Stanford students are using lean startup principles to help fight ISIS

Thousands of foreign fighters went to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS.

The ISIS beheadings of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff. The radicalization of San Bernardino shooters Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik. The Orlando nightclub massacre. Social media, encrypted messages, or online propaganda from ISIS played a role in these horrific events and countless others like them.

Yet Silicon Valley’s approach to combatting ISIS might be compared to a game of whack-a-mole at best, largely a top-down affair. Terrorists use services like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter to publish extremist propaganda and recruit followers. The tech companies, in turn, shut down the terrorists’ accounts only to have them spring up again.

But this fall, a group of five Stanford graduate students devised a promising, bottom-up approach to prevent the radicalization of Americans to ISIS. They developed their solution — called FAVE (for Friends and Families Against Violent Extremism) — using lean startup principles to identify those individuals at risk of radicalization and prevent them from joining ISIS.

The number of Americans who joined or tried to join ISIS more than doubled to about 250 in 2015, from 100 people a year earlier, according to Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Carlin. And as many as 31,500 people from across the globe have travelled to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS since 2011, although perhaps only 15,000 remain, according to recent figures. Even as ISIS continues to lose ground in Syria and Iraq, there’s the threat of bombings by so-called lone wolves or by small cells of people like last week’s Christmas Market attack in Berlin.

Hacking for diplomacy

The students behind FAVE — Anusha Balakrishnan (MS Computer Science), Hyeryung Chloe Chung (MA International Policy Studies), Gloria Chua (MS Computer Science), Jian Yang Lum (MS Statistics), and Vinaya Polamreddi (MS Computer Science) — formed a team called HackingCT, for hacking counterterrorism. It was part of a 10-week course, Hacking for Diplomacy. Led by Steve Blank of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, and father of the Lean LaunchPad methodology, students in the course partnered with the U.S. State Department to apply lean-startup principles to global challenges.

The HackingCT team.

Above: The HackingCT team.

Image Credit: HackingCT

Some students addressed human trafficking, others the refugee crisis in Europe, and still others several vexing problems. The HackingCT team was drawn to ISIS because of the large number of people it has killed. According to Chua, “In 2015 alone, there have been 11,744 attacks in 92 different countries. ISIS has also been adept in recruiting individuals to their cause. The urgency and severity of the issue is what drove us to work on this.”

Working with the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism and with the Special Representative to the Muslim Communities in the Office of Religions and Global Affairs, the HackingCT team followed the three key lean startup principles: 1) sketch out a hypothesis, not a business plan; 2) talk to customers, iterate based in feedback, pivot as necessary; 3) use agile development for rapid and responsive product creation.

While the students ultimately conducted more than 100 interviews to develop FAVE, they spoke with about 20 people during the first two weeks as they attempted to understand the characteristics of those at risk for radicalization. They quickly realized that this would not help them. “It wasn’t long before we found out that there are already many in-depth and long-term research and analysis in this area,” Chua said in an email interview. “Radicalization pathways are complex and multi-causal, and there is no one single defining characteristic. It is not about poverty levels, about education levels, mental health, etc. There is just no one general trend.”

Help ecosystem ISIS terrorism HackingCT

The team also looked at the usually unsuccessful efforts by various well-meaning institutions to reach at-risk individuals. Too often the messages are regarded with suspicion and lack credibility because of their overt agendas. For instance, the team examined the Global Engagement Center’s efforts of using Twitter to send messages against violent extremist groups, which received negative reactions online.

However, the group saw that “grassroots efforts like YouTube videos posted by youth that use humor to ridicule ISIS, or a local respected religious leader sharing their thoughts” could be effective, Chua said. “We identified that a message needed to be credible in the following: the message itself, the messenger, the channel, and the form.”

After several weeks, the HackingCT team had a breakthrough and, in Silicon Valley parlance, decided to pivot. “We realized our learning plateaued because we were unable to reach these at-risk individuals themselves to learn more. As in design thinking, we decided to look for analogous situations to research off of,” Chua said. “We explored gang violence, drunk driving, and suicide.”

Countering violent extremism

The team saw many similarities between suicidal ideation and online radicalization. “In both cases, the individual is in a vulnerable state, is highly susceptible to outside influence, and talking about the problem is often taboo. Also, suicide intervention and prevention is relatively new — while 20 years ago one might be hard-pressed to find any resources to intervene, today there is a wealth of resources like hotlines and more. This gave us hope that a similar transformation can happen for the CVE [for Countering Violent Extremism] space as well,” Chua said.

But for a person contemplating suicide, they can call 911 and get help. A person contemplating joining ISIS who calls the police is likely to be arrested. The HackingCT team determined that only family and friends can help “rescue” a person from becoming radicalized online. Trusted people could form an effective bridge between at-risk individuals and the organizations that could help them. The team also saw that 1-800 helplines could be effective, but not in the way they expected. They also looked at efforts by Google to use online ads to reach at-risk individuals.

“When we talked to NGOs, the State Department, and more, we learned that at-risk individuals were not likely to reach out and actively engage in these resources. They also pushed us to think about the people around the individual,” Chua said.

Chua explained how one of their sponsors at the State Department suggested they consider a 16-year-old who sees their friend acting differently, but then who has no idea where to go from there. She also described how an expert at one of the NGOs they spoke to showed them a presentation slide that read, “Most friends and family have an idea their family member is radicalized” but have “nowhere to turn to but the police.” The team also learned about helpline initiatives for friends and family in Austria and Canada.

MVP for fighting ISIS terrorism

Armed with this information, in the final weeks of the course the students created a minimal viable product consisting of a helpline and textline, which resonated with the NGOs. FAVE can act as short-term, lightweight, and scalable solution that serves as a bridge to long-term, personal intervention by an NGO. It’s a solution using decades-old technology — 1-800 helplines staffed by experts — borne of a new approach — startup principles.HAckingCT ISIS

According to Chua, the team is discussing next steps with the State Department and seeking sponsors. They are planning FAVE pilots in one domestic and one international English-speaking city by mid-2017. Candidate cities are Minneapolis and Luton, England, two areas where individuals joined ISIS and went to Syria.

“We hope that as a team of 5 providing a fresh perspective to a growing and emerging field, we might be able to move the needle in a meaningful way,” Chua said.

Social – VentureBeat

The Must-Follow Principles of B2B Social Media Success

Jonathan Wichmann - InstagramEditor’s Note: Unfortunately the audio in this episode was compromised, so we decided to run the transcript only for this amazing episode with Jonathan Wichmann. Please read it, Jonathan has some amazing tips for marketers everywhere, especially in the B2B sector. Also, please note that this episode was recorded prior to the passing of the great David Bowie.

In This Episode

  • How an internally driven social plan (versus externally created) leads to a trustworthy and speedy network
  • Why “social” means “democratic” when it comes to structure
  • How letting down your competitive guard leads to a successful B2B social presence
  • Why B2B social exists in more than just the Marketing/Communications Department



Jay: Welcome, everybody to Social Pros, the podcast for real people doing real work in social media. I am, as always, Jay Baer from Convince & Convert, joined as per usual by my pal, my special Texas friend. He is the executive strategist at Salesforce Marketing Cloud, live from Austin, Texas, still under the weather but here nonetheless, the one, the only, Mr. Adam Brown. That’s Adam Brown.

Adam: Hey, hello, howdy and thank you. It is great to be here. As you said, Jay, the cedar fever has still continued to plague me. This week it’s mold and cedar. That is your pollen forecast. We’ll have the rest of your forecast right after these commercial messages.

Jay: We need a sponsor for this part of the season, like from Sudafed or somebody, “The Social Pros Podcast, brought to you by Sudafed.”

Adam: I agree. Hopefully though this will resolve itself so these little messages will no longer need to be shared with our listening audience.

Jay: We’ll take anybody’s money. We don’t care.

Adam: There you go.

Jay: I am so excited about our guest today who probably does not have a pollen issue because he’s coming to us literally from halfway around the world live from Copenhagen, Denmark, one of my favorite people in all of the social media, in fact, a previous guest on this very podcast. I don’t even know what episode he was on. I don’t have my list in front of me. But it was early, like episode 4 or something and now we’re at 200, Mr. Jonathan Wichmann joins us again on the big Social Pros Podcast.

Jonathan: Thank you. Good to be back. It’s been quite a while. I think it’s been… it must be more than two years, three years now.

Jay: I think it’s almost four years since you’ve been on this show. You were in the penalty box for an entire presidential period.

Jonathan: Wow.

Jay: Now, you joined us when you were at Maersk Line and talk about the amazing work that you did for that organization, turning the world’s largest shipper of things into a social media powerhouse. Now, you are part of the consultancy Orca Social, which helps B2B organizations do great social media. Tell us a little bit about Orca and how that works.

