Your customers aren’t interested in your COVID messaging anymore, what now?

COVID burnout is real, but the pandemic is not over.

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Even though the coronavirus is far from fully under control, there’s evidence of COVID fatigue everywhere you look. It casually appeared in late April and then in the crowded Wisconsin bar scenes and packed Alabama and Florida beaches of Memorial Day weekend. People are ready for the outbreak to be over, which extends to content from brands.

Mounting Evidence of Fatigue

As early as mid-April, roughly three weeks into state lockdowns, there was evidence of COVID-fatigue showing up in audience-engagement data from Chartbeat and Taboola, as well as survey data collected by the Harris Poll (for GCI Health) and communications firm Mitto. The Harris survey found that 93% of respondents were interested in hearing about non-COVID topics and that 66% were feeling overwhelmed by all the coronavirus coverage. Roughly 40% wanted to see “stories of hope and inspiration” instead.

The Mitto survey, which polled 7,000 people in the US, China, Australia Spain and several other countries, found a general appreciation for earlier brand communications about COVID-19. According to the survey, “77% said that the messages they received from brands over the past few weeks have made them feel like brands care about their well-being.” However, 41% of respondents, in mid-April, were then ready to hear from brands about topics unrelated to COVID-19.

The steady stream of “important messages” from CEOs, tips for dealing with “the new normal” and premature cheerleading about “recovery,” created a cacophony of often generic-sounding content. Accordingly, in early April, I wrote about how marketers and brands could differentiate their efforts from the sea of coronavirus content being produced.

Navigating a Complex Audience Landscape

The new challenge is how to move beyond coronavirus communication but not pretend the outbreak is truly over. There’s also the challenge of industry specific issues (dentist vs. restaurant), regional differences, politics and audience age differences. All these variables make brand communication more difficult coming out of the lockdowns than going in.

(The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25 has created a new and vastly more charged issue for brands to now address, which is an important but separate topic.)

For some practical perspective on how to deal with COVID-fatigue and content going forward, I turned to Amy Bishop, Owner Cultivative, Michelle Morgan, Director of Client Services, Clix Marketing and Monina Wagner, Social Media and Community Manager at Content Marketing Institute.

Michelle Morgan

My general rule (at this point) is to think about how customers interact with your company. They only want/need to hear about COVID if it will impact their experience of working with you. If you’re a restaurant, you likely need to address COVID since there are guidelines in place and a patron’s experience will be different from normal whether in person or pick up. It doesn’t have to be heavy handed, but there likely needs to be some expectation setting.

On the other hand, if you’re an online retailer that ships electronics direct to consumers, you can likely shift back to more “evergreen” messaging and get back to that sense of normalcy since your customer’s experience is probably the same as it was prior to COVID.   

Amy Bishop

I think it depends on the brand. I’ve seen a few brands taking a stance on social distancing and that makes sense for some, depending on their market’s values but it can also be risky. While I wouldn’t necessarily advise to act like COVID is over, I think there are ways to sidestep without referencing it in messaging.

I would still stick to visuals where folks are social distancing (and wearing masks, where applicable). For companies that prefer not to take a stance, it’s best to stick to solution-focused messaging, as that’s always relevant. 

Monina Wagner

I’d be OK if I didn’t hear the phrase “unprecedented times” ever again. The COVID burnout is real. Yet fatigue or not, the pandemic is not over. Marketers must be sensitive to the current crisis. We should not make assumptions about where are customers are and what they need right now. Marketers must remember: we are not our audience.

Content marketing is about creating and distributing valuable content. To do this, it’s important to demonstrate a level of empathy towards our customers. This is critical to what we do. Ask your audience how you can help. Then, when they feel comfortable, follow their lead. Encourage them to get back out there. Take this opportunity to inspire them with your content.

This does not mean we have to shy away from topics related to COVID. Just approach it thoughtfully. It does not mean we have to throw out any pre-pandemic content. Analyze what you have then perform an audit to help ensure your work conveys awareness. And if our audience desires new content, we must produce it responsibly.

Many marketers feel pressured to move forward with short-term pivots. But we should be thinking about a long-term strategy to navigate us though this new landscape. COVID has left a lasting impact on us all. But marketers are resilient. We assess. We adapt. And we push forward.

This story first appeared on Search Engine Land. For more on search marketing and SEO, click here.

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Anchor launches a video conference-to-podcast conversion tool

The Spotify-owned company’s new tool may help businesses get more out of their webinars and online conference content.

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Podcast recording and distribution platform Anchor has launched a new feature enabling users to convert video conference recordings into podcast episodes, the Spotify-owned company announced Tuesday.

Anchor’s episode creation dashboard. Source: Anchor.

