Online Content, an Interview with Mark Parker
Interviewer: Tim Martin, April 2014. Episode #12 from the NET:101 podcast.
TIM: With me today I have Mark Parker, who is the Queensland Manager for Kinship Digital. Hello, Mark.
MARK: Tim, hello. How are you?
TIM: I’m very well. Mark and I today are going to talk about content distribution, the interplay between search and social, some of the dos and the don’ts, things that we’ve learnt ourselves from working on the ground. But before we do that, Mark, can you tell us a little about Kinship Digital?
MARK: Yes, certainly. Thanks, Tim. I look after the Queensland operation for Kinship Digital. We’re a national firm focused on helping companies really get their heads around the social and the digital space. We do a lot of work helping organizations I guess effectively participate and engage not only with their external audiences, but also with their internal communities. So this idea of enterprise social networks. That’s essentially where we’re focused in terms of the services that we provide.
TIM: And Kinship is an Australian-based organization?
MARK: Correct. We actually have offices in [inaudible 00:1:27] plus we have our social media command center based in the Philippines that provide a whole range of services for our clients.
TIM: Excellent. I should also say that Mark and I have known each other for awhile. We’re both on the speaking circuit for The Executive Connection, which is a CEO network, and we both run training programs for the Australasian Mutuals Institute. So Mark and I have had plenty of time to sit over coffees and drinks and chew the fat, so to speak. So let’s just carry on that conversation today.
TIM: Mark, content. We’ve got content, we’ve gone to the effort of creating it, which is no small task, as most listeners out there would know. How do we get the content out as widely as possible, and more importantly than that, to the right people? We’ve got a couple levers we can pull; we can publish it and let Google slope it up or we can push it through a social media platform or whatever.
MARK: That’s a good question, Tim, and I think the key thing that we want to keep in mind when we think about content and having it found by an audience is where is the audience? Are you looking for someone to find you through search, or are you looking to position content into a specific platform because that’s where you know you’ve got the right audience?
I guess one of the examples I’ll give here is that if I’m producing a blog post that’s talking about a particular topic, I would obviously publish it through our blog platform, but I would then look to further distribute that into a platform such as LinkedIn, which is where I know my audience is, or the audience is that I would like to consume or find that content.
TIM: Okay, so you’ve natively or primarily posted it through your blog. The search engines, the crawlers are going to pick that up and index it fairly quickly. Then you’re cross-promoting it from LinkedIn. Now, somebody on LinkedIn can’t read the entire blog post there, can they? They can get a summary and then they’re invited to click back to the blog?
MARK: Yeah, exactly. I guess there’s two aspects to this. I know you can actually set up an auto publish so that if I press “Go” on the blog platform, it then feeds into LinkedIn. That’s certainly one way of doing it. I’m not a huge fan of that because you lose control over the headline and the summary.
I prefer to actually take the 60 seconds of time to grab the URL and then craft a message as a post in LinkedIn, because then I can actually create my own call to action. I can actually then edit the title, and I can also edit the summary. LinkedIn will allow – I think it’s about a 150 character to be published, and I’ll often edit that so that the summary has a very clear, kind of a punchy, relevant message that somebody can read instantly and go “Ah, that’s interesting. I want to read more on that topic.”
TIM: You’ve created long form text; it’s a blog post. Why can’t we just post directly into LinkedIn? Why do we have to worry about the blog at all?
MARK: Well, that’s an interesting question. I guess we’ve got to think about what is the objective we’re looking to meet? I would always suggest – and this is something you’ve lectured, disciplined, discussed with me over the years – but ultimately, the blog platform is going to have immediate and long-term search benefits for me.
So if somebody natively does a search and my post comes up, if they then click through, for example, and search me on LinkedIn, they’re in a different mindset. But ultimately, the first goal that’s been achieved there is the fact that it’s been found by search. Again, this is something you’ve taught me about a lot, is to always post through the platform so that it becomes search content for the business, and then say “What is now my more direct objective in posting it into LinkedIn?”