Jonathan: Basically it works like after two years at Maersk Line, I found it was time to move on. I teamed up with a guy named Ed Major, who came from Oracle. He said, “You know, there’s a model to how you’ve been working at Maersk with social, doing it from within. We need to capture that. There’s an opportunity here because so many companies are in the B2B space.”

They don’t know what to do about this. He said, “I really share your vision. Somehow we need to capture the model and help other companies do the same.” So I thought that was kind of exciting, not knowing if he was right or not.

Jay: You may be crazy, but we appreciate you taking the flier and starting this company. And full credit to our friends at Oracle, close your eyes here for this part, Adam, our pals at Oracle Marketing Cloud are the cohosts and sponsor of our sister podcast, Content Pros. So if you hadn’t listened to that one, you should do it because it’s like this show but for content marketing, content pros hosted by Chris Moody from Oracle Marketing Cloud and Randy Frisch from Uberflip.

Jonathan, recently you and Ed and the folks at Orca Social put together an eBook about key principles for B2B social media. One of the things I wanted you to talk about is you have certainly lived this principle in your own work, but it’s one of the key foundational principles of Orca Social now is this notion of doing social media in B2B from within. Can you describe that a little bit and how that works in practice?

Jonathan: Yeah. I think first and foremost, I think it’s important especially for B2B companies if they are to really reap the benefits of social that they realize that it’s much more than just Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, etc., that it’s actually a technology enabling people to communicate. So it’s peer to peer communication. We all know this, but what does it mean in terms of how you can use it for business?

Often it ends up being something you have in the communications department, marketing department, maybe HR. I think with enterprise social networks and internal platforms and all of this, it’s just becoming increasingly clear, at least to us, that so many other ways to use it for instance for supply chain optimization, but not as social media, not on Facebook but just by referring to it as social technologies.

When you start looking or seeing that, we’re talking about social business and all of that. Then it’s really clear that you can, of course, use external help and that’s something we provide and many other people, but really you need somebody on the inside to drive it so it becomes trustworthy and speedy. And that’s, of course, a difficult part because in a B2B company, who has those skills, understanding of the business and social at the same time?

I don’t think that you’ll find many B2B companies who have sort of the budget to really go big in the beginning. So often you need to build it from scratch with very little means. So in order for it to be cost efficient right from the beginning, I think it has to be driven from people on the inside.

Jay: One of the things that you talk about in your new eBook about B2B social on a related topic is that social can help create a shared culture in the organization. What do you mean by that? How does social as a discipline manifest itself that broadly and help everybody in the organization think and feel the same way? That seems to me like a tall assignment, even for something like social.

Jonathan: It is. But it’s like the chicken and the egg discussion in a way. Sometimes if you have a very social organization to begin with, then of course social media will be a true or pretty easy reflection in that and it would be easy to implement it in theory at least. Whereas when the opposite is happening, then we find that social technologies can be sort of a silo breaker, in some cases at least.

With social, because it’s not top-down, but democratic in the way it’s structured, in the way the communication is structured around it. It will have a tendency to be more about people sharing knowledge and promoting that notion of sharing rather than protecting, that you see that you benefit from sharing knowledge, really, in the culture. So I think that’s the basis of that.

Jay: You mentioned earlier social business versus social media and that we’re not necessarily talking about Facebook and Instagram and things like that, although certainly B2B can make great use of those and we’ll talk about that in a little bit.

I found it interesting that for Orca Social, for your clients and members of your consultancy, you actually use a Facebook group to bring those people together. The last time you were on the show, I don’t think we had Facebook groups or if we did they weren’t very good. It seems so amazing to me that now, just even in a context like that, you need to have a group to deal with your own customers. Instead of doing that either on a private social network on LinkedIn, now you’re using it with Facebook as well. Do you find that unusual and interesting as well?

Jonathan: I do, really. It actually was not a fun process, but it was an interesting process where we started doing our own custom group. It’s really difficult to get people on board there. Then we moved on to LinkedIn for a little while. So we did exactly what you said and it didn’t really take off until we ended up at Facebook, where you have a more lighthearted dialogue, really.

But I think for us it’s really part of the value that we provide our clients that they can join this Facebook group and in there have these conversations with each other instead. So actually, they can share knowledge with each other. I find that’s really interesting as a business model.

At the end of the day, it’s not about us just doing consultancy again and again saying the same things. So really trying to live it, in a way, it’s the way to go forward, I think. But that being said, it’s not that it’s easy to have a successful group, I think. There’s a critical mass thing, of course. You need a certain number of people in there before you have enough to answer each other’s questions and have a meaningful discussion.

Jay: Yeah. Absolutely. Otherwise it’s the sound of a tree falling in the forest. One of the things that you and I have talked about in the past, and I still hear this from B2B companies and clients of ours and perhaps you do as well and Adam does at Salesforce, is when we talk about more proactive social media marketing on behalf of B2Bs and we start talking about editorial calendars and maybe doing something in Facebook or Instagram or even Pinterest.

What I sometimes hear, maybe it’s not phrased exactly this way, but essentially what I hear is, “We’re B2B. We’re not interesting enough to do that. We don’t have good stories. We don’t have good pictures. We don’t have good videos. We’re not Pepsi. We’re not Coca Cola, I should say that for Adam as a former Coca Cola social media, we’ll edit that out. Actually, we won’t, but let’s pretend we’ll edit that out.

So Jonathan, what do you tell those companies who say they don’t have stories to tell that will resonate in social media as someone that has proven that it can be done in B2B. Maersk Line is not what you would consider to be a sexy organization. What is your advice and counsel for those people?

Jonathan: More often than not, I actually firmly think that they have better stories to tell, stories that are not invented in the marketing department, but just basically what they do and the employees they have and expertise in the company and then it’s a matter of sort of convincing them that this is actually the case and inspiring them to see that. They probably don’t have a very developed communications function compared to B2C companies.

So that can work against you, but I think it can actually work for you. What we saw in this eBook and what we’re also talking about today is that there are many things that just the branding and marketing side of social. I think there’s an opportunity to move beyond that right from the go get, right from the beginning because they don’t have that clearly defined story. So it doesn’t belong to marketing necessarily in the beginning.

Adam: Jonathan, I agree. I think when you have a situation where you don’t have as many resources, where you think on the surface you don’t have the same number of stories, it almost forces you to be scrappy and it forces you into perhaps telling a different story, using different strategies, using different tactics. I love that. I also really like the point that you and Jay have been talking about as it relates to social media being not just a platform play and going beyond Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and the like.

It’s one of the reasons I think many social media tools, including ours search over one billion sources because social media can take place really on any corner of the internet. Jonathan, what do you tell the social media manager who’s already maybe a little overwhelmed by the big three that they need to look beyond it. How do you tell them how to best manage social media beyond just those Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the basic networks?

Jonathan: I think I often talk about having their own platform in a way and thinking about what does it take for a platform to become social. What is it that you can do with these plugins and then create something like a forum or something where you can perhaps use these technologies to add value somehow.

I think there are many good examples of that also in the B2B space of how you can have your own platform and use it to involve people and innovation or customer service. Provide a platform, basically, for communication and for sharing knowledge. So I think often they need this hub that is not Facebook.

We also see in the B2B space people, depending on what part, B2B is such a broad concept, but customers would rarely go to a Facebook or Twitter to air their anger towards a company or ask questions. They would just call the key plan manager. So what they would like to as customers, for instance, be involved in is more high level discussions around products.

They actually want to be because often a B2B company is a huge part of the supply chain or of the operation. They want to be part of this. As it is today, it’s from a technology perspective, really easy to create something where this can actually happen. So it’s all about the mindset, really, that people don’t really know, “This is not how we do it”. So find ways to demonstrate that it is actually doable and you can arrive at really hardcore business results very quickly just providing the right technology. I think that’s something along the lines of that, at least.

Then also I think early success is often a good thing. Having sort of trust internally because you need to have people ask you about more strategic questions so you don’t just become the Facebook manager, but someone who’s actually looking for business results from day one.

Adam: I think certainly the ROI is so important for whether you’re doing B2C or B2B. Are there any special strategies or any special things that a B2B social media manager or leader can do to help distinguish that? Is it more of a focus, as you mentioned, Jonathan, on those internal communities, on the message boards and the forums? I think technology companies have always been a great pioneer and user of those. Is it something else?

Jonathan: I think HR, nothing is easy in this world, of course, but it’s an easy win, in a way, because the tools are already available and the HR organization, it’s already tuned in and we know we need to use LinkedIn and we need to do this and that and there’s an employer brand taking on all of this. Some communication around that, we need to attract the next generation. I think management understands that.

So that’s at least one area where there are plenty of opportunities. It will involve communication as well. But again, it’s an area where what we see is it’s not that it’s all about social ads and it’s all about doing great, cool videos of tell the world about what you are. What really works is that people, what really works is that you show rather than tell.

