It’s the Story, Stupid: Content Marketing

I’m back home after spending a couple of days at a content marketing retreat on Whidbey Island hosted by the Langley Center for New Media.

Storytelling was the kernel in every presenter’s session—from the mechanics and psychology of storytelling to measuring its impact. Forget key messages and feature-benefit adspeak—it’s about the story, stupid.

For a pithy round-up of key ideas, see Kathy Hanbury’s blog post 28 Content Marketing Tips from the Content Marketing Masters. Or take a look at Drew Davis’s adept curation of the retreat’s key tweets, presentations and pix via Storify.

Storify screen shot
Screen shot of Storify created by Drew Davis

I peeked over Drew’s shoulder a few times while he assembled the page on Storify. “Note to self,” I thought, “look up this tool.” So when I came home, I read Storify Wants to Pull Stories from the Stream, a review on GigaOM.

Funnily, I think Storify neatly captures the mood of the retreat and our hyper-focus on storytelling. “Turn what people post on social media into compelling stories,” reads the tagline on Storify’s homepage.

Co-founder Burt Herman adds, “We’re coming at it from the point of view of story-telling — it’s about creating a really rich experience about an event. There are all of these real-time updates, so many that we are drowning in them. This is about finding relevance in the noise.” (Source: GigaOM)

Aggregating, curating and creating content are top of mind for many professionals these days. For me, Storify is emblematic of the zeitgeist, a reflection of how journalists (and marketers) are re-inventing how we tell stories in a digital age.

So are you a believer or is this just a new round of gurus, books and webcasts?

5 Reasons Why I’m Loving #CMRL 2011

It’s the morning of Day 2 at Content Marketing Retreat 2011 on Whidbey Island, WA. I didn’t sleep well and I’m up early.


Because Day 1 rocked. My mind’s buzzing with thoughts from Edelman’s Trust Barometer and Aristotle’s Story Structure to new tools like Gist and With 11 presenters in the span of one day, there’s a lot to look up, turn over, question and explore.

Mulling over Day 1, I’ve teased out five “ah-ha” moments where I learned something new or corroborated long-held, personal beliefs.

  1. Content Marketing means we are no longer limited to “renting” space in third-party media publications, including newspapers, magazines and websites. When each of us is now a publisher, we “own” the means of creating and syndicating quality, branded content. I find this both liberating and daunting—the obligation to produce better content has never been higher. (Via @juntajoe)
  2. Statistics may seem sexy to some but the reality is that we don’t connect to percentages and figures—we connect to people like ourselves. Stack stories with dry data and you’re hamstringed. Instead, focus on crafting a narrative about people. (Via @terrinop, Jack Penland and @hrhmedia)
  3. Traditional marketing married a message to an audience. Today, you need to think about engaging customers through the power of narrative. I can’t get lazy—got to go back to my storytelling roots. (Via @hrhmedia)
  4. Leave analysis-paralysis behind and just start creating content. Quality is important but so is quantity—after all, you never know what will resonate with the audience. Plus, the content you create and publish has a relatively long shelf-life, unlike more traditional means of communication like one-hit ads. (Via @heinzmarketing and @juntajoe)
  5. Turf wars abound—but don’t get bogged down competing over who “owns” content in your organization. While you squabble, who is creating or publishing content? Different content creators need to work together so that content can get re-purposed for multiple channels (as appropriate). (Via @TPLDrew and @heinzmarketing)

In summary, Day 1 rocked. Off to join the group for Day 2 and get my learn on!

Flavour of the Month: Content

January is shaping up to be a sweet, sweet month when it comes to content.

Next week, I’ll be attending the 2011 Content Marketing Retreat at the Langley Center for New Media in Washington state from January 13-14, 2011.

I found out about the event before the holidays on Twitter. Luckily, the event is only two hours away from Vancouver so I registered.

I’m looking forward to being able to dedicate a good chunk of time to think about content strategy, budgeting and analytics. Typically, I have to squeeze in relevant readings at bedtime—not the best means of keeping abreast of any topic.

The keynote speaker is Joe Pulizzi, founder of Junta 42 and co-author of Get Content, Get Customers. If you’re in the Pacific Northwest and have an interest in the program, check out the 2011 Content Marketing Retreat.

