Funniest Ghost Pepper Challenge (Bhut Jolokia)


Rating in at 1,000,000 Scovilles, the Ghost Pepper is the hottest pepper on the planet. Watch as Wally and Derek attempt to tame the fiery beast.

And if you didn't know, Wally is one of the most legit rappers to come out of the West Coast in quite some time. Check out his hit single "Soul to You":

More in

Funniest Ghost Pepper Challenge (Bhut Jolokia)


Rating in at 1,000,000 Scovilles, the Ghost Pepper is the hottest pepper on the planet. Watch as Wally and Derek attempt to tame the fiery beast.

And if you didn't know, Wally is one of the most legit rappers to come out of the West Coast in quite some time. Check out his hit single "Soul to You":

More in

How Personas Guide Meaningful Content Creation & Optimization


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Optimize Content with PersonasAs marketers accumulate information about customers, it is also important to identify common characteristics and patterns to help guide messaging, engagement and offers.

Behaviors that contribute to your business objectives like, sales, advocacy, sharing, referrals and repeat business might contribute to your understanding of an “ideal” customers that can be characterized as a persona.: Admin Bob – Influences the CEO on software purchases and cares about price, service and speed.

Being able to identify your “best” customers also means there’s another end to the spectrum:  patterns that reflect undesirable customer behaviors and an “avoid” persona:  Gatekeeper Jane – Maintains power by filtering information to the CEO about software purchases. Cares about control, recognition and status quo.

Companies that solve different problems in different markets may determine that multiple personas best represent their target audience.

Understanding the pain points, goals and topical preferences of your customers’ personas provides invaluable insight into planning content to guide that customer through the buying cycle.  The motivations and context that bring a customer to search or tap into their social network for recommendations can then be translated into tactics.

How do you use personas in online marketing?

Content Planning  – Based on the need, pain point or goal for your ideal customer persona, identify if content already exists to meet it. If sufficient content does not exist, incorporate it into the content plan for story creation . Map your customer needs like “How can I back up my computer without having to worry about losing disks or remembering to schedule?” to specific content like an article, how to video or even a product page that will help guide that persona along in the sales cycle.

SEO – Keywords in demand that represent the product or service relevant to the persona’s need should be researched for popularity and competitiveness. Based on the back up example above, research more than the obvious “computer backup” to include phrases that describe situations or scenarios like “computer back up without disks” or “automatic computer back ups”.  Keyword optimize existing content and incorporate SEO copywriting into the task list for ongoing creation of content according to the content plan.

Social Media Presence & Engagement  – In what social channels does the customer persona participate? Where are they influenced? Based on persona participation, determine if a brand presence exists at all. If so, does it share and engage with content related to the ideal customer persona’s needs and goals? If not, factor that social content opportunity into the brand social media strategy for creating a social presence. What social topics is the persona motivated by? Do threads of discussion already exist in social channels relevant to the customer goals? How can your brand be an authoritative voice on those topics? Incorporate relevant social topics in your community management, social content and engagement approach relevant to the ideal customer persona.

In the assessment of existing web page and social assets, determine how well those search and social media assets perform in terms of ranking and social visibility. Reconcile the difference between current performance and the ideal in order to better attract, engage and inspire the target persona. Add new content, optimization and social engagement tasks accordingly.  Also consider what metrics will help you identify whether efforts to connect with your ideal persona are successful or not.

A fragmented effort within search, social media and content marketing helps no one. Not customers and certainly not companies. 

Competition for attention within search results and on the social web is only going to increase as more brands become publishers and more customers create and socially share content. The need to create a relevant experience for your target customers in an online world of information overload is more important now than ever.

Smart marketers would do well for themselves and the customers they’re trying to reach by investing in the development of customer personas that reflect the desires, goals and key traits of their best customers. Translating customer insight into quality keyword optimization of web pages, social content and digital assets for specific phrases according to the searcher’s needs in the buying cycle is an important step along with social engagement.  As a result, you’ll deliver a more relevant experience for both search engines and for customers that is worth sharing on the social web.

Next steps for leveraging customer personas in your digital marketing mix:

  • What are the common characteristics of your best and worst customers?
  • Collect information on common customer data points including: content preferences, search phrases, social networks, and the types of products or services they buy or “like”.
  • Based on your research and “best customer” characteristics, create and name an “ideal” customer persona
  • Map the needs and goals of customer personas to your web and social content planning.
Are you leveraging customer segments, profiles and personas to inform your content planning? What about content optimization and social engagement?

OptimizeExcerpt with permission from Optimize: How to Attract and Engage More Customers by Integrating SEO, Social Media and Content Marketing, published by Wiley. (Affiliate Link)

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Content Promotion Tips for Online Community Managers


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Content Promotion Community ManagersIn a few weeks I’ll be giving a talk at the University of St Thomas in Minneapolis to a class on community management and as I am prone to do, I like to write a blog post as part of my prep for presentations.

Online Community Management is a function that has existed in the digital world for a while now, stretching back to the days of bulletin boards and online forums. Today that role looks a bit different.

