“You have to build a platform that will allow you to be of the moment when the moment strikes, and a lot of times it’s doing thankless grind work of just creating a lot of answers to frequently asked questions in your industry or seeing what’s happening from a news perspective in the industry, and then you contextualize it for your audience.”
“We don’t believe in aggregation or curation. Because, if you are just doing that, that's easy to replicate.”
“The first rule of love is that you have to be worthy of being loved.”
“Basically, who recommended [the link] gets the credit.”
“The difference between brand marketing and brand journalism is that bullshit filter being applied.”
“You know people from who they like, they like who they know and they know who they introduce themselves to. So it’s really basic sociology, being nice, say who you are, add value to conversations, listen and be useful.”
“At the end of the day one thing all brands have in common is they are not selling to robots, they’re selling to people. That aspect, the human aspect of it, is important.”
Start Andrew Hanelly talking about digital strategy and you’ll soon realize there’s no “off” button. This is appropriate, of course, as Hanelly earns his stripes as SVP of Strategy at McMurry/TMG. The Penn State grad is hard-wired with the understanding that, while every business is in business to encourage a certain group of people to take a certain action, the more actionable insight is that every human interaction is a transaction.
Yet he also recognizes the value of journalism. We spoke to Andrew about strategy, revolutions and “B.S.” detectors.
Content: Can you talk a little bit about how strategies adjust for goals?
Andrew Hanelly: One of the phrases that we use around here is, “Creating cultural relevance that converts.” Every industry, whether it is a B-to-B or an association that focuses on serving professional members, or consumer facing, each industry has a sort of cultural community around it, and the key is for us to create stuff that is worth them paying attention to, and really positioning brands at the gateway of content discovery, search engines, social media and e-mail inbox.
Content: Goals will change based on the client, but there are commonalities.
Andrew Hanelly: Hopefully they'll see that there is a value we are providing, and then we can ask readers if they’d like to become a member, or buy this thing that is related to the content they’ve been reading, or come and visit this event next June in Las Vegas. So, no matter what the goal is, its structure stays the same, yes. Sort of like jazz, there is a bass beat and there is the improvisation.
Content: Improv is a strategy.
Andrew Hanelly: Right. You sort of have to put in the hard work of building that framework. One of the things we say here too, it’s a famous quote, “Luck is the residue of hard work.” So, you have to build a platform that will allow you to be of the moment when the moment strikes, and a lot of times it’s doing thankless grind work of just creating a lot of answers to frequently asked questions in your industry or seeing what’s happening from a news perspective, and then you contextualize it for your audience.
Content: Aggregation, or curation?
Andrew Hanelly: We don’t believe in aggregation or curation. Because, if you are just doing that, that's easy to replicate. You have to put on a journalist's head, because journalism is the ultimate bullshit filter. It’s the science of understanding things, and explaining things and saying, “Hey, this happened and this is why it matters,” or “Hey, this happened and I’m never gonna publish it because it does not matter to my audience.” You have to have a journalist's head on and you have to have that brand head on.
Content: The three rules of engagement are value, value and value.
Andrew Hanelly: Yeah. We’ll find out what’s happening in [a client's] industry and then figure out what’s important, and then take that back to their audience and say, “Hey guys, this happened, here’s why it matters to you.” So whether the audience is Googling something or they are taking part in a Twitter chat or they are just checking their e-mail every day, you wanna have something that is valuable enough that they say, “I’m gonna check this out,” and then you might ask them to take action.
Content: You touched on Twitter. Are you simply putting content out there or are there more aggressive strategies that you endorse to increase engagement?
Andrew Hanelly: I think you know that Casanova quote: the first rule of love is that you have to be worthy of being loved. So, we say the first rule of mentioning is that you have to be worthy of being mentioned. We are not Team Follow Back, like, let’s follow a thousand people and see if we can net a thousand and fifty follow backs and cut the other ones.
Content: That’s not sustainable.
Andrew Hanelly: That’s not really relationship building. When we talk to our clients we say this is not a short-term strategy, this is a long-term strategy. It’s very much a grind but amazing pay-off will happen down the road. We’ll have some great days on ReddIt or something gets picked up by David Pogue or some industry influencer and we have a huge day, but we are not so much worried about those huge rising tides. We are worried about the long haul.
Content: How does snark fit in?
Andrew Hanelly: For Twitter, it’s identifying who in the chosen industry is already culturally relevant, who’s a blogger that has a big following, and, yeah, who’s a snarky person on Twitter that everybody seems to pay attention to. One of the things we do—and this is how we help brands realize why we’re doing this—is sharing other people’s stuff and giving props. You know, you gotta give props before you get props.
Content: Can you cite a recent example?
Andrew Hanelly: For one of our technology clients, we surveyed the landscape, found the most influential bloggers that we deemed worthy of the brand and worthy of journalism at large, and said, “Hey these are the fifty best bloggers out there in this space.” And we published them on our site and let them know that we recognize them as one of the best of the best. Every day we’re sharing content from their sites. But, you know, our social journalists who are creating content on behalf of the brand, they have to be thinking, “Wow, this blogger over here is really pushing the envelope. This is really thought provoking. I’m gonna link my followers to this.” Because, at the end of the day, you don’t always have to be the source, just being the resource is good enough because people remember, “Oh, that’s the guy that showed me this cool link. I’m gonna link to him because he might show me more cool links,” as opposed to “Oh, that’s where that link took me, I’m gonna go back to that place.” It doesn’t really work like that. Basically, who recommended it gets the credit.