So instead of saying we are good and we are just talking about all your EVPs, it’s much more effective to empower some of your thought leaders in the company on the block and have them talk with their own voice in an authentic way and forget about sort of the corporate because people want to work with people who are maybe even smarter than them, people they admire, really. So if you can do that for instance, then I think you’re onto something.

Adam: You mentioned social ads. Certainly social ads on the paid side of things have impacted all of us as social media strategists and users.

Do you think that social ads are having as big of an impact on the B2B side and are B2B managers understanding and accepting that they are going to need to allocate their media mix and typically in many instances, fewer dollars to spend, but they are going to have to spend those dollars if they are going to have a modicum of success, at least on the bigger social media networks.

Jonathan: I think they do realize that they need to, some do. Those that are successful, they do realize that you cannot just open a profile and then something will happen. You need to tell people about the fact that you are there, actually. You need to be highly targeted. But that being said, I don’t think they have very . . . they don’t know the ads platforms very well. They don’t know how to use them beyond just growing followers and promoting some posts and things like that. So it’s not very, what I find, sophisticated part of the marketing mix and how they go to market.

I think for instance, they should allocate resources to grow influence of some of their key employees, talking about employee advocacy a lot this year and the past couple of years has been a hot topic, right? Supporting some of your thought leaders and giving them a bigger voice to me is a very sound and good tactic.

Adam: I love that, Jonathan. As a matter of fact, last week I was giving a speech on B2B social media marketing and one of the things I remarked about was that I believe in B2B, there are typically more true subject matter experts within the organization.

The key to social media marketing is for not just the social media marketers to be building in that engage and the conversations, but to empower those engineers, those technical experts, the people who know the product intimately to have those engagements. There’s some Altimeter Research as well as some research that I know Jay has incorporated and included in a lot of his books that shows how the social media manager is moving from a doer to more of an enabler.

Jonathan: Exactly.

Adam: It’s less about them writing the content, but enabling that. It sounds like you kind of agree with that sentiment.

Jonathan: Certainly. In general, I think research shows that as well. People are not following companies, really. I don’t really care about what Adidas has to say about the weather today to really stress it. But what I would like to follow and many other people is other people within what I care about, the same arenas, I think it’s realizing that… I think Mark Zuckerberg has been brilliant at so far, he’s sort of told companies that they can have fans and they can get likes, which is in the corporate world, if you think about it, fans, that’s something a football team would have or a rock band, not a B2B company.

So that has, of course, for many CEOs, they rarely go beyond sort of just the fan count when they meet at conferences. That’s what I’ve heard recently. That’s how they compare when they talk about social media. Right there, all the many benefits of social technologies in the broader sense, social in the broader sense is, of course, lost. So I think we’re very aligned on that one. I think it’s about the people, basically. But then when you hear is, “What about if they leave the company? What will happen then?” I think that’s just an occupational risk, in a way.

Adam: Sure.

Jay: I think people always have that fear that if you put some sort of trust and emphasis on humanity, that what if the human’s change. But I think if you have that culture of humanity, that culture of customer experience, that culture of shared belief systems and social is just a signal of that, then even if that person were to leave or those people were to leave, the train keeps on rolling. I think we’re starting to see more and more examples of companies “surviving” the departure of a well-known social media manager.

Jonathan: Yeah, or a well-known thought leader, engineer, whatever, who has established him or herself as someone who’s knowledgeable around that topic. It’s an extra reason for staying that you’re supported by your company.

Jay: Yeah. Speaking of support, I want to acknowledge this week’s sponsors of the Social Pros Podcast. Our friends at Salesforce Marketing Cloud are the wise employers of one Mr. Adam Brown. They also have produced a fantastic free eBook that you should read as soon as you finish reading the eBook on B2B social from our friends at Orca.

It is called “Winning at Social: Four Steps to Enhance Your Social Media Strategy,” all kinds of tips and tricks to help you put into practice some of the principles we’ve talked about on today’s show, including one to one customer journeys on social media, social touchpoints across the entire organization, etc., grab a copy of this over the holidays or beyond the holidays, whenever you get a chance to listen to this. Go to to get the “Winning at Social” book from our friends at Salesforce Marketing Cloud.

Also this week, the show is brought to you by our friends at Cision. Cision has a terrific eBook as well called “Five Social Audiences Brands Cannot Afford to Ignore.” I think if you listen to this podcast, you’re pretty dialed into the fact that social media is about listening first. But are you listening aggressively enough, broadly enough, hard enough? That’s what this eBook is all about. I was delighted to contribute to it, “Five Social Audience Brands Can’t Afford to Ignore” from Cision. Go to to download that.

Also excited to announce here for the very first time that we are starting a new podcast here on the Convince & Convert Media Network. We’ll have a new show starting February-ish called Influence Pros, all about influencer marketing. That is going to be sponsored by and cohosted by our friends at Cision. Heidi Sullivan, who’s one of their vice presidents and a terrific friend of Convince & Convert, she’ll be on the microphone for that show. Next year be looking for that, Influencer Pros.

Also this week, last but certainly not least, our long-time sponsor Sprout Social as has a fantastic eBook and it’s exactly what we were talking about a moment ago. It’s called “The Power of Your People: Employee Advocacy on Social.” Let’s remember that on average, an employee has 846 connections in social media.

When you add that up, your employees can and in many cases do have more social connections than the brand does itself. We’ve got to harness that capability to help spread our message. This eBook tells you just how to do that. It’s “The Power of Your People: Employee Advocacy in Social Media” book from our friends at Sprout Social. Go to Thanks as always to our friends at Sprout Social. Adam?

Adam: Jonathan, during our pre-show research, I got to look at your background, look at your resume on LinkedIn, another social media property, imagine that. And I was fascinated by a couple of things, but one is that you have bachelors in music and a master’s in literature. I just love that. One of the things we often talk about on this show is being a good storyteller. Obviously you have that storytelling DNA.

I have to ask though, how do you believe that your very creative background has led to what you’re doing now and how is it impacted especially what you’ve done for some fantastic B2B companies and of course the work you’ve done with your agencies and your consultancies?

Jonathan: It’s hard to tell, isn’t it? It’s very fluid because when are you a storyteller, when are you a student and when are you a marketer and all of this and social media manager, whatever. But I think I’m always, to pat myself on the back, I’m good at looking at it from the recipient’s point of view. I have sort of the bullshit alert.

So I’ve been thinking a lot about what the company has to say really add value and what does it say for anything to be shared by anyone. I think there’s so much noise out there already. Very often in these big corporations, it’s very consensus driven, even in B2Cs when they do campaigns and what comes out is sort of washed away from anything interesting. So it’s just noise and people don’t notice it once it’s out there because it’s just like everything else.

So I’m actually applying often, “Do I really care about what this story is about? Does it add anything to what’s already out there?” The answer is, as you can imagine, often no. It’s more the same.

Then at the same time, I’ve also been doing journalism and stuff, so instead of inventing things, really just making the most of what you already have got, I think that’s my method, in a way, looking at that. Surprisingly, people always find that they often say we didn’t even see that. Once it’s day-to-day on a daily basis and you don’t see all the many great stories that you have within the company or within the organization.

So I think that’s often my job to go in and help them identify the good stories that are often lying there. Then it’s also all about how to execute it in a way so people will click on it and read it to the end or watch it or whatever. So to me I think it’s all tied together. I don’t know about the jazz, but of course there’s some story thing in there. But I think I needed a break at some point.

Adam: It’s your creative outlet. We all need one. It’s great how you’ve wrapped that into what you do. It certainly, I think, has a profound impact on the stories you tell.

Jonathan: I use music as a way to escape, basically. Then I escaped to London at a jazz college. Then after, I think, two weeks I was already tired of it because it was just rehearsing ten hours a day.

Adam: “This might be a good hobby, but I don’t know if this will be a good occupation.”

Jay: I just like the idea of a jazz college.

Jonathan: It was more the idea of it actually.

Adam: One of the other interesting things I think we’re often asked about in this industry, industry being public relations or advertising, is what do I do next. So often times we are told as marketers and as communicators to be successful in this space, you’ve got to work on the agency side and you’ve got to work on the corporate side. You’ve really kind of got to do both. You’ve got to work on both sides of the fence.

Jonathan, that’s something that you have done with your corporate experience at Maersk Line and of course the agencies that you’ve founded and cofounded. Do you believe that one of them is a good boot camp over the other? Are they both required? What would you tell the person who’s thinking about hopping to other side of that proverbial fence.

Jonathan: I think I’ve seen it go wrong a lot of times when agency people join the corporate and vice versa. I don’t know why. Maybe people are just not as flexible as they should be. So as positive in the outlook of different opportunities in the two settings. You need to adjust a lot. But I think there’s something about the tempo when you’re used to working on the agency side and you register your time by the minute, almost, and then you join the corporate world and it’s like, “What do I do today?” It’s a different tempo.

