Fort Collins Social Media Marketing: Key Takeaways

We attended Fort Collins social media workshop- here's what we learned.

Last week as I was doing my regular rounds on Facebook, an interesting post from the City of Fort Collins’ page caught my eye:

city of fort collins facebook post social media workshop

The city of Fort Collins was holding social media workshops, which were open to the public and, best of all, free!

The workshops (really the event could have been called a mini-conference considering it had two general sessions, four breakout sessions, and a networking event) were held by the Fort Collins Communications and Public Involvement Office, which provides information to residents and the media on city government and services. The Communications and Public Involvement Office produces the city’s utility bill insert City News, provides information for the city’s web site,, organizes special events, and produces programming for FCTV, the city’s government access television channel, among other things.

My first thought, of course, was that I had to share it with the ladies of AWE, many of who would really appreciate the opportunity to learn more about social media for business.  But immediately after sharing it with my AWE network, I told Chris that we had to clear our calendars and attend the workshops ourselves – there is nothing better than having the opportunity to connect with other professionals in the same space to hear their take on trends and best practices.

School may be long behind us, but learning never stops. Click To Tweet

Beyond that, several topics the City of Fort Collins had planned were led by marketing and communications professionals from very different industries than ours, which could only mean some really intriguing takes on social media marketing.

Fort Collins Social Media Workshop Schedule & Topics

The day’s events were scheduled from 1:00 – 6:30 pm.  Topics and speakers for the workshop included:

How the Workshops Came To Be

At the event, I had the opportunity to speak with Mayan Smith, Publicity and Marketing Technician for Fort Collins who let me in on the backstory behind these open workshops.  She said that someone in her office had a personal connection with Eric Melin of Callahan Creek, who is based in Lawrence, Kansas, and had long discussed bringing him out here to speak to city employees about social media marketing.  When she started with the city a little over a year ago and heard about this idea, she helped to bring it to fruition along with the concept of making the day bigger than just one speaker.

As the afternoon started to come together with multiple speakers, it was first opened up only to Fort Collins employees.  Once the Communications and Public Involvement Office realized they had more space for attendees, a decision was made just a week before the big day to put out an ad and allow the general public to register.  That was when I saw their Facebook post.

Two general sessions were all held in a small auditorium at City Hall which could seat 150 people.  The breakout sessions and networking event were held at businesses across Old Town Fort Collins.  On Friday morning, there were approximately 130 RSVPs for the event, so they had a full house for the general sessions.  Overall the event was well organized, fun and interesting to attend.  I’m so glad the city decided to open it up to the public!

Because I enjoyed the workshop so much, I thought I would share some key takeaways with you from each of the three sessions that I attended.  Read on for summaries of what you missed if you weren’t there…

Social Media and the Creative Process

The first speaker was Eric Melin of Callahan Creek.

Eric Melin Callahan Creek

Not only was he the reason for the workshop, he was a fabulous speaker who had most of the audience laughing throughout his talk.  Eric’s talk used his personal experience developing a winning air guitar routine as a framework to discuss the creative process as it applies to social media marketing.

Eric started out by asking people in the audience what their job titles were.  He believes that no matter what a long fancy job title says, it all boils down to problem solving.  We’re all problem solvers in careers, and social media is just that: problem solving.  Many people say that problem solving requires three things: training, research, and experience.  In other words, it’s all about trial, error, and managing risk…or it’s about experience.

What Experienced People Will Tell You About Social Media Management

Experience tells us, our approach to social media must change over time. Click To Tweet

Social media used to be all about followers and likes.  How many people like your Facebook page?  How many followers do you have?  In the past, these were metrics that we used to measure success.  Now we know:

  • Goals for every brands are different and our strategy must match our goal.
  • We have to get the right message to the right people at the right time – often, this means paid targeting.
  • Social media builds community, which builds trust and loyalty.
  • A consistent tone that reflects your brand voice is a must.
  • Set expectation and then deliver – you have to maintain a constant presence.

 Don’t be afraid to challenge assumptions.

One great example Eric gave about aligning strategy and your language with your target market is a change that he made while managing Facebook campaigns for Nudges Dog Treats.  Most of us, Eric included, easily use the words “dog” and “puppy,” to describe our favorite four-legged companions, and there aren’t many other terms we would think to use when creating marketing targeted to dog owners – but with a little market research, Eric realized that by calling dogs “fur babies” in social media posts, Nudges could further connect on an emotional level with their customers, many of whom view their dogs as more than just pets.  You can see this in action on one of Nudge’s many posts sharing customer submitted photos (a great social media strategy, by the way).

nudges dog treats facebook post fur babies

Our Take on the Importance of Language

The importance of language is absolutely something that we have seen in our own research.  Your company may use one term to describe a product or service, but if your customers use another you’re missing out if you don’t use it as well.   This applies to more than just social media.

