Blog writing can be frustrating when you have no ideas. These tips will help you generate some.

6 Tips for Generating Blog Writing Ideas

By now you’ve no doubt heard about the benefits of establishing a corporate blog. One of the most important, of course, is for search engine optimization (SEO) purposes. Google (and other search engines) rewards frequent content updates on your website, so if your blog is connected to your website, and it’s active you’ll rise in the organic search rankings.  That makes blog writing a pretty important part of your marketing program.

This simple fact creates an ongoing challenge for many, however. Namely, coming up with interesting topics to blog about.

Sometimes the ideas flow easily, especially at first. It seems like you have a cornucopia of information to share with the market. After that initial gold rush, however, you find yourself staring at the blinking, nagging cursor for longer and longer periods of time. You’ve expended the obvious topics and begin to wonder if establishing that blog was such a great idea after all.

The reality is great blog writing ideas are all around you. They crop up in your life every day. Like Jerry Seinfeld and George Costanza’s idea for a show about nothing, you just have to learn to recognize them.

Comment on industry articles

One of the good things about working in healthcare and health IT (HIT) is that there is never a lack of new information, new approaches, new discoveries or new regulations coming out. Most of us get several newsletter and at least scan the headlines every day.

These articles can become a rich source of blog fodder. For example, if an article announces a new rule or a change to a program from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that will affect your customers/clients, that’s a blog post! Link to the original article, provide a one- or two-sentence synopsis, then add your thoughts about what it means to the industry.

Or perhaps a new research report has come out that could affect your clients. Again, bringing it to your clients’ attention and providing a little analysis with it can provide added value to them while giving you a blog post that practically writes itself.

Share a tip or trick that helped a client with a general issue

This is another rich source of blog writing ideas. Perhaps your team has helped a client solve a particular issue, such as data that needed to be scrubbed in a certain way in order to be used in a specific electronic health records (EHR) system. Whatever the issue, there’s a good chance it isn’t just that one client who is facing it.

Talk about the challenge, and the problems it’s causing, then explain how to solve it. All you really have to do is recap what you’ve already done – no original thinking required. If you’re not directly involved with this aspect of the business, check with the development or customer service team. They can probably keep you supplied with ideas for months. Just be sure not to give away anything the business would consider a competitive advantage.

Blog about discoveries in a related field

Everything you write about doesn’t have to be directly in your company’s space. Sometimes it can just have a loose relationship with a tie-back later.

Take the example of cognitive computing. There are all sorts of advances in this area going on outside of healthcare as well as inside. If you hear about how cognitive computing is being applied to make self-driving cars smarter, there’s a blog post. You can write about what is already happening with cars, the speculate on how it might affect healthcare or HIT in the future.

Mine some key data

Data and analytics are huge in healthcare and HIT these days. It seems just about every organization is generating tons of them. Most, however, are under-utilizing that information, especially when it comes to marketing.

You can take advantage of that by looking through the reports for trends that are interesting without giving away anything that again is proprietary. For example, if you have software that enables payers to create member portals, and there is a sudden uptick in the number of portals your team is creating, you may want to comment about how portals are on the rise and speculate as to why. That will also give you an opportunity to talk about the advantages of portals to encourage more sales.

Or maybe you see that your clients’ customer satisfaction scores are suddenly on the rise. You can find out what changes they’ve made to enable that to happen and share them with your blog audience.

Pay attention to day-to-day conversations

Each day you, your co-workers, your clients and others share information and ideas in passing. It may be through conversations, emails, reports, meetings or some other sources.

Hidden within the ordinary course of business may be a few nuggets that can make worthy blog posts. All you’ll need to do is listen to them with that filter in mind. If a co-worker says something you find interesting write it down. Establish a folder for emails that contain good ideas that you can reference later if you’re stuck.

However you save them, the good news is when you need an idea and none are coming to you immediately you can go back to your files and dig one up. Just be sure you have enough information available to remember what the original topic was. Nothing worse than having a great headline and no idea what it means.

