We’ve been part of numerous professional services client discussions where the question asked is, “Can I discuss politics on social media?” The answer we generally give is, “No,” as one always risks losing favor from the opposite side of the spectrum given the nearly even political divide in the country. With the new Trump administration, there is now really no easy answer. Decisions being made in these early days have elicited passionate responses and activism at levels not seen in decades. How does one navigate these tricky reputational waters?
Here are some thoughts to consider:
Maintain Professionalism – Aim to frame issues intelligently. For example, “I wanted to share with you my thoughts on X, Y, Z, and why I support or am opposed…” Ignore snarky comments, or, as a last resort, delete them entirely. And, if a true troll emerges, block, unfriend or mute them.
Understand What is “News” and What “Isn’t” – News literacy emerged as a major issue post-election. Spreading misleading information can impact your professional image and reputation. Here is a quick set of guidelines to consider when vetting a story for promotion.
Use a Filter – Developments often impact on both a professional and personal level. When speaking on behalf of your company, stick to the impact on its clients. When personally posting, focus on the personal and avoid statements like, “I know my clients feel….”
Proceed Cautiously – Before posting anything public, pause to consider potential positive and negative feedback. Picture a, “Do you really want to post this?” button that needs to be pressed each time.
Do a Privacy Audit – Many people operate under the belief that personal Twitter and Facebook accounts are private. This simply isn’t so. Log out and Google yourself to see what non-followers and friends can see. Then, consider implementing more restrictive privacy settings.
Choose Your Network – A call-to-action political post may be better suited for Facebook, a site stocked with friends and family, rather than sharing it with your business connections on LinkedIn.
We are certainly living, for better or worse, in interesting times. Freedom of speech and expression are vital parts of a democracy. Doing so in a smart, considered manner protects these freedoms while preserving one’s professional image.
It can be intimidating to stare at a blinking cursor trying to figure out how to start a blog post. Let’s say you made a resolution to really start blogging in 2017. Now the time has come to get going. If you are at a loss for words, or even ideas, fear not! Here are a few quick tips that will help launch you off your writer’s block.
1. Make a Vertical File – If you remember your days in the school library, you were likely introduced to an organizational item called the “vertical file.” This is generally a folder with noteworthy newspaper and magazine articles, information worth saving. As you read through news and work on client matters, consider setting up a similar system. Bookmark articles and clip them out of publications. Then, when you are searching for ideas, refer to your file. You will likely find it a great source of inspiration.
2. Talk it Out – Walk down to a colleague’s office and chat about an idea you are considering for a blog post. Explain your thought process and solicit feedback. As you converse, jot down notes. You will likely find that either your idea isn’t really workable or that there are numerous dimensions you hadn’t even considered. You may also find you are now interested in a completely different topic that popped up in the course of your dialogue.
3. Translate to English, Please – Writing is all about connecting with one’s audience. This means that industry-speak, for the lawyers reading – legalese, often is indiscernible to the lay person. If you aren’t sure if your writing is accessible to your core audience – most likely, not fellow industry members – tap a spouse of family member to review your draft. Then, ask if they understood it. If not, break down what you are saying and consider recording yourself when you do. (There is a handy recorder app built into most smartphones.) The goal is to write in a conversational tone that is easily understood and can be consumed along with one’s beverage of choice at the end of a trying day.
4. Highlight the Bottom Line – One of my favorite publications is Bloomberg Businessweek. They have several sections with quick-take articles and each ends with a one-to-two sentence summation of the preceding text. Your main point needs to be featured at the start and reinforced at the end.
5. Update – Developing stories make for great blog post fodder and ideal opportunities for follow-ups. Keep your reader engaged and informed and remember that previous posts can have key clarifications and updates added into the text. When you say, “We’ll continue to monitor this situation,” actually do so!
BONUS Keep it Short – Blog posts, like the one you are reading, are best when they are simple, straightforward and short. Use an editor or edit yourself to cut words and get straight to the essence. Just because we CAN publish limitless items online doesn’t mean we SHOULD. You want to avoid the dreaded “TLDR” designation – too long, didn’t read.
Let’s get to blogging!
Think of blogs as TV shows. Viewers intentionally decide to watch programs like The Big Bang Theory or Brooklyn 99. What they rarely do is say, “I’m just going to watch whatever is on CBS or FOX.” There are just too many options. The same holds for professional services blogs. Those with a purpose are far more attractive than those without. There could be some really great content on CBS, but if they marketed a block of programming as “CBS: Entertainment Shows,” one would be hard-pressed to know what was actually airing. A corollary for professional services companies is, “Why do so many blogs sound generic?” “XYZ’s IP Blog” or “JKL’s Architecture Digest” sound like the vanilla-of-vanilla-ice-cream.