Not be confused with a Social Media Manager, a Community Manager is typically the “voice of the brand” on the social web as well as the voice of the community back to the brand. Functionally, this translates to social media listening and engagement but also includes some promotion of brand messaging.

The growth and popularity of social media has exploded the audience and participation of public online communities, so the need for people skilled in the art and science of community management has also increased. Since some of the Community Manager responsibilities cross over into brand content promotion, that’s where this post is focused

Key Considerations for Community Manager Content Promotion:

Topics – How does the brand want to be known? What is it already know for? What topics represent the value the brand delivers for customers and the broader community? When it comes to being the “best answer” for questions that the community has, what topics or even keywords describe those questions and answers?

Some of the topics can be determined by answering those questions and many more will be revealed during the course of working with the community. The starting point is, “What does your brand stand for?” and “What does your community care about?”. Those topics can be mapped to key objectives for the brand and how involvement with a social media or online community will help the brand reach those goals.

Content Sourcing – Guided by a list of topics that represent the goals of the brand and the community, content promotion sources can be identified and filtered. The Marketing people will be (or should be) feeding Community Managers with information on planned company marketing, PR and communications events. An over Content Marketing Plan and Calendar can do this pretty effectively.

From a tactical perspective, content sourcing for a Community Manger can involves a mix of content types, such as:

  1. Community Content Curation
  2. Industry Content Curation
  3. Brand Message Promotion
  4. Brand Content Curation
  5. Crowdsourcing Community Content

There are many sources to look for these types of content from using search engines (news, image, blog) to industry newsletters, to searching social networks for trending topics.  The most basic and effective source of content is the community itself. Create a cycle of asking them questions, aggregating answers and recognizing their participation. Check out this post for multiple creative content sourcing ideas.

Editorial Calendar – Planning social content is a mix of pre-determined topics and content types as well as allowing for dynamic and spontaneous content based on events and opportunities. Here’s a blog content calendar template that includes:

  • dates
  • topics
  • titles
  • description
  • target audience
  • buying cycle
  • keywords
  • categories
  • promotions
  • repurposing
  • media types
  • internal citations
  • 3rd party citations/sources

Hub and Spoke – For many companies, the most practical model for content and social media where a blog serves as the hub and social networks are the spokes. There are other models depending on the social media maturity level of the brand and community, but hub and spoke is an effective starting point.

Hub and Spoke

Social Content Optimization – Search is priceless for connecting brand social content with people who are actively looking.  For Community Managers, that means being provided with a keyword glossary from the SEO team. Keyword Glossaries are a tool to help you understand what phrases are high in demand. Armed with a list of keywords mapped to brand content and sorted by popularity, Community Managers can make word choices to improve attraction of search traffic without compromising the message.

Social Content Promotion – The best rule of thumb for social content promotion is to only share what’s worth sharing – whether it’s brand, community or industry content. When a marketing manager ask for some lame thing to be tweeted, plussed and posted to the Facebook Fan page – just say no. And explain what qualifies as “promotable” content that adds value to the community. Social content promotion can be a slippery slope and brands will only reap what they sow. Creating value first, empathizing with the community and being creative with brand promotion are all essential. Here’s a great post on promoting social content that also helps make it more findable.

Social Content Repurposing – On a daily basis, some social content like a Tweet might be reasonably repurposed for sharing on LinkedIn, Google+ and Facebook. Some might be duplicates. Some might be longer or more visual representations of the original. What will work for your community might not work for others, so test and observe.

A classic example of repurposing:

  1. Curate industry statistics
  2. Post one statistic every day or once a week to the corporate Twitter account, or LinkedIn, or on an image to Google+ or Facebook
  3. Leverage said statistics in the company newsletter, blog posts and in presentations
  4. Compile statistics into a blog post
  5. Create a PPT using dramatic images with the stats in a clever font – promote on Slideshare, embed on blog
  6. Create an infographic using these statistics – break the infographic down into PPT slides and share on Slideshare
  7. Create a video with statistics illustrated on top of B-roll video clips and promote on YouTube, embed on blog
  8. Conduct short interviews with industry thought leaders where their opinions on the curated statistics drives the questions – publish on blog
  9. And so on and so on…
It is not advisable to repurpose using all of these tactics, as the duplication would alienate your community. But this should give you some ideas on repurposing.

Monitoring & Measurement – Goals drive measurement and there are a variety of performance measures for building and engaging with a community. When it comes to social content promotion, quantitative measures of reach and qualitative measures of engagement are worth tracking at daily, weekly and longer term intervals. Short term tracking reveals opportunities and direct impact. Longer term tracking helps identify overall trends.

I’m going to stop here, because this was supposed to be a quick 500 word post and I see it’s now over 1,000!

I’ll leave you with a question though:  To what degree should Community Managers be expected to promote brand social content?

Photo: Shutterstock

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Social Media Hubs for Brands – Best Practices & 9 Examples


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Social HubSocial content curation and social content creation are often the core to many brands’ social networking efforts. Curating and sharing useful content associates the topics with the brand and creates an affinity for the brand as what I like to call, “the best answer” for their areas of focus.

