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Recent Freelance Articles

For a little more than a year now, I've occasionally been hired as a freelance writer to write sponsored content articles for Alabama Media Group.

These articles are published on AL.com (and possibly other digital media properties in the Advanced Digital corporate family.)

Since I'm ghostwriting these articles as sponsored content, I do not have a byline. However, I've confirmed that I have permission from the Alabama Media Group to share links to these in my portfolio.

The following is a partial list of the sponsored articles I've written:

AMG Client/Advertiser: Wallace State Community College

Fast Track to Success at Wallace State (Published May 25, 2017)

Art as Conversation, Art as Education, Art as Mirror to Understanding (Published April 26, 2017)

Get on the Road to Success With a Career in Transportation: It's Not Just About Driving a Truck (Published December 29, 2016)

From Choices to Pathways: Wallace State Helps Students Move Forward (Published November 3, 2016)

AMG Client/Advertiser: Austal USA

Revitalization of Manufacturing: Rise of Shipbuilding in Mobile (published July 1, 2016)

Link to a second article to be added later.

AMG Client/Advertiser: Royal Cup Coffee

The Transformative Power of the Birmingham Experience Known as Sloss Fest (published August 31, 2016)

AMG Client/Advertiser: Mayor Tim Kant

At the time of the article, Tim Kant was mayor of the City of Fairhope, running for reelection.

A Performing Arts Center to Inspire the City of Fairhope (published August 8, 2016)

AMG Client/Advertiser: Yulista

Building Culture: Yulista Expansion Grows Footprint and Workforce (July 22, 2016)

 

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Marketing Professional Professional Portfolio

How to Create a Social Media Content Strategy

 

Social media offers new channels of communication to serve existing customers and clients and reach new prospects. The challenge is this: Unless you have a meaningful plan to use social media to achieve some outcome, you're probably spending time and money in the least effective way possible.

So that's why I focused on the strategy side of social media marketing each time I taught Social Media Practices, a course I developed when I was a faculty member at Samford University.

Strategy is the same approach I take when consulting with clients or preparing a conference presentation on social media marketing and content development. I find that most people (students and business owners) like to focus on tactics–what's where the fun is.

But if you don't know where you're going or why you're doing something, you have no way of knowing if you're accomplishing anything or just spending time and money churning out noise.

This post is a part 1 of an article I published over on LinkedIn and I'm offering here to widen the distribution.

Here's the thing about social content for small businesses:

The value of social content comes when it serves a business purpose and is based on a strategy that's carefully designed to support business objectives.

How Does Social Serve One or More Business Objectives?

The first questions I ask prospective clients are aimed at helping me understand what they are trying to gain through social media. What business objective will your social media presence relate to? If they don't know, we talk through some possibilities.

Meaningful social presence and good social content can help business objectives related to sales, customer support, product/service development and enhancement, and broader market research.

The obvious (ultimate) answer is, of course, to grow your business through sales, retain and support existing customers, and find new clients who need the services your business provides. But you need to spend some time thinking specifically how social media content and engagement can serve specific business functional areas.

Quick Aside: I believe your social content must tie back to your website presence. That's a topic for another post, but everything I'm saying about social content presupposes that it is, in some way (directly or contextually) leading prospects to your website and lead capture tools. This is something Chris Brogan is known for advocating, along with most other small business marketing consultants.

Today, the digital and social sphere is usually the front lines of customer service and social content may be the first touch point for a prospect who is exploring the types of products or services you provide.

Takeaway: Before you start to develop a content strategy for social media it's imperative to identify the ways this social content will serve the ultimate business objectives.

social media marketing digital content strategy: If you don't know where you're going, how will you know if you're on the right path? Sheree Martin

POSTT Approach

Once you know where social fits into the larger business picture, you can start to consider social media on a more strategic level.

People – Objectives – Strategies – Tactics

My version: People – Objectives – Strategies – Technologies – Tactics. (POSTT)

I'm not the originator of the P-O-S-T approach, although I added a second T (for Technology, as in channels), as a wrinkle to help students in a class on social media strategy that I developed at taught at Samford University.

People: Who Are You Trying to Reach?

Before you launch into sharing content across a multitude of social channels, you MUST first identify the audience(s) you need to connect with.

It's not enough to say “new customers,” “existing customers,” or even demographically: Small business owners with more than 5 employees, or plumbing service providers, or parents of kids age 8 and up who need orthodontics.

