Engagement Strategies - CONTENT FLOATS - The Digital Crown: Winning at Content on the Web (2014)

The Digital Crown: Winning at Content on the Web (2014)


Chapter 5. Engagement Strategies


When we send our content out “there” we know that it will be floating on many waves, touching our audience at different points along the way. We need to identify the channels through which we share our content and start thinking of our audience as a community with whom we want to have a long, rich conversation. We should learn to listen to them as much, if not more, than we want them to listen to us. This audience engagement must involve building the community, knowing where and how they want information, and then measuring the effect of our strategy on their actions.


community engagement; audience engagement teams; social media; channels

Now that we understand how to create a content framework to ensure that our content supports the sales cycle and we know how different types of content are interrelated, we need to answer the last of our three questions. Remember, the questions were:

1. How and when does the content support the sales cycle or help you achieve your achievement threshold?

2. How do the different formats of content relate to each other? Do they help support the story you want to tell?

3. How will this content float along the web, facilitating conversations?

So, how will this content float along the web and facilitate conversations?

In Chapter 4, we learned about multichannel publishing, which is one way we can ensure that our content is ready to publish across the web. But that’s just the structure of the content. Distribution is the interplay between structure and substance, and it’s where platforms and channels sometimes seem to merge.

Let’s review quickly:

Format is the way in which information is presented. Examples include text, audio, video, or images.

Substance is the formats of content you have and your messages.

Structure is the way the content is encoded for publication.

Channels are how you communicate with your audience, for example, email, websites, SMS, broadcast, direct mail.

Platforms are the technologies you use to deliver the content, for example, content management system, mobile technology.

The Medium (Channel) Is the Message

If you’ve studied communications, chances are you’ve come upon this famous phrase by Marshall McLuhan, “The medium is the message.” What he meant by this is that the medium in which a message is encoded affects the quality, substance, and perception of a message. So, we perceive messages differently based on the format and channel in which we encounter them. For example, a newspaper article about a fancy resort in the Caribbean will resonate differently than a commercial because the visual encodes different pieces of information than text. We talked about content flexing in Chapter 3; how we may pick up the phone instead of responding to an email. The medium encodes the message—it mediates the conversation on some level. That matters when you’re talking about distributing your content—a piece of information embedded in a recognizable format.

That’s why so many of us think of the broad term “Facebook status” as a piece of content. But, it’s not really; if you break it apart, you realize that yes, the information is the sentences of the status, but the status box is the format—the information encoded in a way you recognize. The status box is distributed through Facebook’s news feed, which is a platform, a set of technologies that allows for sharing and interaction (Figure 5.1).



FIGURE 5.1 Separate format from channel and platform, Ahava Leibtag, All Rights Reserved.

Facebook is a platform for distributing and sharing content. Your status update begins as a piece of information you embed in a status box. Then you share it on the news feed, which is the channel upon which others receive it.

Deciding on the Right Channels to Distribute Content

In Chapter 3, we learned about which formats of content you need to create to support your customers during the buying process. You also know that you need to structure content to float along the web (Chapter 4). How do you decide which channels are best to send your bottle out to sea? We want those channels to support our messages and not change them, and we certainly don’t want our message to sink to the bottom and disappear. Yet according to Mr. McLuhan, that’s not possible.

Let’s find out if he’s right.

Defining Channels

First, let’s define the number of channels you could use to distribute your content:


*Might count as its own category.

Is it really possible that there are only four major ways to reach people? Well, basically, there are, unless you’ve mastered Jedi mind tricks. And, if you recall, even Harry Potter wasn’t too successful in reading someone else’s thoughts.

However, within each of these four categories there are numerous channels. In social media alone, I can count at least six major ones (as of this writing):

• Facebook

• Twitter

• LinkedIn

• Pinterest

• YouTube

• Foursquare

So, how do you decide the best distribution channels for your content? You think about it like a conversation—a delicate interaction with an intended goal.

What are we really trying to do when we’re creating content? We’re trying to have a conversation with the audience to tell them about our brand, so we can build rapport with them. We aren’t just trying to sell one product or service and have them move on; we usually want to sell many, over time.

Even if the customer will only use us once—like, for instance, a wedding planner—we still want that customer to tell others how wonderful we are. Like the conversations we have in our daily lives, the ones we have with our customers build relationships—hopefully long-term and mutually beneficial ones. Many of those conversations happen on social media, which we’re going to talk about next.

The Rise of Social Media, Digital Channels, and the Multi-Screen World

Our lives have changed so rapidly because of the communication technologies we now have in the palm of our hands. How are we using those technologies to communicate with our customers? We know they must want more than pictures of cats (Figure 5.2).


FIGURE 5.2 Separate content from channel and platform, Ahava Leibtag, All Rights Reserved.

If content is king, then according to Google, multi-screen experiences are queen. In August 2012, Google released research showing that more and more US consumers were using multi-screen experiences to consume content. In fact, on average, each day 4.4 h of our time is spent spread across four devices (Figure 5.3):

• Phones

• Tablets

• Computers

• TVs (Leibtag, 2012)


FIGURE 5.3 My friend from elementary school’s status says it best: Life is busy and my attention is fractured.

The challenge for digital marketers and content professionals is maintaining customers’ focus on their content and goals. Delivering a fabulous content experience to an audience that is continuously shifting its attention is what makes managing content complex.

So as audiences engage in multi-screen experiences and multi-threaded conversations, constantly moving and consuming information, the content moves too. If you buy a product and post the purchase to your Facebook account, that item has now shown up on Facebook with an endorsement (we hope.) That makes content “slippery” in that it doesn’t stay in one place, it moves and morphs all the time—without your control. The other consideration is that consumers are hungry for content but their attention span is short.

So here’s the problem, which we all struggle with: how do you get your content in front of your target audiences? More importantly, how do you get them to engage with it long enough to connect?

Multi-Screen, Multi-Threaded

Multi-screen experiences happen like this: We split our attention between different screens to consume content in different ways. Think about it—do you watch a TV show with your smartphone or tablet in hand to talk to “friends” about the happenings on the show? We split our attention between the action on the screen and the reactions of our Twitter or Facebook friends.

These multi-screen experiences lead to multi-threaded conversations.

Multi-threaded conversations are conversations happening with multiple people at once, usually around different topics and on different devices. We might pick up our smartphone to answer a message, and then use our tablet to continue the conversation. Our attention is divided and we can wrap our thoughts around multiple topics.