Content: As long as it’s transparent.
Andrew Hanelly: We have three rules: be transparent—say who you are and then where you are from. We don’t believe in sock puppets. I say, “My name is Andrew and I do this for this brand but you know what? I love this industry. I read up on this industry. I work in the industry every day and I’m gonna share the cool stuff that I find in the industry.” So it’s transparency and tone. Every industry has its vernacular and its vibe—finance might be a little more uptight, some other industries might be more loosey-goosey, but it’s having the appropriate tone, and you can only get that by really listening a lot and being an active member in the community online. So it’s transparency, it’s tone and it’s always add value.
Content: How does TMG/McMurry think of value?
Andrew Hanelly: Value can be a link to a post that touches on certain issues, or a link to somebody else’s post, or five smart people that said something on Twitter that I want to share. It’s just being a good citizen. The backdrop is, “Yeah, I work for this brand.” But if you just disclose that, people respect that and then they go, “Yeah, that’s that dude from that brand, but you know what? He is really up on his stuff and I appreciate that.” Whether you’re a traditional media company or you’re a brand publisher, there is always somebody paying the bills, and in traditional media you have fifty advertisers; in branded publishing you have one, so if you just disclose where you are from, people are smart enough to consider the source. The difference between brand marketing and brand journalism is that bullshit filter being applied. It’s like, let’s be real and let’s make sure that we are not just saying cringe-worthy stuff, like, “Hey, this just happened, why don’t you buy our shoes?”
Content: You've got to earn your way in.
Andrew Hanelly: Worry about winning it in the long run—if you do all those little things, big things begin to happen, and then you realize, “Hey, our posts are now in Google news, or our organic search traffic is way up, or we have 5,000 more e-mail subscribers than we had before, and all of the sudden we’ve built this community, you earned their attention, and once you have that, you can do all sorts of things as long as you respect your audience. They don’t mind if they read ten posts of yours in a month and then they get an e-mail from you asking if they're interested in an event coming up in your city. You earn your way in. At the end of the day we are all in business, but you don’t have to lead with that. You know people from who they like, they like who they know and they know who they introduce themselves to. So it’s really basic sociology, being nice, say who you are, add value to conversations, listen, and be useful.
Content: How many posts are too many posts in a day?
Andrew Hanelly: I think that you want to avoid dumping into the stream all at once. You don’t want somebody to check out their Twitter feed and then see you added fifty times in a row—OK, easy, there are other people here. So as long as you spread it out, the limits are gonna vary based on the size of your audience and the engagement of your audience. It’s one of those things, there’s no best time to send an e-mail globally, but there is a best time for each list, based on the relationship. So what we do is we use scheduling tools like HootSuite or Buffer to find the right balance for the audience. And if you see that you’re decreasing engagement, you probably wanna tone it down a little bit and be more judicious, but if you are tweeting and a lot of people are acting positively and your post metrics are up, there’s no reason to slow down.
Content: How much daily social engagement do clients request?
Andrew Hanelly: It’s really based on the breadth of the campaign. Some brands want to do two tweets a day. But I say, what if there’s a third tweet that day that’s super relevant? So it’s about being in the trenches enough, as long as you know how people are reacting to your stuff in real time. There are a lot of great tools out there, a lot of great technology, but having a human doing the heavy lifting in the thinking makes a lot of sense, because at the end of the day one thing all brands have in common is they are not selling to robots, they’re selling to people. That aspect, the human aspect of it, is important.
Content: Any digital campaigns out there that excite you right now?
Andrew Hanelly: Not to be corny but I think that what we’re doing with our partner, ASAE, on Associationsnow.com, is really revolutionary in the association business.
Content: How is it revolutionary?
Andrew Hanelly: It’s daily contextualizing. It’s daily news. It’s a daily newsletter. It’s active social-media engagement. It’s really taking the brand from an association that provides members with information, to an association with a media arm that is providing a real value on a daily basis. We set up a brand newsroom for them, and it’s creating real time content so if you go to Associationsnow.com you’ll see that we publish every single day. We just got accepted into Google News, so whenever there’s a big piece of news breaking we have ten thousand people come to us for a certain article on a certain day because they’ve found us on Google News.
What was once solely a print publication has morphed into an online journalism-style newsroom destination.
Content: Google News is a powerful engine.
Andrew Hanelly: Less than .0008 % of the web is in Google News, so it's a really good indicator of quality. So we’re not gonna honk the association marketing message, we’re gonna run this as if it were a news start-up that is a media brand in support of this association. We’re really so excited about it. We are getting amazing response. David Pogue, the technology columnist of the New York Times, tweeted one of our posts—and not just to say, “This is not just a cool site.” He tweeted it as if it were a regular article he found on the New York Times.
Content: That’s exciting.
Andrew Hanelly: Yeah, it’s validating. And, you know, it’s a baby…and our metrics are blowing out our projections, and we couldn't be more thrilled.