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Social Media and Content Marketing with Lee Odden of TopRank Marketing

Lee-OddenWe have a very special and accomplished guest today with us in our expert video interview series. Accomplished because his roots are in SEO but over time has blended social media and other forms of internet marketing expertise as part of his company repertoire. He is a widely cited authority on social media marketing and is a much sought after speaker covering search marketing and social media conferences. So, without further ado i am very pleased to have Lee Odden join us today.

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Bob Tripathi:  Welcome to Instant E Training, we have a very special guest with us today: Lee Odden.  Lee Odden is from Top Rank Marketing.  Just for starters, for those of you who don’t know, Lee Odden’s blog is one of the top ten, top five according to Ad Age and is consistently read by many bloggers.  We’re happy to have you.  I wanted to ask you, I know you speak at so many conferences and you’re a top leader in social media, search and all of that, but there is a lot of buzz about content marketing and article marketing.  What exactly is it and how should people approach it?

Lee Odden:  The discipline of content marketing really came out of B2B space where you have really long educational sales cycles.  Part of delivering that education is in the form of content: white papers, case studies, webinars, that sort of thing.  In a search context, content marketing has to do with understanding specific types of customers first, and developing actual searcher personas to understand their information needs, consumption and discovery needs.  Then we create a content strategy around meeting those needs, and add the SEO afterward on top of that.  So instead of just optimizing for keywords because they are popular, we’re actually optimizing for keywords that we know are a reflection of where that customer is in the rank cycle.

Bob Tripathi:  I think that’s great because then you bring in relevance and you have more users reading your article and not reading junk, right?

Lee Odden:  Sure, you optimize for people first because if you drive a lot of traffic to content (this is assuming a lead-generation or buy-a-product type of business model versus an advertising model) if we’re driving a lot traffic to content that’s causing a disconnect, then that’s not going to turn into a lead or a sale.  If your biz model is advertising, of course you’re looking for impressions and that’s another matter.

Bob Tripathi:  I think content is so important.  As you know, content is generated each minute of each day, so I think standing out is very important, right?  What are the three steps you recommend for people to stand out?  One is creating personas, but what else?

Lee Odden:  To stand out, the personas is the first step to developing a relevant connection between what it is that people want and what you have to sell.  So relevancy, making sure that you… It’s like reconciliation, [like how] you balance your check book, you balance what you’re trying to sell with what your customers are actually looking for, and where those two meet together is “relevant content”.  That content needs to be designed (we can break these up into other steps I guess), it needs to be designed in such a way that it meets the needs of that consumer at where they are in the process of deciding to buy a product.  A broad term, these are generalizations, so a broad term would be a reflection of early research.  Adding other variations to that phrase to make the query more specific are more of an indication of purchase (looking for specific model numbers or on-sale or whatever).  Then make sure that the queries and the content that is designed to attract those queries are a reflection of actual customer behaviour.

In terms of standing out, you know when you’re number one on search and top of mind in the social web, when people search for stuff, then go to their friends and say “Hey, I’m looking for a new camera, can you make a recommendation?”  People then say, “Try this or this.”  Then [the person] goes back to search.  So in order to stand out, you need to be wherever those customers are looking for.  That means social, that means search, and that means word of mouth.

Bob Tripathi:  There’s a lot of integration between social and search.

Lee Odden:  One of the most common things that I hear from companies that are at least a little bit into the social game, they have a Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or whatever, and they’re doing those things but they’re not seeing productivity because they’re not connecting them.  They don’t understand how to get them to work together.  That’s a big part of what my agency does; it’s helping companies that haven’t gotten there to develop a program, and for those that tried for awhile but they’re not seeing results, how they can find out what channels they should spend time in and how to make it all work together.

Bob Tripathi:  That’s a critical piece to the puzzle I would think.  I know for people who are starting out, there’s certain steps that you need to take in social media.  I know you help and do a lot of work in social media, but what are the steps you recommend typically.  Is there a listening part of it…?

