Stakeholders are a necessary component of nearly every content project. Without their unique perspectives, even the most talented writers and strategists would fall short of creating the best, most customized product possible.
As a result, they are incredibly important and impactful players– and not only because of their unmatched expertise and invaluable feedback. Stakeholders have the ability to:
- Delay or halt projects
- Change direction or process
- Impact budget or scope
- Approve the final product or …
- Send everything back to the drawing board
You can’t live with them, and you can’t live without them. That’s why all marketers should follow this advice: When it comes to stakeholders, handle with care.
Common Stakeholder Problems
Whether you are a client working with internal stakeholders or a marketer who regularly manages them, the challenges are the same. You may have encountered setbacks or challenges from any of these common personalities:
- The Break Pad: These stakeholders have jam-packed schedules and may be repeat “no-shows” for interviews. They sit on content for weeks past deadline, holding the review process hostage. It’s a common situation because the most valuable stakeholders often hold very senior positions and are legitimately busy.
- The Charlie Brown: Everybody on the project wants these people to weigh in, but they do not understand their value. Interviews are challenging because they don’t provide clear, direct answers or often defer to other people, who may or may not be stakeholders. As a result, their feedback is light on the key details you need.
- The Expert: While all stakeholders are experts in their areas, this stakeholder is also an expert in your job – whether it’s writing content, developing an SEO strategy or designing a webpage. It may be hard to convince this stakeholder of well-accepted industry best practices if he or she disagrees. Prepare for intense edits and feedback.
- The Monday Morning Quarterback: The no. 1 reason for project delays? Either the Charlie Brown or The Expert can morph into this stakeholder in the final stages. They see the first draft and disagree with its direction, possibly even contradicting their own input. Be aware: It’s very common for stakeholders to change their mind or be surprised when they see their words spun into something more tangible like a webpage or blog.
Best Practices for Managing Stakeholder Relationships
The best way to work with stakeholders is a very proactive approach. We have compiled our best practices for interviewing and managing stakeholders to help avoid those frustrating project delays and setbacks:
- Establish a clear process from Day 1: Put yourself in the uninformed stakeholder’s shoes: They do an interview with you or your team, you disappear for weeks, then re-emerge with a sudden need for feedback and approval at a time that may not be convenient. You would be annoyed, too, right? Take a few minutes during your stakeholder call to walk them through the process, timeline and what you will need from them so they are prepared.
- Don’t be afraid to over-prepare: If you want to get the most out of your stakeholder interview, do not show up as a blank slate. Do your homework by researching as much as you can about the subject matter, client, competitors and even the stakeholder ahead of the interview. Asking basic questions is the best way to waste an interview. Instead, use your time to delve deeper and get into messaging, differentiators and help with more complex topics.
- Communicate key dates and repeat, repeat, repeat: Stakeholders are very busy. They will quickly scan your email, so make it easy for them: Clearly state your time frame in bold font. At your interview, remind them at the start and end when they will receive a draft for review. Follow up with an email reminding them of this date and how much time they will have for feedback. Send reminders ahead of the deadline.
- Avoid sending a list of questions in advance: It may sound counter-intuitive. But if you want the most out of your discussion, don’t fence yourself in with a script. When given a list of questions, stakeholders tend to offer stiff, careful answers. You miss out on the rich details that a more organic conversation can uncover. Instead, provide an overview of topics and write a few short sentences describing your goals for the interview.
- Control the review process: Lay the groundwork for a clear review process before scheduling the first stakeholder call. If you are working with multiple stakeholders, it’s a good idea to establish the following:
- Which stakeholders need to review/approve the final product, and whether anyone’s feedback is more authoritative or should be last
- How many rounds of revisions are included within project scope
- Whether stakeholders are editing for content, accuracy, messaging, or all of the above
- A process for ensuring consolidated feedback so you don’t get back conflicting feedback and direction
- A clear timeline and how feedback delays will affect project completion
Interested in learning more about content marketing? Check out Charles River Interactive’s blog View from the Charles:
7 Email Marketing Best Practices
How to Write Strategic Calls to Action
5 Tips for Writing for Mobile
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Email marketing has been around since, well, probably almost as long as emails have existed. And, why not? Email is another channel with which to communicate, so using it as a marketing medium makes a lot of sense.