Think Engagement—Think Community

We can’t possibly expect ourselves to create the ultimate interactive experience for every single audience member. So, instead of thinking solely about content distribution, we need to shift our focus to something else (which is actually more interesting)—increasing and encouraging engagement and trust by building a brand community (Smith & Leibtag, 2012).

Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and all similar channels are so popular because it gives us a chance to talk. Did you ever think you’d spend hours reading and commenting about your friend’s cousin’s trip to Mexico? When you do it, doesn’t it make you feel connected? Being part of a community is fun, energizing, and comforting. It also creates what we need most in marketing—trust.

We build trust over time, over a number of conversations between consumer and consumer, and between consumer and company. As the authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto describe, “The Net invites your customers in to talk, to laugh with each other, and to learn from each other. Connected, they reclaim their voice in the market, but this time with more reach and wider influence than ever” (Levine, 2009). This means we need to respect those conversations more than ever, as they do have such a wide reach.

To build a brand community, we need to understand the community. One of the oldest marketing phrases still in play is “audience segmentation.” Today we can add the phrase “channel participation.” We need to understand both of these factors to build a brand community. When we think about channel distribution, we need to focus on:

• When?

• How?

Let’s keep that in mind as we talk about audience and channel selection.

Audience Segmentation: Does the World Still Belong to the 18-34 Age Group?

Reaching 18-34-year-olds is the Holy Grail of audience reach. The reason for that is simple—sales. As Robin Oatley states, “You must have noticed that Adults 18-49 (or A18-49) is a very important demographic. But why is that? The answer is advertisers (surprising, right?). Because most commercials are aimed at those people between 18 and 49, the broadcast networks only get paid for impressions by that target audience. Now, to get to the bottom of this all: Why are the commercials aimed at 18-49-year-olds? Traditionally, those were the people that had the most money to spare. They were the ones with the high paying jobs. People over 50 were considered poor old pensioners (slight exaggeration), and were less influenced by commercials. Therefore, they were not interesting to advertisers.”

Today, as Oatley states, “… people over 50 are not all poor pensioners. During the second half of the 20th century, people have been living longer and longer. As a result, they have been working until they are way over 50 years old. Also, people have been saving for their pensions more than they have before, so even if they have retired, they are not automatically poor” (Oatley, 2012).

In fact, many of them have lots of money to spend and find that ads are not directed to them. The 18-34-year-olds will only be knocked off their pedestals, however, when tons of research shows marketing professionals that more than advertising is at play now. Digital engagement can drive demand and increase sales—for all ages.

Identifying the Community and Its Channels

Different types of people hang out in different types of places. I remember when I was a teenager, the mall was fun. Now, as a mom with three young children, it’s a place with stuff I need, and all I want to do is get in and get out. When I was in college, I wanted to hang out with my friends at bars and coffee houses and talk about existential issues. Now, I want to hang out at home on the couch with my husband and watch our favorite programs—on demand.

My life has changed, as have my interests and focus. Having an effective and memorable conversation with me now is different than at other stages in my life. Our audience is the same. If you want to engage with your target audiences, you need to:

1. Find them on the right channels

2. Engage them with content which is entertaining and/or relevant to their lives

3. Build a relationship with them through consistent conversations

4. Invite them to engage further

Let’s break down those four elements because your job is to know who is spending time engaging with your content and on which channels. Even more than that, you need to understand how the medium changes the message, so you can understand how it may shift the conversation you are having with your potential customer.

How One Team Does It—Identifying the Community by Channel

A prestigious medical school staff and cool social media gurus are not two groups that would naturally seem to go together. Enter Albert Einstein College of Medicine. As a result of a Twitter chat, I chanced upon their posts and was intrigued by their engaging manner. It was clear some very fun and smart people were behind this. I interviewed them and found them to be a truly creative team. They were kind enough to let me ask them some questions—here is their answer to my question of why they divide content efforts by channel.

The team explained: “We figured out persona development over time. What sells on Facebook is different from what sells on YouTube. Because of this, we decided to figure out content by channel.” For example, the entire editorial team works on an email newsletter that is published two times a month. Sent to the extended Einstein community—researchers, students, alumni, and donors—the content includes subjects that resonate well with those audiences, as well as a wrap up of what’s going on at Einstein. After the newsletter is completed, the editorial team eyes the content critically and decides what belongs on which channel. That way they ensure, “all the content we’re spending time creating works for a different platform and has a shelf life; meaning it’s not going to die in a week. We’ve iterated constantly to figure out which platforms which content belongs on.” “This helps to keep the content fresh, by extending the content on different platforms,” they explained.

Note: In this story, the Einstein team is using the words platform and channel interchangeably, and when talking about Twitter and Facebook, they are correct. However, you can distribute a commercial on different television channels, and still be using one platform: broadcast television.

Find Your Audience on the Right Channels

Michael Hogenmiller, a media professional, compares media channels to TV channels: “To build our audience, our job is to consider the interplay between content and distribution, and then marry them together. Today’s Internet is built around a group of channels, just like cable television. Each of these channels is more than a dumping ground for posts—it’s a pipeline that, if well-optimized, can deliver compounding growth results. TV shows on Lifetime or Bravo are radically different from the programming on Spike, FX, or HBO. We need to shift our thinking so that it revolves around channels of the Internet. When our creators sit down to pen an article, they need to understand which distribution channels they’re writing for” (Hogenmiller, 2013).

You have to identify your audience, which is why personas and audience segmentation are so important. Every business is marketing to a variety of customers with different:

• Ages

• Income levels

• Educations

• Interests

• Geographical areas

How to Identify Communities of Interest

Understanding how, where, and when to use different social media channels should be your number one priority when developing a strategy to connect. Here are some examples of finding communities of interest across some of the major platforms:

Twitter: Hashtag communities and chats are quick and easy ways to get involved in social media. You can also take advantage of promoted Tweets as a form of advertising to increase content consumption and brand awareness.

LinkedIn™: Use LinkedIn to search for organizations within your expertise or interest. Another way to find valuable groups is to search the “Answers” portion of LinkedIn; find those individuals who have provided the most “best answers” within a category. You can also follow those people, and backtrack to find other groups these potential contacts belong to as members. LinkedIn advertising can also be a powerful channel to distribute whitepapers and other B2B marketing collateral.

Facebook: Facebook is a wonderful channel for sharing content. Facebook also runs ads so that you can capitalize on people’s interests because of certain words they use in their status updates. Take advantage of that kind of consumer targeting.