So you need to keep the momentum if you really want to make a difference because I find often there are many meetings, a lot of politics. So you really need to be careful about working with the right people and finding out you need people around you with a shared vision. Where on the agency side it’s, I think, it’s different criteria that you need to look for before joining, like with the clients and what is the environment like. Is it a party environment? Is it more of an accountant environment or is it both at the agency side? I don’t know if that makes sense at all.

Adam: No, it does. One of the great things about this show that I get to enjoy is I get to listen to you and Jay and the guests kind of banter about as I sit here copiously taking notes because it’s great stuff. I want to come back to one of the things that you and Jay were talking about. It was this idea, Jonathan, that you said that social is democratic. That’s it’s about sharing, rather than protecting content. That really kind of hit me.

I think even as it relates to what we’ve been talking about with corporate versus agency. So you find that brands are more or less likely to kind of want to share content, to share insight rather than individuals? As you consult with brands and companies, how do you help them balance that risk and reward of not really trying to control the message as much, but really trying to enable and foster more authenticity in that dialogue?

Jonathan: I think I’ve been lucky or fortunate because of the way it worked out with Maersk, my work at Maersk. That’s been an example. They’ve known about that before consulting with me. They wanted some of it. Then it’s easy to say you need to let go of control. You need to get ready to learn first and actually when you get started on this, you know very little. You don’t know your own tone of voice, you don’t know the audience and you don’t know the platforms.

So now we need to start exploring for a while. We need to make a lot of mistakes, all of this, very basic stuff but extremely difficult to do for a large corporation like that where everything has been controlled and all the people that you meet, executives, they have one experience which has brought them to the top, that’s staying in control, being very structured in everything you do. Then you’ll get to the top. This is the opposite learning all of a sudden that we’re trying to get across. I’ve been fortunate having that history from Maersk to use.

But apart from that, I think what strikes me now and then is when you look at large, it goes for most Fortune 500 companies. If you look at their mission and vision and all of that, they want to do something beyond just earnings. They want to provide better lives to people or even save the planet now and then. But when you then look at how willing they are share knowledge for common good, they’re not very eager.

I think something what Elon Musk did a year back by opening up or letting go on the patents around the Tesla thing, that kind of approach where you say, “We cannot do this alone. We need the rest of you. We need to do it together. It doesn’t mean that we’ll lose. Actually, we’ll benefit from it because then we’ll have other companies in the crowd working for us instead of against us or in silos.” That kind of approach, luckily we’re seeing that more and more. So that’s sort of the stuff that I will tell them, but it’s not easy.

Jay: Just going to drop the mic right there. That would be spectacular. Jonathan, thanks so much for being back on the Social Pros Podcast.

Jonathan: Yeah. It was great.

Jay: Congratulations to you and Ed and all the success at Orca Social. We’ll make sure to link up your new eBook in the show notes. We’ll also link to the previous episode you did with us when you were at Maersk line. We talked a little bit about that today. My favorite person in the great land of Denmark, I am part Danish myself, so Jonathan and I are somehow related back to the Viking days.

Jonathan: We are.

Jay: We are essentially the same person. Next time you’re in Denmark, if you need a friend in the great city of Copenhagen, my favorite city in all of Europe, look up our friend, Jonathan Wichmann. He will do you right. Jonathan, thanks for being on this show. Always fantastic to talk to you.

Jonathan: Thanks for having me on the show. It was a pleasure.

Jay: Ladies and gentleman, we’ve got a bunch of great guests coming up in the next few weeks. Our next episode is with Lindsey from the commercial real estate organization CB Richard Ellis. We’ve got Neil from Mack Trucks coming on. So we’re going to talk about how we’re doing social media for a giant trucking company, a whole bunch of other great guests lined up for the next month or so. So make sure you tune in to Social Pros.

Also I mentioned Content Pros earlier in the episode, make sure if you haven’t listened to that you give those guys a listen. And super excited about the launch of our new show, Influence Pros, which will be coming up soon. Listen for more details on that.

Until next time, I am Jay Baer from Convince & Convert. He is Adam Brown from Salesforce Marketing Cloud and this has been Social Pros.

Quotes From This Episode

“For B2B companies to really reap the benefits of social, they need to realize that it’s actually a technology enabling people to communicate peer-to-peer.”  —@JonathanWich

“There’s an opportunity to move social beyond branding and marketing.” —@JonathanWich (highlight to tweet)

“Often they need this hub that is not Facebook.” —@JonathanWich

“You need to have people ask you more strategic questions so you become someone who’s looking for business results from day one.” —@JonathanWich

“It’s much more effective to empower your thought leaders in the company and have them talk with their own voice.” —@JonathanWich

“People want to work with people who are smarter than them, people they admire.” —@JonathanWich (highlight to tweet)

“If you have that culture of humanity—and social is a signal of that—even if somebody were to leave, the train keeps on rolling.” —@JonathanWich (highlight to tweet)



Convince and Convert: Social Media Strategy and Content Marketing Strategy

Mastering Content Marketing: 7 Required Principles for Success


If you’re not thrilled with the results you’re getting from content marketing, you might be missing a piece of the puzzle.

As long as you’re doing some of the key aspects of content marketing right, you’ll get some good results.

However, you’ll also get some bad ones, and overall that will lead to slow growth and minimal success.

This is very common.

And that’s because marketers rely too much on tactics.

You probably know a few good tactics to create content for your readers and promote it.

But you’ve also probably noticed that when you use the same tactics over and over again, many stop working or work only some of the time.

In fact, that’s the whole point of tactics in the first place: a specific approach to a specific situation.

And you won’t be in the same situation all that often.

Despite the fact that most marketers read the same blog posts about tactics and strategies, only 30% of them find content marketing effective


Many marketers understand what to do—but not why they should do it.

And this seems like a small thing, but in reality, it’s crucial.

If you don’t understand why you should use a particular tactic, you won’t know when to use it. This means you’re playing a guessing game, and the results will be all over the place.

I want to clear up as much of this as possible in this post.

We’re going to look at the 7 most important principles of content marketing and how you should apply them.

Once you understand how these principles affect your overall content strategy, you should be able to get a better grip on when you need to use specific tactics.

Principle #1: All effective content provides this…

This is something that every single marketer needs to understand.

Content marketing is based on providing value to your target audience.

No matter which type of content you create, every decision you make about it should be to maximize the value for the reader.

Notice that I said “value for the reader.

One of the most common mistakes is defining value based on your own preferences and opinions.

But your readers don’t necessarily find the same things valuable or interesting as you do.

It’s important that you remember that value is always defined by your audience.

If you’re not seeing any traction with your content, there’s a disconnect. Traffic growth, shares, positive comments, emails, etc. are all signs that you are delivering value to your readers.

In general, the more value you give, the more you get in return.

Signs of high value content: I can’t tell you exactly what your specific audience values. You’ll have to determine that yourself, if you haven’t already.

However, I can point you towards four characteristics of high value content. These aspects remain true in almost any niche:

  1. It’s actionable – Your audience comes away from the content knowing how to implement something you covered. This is why you often see me break things down into step-by-step procedures.


2. New stuff – There is some value in repeating your message on certain topics because not all readers understand it or implement it the first time. However, every piece of content should have at least one or two new key facts, findings, tactics, etc. Most audiences put a high value on learning new things.

3. Impressive design/Highly readable – You should make all blog content highly readable. Pick a large font, minimize distractions, format it clearly, and include lots of images. When you’re creating content for other websites, do the best you can (even if their layout isn’t great).

4. Backed up with data and sources – Most audiences need to be convinced that your way is the best way. In order to do that, you need to cite research and experts.


Examples of high value content: One of the toughest parts of becoming a great content creator is distinguishing what is and isn’t high value content.

After all, content comes in many forms.

The best way to learn about it is to see it.

You’ll be able to tell whether you are looking at good content by the high number of social shares and comments it has.

Some high value content, like Seth Godin’s, is very short:


His readers value being challenged into growing as people and marketers.

My content, on the other hand, is extremely long, yet it gets about the same number of shares as Seth’s.

You should also look at other forms of content.

For example, “MinutePhysics” is an extremely popular YouTube channel. Their audience loves the short videos that break down complex topics in simple ways (with attractive drawings):


That audience doesn’t want to know every single detail (which would take days or weeks to learn); they just want to learn something neat in a minute or two.

Or maybe you’re considering repurposing content as slideshows. You should take a look at the top slideshows on Slideshare in order to see what those audiences appreciate:


For the most part, they want high quality images with easy to read text that breaks down large topics into digestible bites.

You’ll also notice that high value content in your niche may not seem that impressive compared to other niches. If you find a situation like this, it will be easy to get traction if you just implement this one principle.

The easiest ways to improve the value of your content: Chances are you’re already creating content but might not be getting the results you crave.

There are three simple changes you can make to improve the quality of your content.

The first, and most important, is to cut down on quantity.

