Corporate Storytelling

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.

How to Combat the Content Crooks

Flickr Creative Commons photo by  Adrian Scottow

Flickr Creative Commons photo by Adrian Scottow

Poet T. S. Eliot once famously quipped “good writers borrow, great writers steal.” 

T.S. would likely have a different take in today’s cyber age where there’s plenty of borrowing and stealing going on – but not by those looking to master a literary technique.

No, in the virtual cut-and-paste Internet era, content gets lifted at an alarming rate.

We’ve had clients and fellow writers voice concern that competitors are looting their content, changing a sentence here or there, and then passing it off as their own.

Yes, it happens.

No, there isn’t much you can do about it when it does. 

Yet there is solution: Create more content that is all but impossible to steal.   

Specifically, focus on your organization’s unique purpose and craft customized content that tells your story and highlights your strengths in ways only you can. 

For businesses, customer success stories and case studies do the trick. For nonprofits, it’s featuring a dedicated donor or someone whose life was bettered by your services. For any organization, it can be thought leadership content or op-eds that convey personalized insights or anecdotes.

Not only is this content well insulated from theft, it’s also much better than the generic copy that anyone can pump out and does little more than add to the clutter of the Web. 

Success stories from your customers or clients bolster your credibility by doing much of the heavy lifting to highlight your strengths. Meanwhile, thought leadership pieces helps your key leaders develop their own unique voices and share experiences and insights to connect more meaningfully with readers and set your organization apart. 

Creating steal-proof content doesn’t have to be a lot more work either once you get in the habit of branding your content as your own.

For even routine how-to or educational content, you can find ways to pepper in customer or client examples, or have the content bylined by a leader or subject-matter expert who can share personal lessons learned. 

Another T.S. Eliot quote that does stands the test of time is this: “Business today consists in persuading crowds.”

Whatever your business, a key way to persuade your crowd – while thwarting the thieves – is to create content that is uniquely your own

10 Tips for Positioning Your Annual Report in a Banner Year

Corporate annual reports

For many companies, this year’s annual report will feel something like a victory lap.

The stock market’s bull run has become a stampede, smashing record highs time and again. As of this writing the S&P 500 Index is up 19% year to date, with strong returns rippling across most sectors.

Barring any last-minute calamity, most annual reports will come bearing good—if not great—news for shareholders.

Of course, amid the investor euphoria it may be tempting to view this year’s report as a slam dunk. Roll out the great news, sprinkle in a few notes of caution about the future unknown, and call it a day.

Yet, we would argue that positioning an annual report for a good year can be every bit as challenging as doing so in one when your shareholders got clobbered. It’s essential to be thoughtful and strategic, both in advising your leadership and executing the report itself. 

Here are 10 things to think about as you consider how to tell the story of a banner year.

1.     This one will get read. Everyone likes a winner, and odds are your shareholders will be still basking in the glow of solid returns when your annual report arrives in their mailbox or e-mail.  Unlike tough years, when some shareholders first instinct might be to pitch the report in the circular file, many will be eager to dig into the breakdown of what led to your success, and how you aim to maintain it. Make sure every aspect of your 2017 report shines, and that the content reflects your strength, showcases your management team, and reminds shareholders why they invested in you in the first place.

2.     Don’t go overboard on your theme. The tricky thing about annual reports is that they typically come out well into the new year when the economic landscape can be decidedly different. So instead of rolling out the ‘Mission Accomplished’ banner, consider a theme that highlights your momentum and strengths, rather than just focusing on great results.

3.     Be true to your voice: Analysts and serious investors love nothing more than consistency. Keep that in mind when framing the approach and messaging of your report. While it’s OK to highlight great results, make sure the tone rings true with how your leadership has been talking about your company on quarterly calls and throughout the year.

4.     Play up the good news. Don’t be afraid to tout your success, but make sure you do so in a way that is authentic and acknowledges the benefits of a sound economy and unprecedented stock market.

5.     Don’t bury the bad news. With strong results making headlines, the temptation will be there to ignore or gloss over any significant challenges that may have affected the business in 2017. Resist it. Address the hurdles and missteps head on, and make it clear how you are attacking them moving forward. Your shareholders and analysts will appreciate your candor, and you will benefit from the cover of strong overall performance.

6.     Focus on what sets you apart. Michael Scott could have run a company this year and shown positive gains. Well, that may be a stretch, but it’s essential to highlight actions you took to differentiate from your competitors and how those actions made a good year even better.