TIM: Yeah, and I guess this comes back to the idea that content is an asset. If we’ve gone to the time and effort of creating it, and it’s good, that we want to get the maximum value from it, and then posting it on a third party platform diminishes that return.
MARK: Well, I guess if you don’t put any thought into the posting it to the third party platform, I would agree. One of the things I do, for example, is I’ll often post a link to blog content in LinkedIn groups, because I actually – again, I’m going then into a micro-community with a view to creating engagement or creating discussion or demonstrating a reputational competence. So again, it’s actually that knowledge of “What am I trying to achieve?” that actually drives that action.
TIM: There are only so many hours in a day, and constantly having to make decisions – do you purposefully sit down and say “Right, I’m going to create a blog post and this is going to go on my blog, and I’m going to get the upside or some of the potential downsides, I guess, of publishing it over there”? Or sit down and try and spend an hour having a really robust discussion or seed a discussion within a LinkedIn group? Can you pull off both? Can you do both?
MARK: Look, Tim, you and I live in this space, and I know I personally – I struggle with time management, and as you know, when we talk to business leaders, this is a question that comes up. The fact that you and I – I know I struggle with it.
TIM: No, I do. Just make it loud and clear, I struggle with it.
MARK: (laughs) It doesn’t bode well for people that probably aren’t as natively in this or have the degrees of competence that we have. So again, I look at “What am I setting out to achieve?” And if it’s a particular topic where I want to I guess evolve my option, I would actually go first and start a discussion or participate in a discussion.
Because what I then want to be able to do is pull some of those key points into a blog post. So in essence, I may have content, but I may want to augment that content by having a discussion that in essence becomes a reference point for the post as well.
TIM: So you’re almost using a LinkedIn group or groups as a proving ground, as a test bed for your ideas?
MARK: Yeah, very much so. In fact, I could go and commission a study of executives, 200 executives, and it might take months and cost a lot of money; or I could jump into a particular group, get involved in a discussion, start to tap into what the sentiment is, and use that essentially as anecdotal input into content. I like that idea, because I think getting that native, real world feedback where it also becomes transparent has a degree of authenticity.
TIM: Now, you would belong to more than one group, so you’re able to test a specific angle within a niche, the right sort of people to get feedback from?
MARK: Yeah. It’s funny, LinkedIn groups. I don’t even know how many I’m in. It’s 40 plus. But I probably only participate in half a dozen actively, whereas I tend to lurk in the rest of them.
TIM: Plenty of lurkers out there, including me.
MARK: Yes. But yeah, really it comes down to what I termed before, that micro-community. There’s a couple of groups where I tend to sit back because the discussion is sometimes quite complex, but there’s other groups – one of the Executive Connection groups – where I tend to take a leadership role in sharing ideas, sharing content to help educate and help that particular community think about different ideas.
TIM: Let’s pull back to the idea of cross-posting, whether it’s Facebook or LinkedIn. As you said before, you’ve published a blog post, you’ve cross-posted on LinkedIn; as you say, you’ve tidied up the summary and the title and so forth. How many people, as a percentage of the people that you’re connected with if this is going through your personal profile as opposed to your company page, what sort of reach do you think that’s getting?
MARK: It’s a good question. It really depends on a number of factors. For example, if I go and post at 11:00 at night, the reach is minimal, because then the risk you run is it just won’t show up in somebody’s activity feed. Having looked at the distribution of my contacts, I know that I have probably 60% of the community is Australian and 40% is American. So I know that if I post in Australia generally around 9:00 in the morning, I’ll maximize the opportunity for that content to be seen or to have somebody engage with it.
TIM: We’re in a situation, very similar to Facebook – and you and I have chatted about this briefly before, that there’s an algorithm which is obviously dictating what we see, because you’re seeing different stuff than I’m seeing, and obviously that’s largely a function of the people we’re connected to. But I’m getting a sense that I’m not seeing all of the status updates from my full community. In fact, I think it’s actually a very small percentage. There’s some people that seem to be coming up again and again, yeah?
