Web and Social

SEO: Storytelling Equals Opportunity

Flickr Creative Commons photo, courtesy of tvorbaweb-stranok.sk

Flickr Creative Commons photo, courtesy of tvorbaweb-stranok.sk

Once upon a time, the Internet gave birth to something called Search Engine Optimization, or SEO. 

As its name suggests, SEO was cold and calculating.

It was also quite imperfect — and easy to manipulate.

Robots and ‘content farms’ gamed the system by cranking out keyword-riddled clickbait and unreadable copy.

Often, the most useful — and best — content was buried in search results, left behind by computer-generated garbage.

But then Google — the Dr. Frankenstein in this story — decided to try to reign in the monster it had inadvertently created.

Google took a good hard look at what had happened with SEO and vowed to make big changes

It placed increased value on well-crafted stories aimed at helping people solve problems, learn new things, or be inspired to action. 

Instead of putting too much value on the almighty keyword, Google aimed to reward humans beings writing real human thoughts and sharing real human emotions.

There is still much work to be done, and certainly new challenges await, but SEO has started to become real.

To honor this ongoing transformation, when you’re thinking about your content through the lens of SEO, I challenge you to think about it not only as Search Engine Optimization.

Think about it under a new rubric: Storytelling Equals Opportunity.

Instead of keyword density, focus on finding good stories and telling them well.

Certainly, pay attention to technical fundamentals of sound SEO.

Yet, ultimately, you’ll be rewarded if you get to know your audiences better and then execute on a thoughtful content strategy that focuses on telling stories that connect with those who matter most.

5 Communications Trends to Watch in 2019

If you’ve worked in communications for more than a hot minute, you’ve discovered that technology doesn’t wait for you to catch up.

As soon as you think you’ve figured out how to engage effectively on social media or how to get your website to score well on search, the rules change.

That’s especially true today, as online and mobile technology continues to evolve. If you’re not keeping up with the changes, you’re likely to be falling behind.

Here are 5 trends that we’ve been paying attention to that are likely to impact your communications in 2019:

1. Facebook's Faceplant?

Flickr Creative Commons photo by  www.shopcatalog.com

Flickr Creative Commons photo by www.shopcatalog.com

If you use Facebook Pages as part of your social media marketing strategy, you’ve likely noticed that it’s a lot harder to get people to like, comment, and share your posts.

The reason isn’t you. It’s Facebook. 

study by Buffer found that top Facebook Pages have seen a 50 percent decline in engagement over an 18-month period — despite the fact that most top brands are posting a lot more regularly to their pages.

That alarming decline in engagement is largely the result of changes made by Facebook to its algorithm that gives posts from your friends higher value than posts from brands.

Algorithms aside, though, I see this as just the start of Facebook’s diminishing value to communicators. Facebook is losing trust — and users — and I don’t see that trend reversing itself.

With that in mind, we’re advising many of our clients to put fewer eggs in their Facebook basket and instead place them elsewhere.

2. User-Generated Video for Grownups

Gather Voices is a promising tool for organizations that are looking to create user-generated video.

It’s no secret that authentic, user-generated video is often much more powerful than the big-budget, carefully-created videos that are often created by nonprofits and businesses. 

And it’s getting easier for organizations that don’t appeal to younger audiences to encourage their supporters and customers to create accessible, sharable videos.

New tools such as Gather Voices are helping nonprofits and small businesses encourage their supporters and customers to shoot and publish short videos right from their phones — and you don’t need fancy editing skills to get them processed and posted.

We’re testing Gather Voices as part of a contest for the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum — and we are looking forward to sharing what we've learned later this winter.

3. Livestreaming Goes Mainstream

An estimated 150 million people are using Twitch each month to watch people play video games, make crafts or engage in activities like singing and dancing.

And lest you dismiss Twitch and other live streaming platforms as playgrounds for the young, consider this: nonprofits like Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Make-A-Wish Foundation of America are using live streaming to raise millions.

If you aren’t yet exploring live streaming as a communications channel, it might be time to start. It’s a great place for nonprofits and companies alike to build partnerships that can help bolster their bottom lines.

4. The Changing Face of Search

If you’re only using traditional SEO tactics to help drive visitors to your website, you might be missing out a on major shift in how Google is serving up search results.

Google My Business — a free tool that integrates with Google Maps and is responsible for most of the “above the fold” results that are served up to users when they conduct searches.

This shift is especially important for businesses that have physical storefronts and rely on location-based searches to drive customers into their shops.

As you build your online and mobile strategy for 2019, it’s time to assess whether you’re leveraging Google My Business, and whether it might be worth investing some of your resources in building your listing or investing in a service like ASAPMaps.

5. Unlikely Content Marketing Channels

Finally, as we pursue content marketing and earned media strategies for nonprofits and businesses, we’re increasingly finding great opportunities with business-to-consumer and business-to-business web channels.

For instance, a number of national brands such as American Express and Progressive Insurance produce regular, how-to content aimed at small business owners. And they’re regularly looking for expert sources who can provide insights on topics of interest to these markets.

If you’re looking to build your own thought leadership presence, it’s worth going beyond your own channels and traditional media outlets and finding niche channels that might help you connect directly with your target audiences.

What trends are you watching in 2019? I’d love to hear what has you excited as we head into the New Year. Shoot me a note to chat!

The 8-Second Key to Engage Gen Z

You better have a good story if you want to capture the attention of Gen Zers.

You better have a good story if you want to capture the attention of Gen Zers.

