[VIDEO] Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media Studios on Harnessing the Power of Marketing & SEO Responsibly

Posted on October 20, 2020 by in Content Marketing, Digital Strategy

What Did You Learn? Episode 19

“When you can promote content, when that’s one of your skills, you need to be deliberate about who you work with, how you apply that, what you’re driving traffic to and if you’re honoring the attention to the visitor. You have to determine if you are responsibly using your ability to win the click,” says Andy Crestodina, Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Orbit Media Studios.

During this episode of “What Did You Learn?”, Andy drops tons of tactical tidbits to help you up your marketing game. But he’s always reminding marketers to channel the power of marketing for the greater good. We also talk about the surprising quality of digital interaction during the pandemic (and why we both expect it to last long-term), the importance of fighting disinformation and why our lives and jobs are more fulfilling when we believe in the brands we’re lifting up.

Ahava: Hi. I’m Ahava Leibtag. Welcome back to “What Did You Learn?” I have my good friend and colleague here, Andy Crestodina. Andy is the co-founder of Orbit Media Studios, which is a web development firm in Chicago. If you’ve ever heard Andy speak, you are blown away by how much he knows and how much amazing information he drops, and I don’t expect it to be any different today, so let’s get started.

Andy: Thanks for that. I’m excited to be here.

Ahava: Yeah, excited to have you. And I’m excited for this substantial conversation I know we’re going to get into. But before we do that, in the last 700 days, have you picked up any new hobbies, learned a Tik Tok, done anything sort of out of your normal realm of flying around the country, speaking to people?

Andy: Yes, being totally disrupted, I have more time than I used to because travel time we’ve done is zero. We all have to decide what to do every day. What is it? I read this. There’s 1400 minutes in a day. My job is to maximize the impact of that for the time I’m not with my family. So I knew that events would be virtual. I knew that I had a bunch of presentations ready. So I launched into a, I basically doubled down in video, turning a lot of our top posts into YouTube videos and then embedding those videos on those posts. It’s an amazing shortcut in content strategy. If you want to build a video channel, just look at the pages that I have durable visibility and maybe their ranking or getting lots of traction. Make videos for those pages. Put the video at the top. It pumps up the views. It makes them instantly discoverable. Good for you to kick start a YouTube channel, and it really worked. It worked. I’m getting a lot of feedback on there. There’s a lot of traction. Most of those videos have more than 1000 views, so it’s exceeded my expectations, and it was really just me saying, what should I do with this having now 15 percent more time than I used to. So literally in the last 90 seconds, you just told people like a piece of golden information.

Ahava: It’s amazing how your mind works. Okay, so one of the things I really want us to sort of dive into is what you wish you had known before this whole thing started. If somebody could have whispered in your ear in January, what’s one major piece of advice you think that they could have given you that would have made this easier?

Andy: Well, like all the live event organizers we know, I wish that I had learned sooner what was working and maybe could have just helped my friends and your friends stay calm. A lot of those contracts got re-negotiated. The venues were ready to renegotiate. The stress that spiked at the very beginning. For instance, “I’m 100 grand in the hole in my event. What am I going do?” So just calm. Just don’t panic. Whatever is happening, it’s happening to everybody. Let’s not panic.

Beyond that, I think I was a little bit slow to launch my plan of calling everybody. I’m calling 100 clients. I should have done that a little quicker. It wasn’t until a month in before I really did a good job of reaching out. That’s a note to self. If something big happens, just check in with those people you care the most about, the people most important to your business, honestly, your top clients. Your team, stay close to those people. and then just the tactical learning. Well, what’s going to work for these live events? That took me a while too. Wow, Zoom breakout? Kind of effective for networking. Wow! Q & A sessions are better in virtual than live. Live event Q & A stinks. You raise your hand and you’re like, someone brings you a microphone. It’s horrible. It’s stressful. Q & A on Zoom, just type a question. Reformatting an event to have much longer Q & A, doubling frequency because they’re fast to plan. There are things that I probably could have done much better, much quicker in terms of turning our little live events into virtual events.

Ahava: Well, it’s great that you know all of that, because I really wish somebody had just told me don’t download Bubble Witch Three.

Andy: How much time did that cost you?

Ahava: You don’t want to know, it’s a lot more than 1400 minutes. Everyone needs a stress reliever. It’s better than eating the sourdough bread that I bake. Okay, so what I think is fascinating, I’ve interviewed a lot of people and this show has been amazing for my own learning and hearing what other people have gone through. But one of the things that a lot of the marketers and communicators that I’ve spoken to, they’ve talked about the existence of really two pandemics. The first being the pandemic itself, and then the second being sort of the Black Lives Matter and all the social injustice issues. And I think it really turned the country towards a conversation around social responsibility.