Using the right lingo is key to connecting with customers and also search engine optimization. Click To Tweet

Not too long ago, we did a search engine optimization (SEO) review for an eCommerce client who sold products including wrapping paper and nightlights.  Her products were unique, special, and made well, but she wasn’t getting the search traffic or the sales that she wanted.  Before even doing the research, I suspected what was wrong, and digging into Google’s Keyword Planner confirmed it: she was using terms for her products – “gift wrap” and “nite lights” – that didn’t match what her audience was searching for.

You have to speak your audience’s language.

What Air Guitar Has to do with Social Media

After some background and general information, Eric drove into the meat of his talk: the creative process and what goes into creating a content marketing strategy on social media.  In addition to being a social media marketer, Eric is also a world champion air guitarist.  He won 1st place in the 2013 Air Guitar Championships in Finland, and he used his experience working through the process of creating that routine as a lens through which to discuss the creative process in general.

A huge part of standing out in social media is passion.  It’s having a willingness to engage with your customers and to not let anything hold you back.  Many people believe they cannot take the time to post on social media because they think they don’t know what they’re doing or trust that they have the skills to make it happen.  Eric said, if you believe in what you do, it can be fun and then quoted John Cleese:

john cleese creativity quote

When you’re coming up with a social media strategy for your business, get inspiration from everyday challenges.  Creativity can be learned and improved – chase the sweet spot: the intersection of relevance and novelty – and don’t be afraid to try new things over and over.

When it comes to social media, if it works, it's obsolete. Click To Tweet

If you’re listing to your audience, you’ll get it right, and if you ever run into problems, just reverse engineer until you have the solution.

Social Media Is Nothing If You Don’t Know Your Purpose

Mack Fogelson of Genuinely (based here in Fort Collins) followed Eric’s talk with a topic that is near and dear to my heart, and something that has been much written about on this blog: focusing social media strategy with a clear understanding of why you’re doing what you do.

mackenzie fogelson genuinely social media

Mack started the conversation off with the story of Chipotle, whom everyone should check out on social media.  They post some genuinely interesting, often funny, posts with real, authentic voice.

chipotle facebook awesomeness

Find them rocking social media not just on Facebook, but also Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube, too.  When Chipotle experienced massive e. coli outbreaks, many of their customers still went into the restaurants to eat and proclaimed loyalty on social media.

chipotleordie tweet

Why is#ChipotleOrDie a thing?

It takes a lot to create engagement - it's more than being funny on social media. Click To Tweet

Dig a little deeper and it becomes clear.  Beyond social media, they also sponsor posts on the Huffington Post Food for Thought blog, and work to promote and create a more sustainable food system.  They have a game to promote sustainable food systems and put out videos like this:

This isn’t a marketing campaign.  It’s who they are as a company.

People don’t buy products.  They don’t keep coming back to you just because they need your service.  They come back to you and your products/services because who your company is resonates with them.  This is the “WHY” we often talk about in blog posts.

How to Achieve Marketing Success

Mack presented the concept of a three-pointed marketing success strategy.  A triangle divided into four smaller triangles, the outer three sections being purpose, people, and promise.

achieve marketing success

A successful marketing message comes from the intersection of your business’ purpose, a clear understanding of your target market – the people who fit with your purpose, and the promise you make them.  Mack stressed that until you know these three things – purpose, people, promise – you won’t be able to create a successful social media campaign, or even any kind marketing campaign.

Find Your Purpose

Go back to the beginning and discover your purpose.  If you haven’t yet taken time to determine the purpose of your organization, do it now!  A purpose statement is different from a mission statement, and truly understanding the raison d’être behind your business is key to social media marketing.  Purpose will guide what you create, curate, and communicate on social media.

Mack presented a method of finding a business’ purpose different from strategies I had previously utilized when developing our purpose statement and the purpose statement for Allied Women Entrepreneurs.  Her method is to think about purpose as the intersection of a cultural tension and your best self, which is derived from The big ideaL™, a philosophy from renown ad agency, Ogilvy & Mather, on how brands thrive today.   Ogilvy & Mather looked at their successes and at other brands they admired, and saw that each of these advertising successes had a higher ideal at their core: a point of view on how the world should be combined with a resolve to work for it.

find your business purpose

In this method, a businesses’ purpose can be defined by completing the following sentence, in a way that balances a cultural tension with your ideal vision for who your company is:

The world would be a better place if _____________.