MARK: Yeah, this is really quite interesting. As much as I talk with you, Tim, you do pop up on my activity feed a lot. (laughs)
TIM: You’ve got to stop engaging with me, Mark. Stop commenting.
MARK: I don’t know this specifically with LinkedIn, but I do know with Facebook, from the guys that I’ve talked to at Facebook and from other commentary, Facebook has been quite open in saying that if you’re publishing content and it’s not being engaged, they will limit the visibility of that content. Now, there’s a lot of numbers floating around, and people say if you haven’t got good engagement going through your page, potentially that visibility might be as low as 10% of your community.
I get the impression that LinkedIn might be adopting a similar type of model, where they’re literally saying “If you’re publishing good, engaging content, then we will start increasing the visibility of that content.” Which is an interesting approach if that is what they’re doing, because then it really – in essence, it’s making us be quite disciplined about what we do. And again, as you’ve said to me, Tim, it’s not just about content; it’s about is there a call to action? Is it in fact readable, engaging, and is it relevant to an audience?
TIM: This is where algorithms can go bad. For example, I’m seeing these maths problems or “Are you a genius?” I was seeing those a lot because a lot of people are engaging with them by answering them.
MARK: The short answer is I’d say yes, and part of that is the fact that if you look at some of those posts – and I see those maths ones as well – I see the numbers beneath, and it just tells me that the reason it’s visible is because there’s just so many people commenting, liking, responding. That is potentially a reflection of that algorithm at work, which again, you can see that it’s doing its job, but is it doing a good job, or is it doing a bad good job?
TIM: Yeah, I’m bored by them. I don’t want to see them. And I can’t hide them, because the person who answered the question could be somebody that I genuinely like and want to stay connected to. So I find the whole thing quite frustrating.
The other thing I find frustrating is the time and energy required by certain individuals to make this stuff work to try and decipher the algorithm. It seems like trying to look at the entrails of a goat and work out what you’re supposed to do and not do. There’s a big mystery.
MARK: Yeah, I guess it is a mystery for a reason. If we all knew what was going on, we’d probably all be gaming the system. But I work to a couple of basic rules. One is that if I’m going to distribute content across different platforms, I’ll localize it for each specific platform.
And the other thing is I think you’ve got to spread out the effort, particularly if you’ve got an audience that’s subscribed to your blog, you’re connected to them on LinkedIn, and then you share groups with them. One of the big no-nos, the big mistakes I see people making, is that they’ll publish a blog post; 10 seconds later, they’ve published a LinkedIn update; 10 seconds later it appears in one group, 5 seconds later in another group, and then another group. And I’m sitting there going, “Shut up already.”
TIM: So space it out, or maybe pre-schedule it to have it space out automatically? What would be your advice there?
MARK: I think so. I pre-schedule some content for publication, but I generally, as just a default rule, will spread it out over a 24, 48 hour periods so that I can ensure that an audience – if I missed part of an audience, I might pick it up during a different time zone or a different time period.
Again, depending on what you’re publishing, auto-scheduling can be good, but as we’ve both seen, it can also come back to bite you if it’s a fairly – if you’re writing or publishing content about a topical issue, and if that issue is evolving or changing in real time, you’ve got to be careful about how you forward-schedule content to be published.
TIM: Let’s stick with LinkedIn. What are your views about publishing through a company page or a showcase page?
MARK: Absolute must for companies, particularly in the B-to-B space. I think where they’re going with the company profile on LinkedIn is very, very smart. I think it creates very rich opportunities for the company to develop its own personality, and I think if an organization, or if you’re in charge of distributing or publishing content on behalf of a business, there should be a core part of the strategy that you have in terms of what you do with content and where it goes.
TIM: Have you experimented at all with the showcase pages?
MARK: A little bit. It’s an area where I’ve seen what they’re doing in terms of that direction. I think as it starts to gain traction, it’ll be an area where I play a lot more – sorry, contribute a lot more.
