A couple of years ago, Google introduced the concept of the “micro-moment,” the little bits of focused attention customers apply when researching a purchase or a service relationship. Their documentation of the trend is worth a read and positioning your business and location within the data stream that delivers you into moments is critical to success. Once that’s in place, however, nurturing a relationship requires nuance, something great content can provide 24/7.
In their book, “The Trusted Advisor,” David H. Maiser, Charles H. Green, and Robert M. Halford list five stages to building trust with clients. Here’s my take on how to apply them to crafting a content plan that builds your business by focusing on a customer need before they may even know they have it.
The first step is to take the initiative to actively work on understanding the situation people are in and uncover the topics they want to discuss. Instead of jumping into discussing auto loans, for example, talk first about managing the costs of owning a car to make them feel more secure in what may be their first major purchase.
Before you can join a discussion, you’ve got to earn the right to be included by listening. Good listeners ask for more detail, empathize, and are encouraging. They don’t jump to conclusions or pass judgement. Social media provides a great opportunity to listen in a channel where your community is actively engaged.
As an outside expert, you often have a fresh perspective on a customer’s situation. But sometimes that means having an uncomfortable conversation by addressing the elephant in the room nobody wants to confront. That means you can take some of the personal responsibility by wading in first. Try phrases like: “It’s probably just me, but…” “It’s probably inappropriate to bring this up, but…” “I know you prefer X, but…”
By now, you should have a clear picture of the kinds of solutions to offer. But before jumping in, take time for a little imagination. Ask questions like “What are we really aiming for?” “How will we know when we’re successful?” “What will that success look like?” It’s fun to imagine what’s possible and is an important step to align everyone’s expectations, particularly among people with little experience.
At this stage, commitment is more than closing a sale. It’s about outlining what’s expected from each party and proving that there’s more to the relationship than a transfer of money. Commit to a customer’s success and you’ll stand out from the crowd. After all, isn’t that what customer service is all about?
Becoming a trusted partner to a whole new range of customers isn’t about creating content that panders to them. It’s about establishing a reliable presence and offering the guidance and information they need.
From the brass blog:
In a saturated media landscape, straight sales pitches are dismissed. But digital tools provide great opportunity to indicate when customers are considering a purchase, and therefore more likely to welcome some help, which you can provide in the form of quality, relevant content.
Tl;dr: Understand the pain point, post in the right place, don’t drop the ball once people are engaged.
With leaked information about changes to Google’s AdWords and plans from Facebook to roll out an ad network of its own, it’s clear that if your revenue model is ad-based and isn’t driven by Google or Facebook, find a new model. Automated ad-buying is making the value of page views an outright commodity, and the effectiveness of banner advertising (while always dubious in my view) is at rock bottom.
Page views (as a measure of value) are dead:
An analysis of one international brand’s traffic from display ads found that of the thousands of visitors they bought over a multi-week period, only two users registered a non-zero engaged time. Meaning only two people read any of it.
Meanwhile, even social engagement is an unreliable indicator of real reach among an audience, when thousands of likes and followers can be had for meager investment.
I say good riddance!
Much hand-wringing has gone on about page view chasing causing a loss of focus on the mission, but with no real alternative to present. I think we always knew in our gut that counting hits or suffering trolls wasn’t a good approach to build lasting relationships with the communities (geographic and topic-based) we set out to serve. And that’s what good content — good journalism — is all about.
I’ve been reading Jeff Jarvis’ posts on Medium on this subject and found resonance with the concept of advocating and enabling:
We need to use or build platforms that enable a community to express and discern its goals.
What’s great about this is that it provides a crystal clear “Why” for the organization. Considering a new product/service/platform/event? Does it enable the community to express and discern it’s goals?
Such a position also allows for an organization to layer its approach and slate of offerings. Small, focused platforms provide specificity for both the community and those who want to reach and support them. By crafting many of them, each with a clarity of purpose and how it makes money, the organization becomes less at risk to disruption. Antifragile, even.
It’s not easy, and there’s probably plenty of pain yet to come as the old model (even the newest old model) grinds to a halt. But I suggest that the fun part is around the corner.
Whether it’s serving a community’s information needs, uncovering hidden truths, or in service of marketing a great product, today’s content creators should consider their work as building a partnership with readers. In their book, “The Trusted Advisor,” David H. Maiser, Charles H. Green, and Robert M. Halford list five stages to building trust with clients:
I broke down each from a financial institution content perspective on the brass blog, but most of it boils down to empathy. Really engage and put yourself in the other’s shoes and tie your success to theirs to build a real lasting relationship.
My friend Jason posted a comprehensive list of items to consider when crafting a mobile strategy for local media. It’s solid, and I found myself drawn to the “Audience approach” portion of the post:
- Recognize mobile users are task driven and formulate everything around that
- Know what users are doing on mobile devices in the market
My takeaway from the list, and the audience-centered approach in general, was that it outlined not just a mobile strategy, but a real set of targets to shoot for across an organization. I got a little picky about this in my response to the post; after some further thinking, I’d like to elaborate.
I live in Salem, Oregon and work about an hour south in Corvallis. Of course, when I worked as a reporter here, I knew pretty much everything that was going on in Corvallis. About Salem, however, I knew very little. Part of the curse of commuting, I suppose. My wife is active in the community and plugged in to a range of groups, but we decided to take the local paper, thinking it’d help us broaden our knowledge of chicken dinner stuff.
Keep in mind that we decided to subscribe for three primary reasons:
Also keep in mind that this would be a bit of an experiment for me: reading a paper in a town I lived in without working in the newsroom that produced the product.