There’s no point in posting a ton until you’re sure that you can produce content that your audience considers high value.

It’s better to create less content of high quality than more content of lesser quality, so spend more time and resources making your content as good as possible.

You can always scale up later.

The second thing you can do is bring in other experts to help you create better content.

You’ll notice that most of the advanced guides on Quick Sprout were written with the help of an expert in that topic:


This helped me create more complete content in areas where I’m not as experienced as I would like to be, which made the content more valuable.

Yes, this will cost you money, but it’s often a good investment.

Finally, if you’re not very good at a particular part of content creation, like design, editing, formatting, etc., bring in an expert freelancer.

In the past, I’ve published a lot of infographics. I could create an okay one, but instead, I found an amazing designer who created infographics my audience loved.

Principle #2: It has personality

Content marketing is all about providing value in order to establish a relationship and trust with the audience.

But value alone isn’t enough in most cases.

If you’re going to create the next Wikipedia, then it’s fine to have purely objective content.

But if you’re blogging, it just doesn’t work.

That doesn’t mean you have to be incredibly biased when you create content, but you should always take a stance on a topic.

And then you explain why you think that something is either good or bad for the reader.

You’ll be wrong sometimes, and that’s okay. But the majority of your readers want to know that behind the content they’re consuming, there’s an actual person who cares about them and the topic, and not just someone who is simply copying and pasting from Wikipedia.

How personality shines through in content: Your personality and opinions show up in your content based on the language you use and the way you write.

Ideally, you should sound the same as you would if you were having a conversation in real life.

For example, Brian Dean is one of the bloggers I know who often says “I’m PUMPED” in his content in various situations:


I think it works really well because anyone who’s ever heard Brian speak could easily picture him saying this in real life.

Compare these two tweets:

  • “I’m PUMPED to be speaking at #LAC2014.”
  • “I’ll be speaking at #LAC2014; I’m excited.”

Real people typically focus on their feelings first, which is why the second tweet would sound pretty robotic.

In real life, most people would at least say, “I’m so excited for this opportunity!”

While being concise is important in content creation, don’t shorten content at the expense of emotion. Emotional connections build relationships.

Be authentic: The crucial takeaway is to create content that reflects who you are. If another blogger started using the “I’m PUMPED” expression, it might not work for them.

It’s very difficult to create a likable persona from scratch.

It’s much easier to create content based on the likable traits that you already have.

What if you’re not that likable? It’s a common and perfectly reasonable concern.

Very few people are liked by everyone. But here’s the good news: very few people are not liked by everyone.

There are extremely popular writers who use offensive language, i.e., swear words, in their content on a regular basis:


It’s just who they are.

And guess what? It does turn some readers off their content.

However, this is more than made up for by those readers who love them. That’s because they also don’t believe in censoring themselves in real life or online.

Don’t worry about pleasing everyone. Be authentic, and you will build strong relationships with a small group of readers who will be crucial in your long-term success.

How to be more genuine in your content: At first, being authentic is very difficult.

One technique that I recommend to help you with this is to create your content and then record yourself reading it out loud.

Most phones have a built-in recorder. Otherwise, find an app, or use a free online recorder if you have a microphone.

When you listen to the recording, you’ll notice that you speak in a certain way and even insert words to make your speech more natural.

Add these other words (when they make sense), and add punctuation and formatting such as commas, bold type, italics, and capital letters to add emphasis or change the way the audience reads your content.

Principle #3: It convinces the reader that your viewpoint is correct

I touched on it quickly when I explained the first principle. Being persuasive not only adds value to your content but also serves as an important part of effective content marketing.

If you’re not persuasive, how are you going to get readers to come back to you over and over again and trust you?

By the way, being persuasive means that you back up your opinions and claims with credible sources—and not try to manipulate your readers in some way.

If you write an article saying that bicycling is the best form of exercise, all readers will leave if your whole argument is “I rode a bicycle once and got really tired.”

That’s an extremely bad example, but it illustrates the point.

To make your content convincing, you need:

  • a clear stance on a topic
  • research that backs it up or
  • experts who back it up

Examples of convincing content: Backing up your content with credible resources and research isn’t particularly difficult, but it can take a lot of time.

It’s a matter of how much effort you’re willing to put into your content.

But it makes a huge difference even if it’s difficult to see the results right away.

I try to back up all my claims with data when possible. You will often see me link to studies and analysis reports in Quick Sprout posts:


Another completely valid and convincing way to support your viewpoint is by quoting experts or even getting them to contribute unique content:


When possible, I’d rather cite a study.

However, some topics are purely opinion based. How are you going to statistically identify the best SEO tool? It can’t be done.

To take your content even further, provide examples of reputable people and brands using the techniques and strategies you mention in your content.


Readers see that successful people and brands practice what you’re saying, and that adds a lot of credibility to your points.

How to persuade readers with your content: This is simple but very easy to mess up if you do things in the wrong order.

You want to research your topic first, find supporting data, and then create content.

The worst thing you can do is to simply write a huge post about a new topic and then find out that there’s no credible data to support your viewpoint.

This is less of a risk if you have a lot of content creation experience in your niche, but it’s still good to plan ahead.

First of all, find your statistics, and add them to your content outline.

For most topics, you can Google “(topic)+statistics”:


Then, spend 5-10 minutes looking through the results, and pick out any that help strengthen your main view on the topic.

Next, read what thought leaders in the niche have written about similar topics.

You can either read the first page of Google results when you search for your exact topic, or you could search for something like:

(keyword)+thought leader


Alternatively, you can email a particular expert and ask them to answer a specific question. Then, feature the answer in your content.

This alternative takes more time but can get you unique content, and the influencer will likely help you promote the content.

Finally, whenever you’re finished explaining a concept, get in the habit of writing the phrase “For example…”

Add examples whenever possible to clarify things for your audience. I’ve already used that exact phrase three times in this post (you can use others, of course).

Principle #4: Content needs to deliver on its promises


It’s why people will continue to return to you instead of any other blogger in your niche.

It’s also why when you sell a product, your audience will know that it’s a legitimate offer that will add even more value to their lives.

Just like in real life, you have to earn trust.

You need to deliver great content over and over again.

However, trust is also really easy to lose.

If you don’t deliver on a promise, you lose that trust. If your audience ever feels tricked, you lose that trust.

And it’s very difficult to win it back.

Making promises in your content: All content creators make promises to their readers in multiple ways.

The most obvious and common one is in a headline.

Your headline often claims a benefit. For example:

Do (this) and you’ll earn $ 1,000 per month

That’s a promise. You’re saying that the reader can find a high quality answer in your content that will allow them to get that result.

But if within your post, you offer the get a job and work an extra 50 hours a month” solution to your headline promise, most readers will feel tricked.

Lofty headline claims help you get more clicks and traffic—that’s why we make them.

Just be aware that you need to deliver on your headline.

I’ve created content such as “The Complete Guide to Building Your Blog Audience”:


That’s a big claim.

A complete guide needs to cover everything and do it in a way that’s useful:


If you check out that guide, you’ll notice that not only is it custom designed but it’s also in-depth.

I feel like I’ve delivered on my initial promise in the headline, and judging by the number of links to its main page, I think my audience agrees:


If you ever want to see a site that doesn’t really care about building trust with its audience, check out BuzzFeed.

It routinely uses “clickbait headlines” to attract extra clicks and shares:


Often, it’s about something small that will change your life.

Spoiler: it probably won’t change your life.

And it’s for this reason that BuzzFeed can’t sell products to its audience effectively. The vast majority of the audience doesn’t trust it.

Instead, it generates revenue through advertising, which is one of the least effective types of monetization.

You need to remember this principle for all your content. If you’re telling your subscribers about a product you’re selling, you need to make sure that the product is every bit as amazing as you say it is.

Trust is the most valuable resource you have. Don’t throw it away.

Principle #5: Content is not a one-off occurrence

All great content marketers know one thing:

To be successful with content marketing, you need to be consistent.

It is extremely rare for one piece of content to be enough to generate leads on a regular basis.

The only types of content that can do that are mammoth pieces of content such as full-blown novels and films.

And those are risky.

It pays off for some, but most never see a significant return on their investment.

Online content is a bit different. We don’t typically release huge pieces of content like novels.

Instead, we focus on smaller, focused pieces of content.

The most important thing to realize is that what’s a “big” piece of content to you might not actually be that big.

My posts are typically over 4,000 words long, and they really aren’t “big.”

That’s why it’s a bit silly when bloggers complain that they’re not growing fast when all they’re doing is posting one or two 500-word articles a week.

It seems like a lot because they might not be used to it, but it’s really not.

At least not immediately…

But if they stayed consistent for a few years, they’d amass 200-300 posts that would probably drive a fair amount of reliable traffic.

It’s too bad most bloggers give up before then.

Examples of consistency: Consistently giving value to your audience is how you build a relationship and trust.