Growing social participation is motivating many companies to aggregate content produced and curated by the brand’s own employees. This is a compelling opportunity to harvest the brand’s own collective wisdom. A single destination for curated social content fuels a brand publisher model that supports brand storytelling, content marketing, PR and even SEO objectives.

Additionally, curated and aggregated customer interactions with the brand on the social web can surface advocates and provide customers with a view of how the company is referenced on social networks. Third party endorsements, observations and interactions are the most powerful, so why not curate them into a social hub?

I started covering the idea of social hubs in 2009 with the now defunct Best Buy Connect. Maybe the idea was ahead of its time 4 years ago, because today many companies are curating brand and customer social content in the form of social media hubs. The growth of social media and the impact of Pinterest design has clearly influenced how many brands employ social hubs.  Here are some examples worth studying:

Titleist Social Hub

Team Titleist – More than aggregated brand social content, this is a community powered by the Telligent platform. However, it does include social hub features by aggregating the brand’s social content from Titleist blogs, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts. The default sort is by what’s trending. Users can make comments on blog posts and perform normal Twitter functions, and Facebook and Instagram offer offsite links.  If you want to see all of Titleist social content aggregated in one place, this is it.

Owens-Illinois Social hub

O-I Glass is Life  –  The Owens Illinois social hub is very robust and powered by the Postano Hub platform, which is incredibly fast. Aggregated social networks include Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Twitter, YouTube and Vimeo. Curation is focused on brand published social content on each of these platforms and users can interact and share on any of the aggregated social content, which is a social media optimization best practice.

Intel IQ Social Hub

Intel IQ – Curated by Intel employees, IQ is powered by Intel’s own IQ social content curation platform with the purpose of showcasing the impact of technology on media, life and the planet. The site is broken down into 3 sections: Featured stories created or curated by Intel IQ staff, Top trending stories, each with an “IQ score” and Tweets that use the #IQ hashtag. All stories are “share enabled”. Social Hub

White House –  Social Hubs are no limited to the private sector and in fact, many government organizations use social hubs either as a static aggregation of all the various social media accounts for the institution or as more of a dynamic hub like you’d find in the other examples on this page. The White House social hub offers column formatted streams of social content from Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Scribd, Flickr, Slideshare, Google+ and LinkedIn. Users can share Tweets and all other curated White House social content links to their respective platforms.

IBM Voices Social Hub

IBM Voices – Based on an internal social content aggregation platform called Voices, IBM’s social hub aggregates blog posts, Tweets, videos, and photos from an IBM Tumblr blog. There’s a word cloud representing trending topics and the normal sharing options for the Twitter feed items. All others either link offsite or open a pop-up window. There’s also an “embed” feature which is unique from most other social hubs.

USA Rugby Social Hub

USA Rugby Social Hub – This sports team social hub offers another Pinterest style layout with never ending scrolling down and a featured story at the top – front and center. Social content is aggregated from USA Rugby’s Twitter and Facebook accounts as well as from fans that use the #usarugby hashtag. Each story can be shared to Twitter. Otherwise, they link to their respective social platforms.

Dell IT Social Hub

Dell IT Social Hub– Dell actually includes an explanation of what their social hub is for, which I found useful to understand intent: “A central place to find, share, and comment on all our most current social tidbits and current events from Dell’s public sector and large enterprise segments”.

Social content is aggregated from Dell social accounts at Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, SlideShare, StumbleUpon, Delicious (old school!), Digg, Dell Blogs and Community. Users can view content from all or just specific social channels. Content is further segmented by category (Enterprise, Healthcare, Education, etc) and each item can be shared to other social networks via the ShareThis widget.

Nine West Social Hub

Nine West Social 9 – Powered by Postano Hub, this social hub with a never ending scroll, aggregates brand social content from Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram and Google+. Each item is sharable to other social networks.

Cisco Social Hub

Social@Cisco – Tech companies were early to the social hub space and this hub from Cisco shows the column format used by many of those early adopters. Cisco content from blogs, communities, YouTube, Facebook, Google+ and Twitter are curated here. Sharing at the story level is not enabled but each does link back to the platform where it originated or in the case of videos, opens a pop-up window.

Some of the social media hub tools used be these brands and others include:

For companies using blog or CMS platforms like WordPress, there are plugins that can be used to create similar effects as illustrated by the brand social hubs above. The social hub for our new TopRank Online Marketing website is a good example of this:

TopRank Online Marketing Social Hub

If your company has either:
1. An active social presence on multiple social networks and media sites
2. An active consumer or buyer fan base on the social web that frequently mentions your company

Then it makes sense to create a social hub.  Start small with just a few sources, such as blog, Twitter and Facebook. Then add as your community grows.

Which brand social media hubs would you add to this list? What social hub curation and publishing platforms would you add?

