The shoes and handbags theory of building an audience

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I like good quality items.

I remember growing up and, when my dad told me that he spent $300 on his dress shoes, I thought that was a fortune! We weren't a rich family - how could we afford so much money for shoes? (Especially when me and my brothers always got ours from the discount stores.)

Dad explained that he spent that much and then wears them for many more years than he could ever wear less expensive shoes. (And since my brothers and me were all still growing, there wasn't the option of wearing shoes for more than a year.) For Dad, the fit and comfort were better and they would more than make up for the cost given how long they'd last.

Sometimes you choose quantity, sometimes you choose quality

I've never personally gotten to the point of paying premium prices for shoes because I like shoes. A lot. I like rotating them often. However, several years ago, I took the plunge and bought my first very expensive premium brand handbag. (Ahem...well, it was on clearance during a massive store sale, so I didn't pay nearly what I would have at full price, which made it easier to do.)

Months after the purchase, my premium brand handbag - unlike most I've previously purchased (and I always thought I was paying a pretty decent amount before) - was still in immaculate condition. There were no frayed edges. The leather wasn’t cracked even a little bit. It barely showed any wear at all. There were no seams pulling apart in the lining. Previously, at least one (sometimes all) of these things happened within a few months and that lovely bag I thought was so cute was not nearly as appealing anymore. That first purse has been joined by some other friends in the four years or so since. And the quality is unquestionable - even that very first bag.

What's the best kind of audience?

If a business focuses solely on quantity in building an audience - Twitter followers, Facebook likes, blog subscribers, and others - you end up always wanting more. The ten new followers you just got may not be quite right for your product/services, but seeing that jump in numbers feels so good!

Growing a large audience shouldn't be the primary goal, though growth is certainly important. Growing an audience that fits your target market and is engaging with you is a worthy goal.

Which would you rather have?

  • 10,000 followers, with 20 people who buy from you.

  • 200 followers, with 50 people who buy from you.

Personally, I'd always go with the second option.

Small and engaged wins in social media

I really enjoy my shoe collection, but it's a lot like having 10,000 followers that aren't great quality. Shoes get added and taken away, but they don't stick around long because they aren't right for long-term use.

On the other hand, that good quality handbag I got is going to be around for years and years, with fewer competitors for my attention. The more I think about it, though, the more I’m considering a shoe evolution.

So, before you ever think I "only have ## followers", first look at whether those followers fit your target market. If they do, then congratulate yourself for generating good leads and get to work engaging with them! 

What are some steps you take to grow a quality, targeted audience?

The importance of content curation for your audience

"Content curation" is one of those phrases that gets tossed around the marketing and content creation world practically every second if you're following enough of us. (I might be exaggerating. Maybe.) It's not a buzzword, but it could be construed as jargon because the act and its benefits aren't immediately clear to those who most need it. So, before I launch into why you want to include content curation in your digital marketing activities, I'll explain what it is.

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Content

Dictionary.com defines "content" (the noun, not the adjective) in a few different ways I like for the context of this post:

  • "the subjects or topics covered in a book or document"

  • "something that is to be expressed through some medium, as speech, writing, or any of various arts"

  • "substantive information or creative material viewed in contrast to its actual or potential manner of presentation"

Content is information that expresses ideas, opinions, facts, etc. Before we had "social media" (and really, social media has existed far longer than the term we use to describe these digital tools), content was books, TV shows, home videos, photographs, journal entries, magazine articles and stories, newspaper columns and reports. The digital age has expanded the mediums we can use to create and the channels we use to distribute or promote.

Curate

The definition of curate is perfect:

"to pull together, sift through, and select for presentation, as music or website content"

The act of curation is essentially digging for those gold nuggets that are going to be interesting for others. Museum curators do this all the time, only they have to work much harder than I do when I'm sitting in front of my computer or other device reading through dozens of blog posts.

How do you curate content?

Good question. I'm glad you asked!

First you need to find people who create the kind of content you want to share

I go about this in several ways, and I've been following, unfollowing, re-following and so on for years now. I need variety and sometimes I need a break from the influx of information or the style in which it's presented. The information you need and want to see will evolve.