Lee Odden:  Sure.  There’s a pretty sophisticated model that we follow, that we’ve written about and published, but there’s a really simplified version of that we put out in a blog post recently.  It does start with listening.  Listening means using social media monitoring tools and other data collection tools, which harvest information from the social web to get an idea of which channels your customers are spending time on.  A lot of people go after the top three, you know, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or YouTube, even though their customers may not be spending time there.  Listening helps you collect information on consumer behaviours about which channels to spend time on, whether you should be creating videos, have a fan page or whatever.

It can also help you harvest social keywords.  You know the search space, right?  Where we go to Google Keyword Research Tool or Word Tracker we find out what phrases are most popular, what people are searching on.  Social monitoring tools can be used to identify which phrases are used most often in a social context in comments, tags, and things of that nature.

That can help inform the second step which is content.  We listen to get some insight, and then we use that insight to create a content strategy.  A content that’s socially interesting to customers and is search optimized as well.

The third part is to socialize, meaning you need to promote your content.  I made a quote the other day in one of my sessions, “Crappy content with a snappy headline is going to kick the butt of really high quality content with a boring title, every time.”  So you’ve got to promote, and you’ve got to package it in a way that makes people interested in passing it along. And what will happen is, because so many people are empowered to publish because they’re bloggers or whatever, they’ll link back to it.

The fourth piece has to do with measurement.  Our recommendation is you aren’t only using web analytics to understand where people are coming from; from search or direct, what they’re doing on your site, or conversions, but social media monitoring again.  That helps you understand where engagement is happening, how many people are bookmarking your stuff, how many people are sharing, commenting and so forth.  That way, you can trend what’s working for you and spend more time developing your network, let’s say on YouTube if you find you’re getting a lot more mileage there, and then scale that up versus something else.

Bob Tripathi:  Great points, especially the third one.  I see a lot of people spend a lot of money creating content, but the third step which you said is distributing the content: that’s the whole game.  What are the typical strategies you follow or recommend or have seen people follow when distributing their content?

Lee Odden:  With blog platforms, you’ve got an RSS feed that’s automatically going to help provide a channel for distribution.  There’s also making it easy for initial readers of that content to socially share, save and bookmark it.  Interestingly, about four and a half years ago one of my guys, Thomas McMahon, created a social bookmarking tool that bloggers could use to add all those little Chicklets onto their sites.  We got over 100 thousand links back to our blog because people employed that little tool that had a link back to us, [it was] a very old school kind of tactic.  Then Google AdSense this year came along and turned that into a business model which is kind of interesting, making it easy to share and propagate your content through RSS or through sharing buttons.  I think the takeaway there for people who have static content is that this kind of facilitation or distribution doesn’t have to just be limited to blogs.  You can add an RSS feed to a resource section of your website, you can certainly embed sharing buttons on any page.

There are other things you can do in terms of publishing your content off the site; Docstoc, Revver, Slideshare, and Scribd.  Press release distribution actually is not too bad of an idea to get your content out there.  We work with a company called PRWeb, it’s a client of ours.  So when you submit a press release through PRWeb, it lives indefinitely out there.  With other wire services you have to pay for hosting.  So if you want links, then you want to promote that press release through a wire service that will get it into Google and Yahoo! News in the short term and get it in indefinitely, and it will also send it through email to journalists and bloggers.  And maybe, maybe not, some of them will pick it up and write about you.

Bob Tripathi:  That’s great, and I think it ties back to your original point, which is creating the personas and writing on it.  If you don’t have the personas in place, then why would people share it?

Lee Odden:  It’s a scary thing asking a company marketer, “Tell me about your customers.  Who is your customer?  Can you characterize what position they have in your company?  What’s the buying process like?”  And they have no idea.  That’s a pretty scary spot to be in.

Bob Tripathi:  I think profiling is very important, then creating personas.  The other thing which everyone finds very challenging is creating or engaging and building a community on social networks, and I think you’ve done so much of that.  What are some tips you have for someone who wants to build a social community and engage them?

Lee Odden:  A lot of folks think in a social space and come at it with a direct marketing mindset and pushing out content, you know “Me, me, me, me.”, public relations is sending out announcements and there’s not a lot of engagement opportunity with that.  Part of building a community is to first have a goal.  Not what you’re trying to achieve from a business perspective, although that’s important, but what do you stand for?  Be a leader, what is it that you stand for that you can be a leader in terms of people that would follow you in the community, right?   What’s your point of distinction?  What’s your value added proposition?