Let’s examine some elements of style and success for blogs:
- Do Create a Brand – A company’s own brand and image can often have a positive impact on a blog’s perception. For instance, Proctor and Gamble makes oodles of well-respected consumer products – including Tide detergent and Pampers diapers. And, while it does do company-wide branding (see U.S. women’s gymnastics), it also carefully cultivates and promotes brands for each of its products. “Laundry Detergent by P&G” would fall flat with consumers – even if superior in performance – in a world filled with “Cheer,” “Purex” and “All.”
Ideally, a blog’s brand reflects its editorial focus or is a clever turn of phrase (e.g. “Intellectual Property Matter,” “Outside the Beltway,” etc…).
- Do Secure Virtual Real Estate – URL, Twitter handle(s) and Facebook page.
- Don’t Tuck Your Blog Into Your Website – Blogs are media properties and should stand-apart from a professional service company’s corporate website. This helps with search and reduces the number of steps a reader needs to take to view content.
- Do Create a Culture of Writing – Often, at places like law firms, new attorneys join with experience having written for their law school’s law review. Fast-forward five years and they have barely written any non-client work content. By setting – on day one – and reiterating in performance reviews an expectation of writing, blogs will see more interest and activity.
- Don’t Play All Rookies – To create a warehouse of engaging content, professional services companies need a top-down commitment to blogging. C-suite, or equivalent, executives need to read and contribute to properties. After all, would you send a Class A baseball team out to play against a big league club? Not only would you very likely lose, but viewers would be left wondering where the stars were.
- Don’t Be All Things To All People – If you have ever heard of “Dr. Bronner’s” natural soap, you may know that it claims to have “18-in-1” uses. From the company’s website:
You can use Dr. Bronner’s soaps for washing your face, body, hands and hair, for bathing, shaving, brushing your teeth, rinsing fruit, aromatherapy, washing dishes by hand, doing laundry, mopping floors, all-purpose cleaning, washing windows, scrubbing toilets, washing dogs, controlling dust mites, and killing ants and aphids. Now, that’s eighteen uses right there, but customers have told us over time about many more uses they have found for our soaps.
In reality, most people use the soap for what soap generally does, cleaning one’s body. Sometimes professional services blogs start out far too broad. Each practice area generally has numerous sub-areas. A blog’s focus should be pinpointed on one area so as to avoid content suffering or the reader struggling to find posts relevant to their needs.
- Don’t be Afraid to Cancel a Series – Sometimes, due to writer’s leaving the firm or shifting marketing priorities, blogs go into deep sleeps where content is not posted for months. When new posts finally appear, much of the core audience has disappeared. Set internal expectations – for instance, a minimum of three posts per month – and if they are not met, sunset the channel. Much like TV shows, blogs “Jump the Shark” at times.
- Do Embrace Fixed-Length – The notion that a blog must continue on forever is not grounded in any compelling logic. With time-specific events (trials, elections, holidays) or specific deep dives (a six-part look at certain regulations), there will only be so much content – and, that’s OK! Keep the URL and keep the property up. You have essentially created a mini-series or a single issue of a magazine.
- Do Put Blogs at the Forefront of Your Content Creation and Media Efforts – While, third-party publications – particularly trade, newswire and dailies – continue to offer ways to reach high-value audiences and credential company officials as knowledge-leaders, restrictive freelance agreements and content paywalls impede the reach of content. In addition, muscular blogs provide a one-to-one reflection of firm branding and messaging. Placing greater value on blog posts is a forward-thinking move as the media landscape faces difficult economic times, threatening some publications (and their archives) and leading to generational shifts in the perception (and prestige and value) of publishers. The goal should always be to first own and control your content and then look to leverage it across social media and in outside outlets.
Creating a “hit” blog takes work, but is a most worthwhile pursuit as it not only sharpens the editorial and writing skills of a company’s professionals, it also serves as engaging, subtle advertising and brand messaging and informs media outreach, helping to create “go-to” commentary sources.