And then this Netflix documentary, the Social Dilemma comes out, which, for those of the audience that don’t know about it yet, I definitely recommend watching it although you may want to throw your phone away afterward. It’s really about the tech companies and how they sort of psychologically manipulate people because they want them to keep on their platforms and keep engaging with people and that there may be some misinformation spread, which I think some of us are familiar with from the Cambridge Analytica experience. So after I watched that documentary, I was like, what role does the content marketer play in this? Because on the one hand, it’s really my responsibility to drive revenue for my clients. But how do I make sure that I’m building up ethical constraints with integrity? Particularly in my field of healthcare marketing, where we really could very fast dive into a slippery slope of not being careful about protecting people’s personal health information. Talk to me about, what are some of the things that you think about on a regular basis when it comes to this kind of work?

Andy: Well, the marketers I talk to seem to be most concerned about marketing outcomes which I totally understand. I teach things sometimes like headline authoring and then click bait comes up. Don’t do click bait because it hurt your brand’s reputation. Actually, don’t do click bait because you’re lying to an audience about the value you might provide behind the click. It’s a little bit, I think that some of it’s a little bit backwards. I teach SEO all the time and in a class at Northwestern. And at the end, my last hour, I always bring up this point, and I make this little speech about how okay, you have new powers. Use your powers for good because you could do all kinds of things with this. You can make things visible in search, discoverable. You can drive traffic. When you’re good at that, you can drive traffic to pretty much anything you want. And Google’s trying to fight back if you drive traffic to something that’s dishonest or low quality, they’re trying to help you if you’re driving traffic to something that is high quality or trustworthy. Our job as digital marketers, when you have the ability to promote content, when that’s one of your skills, you need to be deliberate about who you work with, how you apply that, what you’re driving traffic to, if you’re honoring the attention to the visitor, and now, after you watch Social Dilemma, you have to realize if you are responsibly using your ability to win the click. Trigger a dopamine reaction.  Part of the thing they said in that was our hardware, your brain, is a million years old. The software, social algorithms, is 10 years old. Your heart was not built for this. It’s just too much. It’s too powerful. It’s like crack. So I worry that people can come to one of my events and learn all about search and then go back to work for some tobacco, yeah, pick your least favorite non-ethical, not-a-good-citizen industry. We all have to think about, really, what is our place in the economy and society and democracy? And if we are helping or hurting, if we are doing it for the greater good or just for ourselves.

Ahava: Right. I think that’s an amazing response, and I think it’s true, and I think it’s something that we always talk about also from a copyrighting perspective is, particularly in healthcare, you have to be sensitive to the other person on the other side of the screen and think about what they’re thinking about and all those things. Okay, so let’s say it comes down to this, though. A health organization needs to push a certain neurosurgery that they brought in. They hired a new neurosurgeon. And they want to pull all these emails from their EMR to sort of send this out to anybody who has been diagnosed with this particular condition. And they come to me and they say, are we allowed to do this? And I’m like, absolutely not. You’re not allowed to do that, it’s a violation. And it’s a $2500 violation every single time you do it. So if you send it out to 90,000 people, I don’t have great numeracy, but I’m telling you that’s a lot of money you don’t want to spend. Your insurance company’s going to come after you. And, they say, but these people need to know about this information. We’re servicing them by giving them this information. So you’re telling us to be a responsible content marketer. We should be thinking about our audience and what they need. So what are we doing wrong? It’s a real conundrum, right?

Andy: It is. There’s the letter of the law. There’s the spirit of the law, And there’s the right thing to do. And sometimes they’re not the same. Let’s say, the CAN-SPAM, everyone should read it because it’s not super long. Go read the CAN-SPAM Act. Go read GDPR and the California privacy thing and just learn. Just know what they say, because it’s not even, you could do it during lunch. These are not massive documents. So let’s say that it’s legal. To take, to scrape email addresses from LinkedIn and send, and, in some cases it actually is, right? I think you have to allow them to unsubscribe, but you can still send mail to people that didn’t subscribe. Yeah. So the spirit of the law is that honorably, is that the right thing? Why is there that law? It’s because people don’t want unsolicited commercial email. Okay, so you’re going to just ignore the spirit of law because you can get away with it, your lawyer said it’s probably okay. But really what are we doing here? If you believe in that message, let’s say you think I need to get this out there because I’m going to save lives. I remember an interview with Elon Musk where he’s like he heard about a car accident. And he’s like, I can fix that problem. We can have cars that don’t hit people. Cars could have sensors and self-driving protections. I didn’t mean to bring up the bioethics of transportation, but, if you believe that your message is so important that it needs to get out there, then yeah, fight hard. Fight and win. Fight against disinformation. We should all be believing in the brands that we’re promoting. If you’ve got that, then you’ll feel better about your job every day. You probably do a better job at it because your heart’s in it.

Ahava: Because you love it. You talked a little bit about relationship building that you wish you had reached out to people more, and you had been able to sort of tell people these conferences are going to work out. We’re going to figure out the silver lining, quote on quote. What do you think you’ve learned more than anything else from this entire experience? Honestly, I feel like what fresh hell is it today? And every fresh hell brings with it something hopefully that I can learn about being better. But to you, what do you, what do you think the number one thing is?

Andy: Well, I have been to a Zoom remembrance, it’s like a funeral, that was very emotional and moving, and I will never forget. I’ve been to a Zoom fundraising gala that was very impactful. They raised a ton of money. I was engaged.

Ahava: Wasn’t it awesome to be in your pajamas?