TIM: Yeah, well, sometimes I wonder whether I’m contributing or just playing. But I do like the showcase pages and that it allows you to niche the ideas, the community around whatever it is that you formed. You don’t have to say “This is a company page and all things to the company.” Obviously, you can drill down and it could be around an event or a particular brand or a particular aspect of the company. I haven’t seen many organizations using that effectively to this point. Then again, it is quite new.
MARK: Yeah, I think the key thing here is that we’ve got a couple more weeks before the product and services tag disappears, which again, I’m somewhat frustrated about, but I can see the logic that LinkedIn – they’ve communicated why. One of the reasons I’m frustrated is that I’ve put a bit of effort into getting recommendations, so we’re kind of going back to square one in terms of what we need to do with showcase pages as part of that path forward.
But again, there is never – status quo is a no-no in this space, and Facebook are always making changes, Google’s always making changes, LinkedIn will continue to make changes. Their logic is that as they understand how we, the community, use the platform, they’ll continue to evolve it to suit those emerging behaviors.
TIM: The paid option is becoming I guess more and more visible by the day on platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook. We can boost posts or sponsor a post through LinkedIn. I’ve experimented with both, and I don’t mind paying; I don’t have a philosophical issue with paying to extend my reach, but I did find on LinkedIn I got a very poor result. Have you had any experience with paying to sponsor a status update?
MARK: I have, and I probably share your sentiment. I find – I don’t know particularly why; maybe it’s just the fact that it’s still quite new, but I really was disappointed with the take up. Maybe my budget was too low. Maybe we need to stick out a bit more. I don’t know that there’s one right or wrong answer.
Whereas on Facebook, in another business, where I have a different audience, the sponsored updates work really well. I’m a huge fan of sponsored updates and Facebook ads, whereas on LinkedIn I’m still sitting on the fence in terms of the value and the results they generate.
TIM: Yeah, am I being cynical to think that LinkedIn maybe is going down the same path that Facebook is, that they’re tweaking the algorithm to artificially suppress reach and then encourage people to pay?
MARK: I think you’re being cynical, Tim.
TIM: (laughs) Wouldn’t be the first time, Mark.
MARK: Yeah, look, there’s two sides to every story, isn’t there? I think I’d be surprised if that was the case, because I think it would conflict with the ethos and the culture of the organization.
TIM: This interplay between organic search and social, I get the impression there are two camps out there. It tends to be that people who have started in one particular camp, they raised the flag for that camp, but in actual fact, the two together are quite powerful. I come from the search side; I’ve been doing search for quite a few years, even before social came onto the scene. Started with paid search and then went into organic. But I can actually see great upsides to getting both working at the same time.
MARK: Absolutely. I think as we’ve seen, the search engines as an entry point into the buying process are critically important. The search engines are saying that they are looking for what we call social content, which is content that a community is talking about or engaging with.
So my argument to business leaders and to digital marketing teams is that you can be really good at search, which is nice; you can be really good at social, which is nice; but when you marry the two of them together, that’s when you start having a clear, defined, competitive advantage. And that’s what I think we need to focus on, is that the two of them together are a very, very powerful tool that I think is what we need to be focused on.
So it’s a case of one without the other is good. If you’re doing both bad, well then, that’s bad. But if you can get both and they’re cohesive and working in harmony, it’s a nice place to be in.
TIM: Yeah. The focus of the content that I produce and publish is to get search results. I don’t do it specifically for that; obviously, that’s a byproduct, but content that can’t be found essentially doesn’t exist. So content that I’m publishing through my website or my blog or YouTube, I get results and I get return many months, if not years, down the track. Where I feel sometimes when I’m publishing through a social media platform that it’s just come and go, just a blip and then it’s gone.
MARK: Yeah, in some respects, yes. I think you can position content on Twitter, for example, that may not have immediate visibility, but it can have long-term visibility. I think the platforms are starting to get their head around “How do we increase the longevity of content that comes into these specific platforms?”
Yeah, I kind of agree with you, but my gut feeling is that it is an area where we’re likely to see them introduce new features that will give us the ability to tag or even favorite certain pieces of content, so even if it is 12, 18 months old, it will still have a high degree of visibility for external parties.