Can you spare eight seconds?

That’s a question that communicators and marketers of all stripes should be asking themselves these days. 

If you’re still with me (after all, my time is up), I’ll explain. 

So eight seconds is the estimated attention span of Generation Z -- those people born after 1997.

Experts have summed up Gen Z’s approach to processing information as ‘Blink, Share, Laugh, Forget.’ Spend any time with Gen Zer’s ripping through their smartphones, and that description likely resonates. 

And it’s not surprising. Gen Zers have lived their entire lives awash in a flood of information and messaging. In many ways, ‘Blink, Share, Laugh, Forget’ represents the only logical way to process information and navigate through a day. 

Yet what does it mean for someone hoping to capture a bit more than eight seconds of their time?

In my view, the key is to find a way to flip ‘forget’ to ‘remember.’ The best way to achieve that: Tell a compelling story. 

“This generation loves story,” Marcie Merriman, executive director, cultural relevancy and brand strategy, Ernst & Young, told me during an interview last year. “What’s the history behind it? Why is it relevant? What does it mean to me?”

It makes sense. Stories are a way to differentiate your content from all that other information that Gen Z quickly forgets. Even better, a good story works for people of any generation.  

So whatever your mission, look for the story—something that provide context and meaning. 

Then find the best way – and medium – to tell it. 

But make sure you lead with a strong hook. You have eight seconds to make the sale.

6 Alternative Narrative Formats for a 'TL:DR' World

Are your communications burdened with too much text?

As a writer, I understand the urge to use the written word to engage readers and convey information.

But in a TL;DR world (shorthand for “too long; didn’t read”), you stand to lose attention if you rely only on narrative pieces to spread your message.

Flickr Creative Commons photo by  Oralle Todorovic

Flickr Creative Commons photo by Oralle Todorovic

When readers see long blocks of text, they tune out.

But even if you lean heavily on the written word in your communications, you can still keep your audience's attention if you mix things up a bit.

Sometimes, a long article or report is necessary.

The rest of the time, though, think about how to pivot toward formats that will provide your audiences with something different.

Replace the walls of text with some creative narrative styles and you’ll see greater engagement (and you’ll have a lot more fun creating the content, as well).

Here are six alternatives to traditional narratives that you can employ with your nonprofit’s content:

1. The format: Q & A

An alternative to: Profiles

Many organizations use profiles to help put a face on their work. Education nonprofits often profile graduates or teachers. Foundations profile grantees.

And while profiles can humanize your work and provide readers with an easy way to see your organization’s impact, you don’t have to rely on a narrative structure to tell these stories.

Consider instead a Q & A (or question-and-answer) format. Q & A’s offer readers an accessible way to learn about a person and his or her opinions.

Paired with a strong photograph, they can help you tell a story quickly — and they are often easier to put together than a long narrative.

This can help you cover more ground — all while giving your readers something easy to digest.

Example: Teach for America’s profile of Ankur Arya

2. The format: Timeline

An alternative to: About Us/History

Your nonprofit or company likely devotes a page on its website and a section of its annual report to share information about its history. And, often, you need to tell stories about the evolution of a program or idea.

Rather than telling that (sometimes long) story in a narrative, share it in a timeline.

You can find a number of easy-to-use timeline creation tools online if you don’t have a designer at the ready — and you’ll make it much easier for your key audiences to digest and understand your story.

3. The format: Case Study

An alternative to: Impact stories

When it’s time to celebrate an accomplishment — or discuss how your nonprofit overcame an important challenge — consider doing it as a case study rather than as a simple article.

Case studies can be presented as short, bite-sized pieces or long, downloadable whitepapers. But however you decide to present them, they offer a great alternative to an article or blog post — and they make it easy for readers to understand the impact of your work.

4. The format: Quiz

An alternative to: Articles

The American Red Cross isn’t just about disaster response. Part of its mission is to help the public prevent and prepare for emergencies.

Often, that means it needs to provide information about topics such as how to prevent a home fire or and how to make sure your family is safe during a tornado or hurricane.

Rather than simply providing written guides and articles about these topics, the organization has developed a series of online quizzes that give readers a way to think about and digest information that will help them prepare for emergencies.

By giving them a tool that allows them to engage with the information, readers are more likely to access and retain the information.

Example: Are You Prepared for a Home Fire?

5. The format: Checklists

An alternative to: Articles

Similar to a quiz, a checklist gives readers of informational content something to do. Rather than simply writing about how to prepare for or accomplish something, break it into a list and present it as something readers can use.

6. The format: Alternative Listicles

An alternative to: Listicles

Buzzfeed — the purveyor of online gems such as 10 Important Life Lessons You Can Learn from Cats — has spawned a form of content commonly referred to as the listicle.

Listicles are essentially articles that are repackaged as lists — and many nonprofits have joined the growing legion of content creators who already use listicles as an alternative to the basic article.

The problem is that listicles are now so common that they have become a bit trite (even though we all know you’re dying to click on that link about cats and life lessons).

Consider instead the alternative listicle. This is a listicle that doesn’t just present a list, it offers an alternative to each item on that list.

This blog post is actually an example of an alternative listicle, since each item on the list is actually an alternative to something else.

Be Creative

And that brings me to my final point — which is simply to be creative when you think about your content.

It’s easy to revert to traditional styles and approaches when you’re presenting information. But take some time to think about how you can present that story in another format — or even how you might twist a popular format for your own devices.

Your readers will thank you for it.