There are no shortcuts; it takes time.

I’ve been blogging on Quick Sprout since 2007. I didn’t get hundreds of shares on each piece of content overnight.

If you look in the archives, you’ll see I’ve been posting three times a week for a long time.

I publish a new post every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday:


Another great example of consistency is James Clear. He’s a writer who has grown an audience from zero to 200,000 subscribers in just three years.

He did it by posting an article on his site every Monday and Thursday during those three years:


Are you willing to make that sort of commitment? That’s what effective content marketing requires.

How to stay consistent and avoid burnout: On top of correctly setting your expectations, there are four things you can do to increase your chances of being able to maintain consistency.

The first, and most important, thing you need to do is create a content schedule.

Plan your content ahead of time so there’s no chance of something coming up and preventing you from posting. As soon as you skip posting once or twice, it becomes easier to forget about it.

It doesn’t need to be complicated. You can even set up a simple schedule using a spreadsheet:


Any type of calendar schedule will work. If you’ve never used any before, consider Google Calendar, which is simple to get started with:


The second thing you need to do is produce a reasonable amount of content.


You may not have the time or experience to post three times a week like I do.

That’s okay.

You might grow a bit slower, but you’ll still grow as long as you’re consistent.

Start on the low side, and then up your frequency when you feel you can. It’s always better to scale up than down.

Thirdly, you need to make content a priority.

Have enough time carved out specifically for content creation so that even if there’s an emergency somewhere else in the business, you still create the content you need.

Every single piece of content is important even if you can’t see the growth on a post-by-post basis.

Finally, write about topics you care about. That’s the easiest way to stay motivated.

There’s no way I could have written about marketing for over eight years if I didn’t love it.

Principle #6: It outshines everything else out there

The specific content needed for effectiveness will always be changing.

Years ago, you could post basic 500-word articles and still get decent results.

Now, you won’t even get a second look.

For content marketing to work, your content needs to be much better than the competition’s. That’s the only way you stand out, and it’s one of the main reasons why a reader would follow you over someone else.

Examples of next level content: People have written on just about every topic.

When you search for a main keyword, you can see most of the best content around it (Google doesn’t always rank newer content right away).

For example, I could look at the competition for this post by searching for:

Principles of Effective Content Marketing


My next step would be to take a look at the top results.

Here’s what the #1 result looks like:


The information is pretty good, but it’s a very plain and shallow article.

The next few search results are similar, with short, brief lists:


Just by making my post more in-depth and including a lot of examples, I am making it to stand out.

Hopefully, I will outrank these other posts in the future.

Let’s look at another piece of content that stands out…

Tons of SEO bloggers make lists of great tools to use (including me).

However, most only have a few dozen tools at the most.

Brian Dean took a different angle. He personally tested and put together a list of over 150 SEO tools.

He even created custom filtering buttons.


In my posts, I tend to cover the main features of tools in detail, whereas Brian went for quantity.

They’re both examples of next level content, and each will attract different types of readers.

How to ensure that your content is the best: You need to do your best to make each piece of content as strong as possible.

To do this, follow this simple 4-step process:

  1. Find your competition – Use Google and tools like BuzzSumo to find the most popular content for a topic.
  2. Research your competition – Write down the strengths and weaknesses of all your competition.
  3. Match the strengths – If they did something really well, try to match or exceed them in those areas.
  4. Fix the weaknesses – Your biggest opportunity to stand out is to improve on weaknesses your competition has.

Principle #7: Your content marketing strategy should always evolve

The final principle is one of the most important:

Your content marketing strategy should never stay static.

If you ever feel like you have it “all figured out,” think again.

Tactics become less effective over time, and adopting (or inventing) new ones is what will keep you successful.

If you go back a few years, you’ll see that many Quick Sprout posts were very short.

As I noticed that longer content performed better in many aspects, I shifted my focus to producing more in-depth content on a regular basis.

Another example is creating infographics.

They were the main way that we were able to get the KISSmetrics blog an impressive 2,512,596 visitors and 41,142 backlinks.

I started using them on Quick Sprout a few years later but saw much tamer results.

Content marketing will always be evolving, so make sure you and your tactics are evolving as well.


Tactics are important for successful content marketing.

But even more important are the 7 underlying principles I’ve shown you in this post.

If you understand these principles, not only will you be able to apply tactics more effectively but you’ll also be able to stay on top of content marketing for years to come.

My challenge for you now is to evaluate if you understand these principles and to apply them on a regular basis.

If you already use these principles, let me know how you do it in a comment below. If not, let me know which ones you need to work on and how you plan to attack them.

Quick Sprout

7 Psychological Principles to Get More Engagement on Social Media

the mind

Just about every great marketer I’ve met had at least a bit of interest in psychology.

It’s important to be curious about the ways people think because that’s the only way you can make whatever you’re marketing to someone desirable.

You can apply lessons from psychology to every part of your marketing work.

But we can’t look at it all at once.

Instead, I’d like to focus on how understanding psychological principles of human behavior can benefit you in one area: social media marketing.

In this post, I’m going to teach you 7 different psychological principles and then show you how you can use them in your social media marketing.

Want to get more engagement on social media? Then follow these 7 psychological principles.

However, since social media and content marketing are so intertwined, aspects of some of these principles will spill over to platforms other than social media too.

That being said, let’s start with the first principle. 

1. Children always ask this one question, but adults think it too…

If a kid asks a question, they’re almost never satisfied with a shallow answer.

Consequently, the most asked question by the vast majority of children is:


Why do things work the way they do?

People are naturally dissatisfied with answers if they don’t understand them.

Think of the last time you watched a political debate. How frustrating is it when most candidates don’t give a straight answer to a question?

After they dance around yet another answer, all you want to do is scream at the screen “WHY?”

Eventually, though, most people realize that there are some questions that you just won’t get a satisfying answer to. This is the point where adults give up on asking “why?” even if it leaves them a bit frustrated.

But all is not lost!

That’s because you can provide answers…at least when it comes to your audience on social media.

Answering questions your readers have in full clear detail is one of the best ways to get loyal followers on social media.

Here’s an example:


Stone Temple Consulting knows that many members of their audience wonder why SEO has to be so complex (it certainly seems that way to beginners).

So, they used that opportunity to explain why, using the question as the headline for the social media post.

Imagine it from one of their followers’ point of view.

  • They had a question about why something (SEO) is the way it is
  • They clicked the social media post to find the answer
  • They found a good answer and felt satisfied

That last part is really important because it reinforces the behavior. Over time, they learn that good things happen when they interact with posts from this particular company.

And there’s no reason why it can’t be your business instead.

All it takes is two simple steps, and I’ll show you how to do them.

Step #1 – Find questions your readers want answers to: Remember that your goal is to answer questions that most of your followers have. That’s how you get them to take action (like click through to your website) and give them a good experience.

There are many places where you can find these questions: on social media, forums, groups, etc.

But I strongly recommend starting with question and answer sites because they are obviously filled with questions. You don’t need to waste time filtering out other content.

The big question and answer sites are Yahoo Answers and Quora.

Personally, I’m a bigger fan of Quora, and I even post answers there myself. I think the quality of the site is much higher than that of Yahoo Answers’.

The simplest way to find a long list of questions you can answer is to just type in your niche in the search bar.

What you’re looking for is some sort of “Topic: (your niche),” which is basically a category that collects all questions related to your niche.

As you can see below, it should come up as one of the main search suggestions in most cases:


Click the topic, and Quora will load a feed for you, which will have thousands of questions in it (for most topics). Just keep scrolling when you reach the bottom, and it will load more.

These questions are not organized by date, but rather by relevance and interest.

You can see the number of “upvotes” on each question, which is a good measure of the number of people in the community who are interested in the answer.


You literally have hundreds of great questions at your fingertips. You could answer one a day if you wanted to.

Step #2 – Find the best way to answer them: Now that you have the questions, it’s time to provide answers.

But remember, you’re providing your own answers on social media (or your website), not on Quora.

Your audience on social media is completely separate from the Quora audience, which means that most of your audience still needs an answer to these questions.

This also means that you can read through the answers on Quora if you need help or guidance to answer the question. However, you should, of course, answer the question in your own words and share your own experiences when possible.


After you have an answer, there are 3 things you need to decide on.

First, how long does the answer need to be? If it’s really short, you might be able to answer it all in your social media post (depending on the platform).

If it’s on the long side, a blog post is going to be a better choice, and you can just link to the full answer in your social media post.

Second, you need to decide what format is best for the answer.

Some questions are best answered as regular blog posts, while others are better answered as infographics or videos.

My general rule is that if your audience needs to see the answer in action (like how to assemble a shelf), videos are the best.

If they need to see many parts of the answer at the same time (like the steps to baking a cake), an infographic is the best.


Often, there might be more than one type of content that makes sense. Feel free to make more than one to give your audience more choice.

