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Employee-Generated Content: Tips To Inspire Interest

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Employee-Generated Content: Tips To Inspire Interest

There never seems to be enough resources to execute all your killer content marketing ideas, does there?

No matter how large and prolific your team of creators, how efficient your creative processes are, or how ample your outsourcing budget is, too many great content ideas are left on the drawing board. Meanwhile, you’ve got an increasing number of gaps to fill with engaging stories across multiple platforms.

Fortunately, a solution is sitting practically under your nose: Enlist the assistance of fellow employees – including internal subject matter experts (SMEs) and colleagues in sales, customer support, and other functional departments.

Have content gaps to fill? Enlist the assistance of employees outside the #ContentMarketing team, says @joderama via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Read on for tips on how to activate their interest, overcome common objections, and reap the rewards of having a wellspring of employee-generated content (EGC) at your disposal.

Tip 1: Provide process clarity and examples of success

Enlisting colleagues outside of marketing to help with content creation can be a big ask, if not a downright imposition. To make the request more palatable, set clear expectations and establish a framework for their participation. Use your process to solicit content from external industry experts or social community members to inform the EGC process.

Knowing in advance exactly what they’ll be asked to do and the time it will take can help reassure them they aren’t committing to something they don’t have the bandwidth to fulfill.

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As part of their employee-centric LinkedIn evangelist program, B2B podcast company Sweet Fish created an internal document outlining requirements for participating, detailing what the commitment involves, and informing them of the benefits to both brand and employee. Those who join the evangelist program receive personalized brand development and content training and information on LinkedIn best practices.

It’s also helpful to provide examples of EGC efforts that performed well, so new contributors can get a feel for the types of content, tone, and voice used in their efforts.

@SweetFishMedia created an internal document outlining the requirements to help employees participate in its @LinkedIn evangelist program, says @joderama via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

In a LinkedIn post on how SaaS business Chili Piper activates its sales development reps (SDRs) as brand evangelists on social media, they point to a team member’s contribution. The SDR’s post generated strong engagement and inspired other employees to post similar content on their own profiles. (Special thanks to Emily Brady for sharing this example.)

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Tip 2: Provide tools, support, and training

Employees might raise objectives, such as they don’t have strong writing skills or they aren’t creative. While experience crafting quality copy certainly helps, EGC doesn’t need to be polished and perfected – or even in written form – to be an effective marketing vehicle.

To help reluctant contributors upskill and gain confidence in their writing abilities, consider providing support through these approaches:

  • Invite them to the creative’s table: Ask interested colleagues to attend your editorial planning meetings and creative brainstorms. They can get a feel for your processes and goals and get a chance to weigh in with their ideas. Being “in the room where it happens” can deepen their interest and investment in bringing new content to life.
  • Use technology to sharpen their skills: Experienced content marketers aim for technical precision when crafting copy. But it’s unrealistic to expect EGC creators to memorize the AP Style Guide before contributing content. Reassure colleagues that their writing skills can be developed and enhanced with the help of headline generators, apps like Grammarly and Hemmingway, fact-checking tech like Nexis for Media and Meedan, and other writing support tools. They’re easy to use, and many of them are available for free.
  • Point them to training opportunities: If your company offers a career development program, aspiring creators may have access to writing classes, creative workshops, photography and videography training, and other educational resources. That can include free access to LinkedIn Learning courses, Udemy classes, or even internal training tools. Document the opportunities and post them on your internal newsletter, intranet portal, or Slack channel. It is an excellent way to let colleagues know your team welcomes their content contributions and wants them to feel prepared for the task.
  • Create tutorials and guides: If no formal employee education program exists, try the DIY route: Ask your content team to write, screen-capture, or film the process as they do their next blog post, newsletter article, expert interview, or social content. Seeing how it’s done teaches colleagues the best practices and guidelines. This content also can be repurposed into brand-relevant lessons, such as tip sheets, how-to demos, and other behind-the-scenes stories to share on customer-facing platforms.

The CMI editorial team is always refining the guest blogging guidelines to onboard new contributors – internal and external. We include successful posts as models and educate writers on the kinds of submissions we accept. We also curated some of our best writing tips and advice from existing articles to produce an e-book on the secrets of successful content creation. We shared it with other teams across our enterprise.

Image showing text that says Discover the Secrets to Successful Content Creation with CMI logo.

CMI shares writing tips to help less-experienced creators succeed.