Your customers and clients are not demographic segments or socio-economic data points.

Your people are real humans who have interests, needs and values. You may serve multiple audience segments, so you need to carefully craft the biographies of your ideal customers. These are sometimes called avatars, sometimes simply customer personae, sometimes bios.

Develop one of these avatar bios for each category you serve or want to serve. And write it like you're describing a character in a book or movie. Give each person a name, think about what they want (or might want) from you in relation to how this relates to their overall life. What are their hobbies or values or goals? Again, think of each as a real person.

If you know your customers well, you can use a few real people to develop these audience biographies.

Once you have those biographies in place, then you can start to understand more about how to reach them. More on that in a moment.

Objectives for Social Media (Digital) Presence

Before we get to strategies and tactics you need to consider social objectives that relate back to the business objectives.

Perhaps if you're a B2C retailer or provide a service like home repairs you may want to offer a social presence to help with customer service (support function) and respond to prospects who have questions (a sales function).

If you're a B2B provider or offer services that are confusing, complicated or new, you may want to emphasize thought leadership (sales) or helpful resources that educate prospects and explain what you do (business development).

Once you've defined your objectives for digital, then you can move on to developing the content strategies to lead you closer to achieving these objectives.

Strategy is Your Road Map

In my teaching days, I often had students who were confused about the difference between a strategy and a tactic, so I used this analogy:

Let's say your objective is to travel to Atlanta from Birmingham to attend a job interview.

You need to develop a strategy to get to Atlanta. Issues to consider in developing your strategy are whether to drive, fly, walk or ride a bicycle.  What's your budget? How much lead time to you have? When do you leave? If you drive, will you drive your own car or rent one? Will you take the interstate or backroads?

Let's say the strategy is to drive to Atlanta to achieve the objective of attending a job interview on Thursday. Then we define specific tactics: Leave Wednesday midday and stay overnight so you're rested for the morning interview, travel Interstate 20, etc.

The same approach can be used to understand strategies vs. tactics in developing plans for social content and social engagement.

This post is getting a bit long, so I will divided this up into a second installment, where I focus on a hypothetical social strategy and offer some tips for identifying the technologies and tactics to implement the strategy.

If you're looking for help, I'm available for consulting work on digital content strategy development and can also help you on the digital content production side.

My production specialties are writing and on-demand audio. I can help you find the right partners for comprehensive branding services and videography, if that's necessary.

Find out more about Sheree Martin here on LinkedIn and elsewhere on the internet, including:

http://birminghamshines.com

http://alabamaignite.com

http://shinecast.tv

http://teachsocialbusiness.com

Sheree Martin I solve problems. Innovative, creative, curious, adventurous

I developed my version of the POST approach based on the ideas in Groundswell, a book by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff of Forrester Research Group. [The link is to the book on Amazon, and is an affiliate link.]

Groundswell was first published in 2007 and I used the 2011 revised/expanded version as a recommended textbook in the first semester I taught Social Media Practices. Even though the statistics and other data, along with discussions of social media practices and platforms, are of only historical relevance today, I still think the book provides a great backstory for anyone who doesn't fully understand the underlying foundation of social media marketing.

You can find better sources for tactics and best practices in 2016, but Groundwell is still a great resource for anyone who feels that they don't really understand this whole social media thing and how it relates to business. [Amazon affiliate link.]

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A Letter To My Younger Self

In early February, while looking for another document, I found this file saved on my computer….It's an unfinished letter to my younger self.

The file metadata says this was written December 21, 2013. After copying and pasting here on February 11, 2014, and then scanning through it for typos, I'm posting it verbatim.

It's clear that I didn't finish it….Maybe I'll write the ending one of these days.


Sheree–

Everything works out.

Your first grade teacher said you “have great potential.” Your third grade teacher pronounced you “gifted.” Junior high achievement testing scored your IQ at x [intentionally omitted]. All that potential. The bulk of your adult life has been directed toward somehow proving to someone that you were worthy of those labels.

You’ve only recently realized this and started to return to a life that applauds your unique gifts, rather than climbing ladders toward some measure of success that’s defined by someone else.

Your instincts have always served you well, Sheree. When you’ve followed your instincts you’ve made forward progress. When you’ve ignored your instincts or been a bit too timid to act on them you’ve had to learn the intended lesson the hard way.

Your adult life has turned out quite different than you would have predicted at age 15. And that’s good.