On January 20, 2011, I’ll be at the next event put together by Third Tuesday Vancouver organizers Joseph Thornley and Jeremy Lin which brings CC Chapman, co-author of Content Rules, to our city. The book focuses on how each of us are now publishers—whether we want to or not—and how quality content can turn customers into willing advocates who engage and share what we produce.

Want a preview of the book? Boom.

Am I missing any local events about content? Drop a comment to share it with me.

What You Taught Me at #WiringSE

On Saturday, I attended Wiring the Social Economy, an unconference designed to highlight how techies and social entrepreneurs can work in tandem to advance community economic development. I love these events precisely because they’re not one-way, top-down affairs where the experts broadcast information at me. Rather, all participants are encouraged to pool their collective knowledge and skills, because each of us has something valuable to share.

So here are the top three lessons I took away from Wiring the Social Economy.

Lesson #1       Fear of technology still holds us back—and that’s okay.
There were three keynote speakers who kicked off the event (watch now via Livestream). Each of them expressed some level of fear or reluctance about using technology. Twitter user @wazaroff aptly summed up my initial reaction: “The spirit of the event should be how these worlds come together for progress not argue whether they should.”

But perhaps I was naïve to expect that everyone would be in the same frame of mind to skip the skepticism and jump into discussions of tactics, strategy and software.

We can’t judge, ignore or balk at people’s fear of technology—it’s real and bridging the digital divide requires us to acknowledge it.

Lesson #2       You’re safe to expand your comfort zone at an unconference.
I met Bonnie Sainsbury about an hour before we co-pitched a session (Owning Technology—Not Getting Owned) at Wiring the Social Economy. Without Bonnie, I would never have done it.

When no one showed up at first, I was more than happy to put the “law of two feet” in action by joining another discussion in progress. But then a few folks stopped by, sat down and asked questions. One participant had even left after the keynote speakers and returned specifically for our session. We ended up having a good, frank discussion and even ran over time.

I discovered that this was a safe place to try something new. You don’t have to be perfect—just willing to share what you know or think.

Lesson #3       People are hella committed to their communities.
I met or listened to laudable citizens who are passionate about a wide range of topics from how to redefine multiculturalism and animal rights to the state of childcare workers. Spending a day with these folks is both humbling and inspiring.

Since I attended Toby Barazzuol’s session (Building an Army of Social Change Agents), I want to end by plugging a few deserving semi-finalists in the $1,000,000 Aviva Community Fund competition.

Please consider voting online to support:

Canadians choose the 90 semi-finalists in three rounds of voting; the top 30 semi-finalists move on to the finals where a panel of judges make the final decisions on which ideas get awarded funding.

Voting ends on December 15!

My Convo with #WiringSE Organizers

Wiring the Social Economy will be held for the first time this Saturday, December 4, at W2 Storyeum, bringing social entrepreneurs and techies together to share challenges and best practices that move community economic development forward. I had a few questions when I first read about the event so I emailed Leah Nielsen (@LeahLink).

She looped in a few of the other organizers so now I can share answers from Leah, Steve Williams (@Constructive) and Tom Kertes (@tomkertes) with you. Sincere thanks to all three for providing thoughtful answers to my questions.

@tbains: How did you get involved?
@Constructive: I came up with this idea while taking the SFU Community Economic Development Certificate and am lucky enough to have attracted a great group of volunteers to make the event happen!

I’m also a big fan of unconferences and helped put on Vancouver ChangeCamp this year and last year. It’s important to break down barriers between groups and bring out the knowledge from all attendees, not just “the experts.” Behind these events is a commitment to engage people in discussions around change, make those conversations as inclusive as possible, bring together diverse groups, and link these discussions to concrete change—social, economic and environmental.

@LeahLink: I like the unconference movement in Vancouver. I appreciate the foundation behind these events and the open, intelligent, feel-good vibe they carry. I wanted to see what the organizing side of things looked like and the people behind this event were an excellent group that I wanted to work with more.