The difference between email marketing and plain old emails is that plain old emails from a friend or colleague are not intrusive, or at least they shouldn’t be. Email marketing can be. So, email marketing has evolved over time to address issues that we, as recipients, don’t appreciate, and that we as marketers need to respect.
As a marketer, keep these email marketing best practices in mind when creating and sending emails to your recipients.
1) Send emails to a list of people who have agreed to receive information from your company.
Marketing emails are considered to be “spam” if sent to someone who has not opted in to the list (directly or through a 3rd party). Marketers can get in trouble if sending “spam” emails, or emails that the recipient has not agreed to receive. So, make sure—before you send emails to a list—that the list has opted in to receive information from your company, or you are marketing via a legitimate 3rd party list that people have opted into.
2) Know your audience and be respectful.
Email marketing should offer something of interest and value to your recipient. An invitation to an event, an offer to receive a product discount, complimentary information, or a discount, something that you know they would like and respond well to. Make the offer (also referred to as the “Call to Action”) clear so it’s obvious what you are asking of your recipients.
3) Write engaging subject lines.
The best subject lines are the ones that get people to open the email, assuming you aren’t being deceptive or sneaky with your subject line. Some folks say short is the way to go; others opt for longer subject lines. I love subject lines that are questions. Good questions draw in the reader. A subject line like: “Want to know the #1 mistake every company makes?” would grab my attention. Or, make the subject line super direct: for example, when offering content, make the subject about what someone can take away from reading this email, e.g., “The top 5 mistakes every company makes”.
4) Determine the sender.
If you don’t have your own database of email recipients, or your company is new and no one knows it, you should consider using a 3rd party list with a well-known name that allows sponsors (advertisers) to send a marketing email to their list. (You don’t get access to the list; you send your email to the company that sends it out on your behalf.) Think of it this way: if The New York Times is sending out your email to their subscriber list (who have agreed to receive 3rd party information), then the likelihood of the recipient opening that email is much higher than if the sender is “No Name Co.”. Also, think about whether the email sender should have a person’s name vs. the company name. Different approaches work based on what the content is.
5) Keep mobile in mind, always.
Many people are viewing emails on their mobile devices and that trend is only growing. For those reading emails on their SmartPhones, you need to keep the snippet text (aka preview text or preview header) relevant—it’s the blurb that summarizes what the email is about and is viewable after the subject line. If the subject line is interesting and the snippet text is relevant, you will get more opens. Another thing to keep in mind: if your emails include graphics, you want the graphics to download quickly; this is super important with mobile users.
6) Timing in life is everything, right?
It used to be that companies wouldn’t send marketing emails after work hours or on weekends. Now that people are viewing their emails on their devices around the clock, you may cut through the clutter in the evening or on weekends. Test your send times to see when you get the best open rates.
7) Last, but most importantly, think like your customers and prospects.
If you wouldn’t like, read, or respond positively to an email that you are about to send to your list, it’s likely your recipients won’t either. (This ties back to the “be respectful” comment above.) Be clear about what you are asking of them. Make it easy for them to learn more about your business, your offerings, and most of all, make it really easy for them to buy from you. After all, that’s what marketing is all about.
Interested in learning more about email marketing? Read more from our blog, View from the Charles:
5 Tips for Writing for Mobile
How to Write Strategic Calls to Action
You already know that hyperlinks and call-to-action links are an important part of the content strategy formula. But it’s not enough to simply insert as many as you can, with the hopes of scoring SEO points and potentially overwhelming people reading your content. A linking strategy should define where you place them, which words you hyperlink and which pages you link to.
Why are Hyperlinks Important?
Let’s pretend you’re not a marketing manager, but the owner of a small shop that relies on street traffic. Your first priority is getting shoppers in the door. (You could compare your window display and signage to the type of SEO work we do to attract organic traffic to your site.)
Once inside, you want them to explore past the first rack, to browse your shelves, examine items of interest and even step into a dressing room. Your ultimate goal – your call to action – is for them to make a purchase.
In this hypothetical store, the details matter: how you arrange your shelves, where top-selling merchandise goes and where you post eye-catching ‘clearance’ signs.
Web content works the same way. Strategic linking assures users don’t stop at the front door (your homepage). Instead, they click further into your site, visiting multiple pages to browse, and interacting with your content (sign up for newsletters, request an appointment, follow you on social media, etc.)