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Social Media Hubs for Brands – Best Practices & 9 Examples |

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Online Marketing News: Google Blimps, Social CEOs, WordPress Turns 10, Future of Internet 2.4 Billion Strong


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With over 725,000 views on Slideshare in just 2 days, this 2013 Internet Trends report from Mary Meeker & Liang Wu from KPCB is a must read. There are over 2.4 billion internet users world-wide and huge opportunities in store. This report speaks to the state of content (including photos, video and audio) and how it is increasingly findable, shared and tagged. Digital content is created and shared 9 times more now than 5 years ago. Mobile use is expanding at a dramatic rate and implications for smartphones, tablets and even wearable devices are explored.

In Other Online Marketing News…

Google blimps will bring the web to Africa. Search giant Google is intending to build huge wireless networks across Africa and Asia, using high-altitude balloons and blimps. The company is intending to finance, build and help operate networks from sub-Saharan Africa to Southeast Asia, with the aim of connecting around a billion people to the web. Wired UK.

The Social Imperative for CEOs. A new study from KRC Research has found that 76% of executives think it is a good idea for CEOs to be social. The benefits of the Chief Social Evangelist role has many benefits ranging from boosting company reputation to impacting business performance. (Inlcudes a report, video and infographic). Weber Shandwick.

WordPress Turns 10. WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg reflected on the 10th birthday of his baby that now powers over 70 million websites and WordPress has grown to be the largest CMS in the world, powering an astounding 18% of the web. Happy Birthday WordPress! Mashable, WordPress.

Consumers Want A Mobile-Optimized Web.  A survey by Kentico Digital reports that 85% of smartphone owners use their phones to compare info before making a purchase. 75% of smartphone and tablet owners say the look and feel of a company’s mobile Web site plays into their purchase decision. When it comes to Web sites that aren’t mobile-optimized, 44% of tablet and smartphone users said they’ll never return to the site. MediaPost.

Twitter bumps lists from 20 to 1,000. Each of those 1,000 accounts can have up to 5,000 Twitter accounts listed.  The Next Web.

Google’s Impressive “Conversational Search” Goes Live On Chrome. According to Danny Sullivan, the conversational search feature demonstrated at the Google I/O conference has natural language, semantic search and more built into it.  Search Engine Land.

Only 37% of Marketers Think Their Facebook Advertising Is Effective. Citing the recent 2013 Social Media Marketing Industry Report from Social Media Examiner, 92% of marketers surveyed use Facebook in their marketing mix, but less than 40% are satisfied. ClickZ.

Under pressure, Facebook targets sexist hate speech. Under mounting pressure from activists and advertisers, Facebook is ramping up efforts to stamp out hate speech, particularly depictions of violence against women. The move, announced Tuesday, came after a weeklong campaign by women’s groups targeting pages that celebrated or made light of rape, domestic violence and sexual degradation of women. CNN.

Gmail Updates the Inbox with Tabs. Tabs will appear at the top of the Gmail inbox where users can select personalized categories like Social, Promotions, Updates, and Primary. The new inbox is rolling out gradually. The desktop, Android and iOS versions will become available within the next few weeks.  Official Gmail Blog.

TopRank Community Comments

Yesterday’s The Truth About Content Marketing & SEO post struck a chord amongst some impressively credible marketers, who took the time to respond:

Robert Rose says: ”Here here…. Excellent post…. This is a constant battle these days as SEO remains so important, yet is changing so fundamentally. As I often tell clients – you can be a content production factory – and your content will do nothing but settle bar bets. Or, you can be remarkable, and perhaps reach fewer people. And as you point out, it’s not a zero sum game – and it’s the balanced approach that will ultimately win. Kudos my friend.”

Bernie Borges says: “Well said Lee….The truth is (as you say) that as content marketing has become mainstream, some brands are flying by the seat of their pants without regard for best practices. If they experience poor results, they’re the first ones to say, it doesn’t work.”

John Ellis says: “One of the biggest myths propagated by the SEO world’s definition of content marketing is that it simply means creating more content. Great statement +Lee Odden. Content without SEO is a waste. More content with out purpose or intent is also a waste. Extremes are typical in this industry. Go after the latest shiny object seo tactic without applying any actual SEO with the tactic. SEO is not a tool, not software, not marketing. It is a process.. plain and simple. A process that is applied to everything we do on the web. The skill that most do not understand is the natural application of the SEO process to our content and engagement around that content. Content Marketing is not a “subset” of SEO either. No it is not. :) Great article.”

TopRank in the News

Optimize was named one of the “5 Must Read Marketing Books for Small Business” by Intuit along with Content Rules by my friends Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman and The Rules of PR and Marketing by David Meermand Scott. Optimize is in great company!

My long time pal John Jantsch did a podcast interview with me on The Future of SEO (plus a good bit on what content marketing really means) over at the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast.

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Online Marketing News: Google Blimps, Social CEOs, WordPress Turns 10, Future of Internet 2.4 Billion Strong |

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The Truth About Content Marketing & SEO


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SEO tunnel visionOver the past few years, there’s been a tremendous focus on content creation in the search and overall digital marketing world. Once you get past the hype, there are plenty of well documented case studies showing the ROI of a content marketing approach.