Work with your PR agency on ideas

While most healthcare and health IT companies tend to be very specialized in a particular aspect of the industry, PR agencies such as Amendola Communications cover a much wider swath. That can work in your favor by bringing in ideas that are related to, but not dead center in, your sweet spot.

If you have one, you can brainstorm topics with your PR agency, taking advantage of their experience to in other areas, especially general industry knowledge, to develop blog topics you might not have thought of on your own.

Of course, having a PR agency also means you can turn over some or all of the content creation to them, particularly if writing isn’t your strong suit. But even if you prefer to do your own writing, that sort of collaboration can open you to new ideas and areas that help build your blog as a go-to resource for your target audience.

Yes, blog writing can be challenging. The Internet is always hungry for new content. But the reality is great ideas for posts are all around you. You just have to know how to find them – or let them find you.

Up through the Web come a bubbling blog post. Content, that is. Digital Gold. Text Tea.

The rise of sponsored content – or is it content marketing – or is it native advertising?

The New York Times recently reported on sponsored content becoming King in a Facebook World. Advertisers have discovered that traditional digital advertising, such as banner ads, are too easy to ignore. So instead they are focusing on delivering information not only to the right audience at the right time rules the day, but in a way that blends in with the rest of the content.

If you’re a Facebook user, think about the “posts” with headlines such as “19 things the producers of the Beverly Hillbillies hid from fans.” It sounds like a fun article, and there are some interesting tidbits if you decide to go there. But the editorial is really just an excuse to get you to look at ads.

The issue I had with The Times’ article is the reporter, like many in the marketing world, sometimes bleeds the meaning of the term “sponsored content” in almost a synonymous manner with what those in the marketing world may also define as content marketing or native advertising.

These terms have some subtle and not-so-subtle distinctions – they are anything but one and the same. It’s important to understand the difference to ensure your execution of your digital marketing program follows your strategy.

Content Marketing

Content marketing is somewhat of a catch-all phrase used to describe the idea of informing customers and prospects about industry issues and other topics to generate interest in your organization and its products rather than overtly “selling” them.

The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as “a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience – and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.” Really, it’s a great way to build your brand as well as sales leads.

Yes, content marketing can and often does incorporate native advertising and sponsored content – which is where the confusion regarding the three strategies comes in. But you don’t have to incorporate either native advertising or sponsored content within your overall content marketing strategy if your budget doesn’t allow for it, or if you have other priorities.

The key factor required for executing a “free” content marketing strategy is having subject matter experts who can provide compelling, authoritative content on a regular basis. Editors for leading media outlets are often in search of such thought leadership, especially now as their content needs continue to grow and their in-house staff shrinks. If your subject matter experts don’t have the time to develop the materials themselves, a PR agency with a strong background in journalism can help with the writing.

As long as the content is vendor-neutral (i.e., not overtly promoting your products or services) and focuses on the challenges their readers are facing or will soon face in the market, you are likely to find media outlets interested in these contributed pieces. These types of pieces have high credibility because they appear as regular content, and they can’t be bought. The content must meet the content standards of the publication.

But content marketing isn’t just about the media. Your organization’s self-generated and published content can be distributed through complimentary channels such as webinars, white papers, e-books, and case studies. It can also be published as thought leadership articles, videos and infographics either on your own blog or elsewhere on your website.

You may also want to measure the lead generation impact of your proprietary and complimentary content marketing programs, whether they are self-published or published on a third-party content distribution platform. Various metrics you can and should evaluate are subscribers to your self-published content, requests for information from webinars, and leads generated as a result of thought leadership articles, infographics or videos published on third-party media distribution platforms.

Native Advertising

The Native Advertising Institute describes native advertising as “paid advertising where the ad matches the form, feel and function of the content of the media on which it appears.” It’s similar to an advertorial, but with much more care taken to create a more seamless appearance. And without the overt self-promotion that normally characterizes advertorials.