TIM: I always come back to the very strong impression that certain people at certain times in certain spaces, when they want key information to help them through a process, they just go straight to their search engine of choice, which for most people is going to be Google. And whatever shows up on Page 1 of those search results is going to dominate.
Would there be situations where it would be foolhardy for, I don’t know, let’s say a business-to-business organization – say it’s an engineering company out in the ’burbs – to be publishing technical information through a space that these search engine crawlers weren’t able to discover and index that content?
MARK: Oh, absolutely. I think that’s why having a strategy where you feed the search engine but then also [inaudible 00:25:57] community is so important. For example, our profiles on LinkedIn are highly content sensitive so that the search engines will be picking up profiles based on the information in the profile.
So that’s where, again, we’ve got to think about what are we looking to achieve? How do we position content so that it’s relevant and it’s going to be visible? An example here is I see people publishing content through a Facebook personal profile; they might as well just go stand in a corner and talk to the wall.
TIM: That’s right. I wrote a blog post recently called “Push, Pull, and Pass.” Traditional advertising pushes a message out; organic search allows people to pull the information to them where and when they need it. And “pass” is the social element, so people take content and they pass it on or reference it to others.
It seems to be that pull and that pass are the search and the social, and as you said, the marriage of those two is quite powerful. So that pass almost acts as an amplification process, doesn’t it?
MARK: Yes. Yeah, and that’s where I think – we had an example last week where our Kinship CEO is part of the LinkedIn blog platform. He published a post, and over a period of days, it was commented on by people well outside all of our networks. But even internally, we were sharing it into our own networks, which was increasing that visibility. And by passing it on, it actually then started to amplify the original post beyond what we thought would happen. So it’s a very good point.
TIM: Talk about the blog. Why should more businesses have a blog and post consistently through?
MARK: I would argue every business should have a blog, Tim. I think the benefits are just too strong not to have a blog. I think first and foremost, Google has been quite open saying that content that ages and is static, they’re just not that interested in. So the easiest way to have content that is new, that’s shareable, that ticks the boxes you just mentioned, is through a blog.
TIM: I know the immediate reaction with a lot of people is “What if somebody says something nasty or mean on my blog?”
MARK: There’s potentially a deeper problem there that you need to address. (laughs)
TIM: You’ve got to put your big boy pants on and deal with it, right?
MARK: Look, my personal experience with my other e-commerce business has been that they care enough to complain, so we should care enough to address the problem in an open, transparent way. My personal experience has been that you can then turn them into raving fans. So the opportunity to turn somebody from being frustrated to being an advocate, again, is too powerful an opportunity to pass up.
Having said that, there are a lot of angry people in the world, and from time to time you will find people who quite simply are there to pick a fight. The challenge there is how do you avoid the trolls, how do you mitigate and manage those risks if somebody comes along looking for a fight? I think the advantage you have with a blog is if you’re using comment moderation, you can actually cut them off before it becomes a huge, smelly public issue that you’re trying to deal with.
TIM: The other question I know that comes up a lot is “How frequently should I blog?” How do you respond to that?
MARK: I’ll give you a simple rule that may be right and may be wrong: if I was talking to a company and they’re in the B-to-B space and they are committed to starting a blog, I would suggest to them that their goal in the first 12 months should be to publish no less than 15 posts. Start by getting a post a month, and then as they start to develop their competencies, develop their skills, then they can start looking at increasing the frequency and introducing different authors to do different topics.
But I think my general rule is start off by trying to get 12 to 15 posts in the first 12 months. You start building skills and understanding how it all works, which means going forward, it’s more of a sustainable approach to being a corporate blogger.
TIM: Yeah, and then, as we were discussing before, the opportunity to cross-reference or cross-post on social media platforms. So that gives you some fuel or substance to feed some of those other channels.
MARK: Yeah, exactly. I think the key thing for mine is still to build up that competency. What’s your perspective on frequency? What do you generally work to?
TIM: Well, being a one-man operation, I’m very mood-based. So I guess I’ve got the flexibility that I don’t have a boss that is saying “Where’s the blog post? It’s the third week and we expect it.” But generally speaking, I try and produce one a week.