Finally, the third thing you need to decide is how you will actually present the question and answer on social media.

I suggest keeping this as simple as possible.

Copy the question just as you found it on Quora in the words that your audience used.


Then, if you have the space, provide a little teaser that describes your answer and adds a bit of curiosity.

2. Use the endowment effect to get raving fans

Would you trade your current car for one that’s worth a few thousand more?

Even though that’s a great trade from a financial point of view, most people wouldn’t.

And it’s because of the endowment effect. We get attached to the things we own and subsequently put more value on them.

There’s a great study that clarifies this effect. Here’s what the researchers did:

They gave some study participants a mug. Then, they asked those subjects if they would be willing to trade their original item for an equally valued pen or sell it to one of the other participants.

And the results were fascinating.

If the endowment effect didn’t exist, the people who were originally given the mug would have said that they would sell it for roughly the same amount that people were willing to pay for it.

However, none of the subjects given a mug traded it for the pen even though it was worth the same amount.

In addition, when they named the price that they’d be willing to sell it for, it was twice as high as what the other subjects were willing to pay for it.

In practical terms, the subjects of the experiment got attached to the mug once they owned it.

And you can use the endowment effect in many areas of your business, including social media.

Applying the endowment effect to your business: The most obvious place to use the endowment effect in your business is to give your customers a sample before asking them to buy. You see this all the time in stores.

For example, Buffer has a full 30-day free trial, and not even a credit card is required:


As those new signups become invested in the platform, they’ll put a high value on having their own account.

When the 30 days are up, most of them will value the account high enough that the $ 10, or whatever Buffer is asking for, will seem minuscule.

However, if they were asked for the money upfront, most people would hesitate when considering the cost.

This is probably the hardest principle to apply directly to social media.

The best way to implement it, from what I’ve seen, is to link to content, but not the full version of it.

For example, Bryan Dean posted a link to his skyscraper technique case study on Facebook:


The post contains a ton of value, and readers get attached to having the technique in their arsenal.

However, even after reading the case study, some readers could use a bit more help, like a checklist of the steps. Bryan offers this as a content upgrade:


Readers need to give their email addresses in order to get access to the checklist.

Since they already know that the first part of the content was great, they’ll want the last part as well and will be more than happy to put in their email addresses.

3. A simple principle behind most engagement: reciprocity

Society only functions because we all adhere to some basic rules.

One of these rules, or “norms,” is the rule of reciprocity.

This was one of the 6 factors of influence that Cialdini found in his decades of research.

I can say with certainty that you’ve been enacting this norm many times in your life. It is seen in all cultures, regardless of the language, location, religion, etc.

Here is what the norm entails:

When someone is given something by someone else, they will try to return the favor.

Typically, the favor will be about the same size as the initial gift. If you lend someone money for ice cream, they will be inclined to lend you money for something like a drink later on.

Conversely, if you fly across the country to help someone in a time of crisis, they will basically do anything for you if you ask them.

This principle has been studied many times and proven to be true.

Back in 2002, researchers studied whether waiters could make more money through tips if they took advantage of this principle.

So, the waiters in one experimental group were told to give their diners an after-dinner mint. Tips went up 3%.

Not bad.

Then, another group was told to pause before giving them the mints, look at the customer, and tell them the mint was specifically for them. Tips went up 20%.

Woah. What just happened?

There are a few things to note. First, you don’t have to ask for a favor in return. The diners, in all cases, tipped extra without being asked.

The second thing is that it was important to make sure that the diners knew that the waiter was doing something nice for them. If they thought after-dinner mints were standard and expected, there isn’t much for them to have to give back for.

So, when you do something nice for someone, make sure they know that you put some thought and effort into it.

Think of your blog posts. You put tons of effort into them just to give them away, and then people spend 10 seconds skimming through one and moving on to the next one. I spend 5-10 hours on each post, and I still get people complaining about the content I’m giving away.

It’s nuts! Of course, only some readers don’t understand the effort that goes into creating content, but that’s why it’s important to try to make them aware of it.

Once they are aware of it, the reciprocity principle kicks into effect, and they return the favor by giving you more of their attention.

How to put the reciprocity principle to good use: Like most of these principles, you can use reciprocity in many areas of your business.

The main way you can use this principle on social media is to help you connect with influencers. You can share their posts on social media and also let them know that you’ve mentioned them in one of your own posts:


When you feature someone in a post, you do them a favor.

Following the reciprocity principle, this means they are more likely to do something for you in return.

The important thing to keep in mind is that a share or a mention is worth different amounts to different people.

If someone mentions me in an article they wrote, it’s nice (and flattering), but it’s unlikely to have any significant impact on my business.

For the medium sized blogger who gets fewer than 50 shares on all their posts, it’s a much bigger deal.

What this means for you is that you’ll need to share several posts by a popular influencer to build up any significant good will. Then, they will likely repay that by either sharing something you created or taking the time to open and read an email you send them.

Of course, you also need to create your own great content, or there’s no way they can return the favor.

4. Ask for a favor to capitalize on the Ben Franklin effect

What if I gave you some money?

Then, what if I asked you to give it back?

It’s normal to assume that you’d be pretty neutral about me and the whole thing. But in fact, that’s not true.

To study this effect, researchers Jim Jecker and David Landy split subjects into three different groups. They gave everyone some money upfront. But then they asked the people in each group different things:

  1. In the first group, they asked the subjects if they’d give the money back to the scientist who initially gave it to them
  2. In the second group, they asked the subjects if they’d give it back (not to the scientist in particular)
  3. In the third group, they didn’t ask for it back.

Then, the researchers gave participants a quick questionnaire to fill out. The most important part of this questionnaire was the part where they were asked to score how much they liked the scientist (who gave them the money).

Surprisingly, the group who got to keep the money gave the scientist the lowest likability score. The guy gives them free money, and they still don’t like him!

Conversely, the group that was asked to give the money back to the scientist (most of them did), gave the scientist the highest likability score.

Introducing the Ben Franklin effect.

The Ben Franklin effect explains how people justify their actions.

In the case of this experiment, the people who simply received the money rationalized that they deserved it.

The group that actually gave the money back to the scientist did a favor for him. They rationalized this by thinking that the only way they’d do this is if they liked him.

In short: Doing a favor for someone else will make you like them more. You feel that you must like them if you did something for them and got nothing in return.

Whom should you ask for favors? You can certainly ask other influencers to share your posts and content. If they do it out of kindness (or because your post is amazing), they’ll instantly like you more. This can lead to a mutually beneficial relationship where you both share each other’s content.

But the more interesting application to me is to ask your followers for favors.

Don’t be afraid to ask readers to help you by contributing stories, commenting, or sharing your content.

No, not all of them will, but the ones who do will think of you more favorably each time they do it. You will see that readers who were hesitant to do you a small favor at first are willing to do huge favors for you after a while.

Here’s an example of Marie Forleo asking her followers to contribute silly stories for a piece of content she was working on.


She does things from time to time, and her followers love to help out (notice the 150 likes). There were several comments on this post with stories that she could use.

One final note: Remember the reciprocity rule. If your follower does you a favor, that’s great. However, you probably want to give them something back. Most commonly, just a public thank you or a mention in a post is a great gesture.

The key is not to offer the reward in the first place. If you do, your readers will rationalize that they only helped you out to get it, not because they like you. Keep the reward as a surprise for after.

5. Reposting content lends well to the “mere exposure theory”

The more you are exposed to something, the more you like it.

At least that’s what the mere exposure theory describes.

We don’t fully understand why or how it works, but studies have shown that this is true in most cases.

For example, in his study, Robert Zajonc showed Chinese characters to subjects who could not read or speak Chinese.

The fun part is that he showed some characters more than others, anywhere from one time to 25 times.

The results were clear: the more someone was exposed to a certain character, the more of a positive meaning they gave it.

This is probably partially why most people like themselves so much. After all, you’re stuck with yourself 24 hours a day.

The mere exposure theory and social media: There are two ways in which you can apply this theory to your marketing on social media to make it more effective.

Most importantly, post on a regular basis. I post at least once a day on almost all of my social media accounts:


Post as often as you can without being annoying to your followers. The more you can expose your brand and content to a follower, the better.

The second way you can use this theory is to share things multiple times.

This calendar by Buffer shows that they share a single post several times after they publish it.


This will expose your followers to your content more often, adding to the effect.

Have you ever felt unsure whether you liked a movie after watching it for the first time? And after watching it again you absolutely loved it?

It happens all the time.

And not just with movies but with content as well.

Sometimes, a reader doesn’t love your content for a variety of reasons at first, but as they come back to it over time, they like it more and more.

6. Social proof and social networking should go hand in hand

Social proof has been proven to improve conversion rates in a wide variety of situations.

We’re typically talking about sales when it comes to social proof, but it can apply to social media marketing as well.