Why we care

Being able to turn a video conference call into a podcast episode can be a viable way to get more out of the content you’re already creating — especially for companies that have moved their in-person conferences online.

This could be accomplished through other means as well, but for businesses that are tight on resources, Anchor is a free option that takes care of the audio conversion and can also host and distribute your podcast content.

More on the announcement

  • Content creators can upload .mp4 and .mov files for Anchor to convert to audio. It does not directly integrate with video conferencing platforms.
  • Converted audio will appear as segments in Anchor’s episode builder, where content creators can edit them, add background music, sound effects and so on.
  • Spotify purchased Anchor in February 2019.

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4 takeaways for content marketers in the time of COVID-19

Brands are playing it safe with their messaging, but there are still opportunities to serve and engage audiences.

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Watch the full session.

Creating brand content during a global pandemic is not on anyone’s résumé list of experiences. Brands now have to rethink their customers’ priorities to determine what’s worth communicating, while balancing marketing goals with customer empathy.

This conundrum has businesses playing themselves, generating nearly identical messaging across site banners and emails. The content din makes it more difficult for audiences to discern one brand from the next.

Despite these new challenges, there is guidance for brands that seek to continue serving and engaging their customers. On Live with Search Engine Land Friday, Meghan Keaney Anderson, CMO of HubSpot, Amanda Milligan, marketing director at Fractl and Lee Odden, CEO of TopRank Marketing, shared some of the lessons they’ve learned while working with clients and marketing their own agencies on what brands should be communicating at this point, how to convey the right tone, identify content marketing opportunities and finding the right ways to measure success.

How should brands be communicating at this point?

“There are two ways that I would think about this: One is, ‘how do you communicate in direct response to the crisis?’” said Anderson, whose organization initially halted all social promotions and new product launches until it could assess the tone of its messaging. 

“The second piece of this is, after the [initial outbreak] of the crisis, there is a new world that you are marketing and selling in, and so how do you reflect those times?” she said, pointing out new brand opportunities, like providing educational content, as people shift their focus to longer-term goals.

“Don’t say anything if we’re not going to be providing some kind of value,” Milligan advised, adding, “there’s a lot of sentiment going around and people are getting kind of skeptical or cynical about brands just saying things that sound nice, but they’re not actually doing anything.” Brands that are able to assist their target audiences, or simply continue serving customers the way they were pre-pandemic, will continue to build trust and an audience, Milligan said.

“Generally, the trend has been to be supportive and empathetic to the customer: to really dig into, ‘How does this current environment change life for our customer and where can we be of assistance?’” Lee said, pointing out that content marketing initiatives don’t necessarily have to be framed by the product solutions that a business offers. 

“SAP just did SAP for Kids,” Lee used as an example, “it was a ‘bring your kids to virtual work day’ with celebrities and artists and influencers; it was a really great way for people to turn this live YouTube video on and have their kids sitting there next to them at home and actually take a yoga class or learn how to draw something or make a song,” he said.

How do you balance optimism and sensitivity in your messaging?

“You have to acknowledge that something’s going on, you don’t want to be oblivious . . . Because then, if somebody’s listening to that and they’ve had a very different experience, they’re not going to trust you anymore,” said Milligan, explaining that, while it is not necessary to dwell on the negatives, businesses must recognize that industries and customers will not return to the same status quo after the pandemic.

“The best way to judge whether something is going to land right is to talk to people within your own company and talk with your customers,” Anderson suggested, noting that both the health and economic impacts of COVID-19 are likely to have affected a member of your own organization or one of their family members, and that taking their experiences into account can help you find the right tone.

“The other thing is, you’re going to make a mistake in this — we’re all going to make a mistake in this,” Anderson added, “And I think part of having that humanity is if you do say something that is accidentally out of tone or gets a bad reaction, to just listen and own that, apologize for it, move forward and not let it keep you out of the arena.” The unprecedented challenge that the world is facing may make for slightly more forgiving circumstances, but this is also a time when inappropriate messaging could strike a fatal blow to some businesses, making it even more important to, as Anderson recommended, discuss your strategy with the client and members of your own organization.

How do you identify content marketing opportunities during COVID?

“The opportunity identified is using search data to understand that there is an increased demand for certain types of products and solutions,” said Lee, emphasizing a back-to-basics SEO approach that he says companies should be employing year-round.

“A lot of people are looking to fill in the time that they’re not spending commuting,” he pointed out, “There might be ‘infotaining’ content that your brand could put out — it’s still contextually relevant to your business, but at the same time, it’s entertaining in some way.” Although some of these initiatives may not directly feed into the ROI outcomes that organizations are used to pursuing, audiences will remember the positive experiences that brands provide for them during this time, Lee said.

