Online marketers emphasize content in the marketing mix now more than ever, but they don't always get it right.
Two of the hottest topics in the digital marketing space over the past year have been social media and content marketing. The funny thing is, content has been "hot" for a very long time. In particular, the B2B world has used content to romance customers across long buying cycles with great success for many years. But with increased importance among consumers, search engines, and social platforms, online marketers are emphasizing content in the marketing mix now more than ever.
Content isn't king, it's the kingdom, because without it, search wouldn't exist and social networks would be dry.
As online marketers catch on to the content marketing trend, they're often viewing and implementing through the lens of what they already know. For example, SEOs often think of content marketing as simply adding more content to what they're currently doing or adding length to avoid negative effects from a Google Panda update.
Public relations professionals often think of content marketing for social media in terms of what achieves the most distribution and social shares since it's exposure that they're most often held accountable to.
The reality is, content marketing isn't just better quality or more content that gets great distribution. Content marketing is thoughtful creation of information designed for a particular audience and specific outcomes as an individual object and as part of an overall strategy. Content is an educational vehicle that can guide prospective customers through the journey from awareness to advocacy, across the entire customer lifecycle.
To help guide proactive marketers toward a more productive path, here are five common social content "sins" to avoid.
1. A Failure to Plan Is a Plan to Fail
While experimenting with social media applications and platforms is a practical first step, many companies seem to think that it's a strategy. Goals, audience, and approach can allow for social experimentation but also provide companies with some structure and accountability toward achieving business outcomes with social content.
Social content plans don't need to be set in stone. In fact, with social media content, it's important for such plans to be adaptable and capable of analytical input and iterative improvements as data increases through growing network participation. A plan will help marketers better evaluate and scale their social media initiatives as well.
2. It's All About You
Blatant self-promotion is the bane of brand social media participation. Companies that view social media platforms simply as a distribution channel fail to create value for the very audiences they're trying to reach.
People don't typically use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, blogging, Pinterest, and other social applications for keeping tabs on corporate press releases, product announcements, and promotions. Reasons for social media usage are most often personal. According to a Pew Research Center study, "two thirds of social media users say that staying in touch with current friends and family members is a major reason they use these sites." With engaging on personal networks, consumers certainly connect with the brands they like, but contrary to how many brands behave with social content publishing, those connections are part of the social web experience, not the reason for it.
Business marketers can achieve much better success with social content by empathizing with customer needs, interests, goals, and pain points. Seeing things from the customer's point of view will help develop a content and social media approach that serves as a solution or facilitator to creating the kind of social content that resonates, engages, and gets shared. As customer-centric social content gets shared, many of those who engage will refer or become customers. This is a key focus in my book, "Optimize," which is coming out mid-April 2012.
3. To Get, You Must Give
Along with self-promotion, companies have a tendency to expect social communities to behave the way the brand wants them to. The guideline I like to share with companies that want to foster community and engagement is: "Give to get." That doesn't mean, give a sales pitch to get a sale.
Instead, provide something of value before expecting anything in return. In fact, it's smart to find out more specifically what consumers and those who influence them find valuable as inspiration for a social content plan. Deliver useful information, listen to how audiences respond, and make adjustments. Then repeat.
The investment in creating value that is thoughtful for both customers and the brand's business objectives is where consumer and corporate needs are met with social content.
4. Hiding Your Social Content Greatness
A lot of marketing budgets have invested in creating content for companies but many purists feel that great content should be left to attract attention based purely on the quality of the information. There's a feeling that if content is really good, it will attract traffic and engagement all on it's own. That's a naïve perspective, especially in a competitive category and it also makes some strong assumptions about whether there is a preexisting community for the brand, or not.
With a hub and spoke publishing model, themed content is published into a repository that represents a "go to" resource for topics that the brand wants to be known for. At the same time, that content can be promoted through spokes or social channels among communities that are interested. People often rely on content promotion to discover what's new. Promotion can attract traffic, social shares, and links, which can all serve as useful signals to search engines and improve standard and social search engine visibility.
Promotion works best with content that deserves to be shared. That kind of content makes a promise to social networks that it's good. If a brand can consistently create, optimize, socialize, and promote great content, the community will respond with shares, referrals, engagement, links, and even sales.
5. Failure to Analyze Is a Failure to Optimize
Many companies develop social profiles, publish descriptions, and contribute content at various intervals as part of their social media participation. They may even actively optimize social content with search keywords and social topics as a way to empathize with what consumers are looking for and talking about on the social web.
A missing piece of this puzzle is the importance of ongoing monitoring and analysis. There's a process I call, "The cycle of search and social improvement" that involves creating and optimizing social content. As useful content is created and promoted, it gets shared and attracts fans, friends, followers, and subscribers.
As the community grows, even more sharing of links and traffic is involved with brand content. The increase in engagement, search visibility, and social sharing provides a rich set of data with which the brand can improve content creation. It's a cycle of hypothesis, implementation, and analysis that can improve how effectively a brand is able to refine social content effectiveness at inspiring business outcomes.
Are there more "sins of social content"? Without a doubt. But these five are some of the most common. If you can both avoid the bad and pursue the good insights, your social content efforts may see surprising results.
This column was originally published on March 26, 2012.
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Lee Odden is the CEO of TopRank Online Marketing, a digital marketing agency specializing in helping companies grow online business and community with an "Optimize and Socialize" approach to content marketing. Odden has consulted for hundreds of B2B clients over the past 14 years including: McKesson, Marketo, PRWeb, and StrongMail. He's been cited by The Economist, BtoB Magazine, and Advertising Age for his online marketing expertise and publishes one of the most popular marketing blogs on the web: Online Marketing Blog, ranked the No. 1 content marketing blog three times by Junta42. Odden speaks on the intersection of search and content marketing, PR, and social media at conferences internationally and is the author of "Optimize: How to Attract and Engage More Customers by Integrating SEO, Social Media and Content Marketing."
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