7.     Show you're playing the long game. The phrase ‘past results are not an indicator of future performance’ is never far from a savvy investor’s mind. The smart companies are always preparing for rain, even when it seems like the sun will never stop shining. Highlight the proactive moves you have made to thrive – or at least limit the pain – in any economic conditions.

8.     Manage expectations. You don’t want to burst everyone’s balloon, but in the wake of what may well be a once-in-a-lifetime year for stocks, a solid dose of reality is in order. Make sure your CEO’s letter frames out realistic expectations of what is ahead.

9.     Show you care. A great year offers a prime opportunity to demonstrate how a rising tide lifts all boats. Make sure to highlight concrete examples of how you are fulfilling your company’s purpose beyond the bottom line through community involvement and charitable work. Acknowledge the contributions of employees, show appreciation for your customers, and let your shareholders know the ways you are engaged with the communities you serve.

10.  Create a report that works all year long. It’s not just shareholders who can benefit from an annual report. Your report highlighting your strong year can be an essential tool for your sales team to share with clients, or with HR to show to prospective hires. It can also serve as the foundation for your content and marketing efforts moving forward. Make sure the report is designed and presented in a way that offers the best ROI.

History tells us that it is unlikely we will see a stock market like 2017 any time soon—or ever again. Make the most of it through a well-crafted and well positioned annual report that works for you all year long. Then go ahead and take that victory lap. 
 

Scott Westcott is Corporate Practice Leader for Turn Two Communications.

5 Easy Ways to Leverage Your Annual Report

It’s the time of year when annual reports are starting to land in mailboxes or post to Websites. 

And depending on how the process went down this year, you’re likely admiring the glossy result, or vowing to never lay your eyes on it again. 

Both options, while understandable, are selling your annual report way too short. 

There are plenty of easy and effective ways to further leverage your annual report now that it is complete. And considering the time, money, and resources you committed, it only makes sense to get some more good mileage out of the finished product.

The good news is that regardless of whether you have come to love or hate this year’s report, it’s relatively simple to squeeze some more value out of it. Here are 5 possibilities:

PR pitches

Annual reports, with their predominant year-in-review focus, typically aren’t a source for breaking news. Still, a second look might reveal some potential headline-makers for either the local or industry press. Is there a major accomplishment or milestone featured that could be newsworthy? Record-breaking financial results or notable new products or projects? Does your CEO’s letter include some nuggets that could provide the framework for a pitch about your company’s growth or community commitment? Are there any employees featured? “Smithville Native Spotlighted in XYZ Annual Report” is a no brainer for a local newspaper’s business section. Not only is it good earned media for your company, but also provides a nice hometown pat on the back for the employee featured.

Op-eds

The best annual reports feature a letter to shareholders in which your CEO offers up some compelling insights about trends in your industry or impact in your community.  Fortunately, the best op-eds often focus on the same things. Take another read through the CEO letter to assess if it contains the framework or news hook for a good op-ed either for an industry publication or a local, regional or national newspaper. Odds are you’ll be surprised by the possibilities after reviewing the letter with a different mindset. 

Web Content

Sidebars that are focused on innovative programs, new initiatives, customer profiles or community service are no brainers as fodder for fresh web content. Often a well-written sidebar can become a blog post with little or no reworking. Infographics can also serve as the foundation for new web content. Don’t just think external – annual report content can be a great source for an internal drip campaign to get employees better versed in your company’s business and performance. 

Sales and recruiting support

Too few companies fully leverage an annual reports potential as a sales tool or recruiting piece. If enough printed copies are available, share them with your sales team with some simple tips on how the book can be used to highlight key aspects of your company during a sales call or, as a leave-behind for a prospect to gain a deeper understanding and confidence in your company.  Same goes for career fairs -- or at very least making sure several copies are available in areas in which job candidates will be waiting for interviews. 

Presentations

No doubt countless hours are wasted in organizations by people starting PowerPoint and other presentations “from scratch.”  Yet odds are good that there are several elements within your annual report – from branded design to approved images – that could serve as great elements for presentation templates or guidelines. Work with your creative team to leverage some content images and graphics that can provide information about your company in an effective and consistent way. This not only saves time and helps ensure your company is being presented well, it also positions your communications team as adding value to partners throughout the company. 

Sure, we get that after months of work and worry in the annual report birthing process, you might want to just move on. Yet, making just a little more effort to think about how to further leverage the report is bound to make your company – and your team -- look really good.