Blogging conundrum: Thought leadership vs. educational content

In our Beginner’s Guide to Blogging for Your Business post, we recommend outlining clear, measurable goals for your blog before beginning to write. One of the main reasons we suggest this is to avoid the age-old blogging conundrum: thought leadership vs. educational content. Educational posts are the cornerstone of content marketing and inbound marketing strategy. They boost SEO, help your customers onboard successfully, and provide deep brand value. Thought leadership, however, gives you a chance to expand your brand, encourage new product innovations, and express your unique opinions in a relevant and meaningful forum.

Understanding the difference

To determine which type of blogging content is best for you and your business, carefully consider the differences between thought leadership and educational content.

  • Educational content: Educational content provides practice insight into your industry or product. For example, you may create a “how to” article, discuss what certain industry terms are, or how the market is performing. Typically, this content is highly rated by search engines because it is very relevant for customers searching for answers to their search queries and provides direct insight into your product or brand. Educational blogging keeps your content relevant, bolsters the chances of organic traffic and inbound marketing efforts taking hold, and helps customers with their day-to-day needs.
  • Thought leadership content: Thought leadership, on the other hand, is more editorial and allows you to express opinions or experiment with new ideas. Blogging with thought leadership in mind encourages more freedom and creativity, and may generate more viral, shareable content. In this way, both content types have benefits, but thought leadership focuses less on search metrics and more on engagement or social share ability.

Resource centers and blogging

If you find yourself drawn to both types of content, consider simply segmenting your posts into two buckets. There’s no denying that educational content is extremely beneficial for customers, but the creative writer in us all secretly longs for a platform to share our ideas and innovations. The solution? Resource centers and blogs.

  • Resource centers: Resource centers are a great place to share and store educational content. This allows you to take advantage of all the inbound marketing and SEO benefits of this type of writing, without feeling guilty about filling your blog with straightforward information and FAQ’s. Resource centers can be tagged and indexed across your site for deep organic search benefits and provide a searchable library of product information and facts. 
  • Blogging: Use blogging for your most creative thoughts and posts. Unlike educational content that has a definitive answer, your blog can be as subjective as you want. Blog posts tend to be more viral and shareable, so ensuring your posts are connected to all your social sites is crucial. For lead generation, having highly engaging and unique content is key. There’s no need to get caught up in the dry facts and figures customers expect to find in your homepage search bar and resource center. This is your opportunity to showcase your personality.

Both forms of content are highly valuable in their own rights. It’s up to you to choose the balance that’s best for your business and what your individual content strategy goals are. Depending on your resources and availability to write, you may choose one over the other, or try to do a bit of both. Either way, as long as your content serves your over arches business strategy, you are on target.

A beginner’s guide to best blogging practices for your business

Blogging can be a fun, effective way to grow your content marketing strategy and flex your creative muscles. It can help you become an acclaimed industry expert, learn new things, establish credibility in your brand, and generate qualified leads. Blogging can even – dare we say – offer a relaxing outlet from the hustle and bustle of your daily grind. When considering how blogging might fit into your business strategy, don’t dive directly into the content creation and writing process. Chances are, you’ll burn out quickly or abandon the project before it gets off the ground. Instead, follow our beginner’s guide to blogging for your business to set up an effective, sustainable blog ecosystem that will delight and engage your target audience. 

Start with a goal before blogging:

Before doing anything else, ask yourself what success looks like. If you simply want to indulge in the intersection between your academic and professional passions, your blogging goals will be substantially different than if you’re trying to generate a 25% increase in qualified marketing leads. There’s no right or wrong answer here. Content marketing blogs have tons of passive SEO and social media benefits even if your primary objective isn’t to directly target new customers. However, if that is your goal, blogging won’t disappoint. Get clear on what you want to achieve and then start thinking about how you’re going to do it.

Let’s talk logistics:

Next, have a realistic discussion with yourself (or your team, or content marketing agency) about logistics: where will the blog be hosted? Will you do this yourself or pay someone to manage it on your behalf? How much do you want to spend? Do you have a team who can write content in-house? How many blog posts do you want per week? Per month? Do you want your blog to be connected to your main site or on a separate domain? Do you want corresponding social media accounts? The list goes on. You get the picture. The logistics can sometimes feel overwhelming and are, without question, less fun than blogging itself, so tackle them first. If you’re feeling overwhelmed just reading this post, chances are you might want to speak with your content marketing agency to iron out the details. Trust us, we’re happy to help. If you prefer the DIY approach, at least decide how often you want to write and where you’ll post your blog entries before committing to anything else.