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Tip 3: Make content creation easy and organic to their experiences

If aspiring contributors still feel intimidated, you can develop more ways for them to contribute to the content marketing cause. For example, if employees already post brand-friendly content on their social streams, downgrade your ask to create content to a request to share content.

If employees aren’t ready to create original brand-friendly #Content, ask them to share the company’s content, says @joderama via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

For example, Reebok used #fitasscompany on Instagram to provide a space for its employees to share photos from their personal workouts and other active hobbies.

Brands like Dunkin Donuts actively encourage employees to capture and post informal photos and videos of themselves during their workday using #DunkinCrewAmbassador. The company frequently reshares those posts on its official TikTok and Instagram profiles.

@clairerottman Popping bubbles coming soon @dunkin #dunkin #boba #dunkincrewambassador ♬ original sound – Claire Bear

Sephora makes it even easier for employees to play a role in creating the brand’s Instagram content: The company conducts employee profile interviews and shares snippets on its Sephoralife account, using #EmployeeSpotlight.

Not only do these approaches make it easy for non-writers to collaborate on content, but they tell a more personal and relatable brand story that tightly controlled and scripted content can’t.

Of course, it also takes less time on the interviewed employees’ part. This tip may not add more stories to your content calendar, but the subsequent amplification assistance from the employee can make a big impact on your brand’s reach, search rankings, and content performance.

Working with internal communication tools like EveryoneSocial, SocialWeaver, Bambu, and Hootsuite Amplify can help streamline the process. Use them to automatically distribute your freshly published assets to willing “content deputies” who can share those stories with a few clicks. Some such tools even provide scheduling capabilities, feedback surveys, and gamification features to make the experience more convenient and engaging for contributors.

Tip 4: Fuel their creative journey and provide an outlet to share personal passions

Employee-generated content doesn’t need to be about your company to further your content goals. Shifting the storytelling focus from brand to personal experiences of the workforce can result in relatable, empathetic, and engaging content.

One way to do this is to leverage team outings and events as a source of relevant, authentic brand stories. If your company hosts off-site retreats, allows colleagues to attend industry conferences, or organizes volunteer opportunities, consider splurging on a couple of disposable digital cameras or a photo booth or lending a few smartphones. These tools give employees everything they need to capture spontaneous moments of camaraderie and interactions throughout the day. They can livestream or post them on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or TikTok.

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On a smaller scale, you can organize a happy hour or host a cross-team trivia contest (live or virtual) to give colleagues something fun to talk about. Or approach individual colleagues who have exciting roles, unusual hobbies, or have taken part in unique work opportunities that your audience might be interested in. Ask to interview them or for them to snap and share a selfie or write a summary of their experience that your team can polish up and publish.

Look at this recent post on the We Are Cisco blog from a team member who moved to the United Kingdom as part of the company’s employee rotation program. It gave the author a chance to tell a personally meaningful story – one that Cisco also can use for its recruiting efforts.

Team members share personal stories about their brand experience on the We Are Cisco blog.

Team members share personal stories about their brand experience on the We Are Cisco blog.

Tip 5: Incentivize, celebrate, and recognize

For some team members, the chance to share their knowledge and exercise their creative skills are all the motivation they need to jump on the EGC train. But others might need to know WIFM (What’s In it For Me?). You need to give them a more compelling reason to participate.

Take a page from Walmart’s playbook and offer an incentive. On its employee-centric Instagram account WalmartSocialChamps, the company recently launched an associate video contest to solicit more brand-friendly visual stories from its workforce. In addition to offering a prize (a free trip to its Associate Week event), Walmart made it easy to enter by providing starter ideas, animation assets, filming tips, and posting instructions.

If a sweepstakes is too much for your marketing, provide rewards like gift cards or company swag. If your budget is non-existent, offer public gratitude and recognition. Here are a few ways to do that:

  • Give a shoutout: After sharing the content they created, post a word of thanks or image of gratitude. Tag their personal social profiles or link to their personal website (with their consent). Not only is it a nice thing to do, it can raise their industry profile, grow their personal brands, and help them connect with others in their chosen communities to further their careers or achieve other personal goals.
  • Invite them as a featured guest on your team’s Twitter chats, webinars, podcasts, or livestream video shows: If their initial content asset references a personal passion, hobby, or specialized skill, they might relish the opportunity to continue the conversation and connect with others who share their interests.
  • Nominate them for company awards and recognition programs: It rarely hurts to raise HR and management team awareness of a colleague’s above-and-beyond efforts to support your brand, and it may even help get their name on the short list when their applying for an internal role or are up for a promotion.