Native advertising is an area of rapid growth. Business Intelligence Insider reports that spending on native ads will reach $7.9 billion this year and grow to $21 billion in 2018.

Native advertising is actually a subset of content marketing – a pure pay-to-play brand awareness strategy that offers useful and engaging content targeted at building trust with a specific audience your organization is trying to influence higher up in the sales funnel. (Steve Olenski, a contributor to the Forbes CMO blog, breaks down the key characteristics of the six types of native advertising in this post.)

Studies have found that a good, useful piece of authoritative content distributed on a paid platform is more likely to be shared with other purchasing influencers and decision makers, helping accelerate the sales cycle. Native ads can also gain more traction via promoted Facebook posts and sponsored Twitter feeds, ideal for today’s mobile sharing world. They are also oblivious to the ad blocking technology that users increasingly rely on to escape the tyranny of banner ads and pop-ups.

Native advertising is not published with the heavy hand of traditional digital advertisements of yesteryear that directly promoted your company, products or services through a call to action (i.e., banner ads) – CTAs that interrupt the natural flow of the user experience within the content distribution channel. Instead, brand marketers are finding that the friendly, helpful and consultative design of the content makes it more likely that users will engage with the content provider.

So when may you want to consider native advertising? If you have the budget from the get-go, native advertising is a great marketing asset to incorporate into your content marketing program. The IPG Media Lab, in conjunction with Sharethrough, the native advertising platform company that hosts the NATIVE conferences, found that consumers looked at native ads 52% more frequently than banner ads.

Sponsored Content

A word of caution here about sponsored content, which is often confused with native advertising. The difference is that the content for native advertising is usually developed by the vendor or their PR or ad agency; in the case of sponsored content, the platform publisher creates the relevant content in its own voice, and then fits the brand into it. This is content is usually created by writers hired by the publisher, not writers you or your agency may have recruited.

A good example of sponsored content is what The Onion did for H&R Block in April 2014 – using its sarcastic humorous tone to raise brand awareness for the tax-filing company. The post, although looking much like any other Onion post, ended up being surrounded by H&R Block advertising, which can also put off some readers. (For more examples of sponsored content and native advertising, check out this Copyblogger post.)

However, sponsored content, if used properly, can help raise brand awareness by aligning your brand with content being distributed through an authoritative publishing platform. For instance, it can take the form of an advertorial, featuring a case study of one of your customers, with your brand more prominently featured within the context of a traditional ad layout. Or an executive byline, such as those that appear in digital health supplements to USA Today.

Making content work

Content remains King, but today there are many more options within that kingdom. By understanding the differences between content marketing, native advertising and sponsored content you can develop the program that best suits your goals and audience, and delivers the best ROI.

Sponsored content is available through media buys that Amendola Communications can help your organization negotiate with leading publishing platforms. The Content Marketing Institute also offers a great toolkit of checklists, templates and guides to help you think through your content marketing strategies. For more information on Amendola’s content marketing and media buying capabilities – including thought leadership and sponsored content campaigns – please contact Jodi Amendola at jamendola@acmarketingpr.com.

Attendees pay close attention at the Aprima User Group Conference

7 Tips for Leveraging PR Opportunities at your User Group Conference

Hosting a user group conference is a huge investment, both in terms of money and manpower. Depending on the size of the event, the up-front planning can take several months and involves an extensive number of hours on the part of the marketing team, technical presenters, and executives.

Broadly speaking, the primary objective of most user conferences is to provide customers with a forum for extending the value of a company’s products. Most conferences include a mix of general sessions and break-out sessions by topic. Some of the content may be broad and non-specific, while other presentations go a bit more “under the hood” and target advanced users.

The host company will typically introduce updates to existing products, as well as new offerings. Certain sessions may highlight regulatory changes impacting product development and use. Also popular are “best-practices” sessions that feature innovative ways customers are using the company’s solutions to achieve great results.