Unfortunately, content marketing campaigns are often guilty of paying little more than cursory attention to the optimization of digital assets for search. There might be a “keywords” or “SEO” check box on a task list, but it’s not anything that takes full advantage of search based discovery. The content might be engaging and inspire action, but good luck finding it on a search engine.

Why is this? It can be a mix of factors ranging from the ambiguity of SEO cause and effect to prioritizing tactics according to the ability to implement and understand how to measure their impact.

The flip side is when SEO and popular keywords drive the entirety of a content creation effort. When the focus is on aligning all assets and tactics for attracting buyers via search – it can be at the expense of content quality and the customer experience.

This debate is not new at all:

What good is great content if no one can find it? How useful is findable content when it doesn’t engage and persuade?

For whatever reason, many marketers tend to gravitate towards extremes: “All SEO All the Time” or “Content: More, More, More”. One of the biggest myths propagated by the SEO world’s definition of content marketing is that it simply means creating more content. This flawed approach has gained momentum due to hyper-promotion by SEO consultants trying to differentiate themselves. Attention and budget are being taken away from core SEO programs, creating more than a little hostility towards the “more” definition of content marketing.

The thing is, most Digital Marketers do not see content marketing as simply creating more content.

Here’s my definition: Content Marketing is the thoughtful creation of content designed for a specific audience to inspire a particular outcome. It is often mapped to the information needs of a target audience segment during the customer journey from Awareness, to Purchase to Advocacy.

Content Marketing is infinitely more than just creating more blog posts, videos and infographics. Content Marketing is not a “subset” of SEO either. A strategic approach integrates content marketing and SEO as appropriate to the audience and objectives, not according to the capabilities of the agency.

For brand marketers that are tasked with month over month increases in web sourced customer acquisition and revenue, prioritization of resources is the reality. It’s not just about the tactics, but about the things that can actually be implemented and move the needle.

Content Marketing Strategy has to factor in all digital channels as well as offline where appropriate because the focus isn’t solely on a search engine. It’s on the customer. Customers don’t just use search for finding solutions. Search is hugely important during the customer journey, of course. But it’s not the only touchpoint.

The only thing worse than no SEO at all, is ALL SEO.

Ignoring the contribution of search for attracting visitors that are actively looking for your information is a huge mistake. At the same time, ignoring content marketing simply defined as “more content” and focusing only on SEO is also a mistake. Search engines don’t buy products, people do. Market to the people!

There’s no arguing that Search Engine Optimization can be a specialist’s game, especially when dealing with technical SEO or issues related to having been delisted and requiring link cleanup and re-inclusion work. Speaking of which, there is no better indictment of the SEO industry and its reputation than having to pay a SEO agency to clean up the consequences of previous SEO work – especially when Google has been pretty clear about webspam and SEO tactics that violate Google guidelines.

I’d like to think those times are past us and that modern SEO is more aligned with a holistic approach to digital marketing than risky shortcuts.

More content isn’t better unless it’s meaningful and findable.

Most companies have minimal content creation in their marketing mix, so creating more content will always be a part of improving their online marketing. SEO can play an important role in content marketing strategy by informing topics, content organization, message and promotion to achieve the findability objective. Of course the broader notion of optimization means furthering the goal to conversions as well – i.e. the performance of the content as a marketing asset.

As competitive and dynamic as the web is today, I can’t imagine how anything but a collaborative and integrated approach to content marketing and search engine optimization can win. That’s the truth.

Image: Shutterstock

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B2B Content Marketing Tactics: Pros, Cons & Best Practices of Case Studies


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Case StudyWithin the realm of B2B marketing, stories, not “features and benefits” allow brands to create relevant and engaging connections with prospective customers. Successful digital marketers use a variety of content marketing tactics to tell stories according to the goals of both brand and customer.

Even though 71% of B2B content marketers use case studies, they are often an under optimized form of brand storytelling. Case studies provide a structured problem and solution format that provide context, situation and challenges that the reader can empathize with. Case studies also supply insight into how a problem was solved, paving the way for the solution and measures of success.

As part of our ongoing series on content marketing tactics, this post will share some examples and best practices of organizations leveraging case studies as part of their content marketing mix.

Definition of Case Study:

A”case study” in the context of marketing is an analysis of a project, campaign or company that identifies a situation, recommended solutions, implementation actions and identification of those factors that contributed to failure or success.

Pros & Cons of Case Studies as a Content Marketing Tactic:


  • Provides a structured problem and solution format, often including practical insights the reader can apply immediately to their own situation
  • Demonstrates the solution provider’s approach to problem solving: methodical, creative, out of the box, disruptive
  • In aggregate, a collection case studies paint a picture of where the organization excels at and what expertise differentiates them over others
  • Keyword optimized case studies can serve as a direct point of entry via search to specific solutions the customer is looking for – shortens sales cycle considerably
  • Case study content can be multi-purposed in text, image, video and document types: web page, PDF, Word, PPT, Slideshare. Case studies can serve a role in eBooks, white papers, guides & best practices, webinars and conference presentations.