Research and read:

It may seem intuitive, but one of the best ways to start blogging is to read other blogs. Find out what other people in your industry are reading and why they like those blogs versus the thousands of other posts out there. Sign up for email lists, see what’s working, and what’s not working in the market. You may find inspiration, get a sense of what you want your blog to look or feel like, and even a few things you want to avoid. Almost every marketing site has a blog these days, so it’s important to understand what’s keeping users engaged. Since you are a user (or, at the very least, a proxy for your customer as a user), your eye is as good as any when judging what feels right in the highly subjective blogosphere.

Find your niche:

That said, it’s important to find your niche. Your blog shouldn’t be an exact duplicate of a wildly successful, related blog. You don’t want to go into head-to-head content marketing competition with a heavy hitter or professional content creation wizard. Instead, soak up as much inspiration as you can and tweak their success into something uniquely you. The most successful new blogs target a niche audience or subject that hasn’t been tapped out yet. Don’t be afraid to ask your customers on social media what they’d like to learn more about, take informal email polls, or ask friends and co-workers what they think would keep readers interested. 

Start blogging:

Once you’ve decided on a niche topic, polished your target audience, and set up your shiny new blog platform, it’s time to start writing. Many new bloggers express fear over writing and posting their first entry. It doesn’t need to be perfect and it doesn’t need to capture the core essence of your blog. These things will evolve organically as you find your voice and develop a following. Just start writing. Brainstorm a list of topics you want to write about that will engage your target audience and then just go for it. You can always edit or remove your posts later.

The most important thing to remember when blogging for business is to be consistent. Consistently write to stay relevant and consistently generate content that will help you reach your lead generation or engagement goals. Quality is more important than quantity, so we recommend fewer consistently great posts than tons of mediocre entries that no one wants to read. Happy blogging!

Our thoughts on Instagram video’s new, cool updates

Instagram is switching things up. The traditional photo-sharing application is attempting to encourage more Instagram video sharing. If it’s not broken, why fix it you may ask? Our best guess: perhaps in a bid to compete with emerging platforms such as SnapChat and Vine that already do this, or to give marketers the opportunity to tap into Instagram’s 400-million user-base with compelling, rich video advertisements. Is it coincidental that Instagram’s video-sharing enhancements will occur the same time they announced they will soon allow your social media marketing agency to upload their own digital advertising content directly to your customers’ feed (a process that was previously heavily restricted and cost-inhibitive to the average small- or medium-sized business)? We think not. Here are some marketing insiders’ top four questions about how these changes will impact the Instagram ecosystem and – our thoughts on each.

So, what’s changing about Instagram video sharing?

Users (and more importantly, digital marketing agency analysts) will soon be able to see the number of times a given video was watched. This model will mirror watch counters on YouTube and Facebook, heralding the popularity of a given video. For users, this is one additional point of validation for their own content and a natural point of alignment with their expectations of how other social media platforms work. No big deal.

For marketers, this gives us the ability to gauge how impactful our advertising content really is and what content is generating more interest than others. This will allow the average content marketing agency or advertising agency to create more robust and targeted content. Knowing that cat videos are getting more hits than dog videos may not seem like the lynchpin to a successful marketing campaign, but knowing that customers prefer to see product demos versus customer testimonials or lifestyle campaigns is.

Who will be impacted?

Strictly speaking, this change will not dramatically impact the average Instagram user’s experience. Those who are inclined to look at the video watch counter will do so, and may be inspired to try their hand at video sharing. Beyond that, the change will feel relatively innocuous. No content will be weighted or ranked above any other based on views, so users will continue to see every post that enters their feed in the order it arrives.

This is why we suspect the real benefit of this change lies in untapped marketing potential for brands and advertisers. Brands are already using Instagram video to showcase more complicated products or engage users in more meaningful ways (this works especially well for luxury or lifestyle brands such as cars, vacation destinations, restaurants, and high fashion goods). Knowing whether these efforts are working and being able to compare and contrast certain types of content with other types of content gives marketers a competitive edge. It also allows brands to spend less money on production or advertising by getting it right the first – or at least the second – time they release a video into market.

And this is a good thing, right?

Coincidentally, this update occurs simultaneously with Instagram’s other announcement that they will begin allowing the average advertising agency to upload ads directly to their users’ Instagram feed. Instagram has released a new API that can pull content from marketing platforms such as Salesforce so marketers can create, load, and schedule advertisements without assistance from Instagram.