Through interacting on these platforms, you will start to make connections and shape your understanding of who is hanging out on different social media channels. From there you can examine where and how they spend their time. Use that information to shape your online engagement into your own voice (Smith and Leibtag, 2012).

“Your choice of channel should depend on who your customers are and what interests they have expressed. Content that speaks to them as individuals and relates to their everyday interests will keep them engaged and encourage them to participate in conversations.”

(Liberman, 2013)

So how do you find your audience on the right channels?

Engaging the Community

Engaging a brand community takes three steps:

1. Listen: Go out there and spend time listening to your customers. What are they talking about on different social media channels? What are their comments on YouTube videos? What types of emails do you get from other entrenched members of that community? Which of your email lists do they show interest in, subscribe to, or unsubscribe from? If there are books in your space, look at the comments on Amazon. Get a feeling for audience interaction in different spaces.

2. Test: Try different types of content to see what response you get. I’m not advocating for a spaghetti content strategy (putting up content to see what sticks)—I’m simply saying, try different content formats—videos, pictures, articles, and polls—and see how your audience reacts.

3. Measure engagement: You can draw certain conclusions if you carefully follow your measurement analytics for engagement. Deciding on what those analytics are is a very important part of the process. Don’t look at how many followers you have; look at your engagement with those followers. If you are looking at the wrong metrics, you’re making bad decisions.

Use what you know about different consumer segments. Based on that segmentation, you should be able to tell which channels they frequent and how often. If your target audience spends more time on Facebook and likes or shares certain types of posts, you now hold important information about what works for your brand community on Facebook.

Entertain and Be Relevant!

When I read a magazine article with pictures of food, smiling children, and a woman wearing a suit, I know I’m probably reading about working moms and quick recipes. But when I come across a link on Facebook from someone within my network that shows a steaming loaf of coconut banana bread straight out of the oven and she says it took her 20 min to make it—well then, I’m more engaged. There’s an added layer of communication embedded within the channel: I encountered the recipe from someone I know and trust. Plus, she confirms it’s delicious, and even more important to me, it wasn’t difficult to make.

This is where the medium shaping the message gets complicated. Figuring out what formats of content are going to keep prospects moving through your customer loop (sales funnel) and engaged with your brand requires testing and iteration. Knowing which channel is best is going to change all the time, so you may need to resign yourself to exploiting the strengths of each channel. Also remember Rule #3. Keep testing what works on different channels and what you can change to improve your engagement metrics.

One approach is to focus on the inherent strength of each channel. Pinterest is a way to distribute visual content. If you don’t have visual content to accompany other types of textual content, you may want to consider distributing it on Twitter, where you have 140 characters to communicate why people should read your article. On Facebook, you can post almost any type of content, so you may want to use the advertising functionality on Facebook to increase your reach to consumers who might not otherwise find you.

Keep the Conversation Going

How should you enter into the social media space, if you haven’t already? First, you need to know what people want to talk about. If you’ve been listening, then you probably have a good idea.

Facebook Advertising

Just do a search on “Advertising on Facebook” and you’ll find hundreds of articles—both for and against. There are both stories of huge successes and horror stories from business owners about their experiences.

There are thousands and thousands of businesses advertising on Facebook. Even Hollywood, who creates a new page for every new movie, wonders about the value of advertising on the social media giant. In a recent article about Hollywood’s criticism of its Facebook advertising, the author notes, “That doesn’t mean Facebook is an ineffective channel; it means Hollywood isn’t using it in the best way for its business. Movie marketers are emphasizing Likes at the wrong point in the funnel, and they’re not using the right ad formats for their goals” (Darwell, 2012).

Here are some basic guidelines about how to advertise on FB (Black, 2011):

1. Carefully set your goals and plan your approach: understand what you want to achieve and make sure you are set up to measure success.

2. Get creative with targeting—zero in on a very specific audience—less is more.

3. Choose text and images that pop.

4. Create and test multiple ads.

5. Be ready to capitalize on the traffic.

Dip one toe in at a time—take it slowly. Provide rich, valuable content people can use. Guide them to it by using links, pins, and videos. Make yourself a go-to resource for things that interest them. Make sure you use an editorial calendar to plan your consistent conversations. We’ll talk about this later, in Chapter 8, but it’s an absolute must when creating, publishing, and distributing content.

So, how do you keep the conversation alive and lively?

1. Measure: Many of the platforms have powerful analytics packages you can use to measure your reach on different channels (or you can buy third party packages specifically designed to monitor your analytics and reach on the web). You can find out how many people have seen a post, how many have commented, liked, or shared. This will help you determine if you are creating content that people find timely, relevant, and shareable. Or, you will realize that you need to change course.

2. Respond: Your audience wants to engage—now more than ever before, when social engagement has become a way of life. A 2012 study found that 58% of its respondents were more likely to interact with brands that integrate social media, while only 16% are not. In addition, 62% of those surveyed said that they are more likely to stay engaged with brands that integrate social media (Griggs, 2012).

3. Ask: There’s nothing wrong with asking your brand audience what they’d like to hear about or what might be interesting to them. In good conversations, we encourage give and take. If you’re always publishing links to your content, then you’re only talking about yourself. Give them opportunities to ask you things they want to know.

Follow the Rule of 70 Listen/20 Share/10 Self-Promote

Spend 70% of your time listening, 20% sharing, and 10% of your time promoting your brand and/or products and services. The initial course of action for social media newcomers is to talk about what they know. This seems innocent enough, but it quickly turns to self-promotion. Nothing stunts your growth in the social media world like focusing on yourself. Find a way to identify communities of interest and participate; do not promote yourself. Think of the overeager student who always raises her hand first. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that raising your hand again and again will garner positive attention. It won’t (Smith and Leibtag).

Invite Them to Engage Further

One of the reasons that social media is so exciting for marketers is that it gives them the ability to increase their reach exponentially—meaning that because people see content on their Facebook and Twitter feeds from their “friends,” they’ll aggregate content they wouldn’t normally see.

I like to read The New Yorker and Entertainment Weekly every week, but on Facebook and Twitter, I see content from publications I might never read or have any interest in purchasing. Because the people I interact with on a daily basis on my social networks are trusted—meaning I follow them or are friends with them—I am more likely to give their content a second look.

If I happen to stumble upon content I like from a brand, I may go ahead and like that brand, sign up for their email newsletter, or engage with them in a way that will make nurturing more possible. That’s the goal of channel distribution and that’s the power of social media—exponential reach. Many more potential customers may consume your content: you may be able to pull them into your customer loop to keep the conversation going.