User conferences provide an excellent opportunity for networking. Both customers and employees enjoy making a face-to-face connection with people they’ve built a relationship with over the phone or exchanging emails. Companies that have hosted annual conferences for many years know that the traditional educational sessions are only one part of the draw for users who return year after year.

For many attendees, the brain share that occurs outside of sessions is even more valuable than the presentations themselves. In fact, at every conference you can find a few participants who take their networking so seriously that they can be found chatting until wee hours of the morning – most often in the hotel bar.

Obviously when your company hosts a user conference, the biggest beneficiaries of your efforts should be your customers. However, user conferences can also be a goldmine in terms of PR opportunities. User conferences can reveal a wealth of customer success stories that can be communicated via a variety of mediums throughout the next year. They provide an opportunity to identify potential candidates for future media interviews or individuals that are willing to share a great ROI story for a case study.

A user conference is an ideal time for the hosting company to advance its PR initiatives. User group attendees tend to be the company’s happier customers and support the company’s long term success.  If you are hosting a user group meeting but are not sure how best to leverage your PR opportunities, here are 7 tips to get you started:

  • Capture client testimonials on video. Every user has a story – you just need to ask them. Request five minutes from customers to share on video how they use your product or service, why they partnered with your company, or their impression of your support operations. After securing the appropriate permission in writing, post the testimonials on your corporate website; summarize their story for social media fodder; and/or, create a post for your corporate blog. In addition, take your client’s message and use it as the basis for a larger case study. Catalog the stories for future media pitches so you have a ready source when suitable opportunities arise.

While hiring a professional videographer is ideal – especially if you want to post videos to your site – using a personal video recorder or even a smartphone gives you the ability to document customers’ stories in their own words.

  • Record important keynote presenters on video. Especially those who are recognized in the industry. Link the videos to YouTube or Vimeo and forward them to journalists to encourage their coverage of the event. To that end, if the presentation format provides an opportunity to ask questions of the speakers, go for inquiries that may be a bit controversial or at least newsy in order to pique the interest of media.
  • Invite the media. Assuming you are confident that your clients are reasonably happy and would respond positively to media inquiries, invite journalists to cover the event to amplify your company message. Offer to provide journalists with behind-the-scenes access, including exclusive interviews with customers, executives, or keynote speakers. Keep in mind that journalists tend to have limited travel budgets and may be unwilling to accept an offer for travel reimbursement. However, consider adding an industry journalist to a panel to share his or her insights, or, to provide attendees with insider tips for dealing with the media. Journalists will likely be flattered by the invite, and, because they are speaking, their publication will likely allow them to be reimbursed for travel.
  • Invite industry analysts. Industry analysts typically have more flexible budgets than journalists and may welcome the opportunity to speak directly to your end users. Again, this is only a good option if you feel comfortable that majority of your customers will offer positive feedback.
  • Take photos. Humanize your brand by taking plenty of photos of people interacting, having fun, and participating in educational and networking activities. Post the images to social media during the event and beyond.
  • Create a series of blog posts about the conference. Leverage the great content from keynote presentations and breakout sessions to create blog posts that provide value to readers long after the conference. An easy way to start is to write a summary of the event, or perhaps a craft a post that includes a catchy title and unique perspective (“10 Moments that made us LOL during Our User Conference”).
  • Do something newsworthy. Ask attendees to participate in a survey, either about a timely industry topic (“Has your practice experienced a data breach of patient records?”) or a hot news story (“Which presidential candidate will be best for healthcare?”). Publish a press release and use social media to communicate the results (while also building greater awareness of your company and your meeting.) Other newsworthy suggestions include setting a world record (the most potato chips eaten simultaneously) or participating in a hands-on charity event (building bikes for kids).

A company user conference is a major investment that also provides an excellent opportunity to build goodwill with customers. And while clients are enjoying all the educational and networking opportunities, don’t forget to leverage all the PR opportunities!