If you ever doubted that the media landscape is shifting, you only need to look at the reports that the NFL, the mightiest-of-mighty media properties, is experiencing a large dip in viewership. Through the first five weeks of play, The Washington Post reported that ratings dipped 15 percent. This news may either be a blip or the surest sign that audience fragmentation is fundamentally changing how valuable media properties are to advertisers and their abilities to draw in truly mass audiences. There are also real takeaways for professional services companies:
- Raw views are less and less important. – No content creation vehicle should have its success based solely on “clicks.” Consider “click-bait,” the weed of the internet. Click-bait gets lots and lots of “clicks,” but is like a flat can of soda – nutritionally devoid and ultimately unsatisfying. When a blog is launched and the metric on which its author focuses is the most clicks, content suffers. This is when one sees headlines that mention Taylor Swift, but have no connection – popular names and terms peppered in for the sake of SEO. This turns off long-term readers, especially important in B2B as the end goal is far more complex than “see a product, buy a product.”
- Find new metrics. – Raw views should still be monitored, not with a long-term goal of ever-increasing numbers, but of building and maintaining a core audience. In addition, client intake forms should both ask if content channels factored into the decision-making process and ask if clients would like to sign up for feeds. Client satisfaction surveys should include questions about blogs and other content vehicles. The NFL may lose viewership, but teams are ensuring that the truly passionate fans are tracked and targeted with offers, as this Bloomberg Businessweek article details. The same level of analysis should a goal for professional services companies.
- Embrace new platforms and free your content. – Realizing that “cord cutting” and “cord nevers” are a genuine threat to the NFL’s lucrative broadcast rights, the league has taken steps to bring the game to new channels. Last year Yahoo! streamed a game for free on its website, and this past offseason, the NFL partnered with Twitter to stream games to users of this social media network. And, if you have a Verizon phone, you can stream local broadcasts for free through the league’s app. Professional services companies should embrace cross-posting content on social media (personal and professional), firm web properties and in third-party publications that offer high-visibility and do well in terms of SEO.
- Understand generational shifts. – Massive shifts in how we see and interact with the world mean that many traditional tactics and assumptions are no more. Just as the NFL seemingly can no longer assume its viewership is immune from technologies, such as streaming and social media eating into mind-share, professional services companies need to really consider whether the content they are creating is adding to the conversation or just repeating what has already been said. If the latter, readers will simply change the channel or not tune in at all. And, blog writing should not be the exclusive domain of an understudy whose goal is to say, at annual review time, “I wrote X posts!” It needs to be a company-wide priority, with executive voices and client-relationship keepers regularly heard.
The NFL will remain wildly popular for years to come, especially given its cherished status as part of American tribalism. However, it, along with all content, needs to compete for our attention and stand out in a world where we can effortlessly create a custom stream of news and entertainment.
Given this dynamic, professional services companies – more than ever – must embrace their role as content creators while, at the same time, setting aside long-held assumptions about what defines “success” for content.
Even though the content we consume is getting more and more concise, short and direct, white papers play an important role in professional services marketing – and particularly in the AEC industry.
Generally, an AEC white paper takes a deep look at how a design, engineering or construction methodology, process or product addresses and solves a particular issue. Its development can be a tedious, daunting process. Research-based white papers are authoritative, with conclusions drawn from experience and evidence. They are used to influence the decision- making process and/or establish credibility within the industry.
Traditionally, white papers are developed and submitted to present at technical conferences, published in journals or used in response to RFPs or client interviews. Furthermore, these papers typically tap multiple talents to create, including project managers, copywriters, analysts and graphic designers.
Considering the investment of time and resources a white paper requires, it’s important to think of how it can be used beyond the initial intent – making it all the more worthwhile. These papers can be repurposed in many ways to support a company’s marketing, communications and business development strategies.
Newsletter Article or Client E-Blast (content + infographics)
A white paper can be condensed, or a single section may be expanded, to create an article that educates clients on how the findings might benefit them. The intended audience can spend 10-15 minutes reading a high-level, but still authoritative, summary of the paper’s topic, instead of only learning about the subject through a technical paper or formal presentation. Despite getting a shortened version of the original, the reader still walks away with the idea that the company is a thought leader on the subject. Newsletter or e-blast templates can be adjusted to allow for both content and supporting infographics, giving them visual appeal.
Byline Article (one or a series)
Many industry trade publications publish articles contributed by experts in the field, and a white paper’s subject could be a great topic to pitch to a publication that reaches a target audience of decision-makers or referral sources. Do NOT send a white paper to an editor wholesale and ask him/her to review it. Rather, send a summary of a segment or two of the paper, ensuring that the article you are proposing can be easily pulled and edited from the white paper to a piece that fits within the publications’ editorial guidelines. Most publications have requirements around word count, tone and format. It’s also possible that an editor would be open to an article series, allowing for maximum use of the existing content.