That’s the goal of channel distribution and that’s the power of social media—exponential reach. Many more potential customers may consume your content: you may be able to pull them into your customer loop to keep the conversation going.

How to keep engaging:

1. Lead prospects to other avenues of communication with you: email signups, follows, and likes on different social media networks.

2. Provide coupons or special offers to keep them engaged and wanting to hear from you.

3. Monitor your channels: There’s software you can use to see who is talking about you. Talk back to them or thank them for the compliment. They may not talk about you directly on your Facebook page or write to you via Twitter, but that doesn’t mean the conversation isn’t happening. Make sure you’re a part of it.

What to Do If the Community Doesn’t Commune?

Social engagement is not the be all and end all (see below)—especially if it doesn’t link to your carefully crafted business objectives. Apple, currently one of the most valuable brands, has virtually no social media engagement. Dell, on the other hand, is considered a guru of social media and its stock price keeps falling (Worthen & Sherr, 2012). What’s the answer?

Mark Schaefer, a well-known marketing consultant, feels that it’s the failure of the company to not link its strategy to its business goals—as we said above, to sales, prospects, and leads. He suggests that, “… not all conversation is created equal. A company may drive an artificially high engagement level simply by posting inane polls and cat pictures that don’t contribute to business objectives in the least.”

So if you’re striking out on a new social media strategy, I hope you’ll consider these take-always. Engagement:

“Should be evaluated and supported in the context of company objectives. That means picking the right metrics and examining them on a regular basis.

Alone is not necessarily a meaningful indicator of marketing success or financial performance.

Comes at a cost and must be considered as balanced part of an optimized marketing mix.” (Schaefer, 2013)

How and When to Build a Community

Deciding which channels to use means you must understand who your audience is and if they spend time on that channel. After all, who wants to create content that just sits out there, ignored because no one is interested? Once you know the who, you need to know the how and when.

When to engage your prospects has to do with the particulars of each channel and the engagement your audience demonstrates at each stage of the customer loop (lead funnel). So it’s the:

• How (Content format)

• When (Channel)

• Why (Why at this moment are they interested, searching, or engaging? Some content professionals call this the use case or context.)

Be wary of rules about when. Too much is dependent on:

• Who you are

• Who your customers are

• Your content topics

For example, some people claim that email open rates are best on a Tuesday at 8 a.m. Others say their email open rates improve when they send out emails on Saturdays at noon. Well, what type of company are you? Are you international? Who are your customers? Are they B2B emails or B2C emails? Does the one that opens well on Tuesday have important information on how to succeed at some form of investing? Is the email that performs well on Saturday about brunch hours at the neighborhood corner café?

When is really something you have to keep testing—iteration here is key—so you find the right mix of how and when for distributing your content. You already know that from Rule #3.

It Isn’t Social Media—It’s Audience Engagement

We know we need to build a community and engage with it carefully, and we do that through social media. Social media is our daily reality—it is not a fad—it is how people will engage with each other and with the world at large (for now at least, until something else comes along). If you’re a content professional, salesperson, or marketer, you should be using this engagement strategy daily. But, the channels are endless, the monitoring tools confusing, and your resources tight.

In 2012, I attended the Health Care Social Media Summit, co-hosted by the Mayo Clinic and Ragan Communications. While the focus was on healthcare, the principles of social media and audience engagement are similar for any industry. One thing I heard in almost every session was that social media is about building communities.

If this is true, then why are we are we still calling it social media?

Social media is simply a set of communication technologies that allow us, as marketers, to interact directly with our customers.

So, even though we’ve used the phrase in this book, let’s stop saying social media and start saying what we’re really doingcommunity or audience engagement.

When you sell a product or service, you are asking people to change their behavior—to choose your product instead of another. Most people find greater success when a community supports their behavioral changes—think Weight Watchers or other types of support groups. So focusing on building a community, rather than on channels, technology, or deployment, is destined to have greater, longer-lasting impact.

The Mind-Shift to a Culture of Community

It’s exciting when you start thinking about building a brand community. Because we’re not in the era of “Mad Men” anymore, it sounds less manipulative because it is—it’s working with the audience, not forcing ideas and products on them. Brand communities feel better, and they work better because today it is all about sharing ideas, comments, and experiences. Recognize that when it comes to engagement, the people hold the power.

Here are five ways to transform from a social media culture to an audience engagement culture:

1. Listen more than you speak: It’s an easy enough adage. Social media is a great monitoring tool. Yes, you should be tweeting and posting relevant important information about your product or service, but remember to listen. Use social media as a way to connect directly to your users—there’s nothing between you but a screen.

2. Have a great story to tell: You don’t always need to have a super fabulous narrative to tell, but have stories in your back pocket to engage people. As human beings, we have an aching need to connect. Don’t forget how you learned your earliest lessons about life—from stories. Think about how your own eyes and attention glom onto the human interest story whenever you look at content. Make sure you are using different types of stories as you engage with your communities.

3. Focus on your content: Content is a BIG word for a much smaller idea—information. (Yes, I can count the letters.) Think about it. When you hear “content,” you probably get nervous. When you hear “information,” it’s an easy, familiar concept. So remember, your content is simply information molded into a recognizable content type for your users. Ads, direct mail, press releases, tweets, and posts—they are all versions of content that people instantaneously recognize. Choose the right type of content to serve the story best.

4. Hire an audience engagement manager—NOT a social media person: What I hear is that most organizations want to hire a social media “guru.” What you need is someone who understands how to transform your brand’s online social activities into a community. Then the engagement part needs to happen by LISTENING to your customers’ wants and needs. They can have social media in their previous title, but change it when they come on board your ship. You’re driving engagement—the technologies will continue to morph as you do. The greatest social media managers understand this.

5. Encourage teamwork: Audience engagement is really the intersection of several different parts of an organization: marketing, PR, customer service, crisis communication, and emergency response. Work with people in those departments: ensure you are delivering the best possible experience for your customers as they engage with your brand using these technologies.

One of the speakers at Mayo, Dan Hinmon, talked about strategies for audience engagement. He said one woman compared moderating a social media community with hosting a party—don’t dominate the situation but make everyone feel good about being there. Don't you think your customers will keep coming back if you make them feel like a beloved member of a community—one where there’s always a party?