I find good content through Twitter chats, list posts that recommend "must-follow" experts/blogs on various topics, Twitter lists, etc. It will probably only take you about 30 minutes to find enough blogs that write in your area of expertise to create a repository of thought leaders to curate content from. 

That said, I try to follow in the way it makes most sense to share. 90% of the time, that's through Feedly, my RSS reader. Which brings me to tools...

Second, you will want to incorporate the right tools to keep content curation a manageable process.

My process starts with Feedly. As I flip through the unread articles in my account, I do one or more of several things:

  • Use a tool to schedule content to one of my accounts.

  • Save a post within Feedly, which automatically bumps it over to Pocket (via IFTTT). I do this with articles that I need time to read and consider what they say and how I want to act on the information. From Pocket, I may delete them, or (more often), they get saved to Evernote where I can reference the information later.

  • When I run across articles that I can read quickly and the value is clear, I may share using Buffer AND save in an appropriate notebook in Evernote. (I reference the same valuable blog posts over and over again when it makes sense. Putting them in Evernote means I waste less time looking for them.)

Within my Feedly account, I've connected Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Buffer, Pocket, Pinterest, Evernote and any other tools that I have accounts for and use in my content curation process. From Feedly, I can share content from the feeds I subscribe to with all the major networks I use without worrying that I'm being too repetitive. I mix it up!

Third, establish a consistent process that you run through regularly.

It doesn't have to be daily, but keep in mind that if you're scheduling content as part of this process, you want to be engaged with comments, replies, and other engagement that happens as a result.

I tend to curate a little bit almost every day. I used to try to get every post in my reader marked as read each week - by actually reading all of them. Now I'm content to mark them all as read when I want to focus on newer content coming out.

You don't have to read everything. You can't. Don't even try.

Why is content curation important to add to your social marketing mix?

  1. Sharing content from trusted industry leaders shows your followers that you are actively engaged in staying up-to-date with what's going on.

  2. Idea generation. This is my favourite reason for curating content. All those notes that I save in Evernote? Those are almost always blog ideas or supporting information for blog posts.

  3. When I read through the posts in my reader, I spend some time commenting on other blogs. Blog comments have decreased significantly over the years, but their value hasn't declined. The blogger that gets a thoughtful comment these days is more grateful than ever. Each comment you leave on that blog is one small step to building a relationship.

  4. It forces you to get away from thinking about creating content and learn from others. (Well, until you get an idea inspired from something you read.)

A caution about content curation

Read what you share.

Don't fall in the trap of scheduling content you haven't properly vetted just because you don't have time to read. There is no quicker way to lose credibility than to schedule something that doesn't fit your brand and principles. 

One final bonus tip

Subscribe to your own content.

Whether it’s by email or through a feed reader, you'll always know that your feed is working and you can mix your own content in with other content you're scheduling to share.

My process is not the only way to do it and you should definitely figure out what works best for you, but I hope this gives you a framework to getting started sharing excellent expert advice that supports the work you're doing!

Don't get caught violating copyright

And when I say "don't get caught", I actually mean don't violate copyright. I'm going to talk to you about how you can avoid copyright infringement in your content creation, but keep in mind that I'm no lawyer and I'm not providing legal advice.

Copyright laws were established to provide protection for creatives, such as writers, artists, designers, and other disciplines. The laws lay out what the creative's rights are and how they can be assigned. In other words, if you want to use something you don't own, you have to ask permission. It's really no different than asking your neighbour for a cup of flour. 

Copyright protection is inherent in most works

Not all. Most. But I'm only focusing on works that do inherit protection.

This post is protected by copyright even though I haven't gone through the process of registering it. The automatic protection is one of the best parts of copyright legislation, but for more important works than a lowly blog post (say, the great Canadian novel?), it's not a bad idea to get intimately familiar with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office

The Internet has brought copyright protection to the forefront of many people's minds, because creating quality content that gets attention isn't easy. I hear stories of bloggers having their content stolen on a regular basis. And there is an astounding lack of understanding about what constitutes theft of content. (Tax? Really? Massive misunderstanding right there.) 

Theft of pictures

Search engines have this fantastic option to search for images. I use it all the time myself. Sometimes I'm searching for ideas. Sometimes I'm searching for logos. Sometimes I want to figure out what something looks like. 