For a while, in your 20s, you were self-absorbed, motivated by the prospects of financial gain. Not to the level of Ebeneezer Scrooge, but you were a bit too focused on your own self-interest and less on helping others.

Fortunately, your regained your heart and set out on a new path.

All of the things you dreamed of as a child but seemed out of reach are possible in 2013 and beyond. One example……Storytelling through mass media–You can do that now. You’re no longer subject to the gatekeepers and technology limitations of the 1970s and 1980s.

By your mid-20s you’d realized that you didn’t have the stomach for politics and political machinations. Surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly), the system was less messed up in those days than today. Nonetheless, your ambition to be the first woman president was put to rest before you turned 30.

And so ends the December 22, 2013 letter to my younger self…..

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When Things Don’t Turn Out Like You Expected, Part 1

In the early Fall of 2007 I returned to the practice of law. At the time, I hoped to build a new practice focused on internet issues, intellectual property and start-up ventures growing out of research at The University of Alabama.

I rejoined Rosen Harwood, P.A., in Tuscaloosa, where I'd been a shareholder before leaving for my 10-year stint as a writer/academic. Back then it was known as Rosen, Cook, Sledge, Davis, Carroll &  Jones, P.A.

I hadn't anticipated ever returning to active law practice, but the opportunity arose when I contacted Sydney Cook in May 2007 about a recommendation letter for a law school position I'd applied for. When I'd explained to Sydney that I wanted to leave Oklahoma, the question was put forth: Why don't you come back and join us? Within 2 or 3 weeks, I'd said yes to this new opportunity.

My Future In Tech

I was thrilled, envisioning all of the ways I could combine my knowledge of internet technology, IP law, and business transactional law to assist what I anticipated would be a growing community of start-up entrepreneurs in Tuscaloosa.

One of my first actions was to attend a tech start-up event at Innovation Depot in Birmingham. Another attorney with the firm, Andy Jones, drove with me up to Birmingham and he seemed very excited about the possibilities to expand our firm's practice areas and grow our client base through tech start-ups.

I knew there would be a bit of a transition period, as I developed my reputation in this new practice area. But as we approached the end of 2007, I was less-than-thrilled to find myself spending more and more time working on the same types of transactions and preparing the same legal documents as in 1992-97. My excitement over the return to law started to dim a bit, because I was not interested in estate planning or simply restructuring businesses to save taxes. But I soldiered own, not giving up hope.

The Great Recession

My future in tech was not to be, at least not then……

In 2008, the economy imploded. Everything in the legal world shifted to a focus on business restructuring and wealth preservation.

What I'd found when I arrived in 2007 is that Tuscaloosa wasn't yet producing the types of research-driven tech start-ups that I'd anticipated. Alabama's tech start-up community (such that it was) seemed to be based in Birmingham around UAB or in Huntsville around UAH. And the big Birmingham firms had already locked-up that most of that work.

And so, with no end to the recession in site, I began to lose any hope that I would ever get to do the type of legal work I'd envisioned when I said “yes” to the offer I received in June 2007. All of the optimism I had in September 2007 was, by October 2008, shifting into something of a sense of resignation that my law practice would just be more of the same. I couldn't see a light at the end of the tunnel. Perhaps I was just being short-sighted. Who knows.

At that point, I'd been out of academia for just over a year. I had taught media law as an adjunct at The University of Alabama in the Spring of 2008 and was scheduled to teach it again in Spring 2009. I really enjoyed teaching the class and the students were great. No attitude problems and most were engaged with the course material.

I started have doubts and think that I'd made a mistake in leaving Oklahoma State, where I had a successful academic career underway. The only reason I left was to pursue a new opportunity in a place where I had more friends. I loved my colleagues and classes at Oklahoma State and solid-to-great evaluations from students.

I thought perhaps that my return to law practice was a transition because of an unexpected family crisis that had been unveiled upon my return to Alabama in August 2007. I thought perhaps I'd been brought back to Alabama to deal with that problem and, once I'd solved that problem, it was time to move on again—sort of a real-world Dr. Who.

I took a look at the academic job postings in the Chronicle of Higher Education and sent off a couple of applications.

A New Door Opens?

One day, out of the blue, I got an email or phone call (I don't remember which) from Jon Clemmensen, a faculty member at Samford. He'd seen my picture in an Alabama Sierra Club newsletter and wondered what was up. Jon and I had become friends during the year I taught CA classes at Samford in 2002-2003. My office and most of my classrooms were in his building.