What does all this mean?

Cultural Tension
To be relevant and important, brands need a point of view on the big and small topics of the day.  A cultural tension is a pain point that exists in our larger community or within your target demographic.  Ideally, there is research available to support the existence of this cultural tension.

Best Self
To be valid, a brand must have some authority to be able to hold its point of view. We find this by exploring the brand’s history and asking when the brand was at its best.  If you’re a new brand, you can spend time thinking about what you most want people to think about your business when the engage with it and what you want your business to do/be as a means of determining your best self.

Big Ideal
It is in the intersection where these two parts meet that the magic lies.  This is the big ideal. Big ideals can be fun or serious, grand or frivolous, and everything in between, says Oligvy & Mather.

Want to know more?  Check out Ogilvy & Mather’s Big ideaL website.

The Big Ideal in Real Life

Mack used Dove’s Real Beauty campaign as an example of how this method works.

dove perfect body real body campaign
dove real beauty marketing campaign

The Real beauty campaign was conceived out of research done over three years in partnership with three universities in four cities around the world.  The research found that only 2% of women consider themselves beautiful.  This presented a perfectly aligned cultural tension for Dove, a soap company whose vision is to be seen as a company that cares about its consumers (this is their best self).

Thus, Dove’s purpose is to help women feel good about their bodies.

Use Your Purpose to Identify Your People

Moving further along in the marketing success triangle, Mack states that purpose is the glue for connection with your people.  Once you have defined your purpose, you can use your purpose to determine who your people are.  She talked about the importance of creating avatars (a.k.a. personas) for your target demographic.  Avatars are profiles of real people whom you want to target and with whom you feel your purpose will resonate.

Mack shared the story of how they have gone through this process with one of her clients, Traveling Vineyard, a direct sales wine company.  With that company, they determined that their business’ purpose was related to helping their sales reps living richer, fuller lives.  They identified three main avatars for the company: all moms at various life stages.

genuinely traveling vinyard avatars personas

There’s the stay-at-home mom, the “pathfinder” (an empty nester), and the achiever (a mom with kids at home who looks for career-based fulfillment).  Each of these avatars comes out of stereotypes, but goes further – there is a face, a name, and a back story for each that identifies them as real people.  From there they were able to identify three key content areas in which they needed to focus their marketing efforts:

  • food & wine – recipes, memes, dining related, general interest content
  • day in the life – true stories from actual sales reps that paint a picture of what it’s really like to work for Traveling Vinyard
  • direct sales – content that address questions or myths about working for a direct sales company

Knowing your target market is vital to social media marketing success because it helps to shape the content you produce.  When you know who you’re talking to, then you’ll have a much better picture of what you should be saying.

Define Your Promise to Your Customers

The third piece of the puzzle is having a clear understanding of what you promise your customers.  Research shows that the #1 thing consumers want when engaging with a brand is honesty about products and services.  As you start to define your promise to your customers, Mack suggested that your promises and social media marketing messages should follow these three rules:

  1. Be honest about products and services.
  2. Don’t let your customers down.
  3. Act with integrity at all times.

In a world where people are constantly bombarded with messages, both on- and offline, you have to prove you’re worth their attention.  If you can follow those three rules while sharing quality content, then you’ll do well.

Your content doesn't need to go viral, it just needs to build trust. Click To Tweet

Examples of Effective Social Media Posts

Mack shared several examples of the content Genuinely has been posting for Traveling Vineyard.  They have seen success with:

Curated Content
Curated content is content that you did not create, but have shared from other sources.  Typically for Traveling Vineyard, their curated content falls into the food & wine category, above.

User Generated Content (UGC)
Ambassador driven or user generated content always works well because it can function as a testimonial, and can work within any of their three focus areas for social media marketing.  Some examples of this include stories about the day in the life of a rep or content from, a podcast/blog that interviews direct sales reps.

Myth vs. Fact Videos
Videos perform very well on social media, especially on Facebook who is pushing video a lot right now.  Traveling Vineyard has been producing short videos with interviews with their sales reps that help to dispel myths about direct sales.

To see more examples of the posts they have been doing, visit Traveling Vineyard’s Facebook Page.

Don’t forget about outreach!