In the past, Instagram has enjoyed tremendous success releasing advertisements into the user experience because they have overseen the creative process from start to finish. Not a single advertisement could go to market without the Instagram seal of approval. This system kept ads in line with the authentic, artsy vibe Instagram users were creating on their own. In this way, advertisements were less intrusive or sales-oriented than traditional social media paid ads on similar platforms such as Facebook or Twitter.

The main complaint about Instagram’s impending advertising API is that this new experience will break the system. The quality of ads will dramatically drop. Engagement will then drop. And Instagram will be forced to release more ads into the market to close the profits gap. As long as Instagram does not open the floodgates for every ad to enter market, it’s true that the real danger lies in the ads themselves becoming less relevant or compelling than they once were. And we doubt any Instagram-artist worth their salt will be too pleased to see that change.

There’s good news though. We believe the advent of this video counter can actually serve as a tool to help marketing agencies get clearer on the type of content that works. A video counter allows your digital marketing agency to use each video as a mini focus group, for quick directional data, better decision making, and better advertisements. Instagram isn’t abandoning their principles, they’re giving your content marketing agency the tools they need to do their job better. Sure, Instagram’s team of creative experts knows how to capture the essence of your target audience’s latent needs … but you and your digital marketing agency should be able to do that on your own too.

When we push aside our fear that autonomous ad posting simply means more ads, we see an opportunity for marketers to work smarter, not harder.

Do Consumers Agree?

It’s hard to guess how consumers will react to Instagram video’s latest changes. It is more likely that customers will notice a change in their advertisements sooner than the addition to a video counter, but their overarching reaction is impossible to estimate without a clearer picture into the types of ads that will enter the marker. We like to think of this as a challenge: let’s make your next Instagram video campaign so good that users still don’t know the difference. Problem solved.

10 reasons why Instagram’s new API is breaking the Internet

When Facebook announced Instagram’s new API and a major shift that meant everyone from the biggest corporate company to the smallest content marketing agency could create and share their advertisements on Instagram (a previously heavily gated experience curated by Instagram specialists to ensure each advertisement blended in with users’ existing content stream), the Internet exploded into discussion. Some people believe this is the best thing to happen to advertising since … well … Instagram. Others felt this was the beginning of the end of purely user-generated content and advertisement free browsing. Although the verdict is still out, these are some of the top discussions happening right now:

1. Introducing more ads … Or is it?:

One of the biggest concerns users have is that their feed will suddenly be filled with ads. Because Instagram does not hide or minimize any content, there would be no way to escape a deluge of new advertisements. Instagram hasn’t clarified if the quantity of ads will increase, whether companies will have to pay for more exposure, or if they will simply diversify the types of ads users see. For now, only time will tell.

2. Quality vs. quantity:

One aspect almost all users and leading digital marketing agency experts agree on is that advertisement quality is likely to suffer. In the past, Instagram has enforced strict guidelines on the advertising experience. All images were generated in-house at Instagram, all verbiage cleared by their creative team, and all targeting triple checked before going live. Instagram’s new API will allow brands to use their own assets to upload and share content (via Salesforce or other marketing tools) which could lead to a dip in quality … we sincerely hope not in tandem with an increase in quantity.

3. The road not taken:

Those who oppose Instagram’s new API are upset because Instagram represented one of the last places where users could browse content created by them, not for them. Instagram was a unique experience and prided itself on not participating in the mainstream monetization of social media. When Facebook purchased Instagram in 2012, people knew it was only a matter of time. Many of the complaints around this change stem from fear that an influx in advertisements would rob users of an experience they have grown to love.

4. Hipsters, authenticity, and advertisements, oh my:

If the artistic hipsters, sunset-loving celebutantes, selfie-stick-toting travelers, and millennials flee Instagram, what will the platform become? And what will replace it? For the sake of the large (somewhat demanding) user base that embraced Instagram’s unique authenticity and purity, we suspect Instagram will need to scale back on the level of freedom they grant advertisers to avoid risking user abandonment.

5. Keeping that 2.8 average:

We would be remiss to remind you that Instagram has had advertisements for several years and that Insta-ads typically yield a 2.8 return on investment when compared with other social media advertisements. The reason for this return is simple: high user engagement and the flawless design strategy Instagram used to keep those ads on the cutting edge of creativity and relevance. As long as Instagram (and any participating advertising agency) can maintain the same level of engagement after their new API goes live, all this fuss might be worth it’s weight in gold. Read: see above that 2.8 average. Way above.

6. Content is still king:

For Instagram to pull this off (and for your business to benefit), your digital marketing agency needs to remember that content is still king. We don’t believe that Instagram’s new API is the end of the social media ecosystem as we know it. In fact, we believe this change poses a unique challenge for all marketers and industry professionals to step up their creativity and get back to hard hitting marketing strategy, instead of churning and burning meaningless campaigns and hoping they stick.