Blog Post(s) (content + photos)
Blogs are typically shorter than byline articles or newsletter pieces and a bit less formal, while still containing the sophistication required in AEC marketing communications. Research suggests that online readers have short attention spans and prefer less than 600 words in a post. This format allows numerous leverage options for the subject of a white paper. For instance, take one aspect of the paper and connect it to a specific project, person or story. Then, pair it with a photo or image that supports it. Rinse and repeat with another theme.
The subject a white paper tackles could be a profound addition to an award nomination – for people, projects or the company as a whole. A white paper illustrates an expertise or area of specialty, so use the content to your advantage when going after industry awards. Think about how it will help illustrate a successful outcome on a nominated project, or how it was conceived under the leadership of an executive being nominated.
Proactive Media Pitching
The subject of a white paper is typically responding to a problem with a new, innovative solution, so why not pitch the subject to the media as a compelling story worth covering? The key here is targeting the *right* media. If it’s a technical subject, then the content is probably best suited for an industry trade publication. Publication editorial calendars can be beneficial in planning story pitches. For example, a “Technology” focus in ENR could benefit from a story idea pitched from a white paper on the application of newly developed software.
Social Media Posts
With any communications piece, the question should always be, “How can we package and share this with our social media networks?” If a white paper is presented at a conference, share the event, topic, experience and photo (within the various format requirements of social channels such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram). Short stories or experiences that give the subject matter real-world relevancy are all excellent post considerations.
Looking at a white paper with a new lens provides ample marketing communications and public relations opportunities. Maximize those efforts!
Microsoft is in the process of acquiring the business social network LinkedIn, and it’s a really good thing. Let me tell you why.
Microsoft Outlook defines essential business software and, even for power users, dozens of helpful features remain underutilized or unused. It is not so much that the functions are overly complicated; it’s that they require active user input.
Let’s talk first about contacts.
Contacts can be very insightful and handy. A well-maintained and updated contact list forms a strong backbone for business development.
My best contacts include information beyond names, emails and companies, such as:
- Assistant’s name and email.
- Twitter handle.
- Notes ranging from personal (is watching HBO’s Deadwood) to professional (does not want alumni magazine contacted with news).
Each time I interact with a contact and gain new information, I try to incorporate this data into their entry. However, the reality is that a lot of unnecessary steps take place and – even with my best efforts – information becomes out-of-date. It’s also a lot of work and time-consuming.
Here is where LinkedIn comes in to play. With LinkedIn and Outlook connected, I should be able to seamlessly flow contacts from the social media site into my address book and vice versa. In addition, when a contact on LinkedIn changes positions, the shift is reflected in both places the next time I log in – leading to a reduction in the number of bounced emails and eliminating the need for me to do a deep-dive on Google to find out where someone went.
Microsoft, assuming the purchase is approved, can potentially offer users features that were previously only available to contacts via a costly customer relationship management system (CRM). One of my mantras as an in-house LinkedIn evangelist has long been that the network is a free, relatively sophisticated CRM program. And now, it will be that much easier to use it as such.
Don’t forget the calendar.
I love the calendar in Outlook. In addition to having a robust agency calendar, my personal calendar has all sorts of reminders – “Check In,” “Look For,” and “Due,” are peppered throughout. Again, thinking about the data that we see every day, calendars can be used to track things such as birthdays and when contacts will be on vacation.
With LinkedIn integration, users could add scores of birthdays (often featured on LinkedIn profiles) and create new touch-points based on published updates (e.g. “Offered a Presentation on Effective Negotiation to the State Bar,” “Published an Article on Tax Fraud for Nonprofits,” “Attended the National Bio-Science Industries Conference”).
But wait, there’s more!
After the news of the Microsoft-LinkedIn marriage was announced, NPR ran a story unpacking what it might mean for users. It mentions Microsoft’s digital assistant Cortana and quotes Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella:
Just imagine a world where [Cortana] wakes up just before I enter a new meeting with people I’ve never met before.
And thanks to integration with LinkedIn, it can arm you with powerful insights into the individuals with whom you are meeting, Nadella details:
Oh, wow, you went to school with this person, or you worked at the same company. One of your colleagues at my – in your company, in fact, knows this person.
The Microsoft-LinkedIn connection is a good one for users, and it – hopefully – will reduce the number of times I hear, “I don’t see the value of LinkedIn.” With Outlook and Cortana integration, LinkedIn’s depth of knowledge really gets a chance to shine.