As more and more content is put on social media, it can often be hard to know that your content is being shown to your followers.  Other ways to make sure it gets in front of the people you want to see it includes:

  • Broadcasting it out to your network via an email blast, and asking them to share
  • One:One – individual email outreach that is personalized
  • Include expert quotes – if you are able to get a quote from an expert to include in your post, they may be willing to share it with their network as well
  • Paying for post “boosts” or advertisements to make sure your audience see your content
  • Guest posting on other blogs or paying for sponsored blog posts

It’s important to remember that building trust has to happen everywhere, you can’t just do digital.

As a closing thought, Mack stated that her preference for outreach is to connect with micro-influencers, rather than going with people who have giant followings.  This means if she’s thinking about a blogger to pay for a sponsored post, she is more likely to do this if the blogger has tens of thousand of followers than one that has a million.  Her thought process behind that is that as someone becomes extremely popular they often get people who like them just because of their popularity but who are not engaged followers.  This means you may be paying a higher price for the same visibility and engagement that you would otherwise have for less money with a “less followed” blogger.

Using Social Media to Connect with Journalists

The breakout session that I attended was led by Jason Pohl, Breaking News Reporter for our local newspaper, the Fort Collins Coloradoan.

In many ways, I was most excited about this talk.  Though we are not a PR company and don’t put out press releases for our clients (this stretches a little beyond our digital marketing realm), we do occasional do this work for ourselves, and I also do it quite a bit for Allied Women Entrepreneurs.  I’ve had some success getting AWE written up in local papers, but it was through more traditional methods of outreach so I was looking forward to hearing about how social media might be useful in approaching journalists.

How Contacting Journalists Used to Be

Jason started out by talking about how journalism used to be and what used to happen when a press release was sent out.  It used to be that if a press release was sent out, you almost always got coverage of some kind.  The news cycle was slower and less interactive – talking even up to 10 years ago, before social media.  Often times getting your news out looked something like this:

press releases the old way

It was difficult to control your message and even more difficult to see to what extent the messaging was working.  Your audience was also much more limited, because it was typically limited only to newspaper subscribers or people who happened to tune into the news program at the right time on the right day.

How the Media Approaches Things Today

With the introduction of social media and the larger role of the web, there have been big changes in how the media approaches news and stories.  Story generation is different.  Information can come from a variety of different sources now and can be easier to come by in some cases.  Content can be reader-driven and social in nature.  For example, the Coloradon started a hashtag, #FoCoAsk, on Twitter, which allows readers to submit questions that they can then look into and answer.  At times, these questions can turn into larger news stories.

#focoask Fort Collins Coloradoan Twitter

Another huge difference now with the introduction of social media is a big increase in the reach of news stories and the ability to better measure the reach of those news stories.  That means getting a better picture of results.  It also means that news has to be immediate in a way that it never did previously, which led into a discussion of how the media determines what news to publish.

News Values: How Journalist Determine What to Cover

Several people in the audience had stories about events or happenings that they tried to get reported by local news without luck.  Jason discussed the eight things that media outlets – whether print, television, radio, or web – take into account when determining what to publish:

  1. Impact: how many people will the story impact or interest?  Anything relevant to only a small number of people is less likely to be covered.
  2. Timeliness: in the 24/7 news cycle where news is always happening and being shared, the news has to be happening now.  People lose interest quickly and if it seems to be out of date, then it won’t be covered.  An example Jason included of this was about fireworks in Fort Collins.  Prior to the 4th of July, they printed a story about how it is illegal to shoot off fireworks in the city of Fort Collins.  On the 4th of July many people shot them off anyway, and both the police and Coloradoan were getting tons of calls from residents reporting their neighbors.  Jason looked into it and realized there was a story there, but by the time he had all of the research together about the number of calls and citations to run a story before 8 am on July 6th, the interest had waned, and that article barely received any views, shares, or response.  Not two full days later and people were already tired of it.  Even with very controversial issues, the drop off in readership is often much faster than one might expect.
  3. Prominence: This is largely about the people in the story.  Why would readers resonate with the people in the story?  More well-known or famous individuals are given more coverage.
  4. Proximity: Is the story relevant to their readers geographically and does it fit within their coverage area?  Most news outlets have coverage areas and if you send them a story that is outside of it (for example trying to get a Denver paper to cover an event held in Fort Collins), they are unlikely to pursue it.
  5. Unusual: If the story is about something unusual or unique, it is more likely to get covered, because it is more likely to pique the interest with readers.  In discussing this, Jason referenced the Fort Collins Police Services pun-filled post about a stolen stuffed fish that they recovered.
    Fort Collins Police Services Fish Facebook Post
    Not only was the caption cleaver, but the theft in and of itself was unusual, which is part of why it did well. News outlets like to share unusual stories like these.
  6. Conflict: Stories about conflicts between two parties do well.  Jason acknowledged that most of us are probably not trying to pitch stories about issues we have with others, but it is a fact that the media considers.
  7. Currency: More value is attributed to stories pertaining to issues or topics that are in the spotlight of public concern rather than to issues or topics about which people care less. This is sort of like the “issue of the day.”
  8. Human Interest: Human interest stories are to some degree the opposite of prominence.  They are stories about everyday people and the things that have happened to them that may be of interest to the general public because they are relatable.