  • Case Study content can become outdated and needs to be maintained
  • Required approval from parties involved can be difficult – not all companies want to explain how their marketing is successful
  • Over duplication or repurposing of case study content can affect search visibility if not properly optimized (canonicalization and links)
  • Boring or underwhelming performance cited in case studies can do a better job of turning prospects away than engaging them. Invest in great writing.

What Marketing Experts Say About Case Studies:

“Most case studies are focused on the solution and how great it is to the exclusion of any real “story.”  To be effective, case studies need that middle part where the magic happens. Case studies need a beginning, middle and end focused on the customer’s perspective – just like all other content. I advocate for two versions; a 1 pager with the facts for a quick read and a longer “story” version that helps prospects visualize themselves solving the problem.” Ardath Albee, CEO Marketing Interactions, Author.

“Case studies can be a wonderful piece of a B2B marketers content marketing strategy except that most of these marketers make the mistake and use it to beat their chests like Tarzan. They have to remember it isn’t about them, their product of their service. It’s about their customer, their problems and how they got solved.”  Byran Eisenberg, Best Selling Author, Keynote Speaker and Consultant.

“Customer case studies in all formats are impactful for both B2B and B2C marketers as a way to tap into the significant power of peer-generated reviews and recommendations. My first choice is shorter, video formats b/c you can use photos, faces voice, movement to convey a proven, real third party endorsement.” Sandra Zoratti, VP Global Marketing at Ricoh, Author.

Case studies are just stories. Too often these days, they’re presented in a formulaic manner, but when thought of as stories, they can be powerful. B2B marketers talk to each other. In fact, more B2B purchasers start their research online than B2C — with peers representing one of their most important resources. As long as it’s relevant and compelling, a story that conveys a solution to a problem in human terms should make for an effective piece of content. Shel Holtz, ABC, Principal of HC+T, Co-Host of For Immediate Release and Author.

How Are Case Studies Used in B2B Content Marketing? 

When you search the phrase “case studies” plus terms that define your industry or situation, there are a wide variety of examples available.   A good example is the Killer Content Awards deck embed in this post.  Here are a few specific examples of companies successfully using case studies in their content marketing efforts.

MarketingSherpa Case Studies

MarketingSherpa does a great job of providing details in each of their marketing case studies, which you can find in their Library of resources. As a long time publisher of best practices, industry news and reports, expectations are high with MarketingSherpa. Just visit the Library section of their site and check the “case studies” filter in the left sidebar. Select any other refinements and you’ll get a list of case study articles. Each is written by a professional journalist and includes: Summary, Challenge, Campaign (with specific steps), Results and Creative Samples. The source is always cited as are related resources. What these case studies might lack in terms of visual fanfare, they more than make up for in terms of depth and insight.

Case Study Buyerzone

Google Think Insights site contains an impressive collection of resources including case studies. As you can imagine, the search function is impressive but there are also a variety of ways to filter based on: Industry, Marketing Objective, Ad Type, Technology, Audience, Region and Type of Content you want to view.

Each case study follows a format of Goals, Approach, Results and may include a PDF download, creative assets or a video of the success story. Related case studies and content are also recommended.  Obviously Google has substantial resources to create nearly 700 case studies, but there are lessons to be learned from the case study content and how users find that content. Navigation is based on user self segmentation vs. a simple link to “Case Studies”. This approach gives Google some context to provide more relevant case study content.  In terms of the case study content, the combination of summary, web page, PDF and video provides different users with format options to choose from.

HubSpot Case Studies

HubSpot is another example of a company that has collected a large number of customer stories and case studies. The previews for each case study include summary, bullets, a photo of of the customer with a testimonial, and clickable keyword tags. The actual case study pages vary quite a bit and do not follow a common template. But they do provide problem, solution, performance information. What HubSpot does really well is the ease of navigation, the summaries and calls to action. They are ready to do business.

Pinterest Case Studies

Pinterest, as you can imagine, provides a more visual experience with their success stories. There are just a handful of case studies, which is something I think a lot of mid market or new companies can relate to. When you don’t have hundreds of case studies, then be sure to make the most of what you’ve got. With so few case studies, there is no categorization but that’s something Pinterest will want to consider as they add more. Each case study page includes stated Goals, and an endorsement/photo from the client. Most importantly, tactics, implementation and results information is provided in a story format using conversational language.