For businesses whose services or products do not explicitly lend themselves to the crisis, opportunities can still be found by exploring the thoughts, emotions, and challenges that their audiences may be facing right now. 

“Different software that is about efficiency, or like ‘do-it-yourself’ has gotten much trendier now — probably, the sad reality is that people are downsizing and they have to try to make it work,” said Milligan. “So, what I’m encouraging people to do is to take that time to assess: What are the emotions being associated with here and the smaller struggles happening? Any kind of pain point you can alleviate, at this point, is much appreciated, and that could be a design tool that’s free and you can give to your whole team right now,” she said.

Can we rely on the same KPIs as before?

“We’re putting more emphasis on qualitative data than quantitative right now … we’re more okay than we typically are with trying to understand anecdotal evidence and gut reactions because these numbers are different than we’ve seen before,” said Anderson, adding that such qualitative data, once viewed as more of a supplement to cold hard metrics, has taken on more importance for her organization.

Switching to more qualitative measures of engagement has enabled HubSpot’s social media teams to monitor whether their messaging is being received positively or negatively, which helps the company adapt on the fly and informs its subsequent social media posts, Anderson said.

“It’s important to remember that even if you recognize that [KPIs have shifted], you have to set that expectation internally or with your clients,” Milligan said, adding, “It’s you determining, ‘Okay, what is now the purpose of this and what are the KPIs I’m going to assign to it?’ then telling that story internally or to your clients so that everybody’s on the same page.” Setting and communicating the appropriate KPIs helps your team and client understand what they’re trying to achieve, which will increase the odds of success.

This story first appeared on Search Engine Land. For more on search marketing and SEO, click here.

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Content and coronavirus: How you can differentiate from the masses

How to think about content, SEO and your customers during the crisis — and prepare for the future.

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All coronavirus all the time: that’s what everyone’s content looks like right now. It makes sense, because most digital marketers feel compelled to respond to the crisis.

However, the proliferation of “conronacontent” also creates a dilemma and a practical problem. There are a ton of me-too listicles and volumes of “how COVID-19 is impacting e-commerce” data circulating. This creates a kind of content din and raises the fundamental question: what should you be creating and how do you differentiate your content when everyone is basically doing the exact same thing? We know content is foundational for SEO success, but rising above the rest is easier said than done, particularly now.

It’s a challenging issue and there’s no single, simple answer. I reached out to a range of digital marketers to help answer this question: Meghan Keaney Anderson, VP of marketing at Hubspot; Casie Gillette, senior director of digital marketing at KoMarketing; Todd W. Lebo, chief marketing officer at Ascend2 and Patrick Reinhart, VP of digital strategies at Conductor.

I also asked them about non-coronavirus content and whether and how to prepare for the post-COVID future. At the end, I’ve tried to distill their advice into a list of principles.

Meghan Keaney Anderson, Hubspot

At its core, content marketing is about helping audiences solve problems. In recent weeks, we’ve seen countless businesses, employees, and communities face new and unprecedented challenges for which there is no pre-existing playbook. High-quality, relevant content can be invaluable at a time like this.

We have never witnessed such sudden and dramatic shifts in what audiences need, and we are continually adapting our content strategy in order to be as helpful as possible. Marketers across every industry should try to do likewise. In this rapidly changing environment, content that was hugely helpful to audiences last week may not be relevant to the challenges that next week holds.

My three pieces of advice to content creators right now are to:

  • Remain laser-focused on audiences’ most pressing needs by continually gathering feedback and closely monitoring engagement rates on new content being published.
  • Strive to deliver unique value without asking for anything in return — instead of dialing up the promotion of products and services, focus above all else on being helpful.
  • Always be prepared internally to quickly adjust content strategy as the rapidly changing situation continues to evolve.

Casie Gillette, KoMarketing

Right now, people are writing about the Coronavirus because it feels tone-deaf not to. That being said, and I can’t stress this enough, you shouldn’t be writing if you don’t have something unique to say. I have clients who serve the restaurant and retail industries and the content they are putting out deals with how they are helping/can help during this time. It’s unique to them and their customers so it’s genuinely useful. We always say, don’t write for the sake of writing and that certainly applies here. 

At the same time, we are encouraging clients to publish their regularly scheduled content — why? Because some of that content is being created to help them rank in search and by delaying it, they aren’t helping themselves. We do want to be cautious though. For example, we had a client post scheduled to go live that included the phrase “statistics to keep you up at night.” Nope: that title was fine two months ago but certainly not now. I think publishing is fine as long as you are being mindful of what you are putting out there.