MARK: Okay. My feedback there, Tim, is that given your level of involvement, your level of activity, that for me is a good frequency. And ultimately, that’s what I would expect from somebody in the space that you’re in. You actually have a lot of content to share. Like all of us, you have content; the question is, how do you do it in a way that people are comfortable, that you’re not pounding them? Better to actually be sharing good, rich information with an audience.
TIM: One of the byproducts, for me at least, for the blog is just bringing clarity around my own thoughts. I never anticipated that would be the case, but I actually feel if I have to sit down for an hour, hour and a half, however long, and create something that is readable by somebody else, it actually helps me understand what I’m talking about.
MARK: Yeah, definitely.
TIM: There will be businesses out there that would be thinking, “I’ve got nothing to blog about.” I’m thinking there’s so much that they could be blogging about because so many people need to know so many different angles and things about the process and the industry background and the pros and the cons, yeah?
MARK: Yeah. I get very frustrated when somebody says to me “We’ve got nothing to write about,” yet when I jump on their corporate website, I see a lot of content that’s essentially being misused. So I think the idea that there’s nothing to write about is either a fear response or it’s a plea for help.
Most companies do in fact have content; they’ve actually got good things they can share, they’ve got good relevant content. It’s really just getting them to understand that they can repurpose existing content to give it new legs, to give it new life. So access to content generally isn’t the issue. It’s more have you got the technology in place, have you actually got the plans in place to start doing this and start doing it well?
TIM: Also a shift in thinking away from sales-driven content, right? It’s not all about trying to blog stuff; it’s actually putting good quality stuff that helps people through a process and empowers them, yeah?
MARK: Yeah, very much so. I think there’s always an opportunity to self-promote. I don’t have a great issue with companies talking themselves up. I think that they just shouldn’t do it every post. I think there’s an opportunity to be human. So an organization, through the CEO, they should be looking to say “How do we humanize the organization? How do we in fact create opportunities for people to engage with myself but also with my key people?” so that it’s not a sales message, but in essence it supports the buying process or supports somebody’s decision that they want to do business with you.
TIM: In summary, we’ve got content that can be found by organic search; there’s content that can be crawled – that’s typically through our own website or blog; we’ve got content that can be amplified through social; and within social itself, we’ve got the increasing opportunity to pay for increased amplification.
Those are some broad options out there, but I guess this all comes down to your ability to create good, quality content in the first place, right?
MARK: Exactly. But I guess there’s a second part to that, Tim. I think absolutely we need to create good, relevant, engaging content or opportunities for engagement off the content, but the second part of that is, what’s your actual plan? What is the strategy?
Tim, if I had to come in and say, “Tim, it’s the third week of the month. Where the hell is the blog post?”, I think a perfect world is somebody’s looking at the publishing strategy, the content plan, saying “Are we going to hit this deadline? What else do we need to be doing?” versus “Give me content.” I think that’s the second part, is what’s our actual strategy that’s supporting the content that we’re producing?
TIM: So I take it you’re not an advocate of the shoot-from-the-hip approach?
MARK: I think there’s a time and a place for that, but I think ultimately there needs to be an overarching strategy behind the scene saying “This is why we are publishing the content that we are publishing.”
TIM: Gosh, strategy victors. Who would’ve thought?
MARK: Old school, man.
TIM: (laughs) Old school. Mark, thank you so much. A lot of good insight today. Let people know how they can connect with you.
MARK: Probably the easiest way – you and I joke about this all the time; we’ve got to be seen to be eating our own dog food. But probably the easiest way to engage or connect with me is via LinkedIn. You can find me under my name, obviously, Mark Parker on LinkedIn, based in Brisbane. I’d certainly welcome anyone wanting to reach out and connect, ask questions. I’m happy to share any further insights based on what we’ve discussed today.
TIM: Good. Mark, thanks so much, and always love having a chat with you.
MARK: Thanks, Tim. It’s been a pleasure.
TIM: Okay, ciao.