Mini How-To for Creating Great Case Studies:

Stories connect with us emotionally and people act based on emotions. However, they justify those decisions with logic. Effective case studies are stories that connect with the reader on an emotional level and at the same time, provide intellectual justification – data. Here are some key elements of a persuasive case study:

  • Headline: Who, What, & Results – 10 to 15 words.
  • Visual: Skip the stock photos and opt for images of real people when appropriate. Company logos and screen shots of results/performance information are handy as are any compelling visual elements that complement the story.
  • Challenge: Start with the current situation. What is the trouble? Create friction and a sense of urgency that this problem needs to be solved.
  • Solution: How does solving this problem create a positive business impact? What role did your brand play in the solution?  Offer justification for the recommendations through the approach and tactics.
  • Results: Create points of comparison. Contrast “the trouble” with the solution. Provide KPIs & outcomes. Use raw data points, percentages and general quantifiables as appropriate. Results must be compelling, remarkable, impressive! Align those results with your brand and offer future direction. Include a quote or testimonial from the key person involved with the project. How did this help them and what has this success done for the business?
  • Close it: Near or alongside the case study, include a call to action appropriate to the case study. Don’t leave the CTA to your website’s “contact us” link or button in the navigation.
  • Media: In the B2B world, a PDF file is expected. Be sure to offer the case study as a web page and in PDF format at a minimum. But don’t overlook posting to services like Slideshare or repurposing for use in articles, reports, webinars or conference presentations.

What’s your opinion on case studies? Are they tool uncool for B2B marketing school? If you’ve been successful with case studies, what’s your secret sauce?

Image: Shutterstock

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Social Media and The U.S. Military – 3 Lessons for Business


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U. S. Army Social Media Handbook

U. S. Army Social Media Handbook

Today is Memorial Day in the U.S., a day to remember all the men and women who died serving in the U.S. Armed Forces: Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Marines. While much of the workforce in the U.S. takes today as a holiday and marks it as the start of Summer, it’s important to honor the sacrifices made by these brave individuals in service of our country.

Stories of remembrance during Memorial Day are often told through traditional news media covering parades or honoring the heroic actions of individuals and units. Social Media also plays a big role in military communications.

If you thought creating a social media policy and governance over employee social media activities is tricky, imaging the task of doing so in a military environment. It takes a lot more than a “Loose Lips Might Sink Ships” poster to communicate operational security for soldiers, units and other military organizations that maintain Facebook, Twitter and other social media profiles.

Remarkably, the U.S. military has made some significant accomplishments with its use of social media and in many ways, has lead the business community. One example of that was in 2008 with the U.S. Air Force publishing their guidelines for responding to blogs. I know at the time, one of the greatest fears companies had of social media revolved around the question, “What if people say bad things about our brand?” and not knowing what to do. That Air Force chart served as a guideline for many companies developing their social media policies.

I think there are other lessons to be learned by the business community from the U.S. Military and their social media efforts. Here are 3 of the most important.

U.S. Coast Guide Social Media Handbook

Social Media Guidelines – Each branch of the service publishes and maintains a set of social media guidelines: Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard. Probably one of the most important things military organizations can do in their effort to embrace the social web is to create guidelines about overall direction as well as specifics on what to do and not to do. Social Media Handbooks provide leadership and individuals with important guidance ranging from checklists and how to’s to FAQs and resources.

Lesson: While social media policies and guidelines have been around in the business community for a long time, many companies simply haven’t established them yet. Those that have, do not maintain them.

Whether you start with a basic social media policy tool, thoroughly research and create your own, or work with an experienced outside agency to help create one, it’s pretty important to do so. Then allocate the resources to maintain it in conjunction with your organization’s social media best practices used in marketing, PR, corporate communications, HR, legal and customer service.

U.S. Air Force Social Hub

Social Hub – Many branches maintain a repository of social media profiles and networks in a central location. Others, like the U.S. Army, and U.S. Air Force allow submission of social profiles for evaluation and inclusion in the hub. Aggregating social presence either as a list or by curating messaging (filtered of course) provides both internal (service members, families and other units looking for examples) and external audiences (recruits, news media) with a useful resource.

Lesson: Whether your company is small but with a big social footprint, or you have a large enterprise with numerous business units and branch operations, a social hub can provide a central location for internal staff and external audiences to find the right social resources within the organization.

Additionally, curating social messaging produced by your brand or talking about your brand can provide an interesting engagement opportunity for those curious about what people “really think” about your business.

Some good examples of social hubs that in the technology industry that curate brand messaging include: IBM Voices, Cisco, Dell, Intel.

U.S. Marines YouTube

Rich & Meaningful Media – As you can imagine, an all-volunteer military force requires a substantial recruiting effort. Social Media plays a critical part of communicating the stories and key messages of each branch to potential service members. Soldiers don’t get in the military for the money or because it’s a cush job. Each has his or her own reasons and the job of connecting with those diverse reasons is accomplished through images, video and engaging media that is designed for social media sharing.

Lesson: Companies need to understand the interests, needs and goals of those they wish to engage through the social web, whether it’s potential customers and employees, current customers and employees, news media, industry analysts, influencers and investors. When a business can create compelling stories that connect the interests of their target audience with the key messages of the brand, the results can be pretty impressive. As I like to say, facts tell but stories sell. What better medium to tell stories than video?

Video is hot for a reason. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video must be worth millions.  The magic of video isn’t just the format, it’s the message and the storytelling that matters. Companies would do well to investigate the role that a rich and meaningful media experience can play for attracting, engaging and persuading their target audience.

Without question, social media are a part of the life experience for every individual that participates on the web, whether working for a corporation or in the military. These are just a few examples of best practices worth considering as companies evolve from tactical experimentation to more strategic maturity of the social media operations.

