SHIFT Agency PR Blog and PR News

24 Oct 2014

Why Instagram’s “Barter Economy” is a Good Thing

…For marketers, influencers, and consumers.

Last week, The New York Times published a piece on how influential Instagrammers are being courted by luxury brands with offers of free swag and other out-of-this-world perks in exchange for photos. We’re talking “all-expenses paid trips to Iceland” levels of incredible. AdWeek also chimed in with a follow-up article calling it Instagram’s “secret barter economy.”


Well, it’s definitely not secret any more (and really, was it ever?) but it is essentially a barter system. With the race in full swing to reach the ever-elusive, Instagram-loving Millennial generation, it’s easy to understand why brands would jump at the chance to trade their luxury swag for thousands of highly engaged Millennial eyeballs paying attention to Instagram influencers and their feeds.

But before anyone starts crying #GramGate or claiming that Instagram influencers are “selling out,” let’s remember that brands and influencers have had this sort of relationship for years. Companies send product to bloggers, who “repay” the brand with an honest review on an influential blog with thousands of readers. We all know that drill.

The only notable difference this time is the medium: photos instead of text. But even that’s not new, because as the Times article also points out, Coach has been hiring popular Instagram users to promote their products for two years now.

So if Instagram’s barter economy doesn’t mean it’s time to gape at the network’s lost integrity, what does it mean?

Beyond the selfies and the food pics and the filters, Instagram represents something awesome for social media marketing: an opportunity to turn things around in an age of news feeds spammed with poorly-targeted promotions.

First of all, what do nearly all of the examples of trades between brands and Instagrammers have in common? They promote experiences rather than just products. A vacation in Iceland (+ Dom Pérignon). A road trip adventure (+ Mercedes-Benz). Even the “smaller” trades do this: a photo of the excellent drink selection enjoyed at a restaurant, for example.


We accept the following to be true:

  1. Marketing is about telling stories
  2. Stories about experiences are more interesting than statements about objects
  3. Visual content is more engaging to Millennials than written content

Instagram enables brands to convey a story about an experience through a single photo that is instantly broadcast to thousands of their target demographic. That’s worth paying attention to (and paying for).

Secondly, these examples are proof that it’s possible to promote your brand in an unobtrusive and authentic way – a feat that has eluded many a brand on other networks. Though both Facebook and Twitter have updated their algorithms to address the fact that users feel inundated by promotions that are more disruptive than helpful, many brands still continue to spam audiences with little thought to tailoring and targeting.

With the current Instagram economy, however, influencers have the power to maintain their authenticity:

“Instagram influencers say they have fielded significant interest from brands in the last year – and that even large corporate brands agree not to interfere with their creative process. The labels aren’t just looking for help reaching niche Instagram communities. They often also want assistance creating effective marketing images. That means they need the Grammers to present their products to their homegrown audience with the aesthetic that drew the audience in the first place.”

While a different type of “targeting” than the kind digital advertisers are used to on other social and search channels, it’s highly effective: by handing the creative reigns over to the Instagrammer, the message is innately tailored to what their audience wants and expects to see from them.

All one has to do to confirm this maintained authenticity is to take a look at the feeds of any of the Instagrammers mentioned in the Times article.

So what are we left with? Brand stories told through captured photos of experiences, conveyed to an already-interested, targeted audience. Brands (and their agencies) benefit because they get the eyeballs they want, influencers benefit because they get awesome experiences to photograph and share with their followers, and audiences benefit because they are delivered promotion tailored for them to actually enjoy.

Far from selling out to the marketing man, I’d say that’s pretty darn good for everyone.


So how can your brand jump on the opportunity Instagram presents? The first step is to embrace Instagram as an important part of your marketing strategy. From there, you can:

  • Identify the influencers relevant to your brand – there are a variety of tools that can do this, but even without fancy tools you can research your current audiences on all networks and owned properties to find out what Grammers they follow.
  • Pledge to leave creative control in the hands of the Instagrammers – it’s better that way for both parties, for reasons explained above.
  • Start an Instagram handle for your brand so influencers can tag you and send traffic to your feed.

Good luck, future BrandGrammers!