Figuring Out What to Measure

Once you have a clear picture of how your consumers are finding you, then it is time to identify and understand what to measure—to show the C-suite that it has all been worth it. There are a few types of measurement:

Return on Investment (ROI): ROI is a finance metric only. To accurately state a case of social media ROI, you would track actual dollars coming in or dollars saved. If you cannot show actual money changing hands, then you are not measuring ROI. However, you can demonstrate that social media promotes your brand’s products and services.

Volume: Measuring volume helps you shape your C-suite’s understanding of how social media promotes your brand online. You are most likely doing this with web analytics; metrics like:

• Number of visitors

• Time on site

• Number of fans

• Number of followers

• Page views

• Impressions

Engagement: This is somewhere between the first two metric categories. A consumer interacts with you but is not yet spending money. This includes numbers like:

• Retweets

• Repins

• Comments

• Likes on posts

• Form completion

• Seminar registration

• Review submission

Showing the C-Suite that Content Is Worth It

Once you have identified how people interact with your brand online and what metrics you can measure, then it is time to show a return. This could be a return on investment or return on your time—for a review of how to state those, see Chapter 2. In either case, be clear about what you are illustrating.

Your goal is to move the needle on the data you share with your C-suite. Right now, you may only be able to demonstrate volume metrics. Your next goal is to incorporate engagement statistics. Once you’ve conquered those two data points, you want to show the amount of contribution margin you provided via an online effort.

Here are some examples for both return on time and return on investment:

Return on time:

Online issue resolution: Consumers come to your Facebook page to voice a concern and your organization is able to address the issue (online or offline).

Increasing engagement: By consistently engaging as well as creating and sharing relevant meaningful content, you will see your engagement metrics rise.

Earned media: Being active on social media and connecting to local news reporters transforms you into a trusted source for information. You will be the first call when they need content.

Return on investment:

Stop printing newsletters (both internal and external): Instead, use a blog or eNews to distribute the same information. The cost savings from print and postage provides ample evidence of ROI.

Create online signups for seminars: Track these submissions and procedural conversions from the seminar to show ROI around online visitors. After the potential customers visit the seminars, and convert to customers, you can prove ROI.

Use your CRM (customer relationship management) tools: These are the tools that run on the backend of your website and calculate how your digital marketing efforts convert site visitors to customers. Calculate the value of online visitors by earmarking individual users online. Show downstream revenue from those visitors. These capture points could include:

• Contact us forms

• eNews signups

• Event registration

• Online seminars

• Virtual groups (like a Facebook group)

If those people turn into customers, then voilà—a straight line to revenue and true ROI.

Just to Reiterate …

Keep in mind that the tools you will need to use social media to distribute content, increase audience engagement, and build a brand community will be the same ones that you use for all of your digital strategy:

• Time

• A commitment to an iterative process

• Learning from experts

• Creating collaborative teams across disciplines


Our audience uses many channels, often at the same time. It is close to impossible to expect to reach them only with information and content—we also need to engage them in a robust, energetic conversation as a community. First, though, we need to build that community. Once we have done that, we must figure out how to engage and interest its members. Afterwards, we’ll need to let the C-suite know that their investment in content was worth it, so we’ll need to be able to create meaningful metrics to measure our impact.

Next, in Rule #4, we’re going to learn how to use all the talent assets within your organization to create the greatest content experiences for your audiences.


1. Black, L.M. (2011). Facebook ads: 5 tips for success. Retrieved from http://mashable.com/2011/08/29/facebook-ads-tips/.

2. Darwell, B. (2012). What Hollywood gets wrong about Facebook marketing. Retrieved from http://www.insidefacebook.com/2013/01/08/what-hollywood-gets-wrong-about-facebook-marketing/#more-77576.

3. Griggs, W. (2012). Mass relevance releases new research: Social integration drives consumer engagement, trust. Retrieved from http://www.massrelevance.com/mass-relevance-releases-new-research-social-integration-drives-consumer-engagement-trust/.

4. Hogenmiller, M. (2013, January). Audience development. Shared with the author.

5. Leibtag, A. (2012). Is multi-screen the new content queen? Retrieved from http://onlineitallmatters.blogspot.com/2012/08/is-multi-screen-new-content-queen.html.

6. Levine R. The cluetrain manifesto. New York: Basic Books; 2009; p. 84.

7. Liberman, N. (2013). Content strategy: 4 tips for communicating at every customer stage. Retrieved from http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/2013/01/content-strategy-communicate-at-every-customer-stage/.

8. Oatley, R. (2012). TV Ratings 101—Why is the adults 18–49 demographic so important and total viewers not? Retrieved from http://robinoatley.husbpages.com/hub/TV-Ratings-101-Why-is-the-Adults-18-49-demographic- so-important-and-Total-Viewers-not.

9. Schaefer, M.W. (2013). Social media “engagement” is not a strategy. Retrieved from http://www.businessesgrow.com/2013/01/06/social-media-engagement-is-not-a-strategy/.

10. Smith, R., & Leibtag, A. (2012). 6 Secrets of social media superstars in healthcare: Best practices for your hospital’s social media and community engagement programs [E-book]. Retrieved from http://unbouncepages.com/6-secrets-of-social-media-superstars/.

11. Worthen, B., & Sherr, I. (2012). Dell still struggling amid shift in computer market. Retrieved from http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324735104578121390191628634.html.


Create Multidisciplinary Content Teams


Rule #4 makes the case for a multidisciplinary team to create your content. By multidisciplinary we mean different types of web professionals as well as people from many departments within the company who will have valuable insight into the process and the product. Finding the right people means having a carefully crafted mix of personality types and professional skills and managing them just as carefully.


multidisciplinary teams; audience engagement; multidisciplinary approach

So far, we have covered a lot about the philosophy of how to think about content. You now understand the importance of branding so you know who you are and what you’re trying to say. We also broke down the building blocks of content: information, substance, and structure.

We have also learned about our first three rules: Start with Your Audience, Involve Stakeholders Early and Often, and Keep It Iterative. Now we are going to talk about who creates content and why it is so important to have a wide variety of different skills and talents.

Content: Information and the Process

As we’ve already discussed, there are really two parts to getting content right in an organization: what you’re trying to say (external) and how you plan, create, and publish the content (internal). To address both of these, you need the right team working together with a smart process in place. Otherwise, nothing will move forward with purpose and energy.

This rule is not about which people should be on your team; we will cover that in Chapter 10. This rule is about why you need a team of people who have overlapping skill sets. We will also discuss why you should recruit subject matter experts within your organization into your teams so that you can ensure you are getting valuable organizational facts that inform your content development.