One of the key ways we can facilitate this user journey is how we utilize hyperlinks.
Hyperlink vs. Call to Action Link
There are two ways to include links in your content. Both have a place, but there are key differences:
- A hyperlink is more passive: Waltham-based Charles River Interactive is a full-service digital marketing firm.
- The call to action link – or CTA – invites the user to take action and keep reading: Waltham-based CRI is a full-service digital marketing firm. Learn more about Charles River Interactive.
Which strategy do you think would get more clicks?
With a passive hyperlink, the link to the company website is there as a ‘soft sell,’ much like the end cap in your store. If this sentence appeared in the content at a place where you definitely want interested users to visit this page, you want to use a call to action link instead.
Web Writing Best Practices for Hyperlinks
- Formatting: It may sound like common sense, but make sure your links appear with unique formatting: a different color is typical, but you may also bold or underline linked text.
- Internal vs. external links: Use links that take users away from your site as little as possible. Why send away your traffic? If it’s necessary, make sure these links open in a new tab.
- Never, ever say ‘click here’: Make it your golden rule. Yes, the goal of a call to action link is to encourage the user to take action. But think about it as being helpful, not demanding. Phrases like ‘Read more about …’ or ‘Learn more about …” let the user feel like they have more control, and as a result, they are more effective.
- Anticipate action: Web users hate surprises – especially when pages and files pop open unexpectedly. Don’t risk visitors closing out your site. Just be courteous and help them understand what happens if they click a link: ‘Download our information packet’ or ‘Watch our how-to video’ tells the user that a file will open and a video clip is about to play.
- Match pages with links: The hyperlinked text should match the page title – or H1 – of the page to which you are linking. Don’t just link random text and expect users to know where it goes; they are unlikely to take that leap of faith, and may be confused when they arrive there.
- Put a CTA on every page: Don’t get stuck with a ‘dead-end page’ that leaves users with nowhere to go. Every single page on your site should include a call to action link, and be rich with hyperlinks. This even includes your 404 redirect page. Remember: When you stop giving users something to do, they stop interacting with your site.
Interested in learning more about content development? Read more from our blog, View from the Charles:
5 Tips for Writing for Mobile
10 Tips for Effective Content Marketing on Twitter
When is the last time you saw someone waiting – on a park or city bench, at a café table or a transit stop – and he or she wasn’t staring at a smartphone? These hand-held screens are more than a modern convenience; for many Americans, they are our connection to the world, people and services.
Nearly two-thirds – or 64 percent – of people in the U.S. own smartphones, according to the 2015 smartphone use study by the Pew Research Center. Of those, 15 percent do not have many options for getting online other than their phones.
As mobile dependency increases, marketers need to take into account mobile search, responsive design and, yes, even content strategy for a mobile audience.
Why is Writing for Mobile Important?
We use our phones to find nearby amenities, look up directions, manage banking accounts, share photos, text and call people, read news stories, follow stocks, etc.
Consider these stats from the Pew mobile study on the habits of smartphone owners in the past year:
- 68 percent followed breaking news
- 62 percent looked up info about a health condition
- 57 percent did online banking
- 44 percent looked up real estate listings
- 43 percent searched for jobs
- 30 percent wanted to take a class
- 18 percent applied for jobs
That means in the five minutes someone may spend waiting for a bus, there are endless, competing online tasks and information to fill the time. How do you make sure mobile users stay engaged with your website? A sleek, responsive design will absolutely help, but you need mobile-friendly content to round out the user experience.
5 Tips for Mobile Content
- Get to the point: As we’ve discussed, mobile users are often killing time or quickly searching for information. (And your content is competing with incoming texts and push messages). If they don’t think your site can quickly and easily answer their question or meet a need, they will move on, fast.
- Be simple and clear: Web writing best practices calls for easy-to-understand content (we aim for a 6th-grade reading level). For mobile users, it’s even more important to omit complex language and industry jargon. According to a mobile comprehension study from the University of Alberta, mobile users found it twice as hard to understand subject matter than desktop users.
- Don’t rely on your navigation: Mobile users won’t see the navigation bar that appears on your website. That means inserting strategic call-to-action links is key to facilitating the user journey. Sure, users can click on the “hamburger” icon to view page options, but keep in mind the quick, impatient, scrolling habits of the smartphone user. Deliver them helpful links, where they make sense, and it will pay off.