JJ Samp

Marketing Analyst

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23 Oct 2014

How to Make Your Landing Page Not Suck

As a marketer, you’ve got top-notch knowledge and implementation chops when it comes to landing pages, so you can safely skip this post, right?


In the name of marketing, stop right there! Even top brands that should know better are capable of creating cringe-worthy landing pages. We think you can do better.

Consider that the point of a landing page is to serve as a place to send web traffic, with the purpose of incentivizing visitors to take a specific, immediate action. That action depends on who you are and what you’re trying to accomplish – it could be purchases, user registrations, donations, clicks to another page, among many others.

If someone visits your page, it usually means they’re interested in what you’ve got to offer. So, why would you prevent them from doing what you want them to do by sending them to a landing page that doesn’t tell them what you want them to do?

I’m talking about the call to action (CTA) – the part of your landing page that answers the question, “What the heck am I supposed to do on this page, anyway?” The success of your landing page ultimately boils down to whether your call to action actually, well, calls people to action.

So before you hit “go” on your next marketing campaign, make sure your landing page meets these fundamentals.

Your CTA should be explicitly clear and concise. The moment visitors have to guess at what they should do, you risk losing them. Give it a test: if you show your landing page to someone who knows nothing about you or your industry, would they be able to immediately tell you what the page is asking them to do?

Identify and align your CTA with campaign goals. If you don’t have a clear picture of the action you want visitors to take, how can you expect your audience to figure it out? If your goal is user registration and your call to action is not something along the lines of “sign up!” then something is off.


Tailor your landing page copy to your audience. You have something your audience wants, which is why they clicked to your landing page in the first place. A good landing page tells them only what they need to know: 1) what you’re offering them and 2) how to get it.

Don’t bury the CTA under extraneous information. Provide your audience with the info they need, but don’t give them info they don’t need. Just because you care about your CEO’s background or your company mission, doesn’t mean your audience gives a hoot. This also means being careful with secondary or multiple calls to action (which aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but merit extra grace).

Keep it Visible Above the Fold. Internet users spend 80% of their time looking at info above the page fold – that is, the parts you can see without scrolling. If it doesn’t fit on a single screen, chances are it’s not going to get read. Keep important content at the top.

Enable immediate action. The human transient attention span is reportedly now as short as eight seconds. The easier and shorter the action, the more likely you will hold audience interest long enough for them to complete it. Think about where you can remove steps from the process – if you want people to tweet for your social campaign, for example, include a “tweet this now” button with a pre-loaded tweet.

Utilize visuals. We hear all the time about how visual content is more engaging than text alone. Avoid the “wall of text” that can make visitors’ eyes glaze over once they click to your landing page and miss the CTA altogether (see the Evernote example above).

Once you have these basics in place, you’ll be in pretty good shape. From there, you can get fancier with design, but always remember that excellent design will not make up for bad copy! Also, don’t forget the extra important step of setting up UTM tag tracking to monitor the visitors to your landing page, and event-tracking for clicks on CTA (buttons, links, etc.) so you can measure the results of your hard work.

Take a look at some of these examples of great landing pages if you want to get inspired… and next time, we want to see YOUR landing page on the list.

JJ Samp
Marketing Analyst

Be Ballsy. Work at SHIFT. Apply now!

22 Oct 2014

Find your Brand’s Optimum Facebook Strategy

The Facebook news feed algorithm is in constant flux. It’s never a surprise when another ‘update’ materializes in the daily news scan, making the maintenance of a successful social media strategy difficult for marketers and communicators. One of the fundamental truths to Facebook in current environments, however, is that brands (in general) need to pay in order to be seen.

Thankfully Facebook presents brands with several options to increase the number of eyeballs on the content and engagements with the post. Among those options are things like Boosted Posts and Promoted Profiles. For those who aren’t as familiar with Facebook’s paid options, here are the differences:

  • Boosting Posts is an advertising strategy where you pay to have your post seen by a larger percentage of your audience (than with organic, unpaid reach alone).
  • Promoted Profile is an advertising strategy where you pay to have people discover your Facebook Page.
  • Note: There are several other paid strategies available on Facebook, but these two apply to most brands.

The question facing both our agency and our clients is: Of these two basic Facebook paid media strategies, which is more effective for actually getting your content seen?