Andy: Yeah, the Zoom remembrance, that funeral I was at, there were people who were reclined. They were having a moment, but they weren’t, they were literally lying down in their pajamas and it was not weird. One of the things that’s really struck me is the quality of interaction over digital. Our team has basically not had any productivity hits, even though we’re all 40 remote offices now. Seems fine. So that is interesting sociology. That a lot of the stuff still kind of does work. I’m an old school, Gen X, face-to-face kid. I’d rather meet with people if I can. But for those of us that are fortunate enough to be in industries where you can work from home, this, I mean, I feel like we’re together, Ahava. It’s nice to see you, we’re spending some time. This is good. This is quality time.

Ahava: Yes, it sure is. I was just thinking, actually this is better than at a conference, because I see you at a conference I’m like “Hi, let’s catch each other later.” We’ll be pulled in a million different directions, and we’ve had a chance to actually talk and hear what’s going on and it feels much, in some ways, much richer.

Andy: I didn’t have to fly to Cleveland, which was the last time I saw you. We just clicked a button. So the immediacy, the efficiency of being right there with anyone anytime. So I have my Zoom and I have a text expander. So with three key strokes I can share my Calendly link. With three key strokes it puts my Zoom link. And I just do 30-minute calls all day, sometimes eight in a row. And I enjoy it. I get to see people.

Ahava: Yeah. No, it’s great. I think there’s actually more access now in some ways than there’s ever been before. People are, in some ways they’re busier, but in some ways they’re less busy. And there’s more breathing room I think to have those conversations. Okay, so we’re going to fly again in September. Where is Ann having B2B next year? Who knows? Somewhere in America. It’s Boston or San Francisco. We’re sitting down together and we turn to each other and I say to you, Andy, what’s the one thing you’ve folded into your marketing practice from the pandemic that you hope even in the next 20 years, that you keep doing this, that you will never let go of?

Andy: Well the monthly face-to-face event that I did here for nine years, Wine and Web, it was a little favorite, we had regulars come every month for many, many years. Virtual? No problem. Wine and webinar?

Ahava: I want to be invited to that.

Andy: Let’s go! Sounds great. I’ll schedule you for this fall. The attendance is way higher. And then we doubled the frequency which wasn’t very hard, because it’s a program, you just keep running it. So now it’s, instead of a monthly event for 35 people, it is a bi-weekly event where we get 150 registrants and 40 to 50 attendees each time. So that was, it’s literally 10X or something, the reach of our virtual events. The video, huge and almost automatic win. That has worked out. And then also I think it’s important to just remind people, Mark Shaffer did a great push about this the other day. If you are homeschooling three kids and taking care of an elderly loved one and bathing only occasionally, don’t feel bad. You are operating at a very high level. It’s just on different things. So I agree with also the message that COVID isn’t a competition, and some people are using it like they’re on social sharing. The social media networks love that because it triggers the behaviors that keeps you engaged.

Ahava: Evil algorithms.

Andy: The evil algorithms.

Ahava: I think for me, my relationships with colleagues that I usually see once or twice a year has deepened because of these kind of interactions and that’s, I think, we always know that business is about relationships. But nothing has taught me that more than this experience. And at the end of the day, that’s all you’re really left with. You know what I mean? You can do great, great work, but it’s the relationships I think that really stands a test of time. And to me, that’s what’s really, I’ve learned more than anything else too.

Andy: I agree. I mean, one way to say this, you know the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? That triangle?

Ahava: Yeah, the WiFi at the bottom.

Andy: Yep. Yeah, physiology, WiFi at the bottom. Well, Maslow himself originally it wasn’t WiFi, it’s from the 1940s or whatever. It was physiological needs like health and safety. So you never, we all know this, obviously. The person you’re talking to may have intense anxiety around physiological needs, just health and safety. So it made all interactions kind of more legit, we are real with each other because we’re all going through a massive shared experience. And people smile at each other on the streets just out of kindness. You can tell there’s a little bit more, I mean, this is an incredible, massive shared economic tragedy and massive shared experience for a generation. The world is going through this together, so it definitely moves us a little bit away from the more trivial interactions to just better relationships and real connection.

Ahava: I agree. Andy, there’s a million places to find you, but what’s the best way people can find you?

Andy: LinkedIn’s my best social network. And you can use it just to connect with me, and I’ll respond with my email address if you want to avoid Social Media. I’m not suggesting you become a social addict. My email address, don’t even use LinkedIn, andyATorbitmedia.com Email me any question, any suggestion, any comment any invite to get together. And then orbitmedia.com/blog is where I write an article every two weeks.

Ahava: Yeah and it’s pretty awesome stuff, so check it out. Andy thank you so much for being here. It was great.

Andy: Thanks, Ahava. This was awesome.

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About Ahava Leibtag

Ahava Leibtag, MA

Ahava R. Leibtag has more than 20 years of experience in writing, messaging and marketing. She is a well-recognized content expert and writes thought leadership about content strategy and content marketing. Ahava is the President and owner of Aha Media Group, a content strategy and content marketing consultancy founded in October 2005. She... More >