A side tip: as for not wanting to appear insensitive, one suggestion I have given to clients is to make your COVID post/announcement sticky. That way it’s always at the top of the blog and it’s the first thing people see. 

In terms of preparing content for the future, I have a client in the healthcare space who is already thinking about this. We started creating topics around the issues hospitals will be facing when the crisis slows. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, but you have to be OK with the uncertainty of knowing when to publish that content. I’m of the mindset it’s better to be proactive than reactive so if you are thinking about your future content initiatives, I’d start by thinking about what challenges your audience will be facing at the end of this and what information they’ll need.

Todd W. Lebo, Ascend2

My suggestion is to create content based on research and data (tests and other sources). Readers want science and data to help them make the best decision and this is especially true during challenging times.

Our June 2019 study, Content Marketing Engagement, found that when it comes to content, having solid evidence to support a claim is extremely important. That is why a 60% majority of marketing professionals report that research and case studies are the most trusted content type by target audiences.

Another B2B study we conducted shows that research is what prospects consider the most valuable content vendors can provide them. Research provides an agnostic perspective on topics that are most important to your prospect. Prospects consider original research extremely valuable because they can use research to generate ideas, influence decision-makers, determine strategy, get approval for their budgets, and much more.

Patrick Reinhart, Conductor

It’s tough to differentiate because everyone is putting out content that speaks about the impact of the virus to their business and in their industry. We did that at Conductor so we are no different. What I think businesses should consider is having a “next step” that compliments their research or content. I am not seeing a lot of companies put out that type of content along with research and statements, etc. This may not work for some businesses but will for the majority.

Right now, you should be creating content that helps your customers and users. Every time you put something out, the question you should be asking yourself is: “will this help my customers?” If the answer is yes, then you’re on the right track. If it’s just a piece of content that you’re putting out for the sake of putting out then it’s more than likely not worth it. 

As for non-virus-related content, you have to be OK with not addressing what’s going on. It’s OK to still run your business, it’s OK to still try and help your customers, you just have to be careful how you go about that. The biggest mistake businesses can make right now is appearing like they are trying to capitalize on the pandemic so it’s a balance.

You should absolutely address what’s going on in the world, but you also should be OK with not addressing it. What a lot of businesses are doing right now is only talking about the virus and not talking about other ways to help their customers. Right now is a great time to plant trees for SEO if you haven’t already. The trees you plant now will provide shade on sunny days in the future and there is nothing wrong with creating it along with content that addresses the current state of things. 

Answer questions to help your customers; go and contribute on forums that are specific to your industry, create video tutorials, etc. Everyone has to remember that this is a snapshot in time and there is the other side to this that we all need to be planning for.

Content lessons and takeaways

Below are the distilled lessons and advice from the group:

  • Don’t create content for the sake of content, but do maintain a regular publishing schedule.
  • Don’t be self-promotional or appear to be capitalizing on the pandemic.
  • Focus on customer needs: does your content pass the “will this help my customers?” litmus test? Get regular feedback on customer needs.
  • Determine what you can say or what value you can provide that’s (relatively) unique.
  • Review scheduled content to make sure it’s not inappropriate or insensitive.
  • Be agile and prepared to change your content plan as the environment changes.
  • Be proactive, plan content for the post-COVID-19 future (be thoughtful about when to release it).
  • Use research and data to support your content.
  • Continue to develop and publish content that helps your longer-term rankings and SEO.

This story first appeared on Search Engine Land. For more on search marketing and SEO, click here.

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Google Podcasts gets a redesign and iOS rollout

The new design features an Explore tab with recommendations based on the listener’s interests.

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The Google Podcast app is now available for iOS devices, and the web version of the app now supports subscriptions, the company announced Wednesday.

Google has also reorganized the app with a tabbed user interface that includes an Explore section where users are shown new show and episode recommendations related to their interests.

Google Podcasts’ new tabbed user interface. Source: Google.

Why we care

Podcast discovery has been a challenge for content creators with most podcast apps showing only what’s available through that particular service. Google’s aim is to provide a comprehensive resource for podcast discovery, including paid content, and library management.

The addition of subscriptions to its web app lets users more easily switch between listening on their desktops and their mobile devices, something that iTunes and Spotify users have been able to do for a long time.

As Google’s podcast platform continues to expand, it’ll become even more important for publishers to manage their presence on search.

More on the news

  • Google began introducing podcasts in search results in May 2019.
  • The company made podcasts playable directly from the results page in August 2019.
  • When users select an episode, they’ll also be presented with topics or people covered in that episode and can jump to associated Google search results.
  • The “For you” section of the Explore tab recommends shows based on the listener’s interests and what is currently popular. Users can personalize these recommendations.

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