Let’s make note of the fact that we are not calling these teams web strategy teams or user experience teams. All of our learning together highlights how much we need to turn the focus back to the audience when creating content. Instead we will call them audience engagement teams. Language is constructive; it cements our approach to things without us even realizing it. Therefore, using the term audience engagement teams is deliberate on my part, and I hope you’ll begin to use it as well.

Things Have Changed

With digital communications, social media, content strategy, content marketing, and digital publishing, the world of information moves at an amazing pace. In fact, many biologists say our brains are rewiring to manage all of this information (Richtel, 2010).

The ever-accelerating flow of communication affects many things, one of which is how we organize our teams and departments. In today’s incredibly fast-paced world, the traditional communications firms and advertising agencies are rethinking their models. They know the teams they have in place are not empowered to do everything they need to keep up with digital marketing and communications.

And it’s not just the pace of things today, it’s also because each individual has so much power, in the palm of his or her hand, that our audience has become the center of focus. Our customers are complex: their ages, locations, levels of education, and interests all whirl around us at breakneck speed. That’s why when we talk about who should be involved in audience engagement, we can’t just think about marketing specialists or social media gurus. Now we need a true multidisciplinary team of experts who can work together for the customer.

As Jonathan Kahn, a content strategist, comments, “Web content is the one thing you can’t touch without involving every part of the organization, which is why most organizations are in denial about it—they’ll do anything to avoid talking to each other” (Kahn, 2011). But, as we’ll see, talking to each other provides serious valuable benefits.

Value in Breaking Down Silos

It’s not just in digital communications that organizations are thinking about restructuring the way they work. In a 2013 Time magazine article, Bill Saporito reports that because of new understanding of how cancer begins and grows, medical science had to mobilize a new research methodology and fight back (Saporito, 2013). “You no longer do science and medicine differently,” says Dr. Lynda Chin, director of the Institute for Applied Cancer Science at MD Anderson Cancer Center.

“The team model is also disrupting the normal course of business across the medical research community. For investigators, it means changes in the way careers are developed, the way data—and especially credit for achievement—are shared. For institutions, team research means changes in contracts, compensation, titles, and the path of intellectual property. For pharmaceutical companies, it means restricting the way experimental drugs are allocated and clinical trials are conducted.”

In the same article, National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins comments, “I am strongly anti-silo, strongly pro-breaking down barriers, bringing disciplines together, building collaborations and building dream teams.”

Disruptive mechanisms drive progress. If medicine can break down silos—across different global institutions—then certainly digital teams can find a way to do so in their organizations.

What Do We Mean by Multidisciplinary?

Multidisciplinary means using professionals with a variety of different skill sets to solve a problem. Multidisciplinary teams examine complex problems from multiple angles. Many industries use this word, as well as interdisciplinary, cross-disciplinary, and cross-functional. Many fields understand the value of working together to solve a problem or reach a goal, using the very different perspectives of talented people.

When it comes to content creation, I have seen that the most effective approach is to work with other web experts who specialize in content strategy, visual design, information architecture, and usability. If you want to create great conversations, and great content, then you need to rethink the way your digital and editorial teams are structured.

Now that we think about content in a different way; meaning, we understand it has three parts—information, substance, and structure—we can use that knowledge to break down organizational barriers and silos that occur when you create and publish content.

Think about it—now that you know content isn’t the website, or that social media is simply a channel for distributing content, you are primed to engage with information holders who will help your create outstanding content that drives your sales process. The marketing professionals shouldn’t be separate from the digital professionals. There shouldn’t be a difference in on-line and off-line tactics. The old ways of organizing talent just don’t work, if we want to create satisfying conversations for our target audiences.

Accessing Talent in the Organization

Great teams are inclusive and invite analysis and observation from all angles of the business to create great content experiences. Even with the greatest team, you still need to challenge yourself and your teammates; you need to step out of your comfort zone and look outside of your digital/marketing/communications world for help. You need to talk to others in the organization who manage audience engagement issues—those in customer service, business development, sales, and so on, on a regular basis. You will be pleasantly surprised at how much you can learn that will help inform your content development.

Audience engagement teams should include designers, writers, IT experts, programmers, developers, project managers, user experience professionals, usability experts, and content strategists. Create this team carefully and empower them with a clear strategy. Then invite subject matter experts from within the organization to help craft bold tactics to meet your overall communications and marketing strategies.

Let’s learn why you need different skillsets and how to use them to create great content experiences for your customers.

Why Multidisciplinary Teams?

We must move toward teams that break down silos and offer all the information an organization can deliver to content consumers. You need multidisciplinary teams to break down silos and adapt to changing technologies. These teams may be a mix of internal and outsourced talent, and for many organizations, that makes the most sense from a resource and project perspective.

Adapt to Changing Technologies

When you have a team of writers, and a team of developers, and a team of social media professionals, you get into trouble fast. Teams that don’t cross-collaborate and share ideas with each other get stuck moving content from one team to the other. Baton-tossing content across teams does not result in better content.

Rather, having people with expertise in different areas—particularly technology, which changes so quickly—will influence not only the quality of your content, but also how you distribute it. Designers and developers who keep up with changing technology norms will inform your editorial and content teams how they need to think about the display and distribution of content, which results in a better end product. We’ll discuss an example of this type of cross-pollination in our case study about REI at the end of Part 2.

Waterfall or Agile? Or Both?

There has been a great deal written about these two methods of software development. “Waterfall” development is what we think of when considering how software is created—a classic linear approach where each step is assigned to a separate team and the product moves from one team to the next until completion (baton tossing). With “Agile” development, ideas and plans evolve through collaboration between teams; usually teams of people from various disciplines. The term was coined by a group of software developers who met in 2001 and created “The Agile Manifesto” (Wikipedia, 2013). Agile emphasizes the value of sharing and collaboration rather than just moving toward the goal line (Agile Intro, 2008).

Here is a quick comparison of the differences between the two methods (Agile Intro, 2008):

Stage of Development



A project stage is complete and something needs changing

Changes can be made if necessary without redoing the whole project

The problem can only be fixed by going back and designing a new system

Bug caught during development

The team has a product ready for launch at the end of each tested stage, so a bug can be easily fixed without losing momentum

The product is tested only at the very end, which means any bugs found result in the entire program having to be re-written

Meeting customer specs and timelines

There is always a working model for timely release even when it does not always entirely match customer specifications

There is only one main release and any problems or delays mean highly dissatisfied customers

Spec changes by customer

Allows for specification changes as per end-user’s requirements

Cannot accommodate changes, as this would mean that the project has to be started all over again

The two can also co-exist, according to Deepika Ganeshan, “As with most things—the middle ground does most people a world of good. What has been happening recently is a hybrid version of Agile with Waterfall—this requires much more discipline on the project manager’s part—but usually the end result is a much more palatable outcome satisfying both the business and the IT organization” (Ganeshan, 2011).