Bob Tripathi:  Like, what you bring to the table….

Lee Odden:  As an information source, as a resource, and then you can build a program around that.  So, who are the influentials?  How can you connect with them?  Find out what they need.  The other thing is creating a place for people to connect with each other.  What a lot of folks do is they’ll create a blog, a Facebook fan page, a forum or whatever and it’s all about the company trying to engage with the first level of users, but where you get a lot of scale in building communities is when you get those users connecting with each other.  So a good example is a company we work with, J & L Fabrics, a New Jersey seller of fabric, and they sell online too.  They created a Facebook fan page because of their employees and they’ve been doing business for so long, they know their customers are crafters and a lot of them go to different shows or they connect with each other in different ways.  So they decided to create a place where their customers could connect with each other and share information and tips and that sort of thing.  Then they’re all using word of mouth to talk to each other and the company is hardly doing anything to promote that anymore.

Bob Tripathi:  It’s a whole way of getting people together, and that’s what it’s supposed to do, right?  I think there are many things about social media metrics, people saying “Oh, I’ve got so many followers, I’ve got so many friends, and you know how that is.  But when you put it right in the dollar amount, “this is how much revenue I make out of social media”.  What exactly do you recommend?

Lee Odden:  I think it’s a sort of value you get, the ROI calculation for social media in some instances can be like direct marketing in that, “We’re making a relevant offer to the customer at the right time, they transact, and then we have money in the bank.”  That’s really not the norm.  The value of customer acquisition, of course, doesn’t just come from the initial transaction.  We want to retain them as a customer, we want them to refer us to other people, there’s value in that.  You can foster that value through community, through engagement, so we can create awareness through social channels of our company and attribution for that customer engaging socially, and then going to search, and then somewhere else, and finally becoming a customer, that’s very difficult.  So you have to look overall sales metrics and compare what really, “Look, we’re active socially now and we have been for six months.  Overall have sales gone up or not?”  Then you can look at customer retention numbers, you can look at word-of-mouth referrals, you can look at other things that are manifestations of a really good relationship with your customers or a really good relationship with people in your industry.  And you can calculate a monetary value on that.  Here’s an example: speaking.  People pay PR firms to get them into speaking slots, but what if because of social media, someone’s become perceived as a though leader because they blog smart things, and they get asked to speak at conferences.  They saved money, didn’t they?  And they could make money because someone comes up after an event and says, “Hey, I’d like to hire you”, or they could recruit employees because their company personality is conveyed through their blog and they didn’t have to pay a recruiter.

Bob Tripathi:  So there are a lot of intangibles and not so many tangibles?

Lee Odden:  I think there is.  I think, tangibles do exist, but it’s not as direct as people might want to think.

Bob Tripathi:  Not at this point, I would think.  Can you tell us about TopRank marketing and what you do for your clients?

Lee Odden:  Sure, our site is  We’re a digital marketing agency based in Minneapolis, and we’ve been in business since 2001.  I started doing SEO in late 1996 until 2000, and then I started this online public relations and content digital marketing agency.  We do a lot of search, social and content marketing, we do a lot of content authoring, and we work with a lot of B2B companies.  Companies like Marketo, which is a marketing automation company, which has been completely dominating their industry because of some of the things we’re doing.  Seriously, if you search for B2B marketing on Google, they have two or three spots.  They’ve displaced a ten year veteran out of that.  Big companies like McKesson which is based here in San Francisco: they’re a Fortune 15 company.  We’ve been doing SEO consulting for corporate and quite a few of their business units for awhile.  That’s what we’re focused on: helping companies make sense out of some of the technologies that are being used to connect with customers, and result in better relationships with customers and increase revenue.

Bob Tripathi:  This is great.  Thanks so much, Lee, for sharing your wisdom.

October 28, 2010

5 responses on "Social Media and Content Marketing with Lee Odden of TopRank Marketing"

  1. Thank you for the opportunity Bob!

  2. Really useful insights Bob and Lee. Thanks for sharing this info. I’m passing this article along to my fellow copywriters. And I agree that listening is such an important step! Nancy

  3. That was really useful. Thanks for sharing. 

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