To answer that question, we did our homework using our own data in a research experiment to determine what strategy worked best for our audience (i.e. if you want to replicate this for your own purposes, use your data, not our conclusions). If you want to keep up with Facebook’s changes and see what works for your brand or client, try our methods as a starting point.

Here’s what we did:

Our goal was to determine which of the two options above, a promoted profile or boosted posts, resulted in the highest engagement from our audience on Facebook. Over the course of the campaign, we invested a small amount of money ($10 a day) to see which strategy worked best with our audience and our posts.

We boosted one post a day – the post containing our daily blog content – to our target audience, determined through audience research.


We first ran the experiment over a three-week period in July, alternating between promoting SHIFT’s profile, boosting posts and a combination of both.

Week 1: Boosted Posts (no promoted account)

Week 2: Promoted Profile (no boosted posts)

Week 3: Promoted Profile AND Boosted Posts

In July, posts during Week 2 performed the best, resulting in some of the highest engagement across the board – with just a promoted profile campaign active.

Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 8.32.12 AM

These results provided what we felt was a counterintuitive conclusion: in order for our content to be seen, it appeared the correct strategy was to promote our page, not our posts. While these results were certainly interesting, we knew there were a few outside factors that could be manipulating the results – particularly the fact that the month of July is very popular for vacations and time off from work (and your computer). We decided to wait a few weeks and test again in September, when vacations are ending and people’s schedules return to normal.

September + October

When September rolled around, we duplicated our July experiment – $10 a day, rotating strategy week by week for six weeks and found the results to be the exact opposite of what happened in July. Our posts performed best when they were boosted without a promoted profile campaign active. This is why it is so important to do your research, experiment and repeat!

Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 8.30.01 AM


Overall, our experiment gave us nine weeks of data. We analyzed our findings and found that the best practice (for the time being, at least) for SHIFT to reach the Agency’s target audience is to only boost posts, forgoing the promoted profile campaigns, as summarized in the chart below:

Screen Shot 2014-10-21 at 3.47.53 PM

In the above chart, we can see that boosted posts with no promoted profile provided 12x increases in median paid reach of content over organic (unpaid) reach.

For the second category of campaign, where we boosted posts and promoted the profile, we saw only a 9x increase in paid reach and no significant difference in organic reach.

Finally, in the promoted page with no boosted posts, we saw half as much organic reach and no paid reach. For our Facebook audience, boosted posts without promoted profile advertising seems to be the way to go to achieve maximum reach… for now.

If you find yourself in a situation where your Facebook strategy has fallen flat and audience engagement is lagging, try this experiment for yourself. See if your audience reacts differently than ours, and most important, find the best paid social media strategy for your brand.

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology

Tori Sabourin
Marketing Analyst

Be Ballsy. Work at SHIFT. Apply now!

21 Oct 2014

Conquer Today’s Top B2B Content Marketing Challenges

This week I was reminded of a post I wrote back in March on jumpstarting your B2B content. The reminder? MarketingProfs’ latest B2B Content Marketing 2015 Benchmarks, Budgets & Trends report. The report provides some great insight into how B2B marketers are thinking about content and where they’re stuck. Though 70% of the marketers who responded are creating more content than they did a year ago, they are experiencing a number of challenges that still plague their efforts. Those challenges range from budget issues and lack of training to struggling with consistency and engagement. Today, I wanted to examine the top three challenges cited in the report and how to think about combating them.

B2B Marketing Challenges

Challenge #1: Producing Engaging Content.

Ah, yes. It can certainly be hard to find a way to be engaging if your company specializes in things like enterprise cloud storage and virtualization. But it doesn’t mean it’s impossible. First things first, make sure you’ve researched your audience. It’s likely you already know them from a sales perspective, but what do they find valuable from a human perspective? What do they read on a daily basis? What questions are they asking? Check out what they’re sharing and discussing on social media. Go through any recent customer FAQ’s. Once you get a feel for their interests and habits, you can start to create content that they’ll find interesting and informational. Become a resource for your audience — not just a resource on your individual company, but also a resource on the industry. Above all, make it a point to stay fresh and original. Copycats are boring.