7. Hail the new king:

If Instagram encourages businesses and marketers to serve better content to their customers, Instagram may become even more relevant than it is now. Instead of abandoning the platform, new users could flock to Instagram knowing that they’ll be receiving hyper-personalized content that they actually want to see. This would make Instagram the new king of social media and possibly even Google or other search platforms in terms of pure advertising and conversion potential.

8. The future of filtering (and we don’t mean Ludwig):

Another way to mitigate risk is for Instagram to introduce new filtering tools to users’ feeds. This would fundamentally change the structure of Instagram and the never-ending content flow users seem to enjoy, but may solve for the advertiser’s dilemma if Instagram’s new API starts driving users away. In the same way that users can currently tab into their followers’ activity, their photo feed, and individual profile tags, Instagram could use some form of tagging or filtering to enhance the user experience as their advertising model evolves.

9. This really could be a good thing:

Love it or hate it, the only things certain in life are death and taxes. And change. Instagram, like every platform before it and every platform that will come after it, needs to evolve with current marketing trends and business needs. Even with shock and outrage from the Internet, Instagram is launching their new API. Instead of fighting it, we recommend on capitalizing on it and making the experience better for all parties involved – you as a user and your advertising agency partner.

10. Who is next?:

So that leaves us with only one question left: who is next? Because we know that Instagram won’t be the last platform to radically change their marketing techniques as customers crave more tailored advertising content and highly individualized marketing experiences.

Human generated content marketing vs. computer generated content

We normally wouldn’t start out by giving you a homework assignment, but when we’re about to start talking like Orson Welles, it doesn’t hurt to frame the conversation. When’s the last time you considered how human generated content marketing would compete with computer generated content? First, read the following two sports overviews from the New York Times:

Overview 1:

“Things looked bleak for the Angels when they trailed by two runs in the ninth inning, but Los Angeles recovered thanks to a key single from Vladimir Guerrero to pull out a 7-6 victory over the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on Sunday.”

Overview 2:

“The University of Michigan baseball team used a four-run fifth inning to salvage the final game in its three-game weekend series with Iowa, winning 7-5 on Saturday afternoon (April 24) at the Wilpon Baseball Complex, home of historic Ray Fisher Stadium.”

Human content marketing vs. computer generated content

Did they sound feasible? Did anything stand out between them? And – mic drop – did you realize that one of them wasn’t written by a human? We didn’t think so. In a study conducted at Karlstad University in Sweden, most readers could not tell the difference between a computer generated article and a piece written by actual people (creepy, we think not). When compared, they indicated computer generated content was drier, but equally trustworthy and realistic. Okay, now that you’ve re-read them, let’s take a look at what this means for the future of marketing.

The reality is, you’ve probably read plenty of computer generated content already, ranging from financial reports, to news articles, and press releases. News agencies, big businesses, and financial institutions are leaning on computer generated content algorithms to keep up with the media’s insatiable appetite for up-to-the-minute information. Until now, computers have not begun generating advertising content marketing or fiction (although a few attempts at poetry have debuted with reasonable success). That isn’t to say that they won’t or can’t – however.

Implications for the digital marketing agency:

Aside from a vague sense that this could probably be a subject for this summer’s artificial intelligence blockbuster hit, the rising emergence of computer generated content has very real implications for the traditional content marketing agency and digital marketing agency. Some scientists estimate that close to 90% of news could be created by a computer as this technology progresses. But will that make content writers obsolete?

We’d like to think not (after all, we are very much enjoying writing this article). And all it takes is but one conversation with Apple’s Siri or Microsoft’s Cortana to doubt that a computer could ever fully replace human vernacular. When we read Overview 1, which was written by a human, we agreed with consumer research that there was a warmth and colloquialism that set it apart from Overview 2, which was written by a computer. When tapping into content that speaks to our customers’ psyches and turns transactions into brand love affairs, we aren’t convinced that a computer can ever replace the wit and wisdom of a writer’s craft.

But what if?

As this technology evolves and becomes refined – or even proves us wrong – it may change how you interact with your digital marketing agency or advertising agency. Instead of working with them on editing and crafting content, you may be honing in on your SEO strategy to ensure your content ranks highest, that your keywords are the most specific to your customers, and that your content is found rather than generated.