- Give them what they need: Mobile users are very likely to be looking for key information such as phone numbers and directions. Make these features easy to find and interact with.
- Craft super-powered H2s: These headers serve double-duty on the web: They draw in organic search traffic with keywords and phrases and organize content for rapidly skimming and scanning users. The act of thumbing down a mobile screen helps users move even more quickly through a page. Write compelling H2s to make users pause and read. But make sure they are accurate, or they may lose patience.
As a marketer, the best thing you can do is visit your own mobile site often. Many times, clients admit they have never even viewed their own content on a smartphone. Make sure you know how the experience is different from your work desktop.
Interested in learning more about mobile trends? Read more from our blog, View from the Charles:
The Rise of Mobile Chat Apps
Mobile Search Updates: Why You Need a Mobile Website
Co-authored by Nancy Stewart
We reported last month on big developments with Twitter (#RIPTwitter: The Future of Twitter and Your Brand) and how they could change the content marketing landscape.
Our conclusion? There’s a lot of opportunity here for smart marketers – despite the critics who fear any change to the Twitter algorithm. The rules are still the same: Really compelling, targeted, organic content is your best bet for attracting followers, building engagement and achieving conversions.
Where do you start? We’ve compiled our top 10 Twitter tips (with a bonus tip) to help you develop a smart strategy.
How to Use Twitter for Your Brand
If you want Twitter to be a successful tool for your business, you need to have a plan before you start tweeting away.
Even the most eloquently-crafted 140-character posts will not attract followers and achieve real results on their own. Creating and implementing a smart content strategy will go a long way to keep your Twitter account focused on your business objectives and directed at your target audience.
- Lay out your goals: You’ll have more success creating effective tweets if you know why you are tweeting. Your posts should support your business goals for using Twitter. Start by answering a basic question: What are you trying to do? The answer may be build brand awareness, promote thought leadership or generate leads. Make sure your content supports those goals.
- Target your audience: Before posting any tweet, ask yourself: “What information does my target audience want and do they care about this message?” It’s a good idea to tweet about topics you’ve seen resonate with your followers in the past. These easy tricks can help you acquire a more targeted following.
- Find your voice: Central to building a brand presence on any social media platform is having a personality. How do you want followers to perceive your brand? Are you fun, creative, humorous? You convey that personality by picking the best voice and tone and staying consistent.
- Get creative with #hashtags: You’ve seen them, but do you know to use them? Hashtags are keywords or phrases that help your posts reach the right people. Research the most popular hashtags related to your industry. Once you’re established on Twitter, you can even create your own hashtags.
- Use visuals: Stop thinking about Twitter as a space that only allows text. Uploading images, GIFs and videos help your posts stand out and increase engagement significantly.
- Develop an editorial calendar: Feeling overwhelmed with the need to post to Twitter, Facebook, your blog and so on? Editorial calendars help you get organized and post regularly on a schedule, so you don’t fall behind.
- Be interactive: By nature, social media isn’t supposed to be a one-way conversation. Make sure you are giving back to your followers by responding to them, re-tweeting them, etc. If you tweet content from other sources (besides your own blog), be sure to mention and tag authors and publications.
- Engage with influencers: Identify a list of reputable individuals or businesses with a particular expertise that’s relevant to your brand. When an opportunity arises to reply or retweet, take it! You can also keep an eye on what the industry experts are tweeting and mention them in tweets you feel they’d be interested in.
- Include a clear call to action: The best way to achieve a direct response is to be explicit. If you have only 140 characters, don’t be coy or shy. “Read more at our blog” or “Visit our online store” are effective approaches when you pair them with a compelling reason why: “Get ready for summer. We’re offering 20 percent off all sandals today. Visit our online store.”
- Be brief: This one goes without saying, since the hallmark of Twitter since its launch was the 140-character-limit. You may feel the squeeze to stay within those boundaries, but know this: Shorter Tweets – 140 characters or less – get more conversions. That’s according to Twitter’s own best practices guide.
And a bonus 11th tip:
Pay to promote your Tweets: Even a small investment in paid social can help drive traffic. Promote tweets with high engagement rates to extend your reach and continue providing your target audience with particularly engaging content.
Interested in learning more about social media and paid search trends? Read more from our blog, View from the Charles:
How To Use Snapchat For Your Brand
Google SERP News: Right Rail Ads Are Gone