One helpful tip: if your B2B brand is active on social media, you will be able to get additional insight on your audience through their proprietary analysis tools. For example, on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, you have the ability to see things like audience interests, seniority levels and more. This will help you further dictate and target your content.

Challenge #2: Producing Consistent Content.

There are plenty of excuses for not producing consistent content, “We don’t have time,” or “We don’t have enough to write about.” The bottom line is that if you want your content program to succeed, you absolutely have to be consistent, whether it’s daily, weekly or monthly. Choose a schedule and stick to it so your brand is providing a steady flow of content and your audience know what to expect and when.

Create a content calendar that will map out the topics you want to cover and the days you’ll focus on them. Documenting your strategy will help hold you accountable. As the report shows, those companies who said they had a documented strategy found themselves to be more efficient, more consistent and better at measuring their overall program’s effectiveness.

Write it down!

Challenge #3: Measuring content effectiveness.

Measurement can be a mystery for many content marketers. Only 21% say they are successful at tracking ROI, and there was a 10% year-over-year increase in those who found measuring content effectiveness to be challenging. There isn’t one magic metric that will tell you how your content is doing. What success means for you depends on what your goals are for the program. Is it to generate awareness or site traffic? Does your business need to generate leads? It’s important to know what your goals are so that you have something to measure against. If you want a deeper dive on the ways you can measure your content marketing, be sure to check out our webinar that will walk you through best practices and beyond.

What are your biggest B2B content marketing challenges?

Amanda Grinavich
Senior Marketing Analyst

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20 Oct 2014

The bedtime test of content marketing and PR

If you’ve ever had the opportunity, try to recall the last time you tucked in a child at bedtime.

You were probably asked to have the lights put a certain way.

Perhaps you were asked for a drink of water.

You were almost certainly not asked to read them a press release.

What do they want you to read?

Designed by Sarah Muscarella, click for big version

If you need an acid test for compelling content, show it to a literate child at bedtime. Offer to read them a white paper or press release, listen to a webinar, show them an infographic. If they manage to stay engaged for more than a minute, then you’ve clearly got the hang of good storytelling. If they’re immediately bored, then your storytelling isn’t compelling.

Think you can’t apply compelling storytelling to “boring industries”? You can. In 1999, my graduate thesis was on the deployment of a Microsoft Exchange server at a non-profit in order to improve collaboration. The story was presented as a Lord of the Rings-style adventure, in which a plucky band of adventurers fought dragons like technophobia on the way to the promised land of integrated communications.

Other great examples of this? Marketo Corporation released a B2B marketing coloring book:


B2B tag management vendor Tealium took it a step further and released an actual children’s Little Golden Book titled “Taming the Digital Marketing Beast”:


If you want a simple test for any content marketing or public relations communication, try reading it to a child at bedtime. The feedback you receive about your storytelling abilities will be instant and brutally honest. Then go back, sharpen your pencil, and try again until you create something that even a kid would like.

Oh, and the storytelling graphic above is available in poster-size, if you’d like to print it out and hang it in your office as a reminder.

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology

Be Ballsy. Work at SHIFT. Apply now!

17 Oct 2014

Agency Life 101: Nicole Bestard, Account Director

nicole_bestardFrom time to time, we like to open a window into what life is like here at SHIFT. We pride ourselves on our smart, dedicated (and who can forget ballsy) culture. This week, we check in with Nicole Bestard, an Account Director in our NYC office. Nicole gives us insight into the day-to-day as an AD and offers advice for those looking for a glimpse into the SHIFT life.

What are your main focuses as an AD? How do your day-to-day responsibilities play into this?

Very simply, I’m a problem solver. For my team, for my clients, for the Agency. No one day is alike. And rare is the day that actually matches up to what my calendar says.

My main focus: how to get more ink for our clients (and how we’d get ink for future clients). Ink, and the quality and quantity of it, is at core of most of the problems I’m trying to solve, and the core of every good PR practice.

My main concerns: client health and team health. This means sitting in on a lot of meetings, listening for needs and opportunities. But I can’t sit in on them all and be a good listener or a good helper, so I work in constant triage, jumping in where I’m needed most.

My main responsibility: cheering. It is absolutely the most important part of my job. You can’t be of service to anyone if you’re not taking the time to celebrate achievements and relish in tiny successes.

