Type 'content' into a company search on LinkedIn and you will get 66,794 results. Type in 'social media' and you will get 80,811 results.
This should tell you something. As social media grows and diversifies as an industry, content marketing is leading the charge here. It's a (somewhat welcome) hangover from companies setting up social media profiles only to find they had nothing to populate them with. Content is now the main concern for brand and marketing managers. In fact, 39% of companies surveyed said that content was a priority area for them in 2013.
While there may be frustrations that 'content' exists as a catchall term at all, the reality is that it has now emerged as its own industry, where brands seek an easy solution to succeed in their new duty to fans to entertain on a daily basis. But there's content for content's sake and then there's content that's part of a considered business strategy. One that will do the jobs it intended to do in the first place: Attract, entertain and grow your online community. So how should you be approaching content?
Have A Strategy
Probably the most important aspect of your content strategy is to have one in the first place. Often when a company blog, Facebook page or Twitter account has been passed around between agencies or by internal staff, the content can become very disjointed without supporting the brand in question or serving any real purpose for the audience.
While it may be tempting to think that your online profiles will look after themselves, think about how scared you would be if every day you had to produce a magazine to send out to your customers. If it got to midnight and you still had blank pages before it went to the printers, you would be in a panic. Online doesn't get the same consideration because it's tempting to just look at your current homepage or latest post and assume it's doing a job for anyone that finds it. Refresh and it will still be there tomorrow.
However, the reality is that it's not really doing anything for you. You need to be producing fresh videos, photos and articles that will really resonate with your audience, but more importantly, you should be developing a content strategy that makes the most of social SEO. Think about what your audience might be searching for. The more quality content you can produce around this, the higher the likelihood your content will get discovered.
A good content strategy is something that will have input from across the business. The person that's ultimately responsible for writing updates or commissioning an agency to produce videos might not be the best person to decide what this should actually be. A brand's content strategy has to be about the brand, so open it up within your organisation and ensure you've got a strategy where representatives from different departments can contribute. This will help ensure you have a good strategy in place that will strongly reflect the brand.
Then Throw It Out The Window
Having said that, there's nothing better than throwing your content strategy away and reacting to what's happening right now. Unlike the newspaper that's sent to the printers in the early hours, when you're online, you have the ability to change content and react in real-time. Make the most of this.
For example, look at what Specsavers did after the flag mishap at the Olympics. It produced a newspaper ad the next day that made reference to this
Or learn from Bodyform, who gave a quick response to a Facebook rant against its product:
why not follow Oreo who responded during the light outage at the Superbowl. It produced a piece of content that will surely be up there with the 'Old Spices' of the social media hall of fame:
All of these turned into instant 'viral' hits because of the infrastructure they had in place. They didn't just happen across good ideas, but they had people within their marketing team actively aware of what was being discussed online and knew how to react. This kind of magic only comes from having a good process in place from the beginning.
Think About How People Will Find Your Content
Having a killer piece of content is great, but you are now only the sum of the number of views you have on your video, or retweets you have on a picture. When you're investing in content, think about how people will find it. This comes down to your own promotion as much as it does to the individuals you may have hired to star in your content. If you want a music artist in your video, look at their social profile as well as traditional indicators of popularity.
Or if you plan to produce all your content in-house, think about the benefits of using people that are influential online to do this for you instead. There are great examples of this like the fashion label Calypso St Barth. When it wanted to create a compelling Pinterest campaign, it hired one of the most influential bloggers and the fourth biggest Pinterest user Christine Martinez. She live-pinned the whole process of the label's summer photo shoot and achieved a much greater reach than the company would have on its own.
However, this should be done cautiously as you ultimately have to own your brand and your messages. A campaign like this should be carefully managed to ensure it fits with your overall marketing strategy as opposed to appearing as a quick social gimmick.
Do What You Do Best
When it comes to social for brands or platforms, it can be tempting to try to do everything. Spurred on by a risk of being irrelevant or appearing outdated, you try to be everything to everyone, when it might not be what you do best. Relinquishing control and handing over to someone who's doing it better than you are isn't a bad thing. You should be thinking about smart partnerships here. If you're a brand with great content, but without the platforms to distribute it, work with those that can. The right partnership can enhance your content and your audience. If you're about content, but not about platforms, find the right partner.
Sponsored posts are by no means a new concept (they used to be called advertorials) and sponsored content is growing massively as an avenue for advertisers to get their content across in established digital platforms. Buzzfeed has built its entire model using this and in the main, it works (though there are lessons to be learned from The Atlantic, who had to pull a sponsored post endorsing Scientology).
Having raised $50 million in VC funding since 2006, it's partnering with big brands such as Nike and Coca-Cola, who are producing content for the site. Given that these brands won't have established media platforms, it makes sense for them to partner with a new breed of site that is building this and doing it well.
A real challenge for brands today is how your content fits across multiple devices. With access online now diversifying across desktop, smartphones and tablets, you need to have a strategy that takes all three into account. Your content is inevitably going to show up on all three of this so it must be created in that way.
Yet it's not as simple as taking a lengthy article for your site and chopping it into a few paragraphs for the mobile version of your site. We engage with different content in different ways, depending on where we're accessing it. A study in 2011 found that we're more engaged with video when accessing on mobile or tablets vs desktop. For every one viewer watching an ad on desktop, there were two who did the same on a tablet. It found that 20% of mobile users watched a video of ten minutes or longer versus 18% on desktop, while 58% of users expect a mobile site to load as fast or faster than the desktop equivalent.
This means you need a considered strategy that takes into account key behavioural differences across devices. When Sports Illustrated's editorial team discuss the plan for the magazine in a week, it also looks at content for the website and tablet editions. This isn't done by a separate digital department, but by considering where exclusive interviews should be made available and how stories can be properly reformatted for tablet, to take full advantage of the capabilities of the device.
If You See A Bandwagon, Don't Jump On It
If you're looking for a quick marketing win and maybe a bit of extra coverage, then by all means do, but manage your expectations here. For every successful campaign you hear about on Vine, Facebook Poke, or Chatroulette, there are hundreds you will never hear about. One of the best things about social is that it's fresh and you need to constantly update your strategy to stay ahead of the game and your competitors, but this can be very, very dangerous. The allure of a new site or app is always exciting and the instinct is to focus your efforts on so people see you as 'innovative.' Yet you can only afford to be innovative for so long if you're not drawing in the audience or the revenue.
To be sure, there are some great campaigns that can pop up new platforms - check out brandsonvine for example - but these generally serve a purpose in that they are buzzy and short-lived. They will get you noticed by the early adopters and might get you some articles about your campaign, but you need to think really hard about whether this is going to serve your audience and achieve your original aims. If it won't, but you can afford the time, money and resource, then great. If you can't, then don't.
It's often the case that the least sexy stuff is what works best, but ultimately you want a campaign that works, whether it's sexy or not.
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