By looking at both approaches, we can see why an agile approach is so important for content development. Content happens at the intersection of people, process, and technology, which necessitates a fluid, nimble environment. However you organize your content teams, be aware of both approaches and which way works best, so that you’re meeting the needs of your teams, internal stakeholders, and external audiences.

Break Down Silos

Different types of professionals create and manage amazing content by bouncing ideas off of each other and bringing their creativity and specialized talent to the table. You can’t afford to limit the team to a few people who are great in one or two areas. When you do that, you end up with content that can’t survive when it gets tossed out on the great currents of the web.

As Erin Scime, a content strategist, points out, “You’ll need a nimble content team. Unlike traditional media, your team needs to be able to work across multiple channels and think like digital natives. It’s no longer possible to be a deep expert in one functional area. Digital requires employees that are more cross-disciplinary and able to adapt to the demands and challenges of varying platforms and understand how communication needs shift between channels” (Scime, 2012).

Crossing Organizational Barriers

How often have you heard, “We’re not in charge of that,” or “We don’t own that content” from people within your organization? Attitudes like these harm the customer experience. Can you imagine saying to a customer, “Oh, there’s no content that describes what you’re looking for because we operate in silos. Sorry.” That attitude directly affects your bottom line, as your customers will jump to your competitors’ digital properties to have better conversations with them.

As Sara Wachter-Boettcher, a content strategist, says, “Look for opportunities to make it [the team] more cross-functional and interdepartmental, pulling people in from different places” (Wachter-Boettcher, 2012). You absolutely can no longer afford silos around information.

Better Ideas

Who says no to better ideas? But, it’s really true—when you get in a room with the right people, and everyone leaves their egos at the door and works in service to the customer, some powerful magic can happen. People usually see the organization best from their own vantage point, but your customer doesn’t care about your internal structure, do they? That’s your problem.

So when you assemble your teams, make sure you are cutting far and wide across the company, so you get a sampling of different areas. This doesn’t mean these people are a part of every web or digital discussion, but rather they are part of a broader audience engagement strategy within the organization. We’ll talk about how to structure those, but first we must talk about how to find the right people.

Find the Right People

If you are going to create audience engagement teams that really care about great conversations and developing content within your organization, then you need to find the right people outside of your digital team.

Who to Look For

First, look for people who want to make a difference and are willing to work hard, listen, and iterate. Think about the groups who can give you different perspectives:

• Subject matter experts on your services and products

• The people who designed the products

• Sales

• Customer service

• Teleprospecting, or those who qualify leads

As far as thinking outside your comfort zone when creating the team, according to Michelle Linn, a popular content marketing blogger, you should include people from:

• Technology and operations departments

• Human resources

• Investor relations (Linn, 2010)

The Five Personality Types You Need on Your Web Teams

You need a strong digital communications team who thinks about strategy as well as tactics. Every role may not belong to just one person; some people may wear multiple hats. So, instead of talking about skills, I’m going to describe personality types you need on those teams:

The Customer Advocate: While focusing on the customer should be a personality trait of all members of your team, we are sometimes so close to our work that we fail to see how outsiders may perceive it. On every team I’ve ever been on, there’s alwaysone person who circles the conversation back to the unique needs of each customer.

The Cheerleader: Every team needs one person who will cheer the team’s efforts. You might hear this person say, “To every problem, there’s a solution.” Do not underestimate the need for a Julie Andrews-type to continue to uplift the team and provide encouragement, even in the face of what seems like an insurmountable problem, or even failure.

The Cynic: Oh, we all know The Cynic: he’s the one in the meeting who rolls his eyes, always asks questions, and presses the point. He’s incredibly useful, though, because you’d make mistakes without The Cynic. You’d start living in the clouds, instead of tackling the weeds. Cynics are good on audience engagement teams because they can project what the future will look like and provide an accurate scenario of how things might go wrong.

The Risk-Taker: This character wants to put it out there before it’s tested, believes more is better, and isn’t always thinking about the consequences of major decisions. The value of The Risk Taker is that she pushes the team forward. She lets you see what is possible and is not afraid of iteration.

The Analyzer: Different from The Cynic, The Analyzer believes in data, statistics, and demonstrated facts. She’ll consistently bring you back to your strategy by looking at proof that you’re doing the right thing. Make sure you have at least one person who believes in data, big-picture analysis, and post-game rundowns. She’ll help you improve your game, and will advocate for the business (Leibtag, 2010).

Managing Audience Engagement Teams

Once you’ve found a great mix of people with different skill sets and professional roles within your organization who care about creating better interactions with your customers, here are ways to make those teams manageable.

Manage in Smaller Teams for Cross Collaboration

You need answers when your audience asks questions. In some cases, you may have thousands of topics to cover. Coordinate smaller teams of four to six people that utilize all the different information creation structures of the organization: marketing, PR, customer service, crisis communications, and emergency response. Work with other people in those departments so that their skills cross cut those of your digital team.

For example, consider teaming up the project manager, the salesperson, one of your content creators, and a developer to work through a certain section of your website that isn’t performing well. Each of those people may see the challenge from a different angle. By tackling a smaller project, they may bring important lessons you can use for other sections of the website.

Create Guidelines

Create and distribute guidelines to all the employees involved in touching content. Something short (no more than four pages) that describes some of your digital strategy challenges. You may also want to ask people to volunteer for smaller committees to solve those challenges.

Consider the Committee

Sometimes a great committee can help with content development and governance. Consider creating a larger committee to manage some of the smaller teams. Schedule quarterly meetings for the larger group and monthly meetings for the smaller groups. Ask them to report about successes and describe when and where they are hitting roadblocks. More people in the room doesn’t necessarily facilitate a better decision making process, but the more engaged minds you have conversing about the problem should help to uncover the best solution.


To create great content, find varied talents in your organization and create multidisciplinary audience engagement teams that cut across skill sets and professions to attack your content challenges. Organize these teams and empower them so they can make real progress and deliver feedback on how to move ahead with planning, creating, publishing, and managing fantastic content experiences for your customers.