While the above doesn’t ever change, each day brings new challenges in each category.

What are some of the things you enjoy most about being an AD? What are some of the challenges?

I love the variety that comes with my job. With two teams, I get to work on both consumer and high-tech B2B accounts. One minute I’m participating in a brainstorm for ideas around a new lifestyle store opening, the next I’m editing a byline for a tech trade from the founder of an enterprise software company. It requires agility, and keeps me thinking creatively. And then throughout the day I’m checking in on email, monitoring client requests on multiple accounts, fielding new business requests, troubleshooting with the team, jumping in on impromptu discussions around a pitch strategy, media conversation or PR plan that I hear happening all around me. And cheering all the while because the wins are coming in throughout the day.

The great thing about being an AD is that every little win achieved by my team is multiplied. When I was in the AC, AE or even SAE role, each “win” just belonged to me. Now, as a director for two fairly large, awesome teams, if someone on my team gets a win, it’s multiplied, exponentially. There are so many wins, so many things to be happy about and so many things to be proud of each day.

Positive coverage for a client is always a win. But it’s not limited to that. Sometimes just getting a reply from a hard-to-reach journalist is a win. Drafting a well-written email to deliver candid feedback to a client is win. There’s a lot of cheering coming from my desk on good days.

The challenge is bandwidth. On busier days, there’s no cheering. And that’s not because the wins aren’t coming in. It’s because I’m running from call to meeting to call and so I don’t get a chance to witness, and to cheer, for the wins as they happen. I feel bad about that.

Also, while my focus is ink, I don’t actually get to talk to actual reporters very often. It’s important to stay connected to reporters. They are, in many ways, the “other” client. I try to ameliorate that by spending an hour every week with junior staff to pitch alongside them, or at least be present with them to offer prep/pep talk before calls, and then give instant feedback and support.

This dedicated group pitch time was intimidating for everyone at first, which is why I named it “Cliff Jumping”. The more you do it, the easier it is, and it helps to have peer pressure on your side to make the leap. It’s been a really successful program since I started making it a weekly practice, and it’s the one meeting I keep as an absolute constant each week. I like talking to reporters (I used to be one), and I think it’s really important to lead by example. It’s also important for junior staff to hear me make mistakes on the phone, too. It’s helped me re-connect with the core work of what we do in a tangible way, and it drives home that no matter what each person’s role or rank in the Agency, we all have something to learn from each other.

One of your primary duties is overseeing NYC’s account team. What’s your personal approach to management? What advice do you have for those newer to a management role?

LISTEN. To your clients. If we’re not getting results, it’s usually either a storytelling issue or a target issue. I’m constantly looking for ways to adjust the message or story, and to help the team hone in on the perfect target for that story. Listening to trends, reading, paying attention to the random news a client might drop in about the company and to things that are said by other teams is essential.

ASK QUESTIONS. Of your team. I cheer hard and loud. But I also push hard, and often. It’s usually in the form of lots of questions. I’m always asking, how can this be done better? What about this angle? Are you talking to the right person? What’s the plan for this? Where are you getting your data? Is this what the client asked for? What result do you want?

ASK FOR HELP. OFFER HELP. Getting the team involved not only helps you, it helps them learn, and ensures you have people trained for the job well in advance of emergencies. Delegating is a major challenge for new managers, as is knowing where you fit in. Asking for help encourages a team atmosphere at every level, and prevents feeling overwhelmed. Offering help to both junior staff and senior staff is great way to keep learning, and it ensures you go where you’re needed most.

You’ve been known to say that “No one walks alone” here at SHIFT. Would you talk about the importance of this in agency life, and how it connects to the larger culture at SHIFT?

I would not be able to do what I do, and be proud of the work I do, if it wasn’t for the support and hard work of my team and my superiors. NO is just not heard here very often.

I mention asking for help above. I wouldn’t recommend that if it didn’t actually lead somewhere. From our CEO to our interns, SHIFTers are genuinely service-oriented people. Many of us are probably capable of handling every situation on our own, but the truth is that smart people realize that working in a vacuum benefits no one. It’s service industry math. One is great, two is better, three is a team. PR can involve a LOT of rejection, a LOT of demands, a LOT of pressure. Likewise, it’s a super competitive world out there. The work we do — telling our clients’ stories and finding a place for them in the world — is competing against thousands, if not millions and billions of other stories trying to get told.