EGC formula: Enlist, empower, and activate

The everyday responsibilities of co-workers outside the content team might not have a creative focus, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t ready, willing, and able to show off their knowledge, lend you their talents, and spread their enthusiasm for your brand. Often, all they need is some direction, encouragement, and the right motivation to get them started.

Please note: All tools included are suggested by the author. Feel free to include additional tools in the comments (from your company or ones that you have used). 

Want more content marketing tips, insights, and examples? Subscribe to workday or weekly emails from CMI.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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MARKETING

8 major email marketing mistakes and how to avoid them

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8 major email marketing mistakes and how to avoid them

As email marketers, we know we need to personalize the messages we send to subscribers and customers. I can’t think of a single statistic, case study or survey claiming an email program of one-to-everyone campaigns outperforms personalization.

Instead, you’ll find statistics like these:

  • 72% of customers will engage only with personalized messages (Wunderkind Audiences, formerly SmarterHQ)
  • 70% of consumers say that how well a company understands their individual needs affects their loyalty (Salesforce)
  • 71% of customers are frustrated by impersonal shopping experiences (Segment)

But what marketers often don’t understand, especially if they’re new to personalization, is that personalization is not an end in itself. Your objective is not to personalize your email campaigns and lifecycle messages. 

Rather, your objective is to enhance your customer’s experience with your brand. Personalization is one method that can do that, but it’s more than just another tactic. 

It is both an art and a science. The science is having the data and automations to create personalized, one-to-one messages at scale. The art is knowing when and how to use it.

We run into trouble when we think of personalization as the goal instead of the means to achieve a goal. In my work consulting with marketers for both business and consumer brands, I find this misunderstanding leads to eight major marketing mistakes – any of which can prevent you from realizing the immense benefits of personalization.

Mistake #1. Operating without an overall personalization strategy

I see this all too often: marketers find themselves overwhelmed by all the choices they face: 

  • Which personalization technologies to use
  • What to do with all the data they have
  • How to use their data and technology effectively
  • Whether their personalization efforts are paying off

This stems from jumping headfirst into personalization without thinking about how to use it to meet customers’ needs or help them solve problems. 

To avoid being overwhelmed with the mechanics of personalization, follow this three-step process:

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  • Start small. If you aren’t using personalization now, don’t try to set up a full-fledged program right away. Instead, look for quick wins – small areas where you can use basic personalized data to begin creating one-to-one messages. That will get you into the swing of things quickly, without significant investment in time and money. Adding personal data to the body of an email is about as basic as you’ll get, but it can be a start.
  • Test each tactic. See whether that new tactic helps or hurts your work toward your goal. Does adding personal data to each message correlate with higher clicks to your landing page, more conversion or whatever success metric you have chosen?
  • Optimize and move on. Use your testing results to improve each tactic. Then, take what you learned to select and add another personalization tactic, such as adding a module of dynamic content to a broadcast (one to everyone) campaign. 

Mistake #2. Not using both overt and covert personalization

Up to now, you might have thought of in specific terms: personalized subject lines, data reflecting specific actions in the email copy, triggered messages that launch when a customer’s behavior matches your automation settings and other “overt” (or visible) personalization tactics.

“Covert” personalization also employs customer preference or behavior data but doesn’t draw attention to it. Instead of sending an abandoned-browse message that says “We noticed you were viewing this item on our website,” you could add a content module in your next campaign that features those browsed items as recommended purchases, without calling attention to their behavior. It’s a great tactic to use to avoid being seen as creepy.

Think back to my opening statement that personalization is both an art and a science. Here, the art of personalization is knowing when to use overt personalization – purchase and shipping confirmations come to mind – and when you want to take a more covert route. 

Mistake #3. Not maximizing lifecycle automations

Lifecycle automations such as onboarding/first-purchase programs, win-back and reactivation campaigns and other programs tied to the customer lifecycle are innately personalized. 

The copy will be highly personal and the timing spot-on because they are based on customer actions (opting in, purchases, downloads) or inactions (not opening emails, not buying for the first time or showing signs of lapsing after purchasing). 

Better yet, these emails launch automatically – you don’t have to create, schedule or send any of these emails because your marketing automation platform does that for you after you set it up. 

You squander these opportunities if you don’t do everything you can to understand your customer lifecycle and then create automated messaging that reaches out to your customers at these crucial points. This can cost you the customers you worked so hard to acquire, along with their revenue potential.