How computer generation content will impact SEO:

This type of shift would also profoundly impact SEO strategy as well. If content becomes increasingly automated, it stands to reason that the act of categorizing and sorting it could also become more automated. We aren’t sure that SEO strategists would become obsolete either, banking on a new wave of competition between human generated content and computer generated content forged over nuanced distinctions between whether the searcher is seeking emotional or entertaining content versus informative or educational information.

What is certain is that as computer generated content floods the internet, there will be a much greater volume of content to sort, and search engines will have to balance between simply serving facts and figures (which would logically rank highest due to their high relevance and accuracy) against information that intrigues or inspires the mind (which may deserve a spot above the fold too).

Last but not least, what about consumers:

Despite any knee jerk reactions we might have about artificial intelligence or a begrudging bias against computers that can write better than us, the reality of this revolution is pretty remarkable. Refined computer generated content will allow customers to find information without wading through opinions, outdated facts, and biased content. Forget Wikipedia, evolved computer generated content could create a new knowledge center that surpasses every encyclopedia and Internet source we’ve ever seen. The implications are endless for the consumer, student, healthcare provider, or curious mind.

The verdict is still out, but we think the fact that most consumers aren’t aware how much computer generated content they’re already consuming shows great promise for its potential when applied with thoughtfulness and judgment. We believe that your digital marketing agency will continue to serve your customers the right content at the right time, but computer generated content will allow you to educate them even more about the benefits of your brand and services in concert with your other marketing efforts.

Like most industry disrupters, the future of computer generated content is unclear, but the potential is there.

5 reasons why social media marketing for hotels works

Resort marketing is different than almost any other type of marketing because the product is uniquely service based. Resort marketing relies both on the product (your location, resort, or restaurant), and the people who turn that product from a venue into a dream destination and experience. Social media marketing for hotels gives you a real look into your customers’ experiences that you can’t get from a resort site inspection or photo shoot. Using social media marketing for hotels can revolutionize your training, feature and product release cycle, and business model. Here are a few quick tips:

1. Use social media marketing for hotels to discover post-trip feedback:

Customers who have had an amazing trip and want to share their experiences with the world often flock to social media while on their trip or within the first week after they return to share photos and anecdotes. On the flip side, guests who have had a negative experience will similarly hit the Twitterverse and review sites to spread the word. In both cases, your social media agency will be able to share real-time feedback about what’s going on around your resort. Social media marketing allows you to aggregate the most important feedback and understand your guests’ most common sentiments, trends, and insights. You can use this information to respond directly to individual experiences or make broader changes at your resort by using this feedback to train your staff.

2. Use social media marketing for hotels to understand booking and reservation challenges:

Social media marketing is also important for resort marketing as a supplement to traditional web analytics. If you use a digital agency to oversee your web analytics, social media marketing is a natural complement. Web analytics shows you when people are entering and leaving your website, whether they are completing certain tasks, and how often people are returning. Social media marketing often reveals the “why” behind these behaviors. If you discover that you have a high booking abandonment rate, social media marketing may uncover that it’s due to a bad site experience or feeling like there’s some bait-and-switch at checkout, which you can then address. Because social media monitoring relies on user generated feedback, it helps you prioritize which tasks to address first based on how important it seems to your customers.

3. Use social media marketing for hotels to conduct market research:

Resort marketing relies on finding (and harnessing) the latest hospitality trends. Social media monitoring gives you inside information into what guests expect, what they’re seeing at other locations, and what they’d like to see in the future. Your marketing agency can help you interpret this data and pressure test new product ideas or concepts on social media – or simply listen in to keep a finger on the pulse of the industry. This information gives you a distinct advantage over your competition and leading insights to inform your business strategy for years to come.

4. Use social media marketing for hotels to find brand advocates:

Although most people rely on social media marketing for hotels to understand what customers are unhappy with, you can also use this information to find brand advocates and highlight what people really love. Don’t underestimate the power of positive affirmation. If you see that a lot of customers love a certain aspect of your property, feature it more prominently in your resort marketing campaigns. Similarly, if they say service is top notch, find ways to reward your staff and encourage this type of behavior to continue.

5. Use social media marketing for hotels to get a bird’s eye view of your brand:

Last, but certainly not least, social media marketing for hotels gives you a bird’s eye view of your brand. You’ll be able to see if sentiments are generally positive or negative, as well as gauge how connected your target audience is with your brand. For new or prospective customer acquisition this is particularly important information. Depending on your brand’s general reputation or degree of brand loyalty, you can tailor your resort marketing efforts to those unique needs. This information will help inform broader brand strategy and large-scale advertisements to position your resort within the marketplace or against your competitive set. Ultimately, social media marketing does so much more than track your Facebook feed – it reveals your customers’ needs.