As such, we have to be incredibly competitive and aggressive in our tactics against the competition. If we had to compete against each other at the same time, it’d be an endless battle. At SHIFT, I’ve never felt that I was the one solely responsible for a win or a loss, a placement or a rejection. It’s nice knowing that you are not solely responsible for an outcome, good or bad. You are accountable to do your part. But if you’re surrounded by peers who do their part, you’re more likely to do everything you can to do right by them. It inspires everyone to do better work.

You’ve done your fair share of hiring over the years. For all the budding PR pros out there, what are some of the key things you look for in a new hire?

CURIOSITY. I believe that an open mind, creative mind, ability to roll with the punches and take on new challenges all stems from curiosity. If you’re not interested in random stuff, constantly reading, asking questions about what you don’t know, trying new things and approaches, then you’re going to miss opportunities. “Best practices” does not equal status quo, and curiosity is essential to that. A smart person has good answers, but without curiosity, they’re often limited to just a few answers. A curious person does not have all the answers. But they will leave no stone unturned to find a new contact or story angle or solution to a client problem. That’s far more valuable.

KINDNESS. Life is too short and our office is way too small to work with anyone who isn’t nice. Sure we all have bad days, but to paraphrase our EVP Cathy Allen about considering candidates: “If I were stuck in an airport overnight coming back from a business trip, would having this person by my side make it better or worse?”

Also, kind people tend to anticipate and consider the needs of others. PR is a service industry. We’ve got to anticipate and be cognizant of the needs of our clients and the media to be heard above the din of everyone else with a good story to tell. The tricky part about hiring nice, smart people is that they have a tendency to take on too much. Once they’re hired, it’s on us to train folks to anticipate—and communicate—their own needs in advance to avoid burnout or things falling through the cracks. I don’t want someone who can “do it all” on their own. That’s only great if you’re a one-person agency. And we’re not.

Finally, SENSE OF HUMOR. If a candidate has made it past the introductory round, it’s not unusual for me to drop on F-bomb or two somewhere in the interview process. I want to see how the candidate reacts. Can they handle the unexpected with grace? How do they try to win me over without stooping to my level? Despite the stress of the interview situation, can they still make me laugh?

Zach Burrus
Marketing Analyst

Be Ballsy. Work at SHIFT. Apply now!

16 Oct 2014

Nothing in Marketing is Unique

From the latest tool or piece of automation software to measurement or campaign tactics, very few things we come across in the communications industry are truly unique. Most “major” technological advancements are just that, advancements on an idea that has actually been around for a long time.

“[Insert New Invention Here], now that’s the greatest idea since sliced bread!” We’ve all heard it. But what was sliced bread? Manipulating an existing product (or idea) to solve a customer’s problem.

  • Problem 1: You’re hungry.
  • Solution 1: You bake a loaf of bread to eat.
  • Problem 2: The large loaf is very hard to eat because it is an odd shape and not proportioned for easy enjoyment of buttery delight.
  • Solution 2: Loaf of bread is sliced and sold in pieces, making it easy for customers to enjoy with butter or the condiment of their choosing.


The creator of Solution 2 didn’t reinvent the wheel; they didn’t create a new product that came in the optimal shape for the easy addition of butter. They just tweaked existing results to solve a problem.

At SHIFT Boston, we recently were given the opportunity to listen to David Rose, entrepreneur, author and instructor at the MIT Media Lab (disclosure: David is also a SHIFT client), about his new book “Enchanted Objects.” The premise of his talk was how future technologies will not blow our minds with their new abundance of abilities – they will simply integrate into our daily lives in ways we wouldn’t have even realize we needed them. A pill bottle cap that lights up when you forget to take your medicine. An umbrella that flashes its handle when it is forecasted to rain that day.

The takeaway? If you have a problem, don’t spend too much precious time looking for a completely new solution. Do your research. Chances are, someone else had a similar problem and already came up with a solution. It may not be exactly what you need, but it will put you on the track of success. A few tweaks and enhancements and you may just come up with the next ‘sliced bread.’