If you’re looking to pitch a story to the media, then it can be helpful to convey how your story fits into one or more of these news values categories.

Press Release 101: Get the Important Information at the Beginning

When you’re writing a press release, it’s important to remember that journalists are people too, and follow the same rules for writing that a journalist would follow.  This means, assume that they have at least the same attention span as an average reader or possibly less, as they are constantly scanning news, press releases, police scanners, etc. for stories and then jumping up to follow leads.  If you want to get a journalist interested in your press release, get the important information at the beginning.

Jason shared the inverted pyramid for news writing that journalists follow and suggested that we should follow it as well when writing press releases.

news writing inverted pyramid

 Assume that your press releases are going to be skimmed.  Skip the platitudes and silly introductions at the beginning like “Spring is on the way” and just start with the important details.

I know that, Jason said, I’m human too!

Other rules for writing good press releases include:

  • Know what the community is talking about.  If your news relates to that, share it.
  • Think about how your message will travel through various platforms and customize your message as necessary.
  • Don’t do blanket press releases.  News outlets like to tell unique stories – don’t send the same information to every media outlet.  Customize it to fit them/their audience.
  • If you can make it exclusive, do! Journalists love to be able to “scoop” a story.
  • Have someone there to answer the phone if a reporter calls.  They may not have a lot of time and if they can’t get more information the story may not run.
  • Make corrections if needed! If you had an error in your press release, make sure to correct it.  News outlets hate to run stories with errors because it makes them look bad.

Want to go above and beyond?  Make open source information that the media can share directly on their website or on their social media accounts.  This could be a map, slidedeck, graphics, or more.  An example of this in action is the Map of road closures, shelters, and evacuations that the Jefferson County Sheriffs made during the 2013 floods in Colorado.

jeffcoflood map tweet 9news denver twitter

This was perfect for news outlets, like 9News Denver, to pick up.

How to Connect With the Media on Social Media

Now that you have the press release perfectly crafted and ready to go, Jason suggests that beyond old school methods of reaching out – email or phone – the fastest and easiest way to get it in front of a report is with a single tweet.

If you want to connect with a reporter in social media, you have to be on Twitter. Click To Tweet

Out of all the social media sites, the best site to connect with journalists is Twitter.  Journalists use Twitter for:

  • news gathering (Twitter alerts work well for breaking news)
  • reciprocal connection with community
  • personality and branding
  • article sharing
  • self promotion
  • and to stay on top of what the community is sharing

Because Twitter allows for feed organization and filtering in a way that other social media sites do not (through lists and apps like Tweet Deck), it ensures that they can see more information that they want to see.  This is why journalists prefer Twitter.

Tagging a reporter on Twitter is a fast and easy way to get your information in front of them.  Most of them will have alerts enabled which means they will see what you said no matter what, and because the length is limited to 140 characters, you will know they saw your entire message and got the full gist of what you were saying.  The 140 character limit may seem hard, but as you get used to summarizing the important points, it will get easier over time.

Jason closed his talk with a thought to mull over: Journalists are not going away.  Depending upon how you define journalism, there are more journalists than ever.  Building journalists into your communication and marketing plan is as important as ever.

Building Strategies & Moving Forward

This was a lot of information – if you made it this far, you deserve a pat on the back!  My biggest take away from the Fort Collins Social Media Workshop was that social media is an ever-expanding landscape and there is always more to learn and try.  Despite the fact that I have been embedded into this virtual world as a marketer for 10+ years, there is always someone out there with interesting thoughts to share.

I know I can nerd out on this a bit – attending workshops for fun and writing super long blog posts about it is just one example – I’m lucky enough that I find social media marketing to be a fascinating landscape, but I know it isn’t for everyone.  If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out.  You can leave a comment below, or contact us if you’re interested in more in-depth social media marketing support.

Thoughts or Questions?

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