the things I’m interested in. It’s fun and it’s useful. I have seen how Twitter can be used for businesses; nothing works better to spread the word.
Michael: A fun Ardala fact is that you are an avid jump roper. Tell us about your jump roping exploits.
Ardala: Ah, excuse me, you mean hula hooping, right? Jump ropes are so yesterday (exasperated sigh)! I’m not talking about the Wham-O hula hoops you buy in a toy store. I use larger weighted hoops that are actually easier to use. I crank up Don Omar, Ozomatli, Shakira, Kat DeLuna and Pitbull and let it rip. Much more fun than the treadmill!
Michael: Like many people here at VM, you are a real lover of dogs (which you even display on your license plate!). Tell us about your animals and a little bit about your love for canines.
Ardala: I can’t imagine living without a dog. When there isn’t a dog in the house, it feels strange to me. When I was growing up, our family dog, a mutt named Jacob, slept on my bed, sat with me on the couch, ate my lima beans that I slipped him under the table, and was basically my best buddy. Jake was still alive when I got married and moved out and sadly couldn’t take him with me. When my son was born, his first word was not “Mommy” or “Daddy”, it was “Goggy” which he said very excitedly as he pointed at Jake. Evidently this dog loving thing is genetic. Like the Brady Bunch (work with me here), my life became the story of a lovely lady dog named Penny (Shetland Sheepdog) and two rambunctious boy dogs, Charlee and Elliot (American Eskimo Dogs). What fun; chasing, barking, growling and howling. I loved it! But dogs age too quickly; they are not with us near long enough. We now just have Elliot with us who is 15, and I cherish every day with him. Our dogs have given me joy and the biggest laughs; my life has been better because of them.
Ardala: These guys don’t care what other people think. They do want they want and what they like. They have a great appreciation for their fans, which they share through their awesome site and web presence. Their videos all have that “home made” appeal which make them so fun to watch. They are geeks in rockers clothing and they’re not afraid to let that shine through, or maybe it’s the other way around in the marching band video…… Anyway, I proudly display an autographed picture of them in the purple marching band uniforms above my desk here at Vertical Measures!
Michael: In the office we have heard rumors of your Guitar Hero prowess. What do you like so much about this game?
Ardala: Oh, office gossip….. I don’t know about prowess, but I do enjoy it. Sometimes I play until my fingers bleed! Well, until they’re numb anyway. I think maybe I was a member of Metallica in another life. I have a musical background and have tried to teach myself to play guitar, but it just never happened. So Guitar Hero is the next best thing. I live vicariously through a piece of plastic! After a stressful day at Vertical Measures …… a Guitar Hero performance is just the thing. There’s something so satisfying when you see “YOU ROCK” on the screen.
Michael: We here at Vertical Measures KNOW you’re a great baker because of all the little treats you bring in on occasion. What would you say is your favorite sweet to bake?
Ardala: I do like to bake. It’s like your kitchen is a lab and you’re doing experiments. You measure out all the ingredients, mix them together and heat them up. My favorite experiment is the Graham Streusel Cake. I’ve been making this cake for many years. I wish I had kept a tally on the recipe card for each time I’ve made it. It’s one of those desserts that is requested for every family get-together.
Michael: Many people think your name is Italian, but that’s not true. So tell us Ardala, how exactly did you get your name?
Ardala: From a comic book. When my Dad was growing up he was a huge fan of the “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century” radio show and comic books. Buck, of course, was the hero. Killer Kane, with Ardala as his love interest and trusted sidekick, was Buck’s nemesis. So, yes folks, I’m named after a villain.
Michael: As mentioned earlier, you run the internship program at VM. How have you seen this program grow since we launched it in January?
Ardala: Our internship program has grown by leaps and bounds. Because colleges don’t provide classes to teach what we do, our program is such a unique learning experience. From the webinars, workshops, Lunch and Learns, staff meetings, Vertical Measures library, completing assignments and AZIMA presentations, interns can get fully immersed in the internet marketing and link building experience. Where we started with one intern, we have had as many as four and we recently saw our first intern become a full-time employee. That was exciting!
Michael: And finally, what do you like so much about working at Vertical Measures?
Ardala: We are encouraged to follow and expand on our interests. Everyone is always open to sharing his or her knowledge with each other. We each have our strengths and specialties, and when we all come together we make one heck of a great team. You know, kind of like on “Heroes.”