The thing about all those photos that come up in image searches is they're protected by copyright. It's super easy to right click and save them to your computer and then re-upload to your website or social media accounts, but when you do that without permission, you are potentially violating the rights of the owner.

Using pictures on your website is pretty much a requirement now, and having good quality images just makes you look like you know what you're doing and care. I'll write a follow-up post about how you can find good quality images without breaking the bank, but today's pro-tip is that searching for images on Google orBing is not the answer.

Breaking copyright laws can cost you

The downside of using a "free" picture you've found in an image search is the cost of defending yourself in a lawsuit, and shelling out damages to the plaintiff. Experienced photographers, in particular, zealously defend their work. And they should. Because if they don't, it can become a lost cause. The bottom line is that "free" picture can cost you many times more than the cost of licensing the photo for your legal, permission-based use. 

Bloggers, unfortunately, don't seem to have the same options available to photographers and other artists. I couldn't find any cases of successful lawsuits over content theft. You're basically on your own to prevent/defend content theft. 

Your integrity is worth the effort

I want to blog weekly, but time is limited and sometimes I just don't have the creative juices to come up with a good angle on any topic. So, I end up skipping a week or four or something. I would rather do that than lower my standards or steal from someone else. My integrity is worth more to me than that and it should be to any business that wants to succeed. Dishonesty online creates a record and the consequences can be far-reaching.

Know what is right and do what is right and you'll always be able to hold your head high and confidently defend your actions and choices.

Automation gone horribly wrong (and how to fix it)

Disclaimer: The following post is a hot plate of opinion overflowing with a steaming heap of advice,  and garnished with snark. It was inspired by someone who mentioned TrueTwit. (Enough said, right?) Continue at your own risk. Also, there are many words. Grab a drink and enjoy.


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I'm a huge fan of automation. The whole point of automating tasks is to save you time - and who doesn't need to save time? - make life easier, or generate data for analysis.

Time-saving, valuable automation

I used to work for a research firm that delivered anywhere from one to hundreds of reports to clients at the end of a project. At the end of a second project for one particular client, we delivered hundreds of individual reports with comment data from the research. The feedback we got was that the client wanted the reports to look like they had after their first project. 

That was bad news.

There wasn't an easy way to re-run the reports to make them look like the first batch. Sometime between the client's first project and their second project, something about the process changed. Someone asked me for help with formatting each of the reports in a way that would fulfill the client's request. So, I got started manually making the formatting changes to provide an estimate of the time it would take. We were prepared to get every spare person started making changes.

It took me a little over an hour to do one report - and I had the strongest skills in the software we were using. In other words, the time it took me was the best possible scenario. Factoring in the number of reports, and the hours I worked, along with one or two others, I calculated that we'd have the reports ready to deliver in just six weeks -IF we did nothing else.

We had three days.

So, I decided to see if I could build a macro that would allow us to automate the changes. The number of commands ended up being so extensive, I had to break it out into about 10 separate macros. I may have even built a macro that automated running all of the macros so I only had to run one to complete the changes in each document. It took me about 6 hours to set up the macros, and a few more hours to get through all the reports. Six weeks of work reduced to a day and a half or so.

I'm betting someone smarter than me could have done it even faster, but I was still pretty excited that I managed to make my idea work and also allow us to deliver early.

So, you see, automation is really, really good when implemented properly and for the right reasons for a clear result. (What is the result you want from your automation? That's a good question to start with.)

No good, horrible, very bad automation

Unfortunately, there are forms of "automation" (in quotes because not all of these are actually automation) that the world can do without - and yes, I fully intend to pick on TrueTwit.

1) TrueTwit validation service

TrueTwit is something I don't run into very often anymore. Either Twitter users have mostly figured out that it's annoying and completely useless, or I'm just not following people who use it, or I'm just not following people enough. (I should check on that...or work on it.) TrueTwit claims to do three things:

  • Verify people from robots

    Editorial comment: I'm totally a person and I usually just unfollow when I get that annoying request to validate my existence. My existence is validated enough on a daily basis, so I'll pass on clicking through. Oh, and since this service is actually mostly about making sure you don't follow bots, I really should point out that there are some bots out there with better content than some of the human twitter users I've seen. Just food for thought.