There are many types of social proof, but we’re interested in one in particular—user social proof:

User social proof consists of approval/positivity from current users of something.

On e-commerce sites such as Amazon, this means reviews and ratings. On other sites, this might mean case studies.


The effect is as expected.

The more positive social proof a product has, the better it looks to potential customers.

We relate to other users and expect to have a similar experience with the product or service we are considering that they had.

How social proof affects your social media marketing: Social proof is the sole reason why pages buy fake followers. They know that if real users see that they have thousands of followers, they will be more likely to follow them as well.

I don’t recommend doing that for a number of reasons.

However, it illustrates that social media users look at what other users are doing.

If tons of people like or share a post, they are much more likely to do it themselves. You can see this all the time in action when a post is trending (“going viral”).

The practical takeaway is that when you publish a post on social media, do whatever you can to get those first few “likes” or shares.


It may take messaging some friends or emailing your biggest fans or your peers. But get that initial traction as soon as possible, and the rest of your followers will be more likely to engage with your posts.

If you have employees, ask them to engage with every post as it’s published, at least until you build a larger following.

7. Long term engagement can be secured using the “propinquity effect”

The final principle explains how people become friends.

As you might have guessed, propinquity is related to “proximity.”

And what the effect states is that the closer you are to someone, the more likely you are to like them. For example, tenants who live on the same floor will typically have closer friendships with each other than with the tenants who live on a different floor.

You might have also noticed that the propinquity effect is related to the mere exposure effect, which we looked at earlier. The more you see someone, the more likely you are to feel positively about them.

However, there’s one other factor to the propinquity effect: similarity.

The more similarities you share and the closer you are, the faster and more you will like someone.

Propinquity and social media explained: To continue with the experiment, you want to live as close to your followers as possible. This extends past social media to all other channels of communication with your audience.

Ideally, send them emails on a regular basis. On Quick Sprout alone, I send 3 emails a week to subscribers. If readers want more and also subscribe to the blog, they get another 3-4.


It allows me to be in their lives on a regular basis.

But the same applies to social media as well. I post multiple times a day on Twitter and usually Facebook too.

Example post 1:


Example post 2:


The idea is that the more readers see me, the more they will like me.

Did you notice that I left out one detail? If so, that’s a very good catch.

For the propinquity effect to be as effective as possible, those posts and emails also need to be about something that we have in common.

But this is pretty simple for businesses. As long as you are talking about content, events, or products in your niche that your audience likes, you immediately have that required level of relevance.

Then, you just need the frequency to take effect, and you’ll be set.


Psychology and marketing go hand in hand. If you can understand how your target audience thinks, you can figure out the best ways to engage them and the best ways to present your content and products.

I think it’s important to understand how psychology affects every aspect of your marketing, and that’s why I focused on one—social media—in this post.

I’ve shown you seven psychological principles that you can use to improve your marketing in general. However, I’ve also shown you specific ways in which you can apply them to your social media marketing for instant improvement.

Ideally, spend 20-30 minutes going through each principle and thinking about how it applies to your specific business, audience, and marketing plan.

If you have any questions while you do this (I expect you will), I’ll be glad to help. Just leave me a comment below with your questions or comments.

Quick Sprout

Design Principles: 7 Vital Characteristics of a Check-out Process Page to Boost Conversions

You may have a streamlined marketing campaign for enhancing the sales of your online business or eCommerce website, but boosting the conversions should take precedence over everything else. After all, it determines the success of your online store and thereby, of your business. One of the crucial elements that boosts conversions for an eCommerce website is the check-out page. If the payment process is flawed (time-consuming or not secure), then customers tend to move on to your rival website.

The solution to increase your sales is by making your check-out process page as simple as you can. This write-up explores seven vital characteristics of designing a check-out process page that will determine higher conversion rates for your eCommerce website.

  1. Give customers assurance of security: Security tops the list of things that customers look forward to during the check-out process. Poor security is a definite red flag for them and leads to abandonment of shopping carts among other reasons. This is the reason why you need to stress on winning their trust right on the check-out page. Let your customers know that the website complies with all the security measures on an eCommerce website by displaying security seals or badges such as Verisign and logos of popular credit and debit card companies such as VISA and Master Card. Make sure that these seals or badges are clearly visible on the check-out page.
  1. Don’t force customers to create an account before they check-out: There are numerous online shoppers, who will be using your website for the very first time. If you want to convert them into your customers, don’t force them to create an account or register when they arrive at your site. But this doesn’t mean that you can ask them to fill up the registration form just when they are about to check-out as it is all the more annoying for them and distracts them from checking out smoothly. Wait for them to complete their shopping and then ask them to fill up the forms.
  1. Allow customers to edit the cart: Allowing customers to edit their shopping cart is one of the must-dos. Although this may look like an elementary tip, which makes no sense, it is immensely useful. What you can do is let customers edit and update the quantity of the items in their cart, remove items and even change the color (such as that of a dress), if possible. This ensures that your customers will count less on the back button and complete the check-out process. This in turn will enhance your sales like never before.
  1. Offer customers more than one shipping and payment methods: A common practice that is being used by some of the topmost online retailers is – multiple shipping and payment methods. For instance, if it is a returning customer, give them the choice to select an alternate shipping address. You can also offer the option of gift wrapping the products with a message.
    boost conversion
    Multiple payment methods can include making use of online payment systems such as PayPal, Google Wallet and even Apple Pay, if applicable. Some retailers also allow users to select the delivery date for various products, although with certain terms and conditions.
  1. Minimize the number of steps for check-out for your customers: When online shoppers get the desired products on an eCommerce website, they usually want to checkout speedily. A lengthy check-out process becomes a major hindrance in this case and they tend to abandon their shopping carts feeling an acute level of frustration. The solution here is to minimize the number of steps that customers have to take in order to complete the check-out process on your website. You can in fact offer them a one-step checkout process, wherein they can take all the call-to-action in one page itself and proceed to check-out. Simple!
  1. Indicate the number of steps left for customers to complete the process: If it is not possible for you to reduce the number of steps or to implement a one-step check-out process on your website, then you can go for another useful alternative. Let the customers know which step of the checkout process they are on. For instance, entering their shipping address can be step one, choosing the payment method can be step two, entering coupon code can be step three, reviewing order and proceeding to check-out can be step four and so on and so forth. You can indicate the steps through large icons and with the help of color coding.
  1. Make the page aesthetically appealing to your customers: Another essential tip that you need to take into consideration when it comes to increasing the conversion rates of your eCommerce website is to make all the pages aesthetically appealing to your customers. While many businesses concentrate on home pages and landing pages, it is a given that even your check-out page is designed flawlessly. Make sure that the page is devoid of clutter, has appropriate size of fonts, clearly visible buttons and is intuitive so that shoppers can face no issues while checking out from their mobile devices with smaller screens. Get inspired by taking a look at some of the well-designed eCommerce websites mentioned in this article.

To conclude

Shopping cart abandonment during the check-out process is one of the harsh realities of eCommerce websites that even many top companies have faced at some or the other point of time. Take a cue from the points mentioned and work towards an effective check-out process page, which will surely boost the conversion rates like never before and contribute to the success of your online business. Apart from following these tips, do not forget to test the page. Even though it can take up a lot of investment in terms of time, testing is definitely beneficial in the long-term. You can select from numerous testing methods to make sure that you offer visitors a seamless checkout process.

This post was written by Michael Georgiou, a dynamic business professional and entrepreneurial guru associated with Imaginovation – Raleigh Web Design Company proven his success in creative strategy, online branding, project management, and communication projects in both the public and private sectors.

The post Design Principles: 7 Vital Characteristics of a Check-out Process Page to Boost Conversions appeared first on SpyreStudios.


513 – 7 Management Reward Principles

engaging brand podcast“Build yourself. Build your team. And, together, you will be…Built to Lead”  David Long

What if everything you think you know about being a world class manager is wrong! Well, David Long believes that many aspects are and offers us a way to refine the management puzzle, allowing us to focus on our talents to guarantee success!

Anna Farmery talks to David Long about Built to Lead: 7 Management R.E.W.A.R.D.S Principles for Becoming a Top 10% Manager.

We discuss

  • What are David’s 7 Management R.E.W.A.R.D.S behind the success at MyEmployee.
  • How the REWARD principles relate to how you manage your career.
  • How you lead to build a company culture that creates the right success factors.
  • How to use a mastermind group to create a brain trust.
  • Do circumstances define your attitude?
  • How the mindset is more important than money in becoming an entrepreneur.
  • How great managers appreciate people which leads to recognition.
  • How great managers create great managers to release themselves from working in the business.

David offers listeners a FREE kindle copy of Built to Lead: 7 Management R.E.W.A.R.D.S Principles for Becoming a Top 10% Manager – if you buy the hard copy, email David at the receipt number and you will receive a FREE kindle copy.

The Engaging Brand