Photo credit: 2016 Aprima User Group Conference

3 ways to build a profitable social media audience

Clamoring to get the most followers on social media doesn’t always translate to a profitable social media audience.  It actually can create a lot of noise instead of driving profitable traffic.

Social media platforms are a way to connect with people without the restraints of proximity. A profitable social media audience is composed of specific followers not just anyone and everyone. Imagine your company’s social media account as a storefront. You want potential buyers looking through your windows not loiterers, right?

No matter what social media platform you are using it will work best when your foundation is solid, meaning your audience cares about what you are doing. Your social media audience needs to be built of 3 main groups: influencers and experts relevant to your brand, decision makers in your target market, and the field agents of those decision makers.

The beauty of the social platform is the sheer amount of people you can reach – which happens to be the same obstacle in getting these influencers and decision makers to listen to you. So how do you build a social media audience that will give you a return on your investment? Give them a reason to follow you, tailor to how or where they are listening to you, and listen and engage with the right people.

Give them a reason to listen: Post Relevant Content

I see far too many companies posting about irrelevant content just to keep up with random trends. I worked with a car dealership that posted an “I hate Mondays” meme every week on Facebook. The social media manager thought it was funny but it sent the message that the company is lazy.

Ask yourself if the trend is just random or can it add value to your social media strategy? Sometimes that answer is yes, it can add value. On National Dog Day there were many companies posting about their employee’s dogs or dogs that were brought into the office. It gave the reader some insight into the company and engaged employees.

Jumping on a trend will get you visibility to a wide audience which may happen catch the eye of your target market. Get creative and route the trend back to your topic of influence. Don’t avoid trends, but do consider if it is worth posting, or better yet worth reading from your target’s perspective.

Tailor your content to where they are listening: Understand the Platform

There are dozens of social media platforms available, but you don’t need to be on all of them. In my opinion there are 3 core platforms that are beneficial for healthcare IT companies: Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Other notable platforms are Instagram (if you have the right content), Pintrest, and Google+.

When choosing which platforms you want to use for your company’s social strategy make sure you understand each. If you are not using the platform yourself I recommend starting your own account.

Using the platform daily helps you understand what type of content is being posted and what content is working. Then it is easy to see what type of content you and others like to see on each different platform.

Each platform is unique and while one person might be on multiple platforms it doesn’t mean they go to each to look for the same thing. LinkedIn is used for professionals and companies looking to connect in a professional way. Typically LinkedIn is where you want to have a formal voice where Instagram is where people look for visual content. Think about what type of content you want to see and interact with on each platform to help tailor the company’s account content.

Engage with the right people: Find the Industry Influencers and Connectors

Finding the right people can be difficult. Start by growing which accounts your company will follow. Vendors, publications that run positives stories about your company, and other industry leaders of interest are a great place to start. Don’t forget to check out what accounts your competitors are following!

Always thinking from the viewer’s perspective, build up your accounts to be perceived as prestigious to others when they come to view. Follow only legitimate accounts that are leaders, active influencers, and clients or users. You will find accounts will begin to follow yours back as long as you are posting good, relevant content.

Starting a following is where the nerve-wracking guesswork beings. No reason to get nervous yet; in fact you probably already have a following. Email lists, followers on other platforms, and employees are all potential followers that are already engaging with your company in a different way. If you are nervous about asking your email followers to follow yet another place to get your content, remember that they already said they like you. Prove them right by continuing to feed them content that is relevant and beneficial for them.

Growing your company’s profitable social media audience is important but typically a little slower. Since you are already posting good, relevant content and using trends wisely you will see some followers trickle in. Gain more visibility by posting or sharing others content. Tag them in your posts along with using hash tags. Try using search terms to find people talking about problems your company can fix and join in on relevant conversations.

Social media is not a monologue or the old school marketing tactic of talking at your audience. Now we have the chance to engage through dialogue with our audience in real time. Capitalize on this opportunity to drive profit through a profitable social media audience rather than attracting loiterers.