How do you make content marketing work for your company?
First, it’s important to recognize the complexity. It takes a lot to make it all so simple. Understand that content marketing, social media marketing and digital marketing all come from the same core … intimate understanding of the brand and audience, coupled with sound marketing and creative strategy, and a great creative idea.
Second, know that pumping out content on its own isn’t the only answer. It takes a team of experts pulling the levers behind the curtain to make Oz tick. You need to optimize the content for placement on the right platform, plan and adjust SEO and SEM techniques, have retargeting plans in place, make creative media buys to promote your content on social platforms (i.e. where people spend their time) and understanding the latest digital design techniques. And you need a team to listen on social media and to be ready to engage with the audience at the right moments. Here’s a great article from Digiday on the marriage of many of these methods. See? It’s more than just “content” and “social”.
You can build content campaign success and see measureable results for your business by taking some key steps out of the public relations, social media and paid media playbooks.
1. Build a journey map.
One of the best ways marketing has evolved is by focusing specifically on the audience’s experiences, and how the content we develop intersects with that audience’s day-to-day experiences. Understand what their problems are, what they do, where they go, what apps they use, who they talk to, what media they consume … and develop your creative concepts and content to reach them there. Develop an intimate understanding of a consumer/user within your audience and target them. This will help you develop good digital content, and it can lead to a knockout experiential campaign.
2. Be nimble. Be quick. Set aside your inner Orson Welles.
You must be ready to create content – in any form, especially video – at a moment’s notice. Not everything you produce can be a polished 30-second ad ready for prime time television, nor should it be. Being nimble means you must have plans in place to be responsive with your content. Our audience’s attention is fragmented. People touch their smartphones (i.e. their digital lives) more than 2,000 times a day to message friends and family or to see content that, as Facebook always says, “entertains or informs.” Your brand has a fraction of a second to grab their attention.
With that in mind, be nimble enough to take advantage of opportunities when they arise. Plan mini-campaigns around potential flashpoints, but always stay on message with a common, branded look. You should have a framework ready to develop original content as you need it, and be able to deploy it using the full architecture of your digital marketing opportunities. That means you’re ready to mobilize more than just a post on social media for a new campus tour for higher education or an influential speaker hitting campus. It means people are looking forward to the next live broadcast on Facebook and Periscope, the students visiting you have a fun new filter available to use for their Snapchat, and you’re even designing the tour around assets they can share on social media. Props, people! Props! Everyone you come across is a content producer. Ask yourself, how have you set the scene?
Is your creative concept nimble enough to survive all of the applications possible with your digital content experience? Is it malleable enough for your audience to use and build it as its own? Check out KickTV for a great example of a cross-platform publisher who is making great content and aligning with on-brand storytelling.
These are questions you must demand of your work today.
3. Build an experience. IRL.
I’ve noted this a few times here already, but social media isn’t always comprised of the “digital consumption of information”, it’s also very much a matter of what an audience consumes and does in real life, and then shares through social media. Admit it. Look at your own behavior. Much of what we do on social media comes down to what we’re shouting out there and it aligns with what you’re doing in your day-to-day life. It aligns with your experiences and, whether you recognize it or not, the experiences set before you by the brands in your life. So, back to the earlier point, how can your brand develop an experience that intersects with your audience’s day-to-day life? Can you create a cool event or experience that people will want to interact with and share on social media? Something they can look forward to? That is very much a part of the new creative challenge and, as addressed in point two, you must be ready to build an infrastructure around your idea that will activate sharing. These are things you should ask of your agency and creative partners.
You need to understand that your creative deliverable can go deeper than an advertisement.
Outside of pumping out content – articles, images, tips, videos, photos – social media content often grows out of real-life experiences; situations you can set up for your audience to get a unique experience they want to share on social media. Build something for them to do, pictures to take, an environment to play with and a hashtag to use. Get video of the experience and package it to demonstrate what people can get out of engaging with your company. Use effective social media distribution strategies to get that in front of your audience. That includes paid media. It includes thinking about Instagram and Facebook as an inclusive targeting platform. It includes promoting your presence on Facebook to attract more likes, or getting in front of people whose friends already like your page with valuable content so people see those passive social endorsements.
As Facebook, in particular, prioritize posts from “friends and family” this is an even bigger opportunity to focus on building experiences that generate content your audience wants to share.
4. Tell the media.
I was recently coaching an intern on how a pitch I used for a targeted media opportunity should be considered content. It told a story and drove an action – trying to secure media coverage. If the situation was right, I could have turned that pitch into visual social content in any number of ways. For this opportunity, the best strategy was to secure media coverage to generate a large number of impressions around this initiative. That pitch was everything someone needed to know about that story. If it was the other way around – social media actions taking place to generate engagement – consider how what you’re doing can benefit the media you work with. It could be local media, social media influencers, trade media or even media collected around an experience you’ve built at your booth at a trade show. If you’ve developed content and an experience on social media, use media relations to pour gas on the fire. Invite them to participate. Pitch them on the story … just make sure you’re targeting the right contacts. Ultimately, when you secure coverage, share it on your social platforms so you’re exposing your audience to your story from a trusted, third-party resource.