Mistake #4. Not testing effectively or for long-term gain

Testing helps you discover whether your personalization efforts are bearing fruit. But all too often, marketers test only individual elements of a specific campaign – subject lines, calls to action, images versus no images, personalization versus no personalization  – without looking at whether personalization enhances the customer experience in the long term.

How you measure success is a key part of this equation. The metrics you choose must line up with your objectives. That’s one reason I’ve warned marketers for years against relying on the open rate to measure campaign success. A 50% open rate might be fantastic, but if you didn’t make your goal for sales, revenue, downloads or other conversions, you can’t consider your campaign a success.

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As the objective of personalizing is to enhance the customer journey, it makes sense then that customer lifetime value is a valid metric to measure success on.  To measure how effective your personalization use is, use customer lifetime value over a long time period – months, even years – and compare the results with those from a control group, which receives no personalization. Don’t ignore campaign-level results, but log them and view them over time.

(For more detailed information on testing mistakes and how to avoid them, see my MarTech column 7 Common Problems that Derail A/B/N Email Testing Success.)

Mistake #5. Over-segmenting your customer base

Segmentation is a valuable form of personalization, but it’s easy to go too far with it. If you send only highly segmented campaigns, you could be exclude – and end up losing because of failure to contact – many customers who don’t fit your segmentation criteria. That costs you customers, their potential revenue and the data they would have generated to help you better understand your customer base.

You can avoid this problem with a data-guided segmentation plan that you review and test frequently, a set of automated triggers to enhance the customer’s lifecycle and a well-thought-out program of default or catch-all campaigns for subscribers who don’t meet your other criteria. 

Mistake #6. Not including dynamic content in general email campaigns

We usually think of personalized email as messages in which all the content lines up with customer behavior or preference data, whether overt, as in an abandoned-cart message, or covert, where the content is subtly relevant.

That’s one highly sophisticated approach. It incorporates real-time messaging driven by artificial intelligence and complex integrations with your ecommerce or CRM platforms. But a simple dynamic content module can help you achieve a similar result. I call that “serendipity.”  

When you weave this dynamic content into your general message, it can be a pleasant surprise for your customers and make your relevant content stand out even more. 

Let’s say your company is a cruise line. Customer A opens your emails from time to time but hasn’t booked a cruise yet or browsed different tours on your website. Your next email campaign to this customer – and to everyone else on whom you have little or no data – promotes discounted trips to Hawaii, Fiji and the Mediterranean.

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Customer B hasn’t booked a cruise either, but your data tells you she has browsed your Iceland-Denmark-Greenland cruise recently. With a dynamic content module, her email could show her your Hawaii and Mediterranean cruise offers – and a great price on a trip to Iceland, Denmark and Greenland. Fancy that! 

An email like this conveys the impression that your brand offers exactly what your customers are looking for (covert personalization) without the overt approach of an abandoned-browse email.

Mistake #7. Not using a personal tone in your copy

You can personalize your email copy without a single data point, simply by writing as if you were speaking to your customer face to face. Use a warm, human tone of voice, which ideally should reflect your brand voice. Write copy that sounds like a one-to-one conversation instead of a sales pitch. 

This is where my concept of “helpful marketing” comes into play. How does your brand help your customers achieve their own goals, solve their problems or make them understand you know them as people, not just data points?  

Mistake #8. Not personalizing the entire journey

Once again, this is a scenario in which you take a short-sighted view of personalization – “How do I add personalization to this email campaign?” – instead of looking at the long-term gain: “How can I use personalization to enhance my customer’s experience?”

Personalization doesn’t stop when your customer clicks on your email. It should continue on to your landing page and even be reflected in the website content your customer views. Remember, it’s all about enhancing your customer’s experience.

What happens when your customers click on a personalized offer? Does your landing page greet your customers by name? Show the items they clicked? Present copy that reflects their interests, their loyalty program standing or any other data that’s unique to them?  

Personalization is worth the effort

Yes, personalization takes both art and science into account. You need to handle it carefully so your messages come off as helpful and relevant without veering into creepy territory through data overreaches. But this strategic effort pays off when you can use the power of personalized email to reach out, connect with and retain customers – achieving your goal of enhancing the customer experience.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

Kath Pay is CEO at Holistic Email Marketing and the author of the award-winning Amazon #1 best-seller “Holistic Email Marketing: A practical philosophy to revolutionise your business and delight your customers.”

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