Using Content Development to Build Authority and Be the Expert

The conversation started innocently enough.

“I’ve had a chance to take a look at your site and, at first glance, it’s very well developed. It’s graphically pleasing and flows well. The problem is that it doesn’t do much to establish you as the person that someone should make this purchase from. Based on your site, you’re really just another vendor.”

“What do you mean? I’ve got a ton of graphics at the bottom that show all of the awards I’ve won!”

“Well, awards are good but if I’m looking for someone who really knows their product, I’m going to want the person that can explain that product to me inside and out. They need to show that they live and breathe this thing. Awards, frankly, can be bought. We need to establish you as the real deal in this industry.”

After a few moments of deafening silence (and fully expecting to hear the phone being hung up on me), the client came back.

“Fine, so how do we do that?”

Those were the words I needed to hear. “How do we do that” is why I do what I do. Now that this barrier had been overcome we could actually have a real conversation about the client and his business.

See, it used to be that all you needed in order to claim that you had an online presence was a website with a picture or two and a listing of your address, phone number, and hours. It was the digital equivalent of hanging a sign on your door and waiting for customers to come moseying in.

This worked great way back when we could isolate our business to our surrounding town or village and only one or two other people might have offered a competing good or service. Today, however, businesses have to understand that they – like it or not – are probably participating in a regional; if not global, marketplace and they need to do something to differentiate themselves in that marketplace.

For some, the immediate instinct is to start competing on price. I want you to say this with me:

Competing on price will only lead to a race to the bottom. A price-motivated customer will buy from one of your competitors if doing so means they can save a penny. This is not the customer you want.

Instead, your ideal customer is one that values not only your product or service but also the knowledge about the product or service that you bring to the table. You probably have years of experience doing what you do. It’s what motivated you to go into business in the first place. And that, dear reader, is what we’re going to sell.

This product or service of yours isn’t just a commodity to be offered for the lowest possible price. It is something that you have nurtured for years and your customers will have those years of experience standing behind every purchase they make from you.

The question is how we use your web presence to demonstrate that.

Well, it just so happens that you’re doing business at the greatest time in human history for those who need to demonstrate their expertise in their marketplace of choice. Your website is so much more than a sign on a door. It is a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week, 365 day a year (or more…they keep working on leap years!) marketing powerhouse that serves one purpose: delivering your message to anyone who will read it.

Your strategy, as a result, needs to focus on four key ideas:

  • Attracting visitors
  • Keeping visitors coming back for more
  • Establishing your authority with those visitors
  • Converting visitors to clients, customers, or advocates

We’ll tackle each of these, and more, in future posts. Since this is the first post on this topic, I wanted to keep it nice and basic. But, for now, think about what your website currently does to attract your ideal customer. Are you casting a wide net and going after everyone you see or are you being selective and targeting your ideal customer and working to bring the perfect solution (which, of course, is you!) to them?

Your “Social Media Expert” Probably Isn’t One

Like most, I’m exhausted by the incessant flood of bad news and catastrophes that hit our news and social feeds. But, geopolitics aside, this blog isn’t about analyzing the roots of terrorism, causes of climate change, or the discussion of appropriate responses to any of the world’s ailments. This is a blog written by someone who writes words for other people and knows how to market ideas. That being the case, there’s something that I want to talk about that keeps happening in our world as web marketers – and it’s appalling.

It’s indicative of the continued erosion of the value of social media as a vehicle for real engagement; of the vast number of so-called “social media experts” that have, time and time again, proven that they have no idea what social actually means.

While the human in me recoils in horror at what transpires in a time of crisis; whether it’s an ocean away or much closer to home, the professional in me never fails to recoil when I look at my Twitter stream.

You see, when news breaks, Twitter is my default go-to. The media has largely proven itself to be an entertainment industry first, a money-making enterprise second, and an actual news reporting entity somewhere down around number eight or nine on the list. As such, I mostly ignore it. But the ability to get information quickly and from multiple sources simultaneously makes Twitter a no-brainer when it comes to following a breaking story.

My personal and professional streams are one and the same. The account I use to get news and information is the same account that I use to keep up with the goings-on in my industry. And, as incredible as it seems in the time of crisis, my industry never fails to keep on keeping on.

So-called social media experts continue tweeting out self-serving links – links to posts they wrote, links to posts that other people wrote, links to classes they want you to sign up for, links to live video chats they’re hosting – with no acknowledgement of what’s happening in the world around them.

Of course, anyone who has been online more than a day or two knows that these people aren’t sitting in front of their TVs watching these events unfold while they write and send these tweets. Hell, anyone who has almost any social presence whatsoever knows that most of what you see today isn’t actually composed in real time. It’s all automated – pre-composed and calendared to go out at regular intervals to ensure that your “voice” continues to be heard, even when you’re nowhere near a computer. It’s today’s way of gaining “influence” and, frankly, it sucks.

You know why it sucks? Because there’s a dirty little secret that no one wants you to know. Here it is:

If it wasn’t for automated services, most of the people who run these accounts wouldn’t have anything to say.

Look at the tweet count on some of them…most are in the high 5-figures while some have easily cleared the 100,000 tweet mark. What’s the best case scenario for a signal to noise ratio on an account that is tweeting out anywhere from two to five links per hour? Or, perhaps even more importantly – when do they have the time to read the things that they’re recommending that you go out and read yourself?

They don’t have the time because they haven’t read the links. If they had, they would never get anything done. Mathematically, there’s simply not enough time in a day.

But above and beyond all of this: regardless of your opinion of automation, the role of social media in developing influence, engagement versus broadcast, or any of the other “issues” in our industry (because “issue” seems like such an overstatement in this context), one thing has become absolutely essential to understand:

If you’re going to automate your social media presence, you pause it when the shit hits the fan.

This is the price you pay for the gift of being able to put your “influence” on auto-pilot. The thought process should, quite literally, be:

Oh my god, this event is horrible.

I need to suspend my social media automation, now. Not in a minute or two…right fucking now.

I unfollow a lot of people when tragedy strikes for the sole reason that, in that one instance, they prove to me that they don’t know jack shit about social, empathy, or – perhaps most simply – what it means to be a human being.

If they did, they would have known that shutting down the automation of their self-serving promotion was job one. We’re still people behind these keyboards and no matter how much you want to say that times have changed and the “social mission” has changed, your stream is still you communicating to the world.

And just like the death of someone’s parent is the wrong time to ask about that five dollars they owe you, a national or global tragedy is the wrong time to tell your followers about the 67,243rd link that you think they should read.