I explained to Jon that I was contemplating a return to academia and he mentioned an opening at Samford. After finding the job listing on the Samford website, I sent off my materials.

At that point, I'd only applied for a couple of positions. I was being quite picky about the locations and the subject matter. I wasn't desperate and not looking to simply leave law practice. I wanted to move into the “place” where I would be able to pursue one of my interests and make a major, substantial contribution.

The Samford position was described as “visual and multimedia communication.” It sounded like a great fit, since I'd taught visual communication theory at Oklahoma State and was a big user of multimedia technology. I had thoroughly enjoyed teaching CA at Samford in 2002-03. I had no experience with Adobe software, but knew how to code websites without Dreamweaver and edit video using other software, so I figured I'd explain that and see what happened.

In light of Jon's phone call, completely out of the blue and unrelated to academia, it just seemed like one of those situations where “a door opens” just when it is meant to open. I figured that it would all unfold as it was supposed to unfold.

My Preference

I was really interested in another position, at Plymouth State in New Hampshire. I wasn't familiar with the school, but I liked the location and liked what I'd learned about it through my research. I was especially attracted to it because it was a communication position with a business department.

I've always known that my strengths are more focused on business and strategic communication, rather than journalism. [I'll explain another time how I ended up in a Ph.D. program in the College of Communication at UA, rather than a business program.]

In February 2009, I had a couple of phone interviews for positions that didn't seem to be a good fit for me and I ended up withdrawing from both searches, just as I was getting an invitation for a campus visit.

In late March I was scheduled to visit Plymouth State for an interview when I got a Saturday night call from my airline that my Sunday flight had been canceled. There was no way I could get another flight there and still make the meeting schedule on Monday. They kindly reworked my campus visit for the following week.

I loved New Hampshire. I really liked the campus and, more importantly, I really liked everyone I met who might be a potential colleague. The campus visit and interview seemed to go well. I seemed to connect very well with the department chair, Dr. Trent Boggess, as we shared a common fondness for Ford vehicles.

I returned home, hopeful and optimistic.

The Other Search

I hadn't heard anything from Samford as of mid-to-late-March, so I assumed that I was out of consideration for that position.

Around the time as my rescheduled trip to Plymouth State, I'd been invited for an interview at Samford and was given essentially two choices for dates, never of which offered much advance notice. The teaching demonstration was scheduled to be on Photoshop. I had purchased the software, but had no time to learn it.

In light of my optimism about Plymouth State, I attempted to withdraw from the search at Samford. I sent an email the day before my visit and said I was withdrawing.

withdrawal email

I received a reply from the department chair Bernie Ankney asking me to come anyway and do my a teaching demonstration on beat reporting. I didn't want to leave them hanging with my last-minute withdrawal, so I said OK. I put together a lecture and demonstration activity and went for my interview.

Nothing felt right about my Samford visit except for the teaching demonstration and conversation with the Provost. Everyone was cordial but I sensed something was off. I kept thinking it was just me and my distractions. I asked about the teaching load and was told it was a 3/3. I was assured that it was fine that I didn't yet feel competent to teach Photoshop. I didn't get any sense that the courses I'd be teaching were print journalism and reporting labs, rather than mainly visual/multimedia communication and media law. I interpreted the beat reporting teaching demonstration to be a simple “gimme” to make me feel comfortable. I didn't really expect to get an offer, quite honestly.

I left with understanding that they had one more interview to complete and then I'd hear something.

At that point, I continued to think that Plymouth State was still a possibility, although I didn't think I was a sure bet. I had gleaned from the campus visit that there might be an inside prospect, such as a regular adjunct who'd taught the course before.

The Offer

About a week or 10 days passed. I received a notice from Plymouth State that someone else had received and accepted an offer for the business communication position. I was bummed, but accepting of the outcome. The same week, I received a call from offering me the position at Samford.

My gut was unsettled, but I accepted the offer from Dean David Chapman to join Samford in the JMC department as a tenure-track assistant professor. I was given 2-years credit for my 4-years at Oklahoma State.

I simply assumed everything was working out as it was meant to work out.

In my first phone conversation with the department chair after verbally accepting the position my unsettled gut became much more unsettled. Something seemed wrong. I keep telling myself it was just a bit of anxiety over a big decision about my career.

Little did I know how much that decision would change my life.