Your content: You write it, speak it, record it, and then release it. Who will notice it, let alone take time to read, watch, hear, or respond to it? More importantly, will it net the kind of engagement that leads to a desired outcome (business win or job offer)? If not, why not? Such are the questions asked by those who are charting their course as thought leaders and value creators and asserting themselves in today’s digital world through brand storytelling and content marketing.
The message in a bottle as a mode of communication dates back to 310 B.C., when the Ancient Greek philosopher Theophrastus first used bottled messages to confirm that the Mediterranean Sea was a tributary of the Atlantic Ocean. In the centuries that followed, many notables in distress (including Christopher Columbus), military personnel, forlorn lovers, and members of shipwrecked crews stuffed their handwritten thoughts, wishes, and pleas into glass casks, and hurled them into the sea.
Historically, messages in bottles have been iterative exercises in futility. A glass vessel floating on ocean waves does not match up well with the physics of flow and the whims of Poseidon. Most recorded launches never made it to the intended recipient. Some bottles floated for dozens of years before finally making it to shore or into the hands of someone, the urgency of the message long since passed, its relevance lost.
The lyrics of the 1979 classic rock song by The Police, “Message in a Bottle” as penned and sung by Sting, affirm an air of desperation to the act, as a distressed and isolated sender plays on faith in getting his cry for help heard:
“I’ll send an SOS to the world; I hope that someone gets my message in a bottle.”
Later in the song, we come to learn that this person is not “alone at being alone.” Much to his surprise, he saw “a hundred billion bottles wash up on the shore.”
Now, I ask you: Who is going to take the time to read them all?
The Hope for Discovery in the Virtual World
Whereas the lore of the handwritten cry for help surrounds the survival of those stranded at sea, there are many who get the feeling that they are marooned online. The Internet facilitates the fluid aggregation of people into communities, yet it can seem an insular world to those who regularly communicate via their social networks, websites, and blogs. Frustration sets in when the content that they work so hard to produce fails to engage.
The common thread that runs through the message-in-a-bottle approach is hope—hope for love, hope for rescue, hope for validation. In the dog-eat-dog world of digital marketing, you have to fight for every view, every like, or every share. Those who grind out content on a daily basis must believe that their work is not in vain, that there are people on the receiving end who will derive value from it, pass it along, and demand more.
Effective social media marketing hinges on identifying and locating a target audience of professionals who would be receptive to your message and may eventually conduct business with you. However, getting that message in front of these folks has become a difficult proposition. The Digital Era has brought to bear that attention is our most precious resource, and the competition for it is cutthroat. Nowadays, businesspeople are more distracted and time-vigilant; many confine their use of social media to but a few minutes per day or week. Hope is as powerful a visibility strategy as we have.
The Message-In-A-Bottle Effect of Content Marketing
In its most obvious description, the digital message in a bottle is not a means of direct contact with an intended recipient at a specified location. One can look at the Internet as an ocean, an expanse of alternating currents and unpredictability. Online, especially on social networking sites, information flows with sublime randomness. Once you cut a piece of content adrift, and it becomes available to the masses, your guess is as good as mine as to who will happen upon it.
From a business standpoint, the purpose of producing and distributing content is to get found, get known, and pique interest in your offerings. What you write and broadcast becomes an extension of your professional value. The frequency with which you disseminate your work may also increase the likelihood of engagement. The more bottles you hurl into the sea, the greater the probability that one might wash up on the desired shore. The key is to keep hurling bottles.
There is a point at which the message-in-a-bottle analogy intersects with strategy. In the Digital Era, business is won at the confluence of strong representation, compelling conversation, and an exchange of trust. The challenge lies in transforming your story into a message that will have bearing on the professional lives of others. If you are to lead by thought, your content must be solid and clearly resonate with your target audience. Most importantly, it must demonstrate your expertise with the topic. Stellar work inspires sharing.
The Message-In-A-Bottle Effect of LinkedIn
LinkedIn is the Sting lyric and ocean metaphor come to life. Bottled messages in numbers too huge to count simultaneously ride on this vast stretch of water in search of shores. Think of your LinkedIn profile—your brand story—as one such bottle. What makes your bottle different than the others? How is your message crafted? Who is your intended recipient? Once your message is viewed, and if your call to action is answered, what are you prepared to do?
The common lament of those marketing content on LinkedIn is that the right people simply are not finding their work. Since LinkedIn rolled out its homegrown publishing platform, Pulse, to all users in February 2014, the site has become the Wild, Wild West for professionals seeking engagement and distinction through content. Droves of users have moved into the publishing arena seeking to convert their intellectual properties into thought leadership, sales, or new career opportunities. The waves have become mighty crowded. You’re gonna need a bigger bottle.
Given the serendipitous nature of social networking, you have the potential to be discovered by anyone at any given moment. On LinkedIn, all users are at the mercy of algorithms, mystic forces that drive the delivery of information throughout the site. The feed is constantly reshuffling, impacting multitudes of accounts. The sequence can culminate in a profile view from an economic buyer, a potential referral alliance, or a top recruiter—or not. Your published long-form post may garner the right like, the one that could lead to greater exposure, or it may float aimlessly on the waves.
♦ In our information-excessive Digital Era, capturing the attention of those with whom you wish to engage is no easy task. People can be fickle with their loyalties. It takes consistent effort to attract and guide others to you and crack their list of priorities.
♦ Believe that the content you produce will be liked and shared—and it will be. When you affix value to the process of creating content, your output will increase in quality. Promote your work with gusto and it will find its way into the right eyes, minds, and hearts..
♦ You won’t know the reach your message will have unless you stick it in the bottle, cork it, and let it go. Just keep writing, filling bottles, and tossing them into the ocean. There are people waiting on the shore for you.
Since 2006, JD Gershbein, CEO of Owlish Communications, has helped advance the collective awareness of LinkedIn and inspired opportunity-oriented professionals in all walks of business to step up and achieve on the site. His ability to spark others to action has earned him the moniker of “The LinkedIn Catalyst.” JD is considered one of the world’s top thought leaders on LinkedIn, and a pioneer in the design and delivery of LinkedIn education. He is also a globally acclaimed social business psychologist, keynote speaker, and frequent broadcast media expert on LinkedIn for business. Additionally, JD is adjunct professor of marketing communications at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Stuart School of Business, where he is advancing social media marketing as an academic discipline. In addition to his blog, The Wisdom Zone, JD is a contributing writer for the Huffington Post and Forbes.
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