It didn’t last long. I found the reporting incomplete with just a few local stories and all the usual national and international stuff I’d read elsewhere fully 18 hours before my paper arrived. The papers kept getting thinner, with less room for the events and community information I wanted. A few months after we started subscribing, the paper went on a major campaign to promote their columnists, none of whom I found very insightful or entertaining. The truth is, the useful information just wasn’t there and we decided that it wasn’t worth the money we were paying.
This week, I read that the paper had been recognized by APME for “Digital Innovation in Watchdog Journalism.” The award-winning story was of waste, corruption and fraud in a local education service agency. It was a great series: deeply reported, with great online tools to sift and visualize data, and led to overhaul of the agency staff.
I don’t mean to detract from their good work, but my concern is that an award like this will tell the editors and managers that what they are doing is just right. We were subscribers when this story unfolded. Award-winning watchdog journalism couldn’t overcome the paper’s lack of day-to-day utility.
I read or heard a long time ago that journalism is information people use to organize their lives: who to vote for, what to do Saturday night, things to talk about over dinner. It’s all about utility and it’s only as good as it is useful (newspaper’s called fishwrap for a reason). In a competitive information market, we all have too many choices to put up with mediocre options.
In my experience, starting with what’s essential for maximum utility and relentlessly simplifying around that core makes for a more focused and useful product. For media companies, that utility generates habit and trust. You’re there when they needed you. And when you have deep or broad stories to tell in a narrative and multimedia way, you get the eyeballs and time you’ve earned, without reservation — even pride. Without the recognition of a customer’s real needs, you do your finest work and lose them anyway.
A mobile strategy is essential. When it’s the starting point, it’s even better.
For the first time in a long time, we’re really hearing from Apple users that one of Steve Jobs’ products is weak, at best. Maybe Ping isn’t quite ready for primetime, or maybe it’s all-too-blatantly a scheme to get iTunes users more deeply entrenched in the store, pandering to stars that record execs want to push. Either way, between the iPhone’s antenna trouble and recent disappointment over iTunes’ “social network,” Apple’s had some issues.
Dave Winer sums up the essence of the problem as Apple being green, ill-experienced, in knowing what customers want. I think that’s true, and wrote about the company’s denial of (and need for) market research a year ago. But I also think that behind that research needs to come a little humility about where great ideas come from.
Not to dredge up Windows v. OSX angst, but Microsoft’s ads for Windows 7 (the ones about new features being “my idea”) are a pretty cool foil to Steve Jobs’ elitism. Who hasn’t thought about a feature that would make something easier to use or more accessible? Maybe none of Windows 7’s features really came from customer ideas, but the pitch is near perfect: We’re listening to you and it shows in the stuff we make.
A complete reversal of corporate culture isn’t going to happen, but doing a little listening isn’t going to hurt. If Apple combined their art of craft with transparent customer service, they’d be unbeatable again.
I’m not going to point any fingers because I think everyone has the best of intentions, but I fear that calls for community newspapers to have a strategy for the iPad are misguided — with one caveat, which I’ll get to.
Apple’s new touchscreen device kind of looks like an e-reader and, chances are, it’ll excel at that function. But to expect that old print-centric information architecture and design will be rescued by an e-reader in everyone’s bag is like tilting at windmills. That train left the station a long time ago, folks.
The iPad, rather, is an extension of the mobile ethos of information delivery based on locality and specificity:
What information do I need to know about where I am, on topics of interest, from people I trust.
Now, if an iPad strategy is a wholesale reinvention of the newsroom and means development of a brand new content strategy, I’m all for it. Because in reality (maybe more than Steve Jobs wants to admit), the iPad is just a big mobile phone that doesn’t make phone calls.
My concern is that newsrooms — especially small community newsrooms — aren’t prepared to provide information in an always-on mobile world anyway. And to focus on one aspect of a product (the e-reader) but miss the real power in its connectivity is going to be devastating.
I remain cautiously optimistic.
Subscribers to a full-content RSS feed are among the readers paying the most attention, but generate among the least web page views.
A reader asking for a full-content RSS feed is a reader who wants to pay more attention to what you publish. There have to be ways to thrive financially from that.
Thanks to @danielbachhuber for the tip-off.
Thanks to the folks at IGNITE Corvallis 2 for taking video and posting my presentation from the event.
So I submit to you my mini-manifesto for why I think the best times for journalism are right now:
Some of us within the news organization I work for and a sister organization nearby (both owned by Lee) have been talking about how we’d remake our news products and news-gathering.
One of the things that has come up, though not with any kind of serious consideration yet, is the impact that a land-grant university’s news machine has on a small-town newsroom.
That means that just a few blocks from our newsroom is another team of communicators in News and Communication Services working 40 hours each per week to promote the university and its mission. Their OSU Web page lists as many full-time staff as we have reporters.
One of our former reporters who is now working for OSU send a tweet today that spurred some thinking (and this off-the-cuff post): the university is using Skype to connect news organizations with faculty experts. Cool idea.
But the bigger question here is how we as a tiny newsroom should cover the university. Is anyone looking to us to break stories about research breakthroughs in our town? We already cover the hell out of athletics, but can only pick and choose about the rest of the work happening on campus.
I’ve been starting to think that we use the well-crafted science reporting directly from the university. Build a science page in the paper and link to news releases online.
Obviously, the news and communications crew has a pro-university slant that they’re working with the marketing department to put forward. Why is that so tough to swallow when it comes to news about research, but we readily gulp it down when it comes to athletics?
I’m not saying that we stop covering budget impacts, town and gown issues and on-campus enterprise reporting. I’m suggesting we emphasize that over the half-hearted (and often half-understood) science churnalism that we’re often reduced to.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Leave them in the comments.