Tori Sabourin
Marketing Analyst

Photo Credit

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15 Oct 2014

Beginner’s Guide to Blogging 5/10: The Wheel

Blogging isn’t going out of style any time soon; with the ascent of content marketing, blogging, podcasting and video are on the minds of marketers and PR professionals all the time. In this 10-part Beginner’s Guide to Blogging series, we’re going to explore what makes a blog great and give you some structures and frameworks to help make blogging easier. Take from it what works and leave behind what doesn’t work!


The Wheel

The wheel is a blogging structure that comes from computer networking, from the idea of a hub-and-spoke network model. In the center of the wheel is the hub, or the main idea. Each connection to the main idea is a problem that the main idea solves.


To start a Wheel blog post, you start boldly with the central idea. The idea is the big picture, the thing that could solve a lot of problems. Once you’ve presented the idea, you immediately confront yourself with the first of many problems the wheel can solve.

By the end, the amount of proof you’ve provided of the efficacy of the main idea should be self-evident; the hub has addressed every problem on the spokes capably. You finish off your blog post briefly recapping how the problems brought up have all been solved by the main idea.


Let’s say you sell roasted coffee, as an example for a wheel post. As a disclaimer, LOLBeanz and Todd and Jim’s Roasted Beans Coffee Company do not exist. They’re for illustrative purposes only.

Main idea: This revolutionary new blend of coffee from Todd and Jim’s Roasted Beans can satisfy any coffee lover. LOLBeanz coffee blend is roasted extra bold for people who like a rich, satisfying flavor, but blended from very low acid beans that make it the perfect fit for sensitive stomachs.

Spoke 1: Some of you might say, “I don’t like a strong coffee.” LOLBeanz is ground finely, so you can throttle back on the amount of coffee you use without sacrificing flavor. If you do that with a regular coffee, you’ll get coffee-colored water at best.

Spoke 2: What if you have someone in the home or office who has a weak stomach? LOLBeanz is roasted from a proprietary blend of 23 different coffee varieties all selected for their low acid. LOLBeanz brews up a wonderful cup of flavor, but none of the stomach-upsetting acid.

Spoke 3: Some of you prefer a roast that can be used for espresso instead of regular coffee. LOLBeanz is roasted to a full city roast, which means that it’s a great fit for espresso lovers. Plus, if you only have an espresso machine, the blend is mild enough that you can add water to make an Americano so smooth, your friends will think you brewed a fresh pot of coffee just for them.

Spoke 4: If you’re eco-minded and love to throw your used coffee grinds in your garden, but you want to make sure you’re truly organic, not to worry. Every bean in LOLBeanz is certified organic, which means it’s good for your garden.

Spoke 5: Thinking about the rest of the world? LOLBeanz is not only certified organic, it’s also fair trade certified and certified carbon neutral. You can feel good about every cup, knowing that the farmers producing it have been paid fairly and that you’re not ruining the planet with a ton of carbon for a pound of beans.

Conclusion: If you want a rich, hearty cup of coffee every morning that does good for you, your stomach, your friends, and your world, pick up a bag of LOLBeanz today at any participating retailer or online.

If the wheel did its job, you should be wanting a cup of coffee right now, and if LOLBeanz were real, you’d ideally be clicking a Buy Now link.

Use Cases

The Wheel differs from structures like the Kennedy or the Franklin in that you’re expressly challenging your main idea over and over. Every possible objection is handled in advance, making it ideal for blog posts and pages that need to sell.

In the next post in this series, we’ll take a kid’s game and turn it into blog fodder.

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology

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14 Oct 2014

Harness the Power of Negativity Bias for Positive Marketing

Imagine this: You get a $2000 bonus from your employer for excellent work. The same day, your car’s transmission bites the dust and you have to shell out $2000 to get it repaired.

Which event sticks out in your mind a month later? If you’re like most humans, you’re agonizing over that $2000 repair bill long after you’ve forgotten the good feeling brought on by the bonus.

Negativity Bias

This is because of a psychological phenomenon called “negativity bias.” Our brains recall negative memories more vividly than positive ones, and negative associations tend to be much stronger than positive associations.

