Colleen Jones’ new book, Clout, could have been called “The Internet is Not Magic.” The book, which is actually about the art and science of influential web content, is straightforward and useful. Anyone wanting a book that tells them exactly what to write and how to market content to a target audience, should look elsewhere. Jones is very clear right from the beginning -- there is no magic bullet or one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, everyone from executives to designers to writers and small business owners are asked to do what’s right for them.
For some this may not be want you want to hear, but Jones assures you, it’s for your own good. And we agree.
Do the Right Thing
Nothing alone is going to solve your biggest web design or marketing problems. Not a better-designed site. Not better SEO. Not better usability. Taken separately, these initiatives are just pieces of a very large and complicated puzzle. Put them together and they form a brilliant master plan to keep your brand alive and engaging. But who has the time or money to do it all?
Thankfully, Jones doesn’t think you should do it all. But she does think that you should do enough. That’s where persuasion and influence come in. According to Jones:
Clout is influence or pull. On the web, clout allows you (or your organization) to attract the right people and, at the right time, change what they thing or do.
It sounds so simply, almost foolishly obvious. Except that it isn’t. But it isn’t hard to do either, if you have the right tools and the right way of thinking. For beginners, it’s about using new words. Instead of targeting an audience, you’re attracting them. Instead of forcing or tricking customers to complete a task, nudge them. For the more advanced, it’s about creating conversations where your brand becomes a trusted advisor. Would a trusted advisor trick someone into buying a product? Of course, not. She would look for ways to influence or inspire you with actions and words.
Lest you think Clout is a hippy-dippy philosophy for attracting users using peace, love and hugs, Jones is fairly strict when it comes to process and oversight. But still, a certain level of flexibility is needed, otherwise you risk not being able to efficiently integrate new technologies as they emerge.
Content + Context = Clout
Once you’ve changed the way you think and found the right words, the next step is to discover the context. Context can be established with the right attitude coupled with the desired action. Unfortunately, attitude and action aren’t exactly left to an organization to define -- if that was true, your customers would already be doing exactly what you want them to do.
Through a series of charts and case studies, Jones helps us figure out how to understand our customers better and how our brand can help them. The book goes on to address the crucial elements of clout, like reputation, credibility and logic.
Change Your Company's Psychology
Not only does Clout require organizations to change the way they think before they begin to solve customer engagement issues, it may also require some readers to change the way they think before they read it. Jones delicately introduces elements of psychology and sociology to explain the science to influence. Yet, we know that those are dangerous words in some companies. Investing in people’s feelings is a lot less secure than investing in technology. But to Jones, that’s the point. The best SEO or best A/B testing tools will not heal a company’s reputation or convince customers to trust your content’s voice. Investing in a new psychology will.
If a new outlook is in your company's future, Clout is worth adding to your book list. But don't limit it to just C-level suite executives or the design team. In order for content to influence, it needs to have complete buy-in from those who will be on the front line. But you don't need only the book to help you get ready, Jones' website is chock-full of reports, analysis and checklists designed to help professionals better understand how to approach the process.