  • Avoid Twitter spam

    Editorial comment (a.k.a. snort): Hahaha...this is just too funny. AS IF anyone can avoid Twitter spam. Did they type this with a straight face?

  • Save time managing your followers

    Editorial comment: I wasn't aware that managing my followers was so hard. They follow me or they don't. They manage that, not me. Why do my followers need to be managed? I feel like this is adding pressure to my twitter usage that I really don't need.

You know what eliminates the need for TrueTwit? Me going to the profile of people who follow me. It takes me all of about 2 seconds to figure out whether I want to follow them back and it's amazing how easy it is to decipher whether each of those accounts is human or bot - literally, a fraction of a second. Sometimes I follow and later realize I don't really want to be following them. Thank goodness for the unfollow button.

How you fix this: There are two different tactics you can apply to fix this particular automation nightmare. The first, and ideal, method is to not sign up for TrueTwit. The second is to delete your TrueTwit account and revoke TrueTwit's access to your Twitter account. 

2) Thoughtless cross posting

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social networks are what I like to call "different". Different is good, but it takes a little more work. One of the frequently asked questions I've had when working with small businesses (and even individuals) has been whether I recommend linking Twitter and Facebook, or vice versa. (Before Twitter shut it down, I got this question a lot about LinkedIn too.) You see, it's one thing to be on Instagram sharing a picture and to consciously choose to post it to both Facebook and Twitter while you're posting to Instagram. It's quite different to set Twitter or Facebook up to automatically post every status update to the other. 

If you push all your Twitter posts to Facebook you end up with this strange conglomeration of posts from Twitter on Facebook that have @ mentions that make no sense in the context of the network. Or, if you push all of your Facebook posts to Twitter, you're guaranteed to end up with "fb.me" shortened links every time you break 140 characters, which is extremely easy to do on Facebook since there's a 60,000 character limit. And then your Twitter followers will try to click through and find that since over half of them are on a mobile device, they now have to log in to Facebook to see your full post.

True story: A client recently asked me if this could be done and I said, "Yes, but I will not tell you how, because it's a bad idea." Then I explained why and he was totally cool with it. I love easy clients.

How to fix this: Someone way back in the olden days of Twitter and Facebook decided these things were a good idea - or they let third-party apps develop such functionality within their APIs. The beauty of these settings is that they default to the right choice - i.e., firehose between two different networks = off. If you mistakenly turned yours on, the easy way to fix it is to revoke access. Cross posting the same/similar content on two or more different networks isn't always a good idea, nor is it always a bad idea. Making sure you think about it first is most definitely always the right idea.

(Pro tip: Revoking access fixes many horribly wrong things.)

3) Apps that post content on your behalf

I'm kind of a stickler for wanting to be actively involved with what I'm sharing on my profiles. There are many, many (pretend I added a bunch more manys to that) applications that will tell your followers what your horoscope is, how your workout went, a weekly accounting of your follows, send auto DMs to everyone who follows you (after all, we all love form letters), even share "curated" content. This list, believe it or not, is just the tip of the iceberg - there are that many.

There's nothing inherently wrong with any of these things, but I feel like they should come with a huge banner that says "use with caution". They operate on a set it and forget it mentality and many post to your account without first getting approval. Years ago, right after I joined Triberr, I joined a couple of tribes I was invited to. Unfortunately, I didn't go through all my settings thoroughly. I was horrified when I started getting messages asking me why I was spamming my followers. My account was set up to automatically share everything my fellow tribemates published and the space between shares was very short. 

That was kind of mortifying, particularly since there wasn't a single post that had gone out that I would have actually chosen to share. Not one. Was Triberr to blame? Nope. It was all Karen's fault (as in me, myself, and I).

How to fix this: Don't sign up for services that automatically share on your behalf unless you are absolutely certain the content shared isn't going to be something you'll later regret. The other lesson in this one is that you need to always meticulously check application settings for any tool you sign up with. And, if you do happen to forget you signed up for a service, hopefully you've booked a task in your calendar to review the apps you've permitted to access your account so you can take advantage of the power that is revoking access when required.

Good automation does exist in social media and it can produce valuable results. However, many shortcuts have been given the label "automation" in error. The truth is there's no shortcut to successful marketing. 

Your turn: What bad automation tactics did I miss? Throw in your two cents below!