What are some social media best practices you’ve seen in a military context that companies could learn from and use?

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Online Marketing News: Penguin 2, Biggr Flickr, Yahoo Takes A Tumblr, Twitter Cards, Google Spanks Brand 052413


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New Flickr

Flickr is Biggr. Users now get 1 terabyte of storage. I’ve been a pro Flickr user for many years and during Yahoo’s pre Marissa Mayer days, it had an uncertain future. Now Flickr is adding 1,000 x more storage for users and some new features including full resolution of images and new sharing functionality: “Upload once, send to any device, any screen, any friend, and any follower.”

The user interface has also been updated with the removal of small thumbnails and photos leading the experience, vs. text based navigation. I for one and looking forward to jumping back into using Flickr more often from the desktop, tablet and mobile. Via Flickr, Fast Company.

Penguin 2.0

Arguably the big news in the SEO world this week was the roll out of Penguin 2.0, Google’s algorithmic webspam fighting effort. If your site is engaged in link buying, high volumes of exact match anchor text, or other link focused manipulations to improve search results, there’s a Penguin out to get you. More on Penguin from Matt Cutts, Search Engine Land, Search Engine Watch and of course, TopRank’s advice on Penguin 2.o for Content Marketers.

Speaking of SEO and spam:

Google Notifies Sprint Of Spam Penalty; Seeks Advice In Google Help Forums. Apparently a portion of the Sprint site that was open for users to publish content was cited by Google for spamming. This is not a unique situation as Search Engine Land reports, since the BBC and Mozilla have had similar situations. Initially there was no help from Google outside of the notification but Matt Cutts eventually stepped in. As Barry notes in the SEL article, this is a tough one for brands to monitor, but they must if they expect to retain search positions and traffic form the almighty Google. Google Forum Thread. Thanks to Brian Larson for the heads up on this one.

Pinterest Rich Pins

Oh, How Pinteresting!, Introducing More Useful Pins for food, retail products, and movies. This week the nearly 50 million member strong Pinterest added a new feature directed towards commerce: Rich Pins. The new feature will make additional information available besides an image and description which many anticipate will give users more motivation to click through. Since Pinterest users tend to spend 70% more than buyers referred from non-social sites, there’s plenty of motivation for marketers to take advantage of these new features. Via Pinterest Blog, The Content Standard, Marketing Land.

Twitter Card

Twitter announces ‘Lead Generation Cards’ to help brands drive qualified leads. Twitter has upped the ante for lead generation by adding 6 types of Twitter Cards as an advertising option for brands. Twitter cards (Summary, Large Image Summary, Photo, Gallery, App, Player and Product) make it possible for marketers to attach media experiences to Tweets that link to brand content. When someone expands your Tweet, they see a description of the offer and a call to action. Their name, @username, and email address are already pre-filled within the Card. Via Twitter Advertising Blog, TNW.

Yahoo has agreed to pay $1.1 billion for blogging platform and social network Tumblr, which is 6 years old and has 100 million blogs and about 300 million unique monthly visitors.What is Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer getting for all that Yahoo cash? Cats, porn and a lot of opportunity to connect with a very attractive demographic. Via Wall Street Journal.

But wait, there’s more!

Yahoo continued the buying spree and purchased a startup that powers games played on smartphones, tablets, consoles or personal computers called PlayerScale for an undisclosed sum. Via TechCrunch.

In other news about the social web:

According to a new Piper Jaffray study, Teens’ interest in Facebook is dropping but their use of Twitter has grown by 50% in 1 Year. I suspect the growth of teens’ use of Instagram and Snapchat is also on the rise.

Nutella Thanks Its Biggest Fan, Founder of World Nutella Day, by Sending Her a Cease and Desist reports AdWeek. But according to ABC News, they then took it back. When legal acts without social media savvy, it can be a sharp sting that gets them on the right track.

From the TopRank Online Marketing Blog Community:

Empathize to Optimize Your Customer’s Journey on the Search & Social WebCarrie Morgan says: “A fantastic read on the same topic is Google’s Zero Moment of Truth, A must for every marketer to be familiar with! Nice post, Lee!! Great job story-telling. =)”

7 Steps to SEO at Scale, Patrick McFadden says: “Plan a Multi-Faceted Approach” Yes! The struggle many face with marketing online is a misguided impulse to put various tactics into separate boxes, instead of seeing each as an aspect of one strategic process.To this day, I see people referring to content marketing, social media marketing, and search engine optimization (SEO) as three different things — as if each is a tactic that can get you there alone. The smart way to treat these things as a holistic strategy.”

What are your thoughts on this week’s online marketing news? Was Tumblr a good call for Yahoo at 1.1 Billion? Do you like the new Flickr? How about Penguin 2.0 – is it doom and gloom or more like, “meh”.

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Online Marketing News: Penguin 2, Biggr Flickr, Yahoo Takes A Tumblr, Twitter Cards, Google Spanks Brand 052413 |

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