Research on the subject concludes not only that “bad is stronger than good” with very few exceptions, but that negativity easily overpowers positivity of seemingly equal value. Negativity bias has even been demonstrated in three-month olds.

As marketers and PR pros, we strive to create a brand message that’s “sticky.” We also want that message to be positive. Yet therein lies the challenge: if humans are naturally wired to remember the negative, what’s a marketer to do to craft a message that’s both memorable but positive?

Of course, every brand has the option to latch on to a negative emotion and build their brand on that. But as Scott Monty pointed out, it’s generally not a smart (or sustainable) strategy to couch your brand identity in negativity.

Why not instead approach negativity as an opportunity to showcase positivity?

Focus on what you do have, not what you don’t.

To reference Scott once more: think about how you actively provide value (positive association), rather than how you differ from a competitor (negative association). Your audience, being human, is more than capable of drawing those negative comparisons without your help – and you end up with the stickiness of negativity without tethering yourself to the negative trait itself.

Transform haters into fans.

Negative to Positive

Ekaterina Walters’ observation at this year’s FutureM conference rings true: it is far easier to convert haters into lovers than it is to turn an indifferent audience into fans.

Like or hate the term, real-time marketing represents a killer opportunity to jump on episodes of negativity and bring about positive outcomes. By providing a timely solution to an individual issue or offering clever commentary on a current event, brands can effectively win over negatively engaged audiences. Take KitKat’s recent #bendgate Twitter win, or any number of these examples of RTM done right.

Keep in mind the “magic ratio.”

Thumbs down, thumbs up

Okay, there isn’t just one magic positive-to-negative ratio. Depending on which study you reference, you need anywhere from 3-6 (Fredickson and Losada) to as high as 20 (Grossman) positives for every one negative in order to balance the equation. The point is, since negatives weigh heavier than positives in the human brain, there must be a higher frequency of positive episodes in order to obtain overall positivity.

For marketers and PR pros, this means landing more frequent favorable (or at least neutral) media mentions and inspiring more happy tweets than angry ones. Maximize positive coverage and let the flood of positive sentiment dissolve the impact of negativity in your audience’s mind.

Remember that as humans, consumers will latch onto negativity far sooner than they’ll independently notice something positive. Your ability to resonate with your audience is enhanced by the finesse with which you can identify negative sentiment and gracefully associate it with a positive message.

What is YOUR brand doing to lasso negativity and channel it into a positive brand image?

JJ Samp
Marketing Analyst

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10 Oct 2014

Google’s Primer App – Quick Lessons on PR and Marketing

With the advent of new technologies for the public relations, marketing and advertising industries, it can be hard for a new business or solo entrepreneur to know where to get started and what the current best practices should be. Yesterday, to combat that confusion for small businesses, Google released an iOS app with short lessons that school users on best practices for content marketing, PR & Media, and Search Advertising, called Primer.

primer start

We put the PR & Media section to the test because we wanted to know how useful the app could be and to what audience. Our initial take is that this is a straightforward explanation about how public relations and media outreach SHOULD work. While small businesses will find it useful, it’ll also be useful in teaching clients or their managers and/or stakeholders, who may not entirely understand what exactly a public relations firm does.

Lessons in depth

What are the lessons like you ask? In the Find Your Media Match section, the app walks a user through how to find the right reporters and outlets to pitch their story to by quizzing them on how they should first think about who should go on the list. The first piece of advice (love!):

Do your research


Industry pros will think to themselves, duh, of course that’s where you start. But clients may not realize that there isn’t an easy button or that it isn’t about blindly reaching out to every outlet and reporter we have in our “Rolodex.” There’s work that goes into successful programs and that success starts with research. There’s no magic wand that does the hard work for anyone.

While this is a great tool to demonstrate to clients how much work goes into marketing, public relations and advertising programs, it can also be helpful in refreshing the memory of PR pros about best practices in each of the areas offered.

We highly recommend downloading the app and giving it a try, even if you already know your stuff in the world of PR and marketing. Share it with your parents at Thanksgiving and Christmas this year (you do what again?). Share it with clients who have a difficult time explaining the value of programs to their managers. There’s at least a little bit of value in it for everyone.

Chel Wolverton
Account Manager, Marketing Technology

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