5. Use a hashtag.
People use hashtags in many different ways. Some as jokes. Some as a subject line on a tweet or Instagram post. Some use hashtags to index different parts of their content plan so people can see the rest of it that’s already been published. The most successful creative campaigns today, the ones you hear about all over the place, can often be boiled down to a hashtag. The concept, its theme and its hashtag often come down to the same thing. One digestible action that is instantly recognizable. A good content campaign is social. A good social campaign gathers and motivates. A good hashtag can be measured so you can see its impressions, instances of use and then others who’ve yet to engage with your campaign can hop right in to learn more and take action themselves.
6. Use your image campaign to give them something to do online.
REI mastered this last year with their brilliant and award-winning “Opt Outside” campaign. At Core Creative, we took a similar approach with Concordia University Ann Arbor’s “Doers Welcome” campaign by building opportunities for students and faculty to demonstrate the great works undertaken on campus with the #CUAADoers initiative. While the campaign promised the opportunity for new students to be welcomed in an environment where people where making things happen, the content gathered around the hashtag provided demonstrations of the vibrant student activity taking place on a daily basis. The doers, doing. The life new students could be a part of. The great challenge in advertising today is in building an experience that resonates with your audience’s regular, every day life in a way that isn’t shoving your brand down their throat. Build a content campaign that works with them and you can build success.
7. Pay for it. Boost the content that performs.
As they evolve, social media platforms are, increasingly, “advertising publishers” (as eloquently noted in this article from PR News.). Sure, you can pay for a social media post and consider it an ad, but you have an opportunity to think more deeply than that. You can use your content to keep your audience’s attention and drive participation in a campaign, not just to make a fleeting impression. You can promote your content to a highly-targeted audience with a specific objective – to follow or like your page/profile, engage with your content, visit your website, retargeting them if they’ve visited your website or competitor websites, buy now, call for an appointment and more. Social media platforms are absolutely media channels that deserve your ad dollars, but it’s important to understand the complexity of what you’re paying for … content and action. Above all, plan for retargeting through social media platforms, especially Facebook and Instagram, where your audience is spending incredible amounts of time. If someone visits your website or searches for related terms, your content (media placements, videos, endorsements, and more) should be in the audience’s face immediately.
8. Listen and engage.
Social media – the socialization of the web and its content – changed everything when it comes to content marketing. People can now talk back to your ad. They can talk directly to your company. They demand service, and rightly so. And they can let a company know what they need to be doing better. When you post, you must be ready to talk to people, to engage with them. Otherwise, you are shredding your brand of its humanity … and establishing a human presence for your brand is of paramount importance in an era when people expect to be able to connect with it at a moment’s notice on Twitter. Develop strategies for social listening and plan on engaging with your audience. Don’t just shout at people by blasting out your content and turning a blind eye.
9. Use an editorial calendar to plan ahead.
Know what’s coming, when it’s coming, how you’ll create it, how you’ll target it to an audience and where you’ll post it. If you are developing content, you need to plan it out so looks great, and is interesting, fun and creative. Think like an editor of a magazine or a newspaper and develop all of the different ways you can tell your story. Planning how you can keep that content, idea, initiative or sales focus afloat is much more effective when you plan around a calendar. Using an open and collaborative editorial calendar will help you do that. At Core Creative, we’ve found success using CoSchedule. An agency partner can get your efforts aligned around a tool like that, instead of a tired spreadsheet. You can easily align your business initiatives and elicit feedback from all levels of your organization so nothing is missed.
10. Expect results.
Like I said at the very beginning, marketing today is complicated, but that’s ok. It means you can reach exactly the right person with the right message. It takes an incredible mix of perspectives to get the best out of your content campaign, activating everything from the creative and public relations experiences to digital architecture and media buying. All of this work planning, developing, targeting, posting and engaging with content provides a significant level of metrics that you can use to see how your work is moving the needle for your brand.
Your agency partner should measure platform activity and be able to align it with conversions to your company’s KPIs (key performance indicators).
Web traffic? Post engagement? Video views? Sales consultations? Campus visits?
Content marketing delivers measurable results that can tell you where and how to focus on moving your audience. Impressions from audience use of a hashtag are one thing and may look great if they’re coming in the tens or hundreds of thousands, but means much more when those impressions lead to actions. Make sure you’re connecting the dots.
Whatever your goals, your content can lead toward direct ties to converting on those objectives.
Colin Deval is a PR/Social Media Strategist at Core Creative.