@tbains: One of your goals is to educate the social media and technology community about challenges faced by social change agents. What specific challenges come to mind?
@Constructive: A big challenge is access—how to ensure that technology is inclusive for all and not only those with iPhones. For example, in social services there is already a big perceived barrier between those controlling access to housing, etc. and those in need of services. How can technology break down rather than contribute to that barrier? Also, how can we go beyond social media into technology that helps organizations run, manage services and optimize finances?

@tomkertes: Challenges include having the technological knowledge to implement wired solutions and new technologies, having the resources required to implement solutions (and how to budget for costs and benefits), and understanding “paradigm shifts” that occur when deploying new technologies that fundamentally challenge existing operating models. Also, social change agents must understand the limits of adoption, including how to avoid pitfalls or mission shift that could occur with poorly executed adoption.

@tbains: Another goal is to help these agents see where technology can play a positive role in their work. Are there any specific areas of interest to attendees?
@LeahLink: I believe attendees will be particularly interested in how technology can be used to spread awareness about an issue or campaign and, related to this, how it can help with group mobilization and fundraising efforts. Another area of focus will likely be how technology can be used internally to help coordinate staff and volunteer efforts within organizations, keep records, communicate among a selected group, and more. 

@tomkertes: I think another area of focus will be how to conduct strategic planning and analysis with technology. What can be appropriately and usefully measured using new technologies? How do new technologies shift the overall ecology of social change? How can decision making be streamlined and optimized using new analytic tools?

@tbains: The registration form lets individuals identify areas that they may wish to discuss or learn more about during the event. Are there any trends that you see?@LeahLink: One theme that has been mentioned a number of times during registration is bridging the digital divide and building the capacity of non-profit organizations to use technology.

@tbains: What outcomes are you hoping to see following the event?
@Constructive: From my side, a big goal is understanding between groups. There are lots of people with good intentions that may not fully understand the needs and challenges of community organizations. Conversely, groups may not understand the potential that technology can offer and—in fact—are outright scared of it. Creating a space for open dialogue and shared understanding is key to creating partnerships and collaborations that will truly make change happen.

 @LeahLink: One of my goals for the event is for people to form partnerships with other individuals or organizations that they may not otherwise have contact with in their day-to-day lives. I think this is an important element of bridging the digital divide. More specifically, I’d like to see someone from the tech/social media sphere connect with someone from the non-profit/social enterprise world and have them collaborate on a tangible project that benefits both parties.

@tomkertes: There is a need for social change agents to have access to the powerful tools and opportunities provided by new technologies. There are lost opportunities when these tools are not implemented. But implementation also involves risks, which are best managed when social change agents understand new technologies.

Now, what would you ask them about Wiring the Social Economy?

[Answers edited for clarity and length.]

Geeks for Good: Join #WiringSE this Saturday in YVR

A couple of weeks ago, Leah Nielsen (@LeahLink), Fairware’s Online Communications and Project Manager, alerted me to Wiring the Social Economy, an event aimed at “integrating community economic development, social enterprise and technology.” The event grew out of Vancouver ChangeCamp, an unconference held earlier this summer and where—incidentally—I first met Leah.

Why attend?
In the words of the organizers, this first-time event “is a day of discovery and connection…for getting out of our silos and comfort zones.”

It’s an all-mighty mixer where the social media and technology community meets the community of causes to sort out where and how we can work together to move social change forward.

Who should go?
Geeks of all shapes, sizes and causes. Really.

If you’re code is flawless, then there’s a social change agent in need of you. Crafting tweets that trigger actions? Share your best practices. Struggling to build awareness for your cause? Kindly turn to the techie on your right.

Basically, if you’re an expert or are in need of one, go to this event.

Organizers are also looking for volunteers to help out on the day of the event. Attend for free if you can help with event logistics, facilitation or note-taking.

What should I expect?
Wiring the Social Economy is a hybrid event that combines traditional conference features–such as Keynote Speakers Carol Madsen, Tim Beachy and Irwin Oostindie–with those of an unconference, including an opportunity to pitch your own session.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Registration starts at 8:45AM

W2 Storyeum
201-112 Hastings Street West, Vancouver

$20 CAD plus $1.49 fee
Prices for groups and students are also available or contribute what you can afford.
Buy tickets now