1. Agile introduction for dummies. (2008). Retrieved from http://agileintro.wordpress.com/2008/01/04/waterfall-vs-agile-methodology/.

2. Ganeshan, D. (2011). Waterfall vs. agile methods: A pros and cons analysis. Retrieved from http://www.theserverside.com/tip/Waterfall-versus-Agile-methods-A-pros-and-cons-analysis.

3. Kahn, J. (2011). Web governance: Becoming an agent of change. Retrieved from http://alistapart.com/article/web-governance-becoming-an-agent-of-change.

4. Leibtag, A. (2010). Five personality types you need on your digital communications team. Retrieved from http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/2010/12/digital-communications-team/.

5. Linn, M. (2010). How to find internal allies for content marketing. Retrieved from http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/2010/11/content-marketing-allies/.

6. Richtel, M. (2010). Attached to technology and paying a price. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/07/technology/07brain.html?src=me&ref=technology&_r=0.

7. Saporito, B. (2013). The conspiracy to end cancer. Retrieved from http://healthland.time.com/2013/04/01/the-conspiracy-to-end-cancer/.

8. Scime, E. (2012). Your content is giving you a people problem. Retrieved from http://www.cmo.com/articles/2012/12/10/your-content-is-giving-you-a-people-problem.frame.html.

9. Wachter-Boettcher Sara. Content everywhere Rosenfeld Media 2012.

10. Agile software development. (n.d.) Retrieved April 30, 2013 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agile_software_development.

Case Study: REI

We talked about two essential ingredients for creating great content teams in Rule #4. The first task is to staff your digital communications teams (internal or outsourced) with the appropriate professionals: writers, programmers, designers, information architects, project managers, content strategists, user experience professionals, and so on. The second involves creating audience engagement strategy teams built from varied roles across the organization so you can break down organizational silos.

Jonathon Colman, former search engine optimization (SEO) manager and current Principal Experience Architect for REI, an outdoor gear and apparel retailer, describes how great digital teams can accomplish more when they work together and share ideas and expertise. Colman started at REI in December 2008, after managing the Internet marketing team at The Nature Conservancy in Washington, D.C.

REI is a consumer cooperative whose mission is to “inspire, educate and outfit for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship.” Because of this, while REI is engaged in providing top-brand outdoor gear to their audience of customers who enjoy camping, backpacking, snow sports, and cycling, the co-op also embraces the outdoor enthusiast and creates a brand community around these passions. Every year, they donate millions of dollars to conservation efforts in local communities and engage volunteers in keeping these natural areas both accessible and sustainable.

The REI.com website is a huge resource for all outdoor-oriented people, from the beginning camper to the most passionate climber, skier, paddler, or cyclist. They sell thousands of products online and also provide helpful videos and tips on gear and outdoor activities, a global travel program, and a guide on how to create outdoor family fun. REI isn’t only selling products—they’re selling an outlook, a lifestyle, and a membership community that values connecting through outdoor activities.

Running a massive website like REI’s is a formidable task that requires a large technical team, as well as those who understand the marketing side of digital properties. Colman was brought in as an SEO expert to bring an external traffic perspective to an enterprise-wide information architecture (IA) team.

Information architects build the infrastructure of a website and organize information to enhance the user experience. The other two people on this team were a taxonomist and a data architect. Taxonomists organize content around standardized, governed vocabularies of terms, and data architects help to define both data standards and data structures that an organization can use to manage its information.

Bringing an SEO expert into an IA team was a radical idea at the time—it was unheard of to add SEO, which was considered to be a digital marketing skill, into enterprise information architecture activities. Think about it, though: all of these professionals are responsible for the naming conventions, information structures, and links between different pieces of content. The brilliance of bringing them together was their shared experience and knowledge about how customers find the products they want to buy. That’s building a direct line between content teams and the bottom line.

As Colman explains, “Information architecture is the pathway to findability, discoverability, and usability [for content] and a great means of introducing SEO to an enterprise.” By extension, how you label sections and pages, structure data and content, and create links between them all will impact whether your target audience can find them. By examining organic search data, Colman showed how customers were behaving and introduced those concepts to his team and others. They, in turn, were able to use that information to drive better customer experiences.

Colman describes one of his core accomplishments at REI as building a business case for why REI should speed up its web site to both improve the customer experience as well as drive more inbound search traffic. All other things being equal, the faster a web site loads and performs, the more visibility that site can receive in search engine results when customers search for terms for which that site is relevant. For example, Google uses site speed as an organic search ranking factor for highly competitive user search terms because high speed and performance correlate with higher quality customer experiences.

Various individuals within REI wanted to make their website faster, but they didn’t have the data and research to make the project a priority. Colman was able to help them show key REI decision makers that making the website faster would make a measurable difference for the overall customer experience, and would also help drive additional search traffic.

As he explains, “Speed isn’t a tactic for SEO…it’s a strategy for customer engagement and loyalty.” As we have already learned, how fast your website loads is critical to the user experience as well as to customer conversion. Most users expect a website to load in 2 seconds and 40% of customers will abandon any site that takes longer than 3 seconds to load (Colman, 2012). That’s not a lot of time.

When the teams optimized REI.com to maximize its performance, they reduced the amount of time that it took Google to crawl a typical web page on the site by 50%. This resulted in a 100% increase in the number of pages that Google crawled each day, which helped REI to earn more traffic from Google searchers. When the teams measured how decreasing their site performance work influenced the overall user experience, they found that they saved customers about 1.5 seconds per page view, on average.

If you multiply that time savings by total page views over the course of a year, it saved their customers almost 22 years of time. That’s 22 years that REI’s customers would have spent waiting for the site to load; instead, those customers spent that time outside with the gear and apparel they bought, doing the activities they loved.

Colman concludes, “Infrastructure maintenance and support and SEO aren’t normally aligned, but by bridging that gap, we were able to align our teams to improve the customer experience while driving more traffic.”

What Colman’s story proves is that by meshing cross-functional talent, businesses can improve the bottom line in so many ways: customer experience, profits, reputation of an organization, and more. By working together in multidisciplinary teams, you get many different types of heads putting together their best ideas. This can only result in a better, smarter business (Personal interview, 2013).


1. Colman, J. (2012). SEO, site performance, Battlestar Gallactica. Retrieved from: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:www.slideshare.net%2Fjcolman%2Fseo-site-speed-and-battlestar-galactica-searchfest-2012-11735155.

2. Personal interview with the author